[Completed] Fire's Promise [Ashes of the Ylan #1] [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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4. Ch 1: Rites of Passage (Part 2 of 5)

The Wild Plains

(1248 p. CP)

 

The sun gleamed in the helmets of the imperial soldiers, and blinded her for a short moment. She blinked away the blurry spots that filled her vision, and kept completely still among the tall grass. If they spotted her, she would at best be chased over the plains. At worst dead, captured or enslaved.

Sarashi knew the soldiers patrolled the area by the river frequently, searching for Ramas and guarding the border. She knew she was supposed to stay away for her own safety. The leader of the tribe had ordered her not to seek out the danger. And yet she found herself running there every so often. Sometimes she went two days in a row, and other times weeks passed without her seeking out the soldiers. But she always returned to the river.

So she would sit, hidden among the long straws of grass, and watch the soldiers as they walked by, weapons in hand.

The first time she did it, her heart pounded so loudly she was certain they would hear it. Her hands shook, and she had to bite her lip bloody to keep from crying. Afterwards she had thrown up. The first time she did it, she was seven.

At the age of fifteen, much had changed.

The chubby little girl who used to be dressed in all things rich and fine, with soft feet and weak arm had died with her mother and father. Now she was tall, lean, strong of build and dressed in cotton. Her hair hung as low as her waist, thick and curly. Her jet black eyes had grown cold over the years. Her heart no longer raced when hiding from the soldiers. Her hands were steady.

She watched the soldiers as they marched by. Today there were seven of them. Two archers and five swordsmen, their faces flushed and sweaty. One of them pulled off his helmet with a disgruntled sound.

“Damned metal buckets!” he growled. “Too hot and stuffy for this sun.”

His companions made noises of agreement, but they all seemed too tired to make much conversation. Sarashi sneered, thinking they had to be unaccustomed to the heat of the plains, as the cooler air of the river pressed pleasantly against her skin. It was nowhere near too hot. The river and the groves of ylan trees were among few places on the plains that did not scorch beneath the sun. The soldiers tended to stay away from the groves, as they were sacred to the Ramas. Though they hunted the people of the Veiled God, the patrols were wise enough to fear angering the tribes by attacking the source of their faith.

The Mahaya of the Wild Plains were strange people. They lived by the ways of the old ones, the very first Ramas. Unlike the people of Enshal, they did not settle, but lived in nomadic tribes on the plains. They followed many ancient rituals to the honour of the Veiled God and his kin, but what truly set them apart was the bonds. Once upon a time, the first Mahaya, had asked the God for companions to her children, and he had asked them in turn to call an animal to them. Since then the people who were born Mahaya found friends in the beasts around them, soul mates, paired for life.

Sarashi was not of the tribes.

Mirca, her nurse, had been Mahaya, born and raised. She had been burned like one when age claimed her, and she passed into the realm of the Dark God. She now danced in the Shadow Lands, where even the Sapphire Emperor and Tiburon Namur would never reach her. It was she, who had brought Sarashi to the tribe of Wild Horses after Sarashi turned six. She who had saved the young Princess when Tiburon Namur's forces ravaged Enshir and burned down the castle.

The nightmares of being half-dragged and half-carried through dark tunnels far below the palace still haunted Sarashi. Helpless and unable to run back to her mother.

She shivered.

The heavy thud of metal hitting the ground made her study the soldiers again. The complaining one had decided to rid himself of his helmet by letting it drop to the ground. They had settled down, using stones and the like for chairs, and were apparently taking a break.

“You shouldn't throw it like that,” one of them said in jest. “You might get it all bent, and then we'll have to listen to your blasted complaining for hours to come.”

“As if you suffer in silence,” the man without helmet grunted. “If I have to hear one more word about your sore feet-”

You'll get sore ears,” a third man quipped. “We know.”

He had removed his helmet too, kneeling by the water and splashing it on his face and pouring handfuls down his back.

“Got any cheese?” one of the archers asked and took bread from a pouch on his belt. “I'll trade a fresh fig for it.”

The rest of them shook their heads.

“Cheese won't keep in this warmth,” No Helmet man said sourly.

Sarashi grinned, flashing white teeth. The tribes made plenty of both soft cheeses and hard. The soft ones had to be eaten quick, that was true, but the hard ones could keep for months if you stored them right. Served them right to be denied the more perishable of foods, she thought, nourishing the anger simmering in the back of her mind.

She glanced at the sun, taking stock of the time. She would need to leave soon, or she would be late in getting back. She would have to be quiet, as a merry chase through the grass might not end well, with the two archers there. Their bows were propped up against their make-do chairs and close at hand. If they were proper trained, she would not get far if they discovered her.

It's foolish to continue this, she scolded herself. But she knew she would return to spy on the soldiers anyway. Maybe it had become her way to remind herself of what the Emperor took from her. A reason to survive.

Sarashi's whole world had been destroyed after her sixth birthday. Everything she knew, with the exception of Mirca, had been stolen from her. She had been brought to a strange place, filled with strangers and kids who mocked her for her weakness. Unlike them, she had not grown up on the Wild Plains learning how to defend herself and hunt. Her feet bled for weeks after she was brought there, her tender soled pierced by rocks and cut by sharp blades of tough grass. It had taken months for her to grow tough skin, for her to learn to fight.

Her eyes flickered form the soldiers, to her own calloused hands. A stone laid neatly by her right hand. Her strong hand.

She took a deep breath.

No Helmet chewed his bread.

Isn't there a hideout pretty close to here? Was her memory right?

Her heart pounded harder in her chest, as she reconsidered her impulse for the span of a short second. The man was old enough that he could have been one of the soldiers that besieged her home. He could be one of those who barred the doors, and prevented people from fleeing the fire.

The stone flew before she knew what she was doing, and hit No Helmet's forehead with a sharp crack. The soldiers yelled in alarm, when he doubled over and fell to the ground. Sarashi leapt to her feet, still keeping low, and turned to run. The grass around her was tall enough it hid her when she ran bent over, shoulders hunched, but the soldiers could still see the grass sway.

An arrow whistled by her, as the archers found their target, and made her speed up.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, her thoughts sang at her. Blood rushed through her veins and a grin spread on her lips as she head the men push through the grass. Her smile disappeared quickly, when another arrow flew by her, and nicked her ear. The arrow was followed by a curse from one of the soldiers.

Excitement and fear coursed hot through her body and made her laugh breathlessly, as she drew further away from the soldiers. Arrows continued to come, nowhere close to hitting their target as she ducked and hurled to the side. She sprang over a large boulder and straightened her back more and more, as she put distance to her pursuers. Life rushed to her head.

Like a lithe deer of the Plains, she stretched her legs. Her clever feet found safe ground free of stones, and her hair caught in the wind. It was almost as if she was back in the castle, running from her nanny to escape another banquet.

She spotted the hideout where there was an earthy drop down, jumped off it, and scurried into the root filled hollow beneath the ledge. The long grass roots fell down like a curtain from above, hiding the burrow from any followers. The Ramas had taken advantage of the grass' need for long roots, and made several hides like this, during the years after the Empire's takeover. Water lay deep underground on the plains, and was mostly scarce.

She forced her breath to be quiet, and listened tensely. The soldiers drew nearer: She could hear their angry voices and the stomping of heavy feet. Would they come closer to search, or would they turn back, giving up now they had lost sight of her?

“Did it hide in the grass again?”

The voice was close by.

A bit of dust fell from the roots around her. She fought the urge to hold her breath. If she did, and whomever was above her remained, they would hear the gasp when she let it go much clearer than continued calm breaths.

“Did you see its hair? Gotta be female,” another growled.

“I don't see it anywhere. The grass isn't moving either.”

More dust fell. Her nose itched. It smelled like dry earth and sand, in the hole. And slightly mouldy.

“How's Saoul?” the person above her called.

“Awake. He's got a nasty gash on his forehead though.”

Sarashi stuck her chin out. She hoped she had rattled his brain good. That would keep him away from patrolling for a while.

“Might be it'll teach him not to throw his helmet about,” one said, and the words were followed by a chuckle, the sound growing distant. They seemed to be moving further away from her hideout. “Maybe he'll even stop complaining! Favour beast did us then.”

The sun dipped lower on the sky, visible through the long roots. Sarashi would be late in getting back, and in her mind, she could already hear the nagging her sister-in-soul would give her for staying out too long. Especially on this day.

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