Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's Dream [A Mechanical Heart Short Story]

So, I originally wasn't going to do a New Year's short story this year, but then I had this idea, and, well, things happened. This takes place the winter before Mechanical Heart, so no worries about spoilers. That said, you might want to hop back and read "New Year, New World," last year's New Year's story.

New Year's Dream: A New Year's Short Story

It was supposed to be a quiet night. A peaceful one, even, if such a thing could be had on Crossings Night. Luis had been planning it for weeks. His family would be out at various celebrations. Josiah, of course, was busy with the royal Crossings Night ball, with its rich food and wine and lavish costumes and four — four — different sets of musicians to rotate in and out so the dancing wouldn't stop until the dancers grew tired. And that left Luis to welcome the coming year in the best possible way: alone, in his workshop, with an abundance of projects to tinker on and the remains of the eggnog to help the process along.

Of course, it couldn't last.

Luis's first warning that something odd was afoot came when every miazen crystal in his workshop sudden blazed with brilliant white light, nearly blinding him. His next was the sight of two people in colorful robes who dashed out of thin air and ran smack into his workbench.

"What in blazes —?" Luis leapt to his feet and cast about for the nearest weapon. He grabbed his largest screwdriver and a small knife, feeling keenly the inadequacy of either.

The two didn't seem to notice him. One — a young woman with dark skin and a wild mass of black curls — recovered first. She straightened and spun around, bright green robes swirling around her, and made a series of sharp slashing motions through the air in front of her. Sign language, like Josiah's sister used? But there was no one there for her to be signing to . . .

Something else began to appear, faint and shimmering. Luis could make out the hint of a huge, dark form, gleaming . . . teeth? Or perhaps claws? Yes, claws; they were becoming more and more real at a quicker rate than the rest of the being.

The other person, a man with severely mussed dark hair and a bruised face, pushed himself to his feet. "Shut it! Quick!"

"Patience. I'm working." The girl made a final slashing motion. The claws became suddenly solid and dropped to the floor, leaking blood. The rest of the being disappeared. "See? We're fine."

I have to be dreaming. Luis took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself. Either that or finishing off the last of the eggnog at dinner had been a severe mistake. "What just happened? Who are you, and what are you doing in my workshop?"

The woman turned around, pushing her curls back from her face. Her eyebrows rose slightly when she saw Luis, and then she gave him a lazy smile. "Sorry 'bout that. It's nothing for you to worry about. I'm Carrie, and this is Tamison. Who're you?"

Her accent sounded like caramel tasted: rich and warm, with more than a little stretch in the vowels. Luis blinked, then took Carrie's hand and shook it. "Luis Kronos. I think that if you're barging into my workroom, it's something I have a right to worry about."

"We're just passing through." Carrie smiled like she was enjoying her own private joke, while Tamison groaned. "Mind telling us where we are? Then we'll leave you to your . . ." She looked around. "Your whatever this is."

"Kronos Clocks and Gadgetry. This is the back workroom." Luis paused, noted the lack of recognition on either face, then added, "Upper Rivenford? Chania?"

"Chania?" Tamison's face grew red as the trim on his robes. He turned on his companion. "You used the wrong coordinates! Now we're not just in the wrong world; we're in the wrong dimensional orientation!"

Carrie blew out a long breath and put her hands on her hips. "I wouldn't've used the wrong coordinates if you'd've just gone on and told me the right ones the first time I asked instead of going on about secrecy and the will of the Wizard Council."

Tamison drew himself up proudly, offense written clear as newsprint across his anger-blotched face. "I was following orders!"

Luis held up a hand, his mind finally having caught up from where it had stuck a few moments ago. "Wait. Wait. The wrong world?" He blinked twice, then dropped his screwdriver, reached up, and started flipping through magnifications on his work goggles, hoping that somewhere in the transitory blurs between lenses, the two would disappear or at least resolve into something more reasonable, like a few friends playing a joke on him.

But the pair remained present, as they were, and the massive claws continued to slowly leak blood onto the wood floor. Luis pulled off his goggles and shook his head. "You're mad. Or I'm mad. Or dreaming."

"Dreaming, yeah. We can call it that." Carrie gave him another slow smile. "And in a moment, you'll wake up and we'll be gone." She gestured in the air again, her motions slow and swooping this time. Then she paused, frowning. "Or perhaps not."

Tamison frowned too. "It's not working. That's odd. There's more than enough ambient magic to power a short-lived portal, even one going between perpendiculars instead of parallels . . . wait." He turned to Luis. "What day is it?"

"It's Crossings Night, the last night of the year," Luis replied slowly. The fact that Carrie had agreed that this was all a dream suggested that it really wasn't a dream at all, but he didn't have a better explanation  . . . not unless all this was real. "What do you mean, between perpendiculars?"

"You've heard of parallel dimensions?" Tamison asked. "They're like that, but oriented differently. It's complicated." He turned back to Carrie. "We must be losing alignment!" Then, over his shoulder to Luis: "Quick, what's the time?"

Luis gave the man his best unimpressed look and gestured around the workshop at the dozens of clocks hung on the walls between shelves and toolboards. "Look for yourself."

Tamison glanced around and sagged slightly. "Ah. Yes. It's . . . oh, dragonsbreath. It's only half an hour to midnight. And by midnight, the alignment will be lost and we'll be stuck here and in this world's parallels for who-knows-how-many years, thanks to someone's haphazard portaling."

"Someone just saved your skinny rear from a mad sorcerer and his hoard of crazed werecats," Carrie huffed. "Where's the most likely spot to be aligned still?"

"Ah, well . . ." Tamison licked his lips nervously. "Usually it's a south-to-north progression . . . and high spots usually have the strongest connection between dimensions . . . moreso if they have a strong concentration of magical energy . . ."

"North, up high, lots of magical energy." Carrie turned to Luis. "What do you say, Luis Kronos? You know this city. Anywhere that fits the description?"

"Well . . ." Luis hesitated. "There is one place . . ."

But could he risk sending them there? After all, no one was supposed to enter the clock tower lest they risk draining the magic from the miazen crystals at an increased rate. But, then again, if these two were already magic, perhaps it would be all right.

"There's a clock tower," he said, finally. "It's north of us, and it's one of the highest spots in the city, and it's powered by magic."

"Perfect." Carrie's smile returned. "Care to show us the way?"

Again, Luis hesitated. It would be so much easier to stay in, to stick to what was left of his plan and hide out in his workshop. He imagined the crowds and lights and noise outside and grimaced.
But . . . if this was a dream, he wouldn't really be going out. And if it wasn't a dream, he couldn't leave these two in the lurch. True, he could give them directions, but it would be faster to just show them.

"Fine." He pulled his goggles back up. "It's a good thing for you that it's Crossings Night. You'll blend in better since everyone is already costumed. You'll need masks, though."

"That's easy enough to solve." Tamison gestured, and something shifted. Luis blinked. Masks had appeared on the two's faces: a small black domino mask on on Tamison and a larger, more elaborate green mask on Carrie. In addition, their robes had somehow changed so they looked more like costumes and less like clothes. A white shirt collar poked up from the top of Tamison's robe, and the front now hung open to reveal a waistcoat and trousers. Carrie's robes had become more fitted in the bodice, and the shape suggested that she was now wearing a corset and a full skirt beneath them. In addition, a tall, pointed hat with a bit of filmy pink fabric attached to the tip had appeared on Carrie's head, nestled among her curls.

Carrie looked down at herself and sighed wearily. "Lovely." She looked at Luis. "Won't you need a mask too?"

Luis tapped his goggles. "These will do well enough. Now, let's go."

He led the way out of the shop, locking it behind them, and up the crowded streets. Even at nearly midnight, musicians and dancers still made their rounds, tailed by crowds of masked revelers dressed in dramatic blacks or brilliant rainbow hues. Their laughter and shouts mixed with the music into a joyful, chaotic cacophony. Luis grimaced, remembering all too keenly the reasons he hadn't wanted to come out tonight, and sped up.

He guided Tamison and Carrie as quickly as he could up towards the clock tower. Occasionally, some of Luis's friends or acquaintances would call out to him, inviting him and his companions to join them or pretending offense at the fact that Luis had rejected them in favor of a pair of strangers. Luis just waved and hurried on.

Thankfully, the crowds thinned as they moved further and further into the wealthy part of town. Here, the celebrations were mostly held in shops and homes. Luis caught glimpses of a few through windows, though he mostly didn't look, even when they passed the Clockmakers' Guild Hall where Luis knew his parents would be celebrating.

By the time they reached the clock tower, less than ten minutes remained 'til midnight. Luis tried the door. "It's locked." He checked his pockets — nothing. "And I don't have my locksmith's tools."
Tamison peered at the lock. "And it looks to be steel and iron. Unpleasantly resistant to magical meddling."

Carrie put a hand on the side of the tower. "That's a pity. This place is just bursting with ambient magic." She straightened her shoulders. "We'll just have to try from here. Unless . . ." She eyed the roof of the tower with a speculative gaze.

The color slowly drained from Tamison's face. "Oh no. You wouldn't . . ."

Carrie smiled — sharply, even wickedly. "Of course not. You're welcome to stay here. I'm sure you'll find this world plenty enjoyable while you're waiting for the dimensions to align in a safer location."
"Don't even think about it." Tamison scowled. "Fine. We'll try it your way."

"I thought you'd come around." Carrie turned to Luis and put a hand on his arm. "Thanks for your help. Whatever happens, we appreciate it. Assuming we don't fall, we probably won't see us again, and I'll make sure you don't remember us except as a dream like you thought we were. It'll be safer that way — less risk that someone will try to get information from your memories and hurt you in the process. But if you don't mind, wait around until we're gone to make sure we don't fall and die."




"I will. Glad I could help. Good luck, wherever you're headed." Luis glanced from Carrie to the tower roof. "What exactly are you doing, by the way?"


"This." Carrie grabbed Tamison's arm. Then both lifted off the ground and rose higher and higher towards the tower top.

Luis watched, gaping. Twice, their progress faltered and they dropped a foot before recovering and continuing to rise. But at last, they alighted on the roof of the tower, barely visible in the darkness. Luis had to squint to make them out, but he thought he saw Carrie gesturing, stepping forward —
Then something in his mind went blip, and his vision blacked out for a split second.

Luis blinked and looked around. What was he doing here at the clock tower? On Crossings Night of all nights? He'd planned to spend the evening in his workshop with his inventions, he remembered that much. And then . . . had he fallen asleep? He vaguely remembered something hazy and dream-like: a girl in green, a monster, people flying, and an urgent need to . . . do something. Had he sleepwalked all the way out here?

The tower struck midnight, the bells ringing out brilliant and clear over the city. Luis stared up at the top of the tower instinctively. In his dream, he'd needed to get to the top of the tower for some reason. But that was nonsense. No one could go up in the towers.

And yet . . . Luis frowned. Was that a shadow on the clockface? Something moving inside?

Nonsense. Luis shook his head and set off down the street as the last bells died away. He was sleep-deprived to even think of it. Honestly, he should've just gone to bed an hour ago rather than staying up to greet the new year.

And it was the new year now. Luis grinned. Tomorrow — today at this point — Josiah would come by with leftover fancy food and tales of what happened at the royal ball. And he'd have some new goal for the year, something big and impossible and shining and noble. Who knew what it would be; Luis would be happy just to get into the Inventors' Guild. And who knew? Maybe this would be his year. He'd just have to wait and see.

6 comments:

  1. Good to see Luis again! I have an inkling that this won't be the last we see of Tamison and Carrie.

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    1. Heh, no, it probably isn't. Glad you enjoyed the story!

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  2. Nice! How canonical is this story? I know you have various worlds in the same multiverse, like your Destiny (?) book and Between Two Worlds and I'm wondering if Mechanical Heart is there too.

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    1. It's tentatively canonical, with its continued canonicity depending on whether or not I decide to keep the idea of perpendicular worlds. If it works out, it could let me link all my works in one multiverse, as opposed to just having the main seven worlds, which includes both my published works, along with Between Two Worlds, Binding Destiny, Berstru, and a few others. (If you're curious and interested in helping me figure out if it makes sense, feel free to message me.)

      Thanks for commenting; I'm glad you enjoyed the story!

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    2. Okay cool! From what I've seen of your works I think Tamison/Carrie fit well into the multiverse, given that Earth exists in Between Two Worlds. And also I like the multiverse-type series way too much (I personally have nine creative planes with multiple worlds in each plus extensive histories and generational series for at least two), partially because the Cosmere blew my mind when I first started looking into Brandon Sanderson's works.

      You're welcome! I'll message you regarding perpendicularities.

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    3. Glad you think so! And yeah, multiverses are very fun. :D

      Looking forward to chatting about this more!

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