It happened at sunset.
The air was still in the valley; even from where I stood, atop the highest place in all of the city, not the faintest tickle of a breeze could be felt.
I faced east, and so was one of the first to see it coming; that great crashing, churning, writhing mass of water charging down at us from the mountains. As soon as I beheld it all hope and joy left me, leaving my body cold with fear.
It seemed an eternity that I stood there, silent and agape, unable to speak or cry out. I watched in horror as the first outlaying settlements were struck. So great was the water’s force that the constructions were instantly obliterated; no more complete could their destruction have been had the gods themselves descended to earth and crushed them beneath their mighty feet.
I finally found my voice an instant before the rest who had witnessed the waters coming. The words of my cry, if words they even were, are lost now to my memory. Not forgotten however are the shouts that rang out an instant later.
“Flood!” cried out a dozen voices, then the dozen became a hundred: “Flood! Flood!” they called out in despair. Then, not an instant later the hundreds became thousands, and they screamed out in their misery, “the end has come! Gods save us from our doom!”
Though now panic had replaced my terror, I remained still unmoving atop my high perch in the city center, my view of the wave unobstructed as it thundered steadily onwards, now so brown with dirt and rubble that it seemed less like water than a mighty wall of earth–as if the land itself had risen up to smite us and strike down all we had labored so long and hard to build, casting it away to be scattered like dust on the wind.
I could hear the building, steady thunder of it now, and the sound brought me sense enough to move. I ran from my high place, descending into the city and joining the desperate, frenzied masses; the clawing, trampling, biting, screaming, feral mob, the individuals within all possessing of the same driving obsession, forcing away all other thought or motivations; incapable of thought or compassion, blind to their fellow kind, blind even to themselves beyond their constant desire. Life. Survival. Escape. These words and others I could use, but they are all empty compared to the feeling itself, a wordless compulsion so deep and overwhelming that none could escape it. Not even I.
I am not proud to admit that I became a part of that entity of fear, but I will not deny the truth. I cannot remember what horrors my body endured, nor what wretched crimes it may have inflicted upon others. I recall only the feeling, and that even is often too much to bear.
Countless hundreds must surely have died as the crowds stampeded through the city, their broken, twisted corpses waiting to be washed away. And they would not wait long.
I was still within the city as the wave crashed against it. There was no wall protecting our city, but even had there been it would not have saved us; it wouldn’t even have delayed our fate, but merely disintegrated as soon as the water touched it, its remnants joining the already numerous scraps of rubble and becoming deadly weapons. The gnashing, shredding teeth of the mighty roaring beast.
None of us in the scrambling mass of people escaped the wave. I was one of the few to reach the edge of the city before it struck me, its power diminished but still awesome after it had obliterated the city. To feel it smash against my body was as to feel the punch of a god. The force of the blow knocked all air from my body and all sense from my brain. I felt pulled and pushed and crushed in every direction; the fact that I retained my consciousness is a miracle of hell, for the torment of that wave tore deep into my very soul.
Only three of us who were claimed by the wave were released from it alive. All of us had been outside the city when it took us, and somehow we were spared. One had a mangled leg, the other a badly twisted arm, and I, for all the pain and agony of my ordeal, had naught but a shallow cut across my torso.
We were all deposited quite far from each other. It was hours before we met up, and days before we’d strength enough to leave that wretched valley. As we climbed the hills on the western edge on our way to the nearest village that we could be sure still stood, we looked back and beheld the grim view of our homeland. The city was gone, swept away from where it had stood. In its place there was only a shallow pool of water. To look at the valley then one might have thought there had never been a city at all. The light of the day was fading as the sun set behind us, and the distance at which we stood was so great we could not make out the corpses and tiny scraps of debris that must surely have lain there.
I have never returned to the valley, and in the great time that has passed there has been no attempt to rebuild the great city that once stood there. Life has been hard for me; there is little room in this world of ours for an ant who has lost both his home and his queen, especially when so few of his brothers survived with him.
It was long before we found a queen willing to take us in, and by that time our number had been reduced by one. The hill was fine, and the ants within kind enough, but it could never compare to the great splendor of our lost city. It could never be home.