The World Eaters – Prologue

This is the prologue from my unfinished/unpublished NaNoWriMo 2012 novel The World Eaters. This prologue extract is dated June 2013.

Stars flared across the violet sky, leaving streaks of incandescent burning matter in their wake as they fell toward the dull horizon. Falling into the sea in columns of mesmerising dust and ash, until they were nothing.

Grey waves, frothy with motion, crashed like undulating fists against the ancient sea wall. This wall was all that separated the ruins of the coast-fortress at Land’s End – a fitting name; surrounded by sea and devastation – from being overrun by the natural elements. The hexagonal fort was perched on the end of a tiny peninsula surrounded on five sides by a maelstrom of effervescent water and the exit road was blocked by the debris of warfare and destruction. With the crest of each huge, powerful wave pounding on the door, the lintel and the very structure itself wobbled and crumbled. Each thud was harder and louder than the last; the sea would get in eventually.

The bombs and ripping of explosives topside wouldn’t aid matters either.

Howling winds gusted along the length of a rubble-strewn open passageway ran along the extremities of the old fort, overlooking the steppes that blocked off access to what used to be the beach. It was by now just a mass of seething, angry water turned brown by the disturbed silt and sediment from below. In the gallery fluorescent lights were still burning unnervingly brightly, but the long figure, bleeding and bedraggled knew that the last stand he was making was painfully futile.

Tycor looked casually over the parapet, gently rubbing his dirt-caked neck against the roughness of his uniform’s collar as his head moved slowly from one side to another. This had been his command for the last week as humanity had fought against the unstoppable alien threat that had invaded every facet of society across the stars. As a general, Tycor had known it to be a losing battle almost immediately, but that didn’t stop his instinctive urge to fight to the end. Walking along the passageway he came across the body of a soldier, his uniform pock-marked with entry wounds and dripping with blood, slumped against the crumbling wall. The soaked corpse shivered with the last vestiges of its nervous energy. Nothing conscious, just the last throes of death being exhibited to a lone audience member who cared not one bit about it. Tycor had led this man into battle and into death, and in some ways envied his not having to witness the very end that was fast dawning.

Immense shells from across the horizon whizzed above and below, some thudding and bursting at the base of the fortress, and others merely pulverising the ruined command centre at the top of the old building into even more of a finer dust. Instinctively, Tycor dodged around a solid wall away from the open parts of the fort as shrapnel and debris was flung up from the explosion below, near the beach.

The sky was lighting up again. Tycor sighed dejectedly, hoping that maybe this would be the last time. He hoped it would be the last time, wanting this hell to be over. Still, in case it wasn’t, the bloody, dirt-encrusted rifle still clutched onto by the dead soldier would do for armaments, for Tycor’s own gun was long lost. Anything to cause pain and suffering, even if it were nowhere near on scale with what Tycor had witnessed.

Indigo hues in the sky turned slowly orange, and the gloomy dusk became dawn in an instant. Deceptively peaceful, Tycor had seen this dawn, this fake dawn before. It was not reassuring and welcoming as dawn was meant to be; where would the light come from? The Sun, the giver of all life? No, for that was no longer an entity that Tycor could rely upon.

The Sun was gone: stolen and never to be returned.

In the golden, dazzling haze that dominated Tycor’s vision the purple streaks that signalled the drop-pods came. Smears of gas whooshed through the sky toward the fortress. Another sigh came from Tycor’s deflated lips. The regularity of this event, down to the very microsecond was both in equal parts unnerving and somehow reliable. Tycor didn’t know what he would do when the pods stopped coming with such unearthly frequency.

The streaks of purple smashed down into the sea. The churning, hissing water proved no obstacle for the invaders. Cocking the rifle and preparing for what would be another of those last stands – like so many before, but maybe this time less deceptive – Tycor froze with concentration.

Something wasn’t right, he thought after a few moments. Something wasn’t right at all.

Tycor raised a grisly, dirty hand massaged his chin in bemusement and curiosity as he stared out to sea with his retinas tuned to the slightest movement of origin unknown. Where the pods had come down hadn’t changed; the water was still churning as it had done now for eighteen days solid with restlessness. After five minutes, he was sure whatever was meant to happen should have happened, and he ventured down passageway, along to an external staircase and down the side of the fort to the beach.

The beach between the fort and the land wasn’t sandy; it was a collecting point at the apex of the natural cove where the spoils and silts of war collected. Limbs ground down to round pebbles and rocks smashed beyond recognition piled higher than the most imposing of man-made sea defences. A whoosh, louder than thunder and getting steadily louder, almost unbearably so came from the other side of the wall as Tycor heaved his way up the craggy inside toward the summit. The barrier was like a small mountain, but more unstable, with rockholds and footings falling away with the ease of stale pastry until Tycor’s hands, grey with dust and maroon with blood from the sharp edges of the rock and other detritus that had washed in, found the flat top of the mound and heaved the general up onto the apex.

“Oh my god,” Tycor breathed, first taking in what he saw, but this soon turned to hyperventilation. Sheer panic, sheer distress fired from every neuron in his brain sending the urge to escape to every cell in his body. But naturally, escape was quite impossible as the sea, still churning angrily rose up away from the surface of the planet and, forming a great spout miles high toward the sky, simply boiled away to steam before his very eyes. Millions of litres of hydrogen and oxygen molecules simply ceased to be, broken down into their constituent atoms and sent skyward where they combusted with an ochre flame that ripped toward the Coast-Fortress, and Tycor himself with a deafening whine, as if the air and sea itself was screaming in agony.

Leaping down behind the wall was no use; the wall simply bubbled away into nothingness and letting the molten remains of the sea – the melted rock that formed the crust of the very planet Tycor had called home all his life surge toward the fort. Even then, the concrete and steel of the fortress, once thought impregnable, merely sagged and bowed like a pathetic tent, and became viscous in a way solid concrete never should until it too bubbled away and turned into gas.

This was the end, Tycor knew, and with one last wail, he fell back as the fortress buckled and caved in like an collapsing mound of jelly around him, consuming him as the planet burned, boiled and was suckered into nothing but dust.

The sea was soon done away with in noxious clouds of contaminated steam that wailed as a whole world suffocated in agony, leaving the bone-dry crust smoking. The water had formed a great curtain, fifty miles tall, steaming hot, that defied gravity itself to dissipate into the vastness of space. The atmosphere had been tossed aside as if it were paper, and without the sea to protect it, the rocky crust underneath bulged and pulsated. Soon after, as the little air that was left whistled skyward and with a crash of rock snapping like twigs, the very matter that kept the planet Earth whole was forced toward the disintegrating atmosphere. Glowing orange magma spitting below that formed the mantle forced its way though volcanoes and fissures that popped through the naked seabed like pins through cloth was greeted by the same fate that befell the ocean: it was too boiled into an acrid, thick black steam that seemed to swirl around a plughole in the very fabric of space.

Then there was nothing as the remaining constituent parts of the planet were stripped to the elemental bases as more purple streaks gouged holes in the fragments of rock floating in a lack of gravity, shattering them into millions of pieces. These were now just crumbs of a fallen planet, one known once to trillions of sentient beings as Earth, that joined a sky full of the shattered remnants where planets once were, but were no longer, taking with it the history of an entire species that had held dominion for countless years that had control wrested from it in the most ultimate of circumstances.

The War was lost at last. After eighteen days, the very place humanity called home, from whence the greatest empires the galaxy had ever seen originated simply disappeared, and with it humanity itself.

Land had ended.