Excerpted from Chapter 6: Tree of Secrets:
As Dumisai approached the edge of the stage, the mere sight of him sent the crowd into a frenzy of cheers. He looked out upon all who had come to see him and raised his right hand confidently acknowledging their appreciation and acceptance of his role as their leader. Before turning to leave, he summoned the remaining men of the six that had originally approached him. “These rebels,” Dumisai acknowledged, “where can I find them?”
“They gather just beyond the gateway to the kingdom, my lord, waiting for any opportune moment to attack.” As the man spoke, his contemporary returned with a bow, a quiver of arrows, and a stylized dagger which he gave to Dumisai.
“Your chariot awaits, my lord,” the helper informed.
Dumisai thanked the men for their service as he exited to the rear of the stage. He turned to give a final glance behind him before leaving, but was surprised to find that the crowd had disappeared. No longer could he hear the bellowing roar of his name, nor did he see any of the people or objects that had been before him only moments ago. He searched all around but could not find any evidence that the previous scene had even occurred except for the strange garments that he still wore. He held the bow in his hands with the dagger tucked neatly into a sheath. The stage that he had stood upon only moments before had been replaced by a sand dune. Behind him, he could see in the distance the historic pyramids of the ancient Egyptian civilization. In place of the cheering crowd standing before him, he now saw only a giant serpent, upon whose neck was sitting what appeared to be a sorcerer wearing a black cloak trimmed in red. Atop the cloak was a hood that shrouded the sorcerer’s face in shadow. Dumisai stared curiously at the serpent-beast and its rider. The giant serpent hissed threateningly and then coiled as though preparing to strike, but instead gently lowered its master to the ground. The sorcerer immediately raised his hand skyward, directing the serpent into action. The creature obeyed by rising up on its tail, extending a full eighteen feet high. As it towered over Dumisai, the serpent-beast flicked its forked-tongue menacingly while eyeing the boy like he was some prized prey. Dumisai took a step closer to the giant snake, undaunted by its size or its threatening action. Surprised by the boy’s display of courage, the sorcerer responded by raising both hands, commanding the serpent to strike. It obeyed by spreading the skin of its neck in a manner resembling a hooded cobra before making a quick strike. Dumisai calmly anticipated the attack and dived elusively into a forward roll, avoiding the venomous fangs of the creature before coolly arming his bow with an arrow. Recoiling, the serpent quickly lunged again, intent on crushing the boy within its powerful jaws. Immediately, it retracted, emitting a loud, agonizing shriek as it reared its head high into the air, trying desperately to dislodge the black obsidian arrowhead from the roof of its mouth. The giant serpent writhed in agony before it finally collapsed, landing with a loud thud against the ground and then slowly disintegrated into a mass of squirming, worm-like creatures that disappeared into the dust.
“NOOOO!!!” the sorcerer screamed, unable to contain his rage after witnessing the turn of events. “Young, arrogant upstart! You will pay for this!”
The sorcerer raised his scepter skyward as he prepared to mount his next attack. “Come, my children. The time for you to demonstrate your allegiance has arrived!”
As Dumisai looked around, he saw a horde of creatures approaching from over the crest of the hill. They were short in statue, almost resembling dwarfs except each had the head of an animal instead of a person…