Rise of Ahrik is a story about love and fate in the face of violence and war. It has been thousands of years since The War, and civilization has endured a slow rebirth under the rule of women, but war threatens once again. Zharla, the young scioness of a powerful mining clan, must choose between two brothers to marry: Ahrik, a petulant military officer soon to be sent off to war, or Shahl, an aspiring scholar and the one she loves. She is forced to marry Ahrik, but when Shahl is accused of a vicious crime, the three begin to discover that the accusation, the war, and the secret clones that fight it are bound together in an awful triad that seeks to rob them of their agency and destroy women’s rule. Civilization once again hangs by a thread.
Nathan Toronto loves stories about war, and has been known to stay up until three o’clock in the morning reading military history and science fiction. His debut novel, Rise of Ahrik, tells of a love triangle in a matriarchal society thrust into a worldwide war. He is currently writing the sequel, Revenge of the Emerald Moon, as well as an academic book, How Militaries Learn. When he is not writing, he likes to run, play the piano, and eat waffles by pouring syrup in every hole then raising the waffle to let the excess drain off.
Zharla is caught between tradition and independence. More than anything, she wants to marry the man she loves, a peace-loving activist for men's rights named Shahl, but her mother uses an age-old mantra to try to convince Zharla to marry Ahrik instead. Zharla, young and untested, is torn. Little does she know how soon she'll have to grow up.
Likewise, life has a penchant for surprises. We're never ready to change when we need to, much less when others force us to. The real question, as it is for Zharla, is what we do with the surprises we're dealt.
Rise of Ahrik
“Mother,” Zharla said. She brought her hand up to take her mother’s hand, and kissed it before clutching it to her chest. Zharla’s performance had to be just as convincing. Mother, I think you’re a monster, but you’re the only mother I have. Mother, I hope you burn in sunfire, but please teach me your wiles before you do. Mother, how did I come out of you? “Mother, I know you love me.”
A calm settled over her mother’s face. “Will you repeat the mantra with me, please, Zharla? An Esheli woman…”
“…serves the Eshel, because it gives life,” Zharla said. She hid her confusion. Where was this was going? Every Esheli woman, man, and child knew the mantra and recited it every day as part of the prayer to the Lady of the Emerald Moon, but repeating it in the middle of the day felt awkward.
“An Esheli man…”
“…defends women’s rule, because it gives order.” Zharla hoped for a time when men and women would govern the Eshel as equals, but the only thing that exceeded the clan’s dedication to the social order was their wealth. When her mother finally relinquished control over the family mining conglomerate, then she and Shahl might have a chance to do something about women’s rule. Until then, if Zharla had to take over the business, then she had to play the game, bide her time.
Her mother continued. “We desire order…”
“…because it is safety from The War, when all life ceased.” At this, Zharla was hard-pressed to maintain her performance. Every Esheli learned from infancy that nothing is worth a return to the unbridled violence of The War, but she could not bring herself to believe it. The War was over two thousand years ago, or so they said. Many wars had been fought since. None ended life like The War, and the ancient weapons remained in the past, but if the War of Unification ten years earlier hadn’t brought about a global cataclysm, then she doubted anything would. The War was nothing but a trite story to scare the weak-minded.
Her mother smiled as Zharla completed the recitation. Her voice was almost at a whisper. “Why, Zharla, did life cease during The War?”
Zharla could barely hear her over the clamor of the street. She concentrated on not rolling her eyes. Her mother wanted to give her a history lesson, right there on the street. “Because of the ancient weapons, Mother. Because our Esheli Mothers had not yet discovered the power of the ketel.” The taboos against discussing the ancient weapons and the ketela were so strong that Zharla had only a vague idea of what they were. Men like Ahrik and powerful women like the Chief Elders were entrusted with giving these words meaning. Zharla questioned many things, but not this, at least not yet. In time, though, and with Shahl at her side…
“And why, dear Zharla, are the ketela powerful?”
“Because they are loyal,” Zharla whispered, trying to match her mother’s fervency.
“Yes, Zharla, the ketela are loyal. You are a Tameri woman, and a Tameri woman…”
“…is loyal,” said Zharla. Her heart sank. How could she challenge this? What could she say to her mother that would not embroil them in some new fight? The quickest way to start her new life with Shahl was to get to the end of this conversation.
“Now, Zharla.” Her mother caressed Zharla’s shoulders and drew close, close enough for Zharla to feel her mother’s breath on her wounded face. “How will you choose this afternoon?”
Zharla should have seen it coming. She couldn’t avoid the confrontation now. Did she dare make her mother think she would actually choose Ahrik? Could she risk avoiding her mother’s anger now, only to lie to her later? Zharla’s heartbeat quickened, and the back of her eyes trembled to think what might happen. She felt so helpless, laying her case before such a heartless judge. “Mother, I can be just as loyal with Shahl as with Ahrik.”
Her mother’s face twisted in anger. She dug her fingers into Zharla’s shoulders and put her mouth next to Zharla’s ear. “That is not true, Zharla!” She paused, as if to let the threat in her voice sink in. Her voice lowered. “This is a marriage of families, not individuals. I tried, I really did, but the clan council said if you choose Shahl, he’ll be dead by morning.”
Zharla’s head swam. Shahl dead? Her vision clouded with hot tears. How could they stoop so low? This was a deeper level of betrayal than her mother had ever displayed; allowing her tears to tumble was all Zharla could do to keep from lashing out, from remedying betrayal with violence.
But if Shahl had taught her anything, it was forbearance in the face of violence. Violence would not diminish the threat on Shahl’s life, nor would it erase her mother’s betrayal. Maybe, if she played the loyal daughter, she could run away with him before the ceremony, but she needed to talk to Shahl somehow. She cast her eyes down and feigned submission. “I will choose Ahrik.”