Note: This story is complete. I finished it in the summer of 2006, but took it down off fictionpress shortly thereafter because I was looking into publication and thought it unwise to have it posted on the internet while talking to publishers. Anyway...I've decided not to publish it after all, for reasons that are very personal and rather difficult to explain. See, if it were to be published, it would sort of cease to be my story, you know? I just don't feel like giving up such a huge part of me. So, I decided to repost The Sand Drake here, mostly so that T.O. can find out what happens after chapter six. Since then, I've gone back and rewritten a lot of the story one more time, so this is the final draft now! For real.

Further Note: I don't really like this story so much anymore, anyway. My more recent work, like Quiet Chaos and Silver Shadow, is just so much better. It's like I write in a whole other dimension now. Looking back at this story, it just seems rather flat and dull, full of forced humor, cookie-cutter characters, and improbable situations. I mean, don't get me wrong, this is solid writing. It just lacks the life and substance of the things I've written since I got back from basic training. It's like I'm a whole other person with a much, much deeper understanding of how people work and react to each other. I guess I'm something of a solitary creature; basic training was my first real encounter with a large, diverse group of people of all different ages and upbringings, and I feel like my eyes have been opened and I'm seeing everything for the first time now. It's really quite exciting. But it's very interesting to go back to works like this one and compare it to my newer ones. The difference is absolutely staggering.

Anyways...On to the story now:

Chapter One

"They call him the Sand Drake, master. The demon-eyed Other who stalks the deserts in search of its prey. He is reputedly very dangerous. Very frightening." The man who spoke flashed a quick grin, his eyes glittering brightly.

The only other occupant of the modest, but comfortable, room shook his head in mild amusement. "Then I imagine the pair of you will get along well on your journey here, Quin."

Quin's eager grin grew just a bit bigger. "Then I may go fetch him to you, master?"

"Of course," his companion replied. "Feel free to risk your life on my behalf. Just don't lose it, or I will personally hunt down your dead body and ensure that you live in torment for the rest of my days."

Quin laughed lightly at the threat, even delivered as it was with the utmost sincerity. "Never fear, my benevolent boss, I shall bring this Drake to his knees!"

"I do not believe sand drakes have knees, my dear Quin, but your enthusiasm is as endearing as ever. Now go, before I tire of it and incinerate you on the spot."

Still grinning widely, Quin fled the room a bit quicker than perhaps he would have without the threat of imminent immolation. His master turned to the small window and clasped his hands behind his back. Perhaps he should send Quin away more often. He feared he might be rubbing off on his loyal friend.

Not that that was an altogether bad thing to be happening.

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Drake took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the crisp, cool evening air. No matter how many times he did this, his stomach still tied itself in knots, his heart hammered in his chest, and he couldn't seem to stop himself from chewing at his bottom lip. He closed his eyes briefly, trying hard to focus.

As Drake opened his eyes, a faint movement not far away caught his attention. He drew back the string and let fly his shaft in an instant, smiling grimly to himself when he heard the grunt of pain that followed. He tossed his bow down beside his quiver of arrows on the ground and emerged from his hiding place, drawing his knife from the back of his belt where he kept it.

The arrow had taken the man in the calf. The stranger knelt on the ground behind the thick wall of brush he had ducked behind, hissing in pain as he wrapped the new injury in a strip of ragged cloth, having already removed the shaft. It was not a bad wound, just enough to cripple him for a while. Drake was better with the bow than he gave himself credit for.

The stranger, no doubt having hoped to escape Drake's further attention, did not seem to notice his approach. Drake grabbed a handful of his hair and twisted cruelly just as he finished tying off the rough bandage.

Drake drew blood with the tip of his knife, allowing it to trickle slowly down the man's neck and into the collar of his well-made tunic. "Not a sound from you," he whispered harshly, and the man swallowed, then nodded as best he was able. "Up you get, now." Drake hauled the man up by the hair, ruthlessly tuning out his captive's grunt as he was forced to put weight on his injured leg. He hauled the man into the dense trees just off the trail where he had ambushed him and shoved him roughly up against one of the larger trunks.

Crushing his captive's body with his own and maintaining the painful grip on his hair, Drake pressed the flat of his little knife against the man's throat and looked up into his face, having picked this spot for this very moment. The moonlight flashed through Drake's stormy gray eyes, igniting them with a silver fire that he knew could freeze a man's blood in his veins. This man was no different. He stiffened and let out a muffled, strangled noise that might have been a cut-off scream.

"I am Sand Drake," Drake growled ominously, "and you will tell me what I wish to know."

The man stared, wide-eyed, for a long moment, then shook his head slowly, very carefully. "I am Quin, and it will not be so easy as you think."

Drake twisted his hand in Quin's hair until tears gathered at the corners of the man's eyes. "You are one of Arcy vin Urlan's men, are you not?"

Quin writhed against him, then nodded fitfully. "I am."

Drake realized his mistake too late, and Quin nearly gutted him with the slim dagger he drew from a hidden pocket before he jumped back, safely out of range. Not for long, though. Quin hit the ground moving, and Drake was compelled to sidle around a tree for protection.

Enough of this.

An inhuman snarl of beastlike ferocity tore from Drake's throat, and he threw himself at Quin, moving in with a full-fledged attack aimed squarely at his chest. A lesser opponent would have fallen, but Quin sidestepped smoothly, giving himself the time and room he needed to regain his wits.

He met Drake's next attack head-on, intending to tangle them together. But Drake recognized the tactic and jumped back the instant they met, recovering quickly and charging in once more. Moonlight danced in his eyes and down the length of the blade clutched tightly in his hand as he lifted it.

Quin saw his chance as the younger man extended his body for the downward slash. He lunged, but Drake was ready for him, contorting his body in midair to kick at the slender blade in his hand and completing the three hundred-sixty degree twist to deliver a mighty blow that Quin nearly failed to avoid. His loose shirt fell open where the razor-sharp knife made contact from shoulder to hip.

They broke apart, and Quin glared across the two paces or so of distance between them, waiting patiently for the next onslaught.

Drake did not disappoint him. He launched himself off the ground with incredible speed, closing in for a lethal blow to the throat. Quin threw his dagger up, catching the knife in mid-swing, but Drake brought his other hand up and around, throwing something at the older man's head. Quin jerked to one side, and the weapon scraped past him, leaving only a very thin cut just above his ear.

Stunned, Quin watched as Drake leapt back, bounced on the balls of his feet, and darted in yet again. Quin whipped his dagger up just in time to catch Drake's attack and slide it down the length of his blade. His foot lashed out, hooking the younger man's ankle even as he reached forward with an outstretched palm and shoved Drake's shoulder.

Drake toppled, stumbling helplessly backward, but then he threw himself into the fall, smacking the ground with his free hand and bouncing back to his feet again.

The two of them clashed once more, then came apart. They circled each other warily, Drake breathing quickly with that odd fire still in his eyes, Quin calm and collected, having not even broken a sweat.

After several more moments of savage combat, Quin brought his dagger up, knocked Drake's jab wide, and slammed his fist solidly into the man's jaw. Drake skidded through the grass for a few feet before rolling to a rather undignified halt at the base of a tree, his vision wavering unsteadily with the force of the blow.

Quin darted forward and snatched Drake's knife from where it had fallen in the grass, then frisked the stunned man for other weapons and cut the strap that held the leather pouch of throwing stars at Drake's thigh.

Drake stirred slightly, struggling against the fuzzy, dazed feeling that held him captive.

Quin must have seen him, because he dropped to his knees, landing his full weight in the small of Drake's back. Drake tried to roll over, but Quin shifted to place a heavy boot on his back, right between the shoulder blades, grinding his heel mercilessly until Drake began to struggle weakly. Then he grabbed a fistful of his hair in a manner not unlike the one Drake had used on him only moments ago.

Drake uttered a muffled gasp and went rigid, then forced himself to relax, limb by limb. Quin, practically sitting on him, made it difficult to suck in air, so he kept his breaths quick and shallow and tried to focus.

"Now," Quin informed him in a low voice, "we will speak like civilized men."

"Civilized indeed," Drake spat, in too much pain to care about the danger of the situation. "Your master—"

Quin shifted ever so slightly, cutting Drake off mid-word. "Now, now, my dear Sand Drake, we're all grown men here. There is no need for witless insults."

Drake bit back a scathing response. He doubted he could have choked it out anyway, past the cottony feeling in his mouth, the pain that made his mind swim drunkenly, and the fogginess that clung to him like moss to a tree. "Fine," he grunted after a very long and awkward silence. "Then kill me now."

To his eternal consternation, Quin laughed. "Oh, no, I have a fate much worse than death planned for you, my good friend. The master wishes to deal with you personally."

He should have expected something like this, Drake mused morosely. He had always known he would eventually have to face Arcy vin Urlan, but until now, that had seemed like a distant battle to be fought when he reached it. He had never imagined he would come before his mortal enemy like this, beaten and defeated and unarmed. Drake realized with a start that he honestly had no idea what he had been intending to do once he reached Arcy in the first place.

He didn't have to worry about it a moment later, though, because Quin delivered a very nasty blow to the back of his head, and darkness overcame him.