I took a bite from my ration and chewed mechanically. The stone gate stared back at me like it always did, with the remnants of a broken window forming an X above the empty doorway and a fossilized warning: never go through this doorway.
I planned to ignore that as soon as my partner returned from scouting.
There was no actual door anymore, only an open space in a wall comprised of countless flat, dark stones. Here and there an emblem survived; above the empty space was a rusted sun, its wavy, stylized rays ending in sharp points. I always got a chuckle at a once-gold sun fading due to sun damage.
Anything funny this close to Ishaya is worth its weight in gold even if it is tarnished and faded.
Wait, does gold tarnish? I wouldn’t know. No one I know has ever seen any.
Beyond the empty door in the broken frame of an ancient wall, black trees stood splitting a pale sunrise into a thousand shapes. Their thin branches had never grown leaves in my lifetime, and they never would.
It was always there, Ishaya. Sometimes, it grew. Sometimes it took whole countries off the map like they had never been. No one knew why. But everyone knew what to do about it.
Don’t go into fucking Ishaya.
I heard footsteps as I finished my ration. I stood, wiping crumbs off my hands.
Ana wore a broad-brimmed hat and a short-cloak over her shoulders, dark green like the forest at our backs. A wide leather belt at her hips bore more satchels, pouches, knives, and bullets than any sane person should need. She was in a constant state of over-preparedness which is what made her so damn good at her job.
That job, at the moment, was keeping me alive.
“Get down, Hammid,” Ana said. “Their snipers have hedged in so close our scouts reported they’ve been sighted at Myers and Ebtouk.”
“Even if there were any this close to Ishaya,” I said, “they wouldn’t risk an errant bullet into the blighted lands. Wrong thing gets riled, all their hard work’s for nothing.”
“You really think they’re that scared?” she asked. “Damn Browns get bold this close to a victory.”
“They’re scared,” I said. “It’s the only reason you and I are still alive.”
She placed a fist on a hip. “I resent that remark, Hammid.”
“No offense,” I said. I shouldered my rifle and checked the only pouch hanging from my own simple belt. “What’d Sarge say?”
She scrunched up her smooth features until they resembled an old-man’s scowl. Her chestnut hair paled a bit and grew shorter. She probably didn’t realize she was morphing just for a joke; the changes just came to her naturally at this point.
In a throaty growl, she said, “I’ll get court-martialed if Britches finds out I let you take the summoner into Ishaya, but I’d have to survive to get court-martialed. So, give ’em hell!”
I smiled at her impression, a weak, anxious crook of the lips that wasn’t fooling anyone. A cold silence filled the gap where laughter should have been.
“Desperate times,” I said.
“Yeah,” she answered, and in a blink she was back to the young, austere woman I knew as her true face. “Best get going then.”
I checked all my pockets out of habit. The fatigues were made for the forest; they’d be a little off in the stark black and grey of Ishaya, but it couldn’t be helped. Besides, I wasn’t so worried about the enemy seeing us.
“You… don’t have to do this, you know,” I said. “It’s my harebrained scheme, not yours.”
She leveled a look at me so sour that it could have molded cheese. “You done? I’ve got a job to do, and we’re wasting time.”
I nodded, and swiveled around on the heel of my boot. The two of us held our rifles before us and stepped slowly through the ancient gate and into the blasted lands of Ishaya.
Ishaya is the result of a weapon used long ago that no one knows anything about. Some say it was a bomb, others say a summoner’s blast of some kind. I’d never heard of any ability like that, but who’s to say? Those were different times. Anything is possible.
Now, we scrounge for a bit of peace here and there, but mostly wage war against the other scavenger tribes. Ana and I wear green, designating our summoner realm which put us in opposition to the Browns, Whites, and Blackwhites. Our allies are the Reds, the Ochres (they hate being called the Yellows), and of course, the Fuschias, those crazy bastards.
Truth was, the colors were arbitrary, and we were always at war with someone over something. The color of a summoner’s magic was important during training, but they served more as mental training wheels than a necessary association. However, the general populace latched onto such things, and when your children were starving, hating another group of people for what color they wore seemed as good a reason as any.
The Browns had our regiment surrounded. We were a decoy. With any luck, the people we protect––friends, mothers, fathers––had escaped to somewhere safe. We had contingency plans for our contingencies. If they took out the bridge over Riverbend, we would go through the canyons beyond Akshara. If they blocked Akshara, we would take the hidden tunnels. If they pushed us up against Ishaya…
Well, as I said. We were the decoy. We were soldiers. We knew what we were getting into the moment they handed us our rifles.
A wind blew across Ishaya, sending shivers down to my fingertips. My fingertips always tingled when I got nervous—no idea why.
The enormous region could only be called a grassland with a heavy dose of imagination. The “grass” beneath our boots crunched with every step, a yellow-gray that stretched all the way to smooth, short hills in the far distance. At least, I thought they were far. It was hard to tell in such a boring landscape. It was all just uniform—grey, almost-dead grass and shallow hills in every direction except behind us.
Ana looked at me, blinking a few times as her eyes adjusted to the direct sunlight. “Well, Summoner?”
“Here goes nothing,” I muttered.
I got to one knee and dug my fingers into the soil. I closed my eyes, sending out my senses in every direction, looking for… I didn’t even know what I was looking for. Something. Anything that might get us––and our regiment––out of this alive.
I felt the tenuous root system of Ishaya’s bramble with only a gust of wind away from being ripped from the hard soil and tumbling across the landscape. Signs of life were scarce like the land itself. There was a field mouse skittering off to my right, and a bird that didn’t know the eggs it had just laid beside a boulder were already dead. There were insects crawling across everything; crickets and roaches and ants all hiding in the shadows of the soil where the harsh sun couldn’t find them.
I didn’t find what I was looking for. I dug my hand deeper, and something bit it, I think. Or, I had scraped it across the layer of blightglass that covered most of Ishaya. I gritted my teeth and sank my hand further.
All at once, sickness washed over me. My stomach turned, and the horizon swam. I almost pitched over, but Ana steadied me with a hand on my shoulder.
“Fine.” I swallowed, tasting bile. I lifted my hand from the earth, a small bit of blood dripping from a scrape between my thumb and forefinger. Blightglass, then.
“I found something. It’s far. But, it could work.”
“Do you know what it is?”
“Big,” I answered. “What it is is big.”
“That sounds like biting off more than we can chew.”
I nodded. “Absolutely. But it’s all we’ve got. I’m all we’ve got. Master Yuseph is dead. I can’t take them on my own. This is our only chance at survival.”
I kicked at some of the bramble, uprooting it easily. “I mean, whatever passes for survival in all these goddamn wars.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder and wiped away a few tears I hadn’t noticed.
“Yuseph would be proud,” Ana said quietly. “What you’re doing is brave, but you must understand. There are worse things in Ishaya than death.”
“I know. I’ll keep checking on the way in case something more manageable comes along. I want to get in and out as quickly as possible.”
“Well, start walking,” Ana said. “This is all insane, and we’re going to try anyway.”
I sniffed and tried my best at a wry grin. This was a lot for someone who had turned twenty only last month. “Sounds like a plan.”
“Is it… Is it gone?”
Ana eased her way to the edge of the rock. As she did, one of her eyes shifted, extending to the far right of her face, stretching until it was almost on a stalk. Morphs were essential to a properly run regiment; there was always at least one for every mage like me. I’d grown to expect these odd quirks years ago, but it still creeped me out. These little shifts were unconscious to her and didn’t tire her at all. Just like I could sense things in my vicinity all day without wearing myself out, she could make small changes to her shape and not tire any more than raising her hand above her head.
The big stuff is what wears us out, just like anything.
“It’s… gone enough,” she answered after a moment, her face contracting back into place. “We should keep moving.”
I stood, and we moved on. In the distance, I could see the tall, spindly-legged creature moving slowly across the plains. It was a grazer, not the kind of quarry we were looking for, but the thing was big enough to crush us beneath pincher feet if we spooked it. Best to play it safe in Ishaya.
We came to a pack of wolves in a narrow path between two hills. They were huge, covered in misshapen growths, and the older they seemed, the larger and more grotesque they got. Some had extra legs, some had patches of exposed bone and sinew. One, which seemed the leader of the pack, only had skin on half her face, the other half bulging, her eye sunken and bloodshot.
She snarled at us, but they didn’t charge. She was sending her scouts to either side of us, preparing for an attack from all directions.
“I know. We can’t use these?”
“No,” I said. “We need borgh. Nothing else.”
“Okay. Take a step back.”
I did as I was told, and as I did, I heard a growl behind me. I spun, whipping up my rifle, but the wolf leapt. I yelped, toppling back as it pinned me to the ground.
I managed to get the rifle between its teeth as slobber dripped onto my face. I screamed. The saliva burned and hissed as it fell onto my cheeks.
The crackling sound of muscle and bone rearranging roared up, and I found myself in the shadow of a beast that towered over the pack. Ana slammed into the wolf on top of me, twice its size, somewhere between a humanoid and a wolf. She caught its neck in her jaws and shook her head violently. I heard a crack as its neck broke and a sharp whine that cut off in a decidedly final manner.
I whirled around, wiping the burning saliva with one sleeve as I trained the rifle on the wolf mother. The shot rang out, and the beast fell back as my bullet connected with her shoulder.
Her howl sounded the retreat. They left their fallen brother behind as they fled alongside their pack leader, disappearing quickly into the hills.
I politely turned away as Ana turned back. Her clothes had come loose, though her cloak remained untouched as ever. She spat in disgust.
“Shit,” she said, adjusting straps designed to fall away and expand to accommodate her changes in size. “I hate the taste of blood.”
“Nice trick,” I said. “When you want to scare a wolf, become a larger wolf.”
“Hammid, your face…”
“Just a few burns. It’ll pass.”
She pursed her lips. “Don’t move.”
I let her apply a salve from one of her endless pouches. The cold gel did help numb the pain a little. Her fingers were rough, her eyes cold. She was older than me, though I didn’t know by how much. She’d seen enough of war to last anyone a few lifetimes. Morphs never got a respite. They just fought at every front endlessly, tirelessly.
She took a step back, admiring her handiwork. “It’s a good look for you, Summoner.”
“Do I look badass?” I asked, grinning.
She threw her head back and laughed, and the sound of it healed me more than the salve ever could.
“Undoubtedly,” she said and began to walk again. “Most fearsome borgh-hunter in all Ishaya!”
It was dumb, but it made me feel better hearing her say that, joking or not.
I could feel the creature now like a hot iron in my belly. I barely had to touch the dirt to know we were almost upon it. Or, it was almost upon us, depending on how you looked at it.
“It’s just over that ridge,” I said. “Might be in a canyon of some kind.”
“That’s a small bit of luck, at least.” Ana grasped her rifle. “You ever done anything like this before?”
“Not of this size,” I said. “But, it should be the same as any hybrid on the other side of the wall.”
“They’re wild here, Hammid,” she said. “Half-crazed. Even I know it’s not the same.”
I shrugged. “Hopefully close enough.”
She considered me for a moment then turned toward where I’d beckoned. Together, we crept up to where I’d felt the borgh’s presence. She dropped to her belly and crawled when I did.
We sidled up on our elbows to the lip of a narrow, rocky ravine and peered over the ledge.
The borgh lumbered below us but not that far below. The creature filled the ravine, moving like a caterpillar, its many legs straddling the creek that ran through it.
The beast looked like pain made flesh. It was roughly the size of a deuce-and-a-half cargo truck. Four sections made up the body—some organic, some armored, and some mechanical. Cancerous growths grew inflamed where the metal met flesh. As it moved, muscle and tendon waved like flags jutting up from its joints and rusty metal creaked.
Its head looked almost too heavy for it to carry despite its incredible strength. Each step the borgh groaned, part of its gargantuan jaw dragging along the riverbed. Sharp fangs jutted from where they could, in some instances straight through the skin of the upper skull. On the side facing us, its jaw-hinge was steel, a giant bolt that still––incredibly––had bits of flecked red paint on it.
No one knew who’d made them. But they’d survived the blast that created Ishaya and hadn’t died in all this time. We didn’t know how long, but it was centuries. Maybe millennia.
The water it walked across was clear as glass. Nothing could live in the water of the blighted lands, and the stones and glass beneath had long been scoured clean.
Neither I nor Ana spoke. She stared grimly while I silently reached into my pouch. My hand closed around a clump of dirt, and I felt the slimy wriggle of three earthworms between my fingers. Keeping my grip firm, I lifted them from the pouch and moved my fist inches away from my mouth. I did this achingly slowly, hoping to avoid any jingle of gear, any creak of leather that might alert borgh to our presence.
I began the spell, whispering it into the moist, black dirt clenched in my fist. The little worms jumped to the forefront of my awareness––their shape, their size, their incessant drive to move forward and feed. When I was a child, that little feat would have been enough to put me in a good mood for days, but now, after years of fighting, that joy was nowhere to be found.
I extended my hand toward the hapless monster, and Ana visibly tightened her grip on her rifle.
I shot the spell out toward the borgh, and the little worms shrieked in a silent scream, which echoed through my head.
The beast reared up, several of its forelegs raising off the ground. The eye facing us rolled in our direction and then the massive head lolled toward us, the weight of it tugging its long, sectional body in our direction.
“Shit!” Ana hissed and stood, aiming her rifle.
I stood with her, my hand still outstretched. I started screaming the words of the spell, but the creature’s madness was pushing back, its mind a hot fire of eternal suffering. I struggled to overcome it, and I thought I could but not in time.
Ana’s shot rang out, a good shot right into the borgh’s eye. It screamed, shaking the ground beneath my boots, and I would have covered my ears if I’d had a hand free.
“Run!” she shouted, and I couldn’t have agreed with her assessment more. I just couldn’t end the spell.
So, I ran backwards. The thing shuddered, raised itself up again even higher this time, and then came crashing down where we’d been moments before, legs like pincers raking away the rock. It came after us, roaring, but its attempt at climbing up the cliffside was taking up all its attention.
Cursing, I lowered my outstretched hand to unfasten my pouch, and I dumped its entire contents into my hand, trying to catch as much as I could. I quickly cupped both hands together, ignoring those worms who squiggled free to die in the soil after a few days of exposure, instead of dying in my hand, shriveling up from the spell.
My words echoed across Ishaya. My voice became like the wind and earth. It reached the heavens as I pressed my entire being down upon it.
Then, I tripped. My backpedaling ceased and I fell, getting a mouthful of dirt and worm guts. I hit my head and saw stars.
“Hammid!” Ana screamed.
I used the pain, the worms in my mouth. Even as the bitter taste gagged me, I took that life force and threw it at the borgh with everything I had.
You are mine, I thought. MINE.
It loomed, its shadow falling over us––and stopped.
Its eyes fell still from their rolling, and its legs hung limp. I heard a metallic creaking, and then the thing toppled in slow-motion to one side. I stood, still gagging, spitting the bitter taste from my mouth, wiping my tongue.
“Got it,” I rasped, my voice hoarse. “Poor thing.”
“The poor thing was a few feet away from ripping us both to shreds,” Ana said. “What now?”
I stared at the thing, then commanded, “Up.”
With a grunt, the borgh slowly righted itself, raising itself up on its feet.
I turned to Ana. “After you.”
“The quicker we’re out of here,” she said, “the bett––”
She stopped mid-sentence. “Did you hear that?”
I didn’t have time to respond before the net fell over both of us. It was heavy; it pressed us both to the ground into the rigid bramble. I had just enough time to see the smaller wires wrapped around the larger steel cords of the net before the electric shock hit, and the feeling of a thousand needles pricking me all at once lanced through my body before all turned to darkness.
When I opened my eyes, I was sitting on a stone floor covered in a thin sheet of sludge. I tried to stand, but my wrists hurt, pulling me back down. I was in chains.
Panic flooded in, and I yelled at the top of my lungs. There was a pale light coming from the other side of what my eyes eventually discerned as steel bars. A cell, then. A cell that smelled of mud and mold.
“Hammid,” said a voice beside me.
Ana’s. Thank God she was alive.
“Ana! Where the hell are we?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Underground.”
“The borgh!” I cried. “Where is the borgh?”
“All I know is they kept coming back. To check on you.”
“‘They?’” The word filled me with terror. I didn’t want to know what “they” meant in some hidden tunnel beneath Ishaya.
“Ana,” I said. “Quick, you have to cut me loose, or…You must have something…”
“They took it all,” she said. Her voice was monotone, the fire all gone out of it. “I just have what underclothes they left. Just like you. They…”
I could just make out her shape across the cell, maybe twenty feet square. Her head jerked to one side, peering at the bars.
“Hammid, you have to listen to me,” she said. “My father… My father told me stories. A story of people who survived whatever originally created Ishaya. Of whatever created the borgh. Whatever changed them.”
“Stories,” I said. “Just stories to scare us into eating our rations.”
“These people are evil,” Ana said. “They’re not like us, okay? Don’t listen to them. Don’t take any offers. It’s better to die. Do you understand? It’s better to—”
She swallowed. “They’re coming.”
I heard footsteps echoing down the halls moments later. Then, eyes. Glowing orange eyes appeared, moving slowly, gliding through the darkness toward us.
The shapes emerged from the gloom, coalescing into vaguely humanoid shapes, hunched and covered in brown cloth. As they drew closer, a mechanical whirring reached my ears. The glowing eyes twisted in sharp little jumps––not eyes but lenses, clicking and refocusing within the metal masks they all wore.
The creatures had claws. Their skin was an uneven gray or maybe green. They stood silhouetted in the pale light of the hall beyond, and I could just make out yellow sun emblems embroidered onto their cloaks.
“Who… Who are you? What do you want? Where are we?”
They stared at me without answering, standing on the other side of the bars still as statues.
“Let us the hell out of here!” I screamed. “Let us go! Or so help me, I’ll––”
I pulled at the chains with all my strength. Maybe I could cut myself. Use the blood to slip free. Didn’t that happen in stories? Wasn’t that how this went?
Ana still wasn’t moving. Why was she giving up? Maybe because she was smarter than me. She knew it was hopeless. We were trapped in a cell of Ishaya people, and they could do with us whatever they wanted.
So much for winning the war, I thought, my frustration giving way to deep, intense despair.
There were three figures staring at me, one much taller than the other two. I almost jumped at how suddenly they parted, one to the left and two to the right to allow a fourth to walk through. This new creature wore a mask too, but instead of the brown cloak, wore very thin scraps, revealing the form of a young woman beneath. She was almost untainted by Ishaya except for her right leg which was swollen, bent inward, and noticeably longer than the other.
A few servos whirred somewhere. A loud click sounded just as the prison gate swung inward. The woman shambled toward me, dragging the leg a bit, and the sound of it growing louder as her glowing eyes brightened was enough to drive me mad.
She stopped about three feet away, leaning down to peer into my eyes. She lifted a crooked, claw-tipped finger to point at my chest.
“You,” she said, and her voice sounded like a mummy’s linens being ripped apart. Her body didn’t seem that old, but her voice was ancient. “You beckoned the borgh creature, took over its mind. We heard you. We saw you. Yes?”
“Stay away from him!” Ana yelled, and my heart leapt into my throat.
The woman’s head turned, then turned back to me. “Answer. This was you?”
“Fuck you,” I spat.
The woman crooked her head to one side. Then, she raised the other claw to point to Ana and made a fist. Behind her, one of the figures reached up to a wall, and I heard a click.
Ana shrieked. Her body arched up, and she bared her teeth, wailing in pain.
“Stop!” I cried. “Stop, goddammit, stop!”
The woman unclenched her fist. Ana thudded back down into the mud, whimpering.
“Hammid!” she panted. “Don’t… don’t worry about me! Don’t tell them anything! Please!”
“Tell us, Hammid,” the woman said, and I was helpless to resist when another figure approached and stuck something sharp into my neck. A syringe.
“It will harm no one to tell us, Hammid,” the woman cooed. Wooziness quickly began to take over.
“Don’t!” Ana shouted, but the woman never looked at her again, only held me transfixed with those gleaming lights where her eyes should be.
“Yeah,” I said slowly. I was drooling. “It was me.”
“You are a mage,” she said. “You bind your mind to other things, control them. Tear it apart. Make it a part of you. This is your skill.”
“That about covers it,” I drawled. I tried to sit up straighter, but my head felt heavy. My burns from the wolf’s blood stung like weak acid had been drizzled on my skin. “Why do you care?”
Dead silence fell into the chamber. Ana moaned slightly, and I could hear her writhing in the corner.
“I will give you power, Hammid,” the woman said. “Help you defeat your enemies across the wall. The borgh is nothing to what I can give you. But, you must accept it. You are weak, an insect, a drop of rain water when you could be an ocean. You simply lack imagination.”
“No,” Ana groaned. “Don’t listen to her.”
I frowned, my head lolling. “No one can give another power. It doesn’t work that way.”
“Yet, knowledge can be given freely,” the woman said. “You need only an awakening.”
Ana lunged. Her bones cracked and broke as she shifted at incredible speed, wrenching loose of her chains. She flew through the air at the woman, letting out a cry like a banshee.
The three at the gate lifted three devices, long and thin.
Muzzles flashed. The sounds of the weapons made my ears ring. Ana’s body crumpled while still in the air, jerking violently, then crashed to the floor, motionless. She didn’t get up again.
I screamed. Through the haze of my mind, I tried to lash out, but I had nothing to bind to. Whatever they had given me had sent me into a fog, turned my steely concentration into little more than wispy cotton. I strained at my chains and gnashed my teeth.
Ana. They had killed Ana. I had almost nothing in the entire world, hardly even any friends instead of her. My hatred grew, hot and white, spreading from my belly into my arms and legs and up into my clouded mind.
“Let me out!” I screamed. “You fucking monsters! Let me go!
“We will,” she said mildly. “But first, you must accept our gift of power. Then, we will let you free.”
“You want to give me power?” I growled. “Give it to me! I’ll destroy you and whatever underground hovel you’ve dug out for yourselves!”
“You accept?” the woman said. Her voice calm as if Ana’s corpse didn’t lay dead at her feet.
“You’re goddamn right I accept!”
As I said it, and her eyes took hold of me.
“Good,” her voice said.
She took off her mask. The face beneath was human. Shriveled, diseased, missing half a nose. But, it was there.
Except her eyes. Those glowed just like the eye caps on the mask.
She reached out both her hands, and bright light filled my vision.
“We don’t have the abilities your people do. This is all we have.” She placed her palms on either side of my head. “All of it.”
Something dug into my temples like hot spikes, breaking through skin and bone. Blood burst free of my veins and coursed down my cheeks. The woman held me with her eyes as her face began to shrivel. Every cell lit on fire. My eyes wanted to burst from their sockets. My head was agony.
I screamed, a banshee’s wail so loud and high-pitched it was a wonder the walls of my cell didn’t collapse. It wasn’t from the horrific vision of the woman deteriorating before my drug-addled gaze. It wasn’t the pain at my temples either, and it wasn’t the deep pang of loss at Ana’s death.
It was whatever the old woman was doing to me… what she was giving me. Knowledge was flowing into me from her, a raging torrent of pure thought. Facts, equations, history––everything that ever was. The name of every star in the sky flooded into my brain, every line of every book that had ever been written.
It wasn’t only knowledge but awareness. Every cell had become fire because I was aware of every cell in my body.
Every filter I had ever built up, everything that staved off the flow of eternal consciousness that made us sane, made us human, melted away.
I thought of the worms I’d killed, and my heart wanted to burst with sorrow.
I thought of Ana’s body, dead on the floor and wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it.
I thought of the borgh and Sergeant and General Britches and the unbelievably tiny, insignificant squabbles between the tribes of my family.
I did laugh then, maniacal, insane laughter. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed…
I awoke already walking. I was at a door, a gateway in a wall of stone that had long fallen, leaving only the outline of what once was. I saw the little sun, once gold, now faded by its larger cousin in the sky. Both were real. Both were copies of copies of copies.
My laughter rang out as I crossed through the threshold back into my world. What was once my world. There was nothing left for me here.
I heard gunfire, sharp rat-a-tats that signaled heavy fighting somewhere close. I could feel the movements of air from each bullet as it ripped through the bodies of my companions. We were losing. Ana and I had failed.
I suddenly realized I couldn’t remember the color of my tribe. That, too, struck me as funny.
I smelled smoke. The forest was in flames. I walked through what had once been a building in the same style of the wall—black stones atop a cracked foundation.
When I came around the corner, I found myself face-to-face with a boy even younger than I was and older than everything that ever was. Brown. He was wearing brown. That meant I must be green or had been green at some point. Or, was it orange? I couldn’t remember.
My appearance scared him shitless. Or, maybe it was the maniacal chuckling I couldn’t seem to stop even as tears streamed down my face. He screamed, whipped his rifle around to aim it at my chest.
His bullet burst before it left the muzzle, throwing him backward, blood and spittle flying in every direction.
Only one end, I thought. It was always going to end this way. I just didn’t want to admit it.
It was always there, Ishaya. Sometimes it grew. Sometimes it took whole countries off the map like they had never been.
I raised my hands, arms outstretched, and thought of the worms as I ripped apart every single atom in a ten mile radius.
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