Antha had never felt calmer or at peace than she did sleeping that night. Whether it was the Mutant safeguarding her or because she had finally made it to the rendezvous she had been heading towards for weeks, she couldn't know. Sleep came easily, holding on strong through the night into the morning hours. No dreams, for she was far too exhausted. Only a subconscious void, knowing she was safe and secure where she was when she slept.
Until three figures towering over her broke her from that peace.
Antha blinked awake and jumped slightly in shock of these three strange people looming over her. There were two men: one tall and lanky, the other short and broad chested. A woman, likely the leader, stood between them. Their heads were bald with ritualistic scars of a strange language carved into their scalps and bone piercings through their ears and noses. All three were clad in some kind of tanned leather, but from what kind of animal, she couldn't guess.
Startled by their unexpected presence, she jumped and shuffled back a few paces, she noticed. The woman, Hadwa, flashed a toothy grin of rotten, crooked teeth at her as she backed up, taking delight in their surprise. The three strangers spoke amongst each other in a language Antha couldn't understand, occasionally motioning towards her and glancing in her direction. At one point, the tall one, Beorn, gave her a lingering glance, making her uncomfortable. Perhaps foolishly or out of some desire for validation, she had to find out who these people were.
"Are you with the transport?" Antha asked, her words shaking more with every syllable.
The trio stopped their conversation and turned to her, silently with unblinking, unsettling eyes. There was something off about the way they looked at her, staring at her like she was an object, not a person. It wasn't desire or lust. No, they seemed to give her the same regard she would give a desert beetle or a lizard. The short one, Mogan, barked something loud and guttural in his own tongue that made Antha jump and the rest of them laugh. They were toying with her, but for what purpose she didn't know.
The longer the she sat, the more she felt the uneasy feeling in the pit of her gut grow. By now, she knew for certain they were not with the transport. The way they were dressed, the way they acted towards her made her believe they were with some other tribe from somewhere far away.
This was worrisome. Friendly relations with other tribes were rare. Everyone was after the same limited resources. Resources which were jealously guarded by people willing to die and kill others for, who were equally willing to kill and die for just to take it. Her tribe, like many others, had been on both sides of this struggle time and time again. One thing she knew for certain, she did not want to be alone facing a group of strangers. Whoever they were, whatever they wanted, she knew it was not going to be good.
"Please, I don't want any trouble," Antha pleaded, holding up her hands to show she meant no harm. "I'm just here for the transport."
"Transport?" Hadwa, repeated with a thick accent of this not being her native tongue.
"You speak my language?" Antha asked with a little relief.
"Some," the Hadwa responded. "This our land. Why you here?"
It was then she spied some crudely carved clubs wielded in the hands of the two men, while hers were suspiciously empty. They were suspicious of this stranger here, not that she could blame them. Despite that pit growing bigger in her gut, she wanted to convince herself this was a misunderstanding and maybe she could talk her out of this situation.
"I don't want any trouble," she said with caution. "I've been traveling for many weeks. I'm just here for the transport."
"You keep saying that word 'transport,'" Hadwa replied. "What you mean?"
"Transport. Like a ship. To the stars?"
Hadwa smirked, now understanding the meaning of her words. She translated it to the other two in her native tongue, who erupted in laughter upon understanding her cause to be here.
"What?" Antha asked, puzzled.
"The ship, the transport," Hadwa repeated. "Many come for this."
"Do you know where it is?"
"Nowhere," Hadwa replied, cackling. "It doesn't exist."
She laughed, followed by the others, at what appeared to be a cruel inside joke Antha was not privy to.
"What do you mean it doesn't exist?"
"The ship, it's a myth," Hadwa stated. "Never existed. Last ship left long ago. Only stories we tell."
That was impossible, Antha thought to herself. Thoughts of denial flooded through her head. The elders in her tribe confirmed it. It couldn't just be a myth. Soon, she came to the stark realization she had traveled all this way, overcame so many obstacles, all because of a lie.
"Our ancestors tell story to bring others here," Hadwa continued.
"We have little and need more to survive," Hadwa explained, taking a couple steps closer. "Outsiders bring supplies. And food."
"I don't have anything," Antha stood up with shanking legs, ready to make a break for it as the others moved in closer, their clubs ready to swing.
The Woman flashed another toothy grin. "Yes, you do."
Beorn swung his heavy club at her, but Antha was quick to jump back and dodge his wild swing, immediately turning to make a break for it. Her quick escape was short lived, though, as she tripped over a sharp rock hidden in the loose sand. Pain shot up her leg from her ankle as she attempted to rise and hobble away.
Hadwa barked commands in her language to the other two as they rushed over to pin her down. Antha twisted and thrashed, desperately trying to fend them off. She managed one lucky shot to Mogan's nose, but it was to no avail. The lack of food and pure exhaustion of traveling for several weeks had cost her of her strength. Mogan cupped his bloody nose, glaring at her furiously for daring to retaliate, as he brought his foot crashing down on her sprained ankle. She howled in agony, hearing the bones crack from under his boot, with the others laughing in delight.
It was no use resisting any further. The men had her pinned down with her cheek pressed against the scalding hot sand. Hadwa muttered something in her language, almost like a prayer, as she tenderly caressed Antha's body. She removed a dagger from her belt and grabbed Antha, cupping her cheek with her left hand while holding the blade to her outstretched throat with her right. Tears and sobs were all Antha could muster in protest, but they did nothing stop them. Hadwa pressed the jagged blade of old steel to her throat. All Antha could do was close her eyes and wait for the end.
Then, Hadwa was silent, breathless, even. Antha, along with the two men, looked up to see her frozen in place with her eyes rolled back and her mouth agape. The others looked at her with fear and confusion, talking to her in their own language with concerned tones in their voices. Tremors shuddered through her body, shaking the blade in her hand until her grip broke and she collapsed to the ground, convulsing in a series of seizures. Beorn and Mogan rushed to her side, releasing their grip on Antha. Free form their grasp, Antha pushed back the opposite way and turned to suddenly stop in her tracks.
The Mutant stood a few yards from the others, its hand outstretched towards Hadwa, using its mysterious and feared powers to incapacitate her. It was protecting her.
Beorn glanced over at Antha, sounding the alarm to Mogan. Both men shot up and stared at the cloaked Mutant. Fear combined with rage filled their eyes. They were well aware of the powers Mutants had, sure, but they weren't about to let this creature destroy the woman they loved.
Mogan shouted and lead the charge with Beorn close behind. The Mutant now turned its attention to the oncoming men. They completely ignored Antha, who was still on the ground and unable to walk with her broken ankle. The Mutant attempted to bring them down the same as Hadwa, but it wasn't fast enough. Mogan wildly swing his club in a fit of rage, breaking the Mutant's concentration. The Mutant managed to deflect the first swing and push Mogan back, but Beorn joined in with attacks of his own, and the three disappeared into a cloud of dust.
Antha picked herself up to her feet. She couldn't tell who was who through the dust, only flashes of movement from either a club or a dark cloak. The pain from her broken ankle was near unbearable, though she managed to find the strength to pick herself back up and hobble away. She wouldn't be able to get far but she had to put as much distance between herself and the others as she could. If she could make it, her best hope would be hiding in the canyon to wait until the sun set. With any luck, she'll be able to live to see another day.
Within moments of her escape, there was a gargled shriek and a loud crack. Antha turned around to see the Mogan lying on the ground, his eyes rolled back and glazed over, and his neck twisted in a grotesque manner. She couldn't believe it. The Mutant had broken this man's neck like it was nothing.
The dust settled and Antha could see the two remaining combatants clearly, see both squaring off and sizing each other up. It was a wonderfully tactical, if not crude, little dance seeing who would buckle first. Neither made a move forward as they circled each other, patiently waiting for the other to strike first.
Every so often, the Mutant would attempt to lift his arm to use his powers on Beorn, prompting him to jab at him with his club, breaking the Mutant's concentration rendering him unable to use his power. Beorn was smarter than Mogan. He had tangled with Mutants before. While powerful in ways he couldn't understand, he knew they could be beaten. Their power came from the mind and all but the most disciplined mutants needed absolute concentration to use it. Beorn knew his opponent, while stronger than any human, lacked combat experience. He was careful not to be overconfident, though. One little misstep would cost him the fight and life.
However, it would be the Mutant who would make the first misstep. As it attempted to use its powers, Beorn faked an attack, just like he had done several times before. Only this time, Beorn followed through with a second, full swing, knocking the Mutant off its feet. Beorn was quick to take full advantage, lunging towards him with a full swing of his club, knocking the Mutant to the ground. Antha could hear the crack of its ribs from several feet away.
Beorn swung down at him in a fury, though the Mutant was agile enough to dodge his blows. The Mutant recovered to his feet right as Beorn took a swing for its head. The Mutant caught the club, in mid-swing, holding it steady as Beorn jerked his arms in an attempt to pry it from its grip.
The Mutant, then, pushed his full weight against Beorn, and the two were back on the ground. Both rolled and tumbled in the sand as the brawl devolved from a tactical game of wits to a primal fight for survival. The club had slipped from either of their grasp. Muscle and brawn were the only things that were going to dictate the winner of this fight.
It wasn't long before the Mutant had the upper hand, holding Beorn from behind with his arm clenched around his throat. By then, it was over. The Mutant had an unbreakable grip on the man, tightly constricting his airpipe. Beorn twisted and struggled under its grip. He had no intentions of dying but the Mutant had no intentions for him to live. It didn't take long for Beorn his last breath and drop limp in the Mutant's arms.
The Mutant rolled his body away and turned to Antha. For the first time since their meeting, she was not afraid. Even when it approached her, she knew there was nothing to fear. And when it knelt down to look over her ankle, its gloved hand gently brushing against her skin with fingers tenderly tracing her ankle, closer than she had ever been to it, she knew she was safe with him.
Suddenly, the Mutant convulsed with a muted scream. Antha fell back and saw the dagger plunged between his ribs, held firmly in place by Hadwa. Hatred burned in her eyes and her words, while indecipherable, were filled with vengeance as she whispered in his ear. She twisted the knife and stuck it deeper in the Mutant's lung, causing him to wince. His knees grew weak, slowly buckling under his own weight. Hadwa ripped the blade out and stuck him a few more times in the abdomen.
"Stop!" Antha shouted.
To her surprise, Hadwa stopped. Her wrath found a new target: Antha.
"You," she growled and rushed towards her.
Antha rose to her feet in defiance. A new feeling came over her, washing away all the fear, all the pain, replacing it with courage and the will to fight instead of flee. Everything she had lived for, hope and salvation, had been taken from her. Only the Mutant, who had risked his life protecting her, mattered. And she refused to let this woman take away the only thing she cared about.
Hadwa raised the dagger. Antha knew she was at a disadvantage, but she readied herself anyway. Hadwa was a mere arm's reach from her when suddenly the earth began to shake under their feet.
The quake started small and slight, but quickly grew with violent tremors from deep in the earth, knocking both women to ground. Rocks, ranging from tiny pebbles to giant boulders, tumbled down around them from the slopes of the jagged peaks, one in particular landing mere feet from them before rolling down into the river below.
A deafening crack split through the air, drawing their attention to the mountain that loomed high over them. The sharp peak of the jagged mountain split and was now separated from the base. The giant piece of rock tumbled towards them and all three scrambled to get out of its path. Within seconds, the enormous hunk of rock collided into the ground where the stood only moments before, promptly being swallowed into the earth where they once stood.
The fissure didn't stop there. As the earthquake grew in intensity, so too did the fissure. The ground buckled and crumbled all around, disappearing into the depths of the earth in a black chasm that went on forever. Nothing was spared from its wake, swallowing up the bodies of Beorn and Mogan, along with the boulders and sand dunes. Even the river, which once flowed straight through the valley, now emptied into the dark abyss.
Antha quickly limped towards the Mutant and helped lead him away from the destruction. Higher ground made the most sense to her. The chasm had begun to expand throughout the valley. Ground was quickly becoming scarce around them, and not just in there are either. All around them as far as she could see, ground was quickly giving way to a void in the earth. Occasionally, bursts of flame and lava from deep below would explode to the surface, causing more chaos. As the valley began to disappear, Antha led the Mutant up the slopes of what remained of the jagged mountain.
The climb to the top was difficult, even if they weren't injured. Boulders rolled down around them as pieces of the sides gave way. But the mountain itself managed to stand despite the ground around it disappearing into the bowels of the earth.
Soon, they were able to reach the top. With all her strength, she was able to lift the Mutant over the edge, safely to the top. When it was her turn to climb up, the rock she had been standing on slipped and crumbled beneath her. Fortunately, she had a strong grip on the edge and was able to pull herself up.
Finally, they were safe. While the tremors continued, they were far less violent up there, though the edges still were unsafe as some sides of the mountain continued to crumble. But it was a far better place than being on the valley floor below, which had now disappeared completely into a void going out for miles.
Antha helped the Mutant to his feet to move closer to the center of the peak. While he was conscious and trying his best to move fast, he was incredibly weakened with his strength waning by the moment.
Hadwa's shrieks caught Antha by surprise as lunged at her from seemingly out of nowhere. Antha had figured her for dead but she must've had the same idea as her, climbing up the mountain. She tacked Antha to the ground and they both rolled to the edge, unable to gain their footing.
Both stopped just shy of the edge and immediately, Hadwa had Antha pinned down beneath her. Before Antha could react, Hadwa had her hands wrapped tightly around her neck, the dagger apparently lost in the chaos.
Antha coughed and choked, caught off guard by Hadwa's sudden attack. She struggled under her grip to escape, but was pinned between her and the emptiness below. There were only moments left before Hadwa would have her way. The only part of her that was free were her legs. She had one shot to free herself. Mustering all her strength, Antha kicked up with her good leg. Her kick not only broke free Hadwa's grip, but made her lose her balance, sending her over the edge.
Below, Hadwa landed on a small ledge about twenty feet down from the edge of peak. Antha watched as she looked up at her. She was alive but crippled from the fall, yet none of that seemed to matter to her as she glared and screamed in anger up at Antha.
Those screams of anger turned into screams of fear as the ledge began to crack. Slowly, the ledge began to slide down the side of the mountain, quickly gaining speed as it descended into the emptiness below. Within seconds, the ledge crumbled completely, disappearing into the depths of the earth, taking Hadwa with it. Antha could hear her screams echo for over a minute until either she found the bottom or had fallen too far for sound to be carried.
With Hadwa gone, Antha was able to reunite with the Mutant. While the initial threat was gone, the earth still violently erupted around them. Antha gazed out from their high vantage point and saw nothing but chaos and destruction all around them as far as she could see.
By now the entire valley had been swallowed up into the earth along with the canyon and some of the smaller hills in the distance. The sky was alight, burning crimson red from volcanos erupting far off in the distance, pumping soot and ash into the air, blocking out the sun. Everything around them for miles and miles was crumbling and disappearing into the endless abyss beneath the earth. There was no escape, no salvation.
The feeling of hopelessness was gut-wrenching to her. Only yesterday, she had believed there was a transport, some salvation to whisk her away to a far better place she could only imagine. Now, not only was the transport a lie, the very world she was trying to escape from was literally collapsing all around her. Tears dripped down her face as the realization finally came to her: they were the final two souls witnessing the last moments of planet Earth.
The Mutant brushed her cheek, wiping a tear away, prompting her to look down at him cradled in her arms. He was barely hanging on, bleeding profusely from the wound in his torso. Antha forced herself to smile helplessly at him. At least he was there for her. They were there for each other. She returned the gesture and brushed the side of his opaque mask, cracked in the middle from the fight and revealing a glimmer of his face underneath. Curiosity began to pique her interest as she traced the edges of the mask with her fingertips, compelled to look upon his face now before the end of all things.
Antha gently found the edge of the mask and slowly removed it. She had no idea what a mutant looked like. No one did. Slowly, she lifted the mask and revealed the pale face of a man no older than her. His face was pale and white. Smooth and devoid of even the slightest hint of a stubble. His eyes, purple and glowing, though faintly, met hers as they gazed upon each other's faces for the first and final time. He tried to be strong for her, though he, too, was scared. She could see that struggle in his eyes.
Whether it as him using his powers to calm her down or simply the acceptance of the hopeless situation, somehow, she managed to feel calm, at peace, as she gazed into his eyes. Everything grew quiet around her. There was no smoke, no fire, no apocalypse. Just the two of them in each other's arms. She sweetly brushed his cheek, prompting him to do his best to smile back at her. Through some force greater than either of them, Antha and the Mutant drew themselves closer and closer together, their bond unbreakable.
When their lips met, the world around them went silent, shrouded from the horrors of the end of the world together in their own bliss. They had each other and that was all that mattered. Even the end of the world couldn't keep these two from meeting and falling in love. The world had ended but their love, no matter how brief it would inevitably be, had just begun. Though, no matter how soon something begins, even something as pure and lasting as love, it, too, must end. They met in the direst of times with only days left, but despite it all, the last two people on Earth managed to hold on as long as they could, never parting.
As the world descended into oblivion, their love would remain eternal as the final love story told on planet Earth.