Archive for dragons

The Call of the Dragons

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 9, 2017 by Michael Radcliffe

Following is a new short story I penned earlier this month.  Artwork is by Katerina Romanova.

 

THE CALL OF DRAGONS

Thunder echoed in the distance as the rain pelted down, the cold, fat drops of water crashing against the traveler’s cloak.  Tattered and frayed at the edges, one could tell from a distance the cloak and its owner had seen far better days.  Shuffling forward in the darkness, the figure finally reached the doorway of a ramshackle inn at the end of the street.  A battered and faded sign hung above the door, the faded gold letters spelling out ‘Dragon’s Tale Inn.’

Grasping the iron ring in the center of the door, the traveler struggled to pull the heavy door open, the thick iron hinges groaning in protest.  Slipping through the narrow opening, he stumbled into the dimly lit room beyond as the thick oak door slid back into place.  A warm glow came from the room beyond, as he shuffled forward in hopes of finding shelter from the storm.  The traveler lowered the hood of his cloak as he entered the room, the smell of roasted meat and old beer hanging heavy in the air.  The young man appeared to be in his early twenties, but there were dark circles under his eyes and his face was covered with the stubble of a beard beginning to grow.  His long dark hair was matted from the rain that had soaked through his tattered cloak, and sadness was etched into his face.  The once roaring fire in the large stone fire pit in the center of the room had now burned down to embers, but it still cast a flickering light throughout the large common room.  Well past midnight, the patrons had all gone to their rooms and only a young servant girl remained.

“Oh!” she gasped as she turned and saw the young man standing in the doorway.  Dressed in a simple woolen frock, her long brown hair was tied back into a long pony tail that cascaded down her back.  She was so startled by his sudden appearance she almost dropped the large tray of dirty dishes she had just gathered from the last table.

“S-s-sorry,” he stuttered as he stood there shivering.  “I didn’t… I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Oh, it’s okay,” she said quietly as she set the tray down on the table and brushed the hair from her eyes.   “I just didn’t see you come in, is all; we don’t get very many travelers now, since the war.”

The young man started to answer but faltered, stumbling forward and catching himself on the chair.   Rushing forward, the young woman helped the stranger to a seat near the fire pit.

“You look exhausted,” she said as she tossed a log onto the coals and sent sparks flying up the metal chimney.  “You warm yourself here by the fire, and I’ll see what’s left in the kitchen to eat.  I’m afraid it may only be stale bread and some cheese; the rations they give us are barely enough to keep this place open.”

The young man looked up at her, his blue-grey eyes rimmed with darkness, and he almost managed a smile as she bustled off to the kitchen.  A few moments later, she returned with a wooden board and set it on the stone of the fire pit next to the young man.  There was half a loaf of dark, crusty bread, a block of crumbly yellow cheese, and a large mug of steaming mulled cider.  As she placed the food next to him, he shook his head and smiled sadly.

“I… I’m sorry, b-b-but I cannot pay,” he said, his voice hoarse.

“Nonsense,” she said as she handed him the mug of warm cider.  “You’re exhausted and freezing; now drink this and eat while I put another log on the fire.  Gold is the last thing I worry about these days,” she said as she gazed into the fire.  “It’s only a matter of time before the darkness swallows us all, and I want to spread as much kindness as I can before the end.”

It had only been six month ago when the demons and their minions had burst forth from the mountains in the north.  The dark horde had overwhelmed every army they encountered, and soldiers were now fighting delaying actions as long as they could to allow civilians to escape.  But the enemy’s numbers were endless, and mankind was now encircled.  The old alliances had faded away, as humans considered themselves to be better than the elves, dwarves, and other races.  When the war came, the elves remained hidden and protected deep in their enchanted forests, and the dwarves rested easily in their mountain fortresses.  Mankind’s only hope had been the dragons, who had left a standing pledge of loyalty over a thousand years before, promising to return when called.  Generation after generation, the Dragonheart family served as summoners, the keepers of the dragonsong, the ones who could cast the spell to summon the dragons back across the dimensions.  But when the war came, the last of their line had failed.  Reading through the ancient tome that contained the details of the spell, the young man learned the summoning could only be completed with a sacrifice – the spirit of the spellcaster.  Unwilling to face death, the last of the Dragonheart family had fled.

“Th-thank you,” the traveler said, breaking the girl’s train of thought.

She shook her head and wiped away a tear with her apron.  “Please, don’t thank me.  I meant what I said.  I still believe in helping people, even if others don’t.”  Picking up the iron poker, she stirred the logs in the fire, sending another shower of sparks up the chimney and flooding the room with warmth.  “My name is Mairwen,” she said.  “My parents built this inn, and now it’s all I have left to remember them.  When the enemy first came, they demanded a sacrifice in order to leave our village alone.  Since my parents had moved here from across the sea, the villagers all agreed they should be the ones to die.  I was spared because I was born here.”

“I… I’m so sorry,” he said as he placed the mug back down on the wooden serving board.  “That is horrible.”

Mairwen sat on the edge of the hearth and looked down at the young man.  “I may not have much left, but what I have I share with you.”

“Your heart is filled with kindness,” the young man said.  “I have met so many in my travels, all filled with anger and suspicion and hate.  Sometimes I think they have become the demons themselves.”

“I refuse to let evil win,” Mairwen said simply.

The young man stood up, steadying himself on the edge of the fire pit.  Mairwen reached out and helped him as he pulled his cloak back over his shoulders.

“What are you doing?” she asked, “You need rest!”

Ignoring her, he pulled on his gloves and muttered something under his breath as he plunged his hands into the fire and brought out a handful of coals.

Mairwen screamed as the young man turned and walked to the front door, kicking it open and striding out into the rain.  Running out into the darkness behind him, Mairwen watched as he knelt on the cobblestones and placed the mound of hot coals on the stone.  The embers hissed and sizzled angrily as the cold rain pelted down and the young man stood up and threw his head back, his arms stretch skyward.

His tattered cloak billowing about him, he shouted skyward in a language Mairwen did not recognize.  “Draconum il’Shawath, poh nahvek ta koh!”

As she watched, the embers at his feet flared brightly and the ground began to shake.  Flames burst forth from the stones and swirled in front of the stranger in a rainbow of colors as the cobblestones popped and cracked.  Mairwen could feel waves of heat washing outward, when suddenly the air was filled with a thunderous shriek.  As the ground split open, the swirling form of a dragon erupted and formed out of the flames.  Soaring skyward, it flared brightly and exploded in a flash of light and sound that echoed across the night sky.  Mairwen watched as bright flashes lit the sky in the distance, as if in answer to the pyrotechnics.  As the flames flickered and died down, she saw the young man stagger and fall back, collapsing on the pavement.

Running to his side, she fell to her knees as she struggled to pull him towards her.  His head resting in her lap, he looked up at her and smiled.

“What happened?  Who are you?” she stammered not understanding what she had just witnessed.

“My… my name is Jael,” the young man said, struggling to speak.  “Jael Dragonheart.”

Mairwen gasped at the words, realizing what had just happened.  “My God!  You’ve… you’ve called them haven’t you?  But… but that means…”

“I will die,” he said simply, finishing the sentence for her.  “The spellcaster must freely give his spirit, or the spell will not work.  I have called them.  They will come.  It… it is my gift to you, in exchange for what you gave me.”

Mairwen shook her head in disbelief.  “But, I didn’t give you anything but some scraps of food…”

“You gave me far more than that,” said Jael.

“But I don’t understand!  What did I give you?” she asked as tears started streaming down her face.

“Hope,” he said simply, his voice little more than a hoarse whisper.

A brief shudder rippled through him and his eyes slowly closed, as the last wisps of his spirit soared upward, leaving his broken body crumpled in her arms.  Flames flashed brightly across the sky as roars thundered and echoed in the distance.  The dragons had returned.

END

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Trick or Treat – A Dragon’s Halloween

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 23, 2016 by Michael Radcliffe

The cool crisp wind made Isaac and his friend, Jayden, shudder as it blew past them, causing the fallen leaves to dance across the grass.  They had spent the afternoon flying kites, the blustery fall day providing all the wind they needed for hours of fun.  Isaac had been eager to try his new kite for the first time – it was shaped like a black dragon, with wing spread wide and a long, spiked tail.  Walking home from the park, the boys quickened their pace as the sun slipped behind the clouds and the late afternoon light began to dim.  Tonight was Halloween, and the boys were eager to get home and change into their costumes and go trick-or-treating.

It was dusk as they finally reached their street, with row after row of neat brick homes lined up like soldiers along the lane.  Jack-o-lanterns flickered to life, the bright yellow-orange flames dancing inside the pumpkins, causing the carved faces to glow in the deepening twilight.   As the boys reached the road that led to Jayden’s house, a hulking great shadow loomed out of the darkness, jumping from behind a large oak tree.

“Boo!” yelled the figure, causing the boys to jump back in fright, their kites falling to the ground.  The figure lumbered towards them just as the street light at the corner came to life, bathing them in a pale white light and unmasking their attacker.

“Tavin!” yelled Jayden angrily.  “You jerk!  I’m telling mom!”

Jayden’s older brother Tavin guffawed and ignored his little brother’s threat.

“You two are such babies!” he laughed mercilessly.  “You sure you should be out after dark?  Ha ha ha!” he put his foot down on top of the dragon kite, the wood snapping loudly underneath his shoe.  “There’s no such thing as dragons!”

“No!” yelled Jayden as he threw himself at his brother.  The older boy just grinned as he shoved his little brother, easily knocking him to the pavement.

“Leave us alone, Tavin!” said Isaac with a scowl.  He hated Jayden’s older brother.  The fifteen year old picked on them both constantly, and he and his friends were the biggest bullies at school.  Isaac stood up and brushed off his jeans, motioning for Jayden to follow him.  He reached down and gathered up the broken remains of his kite, the dragon’s neck hanging at an odd angle.

“Come on, we’ll just go to my house,” he said as he and Jayden walked away from Tavin.  They could still hear the older boy laughing as they climbed the steps to Isaac’s front door.

 

***

 

“It’s not fair!” shouted Isaac angrily, as his mother fussed with his costume.  He was dressing up as a wizard this year, with flowing black robes and a silver dragon stitched on his chest.  They were running late and his mother was trying to run a comb through his unruly hair.

“What’s not fair, darling?” she asked as she pressed her fingers down on a particularly troublesome lock that was determined to stick out the wrong way.

“Tavin,” he said as he tried to push his mother’s hands away from his head.  “He’s such a bully.  He always makes fun of us, and he broke my new kite!”

“It’s okay, Isaac,” said his mom in a soft reassuring tone.  “I’m sure it was an accident, and I bet your father can fix your kite as good as new.”

Isaac’s eyes stung as he choked back tears, and his friend Jayden just stared at his feet.  Both boys knew Tavin would be waiting for them somewhere in the neighborhood to steal their candy at the end of the night.

“Now, smile while a take a photo,” said his mother as the flash from her smartphone lit up his face.  Grabbing their trick-or-treat bags from the table, she ushered out the boys out the front door and into the night.

 

***

 

Isaac and Jayden roamed the neighborhood for over an hour, until their Halloween bags were bursting with sweets.  There was only one house left on the lane, and as they approached the door Jayden tugged at Isaac’s arm before he could ring the bell.

“Wait, Isaac…” he said quietly as he looked from side to side.  “Do you know the lady that lives here?  She’s scary!”

“She’s just different, Jayden,” said Isaac as he brushed off his friends hand and rang the bell.  “She’s always been nice to me.”

A few moments later the bright green door swung inward, and a woman stepped towards the boys, smiling.  In her mid-forties, her long dark hair flowed across her shoulders, and she was dressed in a set of wizard’s robes, just like Isaac.

“Oh, a pair of young wizards!” she said happily as she knelt down and put a large handful of candy into each of their trick-or-treat bags.  “I’m so happy you came by, Isaac.  Who is your young friend?”

“This is Jayden,” he replied, gesturing towards his friend.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, young Jayden,” she said with a polite nod.  “My name is Miriam, and this is my cat, Dreyfus,” she said with a gesture towards a large, black tabby cat curled up next to a jack-o-lantern.  At the sound of his name the cat opened one eye, yawned, stretched, and went right back to sleep.

“It looks like you’ve had a busy night!” she said, pointing to the Halloween bags full of sweets.

“I just wish we would get to eat our candy before he takes it away,” said Jayden, sadly.  Isaac’s smile faded as he looked up at her.

“What do you mean?” she asked, a look of concern spreading across her face.

“His older brother,” said Isaac.  “Tavin always steals our candy and teases me because I like dragons.”

“Hmm,” she said in a mercurial tone as she raised an eyebrow.  “You boys wait here just a moment,” and she stood up and walked back into the house.

A few minutes later the Miriam reappeared, and she held her hand out to Isaac.  He reached out and she placed a small amulet in his hand.  It was carved in the shape of a green dragon, with a Celtic symbol emblazoned on the wings.  As Isaac looked at it, the dragon’s eyes sparkled mischievously with a strange inner fire.

“A dragon!” shouted Isaac with a grin.

“Yes,” she said the as she knelt down in front of the boys.  “It is my gift to you – from one spellcaster to another.  This is Greatwing, an ancient dragon of immense power, who has been my friend for many years.  It is time for me to pass him on to someone younger; someone who I think will be a good friend to him for many years to come.”

Isaac clasped the dragon tightly, and swore he could feel an odd sensation, almost like a heartbeat, coming from the amulet.

“I… I don’t know what to say,” he stammered.  “Thank you so much!”

Miriam nodded and smiled again.  “You are very welcome, young Isaac.  If you are ever afraid or in danger, just close your eyes and whisper his name, and he will give you courage.”

Isaac hugged her tightly, thanking her again for the precious gift.  She laughed and ruffled the boys’ hair, bidding them a good night.  Dreyfus opened an eye and watched as the boys left.

“They’re going to be scared out of their wits, you know,” purred the cat as he yawned and stretched again.

“Oh, shush!” scolded Miriam.  “That young man will be just fine.  He will be an excellent companion for a dragon, you’ll see.”  She snapped her fingers and the flame inside the jack-o-lantern was snuffed out, leaving Dreyfus in the dark.

 

***

 

As they walked back down the lane, Isaac reached into his robes and put the amulet in his pocket.  The boys decided to head back home, as it was nearly midnight and the porch lights began winking out as another Halloween drew to a close.  They were walking past a large, vacant lot when a familiar figure loomed out of the darkness.  Tavin was wearing his trademark faded jeans and black hoodie, his unkempt brown hair poking out from beneath the worn fabric.

“Hand it over, brats,” he snarled, holding out his hand.  “You can give it to me or I can take it – either way I win.”

Jayden and Isaac reluctantly handed over their bags of sweets to Tavin, and the older boy grinned.  He poked his finger roughly into Isaac’s chest, right where the silver dragon was stitched onto his robes.

“There’s no such thing as dragons, you idiot!” he snapped with a cruel laugh.  “Remember our deal, brats,” he said as he turned away.  “Say one word to anybody and you’ll be sorry.”

Isaac fumed as he watched Tavin slowly saunter away from them.  He shoved his hands in his pockets, his right hand closing around the dragon amulet, and he remembered what Miriam had said.  Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes and whispered…

Greatwing!

Without warning a loud shriek echoed across the vacant lot, like a thousand banshees screaming from the deep.  The boys jumped, Isaac’s eyes snapping open as he and Jayden grabbed onto each other and looked around for the source of the commotion.  Not far down the lane Tavin had dropped the bags of sweets and appeared to be staring at something in the shadows of the vacant lot.

The wind tore past the boys, almost knocking them down with the force.  A huge cloud of leaves erupted violently from the shadows in front of Tavin, and as Isaac watched, they swirled skyward and gathered into a huge form hovering high above the teenager.  Gradually the mass of leaves took the shape of an enormous dragon, with outstretched wings and a long, spiked tail.  With a flash of bright golden light the dragons eyes flared to life, and it looked down at Tavin.  Opening its massive jaws, green flames shot forth as it unleashed a roar that shook the ground beneath their feet, and sent Tavin scurrying down the lane like a frightened dormouse.  As the older boy ran, the great leafy dragon hovered for a moment and watched, before flapping its giant wings once and spinning earthward, in pursuit of its prey.  In mere seconds it caught up with the terrified teen, who was screaming at the top of his lungs.  The dragon’s jaws opened and before Tavin could dive out of the way, they snapped shut around him as the beast banked and soared skyward again.

Isaac and Jayden watched as Greatwing spread his wings and banked across the sky high above them, before hurtling straight downward towards the street below.  Just before hitting the pavement at the end of the lane, the beast flared its wings and spiraled towards the boys.  Its eyes flashed brightly and leaves suddenly exploded outward with a thunderous roar, sending Tavin rolling roughly down the lane.  As the wind died down and leaves fluttered back to Earth, the teenager landed at Isaac’s feet, his chest heaving as he gasped for air, his face pale and his eyes still wide with fear.

“W-w-w-what… M-m-m-monster!  H-h-help me!” he cried desperately, tears streaming down his face as he crawled towards the boys.  “D-d-don’t let it get me!  What if it comes back – you saw it!  You saw it, didn’t you?”

Isaac just smiled as he clasped the green dragon in his pocket.  He looked at the quivering teen in front of him and quietly said:

There’s no such thing as dragons…

END

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“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.

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*

Touch of Darkness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 8, 2013 by Michael Radcliffe

Following is an excerpt from my current work-in-process, a new novel tentatively titled ‘Touch of Darkness’.  My friend and fellow author, Maria Savva, encouraged me to tell the story of Rami, a character from my last novel, ‘Rise of the Shadow.’ Rami is an Egyptian boy of fifteen, who is struggling with his inner demons as he tries to resist the siren call of power.  I hope to have the novel published before the end of this year – I hope you enjoy!

Michael

**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.

“Murderer…”

“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.

“Power…”

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.

***

 

Never Argue with a Dragon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 27, 2013 by Michael Radcliffe

I really thought I had ended the ‘Beyond the Veil’ series when I wrote book three, ‘Rise of the Shadow.’ 
Book Cover 2

Little did I know, however, that one of the characters in that book would demand to have his story told.  I resisted the idea at first, as I thought I had wrapped up the series – all loose ends nicely wrapped up, thank you very much.  But Rami, the fifteen year-old Egyptian boy serving as an acolyte in the Temple of Set had other plans.

You see, when I refused to listen to him rattling around in my head, he went behind my back.  That’s right, he started talking to Idris.  If you have visited my blog or website, you know that Idris is my writing partner.  I freed him from captivity at the Medieval Times gift shop and he now sits perched on my desk, overseeing my writing.

Tender is the KnightIdris, like most dragons, is extremely well-read and believes himself to be an authority on most topics – especially writing fantasy novels.  He frequently criticizes my dialogue, and when I try to ignore him I am rewarded with singed fingertips.  Mercurial on his best days, he is not always helpful.  One recent discussion went something like this:

“What do you think I should write next?” I asked.

“What do you want to write next?” was his caustic reply.

“You’re not helping, Idris,” I responded testily.  “I need an idea for a new story.

“Hmph,” he snorted, blowing smoke rings in my face.  “Think of your own ideas, human.

Realizing he was in a *mood* I dropped the subject and decided to await inspiration.  That is when Rami started whispering inside my imagination.  He thought the world should hear his story – about what happened after the events in ‘Rise of the Shadow.’

I wasn’t so sure.  So, I did what any good writer would do, and ignored him, hoping my rather fickle muse would find inspiration elsewhere.  The next time I sat down at the computer however, Idris decided to chime in.

“Your next story shall be about Rami,” he said in a matter of fact tone.

“What?”  I replied incredulously.  “No, absolutely not.  I want to write something… different.”

“His story needs to be told,” he responded icily.  “You have started him down a dark path, and it needs resolution.”

“But…”

“You heard me.”

*sigh*  “Fine.”

And so, not one to argue with one as wise as Idris [he made me write that…], I am now about 7,000 words into what is becoming a new novel focused on Rami.

Several new characters have been introduced, including Amirah, the sixteen year-old daughter of a caravan leader.  She is a fierce warrior with a head for business, having been raised by her father on the trade routes to the east.  She is accompanied by her bodyguard, a burly, foul-tempered hobgoblin named Halvar.  Readers will also get to see more of the dragon Shai’tan, or ‘Firestorm’ as he is known among humans, who was first introduced in the short story ‘The Amaranthine Flask.’

I’ve no idea how long it will be, or even how it will end.  I’m just letting the story take me along.

Michael