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Servant of Rage, Chapter One

Servant of Rage releases April 3, 2018, but being honest, I can't really wait that long to share this story with y'all. Oh, and would you look at that? Someone went and posted the first chapter below! How convenient!

Anyway, enjoy this chapter that mysteriously made its way out into the world, and stay tuned. I've heard rumors that chapter two will appear next week, and chapter three the week after that. In fact, I've even heard there's a schedule or something behind all this.

If you enjoy this chapter, well, lucky day! Servant of Rage is available for preorder right now!

"Avatar: The Last Airbender as directed by Quentin Tarantino."
- Definitely not the author of this book


Chapter One:

Looks to be Suicide
 

The other hunters shied from the task, mumbled excuses and accepted easier assignments. Fool’s errands, more like. If ten years of training and two more as a hunter had proved anything, it was that Subei was not one to let an opportunity pass him by.

“Let me get this straight,” Kashi said, shaking his head. “The khan marks murderers, horse thieves, and petty smugglers, but we’re assigned to hunt down the longest serving commander in the entire damned khanate?”

“Assigned?” Subei said with a laugh. “Ancestors above, brother. We weren’t assigned. We volunteered.”

Silence followed. Kashi’s expression, previously one of surprise, descended into a suspicious scowl.

“You volunteered, you mean?”

“Well, as the foremost, I speak for all of us,” Subei said, clapping Kashi and their older brother, Bataar, on the back. “So in the eyes of the khan, we volunteered.”

Subei smiled. There was a significant difference between being ordered to do a thing and volunteering for it. It was the difference between mindless servitude and burning ambition. The difference between being no one and being the khan’s finest hunter.

He held tight to his smile even as anger built in his younger brother’s eyes. Looked a river in the summer rains, swelling until it burst its banks.

“You’re a damned madman.”

“Probably.”

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“Probably that, too.”

“Ancestors damn it, Subei! Can we not just have an easy assignment for once?”

“Kashi, little brother.” Subei shook his head. Had he learned nothing after all this time? “Opportunity—”

“Opportunity is missed by most because it comes soaked in blood and looks to be suicide. You’ve said it a hundred damned times.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“The problem is the part where we hunt one of the fiercest men the steppe has ever known, and probably end up dead as a result.” He cursed under his breath and began to pace back and forth.

Always had been a bit lacking on the courage side of things, had Kashi. A trait from his parents, perhaps. Subei called him and Bataar brother, though they were not brothers by birth but rather by trade. Hunters, trained together from childhood. Subei didn’t share blood with either of them, but after twelve years and countless hunts together, that counted for very little.

Kashi continued to fume for a minute before he finally turned to Bataar.

“Oh, so you’re smiling too?”

The big man shrugged. “It’d be a fine thing to bring down Commander Jian. Horse thieves and smugglers have gotten a bit, well, boring.”

“Boring? Oh, boring is fine. Boring doesn’t end with a spear in my chest.”

Bataar hefted his wicker-and-iron shield and patted the horseman’s saber at his hip.

“You’re the tracker. You find the bastard, we’ll take care of the rest.”

“And after you take care of 'the rest' — or it takes care of you — it’ll be my job to drag what’s left of your bodies back to the khan.”

“Well, you won’t have to drag us far,” Subei said, savoring the best part of the news for just a moment longer. “The commander just left camp yesterday. Hardly has any lead on us at all.” He nodded to the west, through the great tent city that always followed the khan’s camp and out to the wide, windy steppe beyond.

“Oh, wonderful. We can catch up to our deaths that much quicker, then,” Kashi said, shaking his head.

“You worry too much, little brother.” Subei smirked and patted him on the shoulder, but Kashi shrugged the gesture away.

“Someone has to, seeing as neither of you care to bother.”

“Never much believed in it.”

“Well, by all means, don’t start now,” Kashi called over his shoulder as he strode away to see to their horses.

When he was out of earshot, Bataar spoke up.

“You may have pushed him too far. He might actually be angry this time.”

“And what about you?” Subei squinted sideways at his older brother, searching for a hint of his true feelings. Not that he needed to. Bataar spoke his mind, as always. Something he’d learned from his father, no doubt.

“Me? Hell, I’m fine with it. Far as I can see, this is a double victory. Jian’s betrayal ends any chance he had to become khan. Us killing him? Well, that’ll get my father’s attention.”

Bataar was the khan’s son by birth, but that counted for next to nothing in the eyes of his father. A worthy son would prove himself, same as any other Ghangerai. The khan was a staunch traditionalist and had made clear the position would pass to the most worthy upon his death. The title could just as soon pass to a commander or noble as to his own son.

“I know why you were so eager for this assignment, Subei.”

“Oh? Do tell.”

“You and I, we understand ambition.” Bataar took a swig from his waterskin, spit some water into the dirt before continuing. “I want to be khan when my father dies, that’s plain enough. But you, you’re a bit tougher. Harder to read.”

“You think too much of me, brother. I am but a servant of the khan, carrying out his orders.”

“Horseshit. Don’t lie to me.” Bataar scowled. “I’ve known you too long, seen you volunteer for too many suicidal assignments like this one. You came from nothing and nowhere. Just showed up one day. Ain’t stopped climbing since.” He laughed. “Twelve years ago, you said you wanted to be the finest of my father’s hunters. But something tells me I’d be a fool to think your ambition ends there.”

“Assuming you believe all this nonsense, where do you suppose my ambition ends?”

Bataar was silent a moment, thinking. He shrugged.

“I don’t think it does. You believe the legend.”

“Oh, come now.” Subei waved the words away. “No one has transcended for a hundred years or more.”

Bataar was insistent.

“It’s the only explanation. The reason you’re up training before dawn, the reason you’re training at the end of each day.”

“Thinking was never your strong point, brother.”

“You believe you can do it, though, don’t you? You believe you can dedicate yourself so much to this way of life that you leave your baser emotions behind. That you forget fear, or pain, or doubt.” Bataar paused. “That you transcend.”

Subei let the faintest hint of a smile pull at the edges of his mouth.

“Might be you’re on to something, brother. Just might be.”