The End of History

by vegetables [Reviews - 0]

Printer Chapter or Story
  • Teen
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Angst, Drama, General, Introspection, Mixed, Series

Hasdrubal and Arabo had no idea why the Romans were massing by the widest wall in the city. There were soldiers on guard everywhere — just in case — but the ones at the best defences wouldn’t have to take their jobs too seriously. A wall this thick would protect Carthage, whatever its people did.

“I still think it’s a trap,” said Arabo as they came up near the wall. “It has to be. They’re making a big show of putting most of their army here, so they can sneak their best men elsewhere to break them through.”

“It’s an odd sort of trap, if that’s what it is,” said Hasdrubal. “That’s near enough the whole of their army out there. If they’re going to surprise us, they won’t have many soldiers.”

“Maybe a few’s all they think they need,” said Arabo.

“Hopefully,” said Hasdrubal. “I’d have thought they’d know not to underestimate us by now.”

Arabo gritted his teeth.

“General,” he said delicately. “However much fight we have in us, at some point our army does have to eat. Rome only has to wait us out until we starve.”

Hasdrubal laughed. “You say that like you think it’s obvious.”

“Well… yes. Of course I do.”

Hasdrubal gleamed. “Because you’ve not seen what’s even more obvious than that. Tell me, Arabo– when was the last time you were hungry?

Arabo hesitated. He’d felt he was starving, true enough– but as a child he’d known what real hunger was. He’d had days without food that seemed like they’d never end, and which weren’t as many as he’d been without food right now–

“I don’t know,” Arabo said softly, “what it is that you mean to imply”–

Before Hasdrubal could tell him, the wall exploded. A scorch of light and sound grew like the sun gone wrong, and all either of them knew for moments was the brightening roar.

The heat and light were still awful when Arabo raised his head. All that mattered was that they were bearable; whatever the damage they did. Somehow he was uninjured; impossibly Hasdrubal was as well.

As he squinted into the brightness he saw the first of the Romans breaking through, and realised he would need many more words for impossible.

Carthage’s men had recovered quickly from the explosion, as soldiers should. Yet as Arabo watched he saw a Roman thrust forward with one hand, which had turned into something not unlike the sucker of a squid. Arabo’s stomach was still racing from the shock of the blast, but he was sure what he was seeing was real– the soldier screaming as the once-hand attached to his face, howls getting louder as his body dissolved into steam.

“They’re not men anymore,” he said to Hasdrubal from his viewpoint on the ground. The general was already on his feet with his sword drawn, and even as monsters were invading he’d gotten the attention of his army.

“Perhaps they were never men,” muttered Hasdrubal dismissively.

“Perhaps,” said Arabo, failing to disguise his skepticism, “but what they are now might be unbeatable.”

“DID YOU HEAR THAT?” shouted Hasdrubal out loud, not to Arabo but to the soldiers massed around. His voice was carrying too far, just as Scipio’s had, but its loudness was warm and human where the other’s was harsh and cold.

The soldiers looked confused, as they hadn’t heard Arabo at all.

“My advisor says these monsters are unbeatable!” Hasdrubal continued to boom. “That Rome may always have crushed us, even when it was made up of men. And you’ve thought that, too! Of course you have! The man who feels no terror at this hour is less of a man than them!”

He was pointing at the warping Romans like he wasn’t scared of them at all. Hasdrubal was transforming too, Arabo then knew. It had taken him this long to finally accept it.

“There is no shame in fear!” Hasdrubal cried. “Shame only comes to those who run from horrors. Weaker metals perish in the fire,” he said as his sword swept the air, “but we are the people of the furnace! We have been pummelled and broken in the flames, and through them we have been reforged!”

As he was speaking a laser slammed through the air towards him, but with a flick of his sword he batted it away– just as all the laws of physics would say that he shouldn’t have been able to do. Somewhere science was screaming as loud as history. It wasn’t just Carthage that was being remade.

Hasdrubal deflected another laser, then another, and his soldiers were looking at him with something more than pride. They were turning round and utterly ready to fight, and somehow it seemed like they now might be evenly matched. With determination they ran towards the Romans, and as they did the final battle for their city’s existence began.

“I was condemned to die before this city was!” Hasdrubal roared. “And I still stand tall now, far more than the man I was! To be told we will die is a command for us to live! To show there is always hope, until the very moment when we end!”

None of that matters, Arabo thought to himself. You can’t fight men of metal with a sword.

In front of him a soldier slashed at an altered Roman, the red steel of its armour shattering with the blow.

“We are forged from something stronger than metal!” Hasdrubal shouted. “That’s what Rome has never understood!”

Privately as he got up to fight, Arabo thought there was a lot more than that which nobody here understood. But those things maybe meant he would live, for some hours longer at least.

He roared furiously, and swung iron at space-age materials. The alien metal screeched, breaking like it was glass.

Even the soldiers could hear as time started to grind and scream.