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!
They were lost.
They had discovered footprints in the snow—human footprints. To think that there were other humans in the Western Mountains was an incredible thought for Gabe Glumbermann and the others. But they had lost the trail when the snowstorm picked up. Now, the wind was too strong. And the snow fell at a frightening rate; it was too thick to see anything—an endless white. Even the light on their helmets didn’t help their visibility through the heavy snow. As the early evening sun disappeared into the thickening gray, Gabe knew they had to find shelter quick.
But they had been lucky. Kat had found them a crevice they could spend the night in to hide from this storm. In the morning they would continue the trail. Gabe was thrilled to have shelter, but he was afraid in the morning, the trail of the footprints would be lost.
Now, Gabe stacked the rocks he’d found lying against the farthest wall of the crevice to build a fire. He used the light upon his helmet to guide him. With his one hand, Gabe piled them onto the crusted ground, making a circle. This was all he was good for these days—the fire maker. Ever since his left hand had been blown away by a Captor blast, during his final job as a Retriever, people treated him like a cripple. Sometimes even his closest friends.
Innkeeper Willem, the owner of 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 the night of the Coming of Zalus—when the single full moon of the year appeared in the sky. This wonderful festival would forever be a painful memory for Gabe. So many of his friends were now dead—including Willem, who had sacrificed his life for his Retrievers to escape.
Gabe still didn’t know how the Hoarders had found The Arcalane as it had been well hidden. Someone must have spoken of our location, Gabe thought as he stacked another rock. But who?
“Tha’ fire ready yet, sheepherder?” Landerin Raneir, the former Captain of the Poolesguard, asked. Old Lan was standing at the edge of the crevice, looking out into the whiteness while drinking from a waterskin he held close to his chest. He wore a blue glowing suit with his helmet placed upon the ground next to his feet; he was the only one in the crevice not wearing his helmet.
Old Lan reeked of alcohol. Yet, Gabe couldn’t figure out how that waterskin could still be filled with the stuff after weeks of travelling over the Western Mountains.
“Almost. Just waiting for Felix to get back with the firewood,” Gabe said. Gabe couldn’t wait for Felix to return. Perhaps he’ll play ‘A Drunken Day at The Arcalane’ tonight. Oh, I love that song! It was the only thing helping Gabe get through their journey over the Western Mountains; the nights Felix sang for them. It always reminded him of home. All the good times in The Arcalane before the Hoarding. And the times as a Retriever. When he would return from a job from out in the Junkland with his teammates, Kat and Tarl, and enjoy a nice ale with his friends, as Felix sang in the background.
“The quicker we get tha’ fire ready, the quicker we’ll be able to eat,” Old Lan said, tossing over the frozen rabbits they had captured to Gabe.
Gabe grabbed the rabbits scattered around him and lined them up next to his circle of rocks, keeping an eye out on Old Lan. He always hated when the man was drunk.
“Did you get the Captors charge’ yet, Rallick?” Old Lan asked, each word slurred and demanding.
“Yes. Taygar and I just finished,” Rallick Henner said, sitting next to Taygar Flebb; they were carving thick sticks to use to cook the rabbits.
“Where’s Stade?” Old Lan asked.
“He went with the serenader,” Rallick said, gritting his teeth as he ran the knife down the stick.
“Hargh!” Taygar grunted.
“Quiet down, tubby,” Old Lan snapped at Taygar. “Or else those wolves will add to that missing tongue of yours. We don’t want those beasts tracking us down. They’ve been gettin’ closer every night. No body leaves this crevice withou’ asking me first. Is that clear?” Old Lan scanned the crevice, catching everyone’s eye.
“Yes, sir,” they all intoned together.
“When this storm clears, we should turn back,” Ebanie Ivoria said. 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! There are probably still other survivors from The Arcalane. From the castle!”
“By Zalus, will someone shut her up? She’s been sayin’ the same darn thing for weeks now. My ears can’t take any more,” Old Lan snapped. “Do you want to be eaten by those wolves?” Old Lan pointed a finger into the white abyss beyond the crevice. “Your little boyfriend’s probably dead along with the rest of them, anyway.”
Ebanie shot to her feet, a menacing look on her face. “You don’t know that!” she shouted, voice bouncing off the crevice walls. “Don’t fill my ears with your drunken words, sir knight! I will not bare it!” She was clutching Miller so tight now that the chicken’s eyes looked like they were about to buldge out of his tiny head.
Old Lan said nothing, only took a sip from his waterskin.
Kat placed a hand on Ebanie to calm her down, bringing the still huffing girl back to her seat against the crevice wall.
“Why do you always have to be so rude?” Kat Laver asked, giving Old Lan a dirty look.
Old Lan offered a noncommittal grunt, his shoulders rising in a feeble shrug.
“I think Ebanie’s talking the most sense out of anyone,” Tarl Frast said. Tarl was busy going through their supplies. He had stopped during Ebanie’s outburst. “We should go back. We can’t last much longer out here with these storms and these wolves following us.”
“Back?” Old Lan snorted. “Back where? There’s no home, you fool.” Old Lan took another long swig from his waterskin.
“We can leave in the morning,” Kat suggested, ignoring Old Lan’s comment.
“Did you not hear me?” Old Lan spat, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “There’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 and spun away from them; he had turned so fast he almost stumbled over his crossed feet.
Ebanie’s right. He is a drunken fool, Gabe thought, as he returned to stacking his rocks. He’s been drunk ever since we left Palor behind.
“How can you be so sure?” Tarl asked, ignoring the supplies he was rummaging through.
Quiet, Tarl. It’s useless trying to reason with this man, thought Gabe, awaiting Old Lan’s reply.
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. But the former Captain of the Poolesguard kept his back to them.
“You have no home because your home abandoned you,” Kat continued relentlessly. “King Leoné gave up on you, tossed you away like you were nothing. Just like he did with all of us. You have nothing. You are just running away from your problems. You’re a coward! We all know that isn’t water you’re drinking.”
“Kat, quiet!” Gabe said, out loud this time.
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 righ’. King Leoné stripped my role of Captain of the Poolesguard because of tha’ Sir Piller Lorne. After all my years of service…Pah! And you know how they repaid me?
“King Leoné made me a gate guard…a gate guard! And when our home was invaded by those Hoarders, King Leoné ordered Sir Piller to shu’ the gates, trappin’ me outside when I was tryin’ to prevent any more people from entering the castle. He knew what he was doin’ too. He thought trappin’ me on the other side of the wall would solve all his problems. But he was wrong. They will not survive long withou’ 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.”
Ebanie moaned against the wall.
Kat went over to rub her back. “It’s okay,” she said, comforting her.
“Yes, dead!” Old Lan said without any remorse. “And don’ forget you’re all part of that awful kingdom. King Leoné abandoned you, leavin’ your home to be destroyed by the Hoarders, watchin’ it become the Junkland. Last time I checked, Palor was part of Astenpoole and the Four Cities. So yes, your home’s 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 to escape. Old Lan had been the one to take them far from The Arcalane, over the mountains, far away from Astenpoole and the Four Cities. Far away from everything they had ever known. And now they’ve been traveling for weeks over the Western Mountains. They had encountered land Gabe had never seen in his life like snow and thick shrubbery and a sea of rocks and pebbles. They had slept in the rain and during storms. Food was always scarce. And fights broke out amongst the group nearly every day. Gabe had thought the Junkland had been bad, but the Western Mountains…they were far worse. He now knew why the kings used trekking over the Western Mountains as punishment: it was suicide. And the man leading them was a drunken fool eager to escape his home. And to where he was taking them…Gabe didn’t have the faintest idea.
Gabe couldn’t stay silent anymore. “We’re lost. You may have saved us, but you led us here and you don’t even know where we’re going, do ya? This snow storm will erase those tracks as if they’d never even existed. We’ll be following nothing come morning time.”
Old Lan took another swig from his waterskin. “You worry ‘bout gettin’ that fire ready—sheepherder—for when Felix and Stade return, and I’ll worry about where we’re going. Those tracks were fresh. That means whoever made those footprints, can’t be far off.”
Gabe let out a sigh and continued stacking his rocks. Everyone was silent after that.
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 cocked his head to one side and blinked before wobbling away over to Kat and Ebanie again. Ebanie opened her arms so Miller could jump back into them. She kissed Miller’s forehead and held him close to her chest.
“What’re 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, rolling his eyes. “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 of meat, but at least it will be better than having rabbit again.”
“No!” Ebanie yelled. “Jahrys’s chicken is not for eating.”
“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?”
“Yes, I would!”
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’s face looked as if it were about to explode at any second.
“SILENCE!” Old Lan’s voice shook the crevice. “No one’s eatin’ that damn bird. Put ‘im 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 shoutin’, screamin’, squawkin’, I’ll tie you up and leave you to the wolves.” Old Lan turned away from them, this time, muttering to himself, but still loud enough for Gabe to hear. “Why didn’t I just save myself?”
Gabe continued with his circle. By Zalus, please hurry back Felix! Your songs always know how to calm Old Lan down.
They were all silent after that, waiting for Felix and Stade to return as the wind howled outside the crevice.
“Cheers, cheer to all the girls in here. We toast to you with all our beer…” Gabe began to mutter, stacking more rocks.
As Gabe sang under his breath, the light on his 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 whistled.
“Where’s Stade?” Rallick asked in concern when he didn’t see his friend following Felix.
“Hargh?” Taygar asked.
“Shut up!” Old Lan snapped. “Everyone grab your things. Hurry!”
Everyone scattered in the crevice, grabbing their charged Captors and bags. Gabe piled the rabbits into his bag. Kat helped Tarl with the supplies scattered on the crevice floor. Ebanie held onto Miller.
“Run!” Felix repeated. “They’re—”
Felix’s missing words made Gabe lift his head. A dark shadow, illuminated by Felix’s suit, shot across the snow, colliding into the singer. Screams echoed with the sounds of snarling, tearing, and ripping. There was a pop.
“Felix?” Old Lan shouted, as he took a step out into the storm, but kept his distance. He had exchanged his waterskin for a Captor. He now wore his helmet.
A blue cloud had 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 still worked. 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.
“Wolves?” Kat asked.
“Where’s Stade?” Rallick said again.
“Hargh!” Taygar was shaking.
“Look!” Ebanie pointed her finger towards the tree line. More shadows had appeared.
“Wolves,” Old Lan muttered almost to himself. He then turned to everyone in the crevice. “Ou’ the side and into the forest. Hurry now!”
“What about Felix and Stade?” Ebanie asked.
“No!” Rallick moaned. “They can’t be gone. Stade was just out getting firewood!”
Old Lan placed a hand on Rallick’s shoulder. “The wolves got ‘em. Make for the forest. Go!” Old Lan shoved Rallick out of the crevice.
Gabe was the last behind his friends, as Old Lan pushed him out of the crevice. He ran as fast as he could to the edge of the forest. Before he entered, Gabe took a glance behind and caught a glimpse of the shadows closing in on them.
Gabe gulped, picking up his pace as he entered the forest. It was hard to run in the thick layer of fresh snow. Plus, he had never been the best of runners. But the wolves behind kept him moving.
Branches whipped against Gabe’s helmet as he zigzagged through the trees, heart pounding. Legs feeling as if they were about to collapse at any second. The snow fell harder than before; he could barely see anything in front of him. The wind howled in his face. Or was the howling from the wolves? Gabe couldn’t tell. The shouts from his friends up ahead were distant now. He could no longer make out Tarl’s shape running through the trees. He knew Old Lan was somewhere behind him. However, Gabe was too afraid to look to see if the former knight followed him.
Suddenly, Gabe burst from the forest into a clearing. When he reached the center, he stopped. His head spun in a circle, searching. Searching for any sign of his friends. He only saw the line of the forest beginning again. But beginning again all around him. He didn’t know which direction his friends had went.
“Tarl? Kat? EBANIE?” Gabe shouted against the strength of the wind. “Rallick? Taygar? Miller?” With each name, his voice shrank.
Gabe turned around and searched for the former knight. “Old Lan?” But the man never appeared from the tree line.
A sudden flash of movement out of the corner of Gabe’s eye made him spin around. Then, a snap of a branch came from his left. The growling and howling grew around him, and with it, Gabe’s heartbeat.
Amongst the shadows of the trees, just ahead of Gabe, a pair of blue eyes appeared. And then another. And another. Soon, dozens of blue eyes glared at Gabe.
The snow crunched behind him. He spun around. A wolf had stepped out of the shadows of the trees, into the clearing.
Gabe gulped. “Stay back!” he warned.
A growl sent him running, but wolves surrounded him in the clearing on all sides now, inching closer and closer to where he stood. So Gabe stopped and stood in the center, alone, gripping his Captor tight with his only hand.
Zalus be with me, Gabe thought as he raised his Captor.
The line of wolves had stopped moving. It seemed as if they were waiting for something.
He heard something move behind him. Gabe spun, and his stomach fell as he gazed upon the largest of the wolves standing before him. This wolf could have been the size of a horse. As the wolf stepped closer, Gabe could see every rib outlining the wolf’s side. It looked as if the wolf had never eaten. Not a single hair covered the wolf’s body, either. The eyes glowed a faded blue.
The wolf opened its mouth, baring its many rows of sharp teeth.
Zalus, help me! Gabe thought, as he tried to stop his Captor from shaking.
As the wolf’s mouth grew wider, the lights on Gabe’s suit, Captor, and helmet flickered. “I don’t want to hurt you!” Gabe said, feeling the shakiness in his voice. The black shadow stepped closer, and Gabe clutched down on the trigger of his Captor. His Captor hummed, and the tip lit up blue. But then, the blue tip faded, and his Captor let out a hiss.
No! Gabe thought as he pressed down on the trigger again and again. Rallick had just charged it! But each time, the humming grew less and the hissing happened quicker. Gabe shook his Captor as if maybe something was stuck inside.
When Gabe looked up to aim his Captor again, he noticed a blue ball, no larger than his fist, glowing in the space in front of him. On the other side of the floating ball, a blue beam floated in a line from the ball and into the wolf’s opened mouth. Gabe watched as the blue light from the ball shrank as the seconds ticked by. When the light from the ball was no more, and the last of the beam entered the wolf’s mouth and the light disappeared, the wolf snapped its mouth shut. And Gabe’s suit was no longer lit. All of the energy from his suit was gone. Gabe was left in the darkness. The only light came from the blue eyes of the wolves that surrounded him, and the red tinted sky from the falling snow.
He didn’t need to see the wolves to know they were charging him. Gabe raised his Captor, preparing to hit any wolf that came close to him. As he heard the first wolf approach, he swung, but he was too slow. The wolf collided into him and Gabe was thrown to the ground. His Captor flew from his hand, still attached to the tube. He wrestled with the wolf upon him, trying to keep the sharp teeth from reaching his throat under his helmet. Another shadow flung itself onto Gabe, digging its claws into his suit, and then another.
Gabe let out a yell of pain as claws continued to find his flesh. He continued to fight off the wolves, but only having one arm was useless against the weight of these wolves. 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 skin.
Gabe yelled out a useless cry for help as the wolf thrusted its jaw forward.
Then, a blinding white light illuminated the darkness. Gabe felt the weight from one wolf disappear, and then the other. Relief spread through Gabe’s body 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. Cold snow met his face. Before he could turn and comprehend what had just happened, another blow took him again in the back of the head. He was blinded with pain. But he could see boots stepping in front of him.
“Bind this one up with the others,” a man’s voice said, unfamiliar to Gabe. It sounded so distant. Hands were upon him. Once he was lifted from the ground, a woolen bag was shoved over his head, and he could no longer see who had saved him from the wolves.
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