Chapter 1

When the first shell tore through the belfry of the town church and sent its bell crashing to the dusty floorboards beneath, bellowing out a deafening ring into the dark night, all were dreaming. Eyes finally cracked open as the spire shattered against the pavement, spilling its splintered and paint-chipped guts across the street.

Daniel shot out of bed and stumbled to his bedroom window. Dust was rising above the houses just a couple blocks away. He’d woken just in time to see the second shell rocket through the air, narrowly missing him and his house. The BOOM that erupted mauled his ears.

Footsteps charged down the hall, accompanied by a much closer voice. “W-what’s…?” a girl asked from the bed next to his. A sliver of moonlight sucked the fear out of her heart and jammed it into her wide, dark brown eyes. Daniel returned her horrified look.

The door slammed open behind him and an older, familiar figure gripped the doorframe, a smaller one at his side. He opened his mouth to speak but the smoke outside silenced him.

Ominous whirring and decisive bangs dried out Daniel’s throat and made his words hoarse, “They’re here.” The girl was shaking now, the man in the doorway gasped. Daniel peeled his eyes from the window and the sight of shaking trees on a windless night.


Everything danced as pairs. The bricks strewn across the road, the towers of smoke rising into the sky, and the person calling to him from the other side of a freshly collapsed building. Something warm was running down his arm and spilling into his open palm, and when he tried to move his shoulder it shot icy pain through the entire limb. At least the shrieks were muffled by the ringing in his ears.

“Daniel!” The voice came again. He squinted, forcing his vision to cooperate, and saw the girl crouched down next to someone, but she was looking at him. She was trying to pull a woman out from underneath a wooden beam.

With a groan, he fought against the rumbling ground and pushed himself up against what was left of a wall. He swayed, and so did the girl, the woman under the rubble, the familiar man, and the group of men with guns approaching them. His stomach lurched and he staggered to the side. “Marie!” He yelled, but it was too late.

The girl, Marie, screamed at the sight of the men and threw up her hands. The man with her cautiously followed suit. The woman under the rubble did nothing.

Daniel’s stomach turned again as the men yanked Marie and the man off their feet. He couldn’t fight off all those men alone. Was there anywhere to hide—?

“Hey!” One of them shouted. “There’s another!” With that, two of the men started charging up and across the levelled house.

Directly towards Daniel.

His heart skipped a beat as he turned to run down the remaining walls of the alley, clumsily dodging bent fire escapes. The men’s combat boots crushed glass under their heels as they chased him through the debri.

“Stop!” they shouted, “Stop, or we shoot!”

Daniel’s heart beat too quick and his breath clogged his throat too tightly to respond. He burst into the open street—his peripherals caught a glimpse of a steel beast whirring hungrily toward him—and took a sharp right, sprinting into another alley just as the two men rounded the first. A bullet whizzed by his head as he all but threw himself into the alley, landing on his injured arm—he gasped, pain blinding him for a moment. Wheezing, sweating, he struggled to his feet and darted to the brick wall at the end of the alley. The crates sitting against it were just enough for him to pull himself over the wall right as the two men ran into the alley. They fired, turning pieces of brick to dust, but missing Daniel, who dropped down facing the wall.

“Go around!” one of them said. The sound of running responded.

Daniel turned, about to sigh with relief, but the figure leaning against a dumpster stopped him.

“What the hell?” the figure growled, tossing down a cigarette and stomping it out. He snatched a knife on the Federation Army motorcycle next to him from its sheath and stomped over to Daniel, who reluctantly raised his hands. His eyes darted to lead pipes and cracked brick and to the man’s bike. Fearful air rumbled in and out of his chest. What now?

“Come on, you’re lucky I don’t kill you right here—”

Daniel jumped to the side, grabbed the man’s wrist, slammed it into the alley wall. The man grunted. Dropped the knife. A foot met Daniel’s stomach and he toppled to the ground, winded, but managed to snatch up the knife.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “You little—!”

Daniel lunged forward.

The world slowed. Gunfire faded into nothing more than knocks on a door, whirring tank treads became calm ocean waves, and Daniel’s breath jammed itself in his lungs. The man’s body hesitated, a wet gurgling exiting its mouth before it thumped to the ground.

Daniel stepped back, bloody knife shaking in his hand.

“Okay…” his words came out in a series of shaky breaths. Using a crate as support, he steadied himself. “Okay. It’s okay,” he breathed.

He had to get out of there.

Dawn was starting to peek over the horizon. A stray sunbeam bounced off of some metal, cutting through Daniel’s right eye. He shielded his face from the sun with a hand, then followed the beam...

The bike.

He grabbed the sheath and slid the knife into it. Shoving it into his waistband, he jumped onto the bike. He’d never ridden one before, he’d only ever worked on them in the shop. He tossed the helmet sitting atop the dumpster onto his head, pulled the motorcycle into the middle of the alley, swung his leg over the seat, and sent a prayer to the Lord.

Tires shrieked against pavement and a smokey cloud plumed behind Daniel as the bike carried him out of that damned alley.

A city of rubble and ash greeted him along with one of the first two men that’d chased him. The man shouted something and started running faster, faster.

“Shit shit shit,” Daniel mumbled, wobbling as he tried to control the bike. “Ha!” He slammed his foot down on the pedal, careening him toward the edge of town and away from the chaos.

“Don’t let him get away!” he barely heard the man scream, but he certainly felt the air from a bullet brush past his cheek. He pressed down harder on the pedal, buildings a blur as he flew past them. Fields peeked past a bundle of shops up ahead—the edge of town—alongside a familiar lanky figure.

He grit his teeth. Did he have time?

More bullets, more blasts from somewhere else in the town that created an earthquake beneath him, more frantic shouting. His ears still rang slightly, his vision still a bit blurry, and even adrenaline couldn’t mask the pain the bloody, mangled gash in his arm gave him.

He had to try.

He swerved the bike to a screeching halt while simultaneously extending a hand to the figure. “Valtteri!” he shouted, “Come on!” It took the lanky man, Valtteri, only a moment of shocked hesitation before he grabbed Daniel’s dust-covered palm and hopped onto the back of the bike.

Daniel floored the pedal. “Please,” he said, “please.” The last line of buildings was so close. His heart was about to explode. Squeezing his eyes shut tight, he took a second to catch his breath—

And when he opened them, the sun rising over the sprawling northern plains greeted him.