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Riders of the Dawn

Kevin Kingswell

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Smoke lazily drifted into the air from numerous pit fires that were dotted around between the encampments on the wild and open plains, around these fires sat burly and grizzled men whilst more scantily clad women either danced in between or went about with focus on their duties. The men had been travelling for days now and they were all glad for the rest that they were receiving. Though none would openly say it this expedition had not truly appealed to the majority of the men when they were first told of it but when they reminded of ancient family ties and loyalties each one had packed up their things and ridden out on the backs of their mounts.


A grand total of one thousand souls had agreed to travel out to the meeting location on the plains where they encountered one another and though wary of each other at first time and boredom had shattered those feelings and in their place comradeship had bloomed. Now united as one, if by necessity than true brotherhood, they waited for the command from the man who had sent out the call. The one they called their leader, their Khan.


That man was Khabul Khan, a towering mountain of a man, over six foot high and built of solid muscle he had tough calloused skin from a life spent living and hunting on the plains and when he spoke his voice and tone called for attention and obedience. Yet for all of this tough and vicious out look he was a respectable and loyal person, he rarely commanded and even when he did it always seemed to come across as a request than an order. Thus it was little surprise that he could garner such loyalty and respect from the men and women of his camp.


The fact that Khabul Khan declared he had a blood link to an old powerful family from a great empire once known as Tianxia also helped to solidify support among his followers. Though traces of this Tianxian Empire had seemed to have long faded to dust, the stories he and his story weavers spun of a grand and strong empire that was both so feared and respected that their rivals sought out newer lands from where they could be left undisturbed drew much wonder especially from the younger of the men. 


It was clear that this was the prime motivation of Khabul and his people, to create an empire like the one from stories of old. Though they were few in number they had passion and spirit and from this these riders would head into the dawn to create their new home. Their new empire. 

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"My Khan!!!" came the child's cry from his back and Khabul turned his head to see behind him his eyes narrowing slightly as he focused on the scrawny figure of a youthful boy likely no more than a year to two short of full adult hood. The boy was clad in hunting leather just like Khabul but they were of a lower quality and the primitive spear he held was of bronze tip not iron like his own weapons. Even so Khabul looked upon the young lad with a smile and pride in his eyes, his tone when he spoke full of that same prideful feeling. "My son, we are alone you may call me father here" he said in reply watching as young Ambaghai matched his father's smile with his own. "Father where are you going? The men are growing restless" spoke his son turning to look in direction of Khabul's camped followers and back. "The tales speak the old rulers went into the wild's though no one remembers why. I believe they sought solace and help from the wild's spirits. I must follow in their footsteps if I am to rule. Now return to your mother and watch over the camp whilst I am gone" commanded Khabul with a warm grin before he turned and walked out away from the camps leaving his son to return to the Khan's tent.


Khabul Khan trudged through the wild plains with one hand before him and the other tightly gripping his cloak, he had not decided on a direction or destination and instead felt it was best to leave it up to the spirits of the steppes to guide him. On and on he continued to walk the elements battering at his body the entire time he was never sure how much time passed but soon day light began to give way to darkness and the air grew colder around him. Deciding he had journeyed far enough for one day Khabul searched around for some sort of shelter and though much of the land was open plains he spotted a set of hills not too far away and he turned to walk in their direction. After what he guessed to be about an hour he came upon the edges of the hills just as the wind blew up into a fearsome gale at his back driving him forwards.


Staggering against the buffering winds Khabul only just spotted the outline of a narrow jagged crack in the side of one of the hills, it looked tight but he believed he could slide inside with some effort. Squeezing his shoulders and chest in he slowly wormed his way into the crack before sliding out into a small cave which was built into the core of the hill. The first thing he noticed was the shaft of light that came down from a hole built into the top of the cave and from the crevice he had slipped through. More shocking though was the sight of a pile of dried wood sitting inside a makeshift fire pit, Khabul searched for any signs of life but finding none on hand he made his way across to the fire pit and sat down. He was trying to decide how he would light the fire when he spotted the flint and tinder resting beside the wood as if it had been left out to found on purpose. Giving praise to the spirits Khabul leaned over and took the flint and tinder and with a short and swift prayer he lit the fire and watched as the wood quickly caught and began to burn.


As the heat began to build the Khan found himself beginning to relax his body sore from the effort of all the walking and fighting the elements thus he did not notice how the wood flame burned a light purple until the first wisps of curling smoke blew up and into his mouth and deep into his lungs. Khabul was barely able to recognise something was wrong before his vision began to darken and he felt his body sink sideways to the floor and as his thoughts became heavy he cursed himself for falling into a trap such as this and then he thought no more...    

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