Outriders (The Birthright Project, Book 1)

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9781595544032: Outriders (The Birthright Project, Book 1)

A new ark. An ancient enemy. Young warriors fighting the darkness.

Delivered through the polar ice by a whale, their journey is nothing short of miraculous and their mission is nothing short of impossible. Their quest is to reclaim God's birthright and preserve the original creation that is being mutated out of existence.

This daring team roams the blighted earth. They are Outriders, young warriors who wield swords and wits to protect the birthrighter camps.

When rookie birthrighters arrive from the Ark, however, the battle turns into something no one expected. Not only must they battle the merciless warload Alrod and his horde of gigantic mutants, but a new and more powerful enemy has revealed itself, a darkness that threatens to destroy the world they've been charged to save.

Book One in an unforgettable new series...a fantasy thriller with a heart of faith and an irresistible spirit of adventure.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Kathryn Mackel is a best-selling author and acclaimed screenwriter for Disney and Fox. She was on the screenwriting team for Left Behind: The Movie and Frank Peretti's Hangman's Curse. She is the acclaimed author of The Surrogate, The Departed, and The Hidden and resides in Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Niki leaned into the wind. Still no sign of open water. The endless stretch of ice was studded with boulders--not of stone but of frozen seawater, buckled and broken into a forbidding landscape.

The bone-rattling cold and shuddering winds made this arctic region a perfect pickup spot. So why the delay?

Maybe the terns were wrong. But Brady said they were never wrong, and the shelter waiting for her would be proof of that. She had arrived four days ago, stopping here because the terns swooped down and roosted on what looked like an ice boulder. On the far side, she had found a wind-carved cave, a perfect refuge for dogs and men alike.

Now the terns moved overhead in lazy circles. The dogs were quiet, content to eat or sleep until she needed them.

Niki pulled up her hood, checked the lacings of her boots, and tightened her crampons. Back home, in the forests and plains upground of Horesh, trees already budded and seedlings pushed up through moist ground. Here the only sign of spring was a sun that circled the horizon, no more than a fleck of gold straining to climb into full day.

When she picked up the dogs back in Chiungos, the weather had still been mild enough to keep her hood down and let the crisp air rush through her hair. She had forgotten how cold it could get this far north. She walked hard, her crampons biting the ice with an irritating clip, clip, clip. She was sick of frozen land and parched air and shy sun.

She was sick to death of trying to figure out why Brady had sent her here.

It had all come about those weeks ago, in the smithy of Horesh. Niki closed her eyes and saw the sparks flying from the grindstone as she laid her sword against the wheel. Even on this unrelenting prairie of ice, she could feel the fire of the forge. The smithy was a simple place where they sharpened swords, waxed bowstrings, notched arrows, and beat iron to fit their purpose.

Brady had bent over the anvil, hammering a horseshoe. He'd worn a heavy leather apron and gloves but no shirt--it was blazing hot between the forge and the anvil. His back was broad; his arms were heavy with muscle; his dark hair was twisted into a heavy braid and tied back to reveal silver streaks at his temples. When had that happened? Like Niki, he was only twenty-two.

Niki cringed at the scars lacing his back. The one on his left shoulder blade was ugly and jagged, proof that he was a warrior and not a surgeon or seamstress.

Brady looked up at her, his smile sudden and sweet.

Her blade slipped, showering sparks. "Youch!"

"Careful there, gal," Brady said.

"Careful is my middle name."

"There's some strong-arms that might dispute that." He pounded the glowing shoe.

"The ones that might dispute it, can't."

The unsaid hung between them: They can't dispute it because they're dead.

Niki fumbled to say the first thing that came to her mind. "I saw the terns come down this morning."

Brady dipped the shoe into the bucket, steam hissing around his arm. "Can you stop the wheel for a minute?"

She took her foot off the pedal, intent on the whir of the wheel as it slowed. "When are you leaving?"

"I'm not."

"I don't understand."

"I want you to take this transit, Nik."

"Me? But the transit is the leader's job."

"It's the leader's prerogative. His blessing. Which I am giving to you."

Niki shook her head. "I can't. I'm escorting Jayme's crew down to the Shoals. A monthlong mission, at least. Remember?"

"Bartoly will ride out with them. You will do this."

Her legs felt strange. Weak knees--something she had never experienced in battle. "Why would you send me away like this? I'm needed here to ride out with our people. I have a job to do."

Brady tossed his gloves aside so he could put his hand on her shoulder. "Nik, you are the bravest outrider in camp, probably the bravest in all the camps."

She lowered her gaze. "I do my duty."

"That you do. And you won't stop at anything to get it done."

He was close to her, so close she could smell his sweat and the mint leaves he loved to chew. His eyes were the color of a deep forest stream--sometimes green, sometimes brown. Always so clear, as if he had no secrets--but in this moment something secret had come between them. Though Brady's grip on her was firm, she felt him spin away.

"So why would you ask me to do something that isn't mine to do?" she said.

"Because you need time to think, Nik."

"About what?" She kept her voice light, the whirl of emotions buried deep.

A strange sorrow crept into his smile. "Let me ask you something, Nik. If you were asked, would you give up fighting?"

"I don't fight. I protect and defend. There's a difference." But he knew the difference. They had ridden out together for six years. So why did he search her face as if she were a stranger and not his second in command and comrade in arms?

"Let me ask you this," he said. "Would you give up being an outrider if God asked that of you?"

"Of course."

"Are you sure?"

"I don't understand. Why do you ask these questions? And why send me north on transit?" Her voice was a whisper, her hands tight on his.

"Because God speaks clearly over the ice. Listen, Niki." He touched her cheek, his eyes so clear she could not read them at all. "Listen well."

Since that night, she had ridden west to the Arojo range, then upriver to an outpost named Chiungos. From there she had taken the team of sled dogs further north over the snow--all the while trying to honor Brady's request that she listen.

As she paced, the vastness of the ice melded into the overcast sky--one hazy curtain, impenetrable and unforgiving. In four endless days of trying to listen, all she had heard were the dogs and her crampons biting into the ice.

A shiver seized Niki, shaking her from the inside out. The cold couldn't penetrate her garments, but the silence cut right through her.

-------

All right, someone really messed up here.

Cooper was supposed to sleep through the transit. They all were.

Dr. Latham had given him, Kwesi, and Anastasia each a hefty shot of tranquilizer. He had felt drowsy and calm, barely noticing as his parents slobbered all over him and the husk molded around him. His last thought had been that he would wake up and, for the first time ever, see the sky. How jam-packin' that would be.

Sometimes it was hard to believe that a sky even existed. But Cooper knew this heaving darkness was not the sky. This was fright time, with one thought knocking at his ribs. Not good. Not good at all.

No one ever wakes in transit, they had told him. Ever. You go to sleep in the Ark and wake up in the world. That simple.

Leave it to Cooper to be the first. He knew he was special, but this wasn't exactly what he had programmed for himself. He'd been a little joe when the first birthrighters left the Ark, had just entered training when the first tales of valor came back. He had jammed with the other kids on stories of outriders fighting off evil stronghold princes and their frightening mogs. He had daydreamed for hours that he was a tracker, scaling cliffs, swimming rivers, crawling deep into the earth to find originals for Birthright.

Even with the old holovideos and the practice in simulated conditions, Cooper had trouble grasping what a river--water rushing hard and free--might feel like. One thing he did know was that he would grab the outside world by its transmogrified ears and shake it. Stories would come back to the Ark, and the name of Cooper would outshine Brady and Niki and the rest of them.

If he made it out of transit alive.

Why was he awake? Had the transit misfired? What if the three husks were to bounce and roll like this forever?

Cooper leaned left, feeling his husk pitch against what he hoped was another husk. "Stasia. Kwesi. You there?" The shroud material from which the husk was made swallowed his words just as it had swallowed him. No one would hear him. No one would know he was awake.

Another fear now--what if the husk broke open? Would he die immediately? Or would his skin be eaten through slowly while he gulped putrid air and prayed to somehow survive? They tranquilized rookies like him because transit was tough. To keep the Ark safe from discovery, they couldn't know the way back.

So why had his tranquilizer worn off? "Because you're so special, lump. Can't trank a good man to sleep when there's battles to be fought. So you woke up early. Just another notch in your reputation, Cooper."

He liked the feel of his voice coming out of his throat, even though he couldn't really hear himself. "Maybe this is just the beginning of your heroics. Staying awake in transit hasn't been done before, eya? They'll make up songs about you, the only birthrighter who had ever jammed through transit and lived to tell about it."

Assuming he did live to tell about it.

"So maybe this wasn't someone's mess-up--maybe it was meant to be. You know you're not just no one. You were born to be someone. You need to get into the world and show them what you're made of, what you think, what you can do, what you--"

He shut his mouth. What if there was only a limited amount of air? All his blabber could eat it up. He curled tight, trying to sleep. But sleep still wouldn't come. He counted seconds, then minutes.

Think jam-packin' : How long would it be before he burst out of the husk and saw the sky? But the jam-punchin' bit back: How long would it be before he split through his skin with fear?

He remembered Mum's words as they sealed his husk: The songs are given us for a reason, my son. When the time comes, sing through your fear.

He hummed with the memory o...

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