Batu Khan
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Across the M32, down the cracked, wrinkled road that was what was left of P226, came the myangans, joined one by one by the forces of the Chrome Horde. And there was a thunder or engines that shook the earth and sent tremors up across the heavens, that reverberated across the mountains and the valleys and the horizon was choked with a multitude of banners, flapping against the setting sun.

There was Asai’s flayed man, flapping obscenely in the wind. There was the three horse-skull banner of the Uriankhai, who had burned Turkmenistan to crisp. The Boljigin’s trampled crown was also there, a contingent of men sent all the way from the Burmese front. The Khatagin’s wolf’s head, pierced by a dozen sabers, came from the East. From the Northwest, the Barlans waved their banner of the wheel that crushed the pleading defender, reducing him into an image of featureless gore. There were the Gorlos, the bike-riding raiders that had taken Shangahi in a day, their banner that of foxes overpowering a bear. There were the Taraid, with their plague-rats. The Tuva with their dog-headed warrior. The Ongud, whose severed hand banner hung higher than all the rest, since it was from among them that the Batu-Khan was descended. The Sunud had rows of eyes for their banner, forever on the lookout for new lands to take.  There were the Marghud, their banner that of a rider on his horse, peppered with arrows, saber drawn out. The Telengut, whose insignia was that of severed jawbones, arranged in a star-pattern. The Tayichiud, whose banner bore the design of the sundered throne. The Yurki, with their flaming arrows. The Khereid, who bore the cross, the symbol of Jesus-Tung’ak, the Mongol Christ and Patron of the Tribes.  The Merkit, who had once been the enemies of Temujin, had a banner of shame: the shackled man and woman, joined at the hip so that they would never forget their history. And then the forest people, their own forces the smallest in number but the greatest in spirit, fresh from the Indian front: the Oirat, the Khori Tumed, the Kabhkanak, the To’eles, the Kesdiyin, whose banners were simple affairs, the designs ripped and tattered, the fabric riddled with bullets of the poles charred and patched in places.

They massed to Volgograd, a hundred fifty thousand strong, clogging the airwaves with transmissions picked up through satellite dishes set up across the city. With a turn of his dial, Baraat could listen in to the Horde from every place in the world: from the throat-singing late-comers that were descending from Siberia (where the pickings were few but certainly not lean), from Vietnam (where the Mongols had been welcomed with open arms, bringing with them fuel and light and order). In Pakistan, the reserve forces sang the praises of the Khan for Faisalabad to Karachi. In India, sabers were rattled against fenders in celebration of the taking of Bhutan, their force making their way along the coastline to Bengal. In Korea, the myangan-lords were strip-mining the land, bringing in Chinese engineers to restore the shipyards to full function, to create a fleet capable of storming Japan. Only scattered broadcasts came from the advance forces in Aghanistan and Turkey, most of them unintelligible gibberish that sporadically promised a swift victory for the Khan.

The city was already choked with Mongols, their tents ringing the squares, set up across the streets, in alleyways and roofs all the way up to Rokossoskvogo Avenue. Across the banks of the Volga, the Tngri were lined up, hooked to a multitude of devices, their coolant systems and exhaust ports dipped into the river, the water churning as it was superheated, sending up a cloud of vapor along the bank. As Baraat led Gansukh’s RV through the guard post set up at the end of the bridge over the Volga, making his way through the clogged streets, he saw all around him the strange sights that the other myangan brought to bear:

The 12th myangan sported a zuun whose mounts lacked wheels, the axles connected to four arthropod-like mechanical legs that ended in six claws. They were jury-rigged things, made out of spare parts with simple hydraulic axles that allowed them to pivot, with high-caliber cannons set on their roofs. In the camp of the 36th myangan, a half-dozen mounts were laid out, disassembled and studied by praying shaman-engineers, their interior filled with bundles of circuitry and cathode tubes, leading to contraptions like miniature satellite dishes. At the flick of a switch, the tip of one of them heated until it was white hot and shot a thin ray of light across a wall, cutting through the cement and brick as if it was butter. The shaman-engineers rushed to turn it off, screaming at each other as the men around them laughed themselves hoarse. A little ways from there was the 24th myangan, known as the Khan’s own. Their mounts were jet-black, their windows and wheels titled, seeming to Baraat somehow unnatural and skewed to the eye. He saw no men swarming around them, which somehow alarmed him more than the sight of the strange mounts. 

The 60th myangan was almost entirely manned by Ogtbish, men and women who had sworn undying allegiance to the Khan when the Mongols came to China and had fallen with the Horde, instead of fighting against it. They were peacekeepers and guerillas, the vanguard that would lead the Horde into Russia. The 55th myangan’s mounts were armored, bulky monstrosities, whose hoods were fitted with drills and flamethrowers and crude cannons. 

Baraat moved through the streets at a snail’s pace, long lines of men waiting for the makeshift stores to open, passing by drum-circles of Mongols throat-singing elegies to fallen friends. The 8th myangan had set up camp further up the road, having brought with them the wives that the Mongols had left behind. There was no line there, only a maelstrom of activity and a cacophony of moaning. Fires had been lit in the Central railway station, above which great iron kettles boiled. Children (bastard and legitimate) played anklebone with targets set up on the workers’ effigies on the Mamaev Kurgan. Laundry lines radiated outward from the domes of the churches like maypoles, the shirts and cotton flak jacket linings flapping in the breeze. 

The masses were dispersing, as Baraat took a turn leading to Lenin square. And while many had set up tents around it, most of them were armed and ready, sitting by their mounts in defense of the place at the slightest indication of a threat. Because there, in the center of the untouched Lenin Square, outside the Momorial House of officers, the myangan-lords had set up their RV headquarters, around the great tent of the Batu-Khan himself. It was a thing made out of a laminated material that Baraat had not seen before, with a faintly metallic sheen that seemed to reflect the light of the sunset around it, adorned with the trophies of a thousand victories. Baraat felt himself suddenly overcome with awe at the sight, as he recognized the insignia of the tumen-lords set up around the great tent, the Khan’s own banner at the center: they were the Ten White-Banners, adorned with bleached horse-hairs, their tips rusted with age but still kept, restored according to legend, from the time of Temujin himself, recovered by the Batu-Khan on the eve of the apocalypse.

Baraat stopped a ways from them to set up the RV and watched, as the Horde’s true leaders emerged from the tent in somber procession. He looked at their faces each of them bearing scars and proofs of a hundred victories. These were the leaders of ten thousand mounts, ten myangan each. These were the closest a Mongol could ever come to, who did not descend of Temujin. They bore the severed fingers and flayed scalps of their enemies as badges of office on their long coats and the myangan-lords bowed at the sight of them. 

“Set up the tent and stay here.” Gansukh ordered, stepping out of the RV to meet his superiors. Baraat’s eyes remained transfixed on the great tent of the Khan himself. 

“And here we are, in the Parliament of wolves.” Heng muttered.

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” Baraat said, as he left the driver’s seat, the spell broken.  

“So these are the men who burned down China?”

“And took Vietnam and conquered Pakistan and India. And we’re going to ride with them into Russia, just like Temujin did.”

“You sound like you learned your propaganda by heart.”

“You sound awfully sure of yourself. I wonder if you’ll be this sassy when you’re out there, with the wolves.” Baraat said, as he began to raise the RV’s roof, taking the tent and its pegs from storage.

“It’s because I know this is not meant to last. It will all fall apart, as soon as the Khan is dead. Same as Temujin. He had taken China, too. They had built a wall to stop him, but they failed. You know what happened after he died? His children started fighting one another and eventually, the Mongol empire was gone. Can you imagine that? The greatest land empire in history and it had torn itself apart in a generation. How long do you think this one will last?”

“We learned from the mistakes of the past. The Khan knows how not to repeat them.”

“With men like Gansukh on the helm? With people like Asai, who would flay a man just so they could turn him into a banner?” Heng said and froze, as she noticed Baraat transfixing her with his stare.

“We will flay as many as we have to. We will make them our overcoats. We will poison their rivers and burn their cities. We will pave the roads with their dead. We will not stop until every living man, woman and child is Mongol, same as the child in your belly. You should be glad to be here, Ogtbish. This is more than most of your people will ever get.”

Baraat stepped out of the RV, struggling with the bundle of the tent and its pegs, when he came face-to-face with a man whose coat was covered from collar to hem with severed ears. The bronze brooch on his breast read 3rd tumen. The tumen to which his myangan belonged. He was Yilin Jaoret and he was the appointed lord of Northern China.

“Are you Baraat Buriyat, the Khan’s bastard?”

“I…sir…yes sir…”

“You are to come with me immediately.” The tumen-lord ordered. “You can set up the tent later. The Khan cannot have his only child performing such menial labor.”

Baraat put down the bundle and followed closely. Yilin walked past the tents, dismissing the myangan-lords who saluted him. Baraat caught a glance of Ganuskh, staring at the boy that followed his commanding officer into the Khan’s quarters. Raising the flap, Yilin motioned Baraat inside.

“The Khan is expecting you.” he said, shoving Baraat in as he hesitated at the entrance.

***

Heng was terrified, as she saw Baraat being escorted away from the RV by the old man with the severed-ear overcoat. When the boy dropped the tent and the pegs, following him into the camp toward the black tent, she was suddenly aware of her isolation, alone here in the den of the old great wolves. 

Her RV suddenly became her sanctuary, more so than ever before. On the way to Volgograd, it had become her abode, her place of power in the myangan at the side of its commanding officer. Baraat had been close to Gansukh, as she had suggested, so they could keep an eye on the boy, to make sure he would not have the time or the chance to plot his revenge. But Gansukh had let the opportunity slip from his fingers, he hadn’t leashed the boy properly and now…now Baraat was being taken to meet the leaders of the Horde itself and who knew what they could want from him?

Heng suddenly felt the child in her belly stir and kick, sharing her unease. It had gotten so much harder lately, bearing Gansukh’s child and it wasn’t just the fact that she was entering her third trimester. It was the feeling, deep in her gut, that the child would not survive the transition that was about to come. She could not bear to put it in words, but she knew that if Gansukh was replaced (by Baraat, by any man) then the new lord would not suffer it to leave. She would fight, of course. She would scream and claw and bite against her better judgement for her child. She would crawl and kiss the feet of the man, even as he raised the knife. Her mother had done the same for her, when she was four years old, dragged away by her hair at the hands of a man who could have been her grandfather, his hands still dripping her father’s blood.

I was going to bite it off, Heng remembered, as she kneeled beneath the bed at the other end of the RV, producing her little repurposed ammunition box, taking the keyring from the hidden pocket in her jacket. If he made me take it like that. I was going to cut it with my teeth. Or I’d bash his head in with a rock, afterward, when he was sleeping Heng thought, the old pent-up rage welling up inside her, the keys slipping from her fingers, jangling as they struck the floor. She stood still for a long while, listening in for any sounds from outside. She imagined the wolves’ ears shooting up at the sound, a growl rising up from their bellies as they advanced on the RV.

When no sound came from outside, after she had made sure the pounding in her chest was definitely not a knock on the door, Heng unlocked the box, revealing its contents: rows of labeled bottles, packed closely together. One of them was missing; the cyanide her mother had given her all those years ago, when the Taishi of Jinquan had handed her over to Gansukh, as a parting gift. Just in case, her mother had told her, as she pressed the bottle into her palm if the pain is too much, if you know you won’t be able to live with it not for another day. Heng had wasted her mother’s parting gift, the last thing she had from the woman who had crawled on her hands and knees and grappled with the hem of the Mongol’s coat, offering herself in exchange for her daughter. There had been screaming and blood that night, but it hadn’t been Heng’s. When it was done, her mother had smiled at her despite her split lip, even though one eye was bruised and swollen. She had run her fingers through Heng’s hair and sang her a lullaby, making sure not to let her daughter see as she spat her broken tooth into her palm. But Heng had seen it, just as she drifted off to sleep: a tiny white boat, floating in a pool of red.

Heng took one of the bottles from the box, checking its label. She had used this before, time and again, on the screaming wounded who had been gripped by shock at the sight of their own ruined limbs, who were grasping the gaping wounds on their bellies, trying to push back the length of red and pink that was spilling out of them. This will have to do, she thought. Enough of this could kill a man outright. The right dosage, however, could ensure that he would not wake, when he went back to sleep. There was no way to trace it, not anymore anyway. If she was careful when she went about it, then…

There was a knock on the door. 

Heng scrambled to get the bottle in her hidden pocket, locked the box and shoved it under the bed. The door rattled again, as the knock came harder than before. Straightening herself up, Heng got up, crossing her hands over her belly. Taking a deep breath, she opened it and came face-to-face with a boy of barely fourteen years, his overcoat and fur cap seeming almost comical on him.

“Are you Behi Kiryat?” the boy asked in a commanding tone.

Heng only nodded, unaware of what to make of this sight.

“You are to leave this place immediately and be relocated in the women’s tents in Barrikadnaya, under the Khan’s orders. A guard will be assigned to you, to ensure your safe passage.” The boy continued, nodding at someone just out of Heng’s field of vision. Six men, fully armed, struck a salute at the boy.

“She is not to be harassed.” The boy bowed at Heng, as he turned to leave. She looked at the men, all somber and grim.

“Can I take my belongings?”

“What you need will be provided for you. Now come.” The man at the head of the procession said, helping her down. Heng was led through the square, when she noticed a dozen more women that were being led out of the RVs of the officers, to a bus. Some of them were heavy with child, like her. Others were carrying their infants in hand while others still (terrified little things like she had been) only walked with their hands crossed at the chests.

“Why are we being removed like this? We are not spies.” Heng muttered.

“The Khan wishes for the quarters to be purged, before he convenes with his officers. Mind your head.” The man said, shutting the door just as Heng entered, surrounded by terrified women.

***

 

The interior of the tent was a uniform black, illuminated in places by headlights placed in a semicircle, set up over trophies of conquests. There was a solid wooden table, its surface engraved into the images of stampeding horses, trekking across the world. The Batu-Khan was there also, sitting cross-legged on the ground, poring over a gilded, leather-bound tome.

Baraat stood at attention and struck a salute, as soon as he saw him. The Khan paid no attention. There was a long moment of silence, broken by the sound of a pen scribbling on a yellow notepad, as the Khan stopped at times through his reading of the tome, to take down something that caught his eye. Around him, Baraat noticed, a multitude of machinery blinked and buzzed, a hell of wires snaking out, bundling together as they led out through an opening in the tent, perhaps to the power generator that kept them going. Baraat attempted to take a step forward, when one of them buzzed balefully, like an angry wasp. Baraat stopped dead in his tracks.

“If rumor is to be believed, I have a hundred bastards to myself. Half a zuun’s worth of them.” The Khan said, his eyes still transfixed on the book. “I think I should try to track you down, my progeny. Maybe in a decade, I will have a whole myangan. The only problem is, nepotism makes for ill-advised choices in a military campaign, don’t you think?”

Baraat struggled to find the words for a response and finally managed:

“Didn’t Temujin himself divide the Empire among his sons?” that got a laugh out of the Khan, who turned away from his book to one of the machines, switching it off. The buzzing ceased immediately. 

“And look where that got my honorable ancestor! His sons had taken the Empire apart in a single generation, the greedy ones vying for more power, the timid ones settling for what they had. The Empire whimpered and died an undignified death, like a spinster. No, if there is one thing history has taught us, is that you cannot trust your progeny.” The Khan said, looking up at Baraat, still at attention. “You may sit. The motion detector is off now. Don’t you worry, I would not have let you come here if I thought you were going to kill me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of that.” Baraat said, as he kneeled and sat on the ground.

“Do you know” the Khan said, shutting his tome and setting it aside “Why I granted you an audience, when I have ignored every single one of those runts who claim to be the fruits of my loins? Why I have seen fit to allow you to approach me, when I have not granted this privilege even to some of my most battle-hardened myangan-lords?”

“No, Ihe-Khan”

“Ihe-Khan? I am an Emperor already? That is good to hear” the Batu-Khan barked. “I have called you here, Baraat of the Buriyat, because according to the reports I have received, you are a troublemaker. I was told that you destroyed a t-34 in Kazakhstan single-handed. That you killed the Great God of Saryozek and that your advice is what allowed your myangan to take over two cities with minimal loss of life on our side.” The Khan raise his hand to stop Baraat as he was about to speak. “But then I dug deeper and I found out a few other, interesting bits of information: that you took down the T-34, sacrificing your zuun-lord in the process, only to take his place. That you were drugged by an Ogtbish, to whom you made your unwelcome advances. That to take Saryozek, you disobeyed your commanding officer’s direct orders and were rightfully flogged according to the law of the Horde. According to my sources, Baraat of the Buriyat, you are irreverent, disdainful of the chain of command and would make a very poor choice for an officer. The Horde is no place for unruly children.”

Baraat bit his tongue, feeling his heart sink as the Khan looked him over.

“The one piece of good news about you is that you were not the one who started the rumor of being my child. You simply did not bother to deny it. You used it, perhaps to make yourself more welcome among the officers in your myangan. And that’s the other piece of good news about you: the men want you. They look up to you. How old are you, boy?”

“Sixteen, Khan.”

“Then you were born at the eve of the apocalypse?”

“I was born on the same night. My mother told me so. She said I drew breath just as the lights went out.”

“A baby, howling against the night. Now that’s something with a ring to it. Could almost be symbolic. You are a child of the apocalypse, barely a man and you are already aspiring to greatness. I already hear reports of many your age who wish to be like you. Conquerors and kings, before their balls have even dropped.”

“My only duty is to the Horde and to you, Khan.”

“Yes, of this I am sure. You do not seem to aim too high, Baraat. You seem content with what little victories you can get and you charge with the rest of them into the fray. This is good. We need more men like you in the Horde. You make for poor officers, but you are good foot soldiers, excellent bannermen and you are living examples for the young to aspire to.”

“It was never my intent…”

“To become an officer? Is that why you were given the rank of zuun-lord, when you were clearly unfit for it? Is that why I received word from the 37th myangan, including glowing commendations by the myangan-lord Asai, as well as your current myangan’s zuun lords? If upward mobility isn’t your intent, you are still excelling at it. But you should stop, my boy. Stop now, before you drag anyone else in the mud with you. You are now designated driver to the myangan-lord Gansukh Kiryat, correct?”

“Yes, Khan.”

“You will remain so. You myangan-lord has asked me to arrange that you are nominated as Taishi of Volgograd. I will not do so. Volgograd is to go to another. But you will ride and fight with the Horde and serve me and once we have taken Moscow and secured Russia, I will name you Mirza, Prince of Kazakhstan. You will be eighteen by that time, capable of holding land. You will have more than many of those men outside could ever hope to have.”

Baraat stood perfectly still, the words of the Khan reduced to a drone above the pounding in his ears, his missing fingers surrendered to an involuntary ghost-flex. He did not notice the boy in the overcoat and the fur cap, until he had walked past him, and sat at the Batu-Khan’s side.

“You are dismissed, Baraat of the Buriyat.” The Batu-khan said, turning to pick up his tome.

“Gansukh Kiryat is an unfit myangan-lord and had ordered our retreat from Saryozek! I took the city! I led the troops inside, through the breach in the walls, while he was cowering in his RV!” 

The Batu-Khan opened the tome and began to look down across the page, silently mouthing the words. The boy looked up at Baraat, who has shot up, his face flushed and twisted with rage.

“You want to make me a Mirza? You want to remove me from the road? I don’t belong in a palace, I belong here, in the tents and in the camps! Do you expect to think that the Horde will ever achieve anything, if it is run by old men who send their men to die from their passenger seats?” Baraat paused to take a breath, then added: “It is people like me who have made this Empire.”

Baraat froze, as the Khan transfixed him with his stare.

“Do not think you can tell me what to do, boy. Ever.

There was a long moment , as Baraat and the Khan locked stares and suddenly, his rage and resolve dissolved into nothing, his righteous indignation reduced to thin white mist. Striking a salute, Baraat lowered his gaze and left the tent. The boy left his place at the Khan’s side and followed.

“That took a lot of heart, to speak to the Khan like that. A lot of heart, or too little brain.” 

“And who the hell are you, kid?” Baraat spat, gritting his teeth as he headed back to the RV.

“I am Tuzniq of the Yurkis, descendant of the Khabul Khan, who was great-grandfather to Temujin. I am the aide of the Khan.”

“What? The Khan needs a boy to wipe his ass for him while he passes judgement? Hasn’t he got enough old men to do that for him?” Baraat said, noticing the stares of the myangan-lords as they watched him pass by, with Tuzniq at his heel. Let them hear, let them know. See if I give a shit he thought.

“No. I comfort him and I learn at his side. And for what it is worth, you are right to be mad. But you should also know that the Khan was right.” Tuzniq said, stopping Baraat dead in his tracks, his face twisted with rage.

“What?”

“I have heard word of your exploits. You should know that the things you have done, the legends they have spawned, they spread like wildfire among us. The ones who were born after the world ended, as the elders say. We know you as the God-Killer, the Tank-Crusher. We know you as a champion to us. There are songs written about you.” Tuzniq paused, blushing “Not all of them are appropriate.”

“What good are songs to me, when I know that I am doomed, after this? When I know that I will be sent off to Kazakhstan, to watch over the farmers until the end of my days. I was told I was to be a warrior, so I became one! Does the Khan expect me to rear a brood of children and get fat until I die?”

“The Khan expects you to honor his decision. It is for good of the Horde.”

“Then fuck the Horde.”

Baraat stormed off once again and Tuzniq followed, though his pace wasn’t as frantic this time. It was measured, careful, waiting on Baraat’s rage to blow out of proportion. It took but a moment to reach critical mass, when Baraat kicked at the fender of the RV.

“Are you done acting like a child?” Tuzniq said. The back of Baraat’s hand struck his cheek the next instant. There was a moment of silence, before Tunziq turned his head slowly back to Baraat, motioning the approaching guards away from him, just as they were raising their rifles.

“These men could have killed you for treason.”

“Raising my hand against a secretary?”Baraat said, feigning bravado. 

“For raising your hand against the successor of the Khan. I believe the punishment reserved for this is usually death by hanging. Or, if the Khan is feeling especially lenient, severing the offending limb.”

Tunziq eyed Baraat over, as the young wolf turned to head back to the RV, picking up the bundle of the tent and pegs, to set it up.

“Leave this. I will have some of the men in my guard to see to it.”

“I can set up my own damn tent.”

“But I need you to come with me.” Tuzniq said, his voice calm but commanding. Baraat stopped and followed, his cheeks flustered with rage and embarrassment. Leading him away from the tents of the Tumen-Lords and the Khan himself, Tuzniq signaled for his men to set up the tent, while a pair of guards followed closely behind.

“We will take one of the guard’s mounts. There is something I want you to see.” Tuzniq said, leading Baraat behind Lenin Square, where a small number of the solid-black mounts of the 24th were parked. The guards opened the doors, letting them both inside. Baraat looked at the interior of the mount, its seats covered in real leather, the baggage compartment free from  guns, ammunition and explosives, an obvious waste of available space, just to allow for two more passengers. The glass was opaque on their side, but it was black and impenetrable from the outside. The dashboard was a thing of flickering lights and dials like Baraat had never seen before. He looked at it with quiet awe, puzzled as he felt the mount moving without hearing the slightest sound from its engine.

“The Khan calls them the Mudje, Harbingers of Turkish legend. He had built the first one himself, when he began his trek across Mongolia, to gather the Mongols under his banner. You understand, of course, that the Khan always had a flair for the dramatic.”

“Yes. I hear he has people worshipping the Tngri. And the shaman-engineers, they probably believe every word that comes out of their mouths, too.”

“The Khan” Tuzniq said, pausing for a moment, trying to find the right words “finds usefulness in religion. He considers it the binding force between military might and politics.”

“So it’s something to shut up the little people.” Baraat said, looking out the window as the Mudje made their way across the Rokossvogog, away from the Mongolian-held district. “My grandfather told me it was this way, pretty much since forever. But he believed, either way. He had told me ‘how else can we cope, is the grave is all we have to look forward to?’. He was dying, my grandfather. He’d starved himself to death so he could feed me.”

“His sacrifice was not in vain, however” Tuzniq nodded, as he signaled for the driver to go further up north through rubble-strewn Etretskaya Prospekt, the streets patrolled by very few and far between Mongol patrols. “His grandson did become the Young Wolf, did he not?”

“Fat lot of good that does him, now. Where are you taking me?”

“I need you to take a look at the future.” Tuzniq added. “It’s a strange prospect for a Mongol, I know, to waste even a breath in considering what lies beyond the battlefield. But try to humor me, will you?”

To pass the time during the constant turns and to allay the boredom of their slow trek to the ruined neighbourhoods that were what was left of Volgograd, Tuzniq told Barrat his story:

“I was born two years after the world had run out of breath and fell face-first on the pavement, among the ruins of what had once been Darkhan. My father was not a leader, or a fighter and my mother was not of noble descent and neither of them had been blessed with any extraordinary gifts. Their only asset, which they shared with the people of Darkhan, was their short-sighted cunning and their tenacity for survival. When the Khan came, with his Mudje to Darkhan, he offered the gift of fuel and protection for the people, in exchange for them handing over to him their male children of age, to fight for the Horde. My parents and the elders not only turned down his offer, even as the Khan brought with him offers of fuel and medicine, but chased him away with rocks. Can you imagine that? A bunch of country hicks, throwing stones at the Khan?

“When the Khan returned to Darkhan, he camewith a zuun’s worth of Mudje and men and he burned it to the ground. He killed every man and woman above the age of eighteen, slaughtered the livestock and had his men pour weed-killer into the ground, saturating it, so nothing would ever grow in Darkhan again and what little could be harvested would be poison  to eat. Then, he lined us all up and he told us that we had two choices: to join his Horde, or to die here a death unfit for dogs. There was one boy, I can’t recall his name, who tried to throw a rock at the Khan. He was older than the rest, so he must have done the same before, the last time he had been there. The Khan took the boy by the throat and choked the life out of him in front of our own eyes. After this, we joined him. I was twelve years old, at the time.

“It was apparent from the start that I was not any good with a rifle and a clumsy fighter. But I had a mind for machines. I would have probably ended up a shaman-engineer’s apprentice, even surpassed him, if the Khan hadn’t taken notice of my other…talents. These are what granted me a place by his side and a cot in his tent, during our conquest of China. My gift for machinery was what also convinced the Khan that he could trust me with his secrets, that he could teach me the secret behind the function of the Tngri and his numerous other marvelous inventions. You think the Ifrit light-spitter cannons of the 12th myangan are a thing of wonder? Then you haven’t seen a thing! He had found ways to cure diseases with nothing but a cell-phone and a makeshift satellite dish. He created hydraulic mechanical muscles that could multiply a man’s strength a hundredfold, though these are far from perfected yet. He even made a machine that could literally turn lead into gold, for all the good it would do now…

“The Khan would have taken over the world with his genius, had the world not ended before he had his chance. He was bitter for a long time, he was angry and he was mad. But he was also a lover of history and knew that it is in these crises that the greatest men arose. So he toiled in his workshop in what was left of the abandoned husk of the city he had been raised in and remained, even as other pushed to migrate for better climes and made the very first Mudje with his own hands, which he loaded with a miniature Tngri and went out to constitute his Horde, this very Horde you see today. It took him a good eight years, but there’s not a lot of people who will turn down an offer like his. You have to understand: the Khan is haunted by History. She is his mistress, his guide, his Muse now. He sees the end of the world not as a simple catastrophe, but as an opportunity: a chance for him to take what he considers rightfully his. He knows that he will succeed where Temujin failed, because he knows exactly where not to go wrong.

“And yet…he fails at noticing one very simple thing.” Tuzniq said just as the Mudje stopped. Openeing the door, he motioned for Baraat to follow him outside. And as Baraat stepped out, he saw, laid on the streets, looking down at them from the shattered windows of tenements, fighting each other like starved dogs for a scrap of food, weeping over their dead…

“The future. Of the Empire. Of the Horde. Of the entire world.” Tuzniq said. “The Khan sees the world as an expanse of land, to be conquered. To him, the sacking of a city and the establishment of a garrison are the absolute purpose, the only clause for victory. When he has taken a city, he will move on to the next. If that city attempts to rebel, he will do to it as he did to Darkhan and perhaps, when he has the capability, he will make sure this is known to the lengths and breadths of the Empire at a moment’s notice. He thinks that force of arms and fear maintain an Empire. They do not. Not by themselves.”

“You need to feed them too, don’t you? You need to clothe them and keep them healthy and safe.” Baraat replied. “Just like the Khan does for us. You say we should treat them like Mongols.”

“Like Temujin did for his subjects. It was said that a man could cross the Empire on foot, balancing a disk full of gold on his head and he would make it safely to the other side. Except that was not entirely true. Because Temujin did not build anything or provide for his subjects. He only made sure they would not be harassed. His descendants did pretty much the same and so the Empire tore itself apart and then whimpered and was finally gone. I do not wish for history to repeat itself.” 

Tuzniq opened the trunk of the Mudje and produced from it a small box, barely larger than his own head, lengths of wire dangling from it.

“This is a prototype of a Tngri equivalent I have been working on, which I am in the process of setting up in Volgograd. It is based on a model that the Khan himself had developed, but gave up on after the apocalypse. It is the converter for a solar panel field, which I will begin setting up as soon as the Horde has moved on. It will take up barely a city block, but it will be more than enough to power Volgograd and leave enough juice for ample electricity.”

“You will give them this? Just like that?”

“I have also been working on a crude water purifying system. And perhaps a food synthesizer. These are all crude, but the principle is sound. Given enough time, I could make Volgograd more prosperous than it had even been before!” Tuzniq was beaming. “Can you imagine it? A world with artificial day, with no need for agriculture or livestock-keeping, with clean water on demand!”

“You want to make them love you. Even after you slaughtered the men and took their city.”

“Love is something you can talk yourself into, when the alternative is a slow death at the end of a short, miserable existence.” Tuzniq responded, his expression suddenly sullen. “We can use the Horde to make the world better. We can turn our 3-d printers into so much more than handy copy-machines for ammunition and mount-parts! Whenwe have made the world in our image, the rest will flock to us! Not a drop of blood will have to be spilt! They will hoist the Ten White Banners high themselves and sing our praises and not a single Mongol will have to die for it.”

“And what of the rest of us? We were not put here to make peace or to fill our bellies. There are a hundred and fifty thousand of us in this city alone who would not give up what we have for all the treasures in the world.”

“You will be turned, in time. You will learn to love the life we provide for you. But until then yes, your blades will go dull and you will be washed with the blood of your enemies, as the Khan decrees. Then, it will be my turn. Are you coming?” Tuzniq said, as he made his way down the streets, through the wide-eyed Russians watching the procession of Mongols through the ruins, so far from their own camp. Most parted, fearing harassment, perhaps out of sheer spite. The braver ones peeked at the boy and the men with him, recognizing their overcoats and badges of office and then joined the parting masses themselves.

Tuzniq took a few turns, seemingly at random, climbed over part of a blasted wall, through what was left of a doorway and then finally stopped at a weed-choked area, where a number of his guard were milling about, carrying large black panels and equipment back and forth to expectant shaman-engineers. 

“This is where it begins. My new age.”  Tuzniq motioned his arm, encompassing the area. From here, we will power the world. Perhaps I will make Volgograd my capital, in due time.”

“What I don’t understand” Baraat said, interruptin Tuzniq’s reverie “is why you are showing me all this. I am not part of this world you are dreaming up. I am not interested in this future you have in store for the world.”

“Didn’t you say you wanted to be myangan-lord?”

“I thought you said I was unfit for it. That the Khan was right to let me rot in Kazakhstan.”

“That was before, in the presence of the Khan. And despite my place as his successor, I cannot defy him. But I can sway his opinion, change his mind and perhaps use your own assets to give you exactly what you want. A place at Gansukh Kiryat’s stead.”

“And what is the catch?” 

Tunziq only grinned at this. “Walk with me.” he said and Baraat followed him through the field, past the men. There were a few Russians scattered here and there, handling welders which they used to set up the rows of panels, extending rows upon bundled rows of wires to the center, where the converter was being placed.

“You will be my saber, the weapons that administers swift justice to the unconverted. The Khan wishes to take Russia so he can follow in the footsteps of Temujin. Myself, I cannot see the use in controlling such a massive expanse at this point but then again I am not madly in love with History. But after Russia is ours, the Khan will set his sights for Europe. I need you to be among those who will take it for me and make sure my policies are set in place there.”

“But why me? And who are those others?”

“They are men your age, of your demeanour, hungry for war. Europe, from what we know so far, has degenerated into a mass of constantly warring nation-states, tearing each other apart for a sliver of land. My way will bring peace there and turn it into the spearhead of the West in winning the hearts and minds of the world.”

“But first we will have to burn it to the ground. And bleed it.”

“You will do whatever is necessary, I am sure. But I know that the Horde will follow the example of the Young Wolf, instead of the orders and machinations of the uppity stooge of the Khan and his madcap ideas. They will kneel to the sword and the gun before they will follow reason.” 

“And then? What waits for me then?”

“The joy of scattering your enemies, driving them before you, reducing their cities to ash and seeing those who love them shrouded in tears; to gather to your bosom their wives and their daughters. The true calling of the Mongol. What say you, Baraat of the Buriyat?”

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