[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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67. Ch 9: Where there is Smoke (Part 5 of 8)

Foam sprayed from the horse's mouth, as Roah returned on his terrified mount. It almost threw him off, and would have, had he not jumped on his own at the last moment. Two people helped herd the poor horse towards the rest of them, hoping the herd would calm it down, now it was under cover from the storm.

"They're marching through the storm!" Roah shouted. "They'll be here before moonrise!"

Sarashi surged to her feet, stomach clenching, and her thigh flexing painfully.

"Nobody rides through a thunderstorm!" Uran yelled.

"What's the deal with riding through the storm?" Tallo asked. "Isn't it just that the wind'll exhaust us, and the thunder scared the horses something silly?"

Mya shook her head.

"It's the lightning. It strikes anything that reaches too high, usually the bellboas, but sometimes it'll take humans too, or beasts. Especially if they carry metal," she explained. "It's why we use flint for our spears, instead of Torgian iron."

"If lightning strikes them, I won't much mind," Sarashi continued when Mya quieted. "But if it sparks the plains, grass fires will spread and the flames will consume everything in their path. A path made wide and far by the wind, and the summer drought." Her voice was dull and toneless. "Even though the grass comes back quick, and the bellboas hardly take harm at all, the smoke kills most who breathe it for too long."

"Black smoke invites the Shadow Snake to hunt," Mya finished. "Everybody knows."

"Except the imperials."

"If the Empire moves, we must too," Sarashi said, and then raised her voice. "On your feet! We'll lead the horses by reins. If necessary we'll cover their eyes to keep them calm. Those of you who are wounded, try to walk, but if you cannot, keep as low as you can on horseback."

Timpre, temperamental as always, rolled his eyes every time thunder thrummed through the air. So she unwound the scarf tying down her hair, and tied it around his head to blind him. Without the flashes of lightning to further startle him, he would be calmer. She saw Janko help Erar up on Silver Song, and felt lighter with relief. The mare would keep her cool as long as Janko did, and they would keep Erar from being jostled hence and hither as they rode.

The wind had been harsh, but inconsequential within the black grove, but here, on the outside, it was a raw terror. Sand stung everywhere like tiny needles, slung into the air by the storm. Twigs and grass felt like whips as it blew past them.

"Merciless nature," one of the Enshalians exclaimed, as the baskets on the back of his horse flew off and rolled through the tall grass. He let go of the horse to grasp for one of the baskets, but thunder roared overhead and the horse took off.

The terrified creature bounded through their group, riling up its kin as it did so. Mya's mare bucked, and attempted to tear its reins from her hands. Another horse got loose somewhere and followed the first.

Sarashi threw one hand to her ear as Timpre screeched. Stretching up on his hind legs, Sarashi's arms were torn up as her feet lifted off the ground, and the stallion threw his head back, paddling wildly with his front legs. Fear spiked through her as she twisted to avoid the hooves, and bent her arms to put extra weight on Timpre's neck to get him back under control. Instead the stallion flared his nostrils and threw himself to the side in another attempt to throw her.

"No, no, no, no," she mumbled shakily, pulling at the reins again. "Calm down, Timpre, calm down."

If she could just get him to stand still-

"Sar, stop it!" Erar shouted from Silver Song's back. Janko was keeping the mare calm, pressing his fingers against her nostrils, and whispering to her. The mare's eyes rolled back as her legs shook. "Stop fighting him! Give him his reins!"

Sarashi threw a look towards him without turning her head, and then she did as he said. When Timpre reared again, she let the reins run through her fingers, allowing him to rise as tall as he wanted. His hooves came back down with a new thunder strike, and she took hold of the linen around his head instead, and placed her hand on his nuzzle.

"Hush boy, shhh, calm down," she crooned for him, desperation colouring the sound. She suspected the blindfold was the only thing keeping him there. "It'll get better, I promise," she whispered, shortening her hold on the leather reins. Pain made her cringe as they dug into her palms.

Erar yelped when Silver Song swung her head out and danced to the side, pushing Janko to the ground. He pulled her around in her circle, only barely managing to stop her again.

"We can't stay here," he shouted. "Attempting to keep the horses calm won't help! We need to keep moving!"

"We can't leave the horses-" Sarashi protested. Without the horses they had no chance of escaping. Timpre almost tore loose, and her leg twitched painfully as she held against him.

"Then we Veiled be damned force them along!" Janko growled. "We don't have a choice!"

"Black smoke and Shadow Snake," Sarashi whispered, her eyes on the frightened stallion before her. She could not think. She could not breathe. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why could she not think? Her eyes flickered over the rest of her group, all having trouble with the horses, trying to calm their own and other's, getting thrown and pounded, and fighting them. Why aren't they doing anything? Why aren't they speaking up? Somebody need to figure out what to do-

"Get on the horses," she heard herself calling, her voice strangely detached. "Get up on the horses!"

"What?" Mya screamed. "In this storm?" The woman's entire being rebelled against the very thought of it, her eyes widening and her drawing physically away from Sarashi.

"Got on the horse!" Sarashi snapped, dancing in closer to Timpre. "It's riding through the storm, getting caught by the soldiers, or letting the horses go!" As she forced the words through clenched teeth, she twisted her fingers in Timpe's red mane, and dragged herself onto his back despite his trashing. She was barely mounted when he took off, but she forced him around in circles, to face her group. "We will not be coved! Not by Empire, not by nature, and if our horses run wild, let them!"

Most made it onto their horses, one way or another, while Janko swung up behind Erar on his bonded. Sarashi leaned forward, setting Timpre free. One hand was wound tightly in his made, and the other pulled the cloth from his eyes, giving him his head. Only by an extortion of her arm muscles, she managed to turn him in the right direction.

As the horses finally got free reins, they took off. Hers instincts kept them together despite their fear, and only desperate directions from their riders kept them on track.

Sarashi's heart pounded, pumping blood hot through her body as cold wind grasped at her clothes. Her muscles tensed and relaxed to the rhythm of Timpre's strides, and her soul shouted in concert with the thunder, as she gave up all semblance of control.

Laughter bubbled past her lips.

Despite the weird looks her companions sent her, the pain in her thigh, and the messed up situation, she found herself unable not to. It was breathless, and rushed, but it felt oh so good, as the laughter kept coming forth from a heart much too full of wind and lightning.

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