Ashes of the Ylan [A Rama Empire novel]

"I thought you'd kill me," she croaked. "Not much honour if you cannot keep your promises."

Within the world of Convergera, lies the lands of Rama. Though the Rama Empire has long since been disbanded, the Capital still stands as a symbol of prosperity. The Antirian wars are over, but peace is soon disturbed as disaster strikes.

Sarashi is raised on the Wild Plains, but in a culture where freedom is everything, she is tied down by fear and expectations. Her people wants her to embrace her mother's legacy, her own fury screams for vengeance and her heart aches to belong. But when the war between the Sapphire Empire and the people of Rama flares up again, she'll have to make a choice between what she wants, and what is expected of her.

"Both standing on two legs, eyes level, the lion tried to push her into the ground. Her heart beat like never before as it stretched its neck over the spear to reach her face with its teeth. Pain made her dizzy as she growled back, a fiery rage star

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10. Ch 2: Uncrowned Queen (Part 3 of 6)

A glance towards the sun told Sarashi she only had a couple of hours before darkness. A half satisfied hum left her. The sandy ground around the lake was covered in cloven tracks, and between the shorter grass, she found several droppings. Though night would make it more difficult to track them, the plains' deer rarely moved far during the dark hours, and usually huddled together for safety against the nocturnal predators.

She bent to the earth and let her fingertips follow the indentations of the hoof prints, allowing herself a small smile as they crumbled from her touch.

She kept her eyes on the tracks, both on the ground and the ones in the grass were straws had been nipped at as the flock came through. She settled into a steady trot, her fingers itching as the frustrated feeling in her gut began to dissolve. The run kept the complicated thoughts at bay, as she hurried like an arrow towards its target.

Sarashi ran through the night, the silver light of the moon bathing the tracks as if they were tiny pools of shadows on her way. It was almost full now, and lit up the plains around her. When morning came, she found a small hide to roll up in and took a quick nap. No more than an hour later, she woke again, and continued the hunt. She was catching up, the deer's droppings shining moistly in the sun.

She halted her trot to a soft walk, her bare feet almost silent against the dirt as she sunk down into the lounging walk that left her head only barely above the tall grass. It was a skill that had taken her years to learn, and her thighs still burned from the strain of doing it soundlessly.

Small bushes covered in thorns stood closely around yet another small water hole, this one barely bigger than she could leap across it. Half eaten leaves and barren twigs showed that the deer had eaten their fill when they came by there. A leaf torn in half was still wet where it had been wounded. They could only be minutes away now. A few strands of fur sat where a thorn had fought to protect its bush.

It was urgent she not make a sound. The does would be skittish and the buck would keep a vigilant eye on the surroundings to keep his family safe. The smallest noise would send them running, and she would have wasted hours of tracking.

She could not afford to waste neither time nor effort. By the will of the Veiled, she was downwind and her scent carried away from the deer.

Sarashi continued, slow and quiet.

Her first sighting of the herd she had been tracking for a day and a night, was the white tip of the buck's tail, as he kept guard over his does. The tail flickered up and down, just once, signalling that he was watching and saw no danger. If he felt that something was wrong, he would flash the large white underside of the tail, the light colour alarming all the others to run.

Sarashi stilled completely. Her sight completely caught by him for a second. Then her eyes were free to drift over his herd as she remembered to draw a light breath. The does were almost invisible, their heads bowed to nipple at the soft blades of new grass sprouting from the knees of the long straws. She could only see three of them, although the tracks suggested at least five. Some had boughs swollen with young, which they would birth just before the rainy season where food was plenty. She instantly decided she would not aim for those.

A young doe stood quite near her. The animal was smaller than some of the others, but she would be the easiest of them all to hit.

A battle roamed Sarashi's thoughts.

Should I chose the doe?

The buck, watchful and with a crown of curled antlers, would make a better offering, but the doe was the safer bet. She bit back a hiss at herself, her teeth sinking into her lower lip.

When did I become one to take the safest option?

No. The buck is bigger and better!

Slowly she unfurled her legs from the crouch, rising on her hunches and pulling back her arm. In one smooth motion she thrust her spear forward through the air, every line of her body giving it power and speed. It flew straight and true, but in the last possible moment, the buck jumped. A red cut opened across its chest, instead of a killing stab behind its shoulder, and in a second it was gone.

So was the rest of the herd.

With a screech and a curse, Sarashi rose fully to her feet. She had wasted her chance and now she would only have whatever small prey she could scrounge up as she made her way back to the tribe. Almost growling she went to pick up her spear. It was as if the buck had jumped before she even threw the spear.

I didn't make a sound! It had no reason to jump!

She glanced at the grass, wondering if there was a fox or something lurking in there, hidden. The thought made her change her hold on the spear, and turn to look behind her, guided by instinct.

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