Lazaros was surprised by how close he had cut it. He knew having to deal with Celio had delayed him, but not to the point of being only five minutes away from the beasts’ arrival.
The horizon was a dust-cloud of dark obfuscation in the small perimeter that marked the advance of the beasts. It was not all created by them, however, as Igtahlians had been using copious amounts of gunpowder in their combat tactics.
It’s only going to get worse.
The rampaging beasts were alone in their advance, the full bulk of their army being miles behind, fully guaranteeing nothing human was left alive, and that their terraforming mechanisms were set up and maintained. It involved combat vehicles which were completely unmatched by anything ever produced by humans.
“I gotta admit,” Enzo spoke out from his side, “it’s an intimidatin’ sight.”
Lazaros was trying his best to commit the sight to memory. The city before the battle. He gripped the huge pistol in his hand, considering his chances favorable.
Indeed, the beasts had been untouchable so far. And yet, Igtahlian engineering had produced a weapon capable of piercing through their hide. That only made him feel more confident about his plan, just as the first salvo of it all echoed through the skies to reach his ears. An explosion.
He watched as the first few buildings, his people’s houses, crumbled under their own weight, no longer supported by the beams that had been exploded.
“Here we go,” he whispered, more to himself, scratching the pistol discreetly with a nervous thumb.
The sight of explosions. The smell of gunpowder. The tangible sensation of death. As the hour extended itself to be perceived as many, the beasts came closer and closer, hardly uninterrupted by the make-shift hurdles the Don’s army made out of collapsed buildings and human bodies. Flames flickered in the distance, set by the explosions and refusing to be extinguished by the small breeze.
It was sort of anti-climactic, the ambient. The sun was warm, and the wind was a refreshing caress. Clouds were sparse if present at all. It was not the sort of weather he had expected to accompany that battle.
“Damn,” Enzo whistled, “they’re really somethin’ scary.”
The Don bore no comment, watching how they, in fact, kept coming. Getting closer and closer. He wondered how many men and women had lost their lives already as he puffed away on his cigar. He wondered if he should care much because he really didn’t. It would be worth it. It would not be in vain.
Come on, you bastards. Keep comin’.
And they did.
As they had for every single minute of their campaign, the Beasts continuously and uninterruptedly kept moving. Unstoppable. Because they were invincible.
“Alright,” Lazaros alerted, not as nervous as he was anxious, “here we go.”
The twins watched almost as expectantly as their Don, who saw as the bulk of the advancing beasts leaped their way into the large square. After dealing with streets constantly being blocked off by fallen buildings and ambushes, they were probably happy to see a decent expanse of terrain which was pretty empty, outside of a few parks and statues, all monuments to be broken.
The square was famous world-wide, though not unique. Many countries possessed like-minded locations: a large open space amidst sprawling cities for people to exercise their appetite for market, tourism, but mostly, to find each other as it was the most common meet-up point.
He felt the first signs of the ambush under his feet.
“Here we go,” the Don repeated.
The beasts were several hundred feet out, close enough that he could discern them. He was standing on a street that went down and led into the square so he could see clearly what was happening. He saw the beasts stop as they noticed the vibration.
The Don breathed out some of the smoke so he could smile properly, he couldn’t avoid it, seeing them stop like that. Under heavy gun-fire, which wasn’t doing much, they looked around and down as the ground shook.
“Here we go,” the Don repeated, and that made Nico looked at him a bit judgingly, but he didn’t notice. He kept watching. The rumbling grew, and the ground shook.
Unbeknownst to the beasts, they were standing over a piece of earth that was faulty and ripe for cracking. The Don didn’t understand the science behind it, but he didn’t have to, he knew what was coming next.
The shaking got ridiculously stronger as the earthquake took a life of its own. The buildings bent, all around the Don and the Twins, as they tried not to fall over. The beasts leaped away, some ahead, others back, but it didn’t make a difference.
The entire length of the square, and along its streets to all sides and back, started to cave in. The silence was utterly gone now, as the city violently shook, shattering itself apart, tearing the ground open.
The Don took support on the car.
Fanabala, this’s way stronger than I thought it’d be.
“We should maybe go,” Enzo suggested, his voice uneven.
“No,” the Don demanded. “I want to see this.”
It was a controlled earthquake which would cover, and rupture, most of the city, but the side they were on was safe. At least as far as the ground was concerned, there was still the danger of collapsing buildings. He saw as one fell a couple hundred feet away, taking a whole group of men with it.
Even as the earthquake continued, soldiers at the edge of the square got to work. An undertaking of vast hundreds, across miles to both sides, were leaving the buildings, pulling carts along with them. Few of them were making it out and out-lasting the effects of the earthquake to perform their job, but enough were.
“Heh, let’s see if your hide’s strong enough for what comes next.”
The twins both looked on intently, more curious than they were afraid.
The carts had huge engines attached to them, and canisters attached to the engines, and hoses attached to the canisters. They were bigger than cars and took a dozen men to haul around. Since it was a controlled earthquake, they had a line drawn over which the ground wouldn’t cave in. It was a marvel of engineering and science, what they were accomplishing there, but it was also the city’s damnation.
Either way, the hoses were brought to purpose and aimed at the opened grounds. Lazaros witnessed as, unfortunately, half a building fell on one of them. The canister ruptured and lit on fire like he had never seen fire behave. It was almost liquid, the way it spewed out and consumed everything and everyone around it.
It was madness and chaos, the city physically crumbling, men dying by the scores, beasts no longer visible in the midst of the holes they had fallen into, or because they were still behind the line of crumbled buildings, an area which was still shaking and splitting apart.
It was working.
The liquid fire spewed, controllably and aimed, into the newly formed moat. The shaking was subsiding by then, at least around the Don.
The screams of his men, the yells of death and pain, the crackling of the earth, the downfall of his city, none of those noises were loud enough to cover for the sweetest sound the Don had ever heard. Minutes after the canisters first started being emptied into the large continuous crack in the earth, long enough to actually make the Don worry and doubt about it, came the confirmation that it had worked.
Synthetic. Monstrous. Painful. Hurting.
The grin Don had used on Donna’s surrender had nothing on the one he wore at that moment.
When the bellows of dying beasts started filling the air.
The Don laughed away, heard only by the twins due to the loud roaring noises of the city tearing itself apart in the wake of his plan, of his successful plan.
The beasts sounded odd, as always, as if they were being echoed by some kind of machine that the Don had never heard, by a speaker that would change the pitch of the voice, but the pain was unmistakable. He wished he could be there, with the men on the front, to see them melting and dying. Lacking that, he had but the use of his imagination, which he employed with glee.
“I did it.”
Beyond the square, cracks continued to open, the ground continued to rupture. A sight of unimaginable proportions unraveled as the self-destruction of Varanopolis spread in all forward directions, all the way across the horizon. A tenth of the city, the part behind Don, his territory plus the presidents’, would remain standing. And even then, the buildings were still being shook apart, some of them unable to not crumble as well into misshapen mounds of stone and dust.
Meanwhile, the soldiers kept throwing the chemical fire at the big crack, which had originated in the square and spread to both sides. All across its length.
The Don had been guaranteed the fire would not be extinguished by water, but it also didn’t catch on to anything. It subsisted on itself and subsided with enough time of nothing to consume. That had turned out to be unnecessary as no rain would present itself that day. The Don watched, attentively and victoriously, as he inflicted casualties on the army of the beasts.
He imagined them trying to jump out and failing. Trying to dig in, only to catch more on fire as it also filled the hole.
They had been stopped. At last, they had been stopped, but not only that, they were dying.
He hardly noticed the building behind him falling, the twins had to pull him to safety. After which they walked to the top of the building’s rubble and sat. It was pretty uncomfortable, especially with the all the shaking, but it was an even higher standpoint from which to watch the beautiful scene unfolding before him.
An hour went past.
The Don didn’t notice the passage of time. A different kind of smoke had been coming out from the sinkhole that used to be a square. The trembling and rumbling had subsided and before him now stretched a landscape of destruction, a sheet of rubble and settled dust with pockets of fire which could hardly be discernible through the layer of heat in the air above the sinkhole that used to be a square.
“How long’s it been?”
“Huh.” The Don nodded, his smile finally relaxing back into a vacant expression. “There’s been no reply? Where’s the rest of their army?”
“Maybe they’re goin’ ‘round?”
The Don shook his head.
“We got scouts, I’d know if they were. They’ll want to go through, see? They’ve been goin’ through the whole time, they won’t just stop now.”
“You think it’s a pride thing?”
“Damn right. People’ve been thinkin’ of them as actual beasts, or demons, but they’re people, see? They get angry, they gloat, and they threaten. They got ego, same as us.”
“Hm. Can they talk to us?”
“Oh most definitely,” the Don said, remembering the confrontation in Venetzia. “They just don’t want to, see? They’re the vastly superior invader, here, the less they relate to the natives they’re eradicatin’, the better on their consciences.”
“But then, aren’t we just giving them all the more reasons to hate us then?”
The Don looked at Enzo partially annoyed.
“Ya really ask a lotta questions there, Enzo.”
“Sorry, boss. ‘m just curious.”
“Hm,” Lazaros looked back at the battleground. “Nothin’ to do about it. It’s either die or fight back and give ‘em more motivation to kill us all without asking any questions. We didn’t start this, see?” He squinted his eyes, his voice trailing off as he tried to discern what he was seeing “but we’re gonna finish it…alrigh…what?”
The beasts he had faced had been comparative to platoons. There had been several hundreds of them, near a thousand, and had been enough to fill a horizon line. What he now saw was covering not only a line but a vast area of the horizon.
Soon, the landscape was made up of dust being lifted by the advancing army of beasts.
“Uh…” Enzo started getting up, as did Nico. “Boss?”
The Don watched as the ground where the soldiers were standing, most likely spending the last reserves of the fires, some of them having already run out, ruptured. A machine the size of a building, clearly a beast machine, just pushed itself up head-first. It bent and fell forward, if there was a forward to it, landing flat on the surface. It killed squads of men in its wake.
Very big doors opened from its side to reveal more beasts, all as the ground ruptured a few more times, showing like-minded machines. The beasts as if awoke from a slumber and leaped from within the burrowing buildings, into the slaughter. All of them seemed to be bullet proof.
And that was outside of the main army. They were so vast in numbers they would be able to climb the sinkhole which used to be a square, by piling onto each other, and not face any significant downsizing.
The scale of the force…of their main force. It was unthinkable.
The air filled itself with the panicked screams of Igtahlians, dying by the dozens every passing second. The Don himself had merely short minutes before he was in danger.
“Boss,” Enzo called again, fearing for his life.
But Lazaros couldn’t react. He couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t accept it.
How could anyone beat that? How could anyone beat them?
He was going to lose.
The Don was shaken out of his shock by Nico.
“We need to go,” Enzo told him, “the fallback positions, right? Protos was sayin’–”
It won’t make a difference. He glanced back. Not against that.
But he moved with the twins anyway. They couldn’t use cars anymore, the streets were too shattered and littered with pieces of buildings, but they could run.
Lazaros threw the cigar he had been smoking at the ground and followed after the twins. There were still things they could do, actions they could take, but the Don was already convinced they would be useless.
Is this what it’s like to be them? Lazaros asked himself, doing things without really believing they’re gonna work out?
His heart was sinking to levels he had never experienced before. Not even when his mother died. He certainly wasn’t smiling anymore.
This is terrible.