The Talon recon force moved through the shadows of the ruined city. Senses were alert for any survivors.
It was an unlikely prospect, and everyone knew it. Not much had survived the Reckoning. Almost everyone had died. The faithful, the heretical, the righteous, the sinful… all of them, annihilated. The Order had survived by hiding. It was something the Order had grown good at doing after several hundred years, but no one had expected it to save them from something like this. And even then, Jerusalem was a crater.
The Inquisitor recon vehicle rolled over the bones of the countless dead. The attack had come with such speed that people had died en masse in the city streets, not that those fortunate enough to take shelter had fared any better. Once, the city had been lively at all hours of the day and night, never resting for a moment. Now only silence reigned, and the city’s rest was eternal.
It was the same story elsewhere in the world. From Port Vigilance, warships had sliced through the arctic sea and found that even remote parts of the world, including the home port of the Allies’ Arctic Fleet and Iceland itself, were dead places. The Allied air fleet hadn’t even gotten off the ground before it was smashed into the dirt, and ports had become graveyards for the ships docked there. The Atlantis Sprawl was dead, too. It remained afloat, but that wouldn’t last. Already the aquatic Sprawl was beginning to take on water without its automated systems to regulate the floating metropolis’s buoyancy. Soon, Atlantis would take its thousands of dead residents with it to the icy depths.
All across the world, Talon units emerged from hiding, only to confirm that their part of the world had likewise suffered. Every now and then, a few survivors were discovered – a subterranean Soviet listening post here, a PAWI-shielded Confederate base that had hunkered down there. Some parts of the world were no longer habitable. When the Atomic Kingdom fell, almost nothing in that already-blighted region survived. So violent had the Reckoning been that seismic and volcanic activity had spiked the world over – the western seaboard of North America and all of southeast Asia had been devastated by tidal waves, and volcanism in Japan had been so intense that the large parts of the islands had slipped into the sea while the ruins of the Empire were buried beneath lava and ash. Yellowstone had detonated, too, and the Cheyenne Mountain facility lost when the entire mountain collapsed. North America west of the Mississippi River had become a desolate wasteland.
Worldwide casualties were estimated to be well into the billions, not that the survivors needed to be told that, and anything like a precise count was impossible anyway. All the orbital and deep-space forces were lost, of course – their destruction had been the first sign that something was wrong. The Allied Nations and Confederate Revolutionaries had died with their people. The Soviet Union had stood its ground, and been annihilated for its effort. The Atomic Kingdom and Empire were simply gone. Leaving, ironically, the Order of the Talon as the greatest surviving power in the world. And the only surviving power in the world, for that matter.
From the command center at Ayers Rock, Talon officers watched the bad news continue to roll in. Rome, MegaSprawl and Vatican City, were a total loss. Washington D.C. was underwater. Moscow had been thoroughly erased from existence, leaving nothing but a vast plain of scorched earth and snow. Tokyo and Beijing were no better off – a boiling volcanic lagoon and a plain of atomic glass, respectively. London was at least recognizable, if filled with the bones of dead people and buildings. Jerusalem was a crater that still emitted plumes of smoke. Even Antarctica had been hit savagely, although the Order was still struggling to figure out why. Large swaths of the continent had been burned down to the bedrock, and in some places there were craters nearly a mile deep.
Lady Maria struggled to remember how it had happened. The Cult had gone active, that much was certain. The arrival of their messiah was near, they believed. But in their exuberance they simply made themselves easy targets. It was a strangely anticlimactic end to the long hunt, enough so that the Order had immediately gone into hyper-paranoia. Then, however, Allied and Soviet spacecraft had begun to vanish…
The Reckoning had been sudden, but it had been absolute. Maria’s head swam with visions of impossible… machines? Living creatures? Some unholy hybrid of both? Everyone who had tried to fight the Reckoning died. And so did everyone who showed themselves. Only those who hid, hid deep and quietly, survived. It had quite simply been an attack like nothing the survivors had ever dreamed of.
And then there were the reports of something strange in the ruins of the Rome MegaSprawl, along what had once been the Tiber River. Reports of strange green crystals growing amongst the ruins…
Lady Maria woke up.