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The Warrior's Path

By Karim Soliman All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Fantasy

Blurb

The games of destiny bring Masolon, a warrior who seeks a new start in Gorania, with the rebellious Lady Sania, who is determined to defy the norms and traditions of her faction. As their paths are fraught with the tyranny of ruthless lords, the atrocity of merciless outlaws, and the ploys of tricksters, they have to decide if they are going to forge their fates, each one on his own; or they should follow one path together to write their own story in the Tales of Gorania.

Prologue

Whispers of prayers replaced laughter and witty remarks. No one was playing brave now. Since those mountains loomed over the horizon, Noah’s gallant companions became pious.

“We rest here,” the old caravan master announced, his voice strong for his age. Ironically, that wrinkled man was the only source of reassurance for a green caravan guard like Noah. Unlike the muscular men in this company, the old caravan master had been keeping his calm since they departed from the city, as if he was leisurely walking his horse by the lake of some shady oasis, not braving the perils of the bleak desert with a caravan that would definitely be tempting for wandering bandits. Anyway, with the edge of man’s world at sight, mortal robbers of flesh and blood should be the least of anyone’s concern right now.

All men dismounted, and so did Noah. An order to rest should be an easy one to comply with, if only there was a tree trunk to tie his horse to. “Open your eyes and watch, boy.” The caravan master must have noticed Noah’s perplexity. The old man was still on horseback when he nodded toward the other guards who took down a few barrels from the cart. The men implanted the barrels in the sand and now they had a few hitch poles for their horses. Holding his horse by its reins, Noah trudged through sand to tie his courser to one those implanted barrels.

“You have to dust your hands a little bit if you want a barrel, boy,” a muscular guard snapped at Noah when he approached a hitch pole.

“Easy on him.” The caravan master glared at the muscular fellow. “It’s his first ride as a guard.”

“I rode ten times already when I was his age.” The guard smirked.

“And that’s why you trembled when you saw the demons’ mountains, right?” Noah taunted.

The muscular guard shoved him, and suddenly, all other guards were mad at Noah, yelling and cursing and wagging firm fingers. Surprised by their exaggerated fury, Noah stepped back, his hand reaching the hilt of his sword.

“Enough, you fools!” the caravan master bellowed, still mounting his horse. “Couldn’t you make your fuss a little louder?”

“You should teach that boy how to hold his tongue.” The muscular guard pointed his finger at Noah.

“And you should pick an opponent your size,” the caravan master rebuked the muscular guard before he beckoned to Noah, “Come.”

Noah caught up with the old man, who nudged his horse away from the caravan, just enough to be out of earshot. Time to teach the green guard a lesson, Noah thought. He wasn’t in the mood to hear lessons. However, he should be grateful to the old man who had prevented an upcoming bloody clash. Needless to say who would have bled if Noah had drawn that sword in front of a dozen furious guards.

“Tell me, boy,” said the caravan master. “What did your parents tell you about demons?”

Noah rubbed his head, trying to recall anything he might have heard from his parents. “They never talked about them.”

“Exactly.” The old man leaned toward Noah. “The men behind us are not much different from your parents; they never say the name of the dwellers of the Great Desert.” He nodded toward the distant mountains. “Especially, when we are so close from the lands they reside in.”

The notion of being just a few miles away from some demon unnerved Noah. “You think if we mention them, they may. . .”

“It doesn’t matter what I think, boy.” The old man gestured toward the guards. “I just want you to understand that these men are nervous so that you don’t get into trouble one more time. Because if you do, I won’t be there to stop them from killing you.”

The caravan master wheeled his horse, but before he went away, Noah said, “You are not afraid because you know those demons do not exist, right?”

The old man pulled the reins of his horse and let in a deep breath. “Two days ago, I was on my way back to Kahora when I saw that man coming out from the Great Desert on a black stallion. My men, terrified, thought he was a demon chasing them. But when he came closer, we realized he was only a lost, exhausted traveler who would kill for a sip of water.”

The old man’s tale confused Noah a bit. “What are trying to tell me? That the Great Desert is inhabited by men like you and me?”

The old man turned to him. “I’m trying to tell you that not everything you hear—”

"A leopard!

While Noah was looking around to find the beast, he heard a roar followed by a grunt, and then a few men hooting. A guard had struck the leopard dead with a thrown spear; Noah deduced after he found the beast’s corpse at last. Well, the sight of a dead leopard was much relieving than an alive one. Especially, if it was moving toward you.

But for some reason, the old man didn’t seem impressed at all. He even looked concerned as he gazed at the vacant desert behind them. “We must leave now, men. Mount your horses,” he urged his guards who barely got some rest. The order made them disgruntled, but no one dared to disobey the veteran caravan master.

But Noah dared to approach the old man. “Something wrong?”

“The Ghosts.” The caravan master was still gazing at the horizon. “They have sent an eye, and the eye saw us. Now they know we are here.”

“Ghosts? But I thought you don’t believe in—”

“The Ghosts are real, boy. I have seen the corpses they leave behind.” For the first time, the reserved caravan master sounded nervous. “Now put your arse on a saddle.”

Noah swallowed. He had never wielded his sword in a real fight. “You know how to defeat them, right?”

“No one fights a Ghost, naive. I grew old because I always ran away. Now move or we leave you behind!”

Noah didn’t need more persuasion to sprint toward his horse. He hurriedly untied it, but there was that heavy barrel which was still stuck in the sand. He called out to the guards to help him return that barrel to the cart, but no one paid him heed as they were already mounting their horses.

“Forget the damned barrel now! You are hindering us, boy!” the caravan master nudged his horse onward, the rest of the guards following him. Noah, jumbled by their rush, struggled with the stirrup before he swung up the saddle.

And then, that shriek echoed in the desert.

“Blast!” One of the guards looked back, his jaw dropped. Noah didn’t need to be a seasoned guard to know what that shriek was; the terrified look on everybody’s faces said it all.

It was the shriek of a Ghost.

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