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1] Tarrant Struggled
2] Serpent Orb
3] The Founding of a Clan
4] Dragon Law
5] The Coming of the Wolf
6] Yukio's Time
7] Strangers Visit
8] Meeting of Clans
9] Blackbone's Trust
10] Lord Hideo's War
11] Whispers of War
12] A Hero Returns
Chapter 2: Serpent Orb

As they traveled south the weather grew warmer. In a month they had left behind familiar landmarks. The long retreat took them past strange marvels stories about the Headless Men, and the Howling Marsh circulated up and down the column. They passed between two enormous brooding faces carved into the sides of a mountain pass, each with a different glyph carved onto its brow. At night, they could see lights winking on and off in the mountain range east of their route.

And then after six months, they crossed the last hump, and beyond it saw the ocean. He had foreseen this moment weeks ago, and slowly over time he had reached his decision. The Dragon Clan and the refugees with them could not put to sea, nor could they defeat the forces from which they were fleeing. He stood there for a long time, gazing southward as the sun began to descend over this new land.

Calmly, Tarrant descended to his camp and summoned his advisors and his two sons, Tarrant the Younger and Ozaku to his tent. There, he gave his last orders. The clan was to cross the ridge and settle in the green valley beyond it under the leadership of Tarrant the Younger, his eldest son. It was to be their new home. He, Tarrant, would stay here and make a final stand against the coming of the Horde. He, and the Serpent Orb. According to legend the Orb might allow him to summon the Dragon itself to make a last, desperate stand. Should he fail, at least the ridge would give them a good place to fight from as the Horde came on.

Early the next morning, as the refugees picked their way downslope into the valley, Tarrant left his family and walked north, dressed simply and carrying the talisman known as the Serpent Orb. He walked until he found a pleasant clearing with a broad, flat rock and a long view to the north. There, he seated himself and waited for his thoughts to become still. The sky was clear, birds sang, and a long way north he saw a band of gray on the horizon where the Horde had advanced. For all he knew, there were no human beings at all north of where he stood. All the lands they had traveled through would be empty now. He was the one living thing standing between the Horde and was left.

Legends told that the Serpent Orb had been given to the founder of the Dragon Clan by the Dragon himself. The object was of no workmanship he recognized, a smooth clear orb with watery blue energy swirling within. It was as beautiful as it was simple, but something in its form spoke of power.

He held the Orb in one hand as he began a chant that had been taught to him by his father in secret, words in a lost language that only those of his lineage now spoke. His father had explained to him that the Dragon was linked to the Orb in some way. He did not understand what was about to happen, but he knew that somehow, through the Orb, he could call upon the Dragon itself. And that the attempt alone would probably kill him. He took a deep breath and prepared to die.

No man saw what happened next what followed is known only from the words of those far to the south. The sound of the Dragon's fury crashed over the refugees many leagues away. Horses panicked, men fell to the ground from the shockwave. Weather went mad, torrential rains fell and landslides cascaded down the cliffs, crushing people and animals. This was Tarrant the Younger's test as a leader, rallying the standard-bearers and calming both the Dragon Clan and the motley band of refugees that now looked to him for protection. In the first few weeks he had led them down and southward, through inland marshes and to a calm inlet where he halted and declared the first settlement.

He also made another decision: those who had come south together would now be one people. The Dragon Clan had been a mighty people, a proud and pure expression of their traditions and their spirit. That had changed -- they had been humbled by a force they could not withstand.

In addition, they were no longer simply the Dragon fragments of a dozen clans had joined them, from Heron and Tiger and Eagle and even more exotic peoples. They would remember the Dragon, but they were no longer exalted above the other animals. They would be fierce, but they no longer belonged in the heavens they belonged to the earth where they would toil and fight for their right to live they were the Serpent Clan now.

Weeks later the mists began to thin out, and the bravest Serpent Clan scouts scaled the heights again to look northward. There they found that what had been the southern edge of a plateau was now a thin mountain range, the northern slopes plunging straight down to the sea. The land they had crossed was now a rocky, turbulent ocean channel, currents eddying. Far to the north might have been a mountainous shore. In its fury the Dragon had broken the continent itself, forever cutting them off from the Horde, and from their home. Of Tarrant the Elder, and the Serpent Orb, they saw no sign.

Chapter 3: The Founding of a Clan