AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a draft of the prologue of The Lost Soul, book two in The Hoarding series. This chapter will change in the final draft, but it will be similar. I hope you enjoy it!

Prologue

They were lost. The wind was picking up. The snowstorm was getting too thick to see; it was an endless white. Even the light on their helmets didn’t help their visibility through the heavy snow.

But they were lucky. They found a crevice in a cliff sheltering them from the storm.

Gabe Glumbermann was in charge of building the fire. He found rocks lying against the back wall of the crevice. With his one hand, Gabe piled the rocks onto the crusted ground, making a circle. This was all he was good for these days—the fire maker. Ever since his left hand was blown away by a Captor blast during his final job as a Retriever with his teammates, Tarl Frast and Kat Laver, people treated him like a cripple. Innkeeper Willem, the owner of The Arcalane, had done a good job patching his hand up; it was the last thing Willem had done for him before The Arcalane had been attacked by the Hoarders. Willem had sacrificed his life for his Retrievers. Now, he was probably dead, just like many other of his friends from The Arcalane.

“That fire ready yet, boy?” Old Lan asked. Landerin Raneir was the former Captain of the Poolesguard before Sir Piller Lorne took his place; he was asked to step down for his unstable behavior and alcoholism. Old Lan was sitting at the edge of the crevice, looking out into the whiteness while drinking from a waterskin he held in his hands as if it was his child.

Old Lan reeked of alcohol. Gabe knew it wasn’t water in that waterskin. But he couldn’t figure out how it could still be filled with alcohol after weeks of traveling over the mountains.

“It’s almost ready, just waiting for Felix to get back with the firewood,” Gabe said. Felix was a Retriever from The Arcalane who used to be the singer of the group that performed at the inn. They had found him shortly after the attack running in the Kalukian Forest; he had joined their group on their journey over the Western Mountains, entertaining them with songs whenever they needed to lighten the mood. And with the diversity of people in their group, lightening the mood was a must.

“The quicker we get that fire ready, the quicker we’ll be able to eat,” Old Lan said, tossing the frozen rabbits they had captured on their journey over to Gabe.

Gabe grabbed the rabbits and lined them up next to his circle of rocks.

“Where’s Stade?” Old Lan asked, looking over at Rallick Henner and Taygar Flebb who were carving thick sticks to use to cook the rabbits.

“He went with the serenader,” Rallick said. Rallick had been considered the best Retriever in The Arcalane, finishing the most jobs out of everyone. Stade Crare and Taygar Flebb had both been on his team. But teams didn’t matter anymore. They were now all on the same team with the same goal in mind: survival.

“Hargh!” Taygar grunted. Taygar had his tongue cut out when he was a young boy.

“Quiet down, tubby,” Old Lan snapped at Taygar. “We don’t want them wolves tracking us down. They’ve been gettin’ closer every night. No body leaves this crevice withou’ asking me first. Is that clear?” Old Lan looked around at everyone in the crevice, catching everyone’s eye.

“Yes, sir,” Gabe said along with Rallick, Taygar, Kat, Tarl, and Ebanie.

“We should turn back,” Ebanie groaned. Ebanie Ivoria used to be a serving girl at The Arcalane who had a huge crush on Jahrys Grent. She had been with them when they were evacuating The Arcalane and had tagged along with them since. She was huddled against the crevice wall, clutching Miller—Jahrys’s pet chicken—close to her chest and rocking slightly. “We have to turn back! Jahrys is still back there!”

“By Zalus, will someone shut her up?” Old Lan snapped. “Do you want to be eaten by those wolves?” Old Lan pointed a finger into the white abyss outside the crevice. “Your little boyfriend is probably dead along with the rest of them.”

Ebanie choked up, clutching Miller closer. Miller’s eyes looked like they were about to buldge out of his tiny head.

Kat Laver crawled over to Ebanie, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her head into her chest. Kat had been Gabe’s best friend since they were kids. She had been part of him and Tarl’s retrieval team. She always had their backs. She had been the one that had saved Gabe from losing more than just his left hand. “Why do you always have to be so mean?” Kat asked, giving Old Lan a dirty look.

“I think Ebanie’s talking the most sense out of anyone,” Tarl Frast said. Tarl was another childhood friend of Gabe’s. He had been the other member of his team along with himself and Kat. Tarl was busy going through their supplies. He stopped to join in the conversation. “We should go back.”

“Back?” Old Lan snickered. “Back where? There’s no home, you fool. Besides, you wouldn’t last two seconds in this storm. And if you did just so happen to be fortunate enough to survive this storm, the wolves will get you. They’re closer now.” Old Lan took a swig from his waterskin.

“We can leave in the morning,” Kat suggested.

“Did you not here me?” Old Lan spat, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “There is no home!” Old Lan was screaming now, ignoring his own warnings about being quiet because of the wolves. He took another stressful swig from his waterskin. He was drunk; he had been drunk ever since they left their home—Palor.

He’s a drunken fool, Gabe thought as he returned to stacking his rocks. He only prayed to Zalus that Felix and Stade would find their way back in this storm. They have their lights on their helmets. They’ll make it back, Gabe thought, as he stacked another rock.

“How can you be so sure?” Tarl asked, ignoring the supplies he was rummaging through.

Old Lan was getting frustrated. “I’m sure.”

“You’re just upset because you were on the wrong side of the wall at the wrong time,” Kat said.

Gabe gulped, sliding his eyes away from his rock to see Old Lan’s reaction. Old Lan didn’t respond.

“You have no home because your home abandoned you,” Kat continued. “They gave up on you, tossed you away like you were nothing. You have nothing. You are just running away from your problems. You’re a coward! And all you do is drink your problems away. We all know that isn’t water you’re drinking.”

“Kat, quiet!” Gabe said.

Everyone looked to Old Lan, waiting for his reaction. But Old Lan simply took a drink from his waterskin, staring out into the white abyss. After a long silence, Old Lan said, “You’re right. King Leoné stripped my role of Captain of the Poolesguard because of that Sir Piller Lorne. He made me a gate guard after all my years of service. And you know how they repayed me? When our home was invaded by those Hoarders, King Leoné ordered Sir Piller to shut the gates, trapping me outside when I was trying to prevent anymore people from entering the castle. He knew what he was doing too. He thought trapping me on the other side of the wall would solve all his problems. But he was wrong. They will not survive long without us retrieving things for them. They are stuck. They’ll either have to open their gates and fight, or starve to death. Either way”—Old Lan tilted his head back and took a long swig from his waterskin—“they’re all dead.”

“Jahrys…” Ebanie moaned against the wall.

Kat went over to rub her back. “It’s okay,” she said, comforting her.

“Yes, Jahrys too,” Old Lan said without any remorse. “And don’t forget you all are part of that awful kingdom. King Leoné abandoned you, leaving your home to be destroyed by the Hoarders, watching it become the Junkland. Last time I checked Palor was part of Astenpoole and the Four Cities. So yes, your home is gone too. So whoever wants to go back to that damned place can do so in the mornin’. I’m carrying on, however. To better things. To a better life. And let me remind you, you all would be dead now if it wasn’t for me.”

Everyone was silent; they all knew it was true. He was right after all. Old Lan had been the one who had rescued them from The Arcalane after Willem had sacrificed himself for them. Old Lan had been the one to take them far from The Arcalane, towards the mountains.

“We’re lost. Do you even know where we’re going?” Gabe couldn’t stay silent anymore.

Old Lan took another swig from his waterskin. “You worry ‘bout gettin’ that fire ready for when Felix and Stade return, and I’ll worry about the directions.”

Gabe let out a sigh and continued stacking his rocks. Everyone was silent after that.

“BUCUUUUUUCK!”

Miller hopped over to Gabe and began to peck at the stones Gabe had placed down.

“What’re you doing, Miller?” Gabe asked Jahrys’s chicken. “Go keep Ebanie company. She needs you.”

Miller wobbled away over to Kat and Ebanie. Ebanie opened her arms so Miller could jump back into them. She kissed Miller’s forehead and held him close to her chest.

“What are we going to do for food?” Rallick asked from the other side of the crevice. “I’m starving!”

“Hargh!” Taygar agreed.

“We have rabbits,” Old Lan said.

“Again?” Rallick moaned. “What about the chicken?” Rallick pointed at Miller.

Miller poked his head out from Ebanie’s chest eyeballing Rallick.

“We can cook him once Stade and Felix get back with the firewood,” Rallick suggested. “It won’t be a lot, but at least it will be better than having rabbit again.”

“No!” Ebanie yelled. “This is Jahrys’s chicken. We’re not eating him.”

“We’re going to have to eat him eventually when there’s no more rabbit to be found the higher up we go in these mountains! Would you rather starve to death?” Rallick asked.

“Yes, I would!” Ebanie nodded.

Rallick stood up in anger and marched over to Ebanie. He grabbed Miller by the back of his neck and lifted him up.

Miller was squawking and his legs were skittering frantically in the air.

“Put him down!” Kat yelled, standing up to confront Rallick.

“This isn’t funny, Rallick,” Tarl said.

“Hargh! Hargh! Hargh!” Taygar was wobbling nervously side to side.

Ebanie was crying.

“SILENCE!” Old Lan’s voice shook the crevice. “No one’s eating the damn bird. Put him down, Rallick…Now!”

Rallick listened, placing Miller back down on the ground.

Miller hurried into Ebanie’s arms and shoved his head into her chest to hide.

“Everyone will wait in silence until Felix and Stade get back with the firewood,” Old Lan ordered. “Anymore shouting, screaming, squawking, I will leave you to the wolves.”

They were silent after that, waiting for Felix and Stade to return as the wind howled outside the crevice.

Gabe continued with his circle. He couldn’t wait for Felix and Stade to return to settle the tension inside the crevice. Maybe Felix could even play one of his songs for them to calm everyone down. He always liked it when Felix played ‘Drunken Day at The Arcalane’. It always reminded him of home.

The light on Gabe’s helmet began to flicker. Gabe tapped the light with his finger. The light stayed lit for a few seconds, but then began to flicker again. The whole crevice kept flashing back and forth from light to darkness. Gabe looked up to see the other’s helmets were acting the same way, even the lights on their suits.

“What’s happening?” Gabe asked.

Miller’s head was spinning around, eyes confused from the flashing lights.

“I don’t know,” Kat said.

“Quiet,” Old Lan commanded. It was the most serious they’ve heard him speak that night.

Everyone’s attention turned to the white storm outside the crevice. The snow was falling even harder now. Mixed into the whistling wind were shouts; they sounded distant and swallowed from the wind.

Old Lan stood with a straight back; his gaze was towards the shouting outside.

“Run!” a voice echoed through the high winds. “RUN!”

Through the heavy snow, Gabe made out the flickering lights of a blue suit.

“Felix? Felix, is that you?” Old Lan shouted through the wind. “What happened?”

“GET OUT OF THERE!” Felix’s voice whisteled.

“Where’s Stade?” Rallick asked in concern when he didn’t see his friend following Felix.

“Hargh?” Taygar asked.

“Shut up!” Old Lan snapped. “Grab your things. Hurry!”

Everyone scattered in the crevice, grabbing their Captors and bags. Gabe piled the rabbits into his bag. Ebanie held onto Miller.

“Run!” Felix repeated. “They’re—”

A dark shadow, illuminated by Felix’s suit, shot across the snow, colliding into Felix. Screams echoed with the sounds of snarling, tearing, and ripping. There was a pop.

And then—silence.

“Felix?” Old Lan shouted as he took a step out into the storm, but kept his distance. A blue cloud filled the area Felix had been; his extendable tube must have been ripped. When the blue cloud faded, Felix was nowhere to be seen; his suit was no longer illuminated. Old Lan raised his Captor, pointing it left and then right, trying to find the shadow that had attacked Felix.  

Gabe and the others also raised their Captors. Their suits continued to flicker. The light on Old Lan’s helmet was working. He aimed it out into the darkness, but the heavy snow made it difficult to see far. Gabe could barely make out the tree line ahead of them.

“What was that?” Tarl asked in alarm.

“I don’t know,” Gabe replied.

“Where’s Stade?” Rallick said again.

“Hargh!” Taygar was shaking.

“Look!” Ebanie pointed her finger towards the tree line. More shadows had appeared.

“Out the side and into the forest,” Old Lan ordered. “Hurry now!”

“What about Felix?” Ebanie asked.

“Felix is gone. Go, now!” Old Lan yelled, pushing everyone out of the crevice, towards the forest.

Gabe was the last behind his friends as Old Lan pushed him out of the crevice, closing in the line. Gabe took a glance behind and caught a glimpse of the shadows closing in on them.

He entered the forest. He was following Tarl’s trail of footsteps in the snow. It was hard to run, but he had no choice. It was either run or die a death like Felix.

Branches whipped against Gabe’s helmet. He kept moving though. His heart was pounding. His legs were shaking; he was afraid they were going to collapse.

“Keep moving!” Old Lan shouted behind them.

Gabe could hear the sounds of growls around them. He could hear their snarling and thirst for their flesh. The shadows were closing in on them.

Suddenly, something wrapped around Gabe’s foot and he fell to the ground. His hand broke his fall, but a shadow was upon him, pinning him down.

A blue blast collided into the shadow before its teeth could snap into Gabe’s neck. The weight left Gabe’s chest.

“On your feet,” Old Lan said, wrapping an arm under Gabe’s armpit and helping him to his feet. “I’ll hold them off. Hurry after the others!”

Gabe ran. His suit was flickering faster than ever now. He heard Captor blasts behind him. Gabe looked behind and saw Old Lan firing his Captor at a shadow on the left and then a shadow on the right. Both shadows fell limp to the snow. A shadow approached Old Lan from the center, mouth open. This shadow was larger than all the rest.

“Watch out!” Gabe shouted to Old Lan.

Old Lan saw the large shadow approaching in front of him with its mouth open wide. He twisted his body to point his Captor and fire. But when he pressed down on the button, nothing happened. Gabe watched Old Lan press down on the button again and again and again. But his Captor only produced a hissing sound. The light on Old Lan’s suit flickered as a blue glow formed in front of Old Lan’s body, flowing into a beam that floated away from Old Lan, across the snow, and into the wolf’s opened mouth. When the blue beam disappeared, the wolf closed its mouth, and Old Lan’s suit was no longer illuminated. The energy in his suit was gone.

“No!” Gabe yelled, running to help Old Lan. The wolf charged Old Lan, pinning him to the ground as the wolf dug its claws into Old Lan’s suit.

“AH!” Old Lan moaned as the claws broke the suit and met his flesh.

There were screams from Ebanie and Kat, squawking from Miller, grunts from Rallick, Taygar, and Tarl as they all tried to help Gabe and Old Lan.

Gabe raised his Captor, pointing it at the shadow. He would no longer be useless. But before he could fire, another shadow came out from the side and collided into Gabe. Gabe was thrown to the ground. His Captor flew from his hand. He was now wrestling with the dark shadow. Another shadow flung itself onto Gabe, digging its claws into his suit, and then another.

He heard screams from his friends behind him and the snarls from all the shadows closing in. They were surrounded.

Gabe’s heart was pounding. He knew he was dead as he stared at the white teeth closing in on his neck. The shadow’s claws were digging through his suit and into his flesh.

Gabe yelled out a useless cry for help as the shadow thrusted its jaws forward.

A blinding white light illuminated the darkness. Gabe felt the weight from one shadow disappear, and then the other. There was relief as the claws left his flesh. When the white light faded and Gabe’s eyesight returned, he sat up and looked around. Someone had saved him, but who?

He stood up to look for his friends, but they weren’t there.

Suddenly, something smashed into Gabe’s head. Gabe felt his helmet snap off as he collapsed to the ground. Before he could turn and comprehend what had just happened, another blow took him again in the back of the head. He was conscious long enough to see boots stepping around him and grabbing him as his world faded into darkness.