I. Sano's desolation begins

During the times of Sand, in one of infinite bleach-bone deserts dotting the landscape during the Primordial War, a family of demons lived in relative remoteness and harmony.

Each was about three of yaw and two of width, their heads split behind their ears into eight or so frills, and each had two toes on each foot. They did not hunt but ambushed small and easily caught creatures, and sometimes on hot days the dune plants opened up to reveal small leafy fruits, which were summarily scavenged and enjoyed. The entire population was housed in a large four-horned skull that at one point belonged to a bovine creature.

There was the matriarch, Malon, who sported four proud horns sprouting from her brow. There was round-bellied Olon, to whom she was married after her first partner's passing. Together, they had eighteen spawn in three generations: the eldest son Laakos, the eldest daughter Serwa, and the first twins Lithop and Lothos; Lovely Phalon with her stubby tail and blue-dusted cheeks, Jiek the stoic and contemplative poet, vigilant Tros who wielded a longsword made of bone; the youngest Mhaz, Iioka, Glottik, and Cylle, who were barely more than hatchlings; Truncatella, who was beset with chronic jealousy and often seethed in the corner; the clever four-armed Gora; Cassus, who always held a crude joke on his tongue; Felda, who sewed, Noq, who pickpocketed, and Mya, who dreamed.

Finally there was Sano, the middle child, who was notable for nothing at all - she had a mild, almost dull temperament, little skill or wit, no dreams or aspirations save for a passing interest in identifying wild brambles. She was lazy, but obedient, so her mother loved her well enough; she did not pick fights with her siblings, nor did she complain about petty things. Most of her time was spent puttering around the sands, or on particularly hot days, chasing jackflies away from the home with a large stick.

Sano chasing jackfly

It was performing the latter during which Sano wandered from the home one day. The rest of her clutch was busy cleaning the skull as part of their weekly regimen, but it was a large family and distractible children were easy to lose.

Paying little attention to where she was going, Sano chased the pest to the edges of their territory, coming to the top of a hill at the nape of a river. She shook a stick at it with both hands and let out a mighty intimidating cry. At her prodding, the pest buzzed off in dawdling, lazy circles.

She turned back towards her home to see a small, bright speck of light flickering in the sky above. Strange, but not the strangest sight she had ever seen. Distantly, it emitted a distant, crackling whistle.

Sano watched the speck with half-open eyes, beak slightly slack. I should tell someone about this, she thought, when the whistling split into a sky-shaking blast and everything went white.

For a few moments, Sano was blind. The only thing she could process was a white hot absence of vision. When Sano managed to blink the searing blankness away, she saw on the horizon a monumental figure larger than anything she had ever seen. Eight curling tusks sprouted from the sides of its jaw; six arms at its side, corded with muscle; two scar-gnarled palms hefting a massive blade crusted with gore. It was covered in armor. It had no visible face, only an indistinct maw of twisted metal.

Sano meeting the colossus

There was now a hole in the sky: a seeping black cut of unfathomable distance, through which echoed terrible sounds - blades clanging, flesh burning, the screams of a thousand demons being churned into slurry. The thick stench of blades coated in refuse caused Sano's eyes to water even hundreds of feet away.

If the colossus noticed her, it gave no indication. It tilted its armored head and unleashed a flurry of wings from a mottled disk on its back. There was a great blast of heat. A hind foot the size of a mountain stepped back and braced against the sand, then it launched itself with immense speed towards the orifice, disappearing into the dark.

In a moment, it was like the colossus had never been there at all.

The fissure in the sky remained, weeping an angry red at the seams and oozing tarry pus. Sano rubbed her eyes in disbelief, trying and failing to blink away the afterimage, wondering if there were words to describe anything at all of what she had seen. She turned in a daze to the house, hoping to find one of the older siblings.

But where there had been a four-horned skull moments before there was a charred circle of ash and superheated glass. Charred scraps of fabric danced through the air, and flame licked the sky where there once was a roof. It was as if no one had ever lived on this land at all, or set foot on its sands. That anything had existed before this annihilation, or would exist after, was unthinkable.

There was a strange acrid smell, and a popping, sizzling sound like crickets being fried on a pan. Sano belatedly realized that she was hearing the sound of cooking flesh.

Sano began to scream.