Here is an excerpt from Vincent Mackay's tale of adventure and revelation set in a mythical desert oasis. This is the first of three tantalizing previews that will be posted here, so keep watching for more exciting fiction. Without further delay, Here Be Monsters presents, The Stone of El-Al-Fey:
It was like walking out of your thoughts. From whichever direction you arrived, you came in from the emptiness of the desert and into a dizzying bustle of tents, carpets, muezzins, silver tea kettles on goat-dropping fires and camels drinking at the precious well. The colours were subdued, but after the long walk in the never-ending sands of El-Sharakh, they felt like fireworks. The smells of cumin, tea and dirt assailed you, and the noise broke into your mind like a burglar. I didn’t like to return to Al-Arakh, a place I avoided at all costs, but circumstances, and Zishkir, left me little choice. It reminded me of Omar’s words; I had less than two days left to find my buyer for the stone of El-Al-Fey. More than I needed; I knew my job.
I brought my camel to the lake of the well and let him drink for a long time, happy to just sit on a stone and watch the comings and goings of the oasis. To the left, three men were gathered in front of an orange tent, haggling over the price of some sheep. I tried not to think about the building that had stood in the same place as that tent, and about what had happened there fifteen years earlier. My throat tightened a little, and I bit my lip to force the thoughts back into oblivion where they belonged.
To the right, under some high trees, an obese man was reclining in the shade, a slave was serving him tea and another was fanning him with a palm leaf. He seemed to be counting gold, the coins lined up in front of him like a set of building blocks. I wondered at the man’s audacity, showing off wealth like that. He must have thought himself very powerful indeed if he believed he could tempt robbers in Al-Arakh.
“You should not watch the Sheik of Shez this closely, friend,” said a deep voice behind me, “Unless you wish to bring trouble onto your head.”
I turned, a hand on my knife, and found myself facing an astounding mass of muscle on top of which sat a bald head decorated with astute eyes and a pair of iron-rimmed glasses; a rarity around here. I was forced to back away a few paces so I did not have to crane my neck to look at him.
“And who would you be, friend, to give advice so freely?”
The man let out a big hearty laugh that managed to remain threatening. “I am Syl, and I used to kill men for him.”