Authors: Aidan Moher
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fantasy, #Short Fiction
The Hero of Uwe'hhieyth
We weren't alone on Uwe'hhieyth. Just blind to our neighbours.
They came from the ground. Not from caves, crevasses or valleys, literally up from the ground, like locusts. We were not armed—civil war did not exist yet on our young planet—and could not defend ourselves. They were darker than a starless night and brought shadows with them; shadows that somehow drowned out the light of Uwe'hhieyth's twin moons. Imagine fighting shadows whose very touch would chill the blood in your veins and freeze you from the inside. Imagine fighting thousands of them, endless waves, night after night. We did not last long.
Those few of us who survived fled. We were mostly young men and women living away from their families in one of the three airborne academies that all Unitarian citizens were required to attend from ages ten through thirteen. Like cowards, we fled. No more than twenty thousand or so made it to the ship.
Five thousand six hundred and thirteen days later, after a stop of several years on the massive Unitarian refugee station,
, our ship,
The Spirit of a Sudden Wind
, was on course back to Uwe'hhieyth with a simple mission: recovery.
Praise for Tide of Shadows and Other Stories
One of the "May Science Fiction And Fantasy Books Everyone Will Be Talking About."
"Each of the stories is like a little clock: beautifully crafted, intricate, distinctively handmade, with a dozen tiny complications in its inner workings. The range is unreal: space stations, angel wings, fairytale dragons, ancient shadow monsters...all unconnected, and yet it feels like it's all part of a bigger whole. It's exquisite."
- Rob Boffard, author of Tracer
"The greatest strengths of this delightful collection lie in its variety and scope. There are only five stories, but Moher makes the most of them, moving easily between rhetorical modes, narrative structures, and invented voices."
- Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades
"Offering a little something for everyone, Tide of Shadows and Other Stories is a collection of tales that know precisely how to engage the reader, and exactly how to find a climax without overstaying their welcome."
- Beauty in Ruins
"A brilliant piece of writing, beautiful and surreal."
- We the Nerdy
Books by Aidan Moher
Tide of Shadows and Other Stories
Tide of Shadows
and Other Stories
Published by A Dribble of Ink
Copyright © 2015 Aidan Moher
All rights reserved. The scanning uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book is prohibited without written permission of the publisher. If you would like to use material from this book (other than for review purposes), please contact [email protected] with your request. Thank you.
Cover illustration by Kuldar Leement
Cover design by Aidan Moher
eBook conversion and design by Aidan Moher
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This collection is dedicated to my beautiful wife, who was there from the first word to the last.
Table of Contents
If you don’t know any better, books seem like very quiet things. They sit bound on your shelf, on the back of the toilet, in your purse, not making much noise at all. They’re innocuous and raise no fuss at being carted around everywhere you go. They’re the perfect companion.
Stories, however, have loud, loud voices.
I chose each of the stories in this collection because of all those I’ve written through the years, they have been the squeaky wheels. Not every story deserves to be read (lord knows I have a trunk full of stories that shall remain forever hidden from daylight and the eyes of innocent readers), but when a story refuses to stay quiet, when I can still hear it murmuring away years after I’ve written it, then I’m only doing due diligence as an author (and now a publisher) to let it free.
“A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” is the story of a young man reliving the last moments of his fellow soldiers’ lives; “The Girl with Wings of Iron and Down” tells the tale of a broken family and a girl with mechanical wings; in “Of Parnassus and Princes, Damsels and Dragons,” we’re introduced to a typical prince, princess, and dragon, and a not-so-typical love triangle; “The Colour of the Sky on the Day the World Ended” follows a girl and her ghost dog as they search for a bright light in the darkness; and “Tide of Shadows” is about a soldier and his lover, a mother, and planetwide genocide.
I’ve been a writer since before I can remember, but “Tide of Shadows and Other Stories” marks my first foray as a publisher. I’ve always considered writing to be very self-centred—ultimately, it’s something I do for myself, an exercise to satisfy the curious parts of my mind that will not stay still. Publishing, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite: it is taking something that is near to me, something that I’ve had complete reign over from the first word to the last, and preparing it for transfer to my readers. Once this book is out on bookshelves (or eReaders), the stories are no longer mine. They belong to the readers. This is a new, exciting, and scary thought.
In addition to the stories themselves, I’ve included story notes that are my attempt to turn fresh eyes on tales I wrote over the years. Whether it’s an examination of the story’s origins or a look at how things might be different if I wrote the story now, I hope you’ll find something of value in the anecdotes I’ve recorded. Perhaps my insights might make it enjoyable to reread the collection with a new or different perspective.
So, then, I bid adieu to these five stories as they pass from my hand to yours. I have only one request of you as a reader: please take care of them for me, will ya?
Victoria, March 21, 2015
A Night for Spirits
The dead man watched with glazed eyes as I dug his grave. My blade bit into the frozen earth. I pulled hard and it came grudgingly free. I struck again and hit a stone—a new dent in the dull sword. I was too cold to feel the shock, too tired to care.
The grave—the first of four—came slowly, revealed one swing at a time.
The forest was still, a twisted play on the chaos that had whipped through the trees just hours before. Those moments of slaughter, that maelstrom of death's laughter, were over. The only reminder of the battle was me, weary and digging graves for my fallen brothers. It is what my long-dead, never-buried father would have done.
The other bodies, those of the barbarians who had set upon us, could rot—picked clean by howling wolves until they were nothing more than the skeletal remains of fathers, brothers, and sons.
For all I cared, they could feed the spirits of the dead and be forgotten.
Dawn's blush fell across the forest, the soft kiss of morning's first light. Sinuous tendrils of mist curled from the wet ground to dance slowly around my feet. The trees around me towered like sentinels reaching for dawn’s light, watching my trial with ancient disinterest.
The morning was silent. No birds sang. No breeze whispered through tree limbs. The rising sun was a kindred soul, a companion in my time of mourning—but so much stronger than a weak boy crying for the forgotten dead.
A chop of my sword shattered the silence. The frozen ground was hard as stone.
I looked at the first corpse. He had the slanted eyes and amber skin of an islander from the Sinking Moon Islands. Dandelion, we called him, though we really meant "Dandy Lion." He was a fop and always talking of heroes and villains, knights and dragons—no head in the real world. Not one of our original crew, but a brother just the same. His throat was slit and blood caked his chest, dark and frozen now. He looked confused—and so young.
Not that it mattered anymore.
The grave was less than a foot deep, not enough for a body. Piled stones alone might do, but the dead deserved better.
It would have been easier to burn the bodies, but that is not the way taught to my people. We come from the earth, and to its cold embrace we must return. Hell is hot; the ground is cold.
Despite the chill air, I began to sweat. My bloody shirt stuck to my back; my brow dripped. I prayed for the sun to heat the ground, to lift some burden from my shoulders.
I dug. My blade broke, so I picked up another. The northern sword felt strange in my hands: the hilt too long, the balance unusual. I dug until the hole was deep enough for the body.
I gathered a pile of stones. It was a relief to walk around, to stretch out the screaming muscles in my arms, my neck, and my back. I did not know how many stones to collect, so I gathered all I could find. When I was done, the sun was past its peak, descending back toward the dark promises of night.
I rolled the body into the grave. It landed face down. With my hands, I poured the first of the black soil over the corpse.
Dandelion watches the dark with tired eyes. He's drawn the worst watch—during the deepest part of the night, when the red face of the sun is a far-off dream. Not that it's much better even at midday. Still freeze-your-balls-off cold. At least he'll be able to feel his feet once the sun's up and they started walking again.