[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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9. Ch 2: Uncrowned Queen (Part 2 of 6)

Mya was the first to break away from the group. Around noon, she found the tracks of a lone water deer and set off after it. She was so quiet they did not even realise she had gone. They went back to look for her, only to find the tracks of both her and her prey, realizing what she had done. Like a shadow under the sun, the shy girl simply lacked behind, and without telling the others, disappeared.

Mya was the first to go off tracking large prey.

Rouko and Sarashi walked on together. When the sun began to set, they split up in silent agreement, for as Chehera said, they were to be alone for this.

Once certain Rouko was too far away to hear, she stomped and threw her head back, letting out the angry growl of frustration she had been holding in all day. She was the last to move. The last to cross the line. She was supposed to be the first, and she hesitated. She was frightened. She could not breathe.

It was unreasonable of everyone to expect her to make this choice. Unfair of them, to demand that she plan her entire life on their expectations. Unforgivable of them to make her feel like her parents would never forgive her, if she did not.

She sighed deeply, rubbing the upper part of her arms in an attempt to comfort herself.

It was getting dark, and she was beginning to feel the need to rest. She looked about for a safe place to sleep, but this far from the river there were no small hides, and little else but an endless ocean of grass. Sleeping out in the open would be a friendly invitation to any predators in the area, so she decided to continue on until she came upon a grove, or perhaps some boulders to hide by. Any cover would be better than none.

She chewed on a bit of jerky as she walked. The birds began to quiet, and the sky turned black as the sun slowly bled out. The moon unveiled itself, half crescent and growing. In precisely seven days it would be full. Chehera would have made sure of that before she sent them off.

A rustle in the grass told her of a nearby animal. From the amount of noise, she wagered it was a fox or small plains wolf, out scavenging for food or water. Sarashi ignored it. It was rarely the canines of the plains you needed fear.

She spotted the silhouette of a large bellboa tree in the distance. It would make a good place to sleep, if she could climb it. As she came closer, she saw that there was a couple of them, all tall, thick and round. Like most bellboas they only grew branches at the very top of their trunk.

When she reached the tree, she hacked her knife into the thick bark of the bellboa, and began climbing using the flint tool as a handle. She found small indentations with the fingertips of her free hand and her toes, to keep hold as well. Once she made it to the top, she curled up in the middle of the thick branches that crowned the tree. There she angled her shoulders between two of them, and her feet against another, to keep from falling down whilst sleeping. The spear rested between two forked twigs.

In the cool evening air, surrounded by the sounds of the plains, sleep came quickly.

She woke up, her mouth dry and her skin tight. Insects buzzed in the heat of the noon sun, and a falcon circled far above her, as she carefully stretched and sat up. Her muscles creaked stiffly from her unusual sleeping arrangements. She stood and looked around, taking full advantage of the tallness of the bellboa. Having gone north from the camp, she could see the White Breath Moutains on the western horizon. To the east was the river, as it ran further north. Everything else was grassland, with small scattered groves of larger vegetation, and a few lakes.

At the sight of water, her lips felt crustier than before, her tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth. Suddenly famished and dying for water, she sat down to eat and drink. The first thing she would do that day, she decided, would be to head for one of those lakes. Water was precious, and a good place to find prey to hunt. She would need to keep her supplies replenished, although she should be able to stay alive without food during the short span of the hunt.

It took her half a day to get to a pond. She took down a small hare with the throw of a stone, which she stuffed with seeds plucked from the grass, and cooked it over a small fire. The seeds within boiled out nicely to a gruel, and made her dinner a heavier meal. What she did not eat, she wrapped in straws and placed in her bag for the morning. As evening neared she found new shelter, a safe hollow between two large and ancient rocks. Once upon a time, somebody had carved symbols around their base, most of which held no meaning to anyone still alive. These two stood closely, like old columns, and covered her from sight as she slept.

The next days passed much the same. She would wake, continue on her way over the plains, always searching tracks and trails where she went.

She preferred to return with a water deer, like the one Mya tracked, and hence often found herself by water. The fanged does made for interesting hunting, as you could never quite know if they would flee or fight. They were smaller than the common plains' deer, but they were large enough to match Sarashi's name and the expectations laid upon her. A common deer would be enough as well, as would a wild goose. Anything bigger than those animals might be too large for her to lug bag to the tribe on her own. An iron moose would be impressive, and highly valued for its black coat. So what small prey she brought down, she ate. It was useless to her, and she would rather stay a ghost, than return with something beneath her.

On the third day she found tracks from a plains' deer. She marked the spot where she found them, but did not bother to follow them just yet. She still wanted to see if she could find something better. That night she woke, her entire body in a state of alarm, to find that a group of lions trotted by the tree she slept in. It was safe to assume they were out hinting. She could not help but ponder what would have happened if she had been sleeping on the ground like the day before. The lions were the largest predators on the plains, and effective hunters by night and day both. They blended in with the grass so well and quietly, you usually never noticed them till they were right beside you.

Their yellow eyes gleamed in the dark as they passed her tree, and she shivered.

The following day met her in a grove of ylan. Heavy silence pressed against her and settled in her bones when she stepped in between the black trees. It was as if there was no living beings among the trees, the ever blowing wind of the plains silenced by their thick green leaves. The grove had formed around a tiny spring, no more than a shallow pool.

She bathed, ever careful not to smudge the paint on her face. She drank deeply from the waters. Before she readied herself to leave, she cut off the end of one of her braids and laid it by the roots of the largest tree. A murmured prayer to the Dark God of Death and the Veiled God of Ramas, caressed her lips, as she laid her hand against the bark of the tree.

She smiled.

How can anyone ever doubt the truth that we were made from these trees? she thought. Her hand was the exact same colour as the tree, only the difference in texture allowing it to be seen against the bark.

Her smile faded and she bit her lip.

Am I the fool for refusing my mother's title? What difference does it even make? If I chose not to claim the title as Lady of Rama, I'll disappoint my people as surely as if I do, and reveal my shortcomings.

She wondered what her parents would tell her to do.

When Namur had taken the castle and set it aflame, after Mirca had evacuated Sarashi, her mother had ended up trapped in her chambers with the servants. The giant beams supporting the ceiling had collapsed, blocking the doors to the rooms, or so the few people who escaped had said. They heard her mother call her maids to her, telling them that everything would be all right. They had said that the sound of her singing had been clear and painfully beautiful above the crackling flames. Obscuring the screams and destruction, when she sang her last lullaby, there had been no tremor in her voice as if her soul remained unhurt by the smoke. Ever since then all Rama referred to her as the Gentle Mother, the Lady of Rama.

Mother would tell me that a Lady protects the people.

As Sarashi Enshira she was required to fight the Empire. And she wanted to fight, wanted to tear every last soldier down and separate Namur's head from his body. She wanted to spit on the Sapphire Emperor himself. But if she called herself Lady of Rama it would be the same as promising to protect all of them. To not only fight and kill, but to lead and be responsible for every Rama on the Plains, in Enshal and in the neighbouring countries.

I won't do it, she thought.

No matter what Dawoul and his likes thought of her, she would not do it.

A strong breeze suddenly rushed the grove and made the hairs on her arms rise. She clutched her spear closer and stepped out from among the trees to search the sky. Dark clouds rolled in and as she watched, purple lightning cracked across the grey. Thunder boomed above, but it did not rain. Spring brought only dry storms, as fall brought only wet.

The storm forced her to stay in the grove for the rest of the day and the night that followed, hiding by the pool, hoping no lightning would strike the trees or grass which surrounded her. Grass fires were deadly on the plains, impossible to outrun.

She got little sleep that night, and the next morning all tracks had been chased away by the raging winds, together with the animals who made them. It was late into the day before she came across anything bigger than a jumping mouse. Frustration began to gnaw at her insides, and her stomach churned. Two days left till the full moon.

If only she could find those deer.

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