“First Strike” with Alternate Ending

This is my prologue with an alternate final paragraph.  Please let me know in the comments section which of the two endings you like best!

Bar-Reuel woke with a start.  Something was not right.  He looked to his right.  Mirami was there, sleeping peacefully.  He moved his gaze slowly over the room, taking in every detail, looking for anything out of place.  No one peered back at him through the window on the east wall, his hunting bow still hung in its place over the dresser in the back of the room, and there was nothing suspicious lurking in the shadows near the doorway to his left.  “Then why do I feel so… Reuel!”

Bar-Reuel leapt out of bed and dashed through the doorway to his son’s room across the hall.  Frantically, his gaze flew to the bed in the corner where Reuel should be.  No one was there.  Bar-Reuel rushed across the room to the window and threw it open, his son’s name already rising in his throat, when fear drove the last shreds of sleep from his mind and he remembered: Reuel had been apprenticed to a scribe in Eastmeadow nearly five years ago.  His apprenticeship had just ended, and soon he would be home again, but tonight he was sleeping in a bed fifteen miles away.

Bar-Reuel chided himself for his foolishness, shuffled back into his bedroom, and sat down on the bed.  As he was lying down, however, he heard a faint rustle from the hall.  The old uneasiness threatened to come rushing back, but this time Bar-Reuel controlled himself.  “I just forgot to close the window in Reuel’s room,” he muttered uncertainly.  Again he swung his legs over the edge of the bed, but this time a sharp pain filled his head and he tumbled face first toward the ground.

Bar-Reuel thrust out his arms in a desperate attempt to ease his fall, but his hands met with no resistance from the packed earth floor.  Instead, the dirt gave way to a black expanse and he continued to plummet, quickly losing sight of his bedroom above.  From out of the nothingness Bar-Reuel heard a low, self-satisfied chuckle, which seemed to be coming from far beneath him and directly above his head at the same time.

Suddenly, his room appeared out of the darkness below, rapidly approaching.  He could see his wife on the bed, just as she had been when he had fallen only moments before, but something was different.  Now there was a man standing over her, holding his hand above her forehead.  His frame was stooped, covered loosely with a thin, black robe, and he was muttering a spell in a deep, menacing tone.  As Bar-Reuel fell closer, the figure whirled around and looked him in the eyes.  The creature’s eyes bulged out of its pale, sunken face, and they burned with a dull red light.  It opened its mouth, and a rumbling growl escaped from between dozens of long, sharply pointed fangs.

For one horrible moment the monster held Bar-Reuel’s gaze, and all hope abandoned him.  He was helpless, helpless to stop the beast, to save his wife.  In a matter of seconds he would be dead and all would be lost.  Then a thought broke through the despair and gave him a new determination: “I have to make these seconds count.”

Bar-Reuel opened his mouth and shouted his wife’s name at the top of his lungs.  “Mirami!  Mirami, wake up!”  The creature standing over her turned its head in surprise at the outburst, and Mirami jolted upright.  She shrieked and leapt out of bed, the monster turned back to face her, and everything went black.


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