Here is another first chapter.
THE GODS OF ICE is the first book in my new THIRD PLANET trilogy. It follows the adventures of the leading characters from THE FIFTH PLANET who are marooned on Earth now that Dooma has been destroyed.
THE GODS OF BLOOD and THE GODS OF FIRE are also available.
The Fifth Planet has been destroyed in the Holocaust War, and now the fate of Earth, The Third Planet, rests with Raven, the last Sword Lord of Ghedda.
A fragment has broken away from the new asteroid belt formed by the destruction of the fifth planet and is on a collision course with Earth’s moon. The impact will push the moon into a decaying orbit that will destroy the last life-bearing planet in the solar system. Raven’s space ship can be repaired by cannibalizing parts of Zela’s crashed space ship, but it will take Raven and Zela together to fly it on one last mission to deflect the asteroid. However, Raven has gone into exile with Maryam. Kananda and Zela, now King and Queen of Karakhor, set out to find them.
Their twin journeys take them across Earth as it was between the last two ice ages. The continent of Antartica is slowly drifting south, the north side of the continent is still habitable but the ice wall is advancing as the whole continent moves into the South Pole. The wanderings of Raven and Maryam lead them to the Tar Tikans, a mysterious race of benevolent teachers. The Tar Tikans are the survivors of a crashed space craft from Orion. The indigenous inhabitants of Antartica are the Jiptors, creators of an embryo civilization which will eventually be forced to move from their own Nile Valley on Antartica to the New Nile Valley in Africa.
In what is now Central America, the first blood-stained kingdoms of the Maytecs have also appeared. The teachers are trying to guide all these emerging peoples but Chac Mouel, the teacher entrusted with the development of the Maytecs is also the reincarnation of Strang, the first Gheddan Sword Lord, who died five hundred years before. Strang is determined to recreate a new empire and to destroy the Tar Tikans who would hold him in check. He is an astral traveler with terrible powers of mental coercion.
However, Kananda and Zela discover their own latent astral abilities. They spear head a small group who struggle with Strang on the astral plane while Maryam and Raven close in and fight him in the physical world. The battles rage across the ice lands of Antartica, the jungles of New Mexico, and in Karakhor on their return. The final conflict takes place in the vastness of space where the fiery asteroid is hurtling toward Earth’s moon.
He was born again and his first terrible memory was that of dying, of being torn apart and scattered through the heavens with the planet that had once been his home. For a millionth of a second he had known the excruciating white heat as his world exploded. He had heard the concerted horrendous mind-shriek as a hundred million souls had been incinerated and his own helpless soul had screamed with them. He should have been obliterated with everything else he had known, but somehow that fate had been denied him. For some reason, perhaps only known to the gods themselves, he had been reborn.
He was Antar/Allan, or to be more precise that was who he had been, but that was not what they called him now. The exhausted young woman who had expelled his puny new flesh from her womb had laughed through her tears of pain and called him by a new name. The man who held her hand, her husband, had repeated it with wonderment and joy and then kissed her with a gentle passion. The birth-watchers, the two older women who had tended the young mother had both smiled their delight, and repeated the name again as though it were a blessing. Antar/Allan did not understand his new name. The syllables were strange and alien. He was still Antar/Allan.
Instinctively he knew that this was not as it should be and that new life should not be born so swiftly and with all the old memories still intact. There was another instinct, an urgent overwhelming need to shout out who he was and to make them all understand what had happened. The awful sequence of events that had utterly destroyed Dooma must be made known. He tried but all that escaped from his feeble new throat and lips were a series of anguished wails. The semi-circle of loving faces above him were at first happy to hear the frantic sounds, the first healthy cries of a lusty new baby. Only gradually did their faces become anxious as they sensed that the child was truly distressed. They made soothing, cooing sounds and his mother rocked him gently against her bared breasts, offering him her nipple. It was common knowledge that a baby should be calmed by being allowed to feed, to feel close and hearing his mother’s heartbeat.
Antar/Allan could not communicate and he could not be comforted and he howled with frustration until hours later at last he subsided into the unconsciousness of exhaustion. His parents and the birth-watchers believed that he had cried himself to sleep.
With sleep came release and the old soul sprang upward from the weak new flesh. Back on the familiar astral plane he was powerful and alive again. With hardly a backward glance his spirit soared aloft. The continent receding below him was half green and half white, the southern half cloaked in a great ice sheet that was slowly pushing north. He sensed its form and condition only vaguely, it was peripheral to his awareness of the more pressing need. Within seconds the half ice continent was just one amongst others in a predominately blue sea globe, and then the planet itself was falling away beneath him.
He knew it was the third planet from the sun in a solar system that was far out on the curved arm of a spiral galaxy with a hot milky core. The first planet out from the solar furnace that sustained all the rest was the smallest of the nine planets that now remained. It was a scorched and barren world of dense iron and rock with virtually no atmosphere. The second planet was larger, but the atmosphere there was one of swirling unbroken sulphuric acid clouds that created a steaming hot house world totally unfavourable to any form of humanoid life.
The third planet, the planet Earth which he was fast leaving behind, was warm and blue, rich in life-giving waters. The Fourth planet, the red planet, was distinctively coloured by its rich iron oxide content. It was an arid, mainly dust and desert planet that had once been inhabited when the solar system was young. Now it was dead and dormant, its atmosphere had seeped away and what was left was too thin to support life
The fifth planet no longer existed. Once the planet Dooma, where he had lived so many lives, had moved in slow gracious orbit between the fourth planet and the first of the gas giants that made up the rest of this solar system. Dooma had been an Earth-like planet, fully habitable with an almost even balance of wet oceans and dry land continents. A thinner atmospheric cloak and a thinner surface crust over its molten core had compensated for its further distance from the sun, so that both planets had enjoyed similar surface temperatures.
That thin surface crust had been partly responsible for the planet’s demise. When the continents of Alpha and Ghedda had launched their terrible array of atomic weapons at each other in the futile and arrogant atomic war the entire planet had erupted and split open in a nightmare chain reaction of volcanic upheavals. The molten core had boiled outwards and the planet had disintegrated.
Antar/Allan could feel the heat again as he grew closer and the echoes of that last anguished, concentrated all-souls death cry began to peal through his tortured mind. His astral form slowed to a stop and he covered his ears helplessly with his hands, but with no effect. He screamed again with the silent, soul scorching pain.
Where Dooma had been there was now a flaming band of red hot rubble, boulders and rocks, asteroids and debris, all orbiting slowly in red and orange ribbons of molten star matter. In a slow, macabre dance of death the remains of the fifth planet floated midway in space between the fourth and the sixth planets of the solar system. The drifting, smoking remnants, some as small as grains of dust, others the size of small mountains, were slowly elongating to fill the whole circle of orbit. Inside this narrowing but lengthening belt of planetary destruction all was still volatile. The individual fragments still crashed together, skidding and grating, ricocheting and colliding with solar bright flares and deafening impacts. It would take a thousand years, perhaps many thousands of years, before the carnage would settle. By then the name Dooma would be forgotten, and if there was any inhabitable part of the solar system left the occupants would call it by another name, or perhaps it would simply be The Asteroid Belt.
Antar/Allan felt a terrible grief, a harrowing sickness of heart and soul. He had been drawn here, following an irresistible compulsion, and now he wondered why. He had died here, and there seemed to be no real reason to re-live that awful agony. He wanted to leave, to flee again, and yet that same merciless compulsion was forcing him to stay.
He struggled against it, but suddenly he was the helpless babe again with no will of his own. The resurgence of astral power that had brought him here had just as suddenly drained away. He was alone and lost in the freezing darkness of space, and it was much, much worse than the wet darkness and loneliness of the strange womb.
He hung suspended against the starry heavens, watching the slow, on-going death throes of what had once been his home planet. If anything was responsible for his present predicament then there was sublime cruelty here and he wept bitter tears, for himself and for all those who had died. He wept for the guilty and the innocent.
In front of him were two of the larger fragments of flaming rock, like two rough hewn, grotesquely distorted and gigantic spaceships manoeuvring in some strange ritual of dying combat. Both were spitting violent flashes of fire from internal pockets of trapped and blazing gases and Antar/Allan found that he could not wrest his gaze away from the nightmare scene. They were moving faster than he had first realized and after a few moments, or perhaps it was a few hours or a few days, he saw that they were coming together and that they were going to collide. Time had no meaning now. He was frozen. Time was frozen. The universe itself was frozen. Only the two giant asteroids were still moving.
The impact, when it came, left all his senses stunned. The great curtain of sparks and flame blinded him and his astral form was flung back through the vastness of space. It was like dying again and he shrieked against whatever power there might be and demanded to know what had he done to deserve this merciless punishment. There was no answer, but through all his pain his senses slowly cleared and his vision returned.
He saw that the two giant asteroids were now veering apart, bouncing away from each other. They were ploughing slowly through the fragments of smaller debris as they each pursued their new course, striking more terrible sparks and fires.
One of them was floating slowly away from the inner planets and the sun, the force of the collision throwing it out of the slow swirl of the general orbit of the main asteroid belt. Its eventual destination, millions of years from now, would be somewhere in the vast darkness of space between the distant stars. Perhaps it would be swallowed up in the vortex of a black hole, or caught up in another gravitational pull to crash into another planet, or be incinerated in some unknown solar core.
The other, the largest fragment of the two, perhaps a hundred miles long and fifty miles in diameter, was also moving clear of the main swirl but heading directly toward the centre of the solar system.
Antar/Allan looked back and saw the small blue circle that was Earth, outlined sharply against the much more distant disc of the hot yellow star that was the sun. With the same certain instinct that had brought him here he now knew why he was here and what was happening.
The asteroid was on a collision course with the third planet.
He did not know how he could be certain of this. He only knew with sure and blinding insight that this was what was destined to happen, and this was why he had been reborn so swiftly, with so many old memories. This was why he was here.
He was the only soul who could carry a warning, but as yet he did not know how he would be able to communicate. The asteroid’s journey might take a year or more, but even then in his new physical form he would still be an infant, perhaps just able to crawl but still unable to effectively talk.
And even if the inhabitants of his new world could be warned, he still could not see how they might be able to save themselves.
In his despair he screamed again and wept.
The blades danced and sang in flashes of bright morning sunlight as the two evenly matched men circled each other in the lush forest glade. The ring of steel that echoed repeatedly as the blades touched was the only sound. The small birds that had chattered and sang when the small party had arrived had all taken wing and fled. The two men fought in silence. As yet their breathing was still controlled and deep with no harshness of sound. The two women and the five men who watched were idly attentive, careful not to distract the two warriors engaged earnestly in their duel, but showing no concern. The tired horses tethered nearby were interested only in browsing the sweet grass at their feet.
One of the fighting men was Gujar, the young Hindu Lord of Gandhar, one of the great noble houses of Karakhor. He wore a leather tunic and leather leggings and riding boots and his hard muscled arms were bare. His lean-jawed face was handsome, his brown eyes hard and alert. His long dark hair was neatly tied back at the nape of his neck to prevent it from swinging across his face. His skin, like the watchers in the loose circle around the glade, was a deep nut brown.
His opponent was of another race and colour, alien to Earth. Raven, the Last Sword Lord of Ghedda, had skin that was bright blue. His eyes were black and the hair on his head was of tight black curls. He too wore leather leggings and boots, but he still favoured the gold chain mail waistcoat and groin protector that had been part of the white uniform he had once worn as a Space Commander of the Gheddan Empire. A hand lazer weapon was fitted into the white leather holster on his right hip.
The two men had practised their sword play at the end of every day since they had left the golden city of Karakhor. Gujar had no real need of the exercise. In the long months of the Great War with Maghalla his sword arm had done enough bloody work to last him his lifetime. However, Raven did have an urgent need to re-hone his sword skills. He had recovered well from the sword thrust that had nearly killed him, but the puckered and badly knitted scar tissue under his sword arm had slowed and restricted his speed and movement. He needed to loosen up and regain some of the skill that he had lost. He knew that he would never again be the unbeaten master of the blade with only kills to his credit, but he was determined to improve upon the slow and clumsy hack and slash man that he had become.
Maryam, the first princess of Karakhor, sat with her back leaning comfortably against the trunk of a smooth bark tree. The curve of the tree bole fitted neatly between her shoulder blades and the tree root on which she sat had a soft covering of moss so that it was not too hard against her bottom. After the long day of riding she needed the soft seat. She had loosened her long black hair and eased the tight buckle of her sword belt. She watched her husband with love and affection. He was improving with every day, working himself hard, and soon he would be Gujar’s equal. Her eyes blinked, her head nodded, and her thoughts drifted.
The word “husband” still brought an uncomfortable twinge of guilt to her conscience. Her mother and her aunts, her brother Kananda who was now King, and the doughty Prince Devan, the last of her uncles, all still believed that some sort of marriage ceremony had actually taken place on Raven’s home world. They regretted that it would not have been as grand and glorious as the wedding of the daughter of their King should have been, with all the lavish spending and splendour that only golden Kharakor could provide. However, they all assumed that some sort of blessing of the strange union of their daughter and her blue “husband” had been ritually celebrated in some way due and proper on the other unknown world.
Maryam had allowed them to retain that delusion. She had followed Raven to his own world and there he had simply taken her as his woman. If her father and her brothers had been there he would have placed one hand on her shoulder and the other on his sword and challenged them to deny him, but even that had not happened. She had gone to him willingly, shamelessly, revelling in the passion that had flared between them, but sometimes it troubled her to know that he would have taken her anyway.
Since her return to Karakhor, and while Raven recovered his strength she had briefly luxuriated in the old life, enjoying rose-scented baths and silk sheets and all the fussing attentions of her hand-maidens. She had once again been pampered and bejewelled and richly fed, her every whim instantly gratified. She was the daughter of the old King, and the full blood sister of the new King. It had grieved her to find that Kara-Rashna, her beloved father was dead and cremated, his funeral pyre long grown cold, but there had been many a helpful courtier to tell her how nobly he had died, and many a daintily offered and sweetly scented handkerchief to dry her tears.
Within a month she realized that she was bored. What she really craved was more excitement and adventure. Her life in Karakhor was soft and sweet, but it was a continuation of her childhood and it would never be anything different. She was an adult woman now and there was a thread of steel in her soul that would not be restrained or denied. There had been moments on Ghedda when she had been cold, hungry and terrified and had longed for the comforts of home. But now it seemed that she had never been more alive.
She had impulsively followed Raven before, and when he announced his intention to leave Kharakor on his self imposed exile she had determined again to accompany him. Kananda the King, her devoted brother, had tried to dissuade her. He had followed her to another world to try and bring her back and he was reluctant to let her go again. In the last desperate days of the Great War with Maghalla Raven had fought for Karakhor and the last of his ship’s crew had died for the city they had once tried to claim for the Gheddan Empire. Raven now had the King’s pardon for all past crimes, but still he could not stay. Zela, Kananda’s new Queen, was still his sworn enemy. It was the golden-skinned Alphan woman who had finally pierced his defences with her blade, although only after he had already fought for a long weary day against Maghalla.
Maryam had shared his self anger and frustration as she had watched his first clumsy attempts to re-learn his old skills with the blade. She had been his first practise partner, too swift and nimble for him and only angering him further because she was a woman. Then Gujar had offered to take over. He had more strength to withstand Raven’s ferocious blows, and like all the young lords of Karakhor he had been personally trained by the old Warmaster Jahan. He knew how a man should be trained, and gradually some of Raven’s old mastery had returned.
Now it was almost five weeks since they had left Karakhor, every day riding due west from dawn to sunset. They were heading for the coast for Raven had assured them that there was another sea on the far side of their great pear shaped continent. The others had been dubious, but Maryam had added her own assurance that this was so, for she too had seen the Earth from space. Raven’s damaged ship, which the Hindus still thought of as a flying temple of steel, still stood in the great square of Karakhor, and so their assurances were philosophically accepted. For most of them one direction seemed as good as another.
She heard a movement at the edge of the glade. Takarni, the young captain of her guard had returned from his hunting foray in the forest. His bow was slung across his back and the carcass of a small springbuck was draped across his left shoulder. Two of his soldiers had already prepared a small cooking fire in anticipation of his return, for Takarni rarely failed them. He had the infinite patience and the keen eye for trail and sign that marked a born hunter. He usually chose to hunt alone for their evening meal, varying deer with a fat pheasant or a small pig. He stopped as he emerged from the circle of trees, calmly watching the two fighters.
Maryam returned her own attention to the duel. Raven and Gujar were moving faster, matching each other cut for cut, and it seemed that an edge of aggression had crept into the battle. That was good, she thought, for it brought out the best in both of them. With renewed interest she followed the blur of swordplay and slowly she felt her muscles tense. There was definitely a new air of tension between the two men. There was a shine of sweat at Gujar’s temples and a tight set to his lips. Raven’s face showed the pain of the twisted scar tissue as it was stretched and pulled and he tried to ignore it.
Maryam felt a tightening grip on her arm. Shareena, the only one of her maids in waiting who had chosen to accompany her was sitting close by her side. The girl had also become aware that the fight was taking an ugly turn, she had reached for Maryam and almost unconsciously her fingers were digging into the bicep of her princess.
Shareena was not really fitted for the rigours of the trail and the long days of riding, but she had begged to be allowed to journey with her princess. Her father and brothers had all fallen in the war with Maghalla and she could no longer bear to live in Karakhor without them. Somehow she had believed that the pain would be lessened if she left the familiar things behind. She had been continually nervous of the dark nights and the thick forest and the jungle animals that lurked behind the green tangles and the gloom, but now she was suddenly afraid. Raven and Gujar together were two powerful protectors but if enmity had come between them then it was dangerous for the group as a whole.
Maryam felt suddenly uncertain and confused, and she could see from the puzzled expression in Raven’s eyes that he too was unclear of what was happening. Gujar had pressed him hard, and at first Raven had assumed that this was just a step up in the pressure designed to test him and push him further. He had responded with a counter attack and for a few seconds Gujar had been forced into defence. Then suddenly the young Hindu had launched another attack, more savage than the first and a hot flash of rage had appeared in his eyes.
In the old days Raven would have killed him then. With almost two score of sword kills to his credit and the blade merely a lightning extension of his own arm a death thrust would have been quick and easy. But now the damnable wound was dragging at every move, griping at his muscles and tendons, blunting all the old tricks that had been fluid and swift. He was hard pressed to keep Gujar’s blade blocked, and suddenly he realized that he was again fighting for his life.
The knowledge gave him strength and determination. With an effort of will he dismissed the muscle ache and the stabs of pain, concentrating his mind on the blades, and only on the blades. He had practised with Gujar often enough to know his opponent’s speed and skill and style, but slowly he realized that he had never actually fought with him. Something had changed inside the Hindu Lord and he was unleashing more than he had ever shown before.
Raven was forced into retreat. The blades rang louder and the cuts rained with an increased ferocity. Raven blocked and parried but was too slow to turn the attack. All around the arena of flattened grass the rest of their small party had all stopped anything else they had been doing and were watching with growing horror and alarm.
Takarni slowly allowed the dead deer to slip away from his shoulder and fall to the ground. As if in a bad dream he un-slung his hunting bow and eased a feathered arrow from his quiver. Then his fingers became helplessly still. As Captain of the Princess’s guard he felt that he should do something to intervene. But Gujar was a friend and a Lord of one of the great noble houses of Karakhor. The blue man was a stranger from another planet, but he was the husband of the princess Takarni was oath-bound to protect. Dumbly he looked to Maryam for a sign.
Maryam was blind to his look of appeal. She was too busy watching the two fighting men and the protracted training match that had suddenly become deadly serious. She had pushed the trembling Shareena aside and her right hand had moved down to the hilt of the dagger sheathed in her boot. She could throw that dagger with as much skill and accuracy as any man, but for the moment Raven’s back was towards her. She waited for them to turn, but even if they were to do so she was unsure whether she could actually let the dagger fly between Gujar’s shoulder blades. He was one of Kananda’s closest friends. They had all played together as children. She was bewildered by this sudden turn of events and for the moment she hesitated.
Raven threw everything into one last attack and for a moment Gujar was pushed back. With a flick of his wrist Raven turned Gujar’s blade aside and risked all on a thrust. His arm failed him, he just wasn’t fast enough. Gujar had the speed to parry again, deflecting the thrust, and then the tip of his own sharp blade was at Raven’s throat. His eyes blazed hot fire.
Raven froze. He knew his death was just a heartbeat away. He had his lazer at his hip and a knife in his boot, but he knew he would never reach either of them. Gujar’s sword arm trembled but he did not finish the thrust. Slowly Raven lowered his own blade. He stared into Gujar’s eyes and waited.
Slowly the anger and the blood lust in the dark brown eyes began to fade. Gujar’s sword arm trembled again and his chest heaved. Raven felt the cold sharp tip of the blade vibrate at his throat.
Gujar said at last, “You killed my father.” His voice was harsh and grating, as though it had been forced out of his constricted throat.
Raven said nothing, still waiting. His heart was pounding and yet he was strangely calm. He had always believed that he would die by the sword, probably while he was still young, and now he was mildly curious.
“When you first came to Karakhor,” Gujar continued. “Three men tried to kill you in one of the alleyways of the city. For that you blamed the House of Gandhar. You executed my father with your hand fire weapon in the great hall of the palace.”
“I remember,” Raven said quietly. He recalled the incident now but he had never connected Gujar with the fat old man he had killed as an example to all the others. He had commanded a crew of five men to control the entire city, and it was only the demonstrations of lazer power that had kept the Hindu hierarchy in check.
“He was a brave man,” he offered. “He was not a warrior, his fighting days were over, but he moved away from your princes and the other nobles so that they would not be in my line of fire.”
They faced each other in silence over the length of the extended sword. Raven understood now and at last he spoke again. “The men who tried to kill me wore the colour of your father’s house.”
“But they were not hired by the House of Gandhar.”
Gujar sounded tired. He withdrew his sword and returned it to its sheath at his side. “I know now that the assassins were hired by Rajar, the King’s brother. He persuaded them to wear my father’s colour to conceal his own hand. Prince Rajar believes that he is much too clever to pay the price for his own guilt.”
Maryam eased herself upright and came to stand at Raven’s side. Her dagger was again sheathed in her boot. She looked briefly from one to the other, and then her gaze fixed on Gujar, her dark eyes asking more.
“When I heard of my father’s death I swore to kill you,” Gujar told Raven, although he was now explaining as much to Maryam. “But by then you had returned to your own home world. At the same time I knew that my father was not guilty of planning your intended assassination. That was never his way. I set out to discover who had paid your would-be assassins, and I am now satisfied that it was the Prince Rajar. Then, on the battlefield with Maghalla you saved my life. When I lost my footing you stepped in to cut down my enemies and gave me your hand.”
Gujar wiped a trickle of sweat from his eyes and drew a deep breath.
“I still wish to avenge my father. But Kananda is my friend. We are brothers of the Tiger Hunt. And Rajar is the King’s half brother. That is why I could not stay in Karakhor.” He looked to Maryam and bowed his head. Forgive me, My Lady. I came to protect you in your exile. It seemed an honourable solution for my need to leave Karakhor. But your husband’s part in my father’s death has continued to torment me. I could not ignore it, even though the black heart of Rajar is really to blame.” He looked back to Raven. “I could control my desire to kill you when it would have been too easy, but as you regained your strength and skill the old anger grew each time we crossed blades.”
“Today the anger burst. Perhaps that is a good thing. What lies between us had to come out into the open to be purged. This had to be said. I have held your life at the point of my sword, and I did not take it. Perhaps now I can let the anger go.”
Raven’s face was expressionless, but he carefully sheathed his own sword. Around them the others relaxed. Takarni replaced the drawn arrow in his quiver and leaned his bow against a tree. Only Shareena still looked scared.
Gujar turned his face to Maryam. “I will leave now,” he said grimly, “And find my own exile alone.”
He turned and strode toward his horse, a skittish grey mare which backed up startled as he laid a sudden hand on her bridle. Maryam caught him and stopped him with her hand on his arm before he could loosen the reins from where he had looped them around the branch of a thorn tree.
“Wait,” she said earnestly. “Please wait.”
Gujar turned slowly. He no longer knew what to say.
Raven moved up behind them. His face was thoughtful as he considered the situation and then he said slowly.
“There is no need for you to go. I too would have you stay.”
Gujar looked from one to the other. It was his turn now to be hesitant and uncertain.”
“We understand each other,” Raven agreed. “What has been said is in the open. Stay with us if you wish.” He smiled. “You are an excellent swordsman and I have a long way to go. I still have need of you to re-hone my skills with the blade.”
For full details of the series and how to buy the books go to my heroic fantasy page