The Lone and Level Sands
by Nyki Blatchley
Cover by Kelly Shorten
Published by Musa Publishing (Urania imprint)
$1.99 in all ebook formats from Musa Publishing
The ancient ruins in the desert hide more than just scientific interest—evil lurks there from the dawn of history.
Archaeology students Zadith and Musu thought it would give them valuable experience to spend their summer break on an important dig in the desert with their professor. They didn't expect to be menaced by the local military, a rival expedition with unorthodox methods, or an ancient evil from the dawn of history. But this is no ordinary site. An outpost of the city of Kebash, lost for ten thousand years, it holds terrors worse than death for Zadith and Musu.
Set two hundred years after The Treason of Memory, The Lone and Level Sands is a thrilling fantasy tale of adventure and the supernatural.
It was large, at least thirty yards across and nearly as high, and certainly no primitive cave. The stone walls were straight and smooth, and the paintings that covered every inch only damaged in two or three places that Zadith could see. The colours were faded but still vivid enough to show geometric patterns surrounding panels of the ancient script. Zadith tried to make out what the nearest panel said, but he was too scared to concentrate.
The wall to his left portrayed a scene with stylised figures like the reliefs on the stone: a huge man wearing a tall bejewelled head-dress stood over cringing naked suppliants. Some were trodden under his feet, and one was transfixed by a spear he held. All around, jewel-covered men and women held their arms aloft, as if cheering the scene.
Zadith had seen similar images in pictures from some of the oldest tombs in this part of the world, but none was more than six thousand years old. If this place really was an outpost of Kebash, it must go back at least ten thousand years.
“Kebrai,” breathed Nivehl. “We’ve found it—the Temple of Shetti. This is where offerings were made to the god-king.”
“And that would be where they were given.” NeSholis pointed.
From the farthest wall, beyond the group in the centre of the chamber, a stone head protruded. At least fifteen feet high, it was a hideous demonic form like the one carved at the entrance to the passage, its huge open mouth forming a cavity big enough to take a human between the stone teeth. Zadith tried and failed to convince himself that was coincidental. The mouth was at just the right height to lift a victim inside, and he was glad the cavity was too dark to make out what might have been left inside.
“You can feel his power.” Nivehl turned to Thalidri, a sneer twisting her striking face. “Are you going to try to deny it now, sweetheart?”
He shrugged. “There seems little point.”
He was reacting more calmly than Zadith would have expected. He himself was shivering, and Musu was too. Nivehl was right about feeling the power: for the first time in his life, Zadith knew without question that he was surrounded by evil.
“Kebrai’s rituals demand blood.” NeSholis kept his eyes fixed on the demon face for a moment and then turned to Thalidri, boots snapping on the stone floor. “Have you not wondered why we brought you in?”
The Professor’s eyebrows drew together. “You’re proposing to sacrifice me? I think you might find difficulty fitting me in there.” He pointed at the mouth-cavity, certainly not designed for his bulk.
“Of course we are not,” said neSholis with a crooked smile. “That would be a waste. Any blood will do to summon the power of Kebrai, if the Codex is to believed, but a final gift is needed too. A special gift—a person who means something to the giver. A former lover, perhaps. Or a mentor.”
“Ah.” Thalidri clearly understood, but still seemed unruffled. “You’re speaking of the bargain-seal. Oh, yes, I’ve read that passage too. The bargain-seal must be given living to Kebrai, for him to keep alive in torment. So that’s to be me.”
“Entirely personal, my dear,” commented Nivehl. “I can assure you.”
NeSholis turned to the two students. “Bring the girl.”