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.
This was one of the first scenes I wrote, but also one of the scenes I spent the longest time writing. Dealing with her decision to choose Ahrik over Shahl--even though she was coerced--is at the core of the novel.
I like how this scene builds in its opening stages, since it marks a turning point in how Zharla sees herself and in how she approaches life. She felt remorse for having betrayed Shahl, the man she loved, but this remorse transitions to a mix of confusion, guilt, and rage as this scene progresses.
Rise of Ahrik
Zharla drew a bath to forget her pain and also to hide her tears. Have I done the right thing? Her decision seemed so…empty. Could she have escaped with Shahl, somehow cheated his death? Even if he had been killed, would a few hours with him have been better than what she had robbed from him, the knowledge that she wanted to choose him? Could she have lived with his death on her conscience?
The scented steam filled her lungs with life, but her heart would not be put at ease. She sat in the water and tried to focus on something else. She studied her stone surroundings. The walls of the washroom were carved to evoke the dim interior of Meran Mountain. They were a deep, moist green, with a trickle of water cascading down the back wall and into the large stone basin in which Zharla reclined. She reached up to a lever on the wall to raise the temperature of the water. Steam mixed with the scented oils.
After a time soaking in the bath, she felt a chill. Her eyes narrowed into alertness. The chill hadn’t come from a sudden, cold breeze. In Zharla’s washroom such a breeze was impossible. Something was not as it should be, a sinister premonition in the recesses of her mind.
She sank a little lower into the water. It’s probably nothing. “Hello?” she called. More softly, she asked, “Renla, is that you?” How foolish. Renla had already retired for the evening, and her presence would never induce such a sensation. How embarrassing. Of course nothing was wrong.
Driven a bit by curiosity but also by a desire to convince herself of her courage, Zharla got out of the bath and gathered her thick robe around her. It’s time to get out, anyway. She padded toward her bedroom, stopping to choose some night clothes from her dressing room.
She laid her clothes over the chair and peered around her room, checking to see if anything was out of place. Like the washroom, Zharla’s chambers were fashioned of quarried stone, as were all the buildings of out-mountain Meran. The bedroom’s two windows faced the sea, to let in the morning light and the salty sea breeze. It was never cold in Meran, even in winter, so the windows consisted of little more than a framed opening in an outer wall, with a kall field over the opening to detect intrusions. Night had fallen, so the drapes were drawn and the only source of illumination was the lights in her room. She trusted those lights now to shut out an unsettling disquiet.
She crept around her room to make sure everything was in its place, examining the sparse yet exquisite furniture. She looked under her bed, framed with wrought metal, and glanced toward the window to check the position of the sutur, a wooden instrument lying close to the ground, trapezoid in shape, with two sets of strings running perpendicular to one another. She moved back to the polished stone desk with carved stone legs and the wooden chair with the clothes draped over it. She looked over to the small metal table by the bed. Nothing seemed amiss.
She reached for her clothes, but then her chambers went completely dark. Her heart stopped cold, and fear rippled through her spine. The darkness enveloping her had not caused her terror. She could think of any number of plausible explanations for that. Rather, in the split second before being plunged into darkness, in that moment between mere caution and spine-tingling terror, she had seen a figure standing across the room.