Gold flakes, fine as ash, fell around her feet, catching in her dark hair like the tears of some lonely god. The apocalypse was brighter than she’d expected, limned with temple-gold, the soft rose of a desert sunset, the poisonous green of a dead sea. Before her, a supernova of fire and debris, shot with vivid red and orange, the glory of the sun at its heart. Trees crumbled around her, instant carcasses in the blast wave, and splinters combed her hair. Cinders bit holes in her silken garments.
War was her lust, the blood of nations her wine, the prayers of the dying her lullaby. She had stood at the heart of many conflicts—the trenches of the Great Wars, the walls of Troy, surrounded by Mongolian hordes, the hills of Gettysburg, the conflicts of gods and kings and heroes. She was birthed for this, in this, and yet this moment frightened her in a way that nothing else had.
She had waited so long for this, the Mother, the Eater, the First One. Her hands had shaped this young world, guided its strange people along their bloody path. She had given them metal, and the atom, and nuclear fission. She had dabbled her fingers in a few wombs and created monsters, hungry, hopeless monsters who would paint the very halls of history.
Her children had learned well. They had outstripped her. Watching the cloud, for the first time, she wondered if she had gone too far, given them too much, led them too long. They loved this darkness. They craved the taste of death on a cool night’s breeze, the cries of motherless children. They had made war of art, and art of war. They did not want an end, but an eternity, an endless night of annihilation, world-sized locusts who lived for eating.
Below her, the light of civilization choked. Halogen-lit skyscrapers, lovers’ candles, lantern-lit huts. Weddings and funerals and birthing chambers, and now another cloud rose, scattering the first column, sucking noise and light into its hollow cheeks and spitting the ruins out in a tide of debris.
In its wake came the firestorm, trash fires and foundry flames drawn into the vortex and vomited forth, tearing through the last bits of the city. It drowned her, a torrent of malice, slapping aside the rich, bitter taste of a good death. There was no good death here. None. Only the sludge of a crushed civilization, salty and flat.
A third cloud rose, now, and a city of nearly a billion lives disappeared without a trace, ground into the dust, their bones glazed into a glass desert.
Her bones trembled in fear of the future, and she wept for what she had wrought. The bones of murdered mountains kissed her cheeks and she drew her wings around herself, turning from the carnage to seek her refuge.