Chapter 2 – Prelude To The Last Battle I
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Silence always made me anxious, but the screaming was not a preferred alternative. The wails of those in pain assaulted my sensitive ears. It was the Apocalypse; someone would always be in pain or on the verge of death.

It never got easier to listen to the wails of those approaching their last breath, but you learn to adapt when you need to. Still, the screaming this time was different, more painful than any other screams I had ever heard during these 15 years.

The slaughter had begun.

Not what you think though. The slaughter was just the suicides accumulating before The Final Battle. The weak were killing themselves because they did not want to be a burden for their spouse during The Final Battle.

The women sang their children to sleep – a sleep the child would never wake up from. I had seen such sights countless times before, but the beauty never escaped my eyes.

Humanity had lost its …well…Humanity. But I think we had never loved as intensely as we had during our final moments. The suicides were ugly, The killing was ugly, The battle scars were ugly… but the beauty was still there.

The children that picked dried plants from the ground to share amongst each other – anything to stave off the hunger. The lullaby's that sung the children into a peaceful sleep, so they did not suffer. The wives and Husbands that kissed their spouse and then slit their own throats.

The armors were cut in half because not everyone could brandish an armor into battle. Sometimes, even I had to march into battle with half a chest plate covering the location of my heart.

It was ironic how so much love was felt in an environment saturated with suicides and killings. I had my eyes closed laying on the makeshift bed in my tent, but I still saw everything through my senses.

I knew this was the moment, the moment I would earn the heroic death I had run from for so long.

The final battle was approaching. The beating of my heart was attuned to the pulsing Great Tree beneath which the encampment laid. The Great Trees sheltered Humanity for many a days and nights.

At the start of The Apocalypse, The Great Trees covered the entirety of the planet but they were now reduced to a mere handful.

The phosphorescent Trees that held a multitude of colors could now barely flicker with weak, blue light. Mere embers of the strong vitality that once burned within the massive Trees. The Great Trees would span kilometers in thickness while never touching the Earth.

They floated just far above the Earth for Humans to grab onto the lingering vines. Climbing to safety from the mysterious mists that had consumed the surface. At least that was how The Great Trees use to be.

Now, they no longer floated above the Earth, they no longer glowed in beautiful patterns, they no longer granted a home for Humans.

The branches, that once formed a network that rivaled the cosmos itself, were now withered. It was a painful sight to see.

I suspect that a strong enough wind could topple over the massive, hallowed tree. Still, this was the location the remaining Survivors chose for The Final Battle. It was ironic, the fact that we chose The Final Battle to take place at the location we lost The First Battle.

I was not suicidal by any means, but when it was time to go, you could just feel the sensation trickling throughout your body. Kind of like when you fall in love, something inside you just clicks and says 'This person is the one!'.

It was that type of feeling that everyone now indulged in.

Still, we only had one mission remaining 'Protect The Tree of Beginnings' at all costs. Not much was known about The Tree of Beginnings apart from it being the origin of all The Great Trees.

Some called it 'The Heart of The Earth', and you know what happens when your heart stops. I once heard a rumor that lovers united under the tree would be allowed to be together in their next life.

I opened my eyes and stared at my hands. A crystal in the shape of a tree slowly materialized in my left hand. The Token that allowed access to The Tree of Beginnings. A year ago I asked her to marry me beneath The Tree of Beginnings but we never made it there.

We were here instead, about to fight another battle because we didn't know how to do anything else after so many years. The thought of momentary happiness scared us so much that we sought self-destruction.

Being happy for even a moment means you had that much more to lose.

I fell in love three times in my life, and the third time was the 'click' that stayed 'locked'. I found true love in a time when the only true thing of Humanity was a struggle. I had always been a lucky guy.

The loss was not a new sensation to me but I can say that I did not lose as much as most people during the Apocalypse.

Some people lost their families to the Tree-Mongers (Mutated Zombies that climb trees), some lost their families to the Insectoids (Massive Insects with impenetrable scales), some people lost their families to the Mists (Mysterious Mists that covered the entire Earth).

There were many ways to die, but even more, ways to lose those you love. And most of the time, the death was agonizing and painful

Running away meant you could get caught and tortured, but killing yourself guaranteed a relatively peaceful death – at least compared to all the other possible outcomes.

I shook my head to toss away the depressing thoughts.

I turned to my side and caressed the face of the woman that had claimed my damaged heart. I had just lost everything when I first met her.

Back then my sword was at my neck, slowly penetrating my skin. I was hoping to prolong the suicide as long as possible so I felt the pain I so rightfully deserved. The moment I was about to slit my throat cleanly, she grabbed my hand and held it firmly in place.

We stared into each other's eyes for what seemed like an eternity, and everything just 'clicked' right into place. The Apocalypse had a way of confusing you, twisting you, fragmenting what remained of you.

But for the briefest of moments, I felt some pieces that were once twisted fall back into place. And that was the origin story of Camilla and me.

Perhaps hearing the screaming outside, or feeling the brush of my rough hands across her face, Camilla woke up.

"Is it time?" She asked a bit groggily.

I was reluctant to answer an affirmative since I wanted to treasure the moment just a bit longer, but Camilla could tell it was time.

"We can run away. You know I am fast," I tried to persuade Camilla, but there was no persuasion in my voice. Even I knew it was futile to run at this time.

Camilla sighed, removing my hand from her face as she stood up "We cannot allow anything to reach The Tree of Beginnings or the world will die,"

I was tempted to say 'Then let the World die' but that would be awfully stupid of me given I live in that World. Camilla smirked and directed a knowing smile my way. It was as if she could always tell my impulsive thinking habits.

"What are our chances of winning?" I asked reluctantly.

"More than if we didn't fight at all," She replied averting her eyes.

"That bad huh?"

"Maybe a little bit worse than that,"

Sighing, I rose to my feet and stood in front of Camilla.

"I love you," I whispered into her ear. It was a convoluted twisted form of love, but it was love nonetheless.

Things had drastically changed since the beginning of the Apocalypse. What we termed 'love' these days was probably more akin to a 'twisted obsession' had it been before the Apocalypse.

"I know," She replied staring into my eyes. Deep-set aquamarine eyes, staring into my deep-set brown eyes.

I smiled reassuringly at Camilla, then I swirled my fingers as lightning flickered on the tips. The lightning struck at her armor near the bed, then at her body.

The next moment, she was clad in her silver armor made of the finest metals one could find in the apocalypse: Mythril, Nth Metal, Dark Metal…

Camilla was not to be outdone, pointing her finger at another armor near the bed. The armor blurred, turned into a flash of light, and appeared on my body the next moment. I admired Camilla's control of her warp ability, not that my Lightning Manipulation was any less.

Now draped in our cloth-armors, we exited the tent. The first thing that came into sight was the desolate lands that extended as far as the horizon. Intermittent tree skeletons would enter our vision ever so often, but there was nothing fascinating about them.

I turned my eyes to scrutinize the encampment.

"Over five thousand people left to fight," Camilla said.

I grimaced "We started with ten thousand,"

Camilla squeezed my hand and pointed to all the freshly dug graves.

"The children deserved a peaceful rest,"

I did not reply because I knew she was right. The graves were probably filled with ashes instead of bodies. The bodies of the dead could be turned into Tree Mongers, or dug up by the Insectoids to be eaten.

Camilla and I strode around the encampment, fully prepared for the battle to come, though my body trembled intermittently. No matter how much death you have seen, when it was your time to go. It was still a very scary feeling.

I had lost my sister, my girlfriend, my fiancé, my teacher, my best friends, and even the mutated dog that would follow us around. I think it was finally time to stay and fight.