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"The Island of Battle Realms"

Introduction

These are the chapters that describe the history of Battle Realms before Kenji's Journey and Grayback's Journey.

Prologue

Once, long before the time of our fathers and grandfathers, the land was whole. It was as rich and abundant land, a land of rolling hills and pristine forests and its people were many and exotic. Some arrived on ships from distant lands and chose to stay. Some were descended from the hill-folk, and could recite the names of their ancestors beyond the most ancient histories. War was not unknown, but peace was the rule: a peace born of strength and abundance.

Nowhere was the glory of that age greater than in Serpentholm, the keep of the Dragon Clan. Forgotten sculptors fashioned its walls with such cunning that the peasantry believed them alive; a forgotten shogun forged its laws both strict and fair; forgotten masters trained its warriors in fighting techniques subtle and fierce. Even its wisest scholars wrote proudly on sheaves of gilded parchment that the strength and honor of the Dragon would endure forever…

…and then, in the span of one year - one sowing, one harvest, one terrible winter - it was all lost.

Nobody knows now what they were, demons or spirits or monsters; nobody knew then, either. They were simply the Horde, black and inhuman, and they rose in the thousands and tens of thousands from beyond the northern borders, somewhere in the trackless mountains. Where they passed, nothing lived. Even the trees withered and died. There were no bodies or survivors to bury them.

Tarrant the Elder ruled Serpentholm in those days, and he was no coward. When he learned of the Horde threat, the most valiant of his samurai rode forth to meet them at first light, hundreds of heroes beneath hundreds of fluttering Dragon banners. It was two weeks before the first and only warrior returned, slumped and over his saddle, his dark blood caked over dozens of vicious, ragged wounds. He was quite dead. Somehow, his horse had fled far and fast enough to escape its rider's fate. Tarrant knew in that instant that the Dragon Clan's only hope of survival lay in a similar flight.

A week later, the walls of Serpentholm - walls that had never fallen to a siege - were abandoned, and the Clan of the Dragon began its long march south. As the months of ceaseless travel passed, the great column of horses, wagons and men swelled with refugees, those who knew the proud Dragon would never flee an opponent who might be beaten. Those who chose to stay and defend their lands were honored. Nobody ever heard from them again. Always, the scouts sent north failed to return, and always, the Dragon marched south.

At the end of the sixth month, they crossed the final ridge and saw the ocean. The Dragon had nowhere left to run.

Tarrant the Elder had, of course, foreseen this. He set his scholars to devise an escape for his people, and there had been plenty of time for argument and debate during the long march. But there was no time to build ships and nowhere to hide. The greater part of the Dragon's army had already fallen to the first disastrous ride against the Horde. Tarrant's only hope rested in a locked, silver-bound chest within his private wagon: the Serpent Orb, most ancient of the Dragon Clan's treasures and the symbol of his leadership. Some tales claimed that the Orb could summon the spirit of the Dragon itself, if the need were great enough. Few believed these tales, but the need was indeed great. As his weary people prepared for a final stand against the Horde, Tarrant passed leadership of the clan to his son, Tarrant the younger. Then he stood alone-to attempt the impossible, and to die.

To his last moments, there were no witnesses. We know only that he succeeded. The gathered refugees heard the crash of the Dragon's fury as a terrible wall of air smashed men, horses, and wagons to the ground. Everywhere, the land seemed to writhe in agony. Many of those who survived the long and grueling march were crushed beneath cascades of stone, or disappeared into chasms that appeared beneath their feet. The rest huddled together and prayed for deliverance.

When the quake subsided, the survivors of the Dragon's wrath could barely move for fear. It took all of the younger Tarrant's courage to begin directing the construction of shelters from the remnants of the train. If the Horde had come upon them, they would have met with no resistance. But the Horde never came.

It was then - surveying the broken remains of his people - that Tarrant the Younger realized they were Dragon no more. It was something in the eyes of every child who had seen his home abandoned to evil; something in the stance of every warrior who knew his bravest comrades had fought, and died, rather than run away. They belonged now to the earth, not to the heavens. Yet they would still be fierce, and they would toil in their new lands with pride. Out of this humility and grim determination, the Serpent Clan - our clan - was born.

Today, if you travel north beyond the mountains, you will reach a ragged cliff overlooking a swirling, vicious channel, full of rocks and debris. On a clear day, you may glimpse the outline of the opposite shore, but more likely it will be cloaked in the mists. The Dragon's fury bloke the land as well as our people, and our ancestral home lie across the impassable waters of the channel. Whether the Horde still waits on those foreign shores, none can say.

We think about it less every day. This is our home now.

Chapters

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