[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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29. Ch 4: Mountains Tall (Part 6 of 8)

Kheerl watched her in the weeks after. She knew he did. Always when she looked up, she would find him in the background of her days. She had not spoken much since the event with the bandits, but she was mostly her usual self, going about her day and at times joking with Janko, or reading with Mya.

She no longer made a sport of weapons' practice. The sparring that had once been fun for her, a chance to use her body, was now serious and focused. There was no victorious smile when she finally began winning on a regular basis, and even though she still had not beaten Rayla, the other girl took a hint and turned down her usual attitude.

On her way to one such round of fighting, Kheerl stepped into her path and stopped her with a motion of his cane.

“Come to my hut,” he said. “I've a mind to tell you another story.”

“I'm going to spar,” she told him, but he shook his head and twisted his long beard between gnarled fingers.

“No. There will be time for that later.” He turned and limbed towards his hut without waiting for her agreement. “Now is the time to listen.”

So she followed him, and when she curled up in the furs by his fire, he brought her a bowl of warm soup. Then he settled down on the other side of the hearth. With meticulous care, he rested his old bones and pulled a thick white fur up around his shoulders to keep warm. The air outside had been so cold, it almost hurt the lungs to breathe it.

“Before the unveiling of the sun and the separation of the Realm of Gods and the Realm of Mortals. Before our God hid his name beneath the Veil, he walked these plains. Here he came upon a grove of trees as dark as the billowing shadows beneath the veiled sun. In the ever changing light, they seemed alive and dancing, and the God found them beautiful.”

“If this is the story about the first Rama, I know it. Everybody does, and you are wasting my time,” Sarashi interrupted him, and made to rise and leave. Kheerl stopped her by pressing the tip of his cane to her chest and directing her back down to sit.

“Patience,” he said with a disapproving scowl. His tone was harder than she had ever heard him use. “Is a virtue that your father had. He listened to his people, as should you.”

The rebuke shamed her, and she lowered her eyes.

“I'm sorry,” she said. If he expected her to listen, she could always pretend to do so, and for a moment she considered doing that. But then she felt even more ashamed and resolved herself to paying attention instead. “Please continue.”

Kheerl narrowed his eyes at her, but took up the story again despite it.

“As you know,” he said pointedly. “Our God reached out to touch the ylan and by doing so, transformed it into a human with skin as dark as the dancing shadows. He gifted his creating with the name of Rama, and touched another tree so that she would not be alone. Thus her younger twin came to life and was given the name of Mahaya. The two women touched the rest of the trees in the grove, and still brimming with the magic of the God, their people burst forth from the trees.

The twins became the Ladies and leaders of their new people, a title passing from first born daughter to first born daughter, till this day. Rama led her people across the river, and founded Enshir, capital of Enshal.

But Mahaya stayed on the plains, for she was different from her sister. Where Rama had inherited the deep roots of the ylan, Mahaya had the soul of their branches, swaying in the wind and the leaves that followed it. So she and hers roamed the plains, moving camp from place to place. But she soon began missing her sister dearly, for two halves of a whole is never meant to be separate.

So she asked the God to grant her a wish, that her children never be lonely like her. And the God granted it, and asked all thirteen of her sons and daughters to chose a beast of the plains. When they did, they felt their souls break in half, and as thirteen animals came forth they recognised their other half, bonded to them through their very beings. Thus came the first thirteen tribes.”

Sarashi took a deep breath. She had heard it all before, and it was of no consequence to her personally. At least none she wanted to consider: she would never have a friend bonded to her like that, unable to ever leave her. She would always have to stand alone.

“And what does that have to do with anything?” she asked numbly.

“It was not the Veiled God whom created the trees our people very crafted from,” Kheerl told her. “They were of the Shadow Lands, made by the Dark God of Death, and as such it is to him we must return when our lives are over.”

“And so must all other living, I do not see the point.”

“We are life formed by the hands of the Veiled, from the Shadows of Death,” the old man said. “We do not owe our existence to only one god. If we honour life as the Veiled dictates, we follow the wishes of he who gave us life.”

He took the bowl from her hands. The soup had grown cool while they talked, and she had forgotten to drink it.

“Do not feel guilty for defending your friends or yourself,” he continued. “And not for giving the enemies of our people to the God of the Shadow Lands, for surely he too, would not wish his children to perish in vain.”

“You're saying not to feel guilty, I killed another Rama?” she asked quietly, her eyes pleading with him to give her some respite, some place to unburden her shame.

“I am saying, cherish life as the Veiled would have you – Out under the sun. Now go spar. The other younglings should still be at it.” Kheerl brushed her off and with a head full of thoughts she left his hut. Before she closed his door, she heard him remark: “The Dark God finds us all in the end. Do not go to him needlessly fast.”

For the first time since she came to the winter village of the Silver-Bearded Lynx, she managed to send Rayla sprawling on her butt with a well placed swing off her staff. Rayla laughed brightly, brushing off the dirt, though Sarashi thought the other girl's eyes were cold. Janko, still sidelined by his wounded leg, called out to tell her she did a good job.

Looking up at the sky, she saw the grey clouds break into white freckles. A frozen drop of water landed on her nose.

The pure wonder of her first snow made her crack an involuntary smile. Even though she was supposed to act like an adult, she laughed out loud, turned and lifted her hands to try and grasp the tiny snowflakes. When the snow continued falling, and the tribe began playing and casting snow after each other, she joined in the snow fights and wrestling matches. Cherishing life.

Rayla poured a handful of dirt and snow down Sarashi's back, but even her spiteful grin did not deter Sarashi, simply initated a chase around the village. Finally Sarashi caught the other girl, got her on the ground and rolled her in the quickly piling snow. Despite their mutual dislike for each other, Sarashi actually felt a tiny bit friendly towards Rayla as the girl got to her feet, sputtering and fuming.

Sarashi stuck her tongue out at her, and Rayla hit her right in the face with a snow ball.

When Sarashi returned the favour a few minutes later, she did so laughing and her temporarily misplaced joy of winning returned to her.

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