The Dark Age
#TheDarkAge #JeffWHorton #SurvivorsofthePulse #Post-Apocalyptic #Survival #Adventure #Thriller #NowAvailable
Ferrell made his way through the dilapidated ruins of the once great metropolitan area, mindful of the many dangerous inhabitants that now called it home. He scanned the ruins as he walked down the wide ancient road, which passed through the middle of a number of tall, crumbling buildings, overgrown with ivy and rust. Outside two of the larger buildings, where the grass that sprouted through the concrete was the tallest, he saw something that worried him. A hundred yards in front of them stood a small herd of whitetail deer, that had stopped to feed on some of the poison ivy and poison sumac that grew out of the cracks in the road. Ferrell hesitated because he knew what it meant…trouble. The deer were a favorite food source for the large predators that roamed the overgrown ruins in the mero. It was only a matter of time now.
He was preparing to turn the group back the way they came in an effort to try to find a way around the herd when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. The movement was subtle yet familiar. Crouching low in the grass, their massive sinews tensing as they prepared to attack the herd, was a pride of lions, emerging from the edge of a dark alley between the two buildings to his right. Ferrell turned to face the people with him, pointing toward the big cats. “Slowly,” he whispered, “everyone back away, slowly, no quick movements.”
The three lions launched their attack with lightning speed, quickly moving to flank and encircle the herd. Two of the male lions, a mature, large cat, and a much younger, smaller one, chased after a part of the herd that had split off from the rest and was now running in their direction. The remnant of the herd separated, some to Ferrell’s left and some to his right, but this time the lions did not follow the deer. Instead, they were now racing toward him and his companions. They had encountered human beings before, Ferrell surmised, and had probably discovered that people made for an easier meal than the much swifter and more agile whitetail deer. Two of the men travelling with him panicked and ran before Ferrell was able to stop them. I told them to stay close to me! How can I protect them unless they stay together? With a solitary movement, he drew his sword from its scabbard, sliced at the neck of the smaller beast, and then watched as it dropped lifeless to the ground. The second lion circled him for several moments, letting out a ferocious growl as it charged. The cat lunged at his throat with its massive claws outstretched, and its enormous canines positioned to close around Ferrell’s neck. Just as the beast sunk its claws into his sides, Ferrell buried his katana sword into its chest, though the momentum of the now dead animal’s carcass knocked him to the ground. He withdrew the blade from the animal and turned his attention back to the rest of the pride, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw the remaining lions devouring one of the deer that had been unfortunate enough to be at the rear of the herd.
Leading the group away from the feast and down a different path, he took a moment to catch his breath and check himself out as soon as they were clear. There were several puncture marks followed by deep scores where the big cat had nearly ended his life. Were it not for the thick and incredibly tough armor that he wore, the lion would surely have torn him apart with its powerful claws alone. Ferrell looked up briefly to survey their position. He soon regained his bearings and led the group around the ferocious animals.
Permitting himself to relax for a moment now that the immediate danger had passed, he paused to take in his surroundings. The crumbling structures on all sides reminded him of why he disliked the mero so much, regardless of how often he brought pilgrims through it. The ominous ruins of the ancient city stood as cold and foreboding relics of a strange and long-dead civilization. There was something unnatural about the place that made his skin crawl, and despite his regular treks through the long-deserted metropolitan area, he never could get used to it. The endless rows of buildings, clearly built to accommodate a vast number of people, now stood empty and desolate. As the travelers passed through the section of the mero where some of the tallest and most exotic structures stood, Ferrell tried to imagine what the city might have looked like when it was still in its prime, during the height of the Golden Age. Traveling through the mero alone so frequently had given him plenty of time to reflect on the disparity between what had once been, and what now was. Clearly the Ancients had achieved an incredibly advanced civilization, while the peoples of The Dark Age lived in such a primitive, feudal manner. It left him longing for something better for humanity. Perhaps, one day, we will tear down this graveyard, build a new civilization, and bring about an end to the Dark Age, as well as the death and decay all around us!
If the lion ruled the mero, then his four-legged subjects were the rat, the deer, and the dog, along with the many other descendants of zoo animals who, like the lions, had escaped their confinement hundreds of years earlier during the time of the Great Collapse.
Like most meros, however, the ruins were also home to packs of urba, people said to be descended from the Ancients that had built and once inhabited the now-deserted meros. The urba, who lived like bandits, robbed and killed anyone adventurous and foolish enough to venture into their territory unprepared. The ancient city Ferrell and his companions were traversing happened to be home to the only ocean port in the territory, resulting in a considerable amount of human traffic through that particular mero, despite the danger. The port to the Great Waters was the only reason so many risked the dangerous crossing through the mero. Most travelers were pilgrims or priests on their way to Rome, or settlers leaving for distant lands seeking a more hospitable place to live and raise their families. Few ships made such dangerous trips however, and fewer still were captained by men competent and honest enough to be trusted to carry them safely across the troubled waters.
Since the only way to get from the Outlands to the Great Waters was through the ruins, the urbas in this mero fared better than most. Even well-armed pilgrims fell victim to the vicious attacks of the urbas, who would then take anything and everything of value. Only a pilgrim of substantial means, who could afford to hire a warrior like Ferrell, could expect to have a better-than-average chance of completing the dangerous journey in relative safety. Though he often helped wealthy pilgrims get safely through the meros, he also offered free escort to those most in need, since he knew most of them would never survive without his protection. It had always seemed odd to Ferrell that they would risk their lives in such an endeavor. Even for those that made it to the port, navigating by ship was a dangerous enough business in itself, at least as dangerous as passing through the mero, by even the bravest man’s reckoning.
The group of pilgrims accompanying him through the mero on this trip was a typical assortment of men and women; consisting of three couples, one who had brought along their five year-old son, and three men and two women, each traveling alone. They were on their way to meet their ship, which was docked where the Great Waters began on the eastern side of the mero. Once there, if everything went as he hoped it would, he would be escorting a different group of pilgrims from the ship to the Outlands. Some would be travelling to local villages; others would make long treks through the Outlands to distant territories. Ferrell had long ago considered the absurdity that just as many people seemed to be heading into the Outlands as there were people trying to get out. Most of them were either just restless or desperate he had concluded, hoping that their next home would be better than their last.
They had made excellent time and were now well over halfway through the mero. The thought occurred to Ferrell that maybe, just maybe, this would be the first time he made it all the way through the mero with at least one group of pilgrims without any challenge from the troublesome urba.
A sound from behind him caught Ferrell’s attention. He turned, drawing the sword out of his scabbard as he did so, swinging the blade as if decapitating an invisible enemy. Although he did not see anything, he could hear a number of soft steps in the shadows to his left and to his right.
“Urba! Everyone, get behind me. Those of you with weapons, get them out. Do it now!”
Urbas emerged from alleys behind them, as many as twenty in all. Placing himself between the urba and the pilgrims, Ferrell ran toward the urba, sword in hand. He became a blur to the pilgrims as the only discernable feature became the flash of his blade. One of the urba stabbed at him with a sword, which nearly found its intended target. Ferrell sidestepped the attack at the last second, causing the urba’s sword to stab his companion instead of Ferrell. The clansman then struck the second urba on the head with the hilt of his sword, rendering the urba unconscious. Ferrell looked up to find himself suddenly surrounded. He looked hard at the urba standing closest to him.
“Just so you know, you urba punk, “ he said, pointing a finger at the big man standing in front of him, “I’m taking you out first!” A flash of fear fell on the urba he had singled out, while the others around him relaxed. Ferrell took a step forward, before suddenly stepping back, away from the frightened and intimated urba. He then delivered a powerful back kick to the solar plexus of the urba behind him instead, knocking him back six feet and onto the ground. The other urba rushed in and with Ferrell suddenly gone, they ran clumsily into one another, with two of the urba accidentally stabbing other members of their pack.
When the remaining urba attacked, Ferrell’s blade sprang into action. Within seconds, the urba lay in a heap on the ground.
Ferrell had already dispatched most of the urba when he noticed that one of the pilgrims was in trouble. In a moment of folly, the naive man had left the others, dropping his guard in a misplaced attempt to try to talk with one of the urba, to try to reason with him. The attempt failed of course, as the pilgrim was knocked unconscious from behind, snatched up by two of the urba’s companions, and dragged toward one of the tall buildings nearby. Ferrell knew what gruesome fate awaited the man if they reached the building with him. If he was lucky, they would kill him quickly before robbing him, taking whatever they could find on his corpse. Trying to reason with an urba! Ferrell decided to focus on helping the others instead of going after the hapless pilgrim. He had given explicit instructions to the group before they started through the meros that if attacked, they were supposed to stay by his side and just as important, they were to say nothing, and stay together. The man would get what he deserved for his foolishness in not following his instructions.
“Get to the ship,” Ferrell told the others, “I will take care of the urba. Now go!” Ferrell took out two more of the urba before he noticed that most of the pilgrims were still there, standing motionless and staring at Ferrell. “What are you waiting on? I told you to head for the ship!”
“We will not leave without our companion, Mr. Young.”
Unbelievable. Ferrell shook his head as he assessed the situation. He dispatched the remaining urba until they were all down. Even before the last one hit the ground, Ferrell was already sprinting after the man that was taken. He caught up to them just as the urba were dragging the terrified man across the threshold and into one of the buildings. When they saw Ferrell running at a full clip toward them however, they immediately dropped the pilgrim out of fear, and ran deep inside the bowels of the building in a panic. They had seen what Ferrell had done to the other members of their pack, and decided that they had had enough.
“Is everyone okay?” he asked, looking the group over for signs of injury after retrieving the man.“Is anyone missing?” he asked, counting even as he did so.
“We all appear to be okay, and I believe that everyone is still here, Mr. Young, “ answered one of the women, “thanks to you. We owe you our lives.”
“Hmm!” Ferrell grunted as he sheathed his blade and started walking toward the dock. “Then maybe you will learn to listen next time, hmm? “
Ferrell and the pilgrims saw no further urba. Furthermore, he knew it was unlikely that he would have any additional trouble on the way back through the mero. It would be some time before the urbas he had just taken out were replaced by urbas from other packs. Since a pack typically roamed a specific part of a mero, and he had just dispatched most of the pack that patrolled the section they had passed through, the return journey would be quieter.
As they neared the dock, the pilgrims began to breathe easier, sensing the danger had passed. It was common knowledge that the urba stayed away from the docks, having learned long ago that messing with the armed crews that worked the ships was far more trouble than it was worth. When they finally made it to the ship, the pilgrims thanked Ferrell once more for all he had done. A crewmember greeted them as they approached and asked about payment for their passage. Visibly pleased with what they offered, he nodded his head, and pointed toward the gangplank, which they would need to cross to board the vessel.
Ferrell lingered at the dock for a while, taking the opportunity to sit down, rest for a few moments, and relax while waiting to see whether anyone disembarking from one of the ships would require his services on the return trip. Since he had to walk back through the mero to get to the Outlands anyway, he figured he might as well be paid for his trouble. He looked up at the sun, which was now sitting high in the sky, and determined that based on its position directly overhead, that it must be close to noon. If he left soon, he might make it back through the mero before nightfall.
“Mr. Young?” Ferrell quickly looked down, having been blinded momentarily after looking up at the sun. After looking away for a few seconds, he turned back around to find a tall, elderly man with a kind face and dressed in black clothing, standing before him.
“Yes?” Ferrell answered roughly.
“You come highly recommended by some of the men that just boarded this ship. They tell me that you handled yourself quite well on the way here, when your group was attacked by wild beasts, and then by urba. They said you are an exceptional warrior, and that they had never seen anything like you before. I was hoping you might be willing to help me get back through the mero.”
Within a few moments, Ferrell was able to see clearly again. He recognized by the man’s clothing that he was a priest.
“Sure,” he answered, “I’ll take you.”
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The Dark Age