Hey, folks, this is a preview of Warrior Class: The Sky Cutter, so it's just the first three chapters. Warrior Class: The Sky Cutter has been published by Desert Palm Press. If you're interested you can get an ebook or paperback copy of it on Amazon or Smashwords and other ereaders written under the name S. L. Kassidy. Details on my profile and on my Facebook page.
The Sky Cutter
In the world of Prism, during antiquity, a small tribe in the Far East exploded onto the world stage, becoming a mighty empire.
The air smelled and tasted different. There was a sweet quality to it, which lingered on the tongue. It made Ashni Akshay's blood rush, but then again, lately everything made her blood rush. On the ship across the sea, she could hear her blood over the roar of the water and the odor of destiny had drowned out even the salty smell of the ocean. Now, it was worse. It engulfed her and could drown her if she wasn't careful.
She was hyperaware of the differences around her since leaving for the West. The air seemed calm compared to the sea, and especially compared to home, even her great city of Khenshu. In Khenshu, the air felt as if could breathe itself and smother those who opposed it. But, this air caressed her, begged her for attention, and she would give it her all. She could feel the buzz around her, threatening to make her hair stand on end. Every nerve in her body popped. Her very essence wanted to interact with the West.
Ashni dug her boot-clad feet into the rich earth and inhaled deeply. Here she was on ground her father had never seen, planning to consume it all, and create something so much greater. He might have dreamed, but she would do.
She turned her eyes to the sky. The sky was hers, vast and infinite. She could bend the sky to her will, so she would bend all things to her will. "Stay with me, Father. It will all be ours."
The cry of an eagle caught her attention and Ashni immediately sought it out. A brief breeze caused her teal cloak to flutter behind her. She nodded. That was enough of an answer for her. This would all be hers by the grace of her father, the son of the Great Eagle, the king of the gods Khurshid.
She turned her attention to the land in front of her. From the hilltop, she could see the small, confined meadow, choked by trees on three sides. It was not the ideal place for a battle, but she and her forces would make do. They had fought in worse places and come out victorious. The memories put a smile on her face.
When their ships pulled up to shore, bringing her and her army to this unknown territory, they were frothing at the mouth for battle, but they had been disappointed. Villages on the coast surrendered to their numbers, and the first group that opposed them had been broken minutes after the fighting commenced. Her warriors were starving for true combat.
"Are you sure you want to have this battle here?" Adira asked, coming to stand beside Ashni. A small frown marred Adira's dark features as her sharp eye stared below them. "The sun will be in their eyes and the space is too open, but closed off by forest. We're already outnumbered according to the scouts. Our archers and spearmen are out of range and wouldn't be able to use their weapons until the enemy is already mixing with our soldiers."
"I want them to think they have the upper hand here. Are you worried?" A teasing smirk tugged at Ashni's face as she side-eyed Adira.
Adira snorted, throwing her head to the side a little. She looked down at Ashni with her good eye, dark mahogany trying to cut into Ashni. The other eye barely opened with an angry scar cutting through it, going from Adira's forehead to halfway down her cheek.
Adira waved the whole matter off with a flick of her wrist. "I worry more about being late home. I stopped being worried when Amir Khalid saw fit to let me ride with him."
Ashni's smirk became a proud grin as she tilted her head to the clear sky. "Then what's the problem? Not ready to see him yet?"
Adira folded her arms across her chest, covering the lion emblem on her breastplate. "Can you be serious for a moment? You know I hate having battles where the enemy actually wants the battle, especially barbarians."
Ashni sniffed, rolling her eyes. "But, this is where I actually want the battle. They only think they want it here."
Adira didn't argue. She stared off in the distance and pressed her palms together. With her hands at her mouth, she took several deep breaths. Ashni waited, taking in miles of green grass, flanked by lush trees. If Adira truly didn't approve of having the battle here and had valid reasons, they'd have to come up with something else quick. It wouldn't be the first time. It won't be the last time either, despite Adira's nervousness.
"You put the princess and her shadows in those woods over there?" Adira pointed to thick brush to the side of the battlefield.
Ashni rolled her eyes again. Is she serious? Of course, she knew the answer to that. Adira was being a worrywart. By Khurshid's great wings, it's a good thing I don't have to pay her for worrying.
"You were there. You watched her leave. You're the most cautious person I've ever met," Ashni replied.
Adira nodded. "One of us has to be. If it were up to you and the princess…" Her words trailed off as her upper lip curled into a sneer.
Ashni shook her head. She snatched Adira's helmet from under her arm. She put the golden helm on Adira's head, its proud white feathers standing at attention on top. Ashni knocked on Adira's temple, barely missing the ivory eagle wings on the side of the helmet. Adira looked her in the eye and Ashni beamed.
"We're here, Adira. We're here!" Ashni pounded both fists against Adira's chest. She felt the sky pulse with her as her nerves danced with anticipation. The very air moved with her, ready for action.
"I know, which is why we need to be careful. We can't rush in and throw it all away," Adira said.
"There are tens of thousands of men beyond those trees, ready to stop us. Ready to keep us from our destiny."
"I know, but they won't. Now, bring me what I want, Adira. Show me what you're made of, General." Ashni placed her hands on Adira's wide shoulders, clutching the edges of Adira's flowing, sky blue cape.
"I think it's time you show us what you're made of," Adira said.
Ashni chortled, her golden eyes sparkling with anticipation. "You're right. Let's go rally the troops. We need to stay on schedule or Princess will rush out too soon and ruin the whole thing."
Adira scoffed. "You mean you'll rush out after her and ruin the whole thing."
Ashni waved the matter off, even though that was partially true. She had done it before. Still, the troops needed to be rallied and she needed to get moving before she lost one of her more valuable soldiers. She marched off to her horse.
Midnight Thunder was ready for war and had been since she managed to shove him on a ship. Her favorite horse had paced the entire voyage and continued when they made it to land. He stared down the first people they encountered and they cowered before him, undoubtedly never seeing a beast like him. His eyes burned crimson with want for destruction. She'd give him this battle. As soon as she was on his massive, muscular back, they were both ready for destiny.
"Prepare the bull," Ashni ordered before riding off toward the front lines. Even if Khurshid and her father were with them, she would pay the gods their proper respect.
Adira frowned. "Prepare the bull? There are slaves for that, you know," she called after the queen.
Ashni's response was to throw her middle finger in the air, a gesture she picked up from the Westerners meaning "fuck you." She didn't care if Adira, or anyone else, felt they had to do a job that wasn't theirs. There was a battle to win, after all.
Ashni smiled to herself as Midnight Thunder trotted to the front lines. Her troops were ready. They didn't need her to rally them, but they expected it and she wouldn't let them down. Not when they were so close, not when she could virtually taste greatness. Everyone was clad in their best armor and their helmets glinted in the dazing sun. They were bathed in the heavens' blessing. It was a good day.
"Troops, today we make history. We are about to do something that even my father, the great god and the Son of the Fire Eagle, couldn't do. We are the first of the Roshan to touch these shores, the first Roshan to breathe the West's air, but we will not be the last. My father deserved to have all the world under the Roshan and we are the ones who will make his dreams come true. Are you with me?" Ashni cried.
Weapons, shields, and helmets were thrust in the air. The cheers reached the Sun itself. She knew her soldiers were as hungry as she was. Still, the sound sent a tingle up her spine.
Ashni beamed and turned just as slaves brought a large, black bull to her. She slid off Midnight Thunder and circled the bull three times, murmuring a prayer as she went. Rubbing her palms together, she clapped and threw her hands up. Thunder clapped and echoed through the air. She took a knife from a slave and slit the bull's throat in one swift motion, the blood splashing into the dirt. The bull didn't make a sound and slaves caught it before it hit the ground. The gods were definitely with them.
"If victory be ours, then the great God Khurshid will share this bounty with us," Ashni said.
Her troops hollered and raised their weapons again. A grin slowly spread across Ashni's face as she looked at Adira. Her best general smiled back. The army's energy hummed through the air, ready for anything. The world was theirs.
"Into position, General," Ashni called, just to be annoying. It didn't need to be said and Adira would be offended she dared to mention it.
Adira sucked her teeth. "I know. If anything, you need to get into position." She rode off.
Ashni mounted her horse once more and put her helmet on, making sure the golden eagle head faced forward. White feathers with golden tips rose off the helmet. She rode down the lines to make sure everyone was in place. She stopped in front of the best pieces of weaponry she had for this mission—the catapults. They were new and begged for use. She took in the sight briefly before moving to the side of the weapons.
"Ready!" Ashni put up a hand. She looked out across the field where their enemies thought they were safe, thought her archers couldn't reach. They were in for a surprise. "Fire!"
The sound of thick ropes letting lose their strain snapped through the air. Spears flew like the promise of a hundred prayers toward her foes, whistling through the sky, her sky. She was delighted as she watched the missiles land within the ranks of her enemies, taking from them their precious high ground and cover. The heavy bolts splintered surrounding trees, tearing off large bits, causing chaos and opening up a line of sight to the opposing army. Birds screeched and shot up from the woods, briefly blocking out the sun as they fled.
As expected, the enemy moved toward them like charging bulls. Little did they know, they were running toward the waiting jaws of lions. Ashni put her hand up again, signaling for archers to prepare to fire. She waited for the exact range and then dropped her hand.
The twang of bowstrings fluttered over their enemies' battle cries. Blazing arrows shot over her head and rained down on her foes. Ashni watched the enemy throw up their circular shields and continue to creep closer through the shower of arrows.
A crooked smile curled onto Ashni's face. "Now, to bring the thunder with this storm."
Clicking her tongue, Ashni drove Midnight Thunder to the cavalry ranks. The smell of smoke, blood, and mud already filled the air, but it was too soon to move. Once the enemy was near enough and had lost a sufficient amount of men to her bolts, arrows, and javelins, it would be time to engage. Her blood bubbled and her muscles shook. She was certain every hair on her body stood on end. She took one glance at the sky.
"Father, protect Princess since I'm too far to save her from herself and we both know Naren can barely keep up with her," Ashni prayed and then she turned to her troops. She drew her right sword, The Golden Feather, from her back. The single-edged, curved blade glinted in the light, earning its name.
"Charge!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, pointed her sword forward, and urged Midnight Thunder on.
The sound of her troops behind her, their horses' hooves beating against the ground, ran up and down Ashni's spine, delighting her more than a fine wine could. They sounded like thunder, her thunder. Her dream and the dreams of thousands burned in her soul. The dream of her father. It's mine.
Ashni couldn't contain herself. She felt like she'd come out of her skin. Standing on the back of her horse and pushing off of her saddle, she dived into the fray with a mighty roar, needing to be part of the battle as soon as possible. She landed with the grace all of her troops expected of her. Her impact was like a tiny explosion, pushing up dust and rocks, blowing back grass, and covering her in smoke.
Any enemy near her jumped back, not sure what happened. Her opponents lucked out, moving just out of the reach of The Golden Feather. Ashni wasted no time unsheathing her other sword, The Ivory Claw, from her back and holding both blades, ready for war.
"It's the devils' leader!"
"It's Death's Daughter!"
Ashni chuckled darkly. "Is that what you're calling me? Let me tell you gents something." Thunder clapped overhead. "I'm the daughter of the Golden One and the Chosen. I cut the skies. Fear me!" Lightning blazed out of the sky and she thrust her swords up.
The lightning hit the tips of her blades and she could hear the gasps as the blue-white energy enveloped her. With a howling battle cry, Ashni flung her arms out and the ground around her exploded, tossing her enemies out of the way.
"I am the Chosen One and Daughter of the Heavens themselves," Ashni declared before charging into the crowd. Her swords sang through the air as she cut down her opponents, chopping through soldiers—armor, shields, and all. They barely had time to make a sound.
Foes came at her from all directions and she worked her blades against them, through them. Twisting, twirling, and grunting as she put down anyone who stood before her. Blood splattered her face, the odor making her more determined. Each scream fueled her, pumping through her, driving her to devour other souls. When they fell, she turned to more. Roaring as she caught sight of people to annihilate, she felt her whole body vibrate.
More men charged her and Ashni cut them down with ease. Both swords slid through bodies, gore dripping down the hilts, but never interfering with her grip thanks to wraps on her hands and on the swords. As she fought through waves of men, she was aware of her own cavalry tearing through the lines. She could hear their cries and grunts as they engaged. The cling of swords clashing ripped through her ears. Dirt flew in her face, yet she moved forward. She could only move forward.
Eventually, she was lost in a sea of her enemies, surrounded on all sides by straight blades, and slicing her way through foot soldiers. Her dark armor almost totally swallowed by their beige-colored breastplates. For a moment, she allowed herself a glance toward the deep foliage encapsulating the battlefield.
"Princess, wait for the right moment," Ashni muttered.
If Layla noticed how deep she was in the enemy lines, she would join the battle prematurely and ruin the whole plan. While Layla was an amazing warrior, there were times when she didn't use the best judgment and could wreck lots of hard work. Thankfully, there was no movement in the woods.
Turning her attention back to her opponents, Ashni snarled, cutting through men once more. The ground beneath her was slick, but she kept her footing. More foes pushed against her and she forced them back. Her muscles burned a little, but she ignored it.
She took a quick glance around, checking on her soldiers. They were being engulfed, the enemy closing in, ready to consume them. Soon, it would be too late, soon their dreams would die with them, but her army pressed on, trusting in her, trusting in their ability. Was this too much? Were there too many? Her heart pounded in her chest as wave after wave of Westerners clashed with her warriors, pushing her people back. And then Princess charged in.
Layla and Naren came in like night blanketing the battlefield. Her squad was a shadow set to swallow their enemies, weapons, screams, and all. Their foes never knew what hit them when Layla bashed in from the side, tearing in and forcing an opening. Ashni nodded with approval as new screams filled the battle's din. And to think I was worried. I need to stop listening to Adira so much.
"I can only imagine the joy on the Princess' face," Ashni chuckled and then turned her full attention back to the melee around her.
Ashni turned and received a foot in her back. The boot smacked against her sword sheathes. She wasn't hurt, but knocked off balance. Lurching forward, she spun around and put an arm up just in time to block a blade coming down. The sword clanged against the dragon-scale armor protecting her forearm and she kicked the soldier away from her. Shouting, she brought The Golden Feather down on him, splitting his chest open.
As more foot soldiers vanished into the void led by Layla, cavalry officers took note of Ashni. Horses with men in bright helmets with long tails on top rushed her. A grin tore through her face.
"Fools." Ashni rubbed her swords against each other, making them sing as a bolt sparked between them.
The mud beneath her rumbled and she roared. Swinging The Ivory Claw, she took a horse's head while The Golden Feather chopped off an officer's arm and he pulled his horse back. She dodged the third horseman with ease, stepping right into the path of the last one, and shoved her sword into the rider's chest. As the other turned to come back for her, she slaughtered a few common soldiers and then gave the rider her attention. She ducked and took the legs out from under his horse. The rider crashed into the muck and Ashni panted, breath coming out in visible puffs, body still pulsating for warfare.
While taking stock of her surroundings, Ashni felled as many men as she could. Her muscles burned and she could hear her blood pounding in her ears, but more importantly, she could smell victory in the air despite the fact they were still outnumbered. Their enemies could overwhelm them, but she pressed on, as did her army. The dream was there. It's there. We're here.
Soon, the fragrance of victory was buried under the odor of death and earth. The hum of promise buzzed over the clash of metal and wood. Ashni continued to tear through people, pushing against enemy shields, cutting through their lines. She could see Layla's troops coming closer. We will consume these fools whole and then feast on their bones.
The last phase of Ashni's plan fell into place once Layla shoved her way into position. The enemy's numbers weren't as important as they had been. Now, Ashni's army engulfed their foes and Adira was about to complete the circle.
General Adira came in from the other side and they now had their enemies from three sides. The tide of the battle changed almost immediately. It was time to enclose these fools who dared to stand in the way of the Daughter of the Heavens.
Before long, Ashni could hear Adira barking orders. Even with her helmet covering her ears, Ashni could hear the clash of weapons singing in the air, and shrieks of agony cluttered the air. The cold darkness on her other side told her that Layla drew closer. Her opponents probably didn't know what to make of Layla and her group and they never would.
"May the goddess Tami have mercy on their souls," Ashni muttered as she shoved several soldiers toward Layla's creeping shadows to be engulfed by the frozen darkness.
It took time, but the circle grew tighter around the enemy. Now, the superior numbers meant nothing. The burn of Ashni's muscles went to the back of her mind and she roared, taking down even more soldiers.
In the end, Ashni stood in the bloody mud of the battlefield. She cleaned her swords, wiping them on her muck-covered pant leg, and placed her weapons in their sheathes. With a loud exhale, she removed her helmet and wiped sweat from her brow. Her amber eyes took in the scene and saw her troops stood just as strong as she, putting down any remaining resistance.
She watched as Layla waded to her, an almost deranged grin on her youthful, flushed face, which was splattered with dirt and the blood of their foes. How a teenager could wreak such havoc and not be a demigod would forever baffle Ashni, but she didn't question it. Layla obviously was given grace by some divine being.
"Did you see me come in right on time?" Layla asked, her brown eyes bright and her arms wide. Her palms were clean, but red from holding her sword, which was now sheathed on her side.
Ashni chortled and, rubbed the top of Layla's head as soon as she was close enough. She mussed her sister's short black locks done in cornrow braids, not that it mattered. Layla's hair was wild from the battle, standing on end and dripping with sweat. Layla tittered and tucked herself under Ashni's arm.
"It's good to see you didn't lose your head. Where's that idiot spouse of yours?" Ashni looked in the direction Naren should've come from, but he wasn't there. "Did I luck out and someone finally killed him? Oh, please, say someone killed him." She pressed her hands together in prayer.
Layla growled and gave her a stern glower with hard dark eyes. "Don't say that." She pointed at Ashni, wagging her finger for a second. "He's fine. He fell in some slop, though. I told him he was too close to the horses, but he never listens to me."
Ashni huffed. "Because he's an idiot. He's supposed to be keeping an eye on you, not falling in horse crap." She trusted that idiot to watch Layla and make sure she didn't do anything too crazy, not that anyone could stop Layla once she got a lunatic idea in her head. Still, he should be there to save her from herself as best anyone can.
Layla stepped away and made a face at her, gnashing her teeth, which Ashni brushed off. She scanned the area for Adira. The dirt and soot of the battlefield made seeing any distance impossible. Adira would find her if she was still alive.
"So, now what?" Layla inquired, looking around at their handiwork. There were bodies all the way to the woods around the meadow, which wasn't a sparkling green any longer.
"In such a vast field of men, there must be some living nobles left. We'll gather them alive, ransom who can be ransomed, enlist those we can enlist, and kill whoever's left," Ashni replied with a shrug. Any horses, dogs, supplies, and equipment would come with them.
Layla nodded, folding her arms across her black breastplate. "And the dead?"
Ashni surveyed the land once more. She had an idea as to what she wanted to happen. She would wait for Adira to get it done.
"Hey, did Adira die?" Layla put her hand up to shield her eyes from the afternoon sun, seeking the general.
"I'm pretty sure it's a lot harder to lose Adira than that. She's got a lot of nagging left in her. Besides, if she died Saniyah would kill her."
Layla laughed and then suddenly sobered. "But, wouldn't she kill us, too, if Adira died with us?"
Ashni snorted. "Obviously."
Layla laughed again. "I can see it, though."
"See what?" Adira said, marching up out of the smoke from a crater nearby.
"Saniyah killing you if you die on the battlefield." Layla was now in a giggle fit.
Adira sniffed and brushed dirt from her armor. "Oh, please. She'd eat me whole if I died on the battlefield. Hell, she'd probably kill both of you for 'letting' me die in battle."
Layla nodded. "I said that."
"The end of an era at the hands of a petite engineer." Ashni shook her head.
"Isn't that the death your mother predicted for you?" Layla snickered, jabbing Ashni with her thumb.
Ashni shrugged. "Sounds like something she'd say, right?" She turned to Adira. "Make me an Orchard. One so glorious the Fire Eagle himself would praise our work. I want color and twists and bowed branches, so the gods will continue to praise our journey."
Adira's face scrunched up and she looked around. "Do we have time for that?"
"We should. We have to take stock of everything. If nothing else, we'll leave a few people behind to finish it. So, make me an Orchard." Ashni made sure to make it sound like an order.
Adira took her helmet off and glared at Ashni. It was hard to take her serious with her hair plastered to her forehead. "Really? This is what you're using me for now? You want me to hang around to make an Orchard? How about you just tattoo 'maid' across my damn forehead while you're at it?"
"I would, but I don't have the time and it would probably clash with your other tattoos," Ashni said.
Adira's gaze narrowed. "This is an utter waste of my time and talent."
"We just won a major battle and opened up the West to us. Why the hell are you so damn cranky?" Ashni asked.
Layla chimed in. "She didn't get to kill enough people."
"I'm not cranky. I'm a general in the Roshan army. In fact, I'm the best general in the Roshan army. I shouldn't be fetching bulls or making Orchards. There are people who do that." Adira huffed, her nostrils flaring.
Ashni scowled. "So, why don't you just go order those people to do it and stop whining? Your word is as good as mine around here. Sometimes, better depending on what we're disagreeing on."
Knowing this was true, Adira threw her hands up and let loose a horrible growl of frustration. Ashni and Layla snickered as they watched her storm off.
"Well, Princess, here we are," Ashni said, looking around the battlefield. Inhaling, she put her chin up and let out a long sigh.
"Yeah. It's kind of ours at this point," Layla replied with a shrug.
Ashni chuckled and threw her arm around her sister again. She pulled Layla to her, not caring about the grime of combat. Layla looked up at her and Layla's dark eyes sparkled. It was amazing how once the battle madness left her, Layla could look downright cute, even when covered in some unfortunate soul's blood. It didn't help that Layla had dimples.
"So, are we just going to stand around while Adira makes an Orchard?" Layla asked.
"Of course not. Let's rally who we have and assess everything before we get moving. No way these guys want to sit around and bask in the stench of the dead," Ashni replied. They were here now and they had to keep moving.
Layla nodded and ran off to do her part. Ashni had things to do as well, but before she started, she went to find Midnight Thunder. She owed her poor horse. He didn't even get a chance to be a part of this. Midnight Thunder found her, bumping her in the back with his snout. She laughed, turning to pet him.
"I'm sorry I teased you, boy. You know how eager I get," she said. He snorted and nuzzled her briefly. She took it as forgiveness. "Next battle, it's you and me both, especially if Layla decides to be…you know, herself and all." He nodded.
She climbed into the saddle. She rode to the top of the hill her enemies had occupied a couple of hours early. It gave her a good view of the West. It was green, alive, promising.
"Father, I am your legacy to this world and I will carry out your will as mine own. All of the world will be called Roshan under me and my banner. Watch me as I bring fame and glory that even you couldn't achieve," Ashni said.
"Isn't it blasphemous to taunt a god?" Adira's voice sounded taunting as she approached on her own horse.
"Not when it's your father and you're just as divine as he is," Ashni answered.
"Are you just as divine as the Son of the Great Eagle?" Adira snorted and rolled her eye. "You forget I knew him. I rode with him."
Ashni curled her lip at Adira. "Do you deny me?"
"I merely acknowledge the gods and the Amir as they are. It's not my fault you can't take it." Adira's mouth twitched.
"What the hell do you want? Aren't you supposed to be making me a glorious Orchard of these damned souls?"
Adira shrugged. "It's being done. I delegated, like you always do, except I delegate to the right people. I just wanted to make sure you weren't planning to leave me putting together some damned Orchard when you decided to move on."
Ashni gave her a lopsided grin. "Leave behind the second-in-command?" She didn't even get to make it through the rest of her speech.
Adira pursed her lips. "Second-in-command? I thought Princess was second-in-command."
"Please, I can barely trust her to hold her sword right or not get lost in her own shadows. Besides, she is me, which means she's basically first-in-command."
Adira arched an eyebrow. "Really, two first-in-commands? Isn't that impossible?"
"And this is why I never take you anywhere."
"Oh, yeah, this is why." Adira blew out a loud breath. "Don't leave me putting together this Orchard."
"Where's the fun in that? Especially since someone needs to nag me to death."
Adira glowered at her. "If you leave me while I'm designing this damned Orchard, I'm meeting you on the battlefield myself. If there's no battle, then I'll just fight you to the death in your tent."
Ashni smirked. "I'd love to see it." The latter had happened before, but not to the death. In fact, this confrontation all but guaranteed she'd leave Adira behind.
Adira gave her one hard look, which was pretty much a dare to leave her behind. Ashni would take her up on it. For the moment, though, she turned her attention back to the sky.
"Watch over us, Father. Watch us work." Ashni would shine even brighter than he had.