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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57. Ch 8: Dream Catcher (Part 3 of 8)

Sarashi woke up the next day, oddly rested and unsettled by that last fever dream. She opened her eyes slowly, fighting through the sleep that had crusted in their corners. Something was itching on her arm, she was lying on her side, for which she was glad. She did not need any pressure on her back, be it from the blanket covering her, or from resting on it.

She stilled completely in confusion, when the first thing she saw was a stone wall. Then she forgot it as Caeryn's face appeared right above her own.

“Finally,” Caeryn breathed in relief, as her eyes shone with palpable joy. “You're awake.”

She drew back a bit to give Sarashi some space. Sarashi tried to talk, but all that came out was a gravelly croak, and Caeryn held out a cup of water for her.

“You screamed a lot,” Caeryn noted, a worried frown crossing her face. “Nightmares, I guess. You've been sleeping for days.”

Sarashi nodded weakly, as she lifted the cup to her dry lips and drank. Then she spoke again, her mouth forming words she barely had the heart to think.

“Who?” she asked. “Who did we lose?”

Caeryn's voice was filled with sympathy.

“Rise of the Silver-Bearded Lynx,” she told her. “As well as Nelan of the Sun Hawks, and...” she hesitated, uncertain. “I don't know the names, but there were others.”

Sarashi closed her eyes, allowing the pain to fill her, the grief to burn. There had to come a time in one's life, where a person could not feel any more pain. Where all emotions grow numb, and only emptiness remain. But Sarashi had yet to reach that point, and she wept silently for the people she had lost. Caeryn held her gently, carefully avoiding to touch the Princess' still healing back, and hushed her softly. It brought back the memory of her mother's arms and the lullaby. It brought back countless evenings on the plains, around camp fires, and two little girls curling up in the same bed during cold nights. That made her cry harder, as the full force of how much she had missed Caeryn hit her too. Her sister in all but blood.

It had always been subtle, growing up, though Sarashi had not realised it until she set out on her own, that the relationship she had with Caeryn was greatly different to the one she had with others. With most, Sarashi was the one who had to step up and be in control. Take responsibility for the decisions and the actions, the things they had to do. But with Caeryn it had always been the other way around, the short woman acting like Sarashi's safe haven. Despite her occasional sharp tongue, Caeryn had always treated her with a certain brand of kindness.

Rise and Rayla had been the same. Though they were always fighting, you could always count on Rise to be kind to her sister when the younger girl needed it, her manners calm and reassuring.

Exhaustion ended up stealing her tears, and Caeryn continued telling her news and details of her rescue. Once their stomachs started growling, Caeryn went to get them something to eat, and on her way, she spread the word that Sarashi had woken up.

Caeryn had barely returned, before Mya burst through the chamber's door.

“Mya!” Sarashi called out when she saw her, and reached for her friend.

Mya hugged her right before anyone could remind her of the injuries and Sarashi gasped in pain.

“Sorry!” Mya said quickly and draw away. “I just-”

“It's fine.” Sarashi smiled. “I'm fine.”

Caeryn and Mya shared a look which plainly told Sarashi how much they did not believe that, and with good cause. Two long slashes had run from Sarashi's left shoulder and down to her waist. A third and deeper gash had been cut from her right shoulder and deep into her flesh, down to her left buttock. Her body had been bruised and battered, and her ear would never be pretty, nor smooth again.

Other people followed Mya through the door. Janko, Tallo and Chehera came to see with their own eyes that Sarashi was truly awake.

A cold stone settled in the Princess's stomach as she saw the smiling faces and the ambivalent emotion in their eyes.

“Where's Rayla?” she asked, watching Caeryn, questioning if the other woman was among the dead too. “Avan? Erar?” she added more names to the list, watching Janko, fear exploding in her chest.

“Alive! All of them,” Mya told her in the silence. “Rayla... Rayla hasn't been talking since Rise...” she shook her head. “Erar was badly wounded, but like you, he's getting better.” She stuck her chin out towards Janko.

“He's going to be fine, he just isn't up for walking yet,” he confirmed.

“And Avan?” Sarashi asked again. The mood in the room plummeted further.

“He left,” Tallo told her. “He saw no reason to die for people who aren't Mahaya.”

“Rise and Nelan. Who else?” Sarashi prodded them. She had to know.

“Sanik, Ethan, Isho and Alro,” Mya listed the dead, all newer members and former slaves, who had never been taught to fight proper. Their taste of freedom had been brief. “We lit their pyres a few days ago. And there is something else you need to know too.” Mya was doing a lot of talking, despite the amount of people present.

Caeryn sent her a stern look to deter her from delivering the rest of the news, but Mya ignored her pointedly.

“It's not just Avan who left,” Mya said bluntly. “Tasha of the Black Mongooses went back to her tribe, and Melo went with her. Erar isn't the only wounded either. We have one who cannot be moved, and three who probably shouldn't, but are able to if soldiers come nearer to finding us. Janko has people out laying false tracks and distracting them, but-”

“You don't have to worry about it now,” Caeryn interrupted, fierce protectiveness in her eyes. “Not until you're better.”

Sarashi scowled at her.

“I want to,” she said quietly, her eyes flashing angrily. It was not Caeryn's job to protect her anymore. It was not her job to shield her, or decide what she would do or when, not her job to scold her. Something changed between them, and Caeryn understood, suddenly, that the Sarashi beside her might not be the one she had grown up with. Not entirely. Sarashi turned her eyes back to the rest of the room, noticing the half smirk on Mya's lips. “How close are the soldiers?”

Mya, who seemed satisfied that she had said what she needed to, let Chehera answer.

Caeryn's mother had gained several extra silver touched to her hair since the last time they had met. Her eyes were slightly sunken, and she looked strained, but her voice carried the same strength as always, and the same wry humour.

“There's one group a day's walk south-east and two by the Stone Keep and the Meerkat's Waterhole,” she reported. Since the tribe of Wild Horses lived in that area during spring and summer, she and Sarashi both knew the area well. “We've had Janko's brother and a few of the younglings running them ragged 'round our pen, but it won't work for much longer. They're finding and collapsing the hideouts, and even went as far ass filling some of the smaller lakes with dirt and sand, to diminish our water sources. The main force is camped up between the Stones' and Meerkat's.”

Sarashi nodded, ignoring her grogginess. She needed sleep to make any useful plans, but she did not notice that her head was attempting to plan regardless of her better knowledge. Not until Caeryn rose.

Caeryn crossed her arms and glared at the gathered people.

“Anything else she needs to know?” she snapped. “Or can you let her rest now?”

Her mother's gaze rested on her for a short moment, before she shrugged. Chehera turned her attention back to Sarashi with a soft smile.

“My daughter, though not quite as polite as she should be, speaks true.” She motioned for the others to leave. “Sarashi should rest and heal, while she has the chance.”

The Mahal of the Wild Horses went to her former charge before she left, and briefly bowed down to kiss Sarashi on the forehead. She too was relieved. With an inert smile, she left the room. She paused on the edge of the doorstep, and turned her head.

“Caeryn, if you'd come too?” she asked. “We've matters to discuss.”

Sarashi did not think she imagined Janko twitch at that. He noticed her looking, and gave her a tight lipped smile, which worried her. She guessed his mood might have to do with Erar's wounds. Or perhaps with his little brother playing hide and seek with the imperial soldiers. He left with the Mahal and Caeryn, saying nothing. Mya followed him with her eyes, eyed Sarashi, shrugged and stood up to follow.

“He's thinking about some things,” she told Sarashi. “He took command after we realised you were gone, and came up with the plan to save you.”

“Is he all right?” Sarashi asked.

“I think so,” Mya answered, her eyes unreadable. “I'll talk with him, and check on Erar. Get some rest, why don't you?”

Sarashi nodded. Speaking had become increasingly harder. Her eyes drooped and she fought to keep them open. Mya squeezed her hands, careful not to do anything that would hurt Sarashi's wounds again. Then she left too, and somehow, it was only then that Sarashi noticed that her last visitor had yet to leave.

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