The Edges of Empire

Every day was some new apocalypse, some looming end of the world drifting through the sickly orange of the sky like fine ash: invisible until it piled up on rooftops and car hoods and skin, notable mostly for how it dragged at their lungs like running. Plague and fire and flood; civil wars and the rumors of wars, dead spots in the sea, deserts swallowing fertile land, birds falling from the sky, whales washing up on beaches. Bones in the street.

They are at home here, if lonely, too wild for humanity, too human for anything else, an outcast in more stable times, but now just one more wary shape on the empty roads. They sloughed their skin years ago when the winter drove them west, a refugee from blizzards, simoons, tornados. The west is a thin skin of green atop a bottomless lake of desert, but it’s still bearable, for now, a heedless island of smug superiority even as the rivers run dry and the cliffsides collapse.

Coming down from the mountains, overgrown and ripe, they meet another exile, face impenetrable behind a layer of road filth. They circle each other, wary as dogs, sniff the air, weigh the options before edging in. They come together without relief, but for a moment the pall of doom is lightened.

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