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Blood Ascending (Chapter 1:Khuldaros!) (WC-1131) (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
*Note: This is the opening chapter to a book I am in the process of editing. It is the first in a series of four, looking at five. I am open to and welcome any constructive criticisms. Thanks in advance!

Poros, Hael

He was khuldaro. In Krilar, the high language, it meant ‘one without honor.’ For many in the Three Lands, honor was more than a way of life. Without it, a sol had no currency, no means to enter Ethira, the Land of Eternal Life.

Taundar sneered. Honor, he thought, was a game the rich sometimes played at when they tired of war, this he knew firsthand. Taundar brought up a ball of phlegm into his throat and spat wetly over his shoulder.

The praetas too played the game though they played it better than the rich in Taundar’s opinion. He remembered sitting at his pa-pa’s feet, his belly in knots from hunger and his toes numb with cold as he listened to a wandering Lumaren praeta speak of honor. Honor, the praeta had extolled, feeds the soul. With honor, you can never truly hunger. They hung Praeta Zepali that morning. Taundar and his age-mates had played beneath his swinging feet as pa-pa and the clanfolk prepared a fire pit. No one went hungry that night.

The Shaodoans were no better. Their praetas preached a different sort of nonsense: You reap what you sow. Taundar pinched a nostril shut with his thumb and blew the snot out the other. Lumaren, Shaodoan, what difference did it make? Fools, all. How daft did you have to be to swallow any of that drivel? Taundar wondered. A cold smile touched his lips. Me? I take what I want, nothing is denied me. A sol with clever, deft fingers is never hungry, and a sol with a sword is never poor.

An alarm bell tolled crisp and clear in the distance. A thin cry cut through the chill, still morning air: “Khuldaros! Khuldaros!”

Poros sprang into action. High on a hill, underneath the drooping, moss green boughs and silver-blue leaves of an old ashka tree, Taundar watched the pandemonium through the lens of his pocket scope. Soljas leapt from their posts and raced across the weed-choked flagstone courtyard for as the warning bell’s final toll faded into nothing. Weak morning sunlight glinted off of their shields. Even at the distance there was no mistaking the colors of the House of Hael painted on their fronts, a band of leaden blue and a band of dusky gold. Raedas called to their mounts, their high, sharp whistles soared over the hamlet. The cimians replied with the strange, lilting calls of their kind. Rise and fall, rise and fall, the sound of their calls unnerved Taundar. A quick slice to the beasts’ throats would set them right, he thought with no small amount of pleasure.
Poros’ ragtag force of mordas followed suit a heartbeat slower than the better-trained soljas, their fat, clumsy fingers fumbled for their swords and shields. A cloud of dust rose over the small but prosperous settlement, stirred by the comings and goings of so many feet.
Taundar ran a calculating eye over their heads. Nine hundred, no more and perhaps less, he guessed. Not even a whole battola…against ten thousand, an entire dima, and mounted, all. Even the archons had beasts of their own to ride. A feral grin split Taundar’s craggy face. It will be a slaughter. A sol who protects his treasure so poorly must not mind parting with it very much, his father had always said. And if that sol also happened to be a king? Taundar asked silently of no one. His father’s voice echoed in his mind once more. The longer your arms better be…
A smooth tenor interrupted his thoughts. “Soljas and mordas forming up below, admar.” It was Ganek, the newly appointed captar of First Cora.
“Archons!” Taundar barked.
Bows groaned and creaked and popped like the stretching of some terrible, rising beast under the pull of their masters.
“Aim,” Taundar called out, drawing the word out.
The archons raised their sights and their aims to the heavens. In the valley below, two paltry rows of soljas and mordas advanced on foot towards the hills. Taundar counted the minutes until they were within range.
Red-and-grey striped fletching tore through the sky. Taundar closed his eyes. Wait for it, wait for it, he thought. He did not have long to wait – a satisfying chorus of heavy thunks met his ears. Ah, sweet music, Taundar thought.
A deafening roar shook his bones and rattled his chest. “Cho’sai!” His brother and sister khuldaros beat their shields with the flat of their blades. “Cho’sai!” they cried once more.
Cho’sai, Taundar grinned. First blood. The first cries of pain and death were even sweeter than the arrows’ song.
Ganek’s worried voice cut through his jubilation. “Admar, raedas approaching.” Taundar opened his eyes. “Two, maybe three hundred in number,” the young captar hazarded.
Taundar spoke through a leer. “Is that fear I detect in your voice, Captar Ganek? It is said one king’s solja is worth more than a hundred of the meanest sellswords.” Taundar eyed the young captar out of the corner of his eye. Ganek stiffened visibly. The thin skin around his high, pale cheekbones flushed with anger. “And a raeda, fiercer still –”
“I fear no sol, solja or raeda or otherwise!” Ganek spat.
We shall see, Taundar thought. The youth had yet to face a king’s solja on the field. Taundar lifted his sword above his head. Shadows stirred beneath the cover of the ashka trees. This time, Taundar did not speak. He lowered his sword.
With a great breaking of many limbs and leaves khuldaros burst from the cover of the trees, whooping at the top of their lungs. Taundar held tight to the reins of his beast as its mates thundered by. The equoli pranced underfoot, eager to race after the others. Taundar gave the equoli’s reins a sharp, violent jerk. “Hold, you!” And he balled his fist thumped the beast between its upright ears and long, curved horns. The equoli grunted in protest and tossed its long, narrow head, but held its footing fast.
The last of the khuldaros raced by. Taundar moved to knee his mount forward.
Ganek forestalled him with a toss of his head. “Look, admar.” The captar pointed his sword to the end of the killing field, in full swing below. “Over there.”
Taundar spotted it. A lone raeda had broken away from the main force. As Taundar watched, the runaway whipped his cimian into a furious, bounding gallop, away from the milieu, heading southwest.
Ganek sheathed his sword and brought a crossbow from around his shoulders. “Shall I, sir?”
Taundar followed the raeda with his eyes, a thoughtful expression on his face. “No,” he said after a moment’s pause. “Let him take word to the king that khuldaros have come to claim Hael lands.” With a blistering grin he kicked his equoli into a high gallop, and joined the fray.