It was gone. All of it. What had taken decades to build and centuries to decay had been swallowed up into the sands in a matter of seconds, reclaimed by the very earth from which it came. No one alive remembered the name of the city -a testament to the old ones and their technical sorcery- for no one alive had called this city their home. Ruins, through and through, though it was impossible to not marvel at the dark, towering spires jutting from the endless sand dunes that appeared to scrape the sky. Colossal skeletons of eons long past, coated in rust and scorched from battles that mattered little to the few descendants desperately clinging generations later to this dead rock as it aimlessly roamed through space.
Antha found her mind conflicted. At first, her thoughts dwelling on the ruins of a city that meant little more to her than an obstacle to pass through on her journey. After getting over the initial shock of narrowly escaping being swallowed up by the earth along with the rest of the ruins, she felt a sting of sadness and remorse as she stared out onto the miles-wide empty chasm that had formed where the city had once been. Gone forever were the mysteries it held, the secrets of the old ones. She, like the rest who now inhabited the earth, had no ambition or ability to rebuild society to even a fraction of what it once was. But these hallowed ruins served as a reminder of the incredible feats her ancestors accomplished and gave her the thinnest of links to a past long gone. Future generations, should there be any, would now be even more disconnected from the past than her. All they would see, all they would know, would be a crater in the sand.
She glanced up at the scorching sun above and decided it was time to move on, having mourned the loss of a dead city long enough. As she turned, her foot kicked up some sand, revealing a silver chain gleaming in the sun. Ever curious, she knelt down to inspect it further. Metal was a rare and precious commodity out here, something to be used as a tool or a weapon or trinket to barter with in the off chance she runs into someone else.
As she pulled the glittering chain from the sand, she soon found it to tethered to the end of a small, rounded metal box. Her fingers traced the smooth, rounded edges of the box noting it was far too fragile to be a weapon of any meaningful sort and the shape was like no tool she'd ever seen. She was about to cast it aside when the box flipped open, and a faint, but pleasant tune started playing, chiming like melodic bells. Inside, two photographs on of a man and a woman were pressed inside the two halves of the box. Antha stared at the two pictures as she traced the contours of the locket, mesmerized by its hypnotic music.
The music soon ceased and she closed the locket and put it into pocket, opting to keep it as reminder of the past. The city was gone, but she felt compelled to retain at least one keepsake from it. If nothing else, she owed it to future generations to share at least one relic of the old ones.
She took a drink from her canteen, now only about a third full, letting only the tiniest of splashes to touch her parched tongue in an effort to conserve as much water as she could.
She froze as she spied something on the horizon. A top a sand dune two or three miles away, a black figure stood motionless, watching her. Even from a distance, Antha knew immediately what this was: a mutant. Survivors like her, yet extremely dangerous. Little was known about them other than they were solitary wanderers of the Great Desert and that they bore an extreme hatred towards humans. She clutched her rusted crowbar, the only weapon she had on her, and turned to continue on her journey, having lingered long enough. There was still enough distance between the two of them that she could lose him over the western horizon towards the setting sun.
The Mutant, covered head to toe in black robes and an opaque, expressionless mask, stood stoically watching her disappear over the horizon.
Both knew this wouldn't be the last they saw of each other.
Night had fallen and Antha had made a make-shift camp site for herself against the base of a large boulder jutting up from the sand. She daren't start a fire, no matter how bitterly cold the air was that nipped at her skin. The last thing she needed was to draw attention, especially when she knew there was a mutant nearby. The thought of it sent a shudder up her spine and forced her to press back against the edge of the boulder, giving her some slight cover from the full moon that illuminated the dunes around her. Not much, but preferable to being out in the open.
Mutants were her current and present concern. Mysterious as they were dangerous. She had once heard they possessed strange powers known to drive ordinary people insane. Some say they feed on your thoughts. Others, on your flesh. Truth was no one knew because there were few who were able to survive an encounter with them. They were the masters of the desert, while people like her simply hapless survivors.
But it wasn't just the mutants she feared. Despite her current situation, she wasn't the only human left in this world. There were others who roamed the desert like her. Nomads in small bands and tribes, sticking together for survival. Under normal circumstances, had she been with companions of her own, she would be a little less worried about running into others. However, Antha was alone and had been for several days now While she was a more than capable survivor in her own right, there was no substituting the advantages of being in a group. Being alone made her a target. Being a woman and alone made her an even bigger target.
Her solitude wasn't by choice. Once she had companions, a small tribe of about a dozen individuals whom she had known all eighteen years of her life. They had set out almost a month earlier on the slimmest of hopes of salvation. Centuries ago when the planet was green and fertile, some of the old ones were able to escape to the stars on flying ships carrying them to a new world. She couldn't even fathom the notion herself. Like others, she wrote off the old story as a tall tale and nothing more.
But, over the last several years, resources had grown scarce and there was little hope for the future of their tribe as numbers began to dwindle down every day. Soon, only thirteen remained, herself included. They held a vote to remain there or risk the journey hundreds of miles through the treacherous Great Desert to the River between Two Mountains, where the old ones would descend from the heavens to rescue them. It was a pipe dream, desperate hope for a desperate people.
Antha was the only one to vote to stay. And, in an ironic twist, she was now the last remaining member of her tribe with no choice but to carry on or perish.
She was close, though. The city was the last marker and, according to one of the elders, was a day or two walk from the landing point. Two jagged peaks laid in distance, so maybe it wasn't so far-fetched after all. If the markers existed as they were told in the old stories, maybe the rest was true.
Antha's mind drifted back to the locket in her pocket, which she drew out to see again. It was such a unique device far beyond anything she'd ever seen before. Craftsmanship aside, the pictures and the chiming music drew enough of her curiosity to open it once more just see the pictures of the long-gone man and woman and listen to music once more. A risk, to be sure, but she was compelled to hear it again and felt an unusually strong connection which she couldn't ignore.
The music broke the empty silence of the desert. Calming, yet haunting at the same time, it was difficult to describe. The chimes brought back a memory of a lullaby her mother would hum to her when she was young. Perhaps it was the same, she couldn't know. Nonetheless, her eyes soon grew heavy and the music effectively lulled her weary self to sleep.