Two Friends Caught on Opposing Sides Reconnect in the Life Day Treasury – Exclusive Excerpt

Plus, take a look inside at new art from the book, which arrives next week.

A new set of festive winter tales arrives next week with the Life Day Treasury: Holiday Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. In the same style as Myths & Fables and Dark Legends, the Life Day Treasury written by George Mann and Cavan Scott gives us a glimpse at what children in another galaxy might be reading to get into the holiday spirit.

To celebrate the release of the eight new illustrated stories, is thrilled to share new art from Grant Griffin and an excerpt featuring childhood friends Max and Rel whose shared past can even defuse finding themselves on opposite sides in a galactic war in “The Song of Winter’s Heart.”

Illustration from The Song of Winter's Heart.

The war with the Empire was unceasing.

It had raged across star systems, ravaged entire worlds. It had seen flotillas blasted into nothing, and his home — and all the people he loved — reduced to dust. The void where Alderaan had once been was like the vacant space in his chest where his heart had lived. It had died that day, withered by grief such as the universe had never known, and now Rel was just an empty shell, an echo of the man he had once been.

In the aftermath, he had allowed that void to fill with anger, so hot and fiery that it threatened to burn him up. He hadn’t known what to do, walking around in a daze for days, weeks, hearing nothing but the buzzing in his own ears, seeing nothing but his mother’s smiling face as she called him in from the snow, just as she had when he was a child. Even the work he was doing felt empty, like it wasn’t enough — as if this tiny act of rebellion, helping those disenfranchised by the Empire — was worthless in the face of such overwhelming evil. He’d realized he was searching for a new purpose, a way to make more of a difference.

It was around that time when he had been recruited by a man named Oliphan Dairo, who had seen that anger within Rel and taught him to channel it, to wield it as a force for good. So it was that Rel had taken up with the Rebel Alliance, trained in the use of a weapon, and fought countless campaigns across countless worlds.

Now, on a blasted moon called Shard on the Outer Rim, he was shivering against the frigid cold, pressed up behind a huge block of sheer ice, peering out across the enemy entrenchments.

The battle, like the war, seemed without end. For weeks neither side had gained ground, and as the snowdrifts deepened and the days grew ever shorter, both the stormtroopers and the rebels were digging in. The  Imperials had even erected a temporary base, and it was this that Rel and his partner, Fila, had been sent to scout.

Fila had been shot two days earlier by a sniper, and Rel hadn’t even been able to go to her side as she died, cold and alone in the dirty snow. Nevertheless, he still had a mission to complete. Otherwise her sacrifice would be for nothing.

The scuff of a boot alerted him to movement, and he peered carefully around the edge of the ice rock. A stormtrooper, dressed in pristine white armor and carrying a blaster, was patrolling the perimeter of their makeshift base.

Target practice.

Slowly, Rel maneuvered his own blaster into place, sighting along the barrel. His finger brushed against the trigger. He drew a breath, and then . . .

. . . stopped.

The stormtrooper was humming.

Dee-dum-dee do-dee-dum-dee-dee.

Rel’s mouth was suddenly dry. The tune was familiar, seared into his memory. It reminded him of . . . home.

Breathing raggedly, he sank back behind the ice rock. How could it be? A stormtrooper . . . from Alderaan?

The humming continued, growing louder. And then a voice floated out over the frozen wasteland:

To banish ills and gloom and fear . . . and keep your loved ones close and near. For Winter’s Heart would have us see . . .”

The true heart of winter . . . is you and me,” sang Rel, unable to stop himself. He rose slowly from his hiding place, lifting his hands above his head.

The stormtrooper wheeled on the spot, blaster raised, eyes locked with Rel’s — or at least Rel presumed so, but couldn’t be sure given the black-eyed helmet.

For a moment neither of them moved. Rel closed his eyes and awaited the killing shot. He’d made a terrible mistake. How could he have been so stupid?

“Rel?” The man’s voice was incredulous. “Rel?” Slowly, Rel opened his eyes. The stormtrooper had lowered his blaster. He reached up and removed his helmet.

For the first time in years, the two friends stood facing one another. The battlefield between them felt like a vast gulf that had suddenly opened up and was threatening to swallow them whole. How could it be? Here, of all places.

“Max? Is it really you?”

“It’s me, Rel.” Max emitted a long, low whistle. Rel blinked. “I almost shot you.”

“Glad you didn’t,” said Max.

There. That was the old Max he knew, thought Rel. The cocky smile.

“So. We’re on different sides, then,” said Max.

“Looks like it.” Rel paused. “Are you going to shoot  me?”

“What? No . . . not unless you’re going to shoot me.” “Of course not!”

Max glanced from side to side. “Look, you can’t stand there like that with your hands in the air. If someone sees you . . .” His voice trailed off. He didn’t need to say more.

“Then . . . ?”

“Over there,” said Max, waving at the trees. “Come on. It’s getting late. No one will see us.”

They clambered over the no-man’s-land towards the edge of the woodland that flanked the battlefield, their feet crunching in the fresh snow. When they were out of sight of the Imperial base, Max tossed his blaster on the ground and swept Rel into a tight hug. Rel, shaken to see his old friend dressed in the gleaming white armor of the enemy — of which he’d shot dozens — hesitated for a moment, and then, remembering that this was Max, returned the hold. After a moment, they parted.

“It’s been a while,” said Rel.

“Too long. Back on Alderaan, on the skyrail. That’s the last time we saw each other.”

The snow was falling in thick flakes all around them. Rel found the stump of an old tree to sit on. “Alderaan. I can’t believe it’s gone.”

“I know.” Max hung his head.

Rel wanted to rail at him, to ask him how he could stand there, wearing that armor, wielding a blaster forged in an Imperial factory . . . how he could still fight for the people who had destroyed their home. But he didn’t. He could see how much Max was hurting.

“It would have been Winter’s Heart, you know. If Alderaan were still there. We’d be getting ready for the banquet right about now, peeling kebroot tubers for the pot,” said Max. He sat heavily in the snow.

“Nah,” said Rel, “we’d have been larking about while our parents sorted out the food. Off hunting snow grompas and playing croupet in the woods.”

Max looked up. A smile slowly spread across his face. “Now there’s an idea. What do you say?”

“What do you mean?”

“A game of croupet! Just like the old days. We can dig out a few stones, mark up a board in the snow. . . .”

Rel looked at the man like he was insane. “Now?”

Max shrugged. “Why not? It won’t take long. Unless you’ve got somewhere better to be?”

Rel laughed. “You’re crazy.”

“And you probably still believe in snow grompas.” Max shook his head, chuckling. “I can’t believe I let you sneak up on me again.”

“Like you used to say — I’ve always been good at that.” Rel looked at his friend’s pleading expression. “Come on then. Let’s get on with it. But I’m warning you — I won’t go easy on you.”

“Like you ever did!”

Together, the two old friends gathered a handful of pebbles and marked out a board in the snow. “Alderaan rules?” said Max.

“What else?” said Rel. “This is how we mark it. Out here, on the edge of nowhere. This is how we mark Winter’s Heart and remember.”

Max gave a single heartfelt nod.

The cover of the Life Day Treasury.

Pre-order Life Day Treasury: Holiday Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away arriving September 7, 2021. All Star Wars, all the time.

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