The War was a distant memory, but it’s fires still smouldered. The world that once was had passed away in a blinding flash that had burned impressions of those who came before against whatever walls still stood. Recovered texts speak of cities that stretched for miles, across and above, places that never slept, a global community in constant communication. This had passed on.
We were indentured labourers in Warlord Mafu’s army, adopted by the conquerers who had razed and absorbed the tribes we each belonged to. Mafu was fond of great projects and rallies, and at such a rally had tasked us, his Not-Quite-Slaves, with clearing the debris from one of the forsaken ranges. These places had once been the mythical cities spoken of in old texts, and were nearly impassable. The rubble that took up all the space had been there since the Great Fire, and was strewn about maddeningly, making it impossible for any kind of large formation to pass through it efficiently. Mafu coveted the farms and fertile women of the western tribes, so tasked us with clearing the way for his armies.
For this, he announced from his platform magnanimously, we would know his Gratitude.
The work was punishing; every day workers fell, malnourished and broken. Most of the lifting and dragging had to be done by hand, as the soldiers refused to lend their vehicles to the cause and reduce the number of patrols. Brick, stone, granite, steel, glass; sophisticated materials whose intricacies had been mostly forgotten, now just sad broken toys. Workers would be crushed by falling masonry, cut themselves on rust and succumb to infection, starve to death where they stood. Disease ran through the ranks of those who worked the forsaken range; people grew ragged and thin, their hair fell out in clumps.
Eventually the field was cleared enough that Mafu announced the project a triumph, and we used the last of our strength to cheer his chariots as they tore off down the fresh pathway to pillage and reave.
We were ferried, exhausted and famished, to a clearing we had not been tasked with. Before us lay a huge pit in the earth, which was already half-full of the bruised, skeletal corpses of our brothers and sisters. On the other side of the pit stood a large white banner, with a single word etched across it in black:
We turned just in time to see the rifles of the soldiers behind us roar.