A Halloween Short Story

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2014 by Michael Radcliffe

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Watch your back, its Scarecrow Jack!

The horrible Pumpkin King!

When the frost is new, he’ll come for you,

The terrible Pumpkin King!

With eyes glowing red, you’ll soon be dead,

The dreadful Pumpkin King!

In the cold night air, you will despair,

Beware the Pumpkin King!

Jack trudged through piles of dry leaves that had accumulated on the sidewalks.  It was a chilly fall morning and he was on his way to school after missing the bus.  A pair of older boys had stolen his books again and hidden them in different places around the neighborhood.  It had taken him almost an hour to find them all, and by then he had missed the last bus to school.  It would be the third time this week he was late.  Mr. Perkins, the principal, would be sure to phone his parents again.  Jack’s father had been furious the last time and spent the better part of an hour lecturing Jack about how disappointed he was that his son was a weakling.  Apparently Jack must be doing something to bring this abuse upon himself, or so his father believed.

The boys and girls in his village had always made fun of him, but today had been even worse than usual.  For years he had been teased unmercifully and his father had told him to ‘be a man’ and to ignore the taunts.  No matter how hard he tried though, it still hurt.  He tried to make his heart a stone, to feel no emotion, but it never worked.

Jack had always been small for his size, and his straw colored hair was unruly no matter how hard he tried to tame it, but his eyes were the most unusual of all, for they were an odd golden-orange color.  At fifteen he was thin and lanky and the boys and girls at his school had taken to calling him ‘scarecrow’; once a group of boys had even tied him to a makeshift pole in the farmer’s field of pumpkins.  They had placed a paper crown on his head and taunted him for hours.

“Bow to the Pumpkin King!” They laughed as they threw rotten tomatoes at him and danced around the pole.  “Watch your back, its Scarecrow Jack!  What a loser!”

After the bullies left it had been hours before anyone responded to his cries for help, and he still had scars on his wrists from where the rope had cut into his skin.  The farmer was furious with Jack, warning him to stay out of his fields or he would set the dogs on him.  It didn’t help that the farmer’s son was the ringleader of the group that night.

Jack’s day at school was uneventful, although he was ordered to serve after school detention for arriving late.  His pleas had fallen on deaf ears and Mr. Perkins had spent several tense minutes on the phone with Jack’s father.  His father felt it appropriate that Jack walk home, as punishment for embarrassing his family yet again.

The light was beginning to fade as Jack walked home, and the cool autumn breeze stirred the leaves around him.  The streetlamps began to flicker and come to life and a misty rain began to fall.  As he walked down the lane he shivered; the forest loomed dark on his right, while fields of pumpkins stretched far out of sight on his left.  The wooden split-rail fence was in disrepair, and it was not uncommon for children to take a shortcut through the fields on their way home.  Jack did not want to anger the farmer however, and decided to stay on the main road.

The sound of a twig snapping in the shadows made Jack freeze.  Years of running from bullies had made him wary, and he listened closely for any further sounds.  After a few moments he heard the crunch of footsteps in the leaves.  Jack bolted for the fence, not caring any longer about angering the farmer.  He cleared the fence in a single leap and ran quickly between the rows of pumpkins.  The sun had now set and it was a crisp, cold night, the frost just beginning to form on the leaves and vines in the farmer’s field.  He looked over his shoulder and was terrified to see a pair of glowing red eyes floating in the air twenty paces behind him.

“YOU CAN’T RUN, LITTLE JACK, I’VE COME FOR YOUR SOUL,” bellowed a gruff, disembodied voice that echoed across the field.

Fear surged through Jack and he took off across the field like a scared rabbit.  As he leapt across a small stream that cut through the field, the glowing red eyes stopped their pursuit and fell to the ground.  The sound of laughter could be heard as Billy, the farmer’s son, and three of his friends guffawed at the sight of Jack running across the fields.  They congratulated themselves and decided to go back into town for hot chocolate, leaving their long wooden pole with two red lanterns attached lying in the field.

Jack ran until he could no longer hear any sounds of pursuit, but he was afraid to stop running.  He stumbled onward for what seemed like an hour, tears streaming down his face, and realized he had lost his bearings; he could see nothing but row after row of fat pumpkins.

He staggered onward until finally, exhausted, he collapsed in a heap amongst the giant pumpkins.  He shivered in the cold as he sobbed uncontrollably.  He knew he wasn’t supposed to be in this field – his mother had warned him hundreds of times not to wander this far out from the farm houses.  “The Pumpkin King will catch you and steal your soul,” she used to say.

An old wives’ tale used to scare children into doing as they were told, Jack knew the story was just a myth.  But the sight of the disembodied red eyes had truly scared him.  His heart was still thudding in his chest and his breath was coming in ragged gasps.  He huddled in the midst of a group of pumpkins and decided to hide until he was certain he was safe.

 ***

 The morning dawned cold and foggy, a dense mist covering the fields.  Jack stretched and looked around, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

I don’t remember falling asleep.

This part of the field did not look familiar at all, although it had been dark and he had been running for his life.

Where am I?  I was hiding among the pumpkins, but this is open field.

Jack stood up and looked around, and saw a crowd of people in the field not too far away down the hill.  There were a dozen or so of them, including the farmer and his son, gathered in a circle and pointing at something.

“Poor thing,” said a matronly old woman in a thick shawl.  “Must’ve been terrified to die out ‘ere, all alone like that.”

No one paid any attention as Jack walked up to get a better look.  As he drew near, he could see the body of a young boy, probably in his teens, curled up among the pumpkins.  The boy was about Jack’s size and had the same shaggy, straw colored hair.  The frost covering his skin glistened in the early morning sunlight, and as the mist receded, Jack could see his own face looking back at him, the orange colored eyes locked in a vacant stare.

“No!  It’s not me!  I’m not dead!” he said to the old woman, who looked right through him.

“I’M NOT DEAD!” he shouted to the people, but no one heard him.

His anger blossomed and surged out of control, the years of repressed hatred boiling forth in an unstoppable flood as he saw the smirk on Billy’s face.  The people in the crowd began shifting and looking at each other, as if something was very wrong.  The mist around them began to thicken into a cold, dense fog, and the farmers’ dogs began whimpering in fear.

“Not right, I tells ya,” drawled the old farmer.  “Not right som’un dien out ‘ere – it’ll wither the crops!”

“CROPS!?  You’re standing over my body and all you are worried about is your CROPS?”

That was the last straw for Jack.  Without knowing exactly how it happened, he lashed out in anger.  The green vines began to squirm and writhe along the ground like a mass of snakes.  Cracks appeared on the surface of the giant orange pumpkins, small at first, but growing larger, until cruel faces were formed.  Angular slits opened up and glowed a fiery red from within, matching the orange-red glow coming from Jack’s own eyes as he floated into the midst of the crowd.  The crowd didn’t notice that the small frozen body of Jack Thatch had disappeared, melting down among the vines; they were too busy staring in terror at the appearance of fiery red eyes and jagged toothy mouths opening in laughter.  In seconds, what had been a crop of prize winning pumpkins was transformed into a legion of grotesque, orange monsters.

The people screamed in panic as the field around them came alive.  Some tried to run, but green tendrils shot out from the vines and curled around their legs.  The old farmer swung his pitchfork down hard, trying to cut a path to safety, but he was quickly overwhelmed by the vines and was gone from sight in an instant.  Billy had tried to run to safety, but a thick, spikey vine had wrapped around his throat, silencing his scream before it could escape.

After just a few moments, they were all gone.  The evil, grinning faces of the pumpkins receded and soon the field returned to normal.  Only the echoes of the dead remained, whispering on the wind that the Pumpkin King had returned.

 END

Pre-launch FB event for ‘Reflections’!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2014 by Michael Radcliffe

To celebrate the launch of our new collection of short stories & poems inspired by photography, we invite you to join us for a day of fun. We’ll be sharing short snippets from the stories by Darcia Helle, Maria Savva, Jason McIntyre, and me, as well as poems from Helle Gade and Ben Ditmars, and photographs from Helle Søe Gade and Martin David Porter.

There will be some great giveaways throughout the day!  I will be giving away two signed paperback copies of my fourth novel, ‘Touch of Darkness,’ and there will be other giveaways offered by my fellow authors/poets/photographers.  So join us if you can on Wednesday, October 15th by using this link.

I have three stories in the collection:

  • Seeds of Despair‘ – an apprentice makes an unusual discovery about what the owners of the potion shop have really been selling.
  • A Tale of Two Churches‘ – a light-hearted story about a wedding and a funeral, and what can happen when the dark coach from the underworld is behind schedule…
  • Eye of the Dragon‘ – Serina is madly in love with Damon, despite the way he treats her.  When she helps him search for a fabled jewel in the catacombs beneath the cemetery, they both get far more than what they bargained for.

Throughout the event we will be posting teasers from the stories – here is a snippet from one of my works, ‘Seeds of Despair':

Reflections is currently available for pre-order on Amazon at just 99 cents until 1st November! http://www.amazon.com/Reflections-Minds-Eye-Book-2-ebook/dp/B00OD6DEQO/

Reflections cover

 

Cover Reveal! “Reflections” – newest release in the “Mind’s Eye” series

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 15, 2014 by Michael Radcliffe

Reflections cover

I’m pleased to join my fellow authors in announcing the cover reveal for our collaboration, titled “Refections.”  This is the second installment in the “Mind’s Eye” series, the first of which was titled “Perspectives” – now available on Amazon.

“Perspectives” features twelve stories by authors Darcia Helle and Maria Savva, who drew their inspiration from twelve photographs taken by photographer Marin David Porter.

In “Reflections” authors Darcia, Maria, and Jason McIntyre and I are each contributing 3 stories based on different photographs provided by Martin and a second photographer, Helle Gade, who is also a poet.  Helle will be contributing 3 poems inspired by Martin’s photos, while fellow poet Ben Ditmars will contribute 3 poems inspired by Helle’s photos.

I am honored to be working with such talented artists and authors, and can’t wait to announce the upcoming release!

 

 

“Meet My Main Character” Blog Tour

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 3, 2014 by Michael Radcliffe

I’ve been tagged by the very talented author Maria Savva to take part in a blog challenge.

Here are the rules:

I have to write a post answering seven questions about a main character from one of my novels, then I nominate five other authors to answer the same questions about their main characters.

Here’s a link to Maria’s blog where she introduces Nigel Price, the main character from her chilling story, Haunted.

The main character I’ve chosen is Rami, from my novel Touch of Darkness.

Touch of Darkness

1. Tell us a little about this main character. Is he fictional or a historic person?
Rami (pronounced RAHmee) is a fictional Egyptian boy of fifteen.  He serves as an acolyte in the temple of one of the old gods, Set.  He was given to the temple by his parents when he was about five, in exchange for Set’s blessing.  Driven by the memory of his parents abandoning him, he works hard and strives to please Master Ammon, the High Priest.  Highly intelligent and studious, his best friend is Fer’al.

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set about 4,000 years ago and begins in Sakkara, Egypt, and ends in the country of Ariaca, which is where India is today.

3. What should we know about him?
Rami is tormented by the events he witnessed in my other novel, Rise of the Shadow.  Having been abandoned by his parents, the sense of loss consumes him.  He is furious with those in his past who he believes have placed him in this position.

 

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
Everything he cared about has been taken from him by others. Having tasted the power of dark magic, he becomes desperate to learn more when he finds a scroll that he believes will lead him to the Libro Mortis, or Book of the Dead.

When he meets Amirah (ahMEERah), the beautiful and cunning daughter of a caravan leader, the two form an unlikely partnership and he finds himself falling in love with her.  As they get to know each other, he is torn between his growing love for Amirah and the temptations of power whispered in his thoughts by the evil wraith trapped in the spirit stone he carries.

 

5. What is his personal goal?
Alone and on the run, Rami seeks revenge against those who have wronged him. He is determined to become a powerful magic user, no matter the cost. These plans become complicated, however, when he falls in love – an emotion he has not experienced since his parents sold him to the temple.

 

6. What are the titles of your novels, and where can we read more about them?

Touch of Darkness is my latest novel, and definitely the darkest.  Although it is a stand-alone book, it draws on the events that took place in Rise of the Shadow, which was book three in my Beyond the Veil series.

The Beyond the Veil novels are:
The Guardian’s Apprentice (2010)

Bloodstone – The Guardian’s Curse (2011)

Rise of the Shadow (2013)

 

I have also written a number of short stories, which include:

 

Tears for Hesh

Scale of a Dragon

Forsaken

The Amaranthine Flask

Legend of the Pumpkin King

Frostbite – The Dragon that Saved Christmas

 

You can read more about them on my website: http://www.michaelradcliffe.com or http://www.theguardiansapprentice.com.  My website also includes a glossary of characters, creatures, places, and magic from the world I have created.

7. When can we expect your next book to be published?

Well, the next book is a collaboration with photographers and other writers.  It is part of the Mind’s Eye Series started by Maria Savva and Darcia Helle – two exceptional authors who I am fortunate to call my friends.  In this series, Darcia and Maria wrote short stories inspired by photographs taken by Martin David Porter, and published Perspectives in April.

They decided to make it into a series of books and invite other authors and photographers.  Book 2 will be called Reflections and will hopefully be published by the end of the year.  It features more stories from Maria and Darcia, as well as poems from Ben Ditmars and Helle Gade, and short stories from Jason McIntyre and me.  The photos in Reflections are by Helle and Martin.

I am very excited to take part in this project, and have provided three stories for the collection, based on the three photographs I received.

 

As to the five authors I am tagging, I will have to upload that later, as I am waiting to hear back to see if they wish to participate.

New Release – ‘Far Away in Time’ by Maria Savva

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 16, 2014 by Michael Radcliffe

 

 

My friend and fellow author, Maria Savva, has just released a new collection of short stories.    Following is a brief excerpt from one of my favorites:

 

Far Away In Time

Teaser from ‘Far Away In Time – Part I’

Angie meets Mr Silverfrost

‘Don’t be alarmed. I can explain. But you have to suspend belief first.’ His grey eyes stared into hers.

‘Suspend belief?’

‘Yes. It’s not going to be easy for you to accept what I’m telling you. You have been so brainwashed into believing so many things.’

‘I really have to go,’ said Angie, suddenly struggling for air. ‘I can’t—’

‘You’re hyperventilating, that’s all. Please breathe deeply and sit in my chair. I will try to explain.’

‘But I have to go and collect the children.’

‘They will be fine. Time is relative.’

Angie shook her head in confusion. ‘Relative to what?’

‘Let’s just say that a minute to me is an hour to you and vice versa.’

‘You’re not making any sense.’

He rubbed his chin. ‘See what I mean? It’s hard to explain anything to someone who has been so conditioned to accept one way of looking at things. At one time people also believed the earth was flat, you know.’

‘So you’re telling me this is some kind of parallel universe?’

‘If you want to think of it that way, yes. I exist and I don’t exist, in the same way as you, my dear.’

Available on Amazon:

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon FR: http://www.amazon.fr/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon DE: http://www.amazon.de/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon IN: http://www.amazon.in/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon AU: http://www.amazon.com.au/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon BR: http://www.amazon.com.br/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon IT: http://www.amazon.it/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon ES: http://www.amazon.es/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0
Amazon MX: http://www.amazon.com.mx/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0
Amazon JP: http://www.amazon.co.jp/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/
Amazon CA: http://www.amazon.ca/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/

Our lives are a series of stories, and we are the characters with the starring roles. The memories, regrets, secrets, and struggles that fill these pages are at once unique and relatable. These stories  belong to us all.  Eight unforgettable tales reaching out to a place Far Away In Time…

Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46il_5i6lHk

Author bio:

Maria Savva lives and works in London. She studied Law at Middlesex University and The College of Law. She is a lawyer, although not currently practising law. She writes novels and short stories in different genres, including drama, psychological thriller, and family saga. Many of her books and stories are inspired by her years working as a lawyer, although she has not written a courtroom drama to date. Her most recent novel is Haunted, a crime fiction/psychological thriller.

You can connect with Maria online at:

Website: http://www.mariasavva.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Maria-Savva/171466979781
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Maria_Savva

Maria

My Writing Process – Blog Tour

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 3, 2014 by Michael Radcliffe

I would like to thank fellow author Maria Savva for inviting me to take part in the ‘My Writing Process’ blog tour.  Maria is an exceptional author, and I would encourage you to check out her works available on Amazon here.

If you have a chance, stop by Maria’s blog here.  Or her website at www.mariasavva.com.

Now, as part of the blog tour, I have been asked to answer the following questions about my writing process (such as it is…) :)

1  What am I working on?

Touch of DarknessI have just released my fourth novel, ‘Touch of Darkness’ – the last book in the ‘Beyond the Veil’ series (or at least I think it is…).  ‘Touch of Darkness’ is the story of Rami, a teenage boy who is on the run from his past.  Having been possessed by a shadowwraith, he murdered two innocent people, one of whom was his best friend.  Now, with the spirit of the wraith trapped in a spiritstone, Rami struggles to come to terms with what happened.  He is desperate to find a way to control the spirit and unlock its secrets.  Travelling to the Orient, fate throws him into an unlikely partnership with Amirah, the alluring daughter of a caravan leader.  Fascinated by his dark and mysterious past, she is drawn to Rami like a moth to a flame, and fears for his soul as he slips further into darkness.

2  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Most of my stories are shorter than contemporary fantasy novels, with my most recent work being about 42,000 words.  My longest novel, ‘The Guardian’s Apprentice’ is about 70,000.  My stories are character driven, and I always strive to create scenes in which the reader can become completely absorbed.

3  Why do I write what I do?

Simple.  I love fantasy.  Fantasy novels were my lifeline – they provided me with an escape from an abusive and unhappy childhood.  On those dark days, I could escape reality and join my friends, like Bilbo Baggins, and John Carter of Mars, who took me to a happier place.  I also love being able to create worlds of my own, where magic rules instead of science, and where anything is possible.

4  How does my writing process work?

I wish I knew.  No, really, I wish I could figure it out!  My muse is fickle, and I may go for weeks at a time without writing a single word.  Then, when I least expect it, inspiration will strike and I will struggle to write everything down before it vanishes from my mind.  Most of my short stories happened that way – an idea hit, and I would write the story in a single setting.  With my novels, I almost always write the last chapter first – or at least shortly after starting the book.  Finally, I do not use outlines very often.  Occasionally, if I have a complicated sub-plot, I will use an outline for the main points, but usually I write by the seat of my pants.  I simply sit at the computer, fire up the music, and let the characters tell their story.

tenderistheknight_02*snort* Dear readers, I can assure you that is NOT how he typically writes his stories.  He will sit and stare at the blank screen for days on end, whining about writer’s block.  If it were not for me, he would never have finished a single story.  While I will concede the man does have an active imagination, even for a human, he knows little about wizards and magic.  And I shudder to think what he would write about dragons if I were not here to guide his hand!

That’s enough, Idris.  You will have to pardon that small outburst – Idris is both my writing partner and muse.  He sits in a place of honor next to my computer, where he oversees my writing and criticizes my dialogue.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a story to write.

Cover Reveal & Excerpt – ‘Touch of Darkness’

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2014 by Michael Radcliffe

Touch of Darkness

‘Touch of Darkness’ – the fourth book in the ‘Beyond the Veil’ world, is now complete and should be published by the end of the month, once final edits are complete.  Below is an excerpt – I hope you enjoy!

Touch of Darkness

The sun was starting to set beneath the horizon as they finally reached the base of the mountains, the tall sandstone cliffs stretching skyward.  The path ended as the ground sloped upward, strewn with large chunks of rock taller than Rami.

“We’ll have to go on foot from here,” said Rami as he dismounted.

The chaser was buzzing impatiently up ahead, near a small path that disappeared up the slope.  Rami knew they were getting close, as the chaser had changed to a dusky red.  When it turned black, like the seeker, they would find their target.  Rami helped Amirah down from the back of the camel, catching her about the waist as she dismounted.  As her feet touched the ground, their eyes locked and he was overcome by her beauty.

“Um… You can let go now, Rami,” she said softly with a smile.

“Oh, um, I…” he stammered as he felt the heat rising in his cheeks.  He quickly looked away and busied himself with untying their packs from the camel.

He was still struggling with a particularly tough knot on one of their packs when suddenly an ear-splitting shriek tore through the air and the ground shook.  The camel’s eyes grew wide with alarm and it bolted, most of their supplies still strapped to its back.

“What the hell was that?” shouted Amirah trying to keep her footing as the ground shook all around them.

Rami had heard that horrible shriek before, and knew it meant only one thing.

“Sandwyrm!” he yelled, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards the boulder strewn path.  “Hurry!  We have to reach the rocks before it surfaces!”

“But the camel – our supplies!”

“Leave it!” he yelled, pulling her after him as he ran towards the path.

The rumbling sound was deafening now, and suddenly the sand where they had been standing just moments before erupted violently.  With a horrendous shriek that sounded like tearing metal, a dark brown, scaly creature burst forth.  The beast had the head of a dragon, but where the eyes should be were grown over with scales, and large moveable folds covered the nostrils, flapping open and closed as it breathed.  The head was attached directly to the legless, snakelike body, which was covered in thick armored scales and disappeared into the sand.  Instead of horns or spikes, large fan-shaped scales swept up and back behind its head.  The head moved from side to side and the flaps on its snout moved quickly as if it was searching for a scent.

Amirah screamed as the massive, blind creature surged towards them, drawn to the vibrations from their running down the path.  Rami knew their only hope was to reach the boulder strewn path at the base of the mountain, as sandwyrms could only travel a small distance on hard ground – without legs to support their massive body, they normally ‘swam’ through sand like it was water – a prolonged period on a rocky surface would eventually cause an adult sandwyrm to suffocate under its own weight.  Rami heard a loud hissing sound and a boulder to his left suddenly dissolved into a bubbling mass of green slime as the beast spat a jet of acid.  Rami pulled Amirah ahead of him, pushing her towards the ever steepening path.

“Run!  Head for the boulders at the top of the ridge!” he shouted, pointing her towards safety.

“But…” she stammered, unwilling to leave him as she drew her sword.

“Now!” he yelled as they continued to run.  “Even if you could get close enough, your steel would never cut through its scales!”

With a final shove, he propelled her forward even as he rummaged in the pouch of the satchel slung over his shoulder.  Although sandwyrms where a very distant cousin of dragons, they lacked intelligence and could not use magic.  However their speed and ability to spit deadly jets of acid made them just as dangerous.  As a temple acolyte, he had been taught various charms, hexes and curses, but even the priests were never trained as full wizards, so he could never hope to kill the beast with magic.  His only hope was to distract it long enough to reach safety.   The beast roared again, shaking the ground beneath his feet as another boulder was dissolved by a stream of acid; tiny droplets of the toxic green liquid splashed across his tunic, stinging his skin and causing wisps of smoke to curl up from his clothes.  His hand finally clasped a small orb in his satchel and he pulled it out.  The shiny silver ball sparkled in the desert sunlight as Rami held it close to his mouth and whispered a hex.  As he completed the spell, he turned and hurled the sphere at their camel, which had stopped running once it was a safe distance away.  The silver orb arced through the air, emitting an ear-piercing shriek, causing the pursuing wyrm to stop and rear upward, tilting its scaly head to one side.  As the still whistling ball hit the ground near the camel, it exploded with a deep ‘thud,’ shaking the ground and enveloping the camel in a white fog.  Rami watched the spell took effect as the camel stretched and grew, more than tripling in size as its skin crackled and hardened.  It reared its head and grunted loudly as it took off, its now stone feet shaking the ground as it ran.  Attracted by the much stronger vibrations of the camel, the sandwyrm turned on its new quarry and slithered away, eager to pursue this much larger prey.

Rami sprinted towards the safety of the boulders, running as lightly as he could so as not to attract the sandwyrm.  He scrambled up the pile of loose stones and dove behind the largest rock, landing next to Amirah, who was crouched down watching the receding sandwyrm as it chased the stone camel across the path they had just traveled.

“By the gods, Rami, what did you do?” she asked, her eyes still wide with fear.

Gasping for breath, it took Rami several minutes before he could respond.

“Stonehex,” he panted, his chest hurting from running.

“But the poor camel,” she said as she sheathed her sword.  “It has no hope of outrunning that horrid creature!”

“It was either the camel or us,” snapped Rami, his head beginning to pound from using the curse.  The stonehex spell was a form of dark magic that drew upon the energy of the caster; the spell was one Rami had learned in the restricted section of Master Ammon’s personal library when he was supposed to be cleaning the shelves.  “Besides,” he said as he rubbed his temples, “the camel is now made of granite – it will take the sandwyrm a while to tear it apart.”

“Rami!” gasped Amirah.

“Come on,” he said, ignoring her expression as he adjusted his satchel and dusted off his tunic.  “We’re close now – the chaser is almost black.”

Amirah just stood near the boulder, staring at Rami in disbelief.  He was several steps away when he noticed she was not behind him.  He turned and looked at her, spreading his arms wide.

“What?” he asked angrily.  “We could never outrun a sandwyrm, Amirah.  I had no choice – it was either us or the camel!”

Sheathing her sword in a single, fluid motion, she scowled at him.

“It was a living creature, Rami!  At least show some compassion – or did they not teach you that at the temple?”

Rami sighed and shook his head as she angrily stomped past him up the path.  The priests certainly had not taught him anything about arguing with a female.

*END OF EXCERPT*

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