The Lightning Sands

Here is the first chapter of the second Ron Brandywood novella, a fresh setting and story, and I am excited to share a brief excerpt with you all.

Atahan enjoyed the weight of the coin in his hands. Each one represented a piece of time resting between his fingers. The sun had long since set, but it baked its heat into every brick and grain of sand in Br’ir Al Asab. He scratched his long, regal nose and closed his almond-shaped eyes as he wiped perspiration from his prominent forehead.

He sat, looking out over the sands, ruled by his brother, but its wealth ran through his careful system. It had taken war, and horror, and taken years off his life, but Atahan sat and enjoyed the victory. Soiled and diminished, but a victory all the same. Such thoughts were always eager to remind him of those initial, halting conversations. Fragments of betrayal, kept as non-committal as possible, to avoid arrest and execution. 

Diedrich Paxton had friends in Vivaria, to the west, interests willing to pay for swords and men to wield them. A man with a wing of the Ethereal College in Almera named after him was always wise to keep alongside. However, Atahan had watched Paxton stroke his greying moustaches with his thumb and forefinger, saw the fine stitching on his robes, the pale white skin, and realised he could not accept the offer. Its sons should lead an insurrection, Atahan decided.

He had chosen his brother, Salman, who despite his naïve zeal, had proven to be a kind and attentive emir to the people.  The irony was this assertion came from an education in Vivaria. His brother mentioned this often, but with a wry smile.

Sometimes he smiled back. As Chancellor, Atahan held the purse strings with a light, but careful hand, which was, he decided, where the real power laid. 

A warm breeze undulated towards the back of his neck. Atahan adjusted himself in his chair, then having counted and recorded the coins, smiled as he sat back and considered the future. He swallowed, tasted grit at the back of his throat and reached for the goblet to his right, and lifted it to his lips. 

A thick, fetid scent reached his nostrils as he recoiled and tossed the goblet away. The contents landed against the wall. Smoke rose from the contact, accompanied by a sharp, thin hiss as the stone melted underneath. 

The contents had been inert in the goblet. Atahan guessed he would be dead if he had swallowed any of it. He pushed back from the desk, stood up and reached for the dagger on his belt, holding the blade ahead of him. 

Shadows wavered before the inconstant will of the candlelight, and Atahan blinked to focus his vision. No, they moved of their own accord; he decided, and turned to reach for the summoning bell, the tinkling of which would summon one of his men. He seldom ate or quenched his thirst, but a sip was his own reward for his diligence. 

He watched as the liquid, still hissing, thickened and bubbled as it slid up the wall, extending pseudopods the thickness of his fingers as it lifted itself away from the wall. Atahan watched in horror as the liquid coagulated into the form of a face. Sharp, lean features defined themselves from the liquid. When a pair of eyes opened and stared at him with contempt, Atahan pressed his knuckles to his mouth and muffled his cry of alarm. 

‘Do you see me, Atahan?’ it said. 

The voice was a slow, thick grumble. 

Atahan nodded.

‘You promised as much,’ he said. 

The face bubbled as it formed a smile, wide and generous with a cruel delight in Atahan’s acknowledgement. 

‘I did, but your nose was better than my phrasing,’ it said. 

Atahan grimaced, teeth pressed together to control the fear which ran riot through him. The summoning bell was in his hands, and he swung it, letting the sound ring out as the face on the wall kept its malevolent smile even as the edges bubbled and dripped down the wall in seminal ropes. 

‘Better the bell than the dagger, my friend,’ Atahan said. 

The face was sloughing away, one side already losing definition like a man with palsy, but the eyes gleamed with a depth of hatred which remained constant and solid. 

‘You should use the dagger on yourself, Atahan. It will be kinder,’ it said. 

The smile widened, then slid down the wall, still thick and bubbling, which stripped the stone underneath, giving off plumes of acrid smoke as it lost all cohesion. 

As his men flung the door open, scimitars in hand, they caught the disgusting smell, saw Atahan was unharmed and tried to ignore the terror on his face as he pointed the blade of his dagger at the ruined wall. 

When his men asked what had happened, Atahan sat down before he fell. 

‘An old friend paid me a visit,’ he said. 

They went to search the house on his orders. There wasn’t anyone to find, Atahan knew, but he had to ask something of them. He had no wish to advertise any part of his fear or impotence. He saved those expressions for when he was alone, and dawn found him dry-eyed and trembling as he considered his options. Being good with numbers allowed him to calculate his odds of survival. 

The numbers were not good for Atahan. When he was certain he was alone, he allowed himself the luxury of fear. To distract himself,  he read his mail, begging letters of different levels of erudition and an acceptance of a meeting. He met with scholars,  but not in person. He understood how valuable knowledge was, but he was allergic to bullshit. His late brother’s children were smart and loyal. 

Upon reading the acceptance,  which held an unnecessary repetition of his credentials.  Also, the accompaniment and implied accommodation of his companion,  Mr Brandywood. The name made Atahan smile. Then he rang the bell for a servant.

An amendment to the meeting was in order. 

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