The Trumpet Sounds
When the trumpet sounded, we left our homes and went to watch. All our bickering was over—all our greed, our avarice. It was suddenly worth so little in the face of the coming end. The trumpet echoed over field and mountain, from the city to the waste, and into every corner of the groaning earth. Birds scattered across the sky, and the beasts of the field fled to their hollows, and far below, the dark things stirred and awakened, exulting.
The stones of the mighty causeway upon which we traveled had been laid down long ago by the giants of the earth, bound by their oaths to the gods. Their sleeping forms lay sprawled across the land on either side, clothed with trees and green grass. The fire would soon wake them if the trumpet did not. It was louder now: splitting the clouds above as the mass of humanity made its way down the track. Down toward the mountains of the gods. There we would watch. There we would be safe. So we thought.
A hand gripped my arm as I trudged forward, head down. I turned and saw a wrinkled face, a gray beard, a one-eyed gaze piercing me. The old man leaned upon a twisted stick. He looked weak, and I stooped to support him. Suddenly his grip tightened, and I felt the strength in his fingers.
“My time is done, lad,” he rasped in my ear. “The trumpet sounds for me.”
“Surely not yet, old one,” I replied and tried to smile, but he shook his gray head. His one eye looked distant.
“The trumpet sounds, and Death is blowing upon it. Its jaws are wide, and soon I must fall into those jaws...”
He stumbled again, trembling, and sank to the ground. I knelt with him as the stream of humanity trudged around us. He fixed me with his good eye once more, and now a smile played round his mouth.
“My thanks for your kindness, lad, but you must go now,” he said. “I’ll rest here and wait. My time is done, but yours isn’t. Only remember my words, when the jaws open wide for me: Seek the darkness when the fire comes. She’ll wait for you. She will.”
He sighed and pushed me away then, clutching his stick. I tried to help him, but he was gone. The bodies pressed closer, carrying me along the causeway. At last I surrendered and turned my face back toward the looming mountains, wondering at his words.
Soon pillars of stone rose before us, and the high ridge--white as bone--that sheltered Earth from the light of heaven. We camped there, and at last we looked back upon the lands we had left behind, following the call of the horns of heaven. We looked and felt fear, for the end was a terrible thing to see:
On one hand came the hordes of the unfettered dead, marching from their caverns beneath the earth, cold and dripping and hungry for the light. On the other hand rose the raging sea, brimming with the waterlogged bodies of the drowned, and on its surface came the terrible stone ships of the fire giants—vast rafts of pockmarked pumice, floating on a foam of boiling surf. They raised flaming eyes to the shores of Earth, and in their hands was fire, unquenchable.
The shorelines quailed at their approach, and steam went up to darken the sky. Fields smoked and burned, and far above, carrion birds mixed their cries with the sound of the trumpet, while wolves howled on the empty hills. The beasts hoped to sate their hunger when the battle was over. They hoped in vain.
There was a crash away behind us as the gates of heaven opened, and deadly light flickered forth to strike at the armies of the dead below. They grasped at it in droves, hungry for life, but found only more death, and the dust of their corpses mixed with ashes on the battlefield while mighty men fought and fell and swelled the ranks of the dead all the more. From the boiling sea came serpents, and writhed across the dry land in waves of poison. Spears flew and swords flickered, and the footsteps of gods shook the earth as they had not since the beginning.
True fear gripped me at last, and I fell back from the edge of the ridge, for the tide of battle was drawing near. We had thought to find safety here, here in sight of heaven, but the end came on regardless, inevitable. It would all burn, and us with it. The gods could not stave off fire and death, for they had seen their own ends.
Suddenly I stopped, and an apparition crested the bone-white slope. A spear raised, scattering light from its nine-bladed tip, and the hand that grasped it was strong. A horse reared up, its mane and tail aflame, and the rider pierced me with his ancient, one-eyed gaze, gray hair framing a wrinkled face, full of fury. The trumpet swelled and crashed upon my ears.
And then I remembered the words, as the jaws opened wide for him. A wolf-like shape reared up behind the rider, and the sun turned black, and I fled.
I fled, and as I ran it seemed that world changed and grew thin: the mountain walls of heaven dissolved, and there was a narrow defile leading on beneath the sky. Deeper and deeper, dark walls of stone rising on either side, until the walls fell away, and at last I saw, thrusting from the horizon, the shape of a tree.
It was a withered tree, twisted branches hung with a thousand nooses, and I stumbled for a moment in the blood-soaked earth. Still I went on, and the dead canopy stretched over my head. As I continued, I felt a weight bearing down on me. A weight of despair...so heavy. Darkness was falling, and I stumbled again, almost giving up—
—but a hand gripped mine and pulled me to my feet once more. There was light again, and I saw that it was a woman, clad in rags. Her face was desperate, like mine. “She’ll wait for you,” the old man had said. I did not understand.
Wordless, she pointed to the base of the tree, and in the flickering I saw a hollow between the roots.
“Seek the darkness when the fire comes.”
A glance behind, and now I saw the source of the light: a horizon full to brimming, red and angry, filled with fire, unquenchable. The trumpet crowed on as the giants danced upon the graves of the gods, and a mighty wolf lay with his jaws broken, the nine-bladed spear buried in his side. A serpent writhed in its death throes, and suddenly the horizon brimmed over. Fire spilled out, and a thousand, thousand souls went screaming up as we plunged headlong into the final darkness beneath the hanging tree...
...And the trumpet fell silent.