We meet our final main character, a girl who has everything... and still feels trapped.
|“Stop! I yield, I yield!”
The man, earlier so confident in his abilities, staggered off, holding his arm at his side. Sarah looked at him with disdain, having just released him from an earthen prison. She sighed, walking over to the nearby bench and pulling out a canteen.
“Bravo, bravo!” A powerful, booming voice erupted from behind her, and Sarah turned to face the man who was approaching her and applauding.
“Greetings, my liege.” Sarah stood and gave the Evoker’s salute, a fist slamming into an open palm. “All I do is for your honor.”
“No need to stand on ceremony with me, daughter!” The thunderous King Mansur was not usually one to ignore his uncompromising rules, but he was willing to make an exception for Sarah. “As my successor, you are second only to me! I am happy to allow you to address me as an equal!”
Sarah nodded curtly as a means of acknowledgement. “As you wish, my liege.”
King Mansur chuckled and shook his head. “Very well, have it your way. I was very impressed by that training match; Baquir is one of our best stormblades!”
The empire of Rubama was large, and its magical population equally so. Those without magical talent were worthless, relegated to menial positions of servitude and slavery. But if someone were to display an aptitude for magic, it could mean a rapid rise in society. Enough talent and even the lowliest servant could become a stormblade or a drakefist… should they ever get the chance to learn magic.
“Yes, my liege, I am aware of Baquir’s status.” Sarah had lost count of how many stormblades she’d defeated since she’d started training against other evokers at age ten. They were all the same: draw a blade, coat it in lightning, get in close, stun their opponents, and finish them off. She’d figured out after her first battle against one how to deal with them: stay at a distance, shape the earth beneath their feet to get them off-balance, and subdue them once they lost their footing. Child’s play.
Of course, she was probably being unfair. Sarah had a unique advantage that most Evokers didn’t possess…
“Alright then, I’m afraid I have an appointment with the war council now, so I cannot stay and continue watching you.” Her father said, snapping her out of her reverie. “I just came down to wish you luck, and to let you know that your next opponent is Dima, the tidehammer.”
“Of course, my liege.” Sarah saluted him again to say goodbye, then turned back to the arena. One more fight, then maybe she’d join her father in the war room.
Sarah certainly didn’t share her father’s love for war, or even for battle. Combat just didn’t hold any appeal for the girl any more. Sure, maybe her first time overwhelming a drakefist had sent a rush through her body. Maybe that first triumph against a stonewhip had given her some glimmer of triumph. But she’d done it all, and she’d done it so much that victory had lost all meaning.
Take this tidehammer: She uncorked the same jug of water that every tidehammer carried, shaping it to surround the same maul that every tidehammer used. As the woman dashed towards Sarah,using her control over the water to move the maul much faster than her body normally could, Sarah simply shocked her wide-open form with magical lightning. One small bolt was all it took to cause her muscles to clench up, and the maul fell at Dina’s feet. Sarah sighed, stepping over her prostrate foe.
No, Sarah had no interest in combat. Mastery over every element took all the fun out of it.
The war room was abuzz with activity. Servants rushed around, taking the orders of the various generals who stood around the central map, analyzing the ebb and flow of the ongoing war. Sarah took her usual place in the rafters, looking down, enraptured, at the map below.
This was why she loved the war room. Dominating the center of the room was a three-dimensional map of the entire continent, every detail meticulously crafted by dozens of masterful cartographers to be a perfect representation of the outside world. Sarah loved looking at that map and wondering what kind of wonders she might find out there. Might she go west, to the massive skyscrapers of Wachstum? Or east, where she’d find the oasis of Mita, a haven in an inhospitable tundra? She wondered if the ancient cities of Nadezha still stood, even while most of their residents had died and been enlisted in their cruel emperor's undead army. What treasures might she find, if she could just satisfy her wanderlust?
But alas, this map could not take her to those strange, miraculous places. This was a map of war, as shown by the conflict currently being represented along the northern border of her father’s empire, where dedicated soldiers and evokers faced off against innumerable legions of the dead. This was where the generals gathered around now, seeking some new strategy to force the enemy back and defeat them for good.
King Mansur looked up from the map, where he’d been planning a pincer maneuver that it was becoming increasingly clear had little chance of success. “Sarah?” He looked up at his daughter, seeing her framed against the rafters. “What are you doing up there? Get down here this instant!”
Sarah wasn’t one to disobey her father, even dispite how little respect she actually had for the man. She leapt down at his insistence, conjuring a small wind to break her fall. Again, she saluted her father. “Apologies, my liege! I merely wished to get a good look at the map!”
Mansur’s face softened as he looked down at his daughter. “Ah, you were hoping to help with the war effort, were you not?”
“Er… yes,” she lied, looking down to avoid eye contact. “I wanted to… help.”
Mansur grinned widely, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Very well then, daughter. Why don’t you tell me what you learned up there?”
“Oh, um… of course!” Sarah moved up to the map apprehensively, having no idea what the generals had been discussing before she’d been called down. She looked over the border, desperately searching for some hint of a battle strategy. It wouldn’t do to displease her father.
Sarah thought back to what she had been taught. Her father had put her through many lessons on military strategy. She’d never really taken to the subject, a failing he attributed to her tutors… many of whom were never seen again after they he “relieved them of their duties.”
Come on, think! She was sure she could remember a little bit if only she didn’t have the empire’s most brilliant minds staring down at her expectantly. She remembered something about controlling the battlefield; maybe they could fight the Necromancer’s forces on their own terms?
“...Um, how about over here?” She pointed to a mountain pass, currently within the empire’s borders. “If we were to pull back our forces to just behind the mountains, we might be able to get them to come through this pass… and then we could deal with them, you know, one at a time...?”
Mansur and his generals stayed silent for a moment. Then, the mighty king laughed and applauded his daughter. “A devious strategy! The average invading army wouldn’t fall for such an obvious ploy, but an army of the dead just might be fool enough for it to work!”
“But how would we withdraw our forces from the area?” A female general clad in the blue that signified the tidehammer interjected, looking at Sarah as if asking her to supply the answer. “They’re pinned on either side by a vast mountain range! They would have to travel through the pass themselves!”
“I-” Sarah had no idea how she would respond to the question, which is why she thanked Athara above that she was immediately interrupted by a large general wearing the brown of the stonewhip.
“Oh, that part’s easy!” the man said. “We split the army in three parts: one to the east, one to the west, and one in the middle. We let the undead pour into the cracks, and they’ll naturally chase our troops in the middle right into the mountain pass!”
“Of course, that brings up the risk element of if the enemy does manage to make it through the pass…” a thin general wearing the green of the windwalls mentioned. “Should they make it through, we could lose a lot of territory, including a couple larger cities…”
“It’s a risk well worth taking, I say!” A red drakefistgeneral replied. “These undead are weak and vulnerable; easy to take care of if we fight them on our terms!”
The generals continued debating this new strategy while Mansur patted his daughter on the shoulder. “It’s a risk I wouldn’t have considered taking,” he remarked. “It may endanger thousands of lives… but if it works, it could turn the tide of the war!”
Sarah grinned uncertainly at her father, only now realizing the implications of what she’d proposed. The last thing she wanted was to endanger innocent lives! “You know what, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all-” she tried to say, but her father interrupted her.
“Nonsense! It’s a ruthless and creative new way of thinking! Sarah, if you’re getting bored out there beating up those soldiers, I’d be happy to have you in my war council!”
“Oh… um, thank you…” Sarah couldn’t say no to her father. NOBODY could say no to her father. Besides, now she’d get to see the map up close without having to hide in the rafters, so… maybe it was a net benefit? But she dreaded what kind of decisions she might accidentally make in the future… or who she might endanger as a result.
Hey guys. This is my first ever novel. I'm not so arrogant as to think it's done yet, but I will be uploading it here to get feedback. Please feel free to give whatever constructive criticism you feel is necessary!