Five thousand years ago, as humanity died off and contagious cancers ravaged the remnants of their species, the Admiral turned his gaze up to heaven and wondered where his god resided. He’d spent decades in churches searching for answers to battlefields strewn with shattered bone and curdled blood, and he’d spent just as long curled up in old libraries with physics textbooks and crammed in classrooms to learn the latest in military tactics. His bookshelves were thick with novels of all sorts, bristling with genres like knives in a ruler’s back at the end of his reign.
And now, he thought, now he thought he might finally have his answer.
Supernovas across the frontlines. Thousands of scurrying insectoid soldiers with firearms and tattered military uniforms and high explosives, and the ground rippled and shifted from the presence of thick worms just underneath the surface, transporting everything everyone could possibly need.
To the north, in the ruins of what had once been Kentucky, The Admiral’s army rested. A hundred hostile bristling checkpoints of everything that had been left behind, that he had calculatingly salvaged and saved. More than a thousand soldiers whose minds he had painstakingly rebuilt from the slavery they had been forced into, who had been sleeping in monstrous form and had decided they would die for him rather than die for nothing. A line of bristling Crow teams, hot and angry, angrier than anything they’d ever felt before in their lives, ready to throw down their lives, unknowing if they’d make it another day, but the cowardice of immortality had been dragged out of them.
Their leadership was busy. But each and every Crow carried Morrigan’s soul inside of them. Each and every Crow remembered the First Moments, of watching the last kindnesses of humanity as they dwelt in a dying hideous world of their own making.
Each and everyone of them thought that, at last, they would return the favor and die for a chance at kindness in the world once more. For though this world was ending, they would fight a million battles for another chance. That was the nature of humanity’ descendents, the inheritors of their world.
And that world waited with bated breath. To the south, Bismarck marched with her unending armies, disgorged from what remained of her militaries after being gradually bled dry from countless battles against the Crows. A few straggling tank beetles towered over a thrumming horde of Fey soldiers, marching in lockstep. Flying creatures, thinned in number from battle against the far more nimble Crows, backed them up.
The last of the Queen’s Guards, Bismarck, stood atop her monstrous legs without a hint of armor, showing off glistening black chitin next to scarred and mutilated skin. No clothes, because no armor would be more powerful that the protection that the Watcher gave his chosen child, the Main Character of the morality play.
A mortar enveloped her position, sending mindless Fey troops hither and thither, turning their constructed forms into mush. Bismarck stepped out of the smoke, ash rising from her unsullied skin. The apocalypse had finally arrived, and no amount of superior firepower or protected positions was going to stop her. Not for long.
But that was just it.
They’d stop her. But not for long.
In the distance, a Crow made rifle let out a hideous wail as it disgorged a round and struck Bismarck from nearly a mile away, tearing off her arm, collapsing her shoulder and revealing a hideous mass of bone and lymph. She smiled, and gestured with the other arm. She said a word so hideous that the universe could not recall it for more than a moment, and the gun exploded, scattering the Crow into living terrified pieces. Then she grabbed the arm, pressed it back up into the stub, and it healed, interlocking together.
Then she spoke more normally, and the entire battlefield could hear it.
“Nobody will remember you in my new world,” Bismarck whispered into their ears, a million sibilant voices. Some of them were familiar. “Nobody will remember you even existed. Only I will remember your faces, and the petty resistances you once conjured against the savior of the universe.” Then she smiled, drawing a box from her back, and held it up. The air throbbed to the pulse of the beat of the Heart in the box. Bullets sprayed at her position, and they whistled around her, deflected by the aura coming off the hideous artifact. “Every moment of love that you have suffered through. Every plan, every hobby, every moment of your long long lives will end here. And I promise you,” she smiled, showing off a mouth of sharpened hollow teeth. “Nobody will remember you in my new world.”
Another mortar enveloped her position. Without a word, but merely a suggestion, the Fey hordes poured forward.
The first few minutes were absolutely brutal. Bismarck no longer cared about keeping her numbers up. She was the sole survivor of her group, the last of the Guard who cared about anything other than the mission. Her troops ran headlong into minefields, scattering their insectile forms like broken glass across the pavement. Casualties raced well over the thousands on her side, and still, she slowly walked forward.
The landmines detonated, wiping out the first wave, but the second one came, crackling into existence as Bismarck drew them in through her gates, and they came with armored units, hardened troops in heavier chitin, that walked through the evaporated remnants of their colleagues without a care in the world. As they breached the mines they began to fall, toppling over from bullets driven straight through their angry heads. The holes sizzled, crackled, fragmented, and the Crows sang through their equipment, their datapads broadcasting a hundred voices of what had once been the inheritors of the continent.
Miles away, buried in a bunker coated in the last made defenses against Bismarck’s kind, the Admiral watched, and waited, eyes locked onto a screen. Miles beneath the earth, The Mother of his troops, the grand nest, the once-queens that had been saved and tamed waited, their bellies full of atomic weaponry, the spears of the old world, and he hesitated, looking over the last of his friends, and wondered if there had been another way that this could have happened.
If, perhaps, he had tried harder, could he have saved Bismarck from her fate? His memory was not yet faded enough that he had forgotten Defender Kathleen and Dr. Williams, the cold women who had come up with their plans to save the world, and his impact of killing billions to save their lives. Had there been a better way?
If The Admiral had not spent so much of his life hunting down and exterminating the strange and the bizarre, could humanity have had more time to develop and evolve? To create their own god long before the others left?
His fingers hovered over his console, staring at the map, tracing Bismarck’s progression, and he knew nothing of hesitation anymore.
There was no point in contemplating the past any further. Bismarck was approaching the first suicide point.
“Retreat from Alpha,” came the voice of one of his tacticians. “Collapse your defenses, take the artifacts, reinforce beta. Be warned, she’ll begin gating in her reinforcements on your tail.”
Soon as he said that, the first explosive shook his frontline, and he watched the cameras strewn up by tech crews go black as they were atomized. He steepled his fingers together.
He hated this. He hated this more than anything he had ever done in the world. Watching his frontline fold, knowing that absolutely nothing he did mattered. Everything he did was just dedicated to buying time.
From a long range camera on a mountaintop, trained by someone he trusted more than life itself, he watched Bismarck settle atop the smoking remnants of his frontline, taking up a position with protection from the snipers peppering her position, and then she opened up a gate to the rest of her forces.
His finger hesitated over the button, staring through the longshot to an unending undulating corridor of whatever broodmother that Bismarck had found herself. He found himself wondering exactly what her name had been in life, before the Queen had found her and whatever process she used to sort through the righteous and yielding fleshes of sleeping heroes had chosen her for the honor. What mind remained in her depths, devoted to furthering the armies of a dead goddess.
And he smiled, because he knew what Jess was conveniently ignoring, that there had been multiple attempts to create a God for humanity, and the most powerful and most successful of such had been The Fey Queen, the colossal creature of flesh and chitin that had ensnared the hearts and souls of millions of those who had survived the end of all things. He too had his role in creating the apocalypse. He too had been there, had donated himself to the cause.
And he remembered what her mind tasted like against her own. He remembered her thoughts like sweetened honey, impossibly long and slow, and he thought he had heard, echoing in the cavernous expanse between synaptic transmissions, and echo of the Creator, The High-Lord.
He thought all of this, watching Bismarck gate in her forces, and staring pointedly into the dark crevasse of the earth that her forces were pouring in from, and he wondered how many of the other armies of the Fey still survived in other portions of the country or if she had finally cannibalized their remnants for her own.
Exactly halfway through, his finger touched the button, and the atomic bomb that he had hidden underneath his own forces detonated, atomizing the entire front half of Bismarck’s unending armies.
And he smiled, watching the mushroom cloud from miles away, and laughed as he felt the impact rattle his bunker. Then he listened to the chatter of distorted com traffic, and counted the squads as they called in, watching in horror at the atomic cloud that had devoured with hungry tendrils every ounce of the horrors chasing after them.
He held his breath. Counted the seconds, watched the mushroom cloud open up high into the heavens, blow apart the cloud cover and- yes. Yes. YES! YES!!!!!!!
He stared. The sky had turned dark and awful behind the clouds, and a colossal creature sat strewn across the heavens. Five times larger than the moon, and growing, a thing that was at once all too big and all too small for what he instantly knew what it was.
The Watcher had come in person. He could watch the chains that bound it wobble and slacken as instead of pulling away, for the first time since the end of the world, The Watcher had come closer. The plume of ash from the old world godkiller plumed up, and The Admiral smiled.
He had finally made a noise loud enough for God Himself to hear it, and his answer lay bare before him, a gleaming cosmic eye, at last, at last, at last! His laughter had drawn the stars of his youth down to play, to frolic among the corpses of the mortal world. The old world had died, and at last, he thought, he might live to see the new one bloom upon the horizon.
The King had arrived.