11945 CE, 06:00
The sun peeks its head over the dunes of the Sahara Desert. A blanket of quiet embraces the sand. Gentle breeze lifts flower petals from an oasis, lying still in the morning air, and wafts them through an open window. Wick sits up in his cot, brushing his red hair out of his dark eyes. Around him, his comrades rise one by one, pulling their blank uniforms over their heads in dead silence. They move as one, in single file, walking emotionlessly through the empty corridors, lined with massive containers. As they draw near the mess hall, an undying hunger festers in their bodies. It is not a hunger for food. It is a hunger for bloodshed.
They can't remember much. They remember pain. They remember waking, with needles and tubes protruding from their bodies. They were told that they were special. That they were the last line of defense between Humanity and Eldritch. And all around them was emptiness decaying into emptiness, echoing with lives that never came to be.
They remember a peaceful feeling, a calm before the storm.
The Eldritch came from the sky, they were told. Humanity is sleeping underground, waiting for a day when Eldritch no longer walk the earth. This is what they were told. This is what they believed.
Wick enjoyed the idea that he was better than his comrades. In his own way, he was. But they were unique as well, and therefore also greater than him. Wick, like the rest of his comrades, poured his soul into the hope that Humanity would return in his lifetime. Every waking hour was spent, in some way, "saving Humanity".
Wick vaguely recalled his training. He never questioned his instructors, at least not to their faces. He was incredibly skilled with knives, and maintained the record for vertical jump. He had spent most of his free time on the roof of the compound in silent meditation. He was occasionally joined by his friend Dredge.
They would share food and watch the sun, and tell eachother jokes neither understood. Sometimes they didn't say anything at all.
"You think it'll be in our lifetime?" Dredge asked one day.
"You know. Humans. Underground an' all that."
Wick didn't really know what to say to that. He hadn't given it much thought.
"I suppose... If it did happen, we could finally relax."
"I don't think I'd mind that, I don't think I would." They sat in silence for a while.
"Hey, Wick?" Dredge started. His eyes were clouded. "You've read all the archives, right? All the historical documents and myths?"
"Yeah. Why?" Wick blinked in his confusion. Dredge wasn't exactly the intellectual type.
"Then you're familiar with Pandora's Box."
"So what happens..." Dredge stood up as he spoke. "What happens if you open the box, and there's no hope?" Wick didn't really know what to say to that either.
"I guess we'd be fine, we're all the same, y'know, cookie cutter and all that," said Wick as he scrambled for words, finding nothing better to say.
But time passed, and it became clear that Dredge was a different. He had gone somewhere no one else had. He knew something no one else did. Dredge was what you might call a deserter. A traitor even. He thought otherwise. Dredge didn't wake up in an oasis compound. Often he didn't wake up at all. When seldom he woke, he did not take up arms. His fighting days were over. This he knew, and accepted. Instead he lay in the sun, screaming silently to the empty sky, because he had seen things no one else had seen. He had fled from the Oasis. He had fled from the war for Humanity. He was a coward, some said. But he knew something no one else knew.
Wick spent most of his time searching for Dredge. In a desert teeming with Eldritch, this proved difficult. By day he traipsed the desert sand. The sun blurred his vision, burned his back. The sand bit his skin, and caught in his throat, but Wick never noticed. He stopped noticing his wounds, his blood, the blood of his enemies. Wick never noticed. Wick never cared. He was determined to find answers. But Wick never found any trace of his former friend.
Dredge had a habit of crossing a bridge around midday. It was probably orange at some point in its life, but the sand took no prisoners.
Wick had never seen a bridge before. He had never seen a chasm either. The idea of substances other than sand existing was entirely foreign to him. Anyone else would have dismissed it as a mirage. But not Wick.
Dredge didn't think much of footprints. When he was younger he probably would have stopped a convoy to examine the tracks. It was rumored that Dredge could find your blood pressure and social security number by looking at your footprints. When he was younger he could have felt your eyes on his back, and dodged a speeding bullet. If he had been younger, Dredge might have looked down, and seen Wick's bootprints, nearly invisible in the sand.
If he had been younger, Dredge might have heard Wick drawing knives behind him.
"Dredge." Wick's voice cut through the burning air and scattered the dust on his mask.
"How long has it been?" The phrase rolled off his tongue like bitter syrup, as if he had spent hours rehearsing.
Dredge leaned against the faded handholds on the bridge, which was slowly falling apart, then locked eyes with his pursuer. His enemy. His friend.
"Not very long, I should think. Months, maybe." he shrugged. "Just kill me. Get it over with."
Wick sheathed his knives. "You know I can't do that. Not until I know why. Why you left."
Dredge remained silent.
"They're coming Dredge. Everyone else is coming, right behind me. They'll kill you if I don't. Please. Just tell me."
Dredge looked around, then tugged off his mask. "About a year ago, I went missing for about a week. You might recall the incident." Wick nodded.
"But it wasn't an Eldritch abduction like you might have been told. I left of my own free will. And returned, because I knew something that no one else knew."
The wind was showing interest in whatever Dredge had to say, and brought the sand to listen as he opened his mouth to speak.
"Humanity is extinct."
Wick momentarily choked on his tongue. "What?"
Dredge nodded. "You heard me right. All those battle we fought? The trenches we dug? The hives we bombed?" Dredge laughed dryly at the sheer absurdity of what he was saying.
"It was all a lie. Humanity is gone. I've seen the ruins. Crossed the gate, into the bunker where 'Humanity' is 'resting'. It's empty. All of it."
The sand slowly tumbled off the bridge, as if falling through a sieve. If you tried hard enough, you could probably hear it hitting rock bottom. Dredge looked up at the sky.
"I've been through our database. Seen the 'supplies' we send down there. All those tanks you walk by every morning? Empty."
Wick looked down the chasm, at the darkness below. He could still see sand trickling down the sides. The bridge was slowly collapsing, each carefully placed stone sliding from under the next.
"We've been alive for the past millennia, made whole by bloodshed, destroying everything we touch, eternally reborn to fight the same battles, again and again. The Eldritch will not tire. But we are already dead." Dredge slowly tore his gaze from the unwavering clouds, and directed his attention to his old friend.
"My time is up, Wick. Are you going to keep fighting? Is that really what you want?" Wick wasn't really sure what to say to that. He barely noticed the mortar shifting beneath his feet.
"No, of course not." Wick stared blankly at his palms, and then clenched them into fists. "There's nothing left to fight for."
They gazed into the depths of the chasm, the bridge as it faltered, and up at the stagnant, grey sky, the sand and its fury, the sun and its anguish, into the eyes of each other, and they saw nothing, nothing at all.
The bridge collapsed, an inferno of sand and mortar, dragging its visitors into the abyss, its deafening weeping drowning out the final breaths of the once lively soldiers as it lay them to rest.
woohoo happy ending wheeee