The Amaranthine Flask
A friend and fellow author, Maria Savva, was beta-reading ‘Rise of the Shadow’ for me and suggested the name ‘amaranthine flask’ for a magical object in the story. While I didn’t use her suggestion for that item, I absolutely loved the term and could not let it go unused. Following is an excerpt from my newest short story, ‘The Amaranthine Flask’:
Khamsin stood on the edge of the flat tower roof, looking out across the sun baked city of Sakkara. She shielded her eyes against the harsh noonday sun as she scanned the horizon.
Where is that damn dragon? I summoned him twenty minutes ago!
She pounded her fist against the rough, sandstone parapet as she fumed in anger. Although she was well over three hundred years old, she appeared to be in her early fifties, her long black hair streaked with gray. Harsh lines around her eyes and at the corners of her mouth, the product of years of scowling, had defied her attempts to erase them. A fiendishly beautiful woman in her youth, she was also a powerful dark witch, and not one to be trifled with.
She paced back and forth, her jet black robes shimmering in the sunlight as she waited for the dragon to answer her call. As she passed the small window set into the stone wall of the minaret that rose even higher above the tower, she saw her reflection, her hand tracing the lines and creases along her cheek with her fingers.
I will finally win this battle once and for all…
The bright sun glinted off the giant golden dragon’s scales as he glided over the hot sands of the desert outside Sakkara, Egypt. The warmth radiated throughout his body and reveled in the energy coursing through his veins. Tucking his wings close to his sides, he dove downward at a steep angle, a smile of satisfaction crossing his toothy face as thunder echoed around him when he broke the sound barrier. At the last possible moment, he spread his great wings and leveled out, causing a fierce sandstorm to flare into existence as it chased his trail across the dunes. He tore across the sky leaving destruction in his wake, as the hot winds and static discharge of his passing toppled several small buildings on the outskirts of the city. He slowed as he reached the protective wall of the city, knowing he would invoke the wrath of the temple priests if he created too much havoc. Shai’tan, or ‘Firestorm’ as the humans called him, was late. His mistress had summoned him, and though he loathed to be in her service, he had no choice but to appear as she had enslaved him when he was but a hatchling. Shai’tan’s egg had been stolen from the nest by a raider, who then sold it on the black market. The egg had passed through the hands of several merchants until Khamsin became aware of its presence in Sakkara. Knowing how valuable a dragon would be, she had quickly acquired the egg and proceeded to hatch it.
His mistress, or “Mother Khamsin,” as he knew her, was the first sight Shai’tan remembered. To ensure his loyalty, she placed a silver chain around his neck laced with wards that made him susceptible to her magic. A shock that would normally be deflected by his thick scales was instead magnified, so as to cause him great pain.
She ruled Sakkara and the surrounding area, and was feared by all for her cold, ruthless grip on power. The city had descended into chaos after the murder of old Khafra, the temple priest of the god Horus. He had been killed at the altar in the temple of the god Set, the sworn enemy of Horus. Although Master Ammon, the high priest of Set, had vowed to find Khafra’s killer, he never had, and many began to whisper that Ammon himself had slain the old man. As the accusations grew, an undeclared war erupted between the temples of Set and Horus. In the anarchy that followed, Shai’tan’s mistress rose to power, quickly undermining or killing those who opposed her.
He banked to the right and climbed slightly as her tower in the center of town came into view. Originally built for one of the pharaohs, the delicate spire rose high above Sakkara, giving the occupant a stunning view. The tower was built on an artificial island in the Nile River, which snaked through the middle of the city. Shai’tan could see his mistress pacing at the top of the tower as he gave a powerful downward flap of his leathery wings and shot skyward. He spiraled upward around the tower and turned sharply as he spread his wings and settled skillfully in the middle of the tower’s flat roof.
Khamsin glared as she walked towards the dragon, his bulk dwarfing her as she approached. He lowered his head, bowing down before her in a sign of respect, or at least acquiescence. She had raised him from a hatchling, teaching him magic and the ways of wizards, but never showing him affection or even respect. Quick to anger, she had a sharp tongue and was unforgiving if he made a mistake. He often wondered what it would be like to be free of her overbearing will, but the thick silver chain around his neck ensured he would never stray too far.
“Where have you been?” she asked angrily. “I summoned you over twenty minutes ago!”
“I am sorry, Mother Khamsin,” he rumbled, staring at the stones beneath her feet. “I came as quickly as I could when you summoned me. I was far out in the desert, hunting…”
“Bah!” she snapped, cutting him off before he could finish. “Spare me your excuses, Firestorm,” she said, using his human nickname which she knew he hated. She snapped her fingers and a violent shock coursed through the silver chain hanging around his neck. He winced slightly, but had learned long ago not to cry out no matter how bad the pain.
“I raised you from an egg, and this is how you repay me. Have I not trained you well? Have I not taught you magic and educated you in the ways of wizards?”
“Yes, Mother Khamsin,” Shai’tan said respectfully. “You have trained me well, and I owe you my life.”
“Hmph!” she snorted, as she crossed her arms. “Then stop cowering before me and stand tall! I have a task for my brave dragon.”
Shai’tan obediently rose and sat with his tail wrapped around him, like some giant housecat, tendrils of smoke curling from his nostrils. Khamsin crossed her arms and looked off into the distance to the East.
“Have you ever heard of the old wizard, Kronos?” she asked.
The dragon nodded his great horned head. He had indeed heard of the old wizard – a hermit that lived alone in his castle, forsaking the company of others for his books and potions. No one had seen him in over a hundred years. “I have, Mother Khamsin, but surely he does not still exist?”
“Oh, but he does, my pet,” she said quietly with a smile as she turned to face him. “And you are going to find him. His tower is located five hundred leagues to the East, high in the mountains.”
Shai’tan looked down at the witch, so small and seemingly insignificant before him, yet so powerful with her control of the dark arts. It would be such a simple task to crush her beneath his talons, or incinerate her with his flame.
No, I cannot harm the one who has raised me from a hatchling…
He was jolted from his thoughts as she snapped her fingers again and sent another powerful shock through his chain.
“Pay attention you dolt!” she barked.
“Forgive me, my Mistress,” he said as he bowed his head.
“That’s better. Now, I want you to fly to the wizard’s castle and fetch me a potion.”
The witch raised her hand, causing the dragon to wince involuntarily. “Yes, a potion. I want you to acquire the Amaranthine Flask for me.”
“And the price you are willing to pay, Mistress?”
She turned and walked over to the parapet again, gazing into the distance. “Oh, I doubt he will sell it to you,” she said simply. “The Flask has been sought by many over the centuries, and yet all who seek it are refused. You see it will not only restore the beauty of my youth, once restored my youth will never fade. I shall be eternally young and beautiful; no longer will I have to bear the thought of an old woman’s face looking back at me from the mirror.”
Puzzled, Shai’tan carefully walked up behind the witch and looked down at her. “And if he refuses your request for the Amaranthine Flask?”
[end of excerpt]
“The Amaranthine Flask” – a short story for 99¢ – is available on Amazon here.