History is only told by those who survive.
Tin was twenty-one years old. For as long as he could remember, he had hated his lot in life. His mother had died when he was twelve. His father followed soon after; when he was fourteen. This left him the King of Ancarth; the ruler of the dead world.
His city walls were mostly all that stood whole in the entire world. The rest of his buildings crumpled. His people lay sick and dying behind the walls. Everything beyond those walls was already dead. Not even a single bird flew in the sky. Any beauty in the world only lived in picture books, and even most of those were extinct. War had changed everything. The trees died first.
Now oxygen was gathered through a small tube leading from the user’s own body. A pumping technique created to reuse your own oxygen. If your tube ever splintered or frayed, you would be dead in minutes, rather than days. Water was the next thing to go. Now they wore small pouches at their backs. The substance wasn’t water, but it was mostly the same.
Tin walked down the broken concrete pathways. He dodged around old broken vehicles. He moved around rusted contraptions.
He looked at the sky. Even the sun had blotted out on Ancarth; the vapors of war blotting out the rays; now a permanent gloom cast over the land, not that there was much to see; beyond the gates was nothing but barren terrain, dirt, and rocks.
He stopped at a small puddle of water before him. The clouds still produced rain; though it was rare. He squatted beside the mess of water. His reflection glared back at him. His brown shaggy hair, brown eyes, and ghost-white skin; he was normal. He didn’t stand out amongst the others. That made him hate being King even more. He wasn’t different, but his name rang like bells.
He could not slip into the crowd. They expected him to rule. They expected him to fight against the odds. He looked down at the water again.
“Better keep those hands out of that water. Otherwise, we will be down one king.” Tin turned his head. Beside him stood Tierney;She was a good foot shorter than Tin, and even as he crouched, he almost met her eyes.
“Why does the water have to be acid? How great would it be to bathe once in fresh, cool water?” Tierney shrugged in reply. “I wouldn’t know, and I stopped longing for fantasy long ago,” she said. Tierney was beautiful. One of the last beautiful women on Ancarth; Tin eyed her with envy and lust. She smiled at him. “What are you doing?” she asked.
He turned away and stood to his feet. “What do you see in these walls, Tierney?” She moved up next to him as he walked.
“I see you. I see your smile.” Tin turned towards her. She loved to play with his mind.
“I haven’t smiled at all today.”
Her eyes darted over him. “Well, then maybe you should.” She skipped along ahead of him.
She had to know how he longed to be with her, but he couldn’t act on it. Sure, he was king; a simple word made her his, but she was already promised to another. His best friend left in the world. Ducaul was a good man. He was the leader of Tin’s army. Though sadly, or maybe greatly, there was no one left to fight.
“What do you see in these walls?” She turned the question on him.
He eyed her dress as it twirled around her. So pretty and yet so untouchable, “Death and pain,” she stopped skipping.
Her eyes darted over him again. “You worry too much.”
He lifted his arms as if to unveil the destruction behind him. “I am supposed to be the King of Ancarth.” He turned looking again at the crumbling landscape. “Nome King I have turned out to be.”
He felt her arm interlace into his own. “You are a marvelous King.” He knew she flattered him. Right now he didn’t care. He needed to hear the words. He felt her fingers find his own. His spine tingled. He didn’t dare look her in those eyes. He would never have been able to pull away. Her fingers pressed into his palm. Her hands were warm and slightly sweaty from the humid heat. He did not close his own hand around them; though he longed for nothing more.
“I like to close my eyes and pretend it is like the books,” she said. Tin had read the entire library. He had seen pictures of beauty unknown to any living eyes. He envied the past.
He longed for even a single tree. The green of the leaves, the smell of the flowers, the clean air, “I cannot close my eyes, I can’t abandon my people to this world,” she squeezed in closer to him.
Her head tilted towards his. “Come with me just once,” those eyes pleaded. They controlled him as no object should.
He almost closed his eyes, but he heard the clearing of Ducual’s throat. “Sorry to interrupt your majesty.” He could hear the anger in the voice. Tin turned to let Tierney’s arm drop to her side. He caught her fixing her hair in the corner of his eye. Her face was flushed red.
“No interruption Ducaul. We were discussing death and beauty.”
Ducaul seemed uninterested in his reply. “I am sure the conversation was riveting, sire. Though I come with matters of the Kingdom, I was not convinced you would care, but the digging team has found two unusual stones.” Tin nodded. Two stones, what would that matter? They found stones each day. That was one of the few things you could count on finding in this dead world.
“What is special about these stones?”
Ducaul shrugged his shoulders. “In my opinion nothing, but I never cared for the ancient artifacts. I know you feel differently.”
Tin had always found his passion enthralled by history. “Well, then I suppose we should be off.” He turned towards Tierney, who still played at fixing her hair. Her eyes downcast, he felt for her at that moment, he could take her away and marry her.
“Sire?” He turned back to Ducaul. He could not do that to such a man.
“Goodbye, Tierney,” he said without turning to face her again.
“Your grace,” her reply was formal. It pained him, but he shouldn’t have expected more.
Ducaul led him through the inner city. Rusted metal, shattered wood, broken stones; it all reminded him of the imminent demise of humanity.
He slipped into the habited area. Here people visited the merchant stands. They laughed with one another; one simple pleasure left.
They breezed past the simplicity. Their destination was right outside the east city gates. Through a small stone door that led outside the walls. Here Tin looked out into the abyss. Nothing remained but dirt and rocks. He heard the crunching of stones beside him. He turned, seeing the small machinery that still ran. It became less and less every day. Tin followed Ducaul around the working men. They bowed to him. He returned the gesture with a nod of his head. He did not know how to be King, only that he was supposed to know how.
Ducaul stopped in front of three men. All were dressed in red jumpsuits, with their oxygen tubes hanging from their mouths. They all gave a courtly bow. Tin didn’t bother replying. They didn’t expect it anyhow.
Behind the three men, were two large tan stones. all stone was adjourned with dozens of designs, shapes, and letters that he could not make out. He ran his hand over the small grooves. They felt oddly smooth. He twirled around the base and looked up and down the stone. As he came to the opposite side, he stepped back. If the oxygen were pure he would have gasped, but only his eyes conveyed the shock.
“They have faces,” he tried to keep his voice kingly, but what did that even mean?
The men came to stand beside him. “We found them like this only hours ago, sire.”