A Grand Beginning
"Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top."
- Hunter S. Thompson
In the beginning there was everything.
A bright flash of awareness floods you into consciousness with a singular sense of self. You are one, and you are alone.
For a moment you float in the blackness of empty space.
Who am I?
Where am I?
What am I?
You turn and cast your gaze upon the pale blue globe of the Earth.
This is home.
You know this.
Ancestral memory informs your perception. You are in orbit around your home planet. Everything you ever did, happened there. Everyone you ever knew existed on that tiny island, floating through the vast ocean of the cosmos.
What a road you have travelled.
Your memory begins in the first half of the twenty-first century. You were witness to an event that came to be known as 'The Purge.' The memory is vague and you find your subconscious self actively blocking it. You sense a disquieting connection with it but choose not to dwell.
The results of The Purge are plain to see.
The earth is now the fifth planet in the solar system with a permanent ring. From your vantage point in space, the ring straddles the equator like a golden circlet, shining out in a star like nuclear brightness. It is breathtaking to behold.
This is the Firewall.
Mighty Saturn and his son, Jupiter can only watch in wonder as the Mother outshines them both as she sails through the inky night.
You realize that you are slowly falling back to Earth.
Life on earth has suffered a terrible blow. Eighty percent of all species on the land were wiped out in an instant, while the survivors were decimated by famine and sickness. Many years have since passed and life has gone on. The face of the Earth is still much the same. The familiar continents still float lazily upon the mantle in much the same place as before. The Himalayas are a little bit higher and Australia has floated slightly further north, but little else has changed.
The same cannot be said of the survivors.
You are gaining speed as you fall.
The African continent spirals into view. Growing ever larger at an alarming rate.
Central Africa is no longer home to immense equatorial forests. South of the Firewall, the scorched earth has returned to life as a vast grassland steppe that stretches all the way from what was once the Congo to the edge of the South African plateau. This fundamental change in the eco-system has affected the nature of animal-life that remains. It took a few millennia for animal populations to bounce back, but when they did, natures bounty was glorious. Most predators now work in roving gangs that feed mercilessly on the vast herds of herbivorous animals as they graze on the abundance of the grassland plains. Life has grown much longer in tooth and much, much redder in blood.
Humans have survived too. As you hurtle towards the ground it becomes apparent that you are about to land on one. A slight breeze slows your descent and you slowly brush against the cheek of a dying man.
“I’m bleeding!” Denmark exclaimed, staring in wide-eyed horror at the scarlet rivulets of blood pumping from his leg.
“Gods be damned, I’m bleeding everywhere.”
Adrenaline jolted through his body giving him the strength to leap away from his attacker. He had the presence of mind to turn the motion into a spinning attack but he slightly misjudged the angle. The flat side of his blade connected solidly with the animal's head halting its rush and causing it to stumble before him. It was the opening he needed. Grunting he stabbed his sword through the throat of the creature, fatally wounding it and pinning it to the ground. Wincing in agony, he used the blade to lower himself to the ground beside the twitching body. He wheezed and coughed for a moment, catching his breath.
“Well,” he muttered through clenched teeth, "this has been a grand beginning.”
The odds of surviving out here alone were low enough, being out on the plains and bleeding into the dirt was going to make them far worse. The Southland scavengers tended not to trouble themselves over whether their meal was still breathing or not.
Denmark took a deep breath and began to take stock of his situation. He spotted his knapsack lying in a heap roughly twenty yards away from him. It must have been flung loose in the early stages of the ambush when he was being tossed about like a child’s toy.
He took a moment to compose himself and then examined his right leg. The tattered, bloody remains of his leather britches hung off the side. A vicious laceration ran down from his groin, three lurid parallel lines of open flesh snaking their way around the front of his thigh. Blood flowed freely from the wound, the rivulet pulsing slightly in time with his heartbeat. He was a seasoned soldier and had seen this type of wound a thousand times before. The sense of his own mortality pierced his heart and he had to take a couple of deep breaths to calm the panic that threatened to sweep him away in a cloud of shock.
He looked back at his knapsack and sighed. He was going to have to crawl over to it. The contents were not likely to save him but there was some tincture of opium he had been saving for later. It would certainly help take the edge off the stinging pain he felt seeping up though his consciousness, demanding attention.
With a grunt he wrenched his sword loose from the fallen creature and began doggedly crawling towards his knapsack. The ground beneath his hands swayed with a sickening lurch. He was beginning to feel nauseous. Despite his best efforts he felt his chest tightening as the exertion and continued loss of blood caused his body to enter the first stages of shock.
Twenty yards. Twenty long yards.
After what felt like an eternity of suffering he reached the rumpled bag. He collapsed beside it, taking huge gulps of air. His skin was covered with a thin film of sweat and was turning a pale shade of blue from the loss of blood. He opened the bag and rummaged around inside. Grabbing the small glass stoppered vial of laudanum he rolled onto his back and with some difficulty, opened the vial. He knocked back the contents with a sigh.
The tincture acted quickly. He felt his heart rate slow and sensed the searing pain drifting away from his body. In his delicate state he imagined it as a gaunt, icy creature releasing him from its clutches.
As the soft twilight of unconsciousness settled over him, he heard the faint, distant cackling of the approaching scavengers floating towards him, carried by the breeze.
“You'll find my flesh is far from tender,” he said, smiling wryly to himself.
Something brushed against his cheek and he swiped it away in annoyance. A small ember blazed momentarily in the air in front of his face before melting away. Denmark looked up at the sky. Hundreds of thousands of tiny sparks were falling gently to the earth. He could scarcely believe what he was seeing. From his earliest years, as an infant suckling at the breast of his wet nurse, he had listened in awe to the whispered tales of that rarest of omens. The Firefall. The legends told that it was a sign that the Gods, great beings who made their home deep within the Skyforge, were hammering out their weapons and armor upon the anvil of the Scorched Earth, preparing for war. The sparks generated by their efforts would fall upon the Earth, blessing those upon whom they fell with great wisdom and marking them for greatness.
The last thing he remembered as the fog of unconsciousness swallowed him was a sharp stinging pain as one of the embers settled on his left eye. The spark flared briefly as it seared into the soft tissue and lodged itself firmly in his cornea.