I recently finished the second draft of a story I’m working on, and I decided to share it online. I’m sharing one chapter at a time, and the story is about 487,000 words right now (roughly 5 paperback novels in length, give or take), so this will take awhile.
I estimate that 2nd draft is about 80% of the way there, story-wise; but 80% is not 100%. This chapter might show up in the final story completely unchanged. It might show up with minor changes, or heavy revisions; or might be cut from the final draft completely. If it does remain, it might be in a new place in the story or the same place.
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Iliar walked through the forest. The hair on the back of his neck prickled, and he tried not to look like he was hunting.
He forced himself to walk casually, not like he was trying to stalk something. Not like every sense was alive, looking around for danger. He stepped on a patch of dead leaves, wincing as they crunched beneath his fine boot of soft leather.
The clothes the Matriarch had given him felt too stiff after centuries on the oars. The tunic was banded bright blue and yellow, and it strained at his shoulders. When he moved his arms, the fabric felt stiff against his elbows. The belt the Matriarch had gifted him was fine leather with a golden buckle in the shape of a ram. Beneath the tunic, which went to his knees, the silk hose was tight. At least that flexed with his legs as he walked.
He stepped on a loose rock, and fumbled when it rolled over under his weight. His foot came down on another patch of dead leaves. He was being louder than he strictly had to be, louder than he had been when he was trying to emulate the catlike grace with which Rorin sometimes stalked; but hopefully not louder than the bumbling fool that he was supposed to be. He reached out to catch himself on a big tree trunk, grabbing the mossy bark with his fingers to brace himself.
The gold in his fat purse jangled, loud enough for half the forest to hear it, to Iliar’s eye. He shivered. He was walking headlong into a trap, and he–in these ridiculous clothes with enough gold to buy a small ship–was the bait.
He kept walking, through sunlit glades and pools of deep shadow, past wet leaves that brushed against his face, deeper and deeper into the forest. Farther and farther from the village.
As he walked, the light faded. The trees overhead became denser, the leaves a thick lattice that blocked out the sun. Twilight fell under the forest canopy, then full darkness. Iliar squinted, placing his feet carefully in the shadows. Stepping on wet roots and patches of leaves, grabbing the mossy trunks and branches of trees to brace himself.
He debated whistling, like he had taken a wrong turn somewhere and was trying to keep his spirits up until he found the path again. In truth he had wandered off of the worn path half an hour ago, with the sun still high in the sky and the orc village a half-day’s walk behind. Deciding that it was a good idea, he started to whistle a cheery working melody that Rorin had taught him.
It had been centuries since he had whistled, and the sound came out like his throat was a broken flute. But that didn’t matter. The whistling wasn’t for him.
It was forever was following him.
He knew they were there. He couldn’t see them, except for occasional large dark shadows between trees at the edges of his vision; but all the wildlife had gone silent. Small mammals no longer scurried between plants and under roots, and birds didn’t chirp and sing in the branches above.
Everything fit the description the Matriarch had given him. He was getting close.
He stepped around a set of twisting roots, stepping with deliberate clumsiness onto a mossy gray rock. He looked around like he was searching for the path. In reality he was watching for the big shadows between trees that signified an orc stalking him.
His skin crawled, and his muscles tightened. He longed to turn and charge at the nearest orc, to use his unreliable magic to bring the monster down. But the Matriarch had warned him against that.
If he showed them he was a threat, they might just slit his throat without bringing him to the pit. Or they might bring him to the pit, but put him in chains when he gambled. He didn’t know what his magic could do, but he had never seen it break chains and now seemed like a bad time to try.
The skin between his shoulder blades prickled, expecting a dagger in his back; but he forced down his instincts and kept walking. Looking harmless and rich and bumbling, walking deeper into a place that humans didn’t get out of unscathed.
Long minutes later, he felt a sharp stinging in his back. He clapped his hand to it and felt something metal.
A moment later darkness took him.
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