The Horsemen (part 3)

Famine followed the small girl back to her tiny apartment. The halls leading to her room were lined with sick and dying people. Along the way, she stopped to help some of the worst cases of disease. Taking their sickness into her body and ending their pain. He watched in terrified fascination as she worked. Other then soft groans, she did not make a sound.

After she had helped as many of the sick as she could, she stumbled weakly into her room. Famine looked around her sparse room, curious about her past but unsure how to bring it up. Eventually, she stood up and gathered a few possessions in a tattered backpack. She threw what little food she had in the bag too, before looking at Famine for guidance.

“The Indians said that I would be guided to each of the four. That is how I found you. I think there is someone to the east of here. It should not be too far, the tugging feels stronger then it did with you,” he answered the unspoken question.

When he was sure that she was ready and able to travel, he headed back out of her room. The bodies of the dead had been removed, only to be replaced by more disease and plague victims. Tears ran down the girl’s silent cheeks as she walked past them. She wanted to help them, but she knew that she would need her strength for the upcoming journey. She stared ahead, desperate to avoid the pleading eyes.

Famine could sense her distress and started to walk faster. He wanted to get out of the hallway anyways. He could practically feel the plague climbing across his flesh. Before the end had come, he had been a nurse. He knew from experience just how quickly germs could spread. That life seemed like an a faint dream now. He could barely recall his life as Ben.

* * *

They set up camp for the night in a small grove of trees. Famine would have liked to walk further, but the child was slowing him down. Her breathing had become labored and she started stumbling. He knew she needed to rest. He was not sure how taking away people’s illnesses affected her, but he could tell it wore her down.

Pestilence collapsed into a heap as soon as they stopped walking. She could not feel the tugging that Famine claimed to feel, but she trusted him. She had always been really good at reading people’s true intentions. She tried to stand up and help gather firewood, her muscles protesting every movement.

“You rest, I can handle this,” Famine noticed her trying to rise. “You should eat something while I make a fire. I am not sure how much further we have to walk tomorrow, hopefully not too far.”

He stared off into the darkness, his eyes following the tugging sensation. After the end, huge cities had been abandoned or demolished. Cities that had been around for years disappeared over night. He had no idea where they were heading. If he had a normal map, he would guess they were heading towards Maryland. For all he knew though, Maryland could have sunk into the ocean.

Famine glanced over at the girl, surprised to see her asleep already. Traveling in silence all day had made the day seem longer, he hoped the next horseman would be more talkative. He was tired of working through his thoughts on his own. One thing he had decided today was that he needed to talk to the Indians. He needed to get answers to his questions and help figuring out his mission.

He built up the fire and laid down next to the wood pile. Building a fire was a necessary risk. The night chill was too much to handle, but the flickering light could attract bandits. He slept with his dagger clutched in his hand. The only way that they would be in danger is if they were taken by surprise.

* * *

The girl woke as soon as the sun peeked over the horizon. Famine was still asleep next to the smoldering ashes of their fire. She walked over and gently touched his shoulder. She stared at him indifferently as he jumped up, dagger in hand. This was the longest she had gone without helping anyone along and she felt stronger then ever.

Famine looked down at the girl, shaking his head in disbelief. She had not even flinched when he jumped up. He knew that he had no room to judge, but the girl was strange. He kicked dirt over the embers and they started walking again. The tugging was much stronger than before, making it easy to follow. Before they had walked too long, a city came into view. This was the city where they would find the next horseman.

Famine was shocked upon entering the city. It seemed almost normal. People walked the streets and talked to each other cheerfully in passing. Stores were open and selling everything from food to luxury items like soap. No one seemed tempted to loot anything. It was the most normal city he had seen since the end. He could not wrap his head around it.

“Excuse me,” he stopped a passing woman. “What is going on here?”

“We are under the protection of the Tookie Brothers. Under their rule, there is no need to revert to such savage ways as other cities,” she answered politely.

“Where can I find these Tookie Brothers?”

“They live in the blue house on main street.”

Famine watched the woman walk away, still dumbfounded.

“I think we need to talk to these Tookie Brothers. One of them might be who we are looking for or they might know of someone in the city who fits what we are looking for,” Famine turned to the girl.

Once again, she nodded in silent agreement. He did not think she would ever talk. They walked towards main street. Everyone they encountered greeted them with polite smiles and even some handshakes. It was very unnerving. Famine was grateful when the blue house came into view. He expected the house to be guarded or at least fortified, but it appeared to be a normal house. It had a large porch that circled the entire house. The yard was in pristine condition. They walked up the stone walkway and knocked on the solid wood door.

A large dark skinned man answered the door. His meaty arms were covered in tribal tattoos and his dark hair hung to his shoulders. He greeted them with a warm smile.

“To what do we owe the pleasure,” the man asked in a thick Tongan accent.

“We are looking for the Tookie Brothers,” Famine answered hesitantly.

“Well, I am Anga. My brother is called Malohi. Please come in,” Anga swung the door open wider, motioning for them to enter.

Famine followed behind the huge Tongan, careful to keep the girl close behind him just in case things got crazy. They walked into a fancy living room. A second man identical to Anga was lounging on a couch.

“Brother, these two wish to talk to us,” Agna turned and frowned at them. “I do not think I got your names.”

“I am known now as Famine. You can call the girl Pestilence, but do not expect her to answer, she does not talk. We came to your city seeking the two remaining horsemen, war and death. I am not sure who-”

He stopped talking as Malohi stood. This brother gave off a distinctly more hostile vibe then his counterpart. He was not someone to be messed with.

“I am war and my brother is death,” he growled simply.

“Um, how do you know? Have you done things,” Famine asked awkwardly.

“Who are you to question who we are? We do not even know who you are,” Malohi advanced angrily.

“What my brother means to say is,” Agna stepped in between them, “We have known who we are for a few years now. War and death go hand in hand, you cannot have one without the other, so it makes sense that it would be twins.”

“But how did you find out you were different,” Famine questioned.

“We grew up in this house. When the end came, everything went crazy. People who we knew were running and looting everything. I had no idea people could act that way. One night a few years ago, I woke up to find Malohi gone. He has always been more driven by his emotions,” Agna smiled at his brother. “I left the house to find him. When I did find him, he was in an alley fighting numerous looters. I watched in amazement as he took them all on single handed. One thug somehow got behind him. I ran to protect him, but before I could reach him, the thug fell to the ground dead. I knew I was the cause.”

“If you had not reacted, it would have been me,” Malohi sounded like they had had this discussion a hundred times. “It was that night that I found out just how strong I am and just how quick my reflexes are. As the years progressed, I have become able to sense people who do not have good intentions. It has helped us run this city. I can pick out who will cause trouble and if they refuse to leave, my brother can end them with a glance.”

“As I said war and death go hand in hand,” Agna finished sadly.

Famine stared at the twins, still unsure if they were telling the truth. He had been sure about the girl the second he saw her, but he never expected twins who readily accepted their fate.

“They are telling the truth,” the girl spoke for the first time.

All three of the men turned to look at her, but she did not elaborate. She just resumed her stony silence.

“OK,” Famine finally said. “I think before we do anything we need to get some answers from the Indians. It’s a two day walk back to the park where they live. We need them to give us some guidance on how to restore balance.”

The remaining horsemen nodded in agreement. He was a little overwhelmed with their total acceptance of him as the leader. He expected Malohi at least to put up a fight about it, but he did not even open his mouth to protest. They settled in for the night, resting up for the long journey ahead.

Icymi here’s part two 

wingswordsblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/the-horsemen-2/?preview=true

Jessica

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The Horsemen (part 2)

        Famine stepped out of the park and despite hearing the howling of dogs, he felt calm. He knew his reflexes were faster, he just was not sure what else had changed. He walked down the streets, silently hoping for a gang member to show up and test him. He did not have to wait long. A huge thug walked straight at him. His face was covered in poorly drawn tattoos and he had the same sharpened teeth as the woman from the park. He cracked his knuckles loudly as he got closer. As soon as he was within arms reach, he lunged.

        Famine dodged the huge man easily, slashing his arm with the wise woman’s dagger. He watched with a morbid fascination as the man stumbled. His skin grew taut and his body seemed to wither as he fell. He was dead before his body hit the ground. Nobody who saw the body would have believed that he was a burly thug just seconds ago. His skeletal frame bore no resemblance of his former self.

Famine gasped suddenly as he felt warmth flood through his body. He looked the same, but he felt so much stronger. The realization dawned on him. He had gained his victim’s strength. He could inflict famine like symptoms on whoever he deemed deserving and he would benefit from it. The wise woman was right, he would restore balance to the end. He knew the tugging sensation was guiding him to one of the others.

He turned away from the body and walked towards the tugging. The longer he walked, the stronger the sensation got. At one point he could feel the tugging coming from two different directions, but he continued on the first path. After his second encounter with a gang member, this time a woman, word started to spread about the stranger with the deadly dagger. Soon enough, the streets were deserted.

* * *

        Famine walked for days before he reached the next city over. He never realized how much he took modern conveniences like cars for granted. The extra strength he had gained from killing the thugs was spent. He searched for a secure spot to spend the night, every inch of this city seemed to be covered in filth. He eventually had to settle for a dilapidated building, knowing his options were limited. He kicked as much of the trash away from his corner as he could before laying down.

        Unlike before, his dreams were empty. He no longer dreamed of the disease or the destruction the end had brought. For the first time in a long time, he woke up feeling well rested and ready to face the day. The tugging feeling had grown steadily stronger as he entered the city. He was sure that he would find one of the four today.

       As he walked, Famine realized it had been days since his last meal and he was still going strong. He scrunched up his face in confusion, considering this new ability. He wished he had asked the Indians more questions before they left him, but he was not positive he could even put his thoughts into words right now. He never expected to be anything more than a normal survivor, barely scrapping by.

        He wandered through the city aimlessly, the tugging was fairly strong now but it just showed him the general direction. He had no clue who he was looking for. They told him he would know the others when he found them, but he had yet to see anyone out of the ordinary. As the sun crept higher into the sky and the humidity increased, he grew steadily more discouraged and angry. The Indians had to know more than they let on. Why were they not more willing to help him?

        He was so consumed with anger that he stumbled over the legs of an elderly man. The man looked like he could have been one of Famine’s victims. His skin hung in loose folds over his knobbly joints. His clothing hung in tattered rags, barely covering his body. Famine pulled back as the old man started to cough, spraying blood and spittle on the sidewalk. Fear shot through him as memories of the end resurfaced. He had no clue if his new found talents would protect him from disease.

        Famine turned to run away from the man, only to bump into a small child. The girl had her pale blonde hair tied back with a string. Her eyes were a piercing blue, the kind that could see straight into your soul. Famine knew immediately that she was the reason he was here. He watched in wary silence as the child knelt next to the diseased man. She completely ignored his raspy coughing as she checked his temperature. It took every fiber of Famine’s being not to jerk the girl away from the dying man.

        The girl did a hasty check of the old man’s vitals. She could always tell who was going to die and who was going to get better. A few months ago, her mother had fallen ill. She was forced to watch her mother deteriorate before her eyes, helpless and alone. One morning she could tell her mother’s time was near. She held her mother’s hand and could feel life leave her. Her mother’s breath came in ragged gasps. The girl prayed for a way to help her mother.

        The girl closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, just like she had for her mother. She breathed in the man’s disease, taking the pain from his body. Tears streamed down her face as his pain entered her body. Relief flooded the old man’s face as he drew his last breath. She winced as his life ended. She knew she was helping the sick, but being the one to help people along was a lonely road.

        Famine stepped forward and caught the girl as she fell backwards. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she shook slightly as the pain rain through her body. He watched in horror as roaches and flies appeared all around them. As soon as the bugs disappeared in the street, the girl rose shakily to her feet. She stared at him apprehensively, sensing that something was off about him.

        “My name was Ben, I am now known as Famine. I was sent to find three others and I believe that you are one of them. I think you are Pestilence. We are supposed to bring an end to this way of life. I’m a little bit foggy on the details,” Famine stated awkwardly.

        The girl watched him for a second before nodding. She had nowhere else to go and no one that would miss her. She motioned for him to follow her back to her hideout. They would need supplies for their journey.

Jessica

(Just in case you missed part one here it is:

wingswordsblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/the-horsemen/?preview=true )

The Horsemen

       

         ​The world did not end with a bang or a whisper, but rather one scream at a time. Ben raced through the streets, pushing his way through the frantic crowd. He knew he could not outrun the disease, but he could outrun the gangs. He hurtled over the rusted frame of a motorcycle and veered towards the park. The gang lines were constantly changing, but the park always seemed to be neutral ground. The screams echoed off the crumbling skyscrapers as people fell victim to the gang. Ben knew what the gangs were hunting for and he refused to be their next meal. He had too much work to do. 

His panic subsided a bit, but he did not slow down as he crossed into the park. He ran past the warning signs barely registering the skeletons. Death was everywhere now and the skeletons were the least of his worries. He could feel the eyes watching him, waiting to see if he would respect the neutral space or if they would need to take action. Ben was not sure who had set up their camp in the park, but they did not hunt other humans. His hideout was just on the other side of the park, he listened to the screams as he ran. He did not want to hang out in the park while they hunted near his hideout. Thankfully, the screams were still behind him.

                              * * *

Ben silently crept along the street, careful to not give away his position. The screams were gone, which meant the gangs were done hunting for now. That did not mean they would not use him for sport if they found him. His hideout was not far from the border of the park, usually only a ten minute walk. Hugging the shadows and taking extra care to not make a sound caused it to take much longer than normal though. When he finally reached the entrance to his hideout, sweat soaked through his shirt.

The doorway was well hidden behind a dumpster. Ben had to slip in sideways and then slide through the tiny hole in the bricks. The small room was empty with a small hole in the ceiling leading to a room above. Ben used a stick to pull down a ladder and quickly climbed into the room, pulling the ladder up behind him. After a hasty search confirmed that he had not had any uninvited company, he finally settled in for the night. While laying in bed, he made a mental list of everything he needed to find tomorrow. Ever since the end had come, food and necessities where hard to come by.

He had some caches built around the city for emergencies. They contained the bare minimum and he did not like using them unless it was an actual emergency. They were not as secured as his hideout. Ben had been in his current hideout for almost six months, the longest period of time he had spent in one place since the end. The key to survival was to keep moving, but something about this hideout made him linger. It felt like he was meant to be there.

When sleep finally took him, it was filled with the usual restless nightmares. They had come every night since the end. The nightmares were filled with the decaying bodies of the diseased and dying. As soon as the plague reached his hometown, Ben knew he needed to leave. He left as soon as he gathered what he needed. In the dreams, he tried to outrun the disease, but no matter how quickly he ran the plague victims overtook him. The monsters started to pull on him and throw him to the ground. Right before one monster ended his life with a clawed hand, he jerked awake.

Ben held his breath as the sound of footsteps on the street outside reached his ears. An odd sniffing sound echoed in the silence. The gangs sometimes used dogs in their  hunts. His heart was beating so loudly that he was sure the dog would hear it. The dog scratched at the dumpster before moving away. The footsteps faded, but Ben knew it was time to move again. That was too close and they would only get closer. He waited for what seemed like hours before throwing everything he could carry into his backpack. Traveling at night was risky, but that dog would come back. 

He inched his way down the street, keeping a wary eye out for other gang members. His fall back shelter was in a small cave in the park. He just needed to make it there tonight and figure out his next move in the morning. His heart plummeted as soon as he stepped on the park grounds. The dog had picked up his scent and was howling for the others. Terror raced through him as howls answered all around him. He knew he would never make it to the cave. 

He ran deeper into the park, hoping that the watchful eyes would protect him. His hope died suddenly as a huge dog appeared snarling in front of him. The woman holding the dogs leash sneered, revealing teeth that had been sharpened to points. She let out a shrill whistle to alert the others to their position. Ben turned to run away, already knowing that it was pointless. A second dog was blocking his path. Panic was clear on his face as a third dog showed up. He knew his nightmares were about to become a reality.

He screamed for help, but he knew no one would come. It was every man for himself in the world now, unless you were in a gang. Even gang members had to watch their backs though. No one was safe and no one would help him. As soon as the leashes were dropped, the dogs lunged. Ben tried to run again, even though he knew it was hopeless. He cried out as the dogs tore into his skin. His cries were punctuated with snarls and laughs as the gang members watched. 

As quickly as the mauling had started it ended. Ben tried to look around, but he could not move. He was forced to lay in the dirt and listen to the whimpers and retreating footsteps. He tried to assess his injuries, but his mind seemed to be in a fog. The only thing he could register was the pain. He did not even have the strength to fight as he was lifted into the air. He could hear the crunch of footsteps on the dead leaves, but the sound seemed miles away.

The man who carried Ben moved quickly despite the added weight. He had been watching from the shadows and intervened when the peace had been broken. He walked towards the heart of the park. When he reached the center, the brambles parted and he entered. An elderly woman turned away from a table and walked over to him. She shoved her dark wrinkled face close to Ben’s.

“He is almost gone. Get him on the table,” she whispered after she checked Ben’s wounds.

The man laid him down on the table and stepped away. The man left the clearing to look for the other elders. The wise woman would need help, the strangers wounds were severe. The wise woman moved along Ben’s wounds, cleaning them and chanting under her breath. Ben strained to understand what she was saying, but nothing made sense. His vision clouded over and he welcomed the darkness.

The wise woman chanted more fervently as the stranger’s eyes closed. She was not sure if he was the one they were waiting for, she needed to save him to find out. She turned slightly as the brambles parted again. Three more wrinkled men entered. Their skin looked like tanned leather and their hair hung in long gray braids. They immediately got to work cleaning and stitching up the wounds. They added their voices to the woman’s chanting. Ben’s rescuer watched the elders work, daring to hope that this man would be the one to fix everything. They worked on Ben until the sun started to filter through the trees. When they had done everything they could for him, they sat and waited.

                              * * *

Ben gasped and tried to sit up. He winced as some of his wounds reopened. His mind raced as he tried to remember what had happened. His eyes found the strange people sitting around him.

“Who are you? What did you do to me,” he groaned.

“We live in the park and maintain the peace. Adahy brought you to us and we healed you,” the oldest man answered.

“I thought I heard chanting. What was that,” Ben asked as some of the night’s events returned.

“It is an old thing, if you are the one we have been waiting for, you will be different, if not, nothing.”

“Who have you been waiting for,” Ben looked at them in confusion.

“We have been waiting for the one who would lead. One of the four who will bring back balance.”

Adahy stood and handed Ben a folded bundle of clothes. Every scrap of clothing in the bundle was as black as night. Ben stared at it, his mind racing to make sense. He looked up as a weird whirring sound reached him. Without realizing what he was doing, Ben caught the dagger that the wise woman had thrown at his chest. 

“You are the one,” the wise woman uttered in a hushed voice. “You must gather the other three and restore balance.”

“The other three,” Ben did not even realize he was talking again, he was so fixated on the blade.

“Pestilence, War, and Death. You will know them when you find them and you will know what needs to be done,” Adahy answered.

Before Ben could ask anymore questions, the elderly Indians left the clearing. Adahy followed behind them without looking back. Ben changed into the black clothes and tucked the dagger into his belt. He could feel a tugging sensation in his stomach. He knew he needed to follow it as surely as he knew that he was no longer Ben. He had entered the clearing as Ben, but he left as Famine.

(The picture is “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Viktor Vasnetov)

Jessica

Paying Dues (part 2)

​Paying Dues Cont.

After staring at the packet until her eyes grew heavy and the words blurred, Ella fell asleep. Her lumpy bed creaked as she tossed and turned. Every dream seemed to haunt and mock her situation. Tears dampened her pillow as her son and husband repeatedly condemned her. She pleaded, desperate for them to understand just how sorry she was. When the first rays of the strange orange sun trickled through her tiny window, the torture finally ended. Her blue dress clung to her sweaty body.

Ella rinsed herself as much as possible in the small sink and put on the spare dress. The packet said that she would be working in the forge kitchen. From what she could piece together from her memories of earth, she was a decent cook. If she tried to hard to remember other details from earth, a piercing pain shot through her head. She hesitated in front of Jaxon’s door, but quickly moved on. The packet was very clear about their stance on being late. Ella did not want to start off on the wrong foot. She wanted to slide under the radar for as long as possible.

The map from the packet lead her directly to the forge. The acrid smell of melted metal began to burn her nose immediately. The forge master was a portly man. He had a bulbous bald head and green mottled skin. When Ella signed in, he directed her to the kitchens. She shuddered slightly as his mouth twisted into a wicked grin, revealing sharp, curved teeth. As soon as she walked into the kitchen, a scrawny female human shoved a tray of what she assumed was food in her hands.

“They supply you with all of your meals, but you must eat fast or you will run out of time,” she whispered.

“What is this,” Ella asked, poking at the red mush.

“It is a protein paste. My name is Samantha, but you can just call me Sam. You are going to shadow me today so that I can train you. It is important that you learn fast and don’t mess up. The guardians do not like mistakes,” Sam answered.

Ella shoveled the paste into her mouth, gagging it down as quickly as she could. She finished the entire plate in four huge gulps. Sam was already walking away and mumbling about what her daily duties would be. It was all pretty straight forward. Ella halfway listened to the woman, all the while planning and thinking about how to get home. The day seemed to drag on, by the time they stopped for lunch, her feet ached. Lunch was a green vegetable paste. 

“Making it a paste makes it easier for all of the different species to eat the same thing. Not every species has teeth,” Sam explained between mouthfuls.

The day continued until finally a whistle rang out and a small bag containing red and green paste was handed to her. Ella walked home in near darkness, wincing with every step. Her head throbbed dully as she tried to remember more about her life on earth. The only thing that she could clearly remember was the night she had ruined her life. 

Before she knew it, she was standing in front of Jaxon’s door. She raised her hand to knock, just to have him open it.

“I knew you would come here eventually. I was hoping you would not wait too long like Sherry,” he looked at her feet, the sadness clear in his voice.

“I need to know. Can I ever go home, there has to be a-”

Ella screamed as he lunged at her. His calloused hand clamped over her mouth, cutting off her scream. He pinned her against the wall. She struggled to get free, his hand was so large that it was covering her nose and her mouth. She was no match for him. Eventually, her struggles grew weaker and black spots began to swim before her eyes. 

“I’m going to let go now, but you need to listen and be quiet,” Jaxon hissed.

Ella tried to nod her head, but the pressure from his hand prevented any movement. When he dropped his hand, she gasped and coughed as air rushed back into her lungs. She was so lightheaded that she could not even protest when he guided her into his room. She sat down stiffly on his bed and watched as he started to frantically scribble on a notepad.

The guardians can hear everything. If they are close enough, they can even read our minds. You have to be careful, if they know that you are trying to get home, you commit ‘suicide’. Sherry made that mistake. The leader has been working on our problem, but he hasn’t thought of anything solid yet. Each building is a pod in the organization, I’m in charge of this one. We are supposed to pool our ideas together and I will give them to the leader. Eventually, we will find a way home.”

“Who-”

Ella clicked her mouth shut before the unspoken question could be heard. 

“No one knows the leader’s name, that way the guardians can never find out who he is. Only the person in charge of each pod ever sees him and even that is not very often. Our goal is to find a way home and to restore our original memories.” Jaxon wrote.

Ella took the paper and pencil from him.

“What do you mean our original memories?”

“The leader believes that we were not brought here as prisoners. He believes that we were brought here to be slaves. The guardians altered our memories in order to keep us complacent. We were not sent here, we were kidnapped.”

Ella stared at Jaxon’s handwriting in disbelief. She could remember driving home on that snowy night. She could still feel her eyes growing heavy. That split second of dosing off and the squeal of tires on the icy road. She did not think she could ever forget the look on her son’s face as they spun out. There was no way they could have implanted that. Hot tears of shame raced down her face as the memories flashed sharply in her mind.

Jaxon clasped her hand in his. He knew what she was going through. Even though he believed the leader, the “memories” of what he had done still hurt. He knew they were not real, but the pain of not knowing if he would ever see his family again was. It would take Ella time to accept what he had told her, but he hoped that she would be able to handle it. They needed everyone working on a plan to get home, not alerting the guardian’s to their plan. Loosing Sherry was a serious blow.

“You have had a long day. You should probably get some sleep and gather your thoughts. You have to work again tomorrow and I’m sure that you are already sore. Remember,” Jaxon tapped the paper firmly.

Only your thoughts are safe.” was scrawled across the bottom.