Here’s a sneak peek at my newest novel’s prologue. Enjoy!
“I’m telling you, brother, our time has come,” the young man whispered, barely able to keep his teeth from chattering.
Draped in the white fur of an animal native to the planet Coridon, the two men huddled together in a hastily built ice cave as the temperature outside plummeted to fifty below zero. They had trained with each other since they were children and were now prepared to graduate together as warriors. All that remained was one final test: survive a week on Mount Horeb. It was simple enough to just survive—the most basic of tasks. But considering that that task meant surviving on a floating mountain in the middle of the Northern Sea during winter, this test became an entirely different story.
“How can you be certain?” his best friend responded, turning his head to look over his shoulder. The two leaned back to back, supporting each other’s weight as they shared a tiny white-haired rodent that they had captured in a snare the day before. It was hardly big enough to sustain a child, let alone two grown men, and as Brokk crunched down on the small bones, he knew that the meat wouldn’t give him the energy he needed to survive the night.
The Jarks graduated their officers in an unorthodox fashion. While most systems believed that prior to graduation a culmination should be a demonstration of the things one had learned and how they are best applied to interstellar combat, the Jarks believed culmination should be focused inward—on oneself and the qualities that must be honed in order to lead great men into battle.
Brokk thought he agreed, although not entirely at this moment. Teachers had repeatedly drilled tactics into his head for years, and warfare had been the primary subject of debate around the table with his family as well as in class with his peers. He understood warfare, but he had never experienced it.
Surviving on Coridon gave him this opportunity, and in the days he had been there, Brokk had already learned more about himself and what it took to survive than ever before. There would be no help, and many of his brothers over this week would die. But those who survived, those who made it, they were the future, forged on the icy peak of the coldest habitable planet of the galaxy and ready to do battle on behalf of their people.
Brokk’s teeth continued to chatter as he tried sucking the marrow out of the rat’s leg bone before throwing the very last fragment into his mouth. “Because you and I are going to graduate tomorrow,” he managed to sputter out.
“We won’t survive the night if we don’t get any more food. I can’t keep warm,” Lago complained.
He was right. They had to go out again. In the face of utter exhaustion and frigid temperatures, calories were essential, and right now, calories were what the two of them lacked. Brokk pushed himself to his feet and offered a hand to his red-skinned friend. “Then let’s hunt,” he said with a grin, trying to show courage in the face of extreme doubt.
Flame from their candle danced and glistened off the icy walls of their hastily built shelter, and Lago’s white teeth shone from behind long strands of gray fur draping off his hood as he returned an eager smile. “I’ll lead,” he said at last, accepting Brokk’s hand and pulling himself to his feet. “Besides, I’m a better tracker than you anyway.”
The fierce wind howled as they left their shelter in search of food. Merely stepping out into the cold sucked the breath from their lungs and left the two gasping for frigid air to fill their blood with the oxygen they so desperately craved. Brokk staggered into the snow, trying to catch his breath, and imagined that this must be how it felt to be sucked from a damaged hull into the lifeless void of interstellar space.
One following the other, the two aspiring warriors tilted their bodies away from the wind and attempted to walk perpendicular to it. Facing into the freezing blast would send icy daggers through the openings in their hoods and could permanently damage any exposed skin on their faces in mere seconds. Silently, the two trudged through barren trees, using webbed snowshoes to keep them on the surface. With each step, pain shot through their bodies from lifting fatigued legs. Their arms, heavy and worn, strained as they painstakingly drove ice prods into the ground ahead to ensure that they weren’t about to fall through a weak patch of snow and land in a gully. A prod to the left and a step with the left foot. A prod to the right and a step with the right foot. Prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod. It was slow going, and Brokk’s stomach roared with hunger. Finally, Lago turned around to face Brokk.
“I’m lost!” he shouted over the wind. “Which way was the canyon?”
“I think you’re right,” Brokk responded, motioning forward. Lago shrugged and turned again to continue his movement. The wind wailed as the storm drove snow off nearby peaks and pushed bursts of icy sleet into their faces, but the two pressed onward, further away from their camp and into the coming night.
Lago continued to lead. Prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod. The rhythm captivated Brokk and took his mind far from icy blasts, painstaking steps, and frozen fingers. In his desperation for comfort and aware of its power, Brokk allowed himself to be mesmerized by it, focusing on nothing but the familiar noise. Prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod. Prod, crunch, prod, crunch. Silence.
Lago was gone. “Lago!” Brokk shouted, running to the spot he had last seen him. “Lago!” he bellowed again, fearful that the wind blew his voice back into his throat rather than outward toward his friend. Through the wind and snow, he approached a small ledge; Lago lay twenty feet below, unmoving. “Lago!” he shouted again from his hands and knees, careful not to lean too far over the small pit that had opened up from the weight of their steps.
Lago twitched his mitt-covered hand and groaned. “I think I broke my leg!” he finally shouted.
Brokk could see the snow beneath him turn a reddish hue as it absorbed blood from his now-exposed wound. Broken…and maybe worse. But beyond the blood-stained snow was a far more terrifying sight. On the other side of his narrow ridge, a dense nitrogen-composed fog began to climb up from the valley below. At a frigid minus 320 degrees, the gas would not simply freeze Lago; it would make him feel as if he were on fire while turning the blood in his veins into solid ice.
“I’m coming down there for you,” Brokk bellowed back, grabbing at the climber’s rope he had looped over his shoulder and searching for a nearby anchor point.
“We’ll both die,” Lago shouted back. “Don’t!”
It was too late. Brokk was a man of action and had already secured the rope to a tree and tossed the remainder down to the gorge below. Rappelling to the bottom, he rushed to disconnect his rope and deploy the emergency avalanche shelter he kept in his backpack. The gas had reached the ridge now, and icy fingers stretched out from the fog, begging Brokk to let it feast on their exposed skin. Finally at Lago’s side, Brokk gripped his shoulders and pulled him into the small pup tent, which was barley large enough for one man. “I guess we’ll both die then,” he muttered into Lago’s ear, zipping the tent behind them.