Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Awakening

By Loki

"... it was like a dark stain set into the liquid glass of the sea; like the shadow of some unseen creature above, some mammoth bird of prey... its movement more fluid than the water it haunted, without apparent thrust, like the movement of light over broken ground... the way waves disguised its true form: magnifying it by parts, distorting its outline...

"...I have heard it described as unearthly... I know now that it could never be otherwise; that nothing of the sea is ever really of this earth...

"...no, I felt no fear -- in its place I felt a strange fascination, an... almost an attraction, almost...

"...in truth, that may be its most terrible power... "

Breathless silence gives way to electric hum, whir, click, echoed hundredfold throughout the belly of the APC, as rifle-barrels' ready blackness embrace their sister shells: united to a common, waiting goal.

Cold shines phosphor-bright, relieved only by comforting silhouettes of an hundred waiting soldiers. There is no light: thermo-imaging goggles tear each man from the darkness that has bound him. This journey has taken a lifetime for some; for others it is over in the blink of an unseeing eye.

Thunder -- the release of heavy latches -- 10 000 feet of shrieking sky replaces the floor. Between each man and death, a line as thin as the micro-laser-guided magnetic cord that will slow his descent. Each man gives his life to the cord. Total faith. For that brief time it is like a god; the men pray it will save them from terminal impact -- at least, most do.

Ungreeted. The air sports no buzz of insects, no scent of death; no grass trampled beneath their heavy boots. A fine carbon dust swirls in the unfettered breeze -- such is the legacy of sterilization bombing. There is no terrain, only surface.

Another void -- satellite Damocles glides silently into geo-sync, its mile-long barrel a needle poised to pierce the heart of the very earth it circles. A brilliant flash. If there were sound, it would be deafening.

To the soldiers, spectacular darkness streaks into the sky; a falling star. Cacophonous waves of earsplitting sound coincide with a series dazzling explosions, propelling the projectile deep into the ground.

Several miles below, the sound is a dull thunder to the ears of anxious Numen: walls shudder, ceilings crack, dust settles. It is the calm before. A harbinger.

Nestled within the core of the missile, a tiny electronic mind listens to hear the voice that will call it to oblivion. A signal transmitted; message received. A bond is broken, a millennia-old trust torn asunder -- atomic fission.

...a child builds by the sea-side... the others use sand; stay well back of the waves... she is amidst the surf; hers is not a castle, rather a monument to the spirit of man... she piles rocks snatched from the churning sea, defying it... a testament... undaunted... beyond good, evil; beyond innocence; that naked, human drive to create, to excel... she is the first to die... the first of many...

Twenty-foot thick ceilings of steel and concrete become lightning bursts of molten shrapnel. Dead stare vacantly through the crushing blanket of slag. Vaporized by the heat, or buried in liquid stone, they leave no scent of death. For a fleeting moment all is quiet, fused in morbid tableau.

A flood of shattered rock breaks the stillness. With the debris comes new air, oxygen rich, and all that is combustible burns. Dense smoke fills the room -- as tension had, moments before -- to the floor, in every crevice, and up the sundered walls. Smoke thick with loss pours through the crater above. It flows like the lifeblood of a planet; like the breath of some ancient dragon awoke. It is as much a portent of future horrors as testament to present ones.

Without, halls echo in the thunder of a thousand prayers. The valiant arm themselves for the coming end; dignity, in its death-throws, demands a fight. The meek offer atonements to a God they are soon to meet. Within, a lone man makes his own preparations for the end.

Broken reverie leaves the prophet spent. His mouth is dry; his forehead slick with sweat. His first breath is drawn as if through sand. Blind hands grope madly before settling on the cold hardness of a steel cup. He drinks in rapid, choking gulps. Something has happened, something that reeks of death. He will know soon enough.

"...is it horror or exertion that so flushes you?..." He asks, almost before the young acolyte has entered the room. The stark whiteness of the corridor beyond frames his silhouette in the doorway, casting wide, luminous beams into the chamber. The prophet stares blankly into the light; no reflexive blinking or sheltering of the eyes. Huge and vacuous, these are the eyes of the prophet and they see only inward.

Fragile legs buckle then redouble their efforts, the prophet stands. Abruptly he folds. Spasmodically shaking, he is racked by coughs. The acolyte administers water from another steel cup and a thought strays into the prophet's mind. 'Not all angels have wings'. There is a companionship amid the tension; a closeness that their position both facilitates and expressly denies. Immediately he can sense it, the tumult of the child's mind fills the air with messages that are, to him, readily perceptible, almost palpable.

They have come. They, with their monstrous tools of annihilation, have ventured forth to look the storm in the eye. They shall see within it a mirror of their own darkness -- an engine of destruction beyond any they could devise. The ultimate doomsday device will look back at them through the hollow globes of the prophet's blind eyes. If it is death they seek, then they shall find it here.

Carefully he resumes his place atop the small mattress, bed-sores stitching their agony to his legs and back. What good it will do now he does not know, only that he must watch --- but the visions of the prophet come not without their price. There is that within the body that allows it to do, in times of great stress, that which cannot be done; to push past the limits of endurance. Such a reserve has the prophet drawn upon for many days, but now even it is spent. To breach once more the veil of mundane perception the prophet must burn his very soul. He knows before he starts, perhaps has always known, that this vision will be his last.

"...there will be more, and then, there will be no more... stay here, by my bedside, do not go out...

"...you will hear the end of your life as it approaches the door, stamps it open with a heavy boot... it can not matter...

"...you will record my final words, witness the message... yours, too, is a sacred mission..."

The wind bends around the thick smoke, unable to disperse it. Silently it rises, an ashen phoenix, across the reflective polymers of their visors. In careful disarray the soldiers flow across the barren surface of the planet, to swarm the newly-formed crater. Ants pouring from an anthill, but in reverse, the soldiers are soon swallowed up by the giant hole; like so much water down a drain.

This time it is different; unlike above, down here they can see the carnage. Nerves of steel are tested, drawn taut like high-tension wires --- but these men are soldiers. They have no time for pity, nor remorse. By squad, then by man, they fan out through the vast, gutted complex. What Numen remain offer feeble opposition. It is more an extermination than a battle. Some had feared this underground shrine would become their tomb, it is worse, it is a mass grave. The upper levels saturated with radiation, stalked by predatory wind; the lower chambers slaked with crimson blood.

... primeval terror takes wing... it is the source of all nightmares, the undistilled image of horror...

... a red, dark like blood, yet blinding in its luminosity issues forth from its maw, an incendiary rain... lush green below is scorched a wicked black... its swathe a laceration, bleeding fire...

The acolyte staggers. His lungs are buffeted within his chest by the resonant pounding. Dust showers down; the ceiling cracks. Again and again the rams batter the megalithic door, turning to powder its once-intricate carvings. It is as the prophet had said, he CAN hear the sounds of his death approaching --- the slow, heavy, laborious sound of mechanised slaughter. "Perhaps it's not too late to save myself!" The frantic thought perishes quickly, much as the acolyte himself is soon to do. He is resigned to his task. "...yours too, is a sacred mission..." The words of the prophet cement his purpose, and his fate.

"... they huddle in corners, like bundles of rags... there is more bone to them than flesh...

"... it was the feeling of being the wind, of scattering the chaff... they parted as i walked through them... they were insubstantial... shades of men...

"... they will be remembered as the hoofprints of the black horse, but they have shown me that they were more..."

Heavy stone grinds on stone, with a sound like the roar of some great beast --- like the roar of a terrible fire, consuming men. In rush the soldiers, hurdling broken pieces of door and ceiling alike. Violent flares of black-hot gunfire spray the thin partition with shells, throwing it from its hinges. These same shells rend flesh, shatter bone, and shower the room in the acolyte's blood. In the dim light, the face of the prophet shines --- the light reflected in thick red.

They have come here to prevent the apocalypse. Great expense has been paid, pains taken, in order to procure the special knowledge of this frail shape before them. If they know how it is to come, perhaps the apocalypse can be stopped...

Seated before them on the blood-soaked bed, the prophet's white stare turns suddenly to the soldiers. His voice is a death-rattle, a rasp.

"... you are too late... " His final words bear the weight of mountains.

... a curtain of air bubbles turns the water violent... deep beneath, the ocean rocks and a colossal eye sees --- for the first time in years beyond number...

...the Leviathan awakes.