‘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*