Waiting for some more action in the Sarah Bean Chronicles? Here is something to whet your appetite.
NB: This extract is from the unedited draft.
Sarah watched as shadows crept in around them with the setting sun. The heat of the day vanished with it, leaving a bitter cold. The one thing keeping it at bay was the heat from Timoth’s fire. Sarah thought about reaching for the Flame to try and strengthen it – but her gut told her not to. She wasn’t sure why she felt that way.
Am I nervous because it’s been two years since I last used the Flame?
She shrugged to herself and decided that it could wait. They had been travelling safely enough for three days now; best to only use the Flame if she really had to.
“How much longer do you think it will be, Timoth?”
“Another four days walking and we will be in sight of Highmount, I should think.”
“Do you think the weather’s likely to change in that time?”
“Who knows?” Timoth said, staring off into the distance, “we have been fortunate so far. But there could another storm, or there could be a blizzard.”
“Really? After this heat.”
“The Storm Queen controls everything, Sarah. There are no more seasons in Seythe. We measure the days only by the rising of the sun and the waning of moon. Those, at least, have been beyond her power. So far.”
“My god,” Sarah said, “Imagine if she could control the sun and moon though. Wow.”
Timoth shivered, “I’d rather not. Perpetual sun until the land is finally a lifeless, blistered ruin, or eternal night until everything freezes to death. No, it doesn’t bear thinking about, especially as her power has grown over the centuries. There’s no telling what she might try to do.”
“What was that?” Sarah asked.
“Get up, Sarah. Slowly. Do not move swiftly. Then turn around. And try not to be afraid.”
Sarah did as Timoth said, watching him do the same out of the corner of her eye. She looked out into the night beyond the light cast by the small fire. She saw shapes moving there; hunched and squat. The crunch and shuffle of their feet echoed off the surrounding rocks and stones.
“No, Sarah,” said Timoth, “look again.”
Sarah did, and she saw dark hair, desperate faces and rough, torn clothes. Mouths moved in what looked like snarls because they were hungry and had smelled the cooking meat on the wind. They were all thin and haggard.
“Who are they?”
“My neighbours, Sarah. The people of the valley. Those that are left.”
“But I saw no houses or farms along the way.”
“Their homes are caves and burrows now, Sarah. They shelter and sleep there during the day. At night, they hunt.”
“They look like they’re starving.”
“What can we do? Can we help them, at all?”
“Look at them, Sarah. Look at their eyes!”
A few of the hunters were close enough for the fire to catch in their eyes. Sarah saw how pinched and unsteady the pupils were. Their lips twitched as if they were silently laughing at a joke she couldn’t hear.
“They don’t want the jerky meat …” Sarah said.
They’re going to kill us, she thought, kill us and eat us.
One of them reached its hand towards her.
The shaking fingers curled into a claw.
Sarah reached for the Flame; and it poured into her like a molten river, making her gasp for a moment from the sudden shock. Then, she grasped it and drew on Timoth’s conjured fire to feed it. The flames licked higher and higher, making the starving cave-dwellers pause. Their eyes widened as the inferno began to further lengthen, bend and flow towards them. They began to back away, muttering and whispering fearfully.
Sarah began to relax the Flame – she didn’t want to kill them, just scare them off. There had been enough death when she fought against the Fallen One.
She didn’t want things to be like that again.
But the Flame didn’t relax.
Something was wrong with it.
The fire suddenly darkened, raging with a wan light Sarah did not recognise. She could feel it inside her. A strange cold flowing through the Flame – like a disease in blood. It made the Flame thrash and slither out of her control.
The cave-dwellers screamed and ran as raw power lashed out and tore into them, incinerating a handful on the spot.
Timoth – where was he?
Sarah turned and saw him lying on the ground by the rising column of fire she had created, a pale smoke rising from his prone form.
She closed her eyes tight and took hold of the Flame though it struggled violently against her. She felt the sweat breaking out on her brow as she calmed it, tempered it and then, finally, let it go. Sarah opened her eyes and breathed a bit more easily. The fire had returned to normal and the cave dwellers were gone – those that had not been reduced to crumbling soot-stains on the ground.
She approached Timoth. His robe and face were blackened. She felt for his pulse and checked for breath.
He was alive.
She dug out a water bottle, uncorked it and held it to his lips, tilting his head gently until he was sipping at the water. His eyes fluttered, opened and focused. He looked up at her and managed a weak smile, “Well, I guess at this point there’s no question that you are the Living Flame.”
The Scion of Stars will be released in late Spring 2014.