They’d had to evacuate twenty square kilometres of land, effectively shutting down three villages around the power plant. No one was allowed in without hazmat equipment. No one was allowed out without being surgically scrubbed down and decontaminated. Not many beings were coming out though.
Past the heavy, lead-filled barriers, there was little alive. Anything that couldn’t be evacuated was either burnt or shot. Controlled fires destroyed the plant life while specialized vehicles killed and disposed of any wildlife. Buildings were demolished via controlled explosions while vehicles were buried in remotely dug ditches.
Further in, the destruction from the initial blast could be seen. There were no buildings to destroy, no vehicles to bury. There was nothing but rubble, ash and dust.
This was where the Thantophor, the Doom Bringer, loomed, lurking and twisting through the mist.
Why? Because there were still survivors, lost and trapped among the rubble and collapsed ruins. To some, he would be a merciful deity, bringing them peace. To others, he would quickly and cleanly end their existences. To others still, he would bring pain before closing their eyes and stopping their hearts. The Thantophor had a duty, and he was here to fulfil it.
But not every being here, trapped and injured and burning in the ruins of a formerly great town, was going to die today. Oh no, the Thantophor wasn’t here to kill everyone. He never did. There was no enjoyment to be had in the deaths of all, so he always left survivors.
There would not be many. Only a handful. This town had once housed four hundred workers and their families. The workers’ failures, their faulty leaders and broken, honeyed words had killed most of them. These mortals were not strong. Not against nuclear fires and molten winds. Not against smouldering ash and burning air. Only the luckiest mortals had survived, sandwiched between hard places, gaps in rubble and wings of luck.
Out of these survivors though, the Thantophor knew only some would see another sunrise. Some of these survivors would writhe in pain, agony clawing at every breath, before slowly succumbing to radiation poisoning.
Out of those, some might go on to live happy lives.
One survivor though, they stood out. Sheltering in the remains of a sewer drain. In their hands, they were clutching various bits and pieces. Paperwork. A handful of coins. A fake, rubber plant.
A young female. Lost, trapped, broken, scared. She was muttering to herself. Something about her family. Living with a broken man. Living a fake life. Always trying to be someone else. Always being tired and exhausted.
Above her, the remains of the sewer were beginning to crumble. She curled up into a ball, clinging on tightly to the rubber plant. It was the only thing around her that had any semblance of colour. A bit of falling rubble made her look up. Made her see the Thantophor.
“Are you Death?”
“I am. Not many can see me here.”
The youngling sighed. She had all but given up. The world around her was crumbling. At some point, it would collapse on her. Fractured, twisted, crackling concrete versus gravity. Gravity would always win.
“There’s nothing after this.”
“No, there’s nothing at all.”
“And to think I spent all those years, going to church, only pretending to be humble. Wasn’t worth it. I coulda been someone else. But no. It was all fake.”
Another long, drawn out sigh. Her eyes were heavy. Her breathing was shallow. How much dust had she inhaled? How much radiation was tearing through her body? She remained silent for a bit. Still and unmoving, but alive. The Thantophor silently watched her.
Suddenly, the young female spoke once more. She was tired of the silence. Tired of everything. So exhausting. So painful.
“It wears you out. You like it but it wears you out.” Her voice was harsh. Broken. Dry. Like crumbling dirt and concrete.
“I can’t help that feeling.”
“I’ve just had enough.”
The survivor was never going to last long. Even if she’d made it out, the radiation would kill her in hours. A slow, agonizing death. Being crushed to death was probably better. The Thantophor knew that. She knew that. Most likely her husband, her fake, downtrodden husband and her poor, broken family knew that too.
The Thantophor brought mercy to the poor soul. She needed it.
“You’re right. It wears me out…” Arkadin muttered as he disappeared into the nuclear mist.