Black Heart Prologue

This is the most recent version, as of December 2010. I'm putting it in the back of my Eldala re-release, so there's little chance of it changing now.

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The shadows of the forest closed in around Hamal, making it impossible to see his pursuer. He pressed into the space between two trees and gave himself a moment to rest. His breath came in short gasps, and his legs felt as if they were made of lead. A cold breeze penetrated his clothing and chilled his damp skin. How long had he been dodging his enemy? Three hours? Four?

He braced his hands on his legs and sucked in a long draft of air, but it did little to relieve the burning in his lungs. He took in a second and a third, all the while listening for the hunter. Except for the pounding of his pulse in his ears, the swirling fog muffled every sound.

He inspected his left thigh. The wound from the dagger bled again. If he used magic to heal it, his enemy would find him that much sooner. He sliced off another strip from his cloak and tied it over the first blood-soaked bandage.

Wincing against the pain, he took another long breath and debated the best course of action. Despite how well he knew this forest, if he stayed here, his pursuer would eventually find him. If he left his hiding place, he might be able to get to the Tyman fortress. His clan could protect him, but it would also put them in danger.

What had his visions told him? Two days ago, they had helped him escape. Now there was nothing to tell him what to do or where to go.

I’m coming for you. The familiar words hissed in his mind. I will find you. Just like I found the others.

Screams from the latest victims howled in his mind. He shoved them away. Familiar faces twisted in horror before him. Terror like he had never known squeezed his throat and constricted his chest.

You killed them all.

They wouldn’t cooperate.

A vision of Hamal’s own death erased the faces of the others. There was no escaping his fate. He knew it as surely as he knew his own name. He opened his eyes. He had to stay alive just a little longer. Before he took his first step, he froze with the sound of heavy footsteps and slow, rasping breaths.

Hamal took a few ragged breaths of his own and tried to still his mind. If this was the end, he had to warn her. She was one of the last.

He tried to make me restore it. I refused. Now he is going to kill me as well.

There was no answer, but he knew she had heard him. She was the most powerful seer among them. Surely she would be able to evade the threat.

He darted to the next tree and slammed into something hard. The impact knocked him onto his back. Though it was pitch black, he looked up. A momentary flash of violet came from the man’s eyes. Hamal remembered the cold malice in them.

“Last chance.” The voice was human and yet not.

“I serve the Baraca.” His heart beat frantically in his chest, but his voice was steady and strong. “I will never help you.”

“A shame,” the man said as he pressed a cold dagger to Hamal’s throat.