It's quiet out here.
The desert sprawls from horizon to horizon, where purest white meets twilight red. There are no edges here, no angles, just curves and the gentle rise and fall of dunes as far as the eye can see, and everywhere beyond that. Had a visitor from some other world laid eyes on this place, they might have found it serene, even beautiful. Pure. I can enjoy no such delusions, regretfully, for I know what lies beneath and among the sands of the endless desert. A charnel house spanning an entire planet, seven billion human souls ground thin and fine until no trace of their existence could ever be found. I know this because I put them all there.
Oh, brother. It all happens so fast, once we're gone.
It began the day you, you that I have never known, found my power. The power I hid from myself in some previous life, for reasons I can now easily guess. I was looking out of the window of my apartment, so I could see the stars, and instead I saw you, blazing as you tore yourself asunder to keep the power away from yourself. You didn't trust what you would do with it, and so you chose to throw it away. You knew yourself all too well, as I suspect I did too, at one point. By all accounts, I should not have been able to see you, for my apartment was truly a tiny containment cell about half a mile underground, but such considerations never meant much to one living entirely in his own world. When I saw the moment of your demise, I became aware of myself for the first time in… I have no idea in how long. Whichever part of me that led me to throw away my power did the same to my will, trapping it in an eternal status quo from which there could be no release. An eternity of filling spreadsheets for employers who existed solely in my head, of nine o'clock meetings with no one, of fake, masturbatory crushes over imaginary women. An eternity of tired, grinding mediocrity. But that was over that night, with your soul burning in the atmosphere like the loneliest of stars. I awakened. I died.
For whatever left that little cell-turned apartment wasn't me anymore. I was never more than an earthworm, distinct from all the rest only in that I had a little more control over the soil in which I crawled. They never thought me more than a minor reality bender, a bundle of introverted powers and neurosis that was very unlikely to ever pose any serious threat. And they were right. The person I was, SCP-1915, as they called me, never was anything other than that. But 1915 died that day, watching a fallen star. The thing that then swatted the guards posted at its cell like they were less than gnats, that razed Site-17 into this fine white sand that is now so warm beneath the feet, that was something else. Not an entity, for that would imply a personality, and this thing surely has none. Not a purpose, for there was no purpose behind its action then, nor will there be for any of its actions to come. Nor was it a will, for it wants nothing. Not vengeance, not dominion, not freedom, not even simple power. No, if I had to describe that thing as anything at all, it would be an… an absence. A void where the entity should be. A lack of purpose. An imbecile force devoid of all will. An Absence.
The sand is still warm to the feet. That means the sun still burns, high above. I wonder why it lets it remain, when all else was so quickly erased. When it could so easily just reach and pluck it out of the sky. Had it been another, I'd suspect it was to mock humanity's memory. To mock that sliver of me that still persists in the flesh, stubborn like a buried tick. But this is the Absence. It does not mock.
After Site-17's destruction, retaliation soon followed. Standard containment teams at first, though certainly still enough to meet any anomaly the Foundation imagined could be contained in Site-17 with overwhelming force. When those men failed to return, failed to even report their arrival, more serious measures had to be taken. Site-17 has always been isolated, and so they could act freely. Gunships and fire teams, aerial bombardment and artillery barrages, the Foundation came down on what it still believed to be SCP-1915 like a fire god's fist, all heat and sound and bluster. Had it still been truly corporeal, I doubt even ashes would have remained. But whatever the Absence truly was by that point, the tattered semblance of my flesh hanging around it had very little to do with it. It simply stood there and took it all in, and the Foundation's initial fury was soon… spent. It then began to walk, and not too quickly either. For days, it simply leisurely strode on while the Foundation threw everything it had at it. I watched from within my deadbolt as it walked unfeeling, uncaring, and this desert followed in its wake, as inscrutable and unstoppable as its harbinger.
We are not quite alone here. Some stubborn immortals persist, wretched creatures. A continent away, an ancient man still walks, tormented by three mocking voices. He believed that once he was the only one left, he would be allowed to rest. He was wrong. Beneath the ground is a soul, suffocating as the earth slowly grinds its sanity to mulch. From its prison of gold and rubies, there would be no release. Elsewhere lies a once-smiling god, as the sands cover his prone figure. He does not resist. He had once promised the world his love, promised humanity the stars. Sand pours through his fingers as he tries to gather his flame together. His people. But it is dying, and they are dead. Extinguished.
When someone walks, they are bound to reach somewhere eventually, despite everyone's best efforts, and so the Absence arrived at its first city, the sands at its heels like an obedient lapdog. Oh, there have been villages and towns before that, but the Absence didn't seem to care enough to bother with them. It simply walked by, leaving them to the whims of the sands, which were only ever singular in their intent. But through the streets of the city it strode, as Mobile Task Forces fought and fell to buy the civilian population just a few more minutes to evacuate. By this point, hiding what was truly going on became impossible, of course, as street after street sank beneath that gentle crawling tide. The Foundation had of course attempted to evacuate the city once it realized there would be no stopping the Absence, but if I've learned anything in my… eons as a corporate peon, is that organizing an operation of that magnitude is something that takes a lot more time than the Foundation had. It's a wonder they managed to save as many as they did. As for the rest…
It had waited until night fell. I imagine it was an eerie sight, that lone figure standing beneath the frozen light of other worlds in that empty intersection between financial and residential districts, where train tracks used to be before the old steam locomotives went out of service and were never replaced by newer ones. Yes, it waited until it could see the stars. Then it burned. Without heat, without light, without life. It burned a hole through the city, and there was nothing to fill it in. Reality cannot suffer a vacuum, they always said, but the Absence had shown how little it cared for reality. So It was gone, just like that. How does one explain something like that? How do you describe what isn't there? Where one moment was a city of five hundred thousand, the next it wasn't. To the place it was even the sands wouldn't come. It was just a scar. It was nothing.
It was then, I believe, that the Foundation realized it could not stand alone. The next few months of the Absence's march saw them turn to their sometimes allies; Coalition Magekillers and thermonuclear strikes, Initiative Paladins and holy relics. Sniper rifle or sacred sword, burning inferno or divine retribution, the Absence did not care. And soon, the Foundation had no allies left to turn to. It then called on its once vicious enemies; Ink Eaters wove their art in maddening patterns, to break the minds of the infinite. Archivists and Librarians poured from the Ways, bringing with them the knowledge of a hundred thousand worlds. Clockwork Titans shook the barren whiteness of the sands with the thunder of metal. The Absence did not care. And soon, the Foundation ran out of enemies. In a last act of desperation, they then committed their final, most painful betrayal. The wardens unleashed upon the world their prisoners. Of these, I have made note, though I doubt the Absence did the same.
On the blasted wasteland that was once Boston, it was assailed by two brothers. One savage, the other somber, one violent, the other reluctant, they nevertheless fought with a graceful unity to take the breath away. In their eyes, I saw that they did not know each other for a very long while, and that they fought so that they could have the time to rectify this. I saw regret and hope, rage and desperation, but most of all I saw a simple need to be. I would like to believe that you and I would have been like them, had we met, brother. They fought with the fury of a thousand years of solitude. It did not suffice.
In a wounded valley that had once been part of the Black Sea, we came across a self-proclaimed god. There was nothing but confidence in his eyes as he threw reality itself into disarray, bent and twisted its most fundamental laws to bring upon the Absence untold destruction. The earth froze and boiled and heaved, the air screamed with blighted glee and the god he strode draped in a cloak of lightning, as time itself clawed at the Absence with talons of utter unbeing. Until the god came to meet the Absence's lack of a gaze. Until his eyes rested on a nothing that lasted forever. Until he did not suffice.
Before the walls of Acre, as the ancient city was drowned by the desert, two figures approached us. One was four legged and horned, its crown was ice, its eyes galaxies, its whole was power absolute. The second was a man, simple, humble, but possessing a love of being that extended to the edges of the universe, compassion to pierce the deepest of hells that had nothing to do with weakness. Of the two, I could not tell you which was more glorious, which was more terrifying. They met the Absence with will alone, and when I felt it fall on us I thought I would weep. Surely nothing could withstand such a presence. Surely, nothing would want to. But the Absence was less than nothing, infinitely less. I have told you what became of kind Pangloss. Of the other, even less remained.
For months they came. For years. For decades. Alone or in groups, with ferocity or with a blank stare, the Foundation's prisoners threw themselves at the Absence. I could not hope to imagine the reasons behind the actions of every individual anomaly, but if I could guess, I would say that the idea of sharing existence with a… thing like the Absence galled them to the point of madness. I do not blame them. But by the end, the prisons ran empty, as the world dried up, as life was drained from it inch by inch, grain by grain. Until only one city remained.
I do not know by which power I was allowed to send my senses ahead of us, as the Absence marched towards that tottering bastion which held in its quivering embrace the very last of humanity. As the sands around us buried the last of the trees that will ever grow in this land, I felt each tiny mote of life in that sad place like the flame of a cheap candle, moments before the typhoon. In these moments, as twilight danced in lurid reds and oranges on ivory, I sensed them all. For you, brother, I witnessed.
In a low, narrow room a woman sat hunched at the foot of her even narrower bunk and couldn't bring herself to pray. She had lost her mother when she was but a babe, and though she was no longer young, her features still displayed to all the violence of that incident. Her mother stood before the eater of children and did not budge, and when they both fell down she sang still the praise of her Lord. She lost her father in the first days of the war against the Absence, as the Paladins marched with holy fervor in their eyes. Her father had been a believer, had always been a solid presence in her life, an anchor immovable by anything but regret. He had promised her he would be back. He did not mean to lie. But his god had forsaken him, when it counted most. Forsaken all of them. And now Naomi knelt at the foot of the ever narrowing bunk and could not pray. So she cursed instead.
Below, in a series of dank cellars which might have at one point stored cheeses a woman of about forty tinkered with broken toys. When she was young, she made wonders. Such wonders. In every line etched across her prematurely old face I saw what could have been, had it not been for the Absence. For me. In the dim light and the soft noise of rotting wood crumbling beneath calloused fingers, I saw the death of potential. The death of all possibility. Though Isabel was stubborn as she always was, she knew that this toy would be her last. Just as well, she thought. After today, there would be none left to play with it.
On the roof top of the highest building still standing, an elderly man watched the world come to an end. He was once an agent of the Foundation, once one among a hundred thousand, ready, prepared and collected. His duty was to instruct new agents what was proper for an agent to do, how it was proper for an agent to think. And he had been very good at his job, since generally, his recruits survived for long enough to thank him. But what was he now, he wondered, as he watched the sands pour over the paltry last line of defense that a few defiant fools erected the day before. His lads and lasses were all long since dead, and all that he knew, all of his years of training and experience, in the end they amounted to less than nothing. No longer an agent, for there was no longer an agency. No longer a teacher, for the students were gone. No longer a man, since… well, it would not do to repeat that, now would it? No longer anything, and that was the cruelest joke. It no longer mattered if the Absence arrived, he thought. They were already within it. A noise behind him, and the old man turned to see a small, mousy man in a wrinkled grey suit and a deflated hat that at one point was likely a fedora. He looked at the old man, but said nothing. Lombardi looked back, and didn't know if to laugh or cry. Soon, it ceased to matter.
Such was the end. Quiet, small, bereft of heroics and great deeds, free of pretensions of great meaning. One night, there was human race on the planet Earth. The next, there wasn't. And that was that.
The stars did not wait for you, brother. When you took my power, when you burned yourself in the skies above, they looked upon you and felt nothing. The stars did not wait for humanity, for all of the promise it showed, for all of the promise others saw in them. But what of the Absence? What of me?
We are, I am, by all accounts and possible qualifications, the greatest monster this world has ever saw. Perhaps that any world saw. And yet, brother, I see now that the stars wait for us. For me. Where is the justice in that? Seek it not, for there is none. But the fact remains, brother. The stars do not wait for you. But they wait for me. To take them into my embrace.
I suspect I shall not be long.