Year 999. Athalon Peninsula. The Still Ocean.
A sailboat drifted through the boiling water of the Still Ocean, listing to one side. Wine-red stains bloomed in the water around it. The islands of Athalon were dark under the gray sky, flickering with flames where once cities stood, receding into the distance behind the boat. The Last Hero knelt on the deck of his foundered boat among the mutilated remains of his comrades, letting the boat carry him away from Athalon. There would be no true escape for him. He was the last human alive.
A massive shape that might have been another island was moving towards the boat. A supercell storm stretched up endlessly about it, and the air stank of ozone. Its many legs became visible through the steam and mist as it ambled on.
Flashes of lightning pierced the mire of fog and smoke, showing the writhing, crawling surface of the monstrosity as it came. Its sagging body was a city’s worth of skinned corpses twisted together. Thousands of eyes belonging to all species gleamed in the fading light. Innumerable mouths were open, all singing.
The Hero looked out across the sea towards his fate. His golden Imperial Legionnaire armor was battered and his red cloak hung in blood-soaked tatters.
The bodies all around him began to stir as the monster drew closer. The singing reached across the water and the bodies convulsed with each note. One groan became a chorus of corpse-voices.
The Hero ignored it. His feverish eyes stared through the beast, at the black sky beyond. He reached one shaking arm upwards and spoke to the heavens themselves.
“Celestar, Hammer of Judgement,” he rasped, as the corpses grabbed onto him. It wasn’t much of a command. He couldn’t hear his words over the singing.
But he felt the golden ring on his middle finger ignite. A fractal image of triangles within triangles shimmered around it in the air.
Above The Last Hero, above the black storm, Celestar awoke. Lights raced across the surface of the metal moon, and a glowing aperture opened. Annihilation descended from it as a pure white beam.
Several things happened within the span of a single heartbeat. The thermal pulse sliced through the planetary atmosphere. Rings of fire filled the sky above the Athalon peninsula. Ionic plasma hotter than the stars vaporised the Imperial Capital and sliced apart the leviathan of flesh standing over it.
Celestar went dark once more.
A mushroom cloud rose from the steaming seabed, painting the world red, parting the clouds. A colossal wave raced towards the lonely sailboat.
The Last Hero watched it come. He cried as he hadn’t cried since he was a child.
There was no one left to see it. He had killed the world with this final act of defiance.
The wave circled the planet three times before all was still.
Year 974. Avalon, Capital of the Human Empire.
There were songs in every corner of the Imperial Capital. High above Avalon, cutting across the cloud shelf, skywhales resounded their deep harmonies. Monks of the Celestar Order from the Isle of St Adriatica sang their blessed hymn “The Forging of the World by The Master Builder”, shaking spherical thuribles.
The City of Avalon was full of raucous urban noise. Human accents from all over the Empire mixed with the honks and guttural rumblings of Ferrum-made steam carriages. Beasts of burden sang, whinnied and howled and brayed, shaking jangling harnesses and clattering down the cobblestone boulevards.
But beneath all these city sounds, Avalon had a tune of its own, one that ruled them all. It echoed through every street bazaar, insistent under the sizzle of fragrant meat and the shouts of vendors hawking piles of glowing roots.
In the quietest walled gardens where scholars sat bickering, it was still present.
It came from every Imperial building and every carriage in Imperial livery. It came from within the lusterless full armor of the Probability Knights, faceless and unmarked save for their infamous sigil. The streets cleared out ahead of them whenever they came through, going quiet save for that noise.
Avalon’s Song of the Future, inescapable and irrepressible, was the buzz and click of a thousand tiny gears manipulating spinning rolls of numbers within gleaming metal carapaces. It was loud and staccato when it emanated from within the great Imperial prediction machines, but no less noticeable coming from the small probability calculators carried by all the ministers and officers of the Empire. The perfectly metered ticking stayed in perfect time with the future clocks shimmering in the great Probability towers.
The probability calculators were worth more than their weight in gold or starmetal. The craftsmanship required to make a single one required the finest workers and mages from across the Imperial realm. Nevertheless, even the dullest street urchins knew to look away from them in fear. The stickiest fingers suddenly turned slick with sweat. The Empire was great and merciful to her subjects. Except for when she wasn’t.
The Imperial ministers liked to describe Avalon as an example of a perfect machine, each gear in perfect magical resonance with all others. They imagined themselves as the brilliant engineers of this faultless system.
Until, all at once, the engineers of civilization found a bit of a clusterfuck crashing down around their ears.
The ticking of the city stuttered, as if time and space had sucked in a surprised breath. And then, all across the city, the tiny metal letters and numbers began to whirr into new positions. The Minister of War spilled his tea when his maid held up his probability calculator for him to see.
The Minister of Plague and Pestilence heard his pet infectoid gurgle in alarm, looked over to the future clock at the end of the Boulevard of Good Works, and became equally upset.
All the probability calculators and Imperial predictors in the city announced that the world would end in twenty-five years. Time-wizards whacked their homebrew calculators with divining rods and blessed crowbars to no avail. A massive Probability Knight withdrew their calculator from within their cloak, its gold chain glittering. The Knight’s helmeted head angled down, and then they held the device up to the narrow visor slit as if to see it better.
There was a commotion in the grand halls of the Conservatory of Continuity. Magisters scurried about barking at clerks to Fix Everything Right Now, and clerks wheedled engineers, demanding that they Explain Everything Right Now. The Master Probability Engine appeared to be running perfectly, but now its endless gilt ticker tape spat out words such as:
EGGS N BACON
Between these words were random strings of numbers that Imperial Mathematicians could not decipher under threat of execution.
The elite Magocracy gathered within the hour. Scholars stammered out explanations of the bizarre readings, but nobody was fooled. Nobody in the Empire understood what had set this off. The Magocrats turned their uncertainty and fear under their bravado and began arguing, each pretending they had a real idea of what to do.
The Minister of Farming and Harvests watched as the Minister of War argued ferociously with the Minister of Continuity about a course of action. She thought of the sheep farms of the Northern Isles that she had been resigned to managing since being given her dreary position. Whenever a ram was challenged or frightened, it would run around bleating and bashing its horns into whatever worried it. Watching the others bellow and snort, she realized that perhaps she’d learned something out in farm country after all.
“Whoa, now,” she said in a low, soothing voice. Some of those seated around her paused. “Easy, there, ladies and gentlemen, easy does it.” Most of them had now stopped to listen.
“If you have a hole in the chicken coop,” the Minister of Farming said, “you don’t get upset about the hole. You get your hounds and you look for the fox.”
“But we haven’t got a chicken coop!” the Minister of the Trust exclaimed.
“The woman thinks that now is a good time for a lecture in basic poultry management?” the Minister of War grumbled.
“No! Look-- it’s-- nevermind, that doesn’t matter. What I’m saying is that we mustn’t focus on the strange readings. Our engineers tell us that the Probability Engine is not broken. It has not failed us before. So, what we ought to do is look for the anomaly that’s upset the readings. Once we find it, we can destroy it.”
The Ministers stared at her blankly. The Minister of Farming pressed on.
“We’ve brought all the spoils of the world to the Empire,” she said. “Strange bewitched artifacts, eldritch creatures, memetic magicks--”
“--Exciting new venereal diseases--” the Minister of Plague and Pestilence added approvingly.
“My point is, we’ve brought a good number of metaphorical foxes into our nation. And now we need to round them up and shoot them.”
“Will the shooting be metaphorical as well?” asked the Minister of War. The Minister of Farming smiled.
“Most likely not,” she said. “I raise a vote before the assembled Magocracy. I posit we form a new committee to find and eliminate all aberrant items and entities, magical and mundane, that may be threatening the realm. I propose myself as head of this committee. All in favor, say aye.”
“Aye!” said the Minister of War at once. There was a pause as the others considered. The probability calculators continued their frantic mechanical chatter.
“Aye,” said the Minister of Health, who was technically her superior.
“Aye,” said the Minister of the Trust, who still seemed a bit confused.
One by one the rest of the Magocracy fell in line and assented unanimously. It was as simple as herding cattle through a chute. For the first time in years, the Minister of Farming had reason to smile at a Magocratic function.
“We’ll need some hounds, then,” she said, turning to the Ministers of War and Continuity. “We’ve put a lot of gold into those Probability Knights of yours. It’s about time they had a proper crusade.”
The Minister of War’s metallic smile was gunmetal grey under his bristling mustache.
“Indeed it is.”
The Minister of Farming turned to the rest of the Magocracy.
“I’ll be recruiting other Ministries to serve the Future Disaster Committee as I see fit. For now, go about your duties. We have an Empire to run.”
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- Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union - Novokuznetsk of Siberian Russia.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was thrown 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 Presbyterian church and partake in writing and drawing things.