**Spoiler Alert** The following excerpt takes place after the events in ‘Rise of the Shadow’ and will give you clues to how that story ended – proceed at your own risk.
TOUCH OF DARKNESS
The voice whispered to Rami out of the darkness…
“You killed him…”
“No!” he shouted, trying to spot his accuser in the surrounding inky blackness. He flailed blindly trying to find something, anything, to grab onto for support.
“He was your friend…”
“But, I couldn’t…” he stammered, tears streaming down his face.
“I had no choice!” he screamed, turning in every direction trying to find the voice that taunted him.
“They were innocent…”
“Leave me alone!”
“They died because of you …”
“Who are you?” he shouted. No one knew he was the one who had murdered old Khafra, the priest, and only one other had seen him kill his best friend, Fer’al. “It wasn’t me! I was possessed!” he screamed at the faceless tormentor. “IT’S NOT MY FAULT!”
He had been possessed by a shadowraith, and was powerless to stop the killings, but worse was the surge of emotion he felt when it happened. He felt powerful, unstoppable, like he could command the world. He actually saw the light ebb from his friend’s eyes, and sensed the energy of Fer’al’s spirit as it fled beyond… and he had savored the feeling. He fled the tomb of Oriannus that night, frightened of what he felt and terrified of what he might become.
There was a sudden flash, and two large, yellow, cat-like eyes appeared before him in the darkness. Rami stumbled backward, unable to see in the inky blackness.
“You killed them Rami, their blood is on your hands…”
Rami felt something warm and wet dripping from his hands, and he frantically wiped them on his tunic as he continued to stumble blindly, trying to escape the eyes. He pitched backwards as he felt the stone give way beneath him, and he tumbled into the darkness. As he fell, the voice dissolved into harsh laughter, echoing all around him.
Then he woke up, screaming.
The cool night air drifted in through the half-open flap of the tent, causing Rami to shiver. He was sitting upright on the small cot, the thin cotton sheet twisted around his limbs from his nocturnal struggle. Panting, he was bathed in a cold sweat of fear. In the distance he could hear the bells on the camels clanking softly in the night. He had been traveling East with the caravan for several weeks now, seeking to put as much distance between him and his past as he could. Not one to socialize, he pitched his tent at the fringe of camp, but he still would have occasional visitors as his traveling companions sought conversation and company.
But that was before the nightmares began.
Several days into the journey, he began having nightmares of being chased through the darkness by someone accusing him of murder. Someone who knew his secret. Although the dream always ended with him falling into darkness, he awoke in a greater panic each night. At first the others had come running to check on him after hearing his screams, but now they stayed away, fearing he was cursed.
He untangled himself from the sheet and lay back down on the cot, breathing deeply and trying to slow his racing heartbeat. His hand slipped down to his tunic pocket and he breathed a sigh of relief when he felt the smooth surface of the stone hidden there. He had stolen the spiritstone from the tomb of Oriannus, after the wizard, Keegan Whitestone, had trapped a wraith inside of it. The wraith had possessed Rami, forcing him to murder two innocent people in an attempt to unleash the malevolent spirit of the Shadow on the world. A warmth emanated from the stone, pulsing with the energy of the spirit forever trapped within. Rami focused on the stone, and thought he could hear a distant whisper speaking to him from across the depths. He heard the sound from the first time he touched the stone, and every time since he thought the whispers grew louder until he could almost make out words.
Rami’s eyes snapped open as he realized the whisper was clearer now. Had the spirit finally spoken to him?
He pulled the smooth, black stone from his pocket and looked at it closely. “Who are you?” he asked it, his brow furrowed in concentration. The stone did not respond, though he could still feel the warmth emanating from somewhere deep within. For now at least, the wraith was still silent.
“Rami?” came a female voice from the entrance to his tent.
Startled, Rami quickly buried the spiritstone in his pocket. “Yes?”
A slender arm reached through and parted the flaps to the tent, followed quickly by a young girl dressed in the robes and headdress of a nomad. Her long, black hair was pulled back into a tight braid that snaked down her back to her waist. She dressed simply, like the other travelers in the caravan, but the strands of gold thread weaved into her braided hair marked her rank. Olive skinned, and eyes like the darkest of sapphires, Amirah was a beautiful young woman of sixteen, and she possessed every bit of her father’s head for business. As the daughter of the caravan’s leader, it was her task to keep records for the trip, including sales and purchases of goods, and a final tally of the profit. She also inherited her father’s fierce loyalty to family, as well as a fiery temper, though she was loathe to admit it.
She stepped into the tent, a look of concern on her face. “Are you alright? I thought I heard you scream.”
Rami swore under his breath. “I’m fine, Amirah,” he said in an exasperated tone.
Since joining the caravan, Rami felt as if Amirah had adopted him like he was a lost puppy. He had earned his place in the group when he inadvertently saved her father’s coin purse. Rami saw the thief as he slipped his hand into the man’s pocket. Acting on instinct, Rami had uttered a curse that paralyzed the thief and saved her father from losing several hundred gold coins. In his gratitude, the man had allowed Rami to travel with them to the East. It was rare for a magic user to travel the trade routes, and Amirah’s father thought Rami’s services might be useful.
“It was the night terrors again, wasn’t it?” she asked, her right hand resting on the hilt of an ornate shamshir. The wide blade of the curved sword glinted in the light of the wisp overhead, and Rami knew she was not one to be trifled with.
Rami looked at the floor, unwilling to meet her gaze. She had an effect on him like no other; he respected her strength and cunning as a warrior for her father, but the smell of exotic spices that wafted through the room when she entered made his head swim. He felt weak when this happened, and vulnerable – two feelings he disliked immensely. He struggled to focus his mind, choosing his words carefully.
“I will be just fine, Amirah, I just need to put as much distance between me and Sakkara as possible. The nightmares are from my time at the Temple of Set,” he lied, finally meeting her gaze.
She moved closer and sat on a small stool near Rami’s cot. At first Rami thought the look on her face was just concern for him, but there was more. There was a burning curiosity behind those eyes – a yearning for knowledge and a thirst for the unknown. A child of the caravan, she had grown up with merchants, and the sights of the road had become commonplace. She killed her first raider when she was ten, and had mastered the sword by the time she was fourteen.
“What did you see there, Rami? What was so terrible that it would haunt you so?” she asked, her brows furrowed.
“You would not understand,” he said sullenly. “My parents sold me to the temple in exchange for the blessing of the dark deity, Set; since I was seven I have seen things that would cause the Pharos’s royal guard to flee in terror.”
Amirah frowned as she crossed her arms. “I want to help, Rami,” she said. “You’ve been having these nightmares more and more frequently,” she said in an annoyed tone. “Everyone has heard your screams in the middle of the night. The other merchants are beginning to think you are cursed.”
“Maybe I am,” he said, his eyes losing focus as his mind drifted back to thoughts of the spiritstone.
“Stop it!” she snapped angrily, rising to pace across the tent. “Do you think you are the only one who has seen bad things in this life? I killed a man when I was just ten; he was trying to capture me to sell to the slavers. It was almost a year before the nightmares finally stopped; you just need a task to focus on,” she said, her index figure only a few inches from his nose.
Rami looked up at her, seeing the look of determination in those deep blue eyes. “I’m sure you are right,” he said with a sigh, even though he knew she was not. He had been inhabited by a dark spirit – something that would drive most grown men insane – yet somehow he survived.
Amirah folded her arms and looked down at him with an approving smile. “Good! Come to my father’s tent in the morning. We need to organize and catalogue the last crate of scrolls my father traded for from the library in Sakkara.”
Rami nodded, knowing better than to argue with her. She smiled and turned to go, stifling a yawn with her fist.
“Now try to get some sleep. We break camp tomorrow to continue eastward,” she said as she bent down and stepped out of the tent and into the night.
Rami fell back onto his cot and snapped his fingers, extinguished the pale wisp hovering near the ceiling, and waited for the nightmares to return.