So I was going over old emails and I stumbled upon the original version of Blade of the Destroyer. This was pre-edits, so there were a lot of things very different.
One very different element was the intro scene! Instead of it starting with Lord Damuria falling from the cliffside to die on the forest floor, there was an actual chase scene with multiple POV characters and multiple deaths. Though it got chopped out in the published version, I thought I’d have some fun and post it here:
(WARNING: 2,400 words, all pre-editing so VERY rough)
He is coming. The Hunter is coming.
Lord Damuria’s mind raced as his booted feet crashed through the Forest of Souls, south of the great city of Voramis.
The sounds of forest life around him stilled as he raced past, and the scent of loamy earth filled his nostrils. Pain flared as tree branches whipped at his face, but he had no time to register the sensations. Exhaustion seeped into his muscles, but still he ran, desperate to escape the inexorable bringer of death hounding his trail.
Gods damned Hunter. The image of the Hunter’s last victim–Count Arendus of the House of Damasc–still lingered in Damuria’s mind. What a horrible way to die, hanging by your own entrails, eyes cut out. I refuse to die that way.
Smoke hung in the air, filling his lungs and setting him coughing. His ruined carriage blazed behind him, the bodies of his guards smoldering among the wreckage. He could taste death on the air.
Behind him, struggling to match his inhuman speed, a trio of men he had hired as heavy muscle followed. They moved through the forest with all the grace of stampeding wildebeests, but Lord Damuria knew the noise of their passage would distract the Hunter. Perhaps even long enough for me to reach the city. Panic rose within him, and he fought to control his panting as he raced.
“My Lord Damuria!” a voice called out from behind him. “Where are you, my lord?”
He could not remember the fool’s name, but he didn’t care. The three would be dead before long. If I don’t move faster, he thought, I may very well share their fate.
* * *
Elwig’s scream echoed loud in the silence of the forest. He fell to the floor, his leg caught in an exposed root.
“Fuck!” he bellowed in his pain. “My leg!”
“Damn it, Elwig!” Trasik shouted. He could see Elwig’s leg bone protruding through the skin, and blood pooled beneath his fallen companion. Binding the leg will stop the bleeding, but the poor bastard won’t be running anywhere.
He whirled around, his panicking ears searching for the source of the sound he thought he had heard. The crackling of the burning carriage filtered through the silence, and his eyes darted in every direction.
“Alright, Elwig, get-” He stopped mid-sentence as he saw his companion. The tip of a crossbow bolt protruded from Elwig’s face, the man’s eyeball hanging from its socket by a thin strip of flesh.
Trasik’s blood turned to ice in his veins. The Hunter, he thought. Lady’s twisted teats!
Twigs cracked behind him. A strong hand grasped him arm.
“Shut the fuck up, Trasik you cowardly cunt.” Grannt’s harsh voice grated in Trasik’s ears. “You’re supposed to be protecting Lord Damuria, not cowering and hiding.”
“But Elwig-” Trasik whined.
“Is dead, you pig-fucking numbskull. We were hired to protect Lord Damuria, and that’s exactly what we are going to do. Do you want to end up like fat old Lord Drathos?”
Grannt hated being paired with Trasik. The fool is all muscle and no brains. He may be good in a street fight, but is utterly useless when it counted. He struggled to keep the revulsion from his face as he dragged Trasik along behind him. Gods damn the Third for sending him with us.
Terror spread on Trasik’s face. “Head on a spike, cock hanging out of my mouth?” he whispered. “Not a fucking chance!”
“Then run, dimwit!” Grannt shouted, following his words with a hard slap to Trasik’s face. “We have to reach Lord Damuria before the Hunter does the same to him!”
Dragging along a very reluctant, very terrified Trasik, Grannt resumed his sprint through the forest. His ears strained to catch any sound of his employer as he ran.
Where in the hells, he thought, did that pompous twist Damuria get off to now?
* * *
Lord Damuria’s breath came hard, but at least he had left the smoke behind. An odd thought flickered through his consciousness for a moment.
If only Lord Daavros could see me now…
His rich robes were the envy of Voramis, cut in the latest fashion and tailored to fit his body like a glove. What had once been costly silk was now little more than a hindrance, and he cast aside the heavy cloak in favor of greater freedom of movement.
Brightly colored fabrics worth a worker’s yearly wages ripped on branches. What I wouldn’t give for a drab cloak of a sensible color, instead of these garish clothes that stand out in the forest!
Soot from the burning carriage streaked his face and clothes, and mud caked both knees. His dark hair, once so coiffed and controlled, flew in the wind, sticks and leaves tangling in his locks with every step.
Never in his life had he run so far so fast, but desperation pumped through his veins as he pushed through the forest. His feet kept time with his racing pulse, and his heart felt like it would beat free of his chest.
He is hunting me, thought the fleeing lord. That merciless creature of death, that force of nature. The Hunter of Voramis. A wild, feral smile broke out on his face as he ran. He will find I am not so easy a kill.
* * *
Trasik’s terror had subsided, but Grannt could see the fool would go into shock if he stopped moving.
“Gods damn it, Trasik, run faster!” he said aloud, turning to find his companion. “We have to catch up with Lord Damuria before-”
He was alone in the forest. Trasik was nowhere in sight.
What the fuck? Grannt thought, sliding to a stop. He was just here…
His thoughts trailed off as he saw the headless corpse on the ground behind him. Trasik’s head rolled to a stop between two elder trees. Blood streaked the man’s blond hair, and the spreading stain of blood contrasted with the pristine white flowers in full bloom. The sweet scent of honeysuckle hung thick in the forest, but all Grannt could taste was the coppery tang of Trasik’s blood where it had spattered him.
“Keeper’s shriveled taint!” he cursed aloud. “Gods damn you, Hunter!”
He drew the pair of daggers he always carried hidden beneath his clothing, but knew they would do little against his merciless foe. Still, he thought, I will not meet The Watcher with empty hands.
* * *
Lord Damuria risked an anxious glance over his shoulder as he ran, and it almost cost him his head. Sheer luck allowed him to avoid a low-hanging branch, but he nearly lost his footing as he ducked. The forest flashed by in a mottled brown and green blur, but the aristocrat kept his eyes firmly focused ahead.
Fuck damned Hunter. I have to be outpacing Him.
No time to think, no time to look around. Just run, his panicking mind told him.
He had left his guards far behind in his hurry to escape. Their lives were his, bought and paid for, and he was happy to spend them in his escape from the Hunter.
They should slow Him down long enough for me to reach Voramis, and safety. The Bloody Hand will protect me from Him.
His optimism was little more than wishful thinking. Ever out of sight, deep in his subconscious, Lord Damuria knew He was there. The thick forest around him would not hide the terrified noble from the Hunter’s merciless blade.
The Hunter would follow him until his strength failed him, and the chase would culminate in death. But whose death, that remains to be seen.
As if the Hunter could penetrate his mind, a thought flickered through Lord Damuria’s mind: Run. I will find you. Run and, hide little mortal. Wherever you go, you cannot escape me.
Was it just his imagination?
* * *
“Come on, you bastard!” Grannt shouted at the silent forest. “You’ll not take me that easily!”
The familiar leather grips of his knives, worn smooth by years of use, comforted the man. A wicked smile spread on his face as he remembered the dozens of men and women who had met their end on the sharp steel.
I’ll not share the fate of Elwig and Trasik. His eyes flicked in every direction, searching for any sign of his hunter.
There! He had seen a flash of motion, the barest hint of something flickering in the shadows beneath the forest canopy. I see you now, you bastard.
The dark figure of the Hunter rushed towards him in a blur of motion, gliding through the trees at superhuman speed. Grannt’s face split into a feral grin, and he thrust forward with the knife in his right hand, expecting to impale the cloaked and hooded creature.
His knife found empty air and he stumbled forward, off balance. He tried to swing with his left hand, but his arms refused to move. His body felt numb, detached.
Looking down, Grannt saw blood spill down the front of his cloak. Bright red gushed from a gaping wound in his throat, turning the rich earth beneath him to ochre mud.
Odd. Grannt’s final thoughts came with startling clarity. The bastard didn’t even slow down…
* * *
Lord Damuria struggled to fill his lungs with air. The nagging pain in his side blossomed into agony, yet still he ran.
He struggled to clear his mind, to push the terror away. Fear would get him killed, like it had so many of the victims the Hunter had claimed in Voramis over the years.
If I don’t outrun Him, if He kills me, our plans will come to naught. All we have worked for, all our efforts, wasted.
His mind cast about for a way of escape, and a sudden thought struck him.
The cliffs. If I can reach the cliffs, I have a chance. I can outpace Him, and the only way He’ll follow is if the bastard sprouts wings. A feral smile spread across his face.
“You’ve not caught me yet, Hunter!” Lord Damuria panted aloud.
* * *
The craggy cliff face rose ahead of him, towering high above the tops of the forest. Almost there! I just need to climb the damn thing, and I’ll be-
The thick head of a crossbow bolt embedded itself into his right shoulder with an agonizing “thunk”, plowing destruction through his upper body and sending him stumbling.
Lord Damuria grimaced as he fell to one knee, the hard bone of his kneecap encountering a sharp rock buried beneath the soft loam of the forest floor.
He barely managed to stop himself from falling to his face, throwing out his right hand to arrest his forward motion. Waves of agony radiated from his broken shoulder, and muscles torn by the crossbow bolt refused to hold him.
Can’t stop! the animal within him screamed. Lord Damuria knew that if he stopped running, he would never escape.
He pushed himself to his feet, struggling to ignore the sensation radiating through his upper body. A glance at the head of the bolt protruding from his shoulder showed him what he feared most: argam.
The thick black tar was highly toxic, and he could see the sticky poison turning his blood a sickly green. He knew he was already dead, but refused to give in.
Lord Damuria felt hot wetness on his back. His blood. He could smell the poison, the putrid stench of blood turned rotten by the argam.
And still he refused to yield to his certain fate. The argam’s venom clouded his brain, but he fought for clarity.
If I can reach the top of that cliff, I can escape. He would have to endure the pain of his shattered shoulder if he was to outrun the Hunter.
His was a maniacal, desperate laugh, bellowing forth with the futility of the situation. I will not die so easily, Hunter.
Lord Damuria stumbled forward, picking up speed as he ran towards the cliff face. Throwing himself as high into the air as he could, he slammed into the rock wall. The impact knocked the breath from him, but he was beyond caring.
He hung from the cliff, the ache in his arm spreading with the argam. The pain of his shattered shoulder cut through the mind-numbing effects of the poison like a knife; a very dull knife.
Hand over hand, the stubborn lord pulled himself towards the top of the cliff. His parched throat begged for water, but he focused on one thought: reach the top.
Time slowed to a crawl as Damuria climbed. Thoughts of the Hunter faded, even though a part of him knew the bastard was right behind him. He struggled through the pain, fighting to reach the top of the cliff.
He could see the top, could almost feel the breezes of the plains above whispering across his face. In his mind’s eye, he saw himself rushing across the plain towards his city, Voramis. Only there would he be safe.
His hand reached for the lip of the cliff, shaking with exhaustion. You’ll never catch me now, Hunter, Lord Damuria thought. I’ve escaped your-
A scream ripped from Lord Damuria’s throat as the crossbow bolt slammed into his leg. The tip of the bolt buried itself into the cliff face, pinning him to the rock.
Green oozed from his leg. This bolt too had been coated with the venomous argam. Damuria’s body became sluggish, the poison spreading quickly through his body. Thick green blood stained the rock wall. My blood.
His fingers cramped, stiffened. He felt his hold on the cliff wall weakening.
It is inevitable.
Another bolt streaked towards him from below. The broad head of the bolt severed his hand at the wrist. Blood spurted for a long second before dwindling to a trickle. His pain and poison-numbed mind registered that he had little blood left to lose.
Lord Damuria knew it was the end. I refuse to meet the Long Keeper like a butterfly mounted for display.
With a final gasp of agony, he thrust himself away from the cliff face. The bolt in his leg held him suspended for a long moment, but the force of his fall ripped it from the rock.
The wind seemed to hold his body up as he fell, and he experienced a moment of weightlessness. Then, after what seemed like a pain-filled lifetime, his body was released into the clutches of gravity and he plummeted towards the forest floor.