As I have previously noted, it is my habit to write a story in my father’s honour as a birthday gift, because he is a horribly difficult person to find a gift for.
This year’s story had me writing in the setting of the World Spectrum for the first time in years. It’s just a brief little vignette, but it was interesting to revisit this universe. I had to try to turn back the clock on my writing style to how I wrote then — a fascinating challenge.
Fair warning: This story takes place early in the first book, so if you haven’t read it, it might not make a lot of sense.
© 2017 by Tyler F.M. Edwards
They were coming for him.
Merrik cowered beneath a half-collapsed roof in what had once been a townhome, hearing the heavy footfalls. He heard a muttered curse in a language he didn’t understand, and it confirmed his worst fears. It was a Tor soldier.
Outside, the city of Heart burned. The footsteps of the great war machines called Automatons rumbled through the air like distant thunder, underscored by the screams of their victims.
Just a few weeks ago, Merrik could never have imagined such a nightmare. He and his thirteen year-old daughter, Nolly, had lived a peaceful life in Heart. Times had been difficult following the loss of Nolly’s mother, but they’d had each other, and they had endured.
Then the Tors had invaded.
Merrik had never given much thought to Eastenhold’s belligerent neighbors in Tor Som; the last hostilities had ended years before, and Heart was far from the contested border. But the Tors had come in overwhelming force, and city after city had fallen to them until even Eastenhold’s capitol had come under siege.
The defense of Heart had gone badly from the outset, but then the true madness had come. The Automatons had gone mad, Tor and Eastenholder machines alike killing everyone and destroying everything in their path.
In the mad flight for safety, Merrik had been separated from Nolly. He could still hear her calling out to him, but the panicked crowds had pushed him farther and farther away, and by the time he had been able to double back, she had been nowhere to be found. He had spent a panicked day and night searching for her through the corpse-strewn streets, but he had found no trace of her.
His mind filled with images of her lying dead in an alley somewhere, her bright brown eyes dull, her round face slack and bloated.
The despair was choking.
Now Merrik cowered in the ruins, his whole body shaking in terror, his lungs aching from the smoke that hung over the whole city.
He could hear the Tor soldier ascending the stairs. Perhaps it would be for the best to die here, Merrik thought. He didn’t want to live without Nolly. He only hoped the Tor would grant him a swift death. He had heard stories…
But a strange thing happened then. He began to feel a tickle at the back of his thoughts. It grew to whispered voices, and then he felt his consciousness expand across the city, connecting to the thoughts and feelings of countless other individuals.
He found himself lost in a sea of minds. A mother hiding her children in a basement. A blacksmith hefting his hammer, intending to use it against the Automatons. A wounded man, dying in a ditch. A secretary cowering under her desk as Automatons tore the building down around her. All of Heart, united as one.
Then, he felt a note of recognition within the chaos, and he seized on one single mind, the only one that mattered.
Father! she thought.
I’m here, Nolly, he responded.
He wanted to ask her if she was okay, but he found he didn’t need to. He could feel everything she did. She was tired, hungry, and frightened, but otherwise unharmed.
He sagged with relief.
What is this? What is happening? he sent to her.
I don’t know, she thought. But Father, look!
He found himself looking through his daughter’s eyes. She peered through a broken window in what had once been a restaurant. She beheld a host of people, soldier and civilian, Tor and Eastenholder, marching through the broken streets of Heart, growing larger by the moment. They marched toward the Automatons, not away, and they did so unafraid.
At their head stood a small, round-faced woman with brown hair – unmistakably a fellow Eastenholder. She moved with the grace of a predatory cat, and the mere sight of her was reassuring in some indefinable way.
Merrik reached across whatever strange link bound the people of Heart together and touched her mind as well. Her thoughts burned hot as a bonfire, full of passion and bravery, and it made his heart soar.
There was a scraping of wooden beams, and Merrik came back to himself as the rubble concealing him was torn away.
A Tor man stood before him, tall and fair with a hauberk of gleaming mail and a uniform of crimson wool. He raised a bloody short sword for a killing thrust, and Merrik saw his death approach.
Father, no! Nolly screamed into his mind, her heart in her throat.
It’s okay, Nolly, he sent. I love you.
He poured all the warmth of his love into the link, all the light and wondrous potential he saw her in her, all the ways she reminded him of her mother, all the ways she had brought joy to his days over the last thirteen years.
He braced for the blow that would end his life, but at that moment, the link expanded again, and he looked down at himself through the eyes of the Tor soldier.
At first, he felt a searing, caustic hatred toward the Eastenholder parasites. But almost immediately this faded as the Tor man – Yohar – beheld the love that passed between Merrik and his daughter.
Yohar knew such feelings well.
In his mind, Merrik saw a boy – not more than five or six – with golden hair and blue eyes. The same golden hair and blue eyes as Yohar, as his father.
Along with the images came a great warmth of love. The same love Merrik felt for Nolly.
Yohar lowered his sword.
A long moment of silence followed, and then the Tor man sheathed his blade and instead extended his hand, helping Merrik to his feet. Their eyes met, blue to brown, and an understanding passed between them. They were not friends, but no longer could they be enemies.
Merrik’s mind skimmed across the surface of the ocean of thoughts he now found himself in, from Yohar, to the woman who even now led her impromptu army against the rebelling Automatons, to all the other strangers whom he now knew as well as he knew himself.
He let all those things pass over and through him, and he settled his attention again on the one mind that most mattered to him, on his daughter’s.
Stay where you are, Nolly, he thought, smiling for the first time since this nightmare had begun. I’m coming to find you.
He gazed at Yohar, who nodded. And I’ll have help.