World Spectrum: One Heart

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.

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One Heart

© 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.

Nolly.

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.

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Gaming Round-Up: A Return to SWTOR, Wolves of Midgard, the Horners, and More

I finally got a bit burnt out on Legion, so I’m taking a break before I tackle the last few class stories. In the interim, I’ve been bouncing around between a few different games, which means it’s time for another multi-topic gaming post.

A rare moment of quiet in Vikings: Wolves of MidgardBack in the Republic:

Long-term, I want to give some serious time to SWTOR. Catch up on the story and maybe finish the last two class stories. However, there’s supposed to be a major content patch soon, so I figure I should wait for that before I get too heavily invested, and as a result I’ve just barely dipped my toes in.

Despite my obscure tastes, I did lose a couple of character names during the recent server merges. I’m rather pissed to have lost my bounty hunter’s name, as it was already my second choice for her name, and now she’s down to like my sixth or seventh choice. The others I don’t mind, but boy is it hard to find a new name now. Absolutely everything is taken. Who the hell even knows what “Bagrada” is other than me?

I did eventually think of a name for my knight that wasn’t taken, and I actually really like it. I should use it more. And thankfully my main characters — agent, warrior, and consular — all got to keep their names. The reign of Empress Maigraith Numin continues undisputed.

Another mild annoyance is that SWTOR apparently stores UI data client-side rather than server side, so I had to set everything up again since I’m playing on a different computer now.

Unlike most MMO players, I’m not fussy about my UI. I’m usually happy to play with the default settings of any given MMO. Even ESO’s much maligned interface is fine by me. But for whatever reason the default UI in SWTOR makes me want to punch kittens, so I have to rekajigger it a fair bit.

Cipher Nine and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old RepublicOn the good news front, I am delighted to be able to customize the armour of my KotFE companions. Well, Lana, anyway. I never much bother with the others. I put together an outfit based around the Protoss-looking armour from the new light side vendors, and she is now the glorious space paladin of my dreams.

Mr. and Mrs. Horner:

In other news, this week saw the hotly anticipated (by me) release of StarCraft II’s latest co-op commander(s), the husband and wife team of Matt Horner and Mira Han.

My early experiences with them were actually something of a baptism by fire. I was struggling even on normal — something I haven’t done since I first started on co-op. I’ve come to the conclusion they’re a bit like Karax, despite having a totally different playstyle: They have a very steep learning curve, and they’re highly dependent on leveling upgrades.

I’m getting the hang of them now, but I would definitely say they’re one of the most challenging commanders in co-op.

The thing is that Matt’s units are extremely strong, but also extremely expensive. Meanwhile, Mira’s are pretty much just trash. The goal, then, is to mass up a large force of Matt’s air units while using Mira’s mercs only as a mineral dump. The trouble is getting to that point. You simply can’t afford Matt’s units in the early game, but you can’t spend too much on Mira’s or you’ll never get ahead.

Matt Horner and Mira Han's army in StarCraft II co-opThus, while the Horners are a force to be reckoned with late game, the early game is a nerve-wracking ordeal.

Their one saving grace in that regard is the Assault Galleon. These are Mira’s main production structure, but they’re also powerful capitol ships. They’re a lot like Tempests — long range, high damage — but with much more health, and you can build them right off the bat, and they only cost 200 minerals. And later on you can upgrade them to also be Carriers.

Galleons are kind of amazing.

My strategy therefore is max out on Galleons (you can only have a maximum of five) ASAP, lean on them to survive, and try to fast tech to the truly valuable units: Wraiths and Battlecruisers.

As far as Mira’s units go, my preference is for the Hellion. Their range means they don’t die quite as quick as her other stuff, and their damage is quite respectable. A lot of people seem to like Reapers, and that can work, but they die so much you end up replacing half your army after every battle.

The good news is the Horners definitely scratch my itch for an air-focused commander. Five Galleons plus their fighter bays plus Wraiths plus Battlecruisers is the unstoppable doom fleet I’ve spent all my life longing for.

Matt Horner and Mira Han in StarCraft II co-opAlso, dropping a space station on people is every bit as hilarious as I dreamed.

Overall I do think they’re a fun commander, but you definitely need to bring your A game. You have to work for your wins.

One final thing to note on the subject of StarCraft: I recently managed to solo a brutal mutation for the first time ever. My ally DCed on the load screen, and I was left to fend for myself. It was very challenging, I had to base trade with Amon, and there were only 21 seconds left on the clock when I killed the final objective, but I did it.

Considering I normally struggle to solo even standard matches, and that brutations are generally the toughest thing in the game short of PvP, I feel pretty proud of myself.

Nova OP.

Favoured of Skadi:

On top of that, I also played through a single-player RPG I got cheap on a Steam sale, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard. It’s a Diablo clone inspired by Norse mythology, which also neatly explains why I bought it.

Fighting a boss in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

Most folk’ll never lose a toe, but then again some folk’ll, like Cletus the slack-jawed Jokul…

Even after having finished it, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.

It has some neat ideas. One example is the exposure mechanic of environmental hazards. For example, if you’re traveling in a cold area, you’ll need to warm up by fires regularly or risk freezing to death. I really wish more games made the environment part of gameplay like this.

The combat is also very fun, and it does an admirable job of bringing the world of Norse mythology to life. It’s clear they actually did their research, even if they still take liberties in places. The story’s junk, but the strength of the setting carried it through, and the main character’s voiced by Alix Wilton Regan (if female), which is always a plus.

I did enjoy the class system, as well. Rather than traditional classes, you gain bonuses based on which of the Norse gods you follow, and it’s possible and even encouraged to put points into two skill trees at once, with the option to swap between them at will. I enjoy that level of versatility.

Most of the trees still more or less correspond to traditional RPG archetypes — Skadi, my main choice, is an archer class — but the Odin tree is a bit different. It’s the caster class, but it’s melee, focusing on acrobatic staff fighting. I suppose that might be bad for people who prefer traditional casters, but for my part I think “Gandalf + ninja” is a pretty awesome class concept.

But Wolves of Midgard a lot of rough edges. Despite some solid graphics, it’s nonetheless clear the game was done on the cheap, and it has many polish issues. That I could live with, but what really surprised me was how old school and unforgiving it felt at times. Save points, for example, are few and far between, so a single death can prove very punishing.

The realistic snow effects of Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

This is the first game I’ve played where the snow actually behaves like snow.

It got worse near the end. There’s a massive spike in difficulty in the last few levels. The intention seems to be to grind earlier content to level up, which is fairly awful. You can get around this by lowering the difficulty, but it’s just not a great situation all around.

So that put a damper on what had otherwise been a pretty fun game up until that point. If you really like Norse mythology and/or you want a more “hardcore” RPG, it might be worth a look, but otherwise I’m not sure how strongly I can recommend it.

And finally…

There’s actually one other noteworthy thing I’ve been playing lately, but that deserves it’s own post, so it can wait.

In the meanwhile, why not check out my latest article for MMO Bro? This time I’m pondering if and how the stories of MMOs can be given satisfying conclusions.