The Eyes of Tamburah

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Chapter One

The heat thickened the air in Shyla's room to an uncomfortable level. Sweat slicked her skin and dampened her sleeveless tunic. She adjusted the mirrors to better capture the thin ray of sunlight streaming through a single mirror pipe extruding from her ceiling. Moving another reflective panel until it illuminated the ancient map spread over her table, she resumed her work. The faded ink was barely discernable as it crossed the velbloud skin.

The temperature rose another few degrees, warning her that she needed to retreat to the deeper levels before the sun reached angle eighty. Despite being three levels underground, it still wasn't safe to be this high. All of her neighbors had descended angles ago. But excitement zipped along her spine--she was so close.

Shyla continued to translate the archaic symbols. Nothing but sunlight would reveal the location of the Gorgain crypt and the meeting with her client was scheduled for angle two-ten. The historian had paid her in advance for the information, which was proving to be more difficult to find than she'd expected.

A damp strand of her long pale-yellow hair slipped free of the tie, but she didn't have time to fix it. According to the map's legend, the blue line represented the tunnel the grave diggers had used. She traced it with a fingertip, honing in on--

An impatient pounding on her door broke her concentration. She glared at the thick slab of rough sand-coated glass that guarded her room. It vibrated with each knock. There wasn't time for interruptions, but if it was a client--

"It's an emergency," called Banqui.

She sighed. Everything was an emergency with Banqui. As the Water Prince's chief archaeologist, he believed his projects should be her top priority. But the man had referred her services to his colleagues, helping her establish her business. After a forlorn glance at the map, she unlocked the door and slid it aside, allowing Banqui to enter.

He hustled into her room and stopped dead. "Scorching hells, Shyla. It's a thousand degrees in here."

Banqui also tended to exaggerate.

"Hello to you too."

Ignoring her, he said, "I've been looking all over for you in the lower levels. The sun is almost at angle seventy. What are you still doing up here?"

She gestured to the map on her table. "Researching."

"You need to leave right away."

"There's plenty of time before I'm cooked. Before I was interrupted, I was just about to finish up." She gave him a pointed look.

But instead of apologizing for barging in on her and leaving, he just stared at her in shock. "Shyla, haven't you heard?"

She studied her best client and perhaps friend. His short black hair stuck up at various angles--probably from running his fingers through it in agitation. He was frequently anxious and stressed by the Water Prince's demands. But this time fear lurked in his dark brown eyes and his tan tunic and pants, normally impeccable --he had plenty of diggers conscripted by the prince to do his dirty work--were torn and stained with...blood?

"Heard what?" she asked as unease stirred in her chest.

He paced around the table. Tall and lean with lanky legs, it didn't take him long to make a circuit. Her room was small and filled with the basics--a table, sitting cushions, a couple shelves filled with her trinkets and clothes, a water jug, her sleeping cushion mounded with a fur, and the mirrors.

Banqui made another loop. She stepped into his path, stopping him. "Tell me before you wear a groove in my floor."

Rivers of sweat streaked down the sides of his face, darkening his brown skin. His gaze settled on the map. "How long have you been working?"

"Two or three sun jumps."

"And you get immersed in your research," he muttered then drew in a deep breath. "I found The Eyes of Tamburah. They were in the temple's hidden vault just like you predicted."

Excitement warred with confusion. "That's wonderful. Right?"

"It was glorious. They were exquisite. Crafted from diamonds, emeralds, onyx, and the purest white topaz I've ever seen." His voice held an almost fanatical reverence. "They were magnificent, Shyla. My greatest find in my entire career."

Considering he'd been uncovering ancient ruins and artifacts for over seven thousand sun jumps--roughly twenty circuits, they must have been impressive. "And then the Water Prince claimed them. You knew that would happen. He finances your digs."

"It's worse than that."

What could be worse? "You lost them?"

"No! They were stolen!" Unable to remain still, Banqui resumed his pacing.

Treasure hunters were always a problem. Despite the Water Prince's proclamation that all historical items found within Zirdai's official boundaries became the property of the crown, the richer citizens collected antiquities through a thriving black market--the rarer the find, the more lucrative. And The Eyes of Tamburah were legendary. Rumored to give their owner magical powers, the gemstones had a long and bloody history. No wonder they were stolen by some greedy hunter. They would fetch a staggering sum in any city in Koraha, assuming the thief lived long enough to leave Zirdai.

"Sorry to hear that," Shyla said. "The Water Prince must be--"

"No words can describe his anger." Banqui clutched her shoulders. "Which is why you must hide."

She jerked from his grasp in surprise. "Me? Why?"

"He thinks you are the thief."

It took her a moment to sort through his words. Did he really say... "Why would he believe that?" Fear coiled around her heart and squeezed.

Banqui's broad face creased with anguish, flaring the nostrils of his flat nose. "Because I told him you were the only other person in all of Zirdai who knew where The Eyes were located."

Scorching hells. Shyla stepped back. Perhaps calling him a friend was being rather generous. "But your diggers--"

"None of them were part of the extraction. Only me. I trusted no one with the information."

But someone had to know. Unless... "Surely you don't think that I--"

"Of course not, Shyla! You could have kept the location to yourself and retrieved them without anyone the wiser, which is what I tried to explain to the prince, but he wouldn't listen. I suspect a spy in my crew, but I need time to figure it out and I don't wish you harmed."

How nice, but she didn't voice her sarcastic response. Instead her mind whirled with the possibilities. The heat in the room baked the sweat off her skin, another warning that they needed to go below. "I can go talk to him. Explain--"

"No. He will not listen. You'll be tortured until he's satisfied you told the truth and then, if you're lucky, you'll be locked in the black cells. And if you're not, you'll be staked to the sand and cooked."

Gee, what a prince. The fear tightened.

"You need to hide until I can find the culprit. Perhaps the monks will hide you?"

"No," she said.

"But they raised you."

"Doesn't matter. I will not run and hide, Banqui." She had lived in the monastery for eighteen circuits and refused to run back to them at the first sign of trouble.


"I'm going to help you."

He shook his head sadly. "You don't have any contacts among the people." Banqui gestured to the piles around them. "Your expertise is with translating these historical tablets, sifting the facts from the fables."

True, but she did have other clients. "What about the spy? Do you know who he or she is working for? I can talk to the other archeologists." And treasure hunters, but Banqui didn't need to know she'd worked for them as well. His lecture would last an entire sun jump.

His full lips thinned into a scowl. "At first I suspected the Heliacal Priestess."

She grunted. "If that's the case, you'll never get them back."

The sun neared the kill zone. The mirror pipe blazed with light as the air in her room seared their throats, creeping toward sixty degrees Celsius. Time to go. Shyla grabbed her pack and without a word, they exited to the empty tunnel--everyone else had abandoned this level angles ago. Sliding the door in place, she locked it and they bolted for the closest stairway. It spiraled down into the gloom.

Druk lanterns hanging on the sandstone walls glowed with a warm yellow light. As they descended, the air cooled fifteen degrees for each level. By the time they reached the safe zone at level six, it was thirty Celsius.

At level eight, Banqui grabbed one of the lanterns. "This way." He headed down a side tunnel.

The temperature on this level reached ten degrees. Shyla shivered and pulled her wrap from her pack. At least it wouldn't get any cooler unless they traveled past level eighty where the dry air turned damp.

In Zirdai, the popular routes were all well marked with lanterns and symbols etched into the sandstone walls--the others were left in darkness. Druk lanterns were cheap to produce and plentiful. People frequently carried them and left them at various places for others to use. At least one or two druks lit every room.

The special substance inside the druk changed its tint with depth. After twelve levels it transformed to a new color. At the very bottom of their world--level ninety-seven--it shone with a violet hue. The distinctive colors came in handy for those who were easily lost, unlike Shyla, who'd been exploring the underground city since the monks kicked her out about two circuits ago. Actually it had been exactly eight hundred and twenty-five sun jumps ago--there were three hundred and sixty sun jumps in one circuit. Not that she was counting.

A thin layer of grit crunched under their boots as they walked. The dry air held a salty scent mixed with the faint gingery/anise odor of the desert.

"Where are we going?" she asked him.

"Since you won't go to the monks, you need a place to stay."

She waited, but he failed to continue. "And that would be..."

"My upper-level work rooms."

"They will be the second place the prince's soldiers will look after checking my room," she said.

"They already searched them. You can hide--"

"I'm not hiding, Banqui," she snapped, which wasn't helping. Shyla considered the problem, viewing it the same way she researched lost artifacts. "After you found The Eyes, what happened next?"

He sighed. "I wrapped the marble container with layers of silk and put it into my satchel. I headed back to the entrance and someone jumped me from behind." Banqui rubbed the side of his head as anger flared in his eyes. "When I woke, my bag was gone. And before you ask, I didn't see or hear anyone in the temple before or after the attack."

She mulled over the information. "What about the guards? Don't you always station them at a dig site?"

"I do. According to them, no one had entered or left since I'd gone in." He held his free hand up. "They're loyal to the Water Prince and they've already been questioned."

"Is that code for tortured?"

"Shyla, this isn't a joke."

She gave him a flat look. "The Water Prince thinks I'm a thief so I'm well aware of the seriousness of the situation."


"How long ago did the theft happen?"

"Two sun jumps."

"Do you still have the map of the temple?"

"There's no other entrance. I checked."

She waited.

"Yes, I still have it," he said with annoyed exasperation.

"Good. I'll take another look. And when the sun is lower, we'll visit the temple."

Banqui swallowed his protest. Instead, he asked why.

"To find clues, of course."

Various emotions flicked over his face before he settled on a tired acceptance. "All right. And who knows, maybe you'll find something. Despite your youth, your attention to detail is unparalleled."

Shyla huffed in amusement. "Really? Normally you're irritated by that trait." And she didn't think twenty circuits and one hundred and five sun jumps that young, but compared to Banqui's forty-two circuits or so, she conceded his point.

"This isn't a normal situation. Besides, I'm starting to suspect the Heliacal Priestess does not have The Eyes."

"Why not?"

"Because she would have taken control of the water supply and proclaimed her right to rule Zirdai by now."

"Banqui, the rumors that The Eyes have magical power are just that, rumors. I've found nothing that provides proof." This was an old argument between them.

"But you only have access to the monk's First Room of Knowledge. There could be plenty of evidence in the Second Room of Knowledge or the Third or the Fourth."

Shyla swallowed the sudden knot in her throat. When she'd reached eighteen circuits old, the monks offered her a choice. Stay and take the oath, becoming a monk with full access to the four Rooms of Knowledge--or go. From what she had managed to piece together, staying meant keeping the knowledge to herself and never seeing the great underground cities of Koraha, their world. Leaving meant loneliness and being viewed as an outcast. Her pale blond hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and even the fine hairs on her arms and legs, which all stood out starkly against her dark skin, all marked her as sun-kissed. Sun-kissed babies were considered the Sun Goddess's children and they were abandoned in the desert to die so they could return to their proper mother.

The Monks of Parzival didn't believe in this barbaric sacrifice. They had found her a couple kilometers from Zirdai and raised her. When she chose to leave the monastery, they gave her a pouch of coins and one boon, continued access to the First Room of Knowledge, but she no longer had access to their hearts.

Shaking her head at her maudlin--childish--thoughts, Shyla concentrated on keeping track of the turns and twists as Banqui led her down another five levels to his "upper-level" work rooms. They were all well-lit with costly trol lanterns--the now orangey glow from the druk weak in comparison to the bright white of the trol. The Water Prince spared no expense for his personnel.

Banqui's equipment normally occupied the first of the three large caverns, but since he had an active dig site, all that remained were broken shovels, frayed ropes, and worn pulleys. The second cavern housed his diggers. The rows of sleeping cushions were empty.

"They're working on uncovering the lower levels of the Shem burial grounds," Banqui explained. "Deep enough to be safe." He guided her into the last room, which was his office and occasional sleeping quarters. "You can stay here until the sun reaches angle one-fifty-seven, then we'll go topside." Rummaging through the piles on his desk, he pulled out a roll of velbloud skin. "Here's the map of Tamburah's temple. I'll be back later."

The thought of being alone scared her. A surprise, considering she preferred to be alone. "Where are you going?"

"To check with the black market dealers, see if they heard anything." He left, taking the druk lantern with him.

Right. Finding The Eyes needed to be their sole focus. She glanced at the sand clock. The grains poured through the narrow glass at the same rate the sun jumped across the sky. The clock read angle ninety, which meant the ball of fire that baked their world was at its zenith.

Shyla spread the map on the floor and weighed down the edges with the lanterns. Tamburah's temple was located about three kilometers from Zirdai. The place had been built about fourteen hundred circuits ago in the classic hexagonal shape of that time period with one level above ground and twelve below. She bent over the velbloud skin and examined every centimeter of each line, shape, and smudge for all twelve underground stories. Many times hidden entrances or rooms were marked with an almost invisible symbol.

When nothing caught her attention, she searched for a magnifying glass and found one under a pile of broken pottery. How could Banqui get any work done in this mess? Returning to the map, she peered through the glass, repeating her scrutiny. Other than the slight flourish indicating the hidden vault where The Eyes had been, nothing else stood out. She sat back on her heels. Guess she'd have to wait and inspect the walls inside the temple. Shyla circled the areas she wanted to inspect with a piece of chalk.

Her stomach growled. When had she last eaten? Last darkness? She tended to lose track of time when working. Too bad she couldn't visit one of the dining caverns. No doubt the Water Prince's soldiers waited in all the common areas, hoping she'd appear.

A feather of fear brushed her ribs. All the rumors about the prince painted him as corrupt, power-hungry, and cruel. She didn't trust rumors, but Banqui's constant apprehension over upsetting the man gave them some weight. Yet the prince ensured every citizen of Zirdai had access to water. His soldiers built the aqueducts, maintained the air shafts, protected the city, and collected the taxes. If a citizen couldn't afford to pay, they could join the Water Prince's guards or, if too old or infirm, they could enter into the service of the Heliacal Priestess. No one died of thirst. Food was provided by the Heliacal Priestess and her deacons--they cared for the velbloud flocks and gamelu herds, and tended the vegetation caverns. Not wishing to draw unwanted attention by either group, Shyla paid the required stipend to them both each circuit.

Of course others tried to circumvent the tariffs. Refusing to pay or be indentured, they found their own water and grew their own food. Rumors of illicit water sources flew through the population like a grain of sand carried by high winds. All illegal activities were quickly stopped by either the deacons or the soldiers. The laws were spelled out quite clearly to all citizens, even a sun-kissed like her. Shyla didn't know what became of those unfortunates once arrested, nor did she care. Her focus centered on her own survival--her income just enough to keep her independent.

Banqui returned and interrupted her morose thoughts. Shyla didn't think it was possible, but he appeared even more disheveled and vexed than earlier.

"No luck." She guessed.

He cursed and insulted the dealers' mothers and grandmothers as he slammed the lamp on his desk.

When he calmed somewhat, she said, "You really didn't expect them to tell you where they are. Did you?"

"None of them can sell The Eyes. Not without getting caught. If the Water Prince even suspects they have any knowledge..." Banqui cast about for a proper descriptor.

"What if they sell them to someone in another city?" Travel between cities required a great deal of funds. Most people remained in the city they were born in. But the treasure hunters were likely to have the means. "If it was me, I'd be long gone by now."

He grabbed two fistfuls of his hair. "The Water Prince is going to kill me when I have nothing to report!"

She stood. "Calm down. If he kills you, he has no hope of finding The Eyes."

"Not helping."

"All right. Do you have any food or water here?"

That snapped him from his panic. "Oh. Of course. Here." He strode over to a stone cooler and lifted the lid. Pulling out a jar of water and two thick rolls of velbloud jerky, he handed one to her while he searched for a couple of glasses. "Sorry, it's all I have. My diggers live on this stuff when on site."

"That's fine." Too hungry to care, Shyla gnawed on the end. The spicy ginger flavor of the dried meat flooded her mouth. She washed it down with the water.

When they finished eating, Banqui donned a sun cloak. Woven from the hair of the velbloud, it provided protection from the sun's rays. It also helped keep a person cool when traveling topside in the sun and provided warmth when the sun dropped from sight--an essential garment. Of course when the sun reached the killing zone, nothing worked. She exchanged her wrap for her sun cloak, smoothing out the wrinkles from being folded for so long in her pack.

"You'll also need dillo leather boots." Banqui strode into the diggers' quarters. "Velbloud leather melts."

She chased after him. "I already have them."

He stopped short and turned. "Really?"

Shyla waggled a booted foot at him. "The monks and acolytes walk the sands every sun jump."

"Oh, right. Good." Banqui shouldered a pack and then peered at the clock. "Almost angle one-fifty. If we hurry we can return before full dark."

She followed him through the tunnels. The air warmed as they ascended. The hot gingery anise scent of the desert dominated as the corridors brightened with sunlight. Since Shyla lived close to the surface and Banqui worked in the desert, neither of them had any trouble adjusting to the brilliance. Their skin color was also similar. It naturally darkened when exposed to the sunlight--the longer the exposure, the darker the skin. A survival mechanism that had evolved as their sun grew hotter and hotter.

The skin tones of the citizens of Zirdai ranged from the darkest brown all the way to a beige color. Many of those so-called "ghosts" who lived in Zirdai had never exposed their skin to the sun and had no desire to either. It was a hard concept for Shyla to fathom.

Living with the monks, she had been considered an acolyte and required to be topside at least a few angles of every sun jump. Plus the fact that there were historical ruins, cities, and other amazing discoveries buried by the sands and just waiting for them to discover sent shivers along her skin. Not only ancient temples, but tombs, forests, oceans, and long extinct animal bones had all been slowly buried by the sand the last hundred thousand circuits, forcing the people to dig underground to survive as their world's water level dipped deeper and deeper. And, after learning about all the wonders in the cities of Koraha, she longed to visit them all.

Banqui motioned for her to stop and wait when they neared one of Zirdai's many exits. He peeked around the corner and cursed, withdrawing. "Cleaning crew. All right, pull your hood down low, stick close to me and follow my lead."

Unease bubbled, but she tugged the material over her head and down to her nose, keeping her gaze on his boots. The crew, while not trained soldiers, were part of the Water Prince's guards.

Striding out as if on a mission, Banqui called a greeting to the men and women shoveling and sweeping the vermillion-colored sand from the entrance. Another vital service. If left to its own devices, the tiny grains would eventually bury the entire city, blocking all the entrances and air shafts.

They reached topside. The heat pressed against Shyla's sun cloak. Drawing the hot air into her lungs required effort. She squinted in the harsh light. The distant stubby vegetation and dunes appeared as if undulating in a breeze--an optical illusion caused by the waves of heat rising from the surface of Koraha. The light pink sky a pale reflection of the reddish-orange sand.

Banqui kept walking, taking one of the popular paths that snaked away from the city and was easy to travel on since the sand had been compressed down by many pairs of boots. Shyla peered over her shoulder, but no one followed them. The only things behind them were the groups of one-story structures made of brightly colored sand and stained glass--Zirdai's top level. The colors were a defiant gesture against the desert's unchanging landscape. Each cluster marked an entrance into the city below. They also served as a brilliant landmark for travelers.

An image of a desiccated corpse half buried in the sand rose unbidden in her mind. When she was a little over five circuits old, the monks had shown Shyla what happened when a person was topside during the sun's strongest angles. Was that her fate if they didn't find The Eyes? Would she feel her blood boiling in her veins, or would she be unconscious by then? Shyla concentrated on remembering the series of paths Banqui traveled in order to banish the fear simmering in her chest.

Banqui turned off the road and shuffled through the soft sand. He counted under his breath. Stopping when he reached twenty, he crouched down and swept the grains away from a round flat stone. An iron ring rested on top. Banqui yanked on the ring, sliding the slab to the side and exposing a dark hole.

Shyla glanced around, but no other structures marred the desert landscape. "The temple?"

He waved a hand, indicating a big mound in the distance. "We uncovered the top story a kilometer from here, but I always have my diggers make an escape tunnel just in case of a collapse."

Oh. "Then this must be how your thief was able to enter undetected."

He frowned at her. "It was the first place I checked. It was undisturbed. And unless the thief can float above the sands like a velbloud, he or she would have left tracks."

And Banqui was well qualified to determine if the sand had been disturbed. The man was rumored to see buried buildings when others saw nothing but dunes.

He sat on the edge, then lowered his body into the darkness. "Watch. There's a bit of a drop."

Shyla's chest squeezed and her hands itched to hold a map. Too bad a map that predicted the future and showed her what she might encounter below had not been invented. Dropping down into the unknown wasn't high on her "to-be-accomplished" list. However the sun neared the end of its jump so she smoothed her cloak and gathered her courage.

Grabbing the edge of the hole, she hung from her hands, but her feet didn't touch the ground. She let go. After a second of weightlessness, she hit the floor. Hard. The impact sent a pulse of pain up her calves and into her knees.

"That was more than a bit of a drop," she said, wiping her hands.

"Not for me." Banqui hunched over in the narrow tunnel. He held a druk lantern. It glowed white, illuminating the vermillion sand arcing over them.

She gestured to the rounded walls that appeared a bit...soft. "How do you know it won't collapse?"

He smiled. "Because my crew dug it and they are very serious about their safety."

Good to know. Shyla stayed close as Banqui navigated the tight corridor. It didn't take long until the sand walls were replaced with smooth stone.

"This is the third level of Tamburah's temple," Banqui said. His voice bounced off the hard surfaces. When he turned down another hallway, small clouds of dust succeeded each of his steps.

As her eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, shapes appeared. Faces had been carved into the walls. Gruesome expressions of pain, terror, and desperation contorted the visages of the men and women. Looking closer, she pulled away in revulsion. They were all eyeless. Some faces had gaping holes, others had tattered skin and mutilated sockets. A shiver crawled up her spine and she attempted to shake off the unease that, even without their eyes, they stared at her with accusation.

Sensing her interest, Banqui stopped and illuminated the carvings. The faces woke with the light's touch, mouthing their suffering in a silent wail of anguish.

"Horrible yet so finely wrought," Banqui said. "Tamburah's temple has many hallways of the dead." He moved ahead and led her down three more levels into a spacious room.

The round chamber had six entrances that disappeared into shadows. Rows of benches made a semicircle pattern, facing an altar. Another face had been carved into the wall behind the altar. But this one was different. It filled the entire wall, and when Banqui drew closer, the light revealed a detailed pattern of blue and purple sand coloring the face.

"And here is the big man himself. King Tamburah overlooking his followers, making judgments. Unfortunately for his people he rarely ruled in their favor," Banqui said.

The king's expression was smug despite the deeply carved and empty eye sockets. Red sand lined the sockets and red sand tears dripped down the cheeks.

"According to the legends, Tamburah would gaze into a prisoner's eyes, reading his or her soul with his magic," he said. "If he detected guilt of any crime, the accused was secured to the altar where Tamburah removed the criminal's eyes. The royal artist would engrave the poor soul's new likeness on the wall before the prisoner was taken outside to await the sun's punishment. We uncovered a deep pit full of bones next to the temple."

Swallowing down a nervous cough, she said, "Legends are not historical facts, Banqui. No doubt he was ruthless, cruel, and evil. There are records that thousands of people died during his reign, but there is nothing to support he used magic."

Undaunted, Banqui continued, "His temple corroborates what was written on the tablets. It contains twelve underground levels. The two lower levels were his living quarters. They're complicated mazes of hidden rooms and corridors littered with some interesting traps."

Only Banqui thought traps were interesting. Many archeologists died by inadvertently setting them off.

"Was the vault booby trapped?" she asked.

"Of course. Good thing the bones of a treasure hunter tipped me off." He huffed with amusement. "First time one of those blasted hunters did something useful."

Tamburah's vault was located on level twelve. Banqui led her down a spiral staircase. By the time they reached the bottom, the druk lantern shone with an orange light.

"Stay close," he said. "Touch nothing."

She remained one step behind him as they wove through rooms and hallways. Other than the sand crunching under their boots, the place was silent. A musty stale odor scented the thin air.

"Banqui, did you clear all the ventilation holes?"

"In the upper floors. I didn't want anyone deeper than level nine."


"The air is fine. Besides, we won't be here long."

He halted and hung the lantern on a nearby hook. The light revealed a rectangular shape that had been carved into the stone. Banqui pulled a knife and dug into it with the point of his blade. A horrendous scraping echoed in the room as Banqui opened a thick door. He gestured her inside. The space was just big enough to fit three, maybe four people.

He pointed to a shelf on the back wall. "The container with The Eyes was the only item in the vault. The gemstones had been removed from Tamburah's mural to keep them safe from treasure hunters."

She stepped closer. "May I?"

Banqui handed her the lantern. "Go ahead." He waited in the threshold.

Shyla shone the light on the walls, examining them. An involuntary yelp sprang from her lips when she found the skeleton of a hunter slumped against the left corner.

"Don't worry," Banqui called. "I've disabled the trap. Those slits on the walls are for the sword blades. Trigger the trap and they'd shoot out, impaling the would-be thief." He chuckled. Banqui hated treasure hunters.

After peering at every centimeter, she inspected the stone shelf. A line of tiny symbols had been etched across the edge. "Did you see these?"

"Yes. Probably a warning about the booby trap."

Focusing on the script, she transcribed the symbols. "It also includes a warning that The Eyes are cursed."

"That's standard." Banqui didn't sound worried.

Nor should he. Curses and magic--both nonexistent. Shyla continued her examination, running her hand over the shelf. Smooth except for a rough patch in the middle. Rising up to her tiptoes, she shone the light on an unknown graphic. Odd. Tracing it with a fingertip, she realized it'd been carved recently. "Banqui, I've found something."

He joined her.

She pointed. "Was this here when you found The Eyes?"

"No." Banqui studied the glyph. "Scorching hells," he whispered.

Her pulse skittered. "What does it mean?"

He straightened. "We need to get out of here."

"Not until you tell me what it means."

"I'll tell you on the way." He took the lantern from her and retraced their route at a quick trot.

When they reached the stairwell, she tugged on his arm. "Banqui."

"Come on." He mounted the steps, taking two at a time. At the top, he stopped to catch his breath. Then he said, "That's the symbol for the Invisible Sword. I think they have The Eyes."

"Who are they?" she asked.

"They formed back in Tamburah's time. A secret organization that was credited with assassinating Tamburah. The group is rumored to still be in existence."

"I've never heard of them. Sounds like a bedtime story."

"You don't know everything, Shyla," Banqui said in angry exasperation.

Stung, she shot back, "I did a great deal of research on Tamburah in order to find the location of his temple and vault for you. Don't you think I would have read about this Invisible Sword?"

"The whole point of a secret organization is to keep it secret."

"Then how do you know about them?"

"I--" He jerked his head up. "Did you hear that?"


"Probably sand rats." Banqui grasped her wrist. "Let's get out of here. We can argue about this later."

They entered Tamburah's judgment room. When they were halfway across, a yell echoed. They both froze as figures poured from the other doors. Banqui's grip tightened. "They found us." 

Release date: February 1, 2021 Maria V. Snyder Publisher
Release date: June 2019 HQ Young Adult, Australia

For ALL my Readers, you can order THE EYES OF TAMBURAH online HERE:

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