Amidst the Sands of the Silent Sea
I remember how that time began.
First, I saw light, as my mind coalesced from the void. The blurred lights in front of me solidified as my mind’s eye emerged, small, young, yet aware. An endless landscape spread out before me, reaching toward the horizon. I shifted my view without moving and beheld the world.
The sky was crimson red, glowing with a flame that marked the day’s passing. The radiance was rivaled only by the uncaring sands and rocks of the barren land below me. The land was strangely uniform: regular waves of dust and dirt expanding concentrically from the middle of the land, without a single shrub or succulent, much less a tree or grass.
My senses came into focus, and I began to feel the cool wind flowing around me, swaying to and fro, twisting toward the center, seeking the destination it did not know. Looking down, I could see the dust and sand shifting slightly at the wind’s behest, but felt naught from high above.
The land was quiet, and more so than one would expect. Whatever motion that could be perceived was fleeting and modest, hard to trace, like a transient emanation, a blurry echo just beyond one’s sight. I yearned to hear the wind’s howling or the subtle cracking of the ground from the sun’s rays, but there was nothing. Nothing but the deafening silence of the barren sea.
I looked toward the light. The sun edged the flat skyline, holding the night at bay with failing strength. I could feel a pressure draping across the land, and I knew that the night was not to blame. No, the light came and went, but brought no pain with it. It was only this time of dusk, this thin line of twilight, that could confuse the boundary of what was real or not.
My mind drifted higher, shifting my view. I saw in the center of the swirling sands a tall, lonely tower, almost as red as the land from which it rose. As I approached, its form became clear: a massive geometric structure, skeletal, with rusted iron beams joined together into a whole, and only a few solid platforms made up of a lighter material. The tower stood quietly, almost solemnly, as if it were the remains of something much greater.
Even so, as I soared toward its upper levels, I could feel presence. This was a place of respite, a place of survival. A bastion against the silence surrounding it.
I reached the top of the tower and saw them.
Four figures, quietly looking out across the sands. Their faces were covered, for they wore metal garb, dull grays and bronze lightly glistening under the rays of the scarlet sun. The garb covered their heads, bodies, and limbs, with few visible seams to speak of—but whether it was mechanical or simply armor, I could not tell.
A few of the figures sat over the edge of a beam, others waited patiently in the middle, yet all were looking in the same direction—toward the setting sun. An aura of anticipation filled the air, prohibiting any utterance from breaking the silence. They were waiting for something. For something terrible.
Then they stood, slowly, carefully, and focused their gaze toward the horizon. The silence deepened.
I followed their gaze and saw it standing in front of the sun.
A dark silhouette in the shape of man, yet distinctly inhuman. Larger. Harder. More cruel. The creature’s burning eyes flared toward the tower—toward the armored ones—tracing out an unyielding path to its goal.
Its name is Annihilation, and it cannot be stopped. Those were the thoughts that filled my mind as I gazed at the horrible thing far in the distance. For a short time, the silence of the sands maintained their dominion over my senses. I unknowingly drifted away from the tower, away from the figures, higher and farther. The final tendrils of sunlight dropped behind the edge of the horizon, abandoning the surface for the darkness of night.
And then the silence was broken.
A blinding flash of energy pierced the sky and swept across my view. The beam of light grew past the tower and continued beyond, an infinite, unbreakable lance. An overwhelming hum emanated from it, like the low vibrations of a mechanical scream. The beam shifted, narrowing, concentrating, and in an instant sliced the tower clean through, coming out the other side and evaporating into the air.
The severed metal buckled under the strain and fell, pieces shattering and billowing dust into the air. The figures grabbed at the structure, desperate to maintain their footing, but the tower was already crumbling.
The creature reached the tower instantly. With a single leap, flashing by at unnatural speed, it slammed into the remains of the spire even as the structure fell to pieces. Its four long limbs grappled onto the beams, crushing the metal with ease.
In my horror, I watched the armored figures slip and fall, tumbling over the debris, frantically reaching for something to grip, dropping closer to the creature waiting below. I watched on, knowing that this was the end, that the final stronghold was lost. A feeling of desperation bubbled up from the back of my mind. No!, I thought. Escape! Live!
But there was no salvation, not from this.
As I floated above the scene of the end, the silence came over me once more. Fear and despair filled my mind, overpowering my senses, until even my vision blurred. But I felt something else concealed amidst the layers of my psyche. A darker, heavier, more viscous emotion.
I felt guilt.
In panic, I looked down at the destruction below me. The edges of my vision darkened, and I could feel my mind slipping away, back to the beginning. In a slow sliver of time I made out the creature shifting below, crawling along the still-falling wreckage. It gradually turned its head to face me, craning its neck. In the final moments of my presence, it stared at me with hollow eyes of glowing embers. Its cruelty, its ambition—even the exhilaration of its power—emerged from a hidden recess of my mind. I then understood its reason for existing, the weight of what it had wrought. My guilt deepened, becoming a crushing nausea.
Slowly, the edges of the creature’s lips curled. It smiled.
And I knew that it was me.