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The Hordes at the End of TimeI write this from your remote past. You may not know of me and my kind; you may not even know that once there flourished a civilization of art and culture and beauty. We destroyed all that. I write to you from the ashes. I will seal this and bury it, and perhaps one day it will be unearthed again. I cannot warn you; it wouldn't do any good anyway. I can only tell you what it is like to have your worst fears realized. Beware of leaders who take you to the brink of war! Believe me, there are no second chances.
In the five years that have passed since the end, an ancient pattern of association has once again crept into human life. The Horde. In the daylight hours, all through the city, the silence of the empty streets lulls the unwary into revealing themselves. A mistake. The day belongs to us, the silent watchers behind the empty windows. The night is ruled by Fire, who has held court nightly for five years, but now these infernos are deliberately set and shepherded by the Horde. They are huge, glorious bonfires of pillage. We hold a wild party of awesome and awful dimensions, a spree of destruction, each and every night. In the beforetime they called it anarchy, and arson, and I was among the "reasonable" men who would never have contributed to such riotous behavior, but now it doesn't matter, there is no such thing as law, there are no reasonable men, there is only the pure, cleansing Flame. We love the flame, we love the destruction; we hate ourselves, we hate the reminders of the beforetime. We can spend the currency of love and hate in no other way. We do not love each other. We do not hate each other. We feel nothing. We are nothing. There is only wonderful Destruction, and when the plundering is through there will be more nothing. You see, it wasn't till after the end actually came that the true savage struggle began, and only the haters survived. I admit I am one of them.
It doesn't matter anymore what I was in the beforetime, what I called myself, but I will tell you. I had earned the prestigious title of Bookkeeper. I was another faceless man of numbers, among numbers of men. I worked in a crowded city where I wordlessly dealt with numbers five days a week, and I was respected well enough by my peers. In the evening we met in our watering hole and they called me Fellow Bookkeeper and we pretended to aspire to more... But only here did we truly belong: in a smokey lounge, among our own kind. We knew we would never rise to the lofty world of Banker, Doctor and Lawyer, but at least we were a lofty world above Clerk, Secretary and Custodian. It was all very comfortable. We despised them all, high and low. We put in our time, drew our measure of respect, and waited for our ends. And to everyone's surprise, the end came. It actually came. We witnessed the passage of one era into another. Overnight came the final judgement, the great leveler, the sublime equalizer among men. Only the hateful survived the transition. The immediate horror and fear and panic was quickly hidden. We who survived learned rapidly. Adapt or die, choose now! Or reveal yourself to be weak and vulnerable, a target, a victim, a casualty. We all became tigers. We taxed our memories for models of brute power and fierceness; we dug into the very core of our being and brought forth the uncivilized animal that slept within. I learned to snarl and contort my face savagely. I survived. I found I was good at pretending. We all were.
We soon learned that there was indeed safety in numbers, and loose associations came into being. My Horde, THE Horde, was knit together by a powerful Neanderthal type who flattered himself with the title of Governor. An ugly, ignorant man, this Governor, but very strong and able to exude more hate and primitive power than anyone who dared challenge his authority. He fought for his position, he created it -- he was born for it, really. He finally found his place in the world when that very world came to an end. In the beforetime he was a criminal, a savage, an incorrigible. He and others like him laughed at the death throes of civilization and helped stamp out the last few sparks with glee. Goodbye society, and good riddance! He stepped out of the shadows and onto the jungle throne with rare assurance. Society groomed him for such a role.
His reign will be a short one, though. It is only a matter of time until he is beaten in combat, or he succumbs to the sickness. We all have the poison. We are all dying, only painfully slowly, and it is horrible, truly horrible. A few of us still have hair, but it hangs in single limp strands. Our skin is leathery and red-orange, regardless of race, and flakes away with every movement. Some will become blind, and all of us cough up blood and bile. Oh, how we hate life! The end spared no one. The lucky ones didn't wake up to the new world. We did. We survived. We wait for the poison to take us, but it is too damn slow! It's in the food, the water and the air. Five years have passed, and still I live! Why?!?
I am ashamed to go on, but I must continue writing. There is but one meager pleasure left to us: power. To take. To crush. To play God in a God-forsaken world. We of the Horde hold dominion over the city, and now we've moved into the countryside. We sweep out of the city in search of prey. Only through terror can we still find emotions burning deep within us. We live only to prove ourselves masters to everyone we encounter. In their fearful eyes can we see the reflection of our power, proof that we still exist. Without this, we die. Without this, there is nothing left to live for.
The Traders, for instance, we spit on with contempt, because they survive without purpose and without hope, yet still they scramble to live. We loathe them, they who collect scraps from the ruins to trade with us for a can of food, a bucket of water, another day's safety. Why do they bother? We suffer their existence because they bring us things, and they are good sport. But why do they bother to open their eyes to another day? I do not understand.
But the Horde gives us purpose. We live for power, for domination, for the thrill of brushing against death and escaping. The very game we play with death gives life a slim illusion of value. And we treasure that illusion. We live only for those moments of chase and conquest. All else is empty and insane.
The Governor, though illiterate, was fond of quoting his role model, Genghis Khan:
"The greatest joy that a man can know is to conqueror his enemies and drive them before him, to ride their horses and deprive them of their possessions, to make their beloved weep and to embrace their wives and daughters."
But that's not quite true. Both Khan and the Governor have had mercifully limited lives. They are saved from subtle torture by their ignorance. For the greatest joy -- indeed, the only true joy left in this world -- is the ability to remember the beforetime. To remember the smell of green grass, and the sound of birds, and a sky that was blue by day and star-filled at night. To be able to sleep soundly, and eat a well cooked meal. To feel love, to be loved, to see reason in the faces of others ... oh God, let me not think of it! It is joy, but it is torture! It was a lifetime ago. I can barely believe it was ever real.
I would try to better describe the type of men we are but I can only give an image of shadows, for we are specters who live in the darkness. Each sunset, when the eternal cloudcover turns from gray to orange, we prepare to leave our hiding place. We perch on the ridges and watch the valley floor, searching for a sign of light. Bright steady light delights us, for that means an underground bunker -- only the survivalists still have electricity. And canned food, and shoes, and books; they are coveted treasure troves. The survivalists had prepared for this day long ago, thinking themselves to be quite wise, but now they live like rabbits among wolves. We are always watching, waiting, wanting. Sooner or later they reveal themselves, and then the sport begins! We pounce with glee.
Often we spot flickering yellow light, the cooking fires of the various squatters who roam aimlessly about in search of fresh water. Squatters are unsatisfying sport; they are too apathetic to respond to our terror. We leave them alone until the killing rage comes among us. But I find spilling their blood always leaves me empty. At least survivalists put up a good fight. It would be good to die at their hands.
Each night we drift slowly eastward, and with the coming of light we hide in caves, gullies, or among the blackened stumps of old forests. The hazy lemon yellow sun is our signal for rest, and serves as a beacon to orient our direction. Eastward, always eastward, towards the Centrals. The rumors tell of life in the Centrals, how they have animals that can still reproduce, and plants that can grow in the soil, and at night the clouds sometimes reveal the stars! We want that life. Envy moves us onward and gives us purpose. In each of our secret hearts screams a lust for the old life. We so desire a taste of the beforetime once again. We are like starving children pressed against the bake shop window. They say the Centrals were spared from most of the bombs. They say there are villages, and even some form of light industry. If we can find structure and order there, if we have a possibility of renewing our lives again -- oh how we thirst for it! So we hunt eastward, ever eastward, and pray the rumors may be true.
Oh brain, brain, I'd give my soul to erase my thoughts. All that I was, and what I've become; my cruel memories haunt my dreams and I cannot find release. I must not think! I must not think!
The Horde is beyond thought, beyond caring. The last vestige of human learning is fading with these creatures, these ex-men, these ex-bankers, bookkeepers and clerks. We've given up; there's no use for knowledge anymore. So let the learning fade away! Who cares!
So I write this last record, and then I, too, will give up learning, caring, thinking... It costs too much to remember. I'll bury these papers in a glass jar among the ruins of this old church. I would like to think that some distant day, when some archaeologist of the future rummages through these ruins in search of relics, he'll unearth this echo from the new barbarians, and you'll know what your ancestors became. This is a warning. Beware your leaders! Don't let this happen again!
I must end now. The Horde begins to stir, and I am being called upon. The hunt begins again!