Excerpt from "The Castle of the Sands"

The golden sun winked behind mountains in the distance. Fireflies danced in the brisk air, blinking in a rhythmic pattern. Marigold stirred the embers of a dying fire, while a slight breeze rustled nearby trees, causing goosebumps to form on her bare arms.  

She examined the map laid out on an old tree stump. Its fading edges and yellowed paper hinted at the many years of use. Marigold’s eyes fell upon the Omari desert spanning half the map, spreading from corner to corner.

Soon she’d arrive at the desert. This had been her grandest adventure yet, but as she grew closer, a sense of doom filled her to the very core. She thought of the legend she’d heard, of the pain and suffering still lingering in the deserted dunes.

Reaching inside her satchel, she felt around for a pack of dried meat, but only found a few crumbs of bread. Marigold’s stomach grumbled.

No sounds escaped the dense fog of trees. Despite the full moon, light did not dare to enter through the thick tangle of branches. Darkness surrounded Marigold, save for the small fire providing the tiniest bit of warmth.

Feeling restless, Marigold examined the old book she’d stolen long ago. It seemed to be the only recorded history of the Omari desert. Though Marigold had read the book countless times, the story still intrigued her. Turning to the first page, she began to read.

The Omari had once been home to a vast nation, the Omarians. It was a massive place, reaching extremely high temperatures. On the southern side resided an ocean; a tropical paradise. These people had thrived in the harsh environment for a millennium until a violent curse from the gods destroyed it all. The ruler of these people, Osiris, had called on the gods to bestow great power onto him. He learned of an ancient power known as the Great Stone. Capable of granting him such a perilous wish, he went in search of it. Many warned Osiris the stone would only bring ruin to the land  but consumed by his craving for power, he turned a blind eye to their pleas.

He ventured to the deep interior of Valence. Marked by extensive caverns, the Great Stone was concealed well. Osiris spent months searching and finally found the stone. He removed the glistening rock from its dwelling, cackling at the influence he’d have. Upon his arrival back to the Omari, a vicious sandstorm sent by the angry gods swept through the land and buried the city alive. Osiris stood and watched his people perish, running around helplessly, screaming as they choked on the sand filling their lungs.

Legend says Osiris protects the Great Stone now and its power has kept him immortal. The only structure to remain from this is the Castle of the Sands. Osiris has not been seen since the storm.

Marigold closed the book. Was the stone real? Had Osiris changed or was he simply waiting for the day to enact his revenge? She’d felt drawn to the castle for years, and hoped it had the answers she’d been searching for. For so long she’d chosen to run away, but now she needed to know the truth, even if it wasn't something she wanted to hear.

Crickets began to gently chirp. The breeze had picked up, scattering the ashes of the extinguished fire. Marigold shivered again, pulled her blanket up higher, and tried not to dwell on what was to come tomorrow.

Ally Jones