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Prologue - The Scourge

A Twilight of Lurra Tale

By Matthew FrommPublished 9 months ago Updated 8 months ago 21 min read
6
Photo by max pruvost on Unsplash

There weren't always dragons in the Valley. There should never have been dragons in the Sacred Valley. Those cursed dragons swayed in the calm night wind, swooping and twirling as the sun disappeared beyond the mountains and the twin moons rose over Lurra. May Auras doom you in the afterlife! May you find no salvation there. Their quiet monastery had long been protected from the dragons and horses, swords and spears which descended upon them, destroying his tranquil home with their war.

Patriarch Eanotious, the Blessed Mouthpiece of the God Auras, traced the now permanent wear lines on his wisen forehead, where experience had given way to agedness, as he struggled through the ever-shortening list of options to deliver what few of his congregation remained. He watched the dragons all fly high upon their staffs as the holy flames sparked to life across the war camp spanning the valley. For two nights, Eanotious stood upon the carved balcony and watched as the soldiers of Emperor Maximillian the Seventh, Emperor of Imperium, Blessed Child of the Holy Flame, brought the war to the ancient crossroads of empires. The blue and red twin dragon heads of the Emperor’s royal banner, the last remaining vestige of the diarchy dead for two generations, danced in the evening breeze. Below, the legion erected their defenses, their shovels dashing any of Eanotious’s foolish hopes of a swift departure. The valley now wore its wooden palisades and towers like pockmarks on a plague victim.

How many harvests had he stood here in silent vigil, praying that the legions and hordes keep their wars from Auras’s Sacred Valley? Had these secular demons not had enough concessions so that this valley would stay in perpetual peace? Why must the Imperial dogs insist on destruction? My forebears, Auras, send me your strength so we may cleanse this holy place of these vermin!

Hands, once full of warrior's strength before age took their toll upon them, trembled as he gripped the railing of his balcony carved into the cliff. Once, they could have imposed the will of their god through sheer force of faith; now, they could barely fill the halls of the cliffside retreat. They had promised! Auras, how could you let us be betrayed? Have we last loyal few not honored you?

From above, he could count every man as they built, drilled, and passed the time before the coming storm in their own ways. They had raised at least five thousand, and he knew more would come as the Empire tried to hold back the hordes.

“...Eminence?”

It was a soft whisper in the calm night, but the words met the Patriarch's ears like a thunderstorm. Eanotious whirled around with a face contorted in rage. Had the acolytes forgotten their vows? All they had now were their vows. Should they break them, their dooms would be secured. If our souls weren’t forfeit already. May the traitorous Emperor and this crippled Khan be doomed for this mortal folly.

The boy's face went pale as the Patriarch stormed toward him, his billowing habit surely giving his weary frame the appearance of a man twice his size. Eanotious swatted the serving platter from the acolyte’s hands. Tea, grown long since cold, splattered upon the marble floor, and the remnants of spinach and oil covered the acolyte’s white robes. He couldn’t have been older than eleven harvests. While the boy's lips quivered, no more words came from them.

The Patriarch stood over the acolyte, pale fists still clenched. A cold evening breeze rolled in from the balcony and twirled the fringes of his habit. This boy, who stood meekly against his fury, was not even born the last time there was a war. What has become of me? Is this the price of our betrayal? Rage, long-repressed, now unleashed upon a boy? He felt his face turn red under his wiry gray beard. Eanotious filled his lungs with Auras’s sacred breath before delicately twisting his hands in the silent vernacular of the monastery.

“My child, I apologize. You were right to disturb me, but remember, our breaths are sacred. Should that happen again, please approach me instead. You have my permission to disturb my prayers.”

The boy nodded, and moved his hands in response, “You must not apologize, your Eminence. I broke my vow. Please let me go down to the lower spires and seek penance.”

“No child. You should go seek sleep. The days grow long and wear upon us all. How long did you stand there?”

“I lit the candles when I entered.” The boy kept his head down as he signed his response. The soft patter of oil dripping onto the marble from his acolyte’s robe filled the otherwise silent room.

Eanotious glanced at the holder on his nightstand; two of the candles had already burned out, while the last was little more than an ember. He rubbed his tired eyes before signing his response, “My child, your patience is enough penance. Now go.” He finished his signing with a gesture toward the stairs.

The acolyte departed. As the boy approached the spiral staircase, Eanotious lifted his foot. The urge to slam it against the marble, to bring the child back, to tell him of all that ran through his head, to seek counsel that had so far been absent within his high spire almost overcame him. He resisted and placed it gently back onto the marble. The Patriarch seeking mortal counsel would be laughable at best, and he chased any further thought of it from his mind. The boy would tell stories over the next meal, and in the corridors, and after evening prayer, but none would offer the Patriarch their thoughts on the stunning blasphemy below them. He could hear the soldiers now. Their singing and drilling floated up into his chambers atop the tallest spire and distracted his thoughts. I could have used that tea.

A book of poems illuminated by Imperator Violianus the Penultimate sat upon the lectern. Eanotious ran his fingers down its vellum, admiring the work of Violianus’s scribes. It was a manuscript of the highest quality, worthy of the chamber of the Patriarch of Auras, or at least the note carved into the wooden cover said so. If Violianus, the last true ruler of Meridionali before the final invasions, knew of the cataclysm about to befall his children, would he have spent time on such art? Eanotious didn’t need poems now. Scrolls once held within the Temple Mount of Meridon documented how the combined power of Auras and her sister Celion banished heretic fleets that sailed against the northern and southern empires of Imperium and Meridionali. He had witnessed firsthand what Auras’s power did to the nearby farmlands of the Khanate after the recent sack of Ang'Xi. Bring me that unmatched power now so I may smite these defilers in your name!

At the least, he needed the edicts, but they had burned with the rest of the southern capitol when the great grandfather of this upstart crippled Khan won his final victory two generations ago. Those scrolls had once dictated that this pass would be spared when war came, that the armies of Imperium, and of Meridion, and even of those of the Khans may march through every pass but this one. What he would give for those scrolls now, for there was little he could do without them. If only that assassin’s blade had taken the heretic's life, not just his legs.

He rubbed his tired eyes. These thoughts were unbecoming of him. Eanotious closed the leather cover and said a final prayer that those who would come next would remember him as they did Violianus the Penultimate, and not as they did Paiagous the Overthrown. What did the last Imperator think as he watched the horde descend? Did he know what fate held for him as he played his lute upon his throne? Did he play a minor chord and think his armies and faith would deliver him? Instead, our dooms were all sealed that day by his hubris!

He awoke in his now disheveled habit, not remembering falling asleep. The night's dream stayed fresh in his mind's eye as he blinked away the sleep. In it, he walked into the tempest as the waves and wind crashed over him, only to be washed back to the safety of the shore. The urge to shut his eyes and lay amongst the safe sand threatened to pull him back to sleep. He sat up and returned himself to the mortal world. The morning bells had yet to chime, and his stomach let out a growl as he sat on his bed. Penance always finds a way to us.

A blood-red sun doused the marble balcony, and its heat chased away the worst of the hunger as Eanotious basked in it. The Patriarch knelt against the hard marble and said his prayers of redemption. The legionnaires below already busied themselves digging trench lines beyond the palisade while others practiced in lists and ranges. The thum of bowstrings reverberated off the stone cliffs, and their incessant rhythm wormed its way into his worship.

They would come today; Eanotious knew it. They would come with their demands of food and quarter, all under the double dragon banner of the Emperor, which he knew he could not deny, despite every fiber of his being telling him to do so. This time tomorrow, the dragon standard would fly above his bed, and Eanotious would be sleeping in the great hall. They would defile this sacred space under the guise of Imperial servitude. From that moment, he would be the Patriarch who gave away the monastery. He yearned to scream. What he would give to wake up and for this to be nothing more than a fever dream.

His knees ached against the marble. Auras, what must I do for you to deliver us from these heretics? Auras, please, I invoke you now. Long has it been since we have asked for your power. Bring the storms now. Bring the rain and the wind, and crumble to dust those who would desecrate you. Do this, and I will walk across Imperium barefoot and bring your grace to the ends of Lurra. This I promise as your humble servant. He wiped the corners of his eyes with the hem of his habit.

It appeared over the valley’s eastern crest. The sight rooted Eanotious to the stone and dashed all thoughts from his mind. A lone rider with a banner held aloft stood upon the gentle hillside. Even in the shadow of the red sun, Patriarch Eanotious knew it to be the black banner of the Khan. Auras deliver us. Above him, the bells tolled. He took off at a run down the spiral staircase.

“Blessed Brother Maric,” Eanotious signed silently to the first priest he came across, “gather all within the safety of the great hall. Tell the next brother you see to gather food and water, as much as we can.” The gray-bearded priest nodded without challenge and departed down a set of spiral stairs toward the dormitory. Eanotious crossed the breezeway that descended to the small gatehouse. Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look. He needed to keep his attention on his flock and not turn it to the folly threatening to engulf them.

He made it halfway down before he broke his mantra. He gripped his camauro against the wind while he cast his gaze across the valley. The Imperial spears arranged themselves below at the direction of plumed officers. Archers took up positions along the palisade, and groups of men loaded catapults within the camp. Auras and Celion, send mercy for us mortals, whatever the cost. Turn the field to mud may their horses falter. Celion, this heretic and his horde desecrated your Sanctum. Make them feel your wrath. Each of you take from me what your will desires. I will give you all.

Figures moved around the monastery’s small gatehouse at the head of the cliffside causeway. He picked up his pace.

Eanotious found the gates already barred when he arrived. The first stroke of grace in these dark days. A brooding figure in the robes of a brother directed the last few acolytes in securing the chains before ushering them back towards the spires.

“We are done here, eminence.” Brother Shkorda signed after a brief bow.

“I thank you, Brother. Your initiative is appreciated. Go with them and make sure all are tended to. The coming days will be long.” Eanotious signed. The youngest brother of their order chased a smile from his lips at the compliment and responded with emotion befitting his rank.

“Thank you, your Eminence. With respect to Auras, I would like to stand with you. These will be fine.” He waved as the last boy disappeared back up the breezeway.

The Patriarch should have denied the request. Challenging his word within the spires was blasphemous, yet the thought of company calmed him as nothing else had since the legion arrived. “I go to await the coming of Auras's power.” He signed. Brother Shkorda bowed and led the Patriarch to the roof of the gatehouse.

Below them, blood flowed freely across the Sacred Valley. Upon the Imperial’s southern flank, a schiltron crumbled under an assault by the Khan’s footmen on one flank, and volleys of arrows preceding a charge of heavy steppe horses on the other. The screams of the remaining Imperial spearmen suffocated beneath the stampede. Footmen under the black banner assaulted the palisade with grappling hooks and hastily erected ladders near the Imperial center while the defenders loosed arrows and projectiles from their catapults. As they watched, the defenses faltered against the weight and fury of the assault.

The banners of the palisade gate fell. The Khan’s horses and supporting spears poured through the gap while Imperial spears struggled to reform within the encampment. Fires sparked to life amongst the camp, once thought beyond the reach of battle. Above, the sun beat down upon the field with no relief visible across the horizon. They will come for us now. Auras, your beauty will forever be expelled from this sacred ground by the actions of these heretics. Please, I beg of you, let them not also corrupt these halls. I need your guidance now more than ever. Show me the way. As he stood and watched the remaining Imperial legionaries and auxiliaries collapse and route, the air around them remained calm.

“We must direct the acolytes in prayer, and that Auras guides the fallen through what comes next. Ensure proper penance is paid. I must prepare as well.” Eanotious signed to Brother Shkorda.

The Patriarch moved as if in a dream. Once back within his chambers, he opened the ancient wardrobe that held the possessions of the Patriarch for longer than the memory of Imperium. Eanotious ran his fingers over his formal habit, made of the finest Ang’Xi white silk, before donning it. The bronze circular pendant of his station bounced against his chest as he walked back onto the balcony. The crows flew low before the blood sun, yet to reach its apex. Upon the field, the remnants of the Imperial legion crumbled. An entire legion decimated in a morning. He dropped to his knees. Auras, you have forsaken us. Cast me from this spire if your grace is still among us. His feet remained firmly planted to the marble. Salvation would not come to the Patriarch of the last monastery of Auras so easily. He knelt with only the crows disturbing the silence, and the answer came to him amongst the groans of the dying. Then, if it is your will, let my judgment come. I go face it freely in your name.

He passed by the Great Hall. From within, Eanotious heard the scurrying of the brothers trying to control the acolytes. Auras, protect them. Let this path you have illuminated for me be the path to their salvation.

The black banners awaited him beyond the gatehouse. The Khan’s honor guard sat silently upon their great eastern war horses, gold and silver armor reflecting the blood sun. He watched them through the gate while they thumbed the hilts of their curved swords: blood and mud covered their black cloaks. Let the generations remember my bravery. My dear god Auras. I come to you now as your humble servant. In your honor, I will stand against whatever judgment this scourge gives me for the good of those within and your eternal grace.

A shadow appeared at his side. Brother Shkorda bowed before his Patriarch. “I could not let you go alone.” He signed silently in accordance with his eternal vows.

Eanotious smiled, “you will do great things for the order.”

“And you, your eminence? If you are gone, we are lost to this heretic.” Brother Shkorda signed rapidly, sweat running down his face. A small dagger dangled at the brother’s side.

“I must do what I must. Auras will protect you either through my deliverance or sacrifice. I accept my path so that her power may come to you now that the hour of need is nigh.” Patriarch Eanotious slammed his fist against his palm. “Close the gate behind me.”

No titles heralded the Patriarch as he marched across the causeway. No horns blew from the battlements. No crows cawed from where they circled above. The honor guard sat motionless upon their mounts, drawing long shadows toward Eanotious across the swaying green grass. The gate slammed shut behind him.

A single, shrill call from a horn of bone broke the silence. The Honor Guard separated and drew their swords in salute as the figure rode between them. He blocked out the midmorning sun as he rode. A breeze filled with death’s stench gusted up the causeway and ruffled the hem of the Patriarch’s habit.

“Bayakaa the Great, Khan of the Steppe, Scourge of the South, Barbarian Imperator, and Shogun of Ang’Xi, approaches. May he deem you worthy of his presence, lest your time in it be short.” The nearest of the honor guard cried out to a resounding “Hai!” from the rest of the riders. The weight of his voice pressed against the Patriarch’s chest, but he remained unbowed against his fate. The Khan’s black cape swayed in the wind, and, despite the days of unbroken sun, his skin appeared pale as winter. A black gauntleted hand rested upon one of the pair of swords he wore, while the other deftly controlled his mount, the finest Eanotious had ever laid eyes upon. Bayakaa could have lifted his horse, and crushed Eanotious with it had the Khan’s black heart desired to.

The two men locked eyes as the Khan circled the Patriarch.

“A man of few words and little fear, I respect that. You have what I seek.” The Khan said in a shrill voice that filled the valley. The hairs on Eanotious’s neck stood on end at the sound.

For the first time in thirty-seven harvests, the Patriarch spoke, “What you seek is not here, and has not been for some generations, but it is where you will find the path to your demise by the power of our God. They call you by another name beyond the Imperial border, Bayakaa the Lame. They say you’re not long for your titles, and that, like your Father, and Uncle, and all your ilk that came before, you will falter when you reach Imperial lands. They say that the armies of Ang'Xi humbled you, despite your victory. Turn back from here. Go back to your grasslands, and you will be immortal. If not, the Emperor, Child of the Holy Flame, will succeed where the assassin failed. He will take your life, not just your legs. So I say again, what you seek is not here.” Eanotious could feel the contempt in the eyes of the honor guard for the insults he hurled at their master. Bayakaa betrayed no emotion.

The massive figure reigned his horse to a halt before Eanotious and drew a thin sword that trailed a royal blue ribbon. “You speak with a sharp tongue. So did the Daimyo of Ang’Xi until I cut his out with his own blade.” Bayakaa said with a flourish of the thin Daimyo’s sword. “After that, he bled out upon his surrendered throne. Only the length of his suffering humbled me within that city. If you think the Empire will protect you, well…” He pointed the sword out over the valley where the crows feasted.

Eanotious refused to look out upon the Sacred Valley as he spoke, “And what will your soldiers do when they meet Fiearo’s holy fire. Your grandfather was the greatest conqueror Lurra had ever seen until the day he marched on Imperium. The Great Khan’s men broke like fowl against the adherents of the Holy Flame. What will they do when you cannot run, cannot even stand, against the Primate? Against the Emperor? I say again, what divinity you seek is not here. No power will you find within this monastery. Leave, and you may still find the victory you desire.”

The Khan’s black eyes narrowed. “You are the bravest man I've met today. I congratulate you. Celion herself differed regarding Auras’s refuge when I spoke to her within the Sanctum in Ang’Xi. She was even kind enough to bless our travels with clear skies before I gave her a clean death. What does Auras whisper to you now, I wonder? Or shall I ask her myself? She will be before me soon enough.”

Ice ran through Eanotious’s spine as the remaining color drained from his face. It is impossible. He speaks poison. The power to deliver the flock will come soon if you do not falter. “Leave this place. You have broken a solemn and divine oath. Enter the Empire by another road, and I will intercede on your behalf.” He felt the pace of his voice increase despite his best efforts to control it.

A solitary cloud passed the red sun, casting a shadow over where they stood. Within it, Bayakaa the Great, Khan of the Steppe, Scourge of the South, Barbarian Imperator, Shogun of Ang’Xi, and the one whom the Daimyo’s assassin rendered lame, placed boots soaked in Imperial blood upon the grass and stepped slowly toward Eanotious, Patriarch of the last monastery of Auras, and her Blessed Mouthpiece upon Lurra.

Each footfall echoed off the stone cliffs, louder than any war horn had that day.

The Patriarch refused to tremble at the abomination before him, despite every fiber of his being struggling to unravel into the ground where the crows could not feast upon him. He stared into the blackness of the heretics' eyes and accepted his fate. The Daimyo of Ang’Xi’s blade barely cut the silk as it slid between Eanotious’s ribs.

The last remnants of Auras’s sacred breath left his lungs in a dull gasp. Eanotious refused to break his stare as his blood rained down upon the grass. As darkness crept into the corners of his vision, he saw it. A circle of mauve rimmed the Great Khan’s iris. It burned bright like a shining star before vanishing into the black abyss of his eyes. Bayakaa leaned in, close enough that their beards met.

“You will soon see the power of my master. Mallack comes for all.” He withdrew his sword, and Eanotious collapsed.

Eanotious swayed on his knees, wishing death would take him, as Bayakaa cut his pendant away. “Thank you for this. You were more worthy than I expected. Tell Celion that when you see her. I’ll give your regards to Auras.”

Eanotious’s lips trembled as the rest of his life drained from him. My God, Auras, deliver me now. I came forward in your grace to stand against the heretic. Let my sacrifice bring forth your power and deliver my flock. If you do not, I am doomed for all of eternity. I beg of you!

Only silence came to him as he knelt upon the causeway, as the Patriarch’s blood ran down the Khan’s blade. Eanotious saw Bayakaa for what he was as he knelt there, mouth ajar, and uttered no more prayers. The great cataclysm was now upon Lurra. The final war would soon engulf those mortals who remained to stand against it. He pitied them; the Empire could never hope to stand against this power that could silence the Gods.

The Khan removed the Patriarch’s head with a single, clean blow. Eanotious’s body crumpled against the grass; the last of the breeze subsided as the death throes summoned his demise.

The rest of his honor guard sat in silence, faces not betraying their disbelief in the miracle before them.

“These priests are more of a disruption than I expected. I’ll need to examine the dead ones' chambers. The key to our final victory lies within. I wish not to be disturbed on my journey. Before I’m done cleaning my sword, I expect all disruptions removed.” Bayakaa said as he stood towering over the Patriarch’s lifeless body.

The guard who called his titles nodded at the command before motioning to the others. They descended upon the Monastery as the servant of the God of Death sat upon the swaying grass of the Sacred Valley. He turned the pendant over in his hands, feeling Auras’s divine energy flowing through it, before placing it around his neck.

FictionPrologueFantasyFantasy
6

About the Creator

Matthew Fromm

Full-time nerd, history enthusiast, and proprietor of random knowledge. The best way to find your perfect story is to make it yourself.

Here there be dragons, and knights, and castles, and quests for entities not wished to be found.

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Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (6)

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  • Veronica Coldiron7 months ago

    If this was meant as a prologue, I hope there's a book coming. That last showdown was epic!

  • Samrah nadeem7 months ago

    https://vocal.media/history/whispers-of-history-rpqh0fj5

  • Samrah nadeem7 months ago

    Great 👍

  • Addison M8 months ago

    Phenomenal work! Really enjoyed the read. I became more and more engrossed as it progressed, the pacing was good, and at no point did I lose interest. The way you seeded the lore of the world through the Patriarch's thoughts and history as opposed to a narrative dump was the perfect fit. For a prologue this was superb, and I'd gladly read more.

  • Ashley Lima9 months ago

    Wowowowow, I really, really, really enjoyed this. I'm a big fantasy lover and this hooked me right away. That first, "There weren't always dragons in the Valley," is great. It establishes right away that something is going wrong, and it makes me want to know what's going wrong. Keeps me curious and wanting to read. One thing that I would suggest, is spending a little more time on the dragons and their connection to the Khan (I think?). Also, it took me a little while to understand the Imperials weren't the bad guys. Is the monastery in some sort of kingdom guarded by the Imperials? When I read the first few paragraphs, I was picturing a holy place in the Sacred Valley disconnected from any sort of kingdom. So I was surprised when the armies began gathering, as the Patriarch's thoughts made them seem very pacifistic. I think you did a really good job at establishing a place and time. I liked the use of "eleven harvests" and "thirty-seven harvests" as a substitute for years. I have some minor grammatical suggestions if that's okay. There were a few areas where capitalization was missing for "Eminence." Also, I think Valley should always be capitalized as well because it's a proper noun referring to the very specific Sacred Valley. There was a place where you said "wisen" and I do believe you may have meant "wisened." I really enjoyed the line "Tea, grown long since cold, splattered upon the marble floor, and the remnants of spinach and oil covered the acolyte’s white robes." You're able to say so much with this detail and it really does help to establish the place and time. In the first paragraph, where there are italics, it's not clear if it's the dragon's thoughts or someone else. Once I read further, I recognized that it was likely Eanotious, but it's unclear. Maybe specify that so it doesn't take the reader out of the story. I also might reword the second sentence to be "There should have never been dragons in the Sacred Valley." I think having the "never" be after "have" puts more emphasis on it, but this is just a stylistic gripe and nothing of real importance. At the end "death throes summoned his death." is a little redundant. I might change the second death to demise or some other synonym. Overall this was a really great prologue. I want to know what happens next, and that's what a good beginning is supposed to do. You have a great hook, good moments that put the reader into a place and time, wonderfully believable character interactions, and an interesting conflict. I would mainly focus on making it extra clear through the historical fact of the fiction which side of the battle the monastery is on and why the dragons are important to the enemy. Really well done. I hope my comments find you well!

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