Excerpt #1 - THE PRINCE'S PROTEGE
With a twist, the two halves of the box separated. He placed them both on the table and stared at the thing inside. It lay coiled like a snake about to strike. Metallic reds and greens shimmered in waves along its ridged surface, making it hard to discern if it moved, or not. A faint smell, like burning incense, slithered down Marten’s throat.
Beads of sweat oozed onto his forehead. Sucking in a quick breath for courage, he reached into the casket and curled his fingers around the talisman. He lifted it out of the box. It felt heavy in his hand—far heavier than it should, for its size. And unexpectedly warm.
Raising it to eye level, he turned it over, studying the patterns that rippled across the strange substance. A tiny pinprick of ruby snared his attention, and his breath stopped as he met the glaring eye.
With a curse, Marten tried to drop the thing back into the box, but it was stuck to his hand.
No, it was clinging there, tiny claws piercing his skin as he sought with rising panic to shake it loose. He grabbed a knife from his belt and attempted to pry it away, but it clutched even tighter, little droplets of blood forming around each needle-sharp talon.
“Help me!” Marten hollered. His cry shrilled through the empty chamber, yet bounced back as though it hit an invisible wall. No help came.
A miniature tongue darted out of the lizard-thing’s mouth, lapping at his blood. A tail unfurled from where it had lain hidden, coiled around the creature, to arch above its head like a scorpion. And like a scorpion, it struck, the barbed point slashing through Marten’s sleeve, half way between wrist and elbow.
He screamed as the white-hot tip lanced his skin and burrowed into his forearm. The creature’s metallic body pulsed in time with the blood pumping through his arteries, and lethargy spread outward from the invading spike.
Marten’s mind filled with images of bloody war; of helpless victims crushed beneath an onslaught of obscene, twisted creatures, straight from Charin’s hell. Victims fell in charred and gory heaps, limbs torn off, eyes gouged out, entrails scattered like tangled ropes on an abandoned ship. The air shimmered with their mortal screams, and yet to Marten’s horror, he felt only exultation, wallowing in the pain and trauma that flooded through him, thirsty for more.
Heat caressed his back, soft as a lover, terrifying as an assassin. He could not, would not, look round to see what he could sense easing into being behind him with a whisper of scales and the stench of molten metal. Unseen wings fanned scorching air around him, searing his lungs.
Summoning what strength remained to him, Marten raised his knife and stabbed at the thing cleaving to his hand, but the blade bounced off the articulated carapace. There was only one thing left he could think of to try.
Marten drove his knife into his own arm, slicing after the metallic lance worming its way into his body. The sharp pain cleared his head, forcing the terrible images to recede. Moaning in anguish, he screwed up his face and jabbed hard. The knife point slid beneath the awful appendage, and he levered it back up and out of the gory hole in his flesh.
He dropped the knife and grabbed the lashing tail behind its spiked tip before it could strike again. He smashed the thing against the table, but its body was so hard he only jarred his shoulder and the agonising mess of his injured arm. He clung on to the menacing tail, but fear leached his remaining strength, and he knew his grip would fail soon.