Authors: Davis Ashura
A Warrior’s Path
Book One: The Castes and the OutCastes
A Warrior’s Path
Copyright © 2013 by Davis Ashura
All rights reserved.
Cover art and design by Roger Speer
Map illustration by Roger Speer
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
in the United States of America
Sum Publishing, LLC
To my wonderful wife, Stephanie.
For all the things you do, especially the ones that I somehow overlook.
Like all things of worth, this book would not exist without the help of some wonderful and generous people. First comes my wife, Stephanie, who gave me the time and freedom to actually sit down and write this thing I love but which was simultaneously a pain in the ass. Next, the men and women of the Catawba County Ass-whoopin’ Writer’s Group. They were kind enough to slog through the manuscript when none but the brave or masochistic should have taken a look at it.
o Holly Cook, an amazing and perceptive reader, who read it, liked it enough to finish it, and never seemed to mind too much when I peered over her shoulder to skulk out whatever criticisms she was writing.
Also to m
y sister with whom I share a brain, and who immediately noticed all the problems I didn’t want to look at.
I would be remiss if I did not
include my editor and fellow writer: the peripatetic (or is that priapistic?) Kevin Keck. It was only after witnessing his opiated and genitally obsessed ramblings that I realized that if such a delusional person as he could successfully write a book, then hell, I could too.
To all o
f them, I offer my most humble ‘thank you’.
The Trials are our exegesis, and what we need
to learn from them is all too obvious…we were meant for so much more.
The Warrior and the Servant
ut some ass into it, men” Sergeant Lathe growled. “You pansies might be needing this ditch an hour from now.” Lathe took his own advice as he bit into the hard ground with his shovel and flung aside a load of dirt. Nearby, other warriors were preparing the stakes meant to line the trench and slow down the horde of Chimeras heading their way.
Six weeks out from the city of Ashoka, and the caravan to Nestle faced what might be overwhelming odds in its first and possibly last battle. Given the history
of Humanity since the birth of Suwraith two millennia earlier, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone.
No one knew where She had come from or what drove Her hatred, but upon Her
sudden entrance into the world on the Night of Sorrows two millennia ago, She had murdered fully half of all people living at the time. It was a blow from which Humanity had yet to recover because Suwraith’s fury continued unabated. She raged on, stalking Humankind and going so far as to create the brutal, beast-like Chimeras to aid in Her destruction. The only safety was found within the narrow confines of the few cities still alive after the Days of Desolation. But beyond and all around them, in the great swatches of untamed land throughout the rest of the world, it was a killing field. It was the Wildness.
Only the brave ventured into those lands, serving as warriors in the Trials, the great trade caravans that maintained a fragile contact and civilization of sorts between the encircled cities. Those who volunteered to leave the sanctuary of a city were faced with an important yet fearful
task because to traverse the Wildness was to court death. Between Suwraith and Her armies of Chimeras, the Fan Lor Kum, one out of every four warriors on Trial could expect to die. Those numbers had declined somewhat in the past several centuries, but the Wildness was not a place into which a wise man would freely choose to travel.
Corporal Rukh Shekton, a warrior of Caste Kumma, the Caste seemingly bred for battle, stood near the officers, waiting for orders as he sweated in the late morning sun. He was young, in his early twenties, and unseasoned
. This was his first Trial, he was what the veterans named a Virgin, but panic didn’t seize his heart. Since he had first held a sword, the possibility of an early demise had been greatly impressed upon him. It was something he no longer feared – much. He had been trained to set aside his dread of dying and to focus on the task at hand. Duty above all, as his Martial Masters taught. At this point, death was merely an unwelcome companion, a shadow looming behind him with a cold, clammy breath, but unable to unman him.
Or at least that’s what he told himself. He swallowed, trying to recall the lessons from his Martial Masters as he sought to muzzle his anxiety and concern over whether t
his day would be his last. For the most part, it worked.
He listened as barked commands had men scurrying about, trying to accomplish the myriad tasks set to them. An outside observer might have thought the Ashokans
were all panic-stricken, but most of these men had trained their entire lives for this moment. They had a rational madness. Seeing their calm in the face of disaster helped to settle some of Rukh’s nerves.
He’d be alright.
“How the hell did they get so damn close?” Lieutenant Oak Pume demanded of no one in particular. Rukh’s lieutenant had ordered Rukh to accompany him to his meeting with Captain Stryed Bosna. Pume looked angry enough to chew nails, spit them out, and go back for seconds.
’t matter now,” Captain Bosna replied. “We’ve got work…”
His words were interrupted when scouts from the west thundered into camp. Their sergeant in charge, Marag Dwain, dismounted and threw a hasty salute even before his horse had slid to a stop.
Rukh frowned. This couldn’t be good.
“Two, maybe three thousand Chims heading our way,” Dwain reported.
“Suwraith’s spit,” Bosna murmured softly.
Corporal Grate, a Muran and one of Lieutenant Danail Starb’s men, stood next to Rukh. He rocked back, his face ashen. “Devesh save us,” he prayed. His emerald eyes, which along with his golden-brown skin were the hallmarks of Caste Muran, darted about in fear. While Grate was a veteran and on his second Trial, Rukh could tell the man was terrified. It was a forgivable breach. After all, while Murans were brave enough, they were generally farmers. They couldn’t be expected to have the courage of a Kumma.
Rukh listened as Grate murmured a fervent prayer to Devesh. Murans were
also known for their piety.
Rukh sometimes wished he could pray, but it was a fleeting wish, gone in the instant of a breath. As best he figured it, their God, Devesh, was an uncaring sort. His silence through the centuries as Humanity had slowly slouched its way toward extinction echoed with His utter
disregard and callousness. So why would He heed their prayers now, especially from someone with as little faith as Rukh?
wouldn’t. A dog might walk on its legs and talk like a person before Devesh did a single thing for Humanity.
snorted in derision. Besides, wasn’t it true that bad news was hardly ever an orphan? The worst might be yet to come.
Pume glared at the still praying Muran corporal. “Shut up, Grate! Your chanting is making my ears itch.” He turned his angry gaze to Rukh. “And why in the unholy h
ells are you standing around, corporal?” his lieutenant barked. “Do something useful.”
“Waiting for orders, sir,” Rukh shouted, coming to attention and hiding his annoyance.
Why was the lieutenant yelling at him? Pume had had been the one to order Rukh to report here to begin with.
His answer didn’t mollify
the lieutenant, whose face was already beet red, either from anger or fear or a combination of the two. “Get over to your unit. Double-time it. Have them ready to move at a moment’s notice. And pass the word to the other corporals. This whole situation stinks like three day old fish rotting out in the sun,” the lieutenant said with a growl.
“Yes sir,” Rukh responded.
He saluted and was about to leave, but just then the southern scouts galloped into the encampment. Rukh paused, taking note of the scouts’ appearance. Both the warriors and their horses looked done for. They must have ridden hard out.
“Two thousand Chims,” their sergeant, Derig Liner, gasped. “No more than two hours before they’re on us.”
Captain Bosna took the news with an admirable stoic aplomb.
The same couldn’t be said for Jared Randall, the caravan master. The skinny Rahail hopped up and down like a bug on hot skillet
. He screamed like a panic-stricken child. “East. West. South. The damn Chims are coming from everywhere. Seven Fractures. Son of a bitch. That’s almost half a Shatter. What are we going to do?” He looked to Bosna as if the man could magically provide relief from their near-certain ruination. The Captain remained silent as he stared at the caravan master, not bothering to hide his disdain for the Rahail. Randall didn’t notice. He’d fallen to the ground and was sobbing like a child. “We’re fragged. We’re well and truly fragged,” he moaned, rocking back and forth.
Rukh pitied the man. Randall was the caravan master, and he’d already survived
three Trials in his life. It was a very respectable number, even for a Kumma, and this was to have been Randall’s last one before he returned to his home city of Nestle. One last journey, and he would have retired fabulously wealthy with a hard-earned and well-deserved respect from all. Randall probably wasn’t a coward, but the shock of learning so many Chimeras were coming after them must have unmanned him. He must have hoped karma would overlook him one last time.
Of course, Rukh was in the same position as far as the onrushing Chimeras were concerned. A half-smile formed on his lips. How apropos. His first Trial, and it was likely to be his last. Karma was a bitch, and she’d kissed him hard.
He broke from his reverie at the captain’s shout. “Attention!” Bosna barked.
Shouts from the lieutenants and sergeants reinforced the captain’s order for silence. Within moments, quiet reigned in the foothills northwest of the Hunters Flats.
The captain spoke. “In a little under two hours, this area will be overrun by seven thousand Chims. Seven Fractures. We can’t stop them or even slow them down. They’ll run over us like an avalanche thundering down a mountain. We only have one choice,” he said. He paused briefly, seeming to study the men. “We’ll have to break north and leave everything else behind. We have to escape this trap and carry word to Ashoka,” he said.
“You want us to run?” Pume asked, frowning in displeasure.
The Captain turned to face him. “Think about it, lieutenant. When was the last time we’ve ever heard of this many Chims gathered together in one place. They wouldn’t all be here just to destroy a single caravan,” he said. “Their aim has to be higher. We have to assume they’re here for Ashoka.”
Murmurs of consternation greeted the Captain’s explanation as his words were passed down to those too far away to hear them. Most of the warriors immediately understood what was at stake.
“Suwraith’s spit,” Pume murmured softly.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
Captain Bosna turned away from the lieutenant and spoke again to
all the warriors. “As of this moment, your pledges to this caravan are hereby rescinded. Your swords must be for Ashoka’s defense only. We ride to the northern hills. From there, one of us
get to the city. Don’t stop and aid anyone you see fall behind if it puts you at risk. Get to the city. That is your only task.”
Stunned silence greeted his words. Rukh had guessed the Captain might say something like that, but hearing the words spoken aloud carried home the truth of their dire predicament with the force of a war hammer to the face. His heart pounded out the rhythm of his sudden dread.
The reality of the situation came into focus: he truly might die out here in the Wildness today.
The captain gathered the lieutenants and gave them short
, terse orders. Bosna called for the maps, and he and the other officers pored over them.
Rukh wasn’t sure what he should do. Lieutenant Pume had told him to get his unit and the rest of the company up and ready to move, but what about the wagons? Surely h
e’d want them to offload the supplies they’d need to get back to Ashoka. Uncertain as to what the lieutenant would want from him, he decided to stay put and wait for the officers’ meeting to end.
Pume came striding over. “Shektan. Get to the men. I need you to
unload the southern wagons. Gather up anything you think we might need for the trek back to Ashoka: food, medicine, blankets, whatever you can think of. Once the wagons are emptied, fire them. And make sure the Chims don’t gain anything of value from this attack. Go!”
Rukh saluted sharply, glad to have something to do, especially something that made sense. He ran to where the horses were picketed. His heart pounded with adrenaline and fear. He quickly gathered together his unit and passed the word to the other corporals and
warriors of B Company. He set some of them to unloading the southern wagons of anything they could use while other warriors readied the horses.
had to saddle his own mount since no one else would go near the unruly stallion. The beast was either vicious, stupid, or had been mistreated sometime in his life – or maybe a combination of the three. How Rukh had gotten stuck with the animal and how no one had decided to geld the stallion was something he still couldn’t figure out. As usual, the beast reached back and tried to bite him. Through long practice, Rukh slid aside, and the horse’s teeth clacked together, missing his thigh by inches. He tugged the reins until the horse was looking him in the eyes. “We don’t have time for this,” he told the stallion.
For a wonder, the animal seemed to understand his words
, settling down with a snort and a shake of his withers. Maybe the weeks of relatively gentle care had earned Rukh the stallion’s trust. Whatever the reason, the horse waited calmly while Rukh saddled him.
As soon as he was done, he led the horse to where the warriors of B Company were unloading the wagons. They worked quickly and
soon had a large pile of food, medicines, and other supplies.
“Get those horses out of their traces. Use them as pack animals,” Rukh ordered as some of the warriors began
stuffing items into their own saddlebags. There was no way they would be able to save enough supplies for the six week trip back to Ashoka, not just using their own mounts. Rukh watched. Soon enough, the men had the wagon horses unharnessed from their traces and loaded with supplies. The animals whinnied nervously and shifted about, catching the mood of fear and agitation that had swept over the caravan, but eventually they settled down.