Oreesius’ hazel eyes scanned the horizon as the bright, sunny glow in the air suddenly turned a dull, sickly green. All around him, the sand and dirt began to shift and groan. Breath catching in his throat, he scribbled a hasty note on a torn piece of parchment:
Prince Lt. O. Leete
Lost in Shifting Sands.
A heavy fog rolled from the ground at his feet, blocking out the sunlight. Trembling, Oreesius snatched the sawtooth dagger from his belt, letting the plea fall, unfinished, to the shifting sands. The messenger vole would find it, and the warning would be enough to alert his people. As long as it reached them in time…
Fingers formed in the thick darkness, some snatching up his pack and rifling through it, others reaching for him. Oreesius waved his short blade, trying to disperse them. Heedless of the steel, the fog plucked playfully at the lapels of his tattered uniform for an instant, then clutched the material and yanked. Oreesius gritted his teeth, leaning back against the pull, resisting, but the fog only tightened its hold. His heart pounded against his ribs as tendrils snaked around his lean, war-battered body, and squeezed. Oreesius gasped.
You are mine, Prince. The sword is mine. The voice was low and harsh, grating in his mind like stones over a washboard.
More cloudy fingers formed, searching his pockets and clawing at his olive skin. He chopped desperately at them, and the action sent ripples through the fog but did little to release its hold. With each racing heartbeat, the grayish-green mist squeezed harder and his vision grew more speckled. The dagger slipped from his weakening grip. He tore at the damp, airy wisps around his neck, struggling to fill his lungs as the fog began dragging him downward. Below, the ground heaved wide in a gaping pit.
“I don’t — have it,” he rasped, dangling in the nothingness. “The fire-blade isn’t here.”
For a moment, the assault stopped. Then, with an angry vengeance, the fog slammed Oreesius against the wall of the pit. Where is the hilt?
With the question, it loosened its hold on the prince, allowing enough breath to answer. Oreesius choked down air, the spots in his vision dissipating to reveal a wide, bat-eared face in the mist before him, its eyes glowing reddish orange.
He knew this figure, had heard stories of its terrible deeds. Without the flaming blade, it wrought fear and havoc. With it, it would bring horror and destruction.
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he clenched his jaw and replied through his teeth. “I don’t know.”
There was a tense silence. The glowing eyes narrowed to slits, studying him, and several of its tendrils picked carefully at Oreesius’ clothes before the voice filled his mind again. You do, and you will tell me.
The prince tensed, grunting as the tendrils gradually hardened into points and jabbed at his flesh. An icy pain ripped through his heart and he fell, surrendering to oblivion. The ground closed after him, the fog following in his wake.