Led by a single black-clad figure, your team of five moves like wraiths between the trees. Since you entered the forest three hours ago, the only sounds you’ve heard are boots swishing through the underbrush and the occasional sound of a rifle shifting in someone’s hands. No animals. No birds. Not even a single bug. The air is stagnant and smells like decay. Everyone’s edgy. It hadn’t taken you long to decide this mission sucks.
Ahead, you see the tainted, bloody glow of the moon peeking through the trees. Your team’s tracker leads you toward it, until the trees finally break around a small grassy circle.
At the edge of the clearing, the tracker holds up one clenched fist and your team comes to a halt. Weapons are at the ready. You check the small black box hanging from your utility belt. The needles are going crazy with activity.
Your team leader motions for silence. He tosses another quick glance around the area and fixes the tracker with an irritated glare. The tracker returns his stare and points toward the center of the field.
In three years, the tracker has never been wrong. If she says these are the coordinates specified in the assignment then they are. It isn’t her fault that there’s nothing here.
Your team leader gestures at you and you know you’re up.
You unfasten a large silver ring hanging from your belt. Metal tabs printed with various symbols hang from the ring, and are rubber-banded together. You remove the band and hold the ring between two fingers.
The tabs come alive, spinning around the ring. After a few seconds, you expect them to rest and point in a specific direction, but they don’t. They continue to slide around the ring and fan out in different directions. More than half point to the ground.
Occult energy is everywhere. You can’t pinpoint the source.
You walk around the field’s perimeter, watching the tabs closely as you move. Twenty feet from your original position, every tab slides to the left side of the ring.
You follow the tabs back into the trees and wade into a pile of leaves and dead brush. Just as your boots clomp down on something hard and metallic, the tabs unanimously point down.
You snap your fingers to grab your teammates’ attention. In the aberrant silence of the forest, the sound carries easily. After the team assumes a defensive position, the tracker starts sweeping away the leaves.
It’s a hatch in the ground. The number 27 is printed at the top with a symbol beneath it. You don’t know the symbol. You’ve learned about all the attack and defense symbols and this is neither. You check the box hanging from your belt. The device indicates that the symbol is active, but it can’t determine the symbol’s purpose.
As the tracker finishes clearing the hatch, her arm hits a long object matted with leaves and sends it rolling toward you. You stop it with your boot and pick it up. You peel away a few of the leaves, exposing dried blood and human toes. Repulsed, you drop it and jump back. The rest of your team turns its weapons on the dismembered foot as if it might attack.
After a few tense seconds, your teammates visibly relax and try to stifle chuckles. Your team leader glares at you and jerks his head, dismissing you to finish your sweep of the field.
The tabs lead you to the opposite side of the clearing. This time they’re pointing at the edge of the grass. You kneel down for a closer inspection and find a layer of sod resting atop another hatch. You snap your fingers and back away.
As your teammates arrive, you finish rolling back the sod. The hatch below is nearly identical to the first one you saw. The number 27 is printed at the top, but the symbol below is different: the top halves of two opposing symbols have been joined together. According to your black box, the symbol is active. You aren’t sure how that’s possible. The hatch is crossed by deep gashes that appear to be claw marks. Red and black blood is smeared everywhere.
Your team leader silently points to the hatch before you, then to the one on the opposite side of the clearing. He looks at you expectantly.
The “spook stuff”, as he calls it, is your business. He wants your expertise to determine which hatch to enter. It’s a good thing he’s ordered silence or you might have to confess that you don’t have a clue.
You decide the team should enter through the hatch in front of you. You give the metal slab at your feet a decisive nod and back away.
Your team’s tech specialist steps forward, drops his black duffel bag on the grass, and examines the hatch. On its surface are two uneven square panels. He slides both of them back, revealing a release wheel and a numeric keypad. The green and yellow lights you’re accustomed to seeing on a keypad entry are off and the red light is on.
The site is in a state of emergency lock down.
The tech specialist works quickly, pulling various electronic components from his bag. After removing the keypad, wires are cut and reattached to his gadgets. And then you wait.
This is taking longer than usual. The team is getting restless. The sounds of shifting rifles and boots are more frequent. Even your team leader won’t stop fiddling with the black bandanna on his head.
Another minute passes and green text flickers across the screen. The tech pulls another box from his bag, this one with an elaborate keypad. He types in a sequence and pauses. The screen flickers again with more green text.
The red light is replaced by a solid yellow light. You hear a loud click but the hatch doesn’t open. The tech straddles the hatch and twists the release wheel. A whoosh of air is heard as if the underground facility is decompressing. The tech tosses his gadgets back into his bag, steps across the hatch, and grabs the release wheel.
You grab your rifle and get into position with the rest of your team. Your team leader gives the group a cursory inspection and nods.
The tech heaves up on the hatch. Hot air blasts through the opening, carrying the scents of pepper and char.
A steep metal stair leads down into a shelter encased in steel and cement. From where you stand, your view is limited. The only light in the shelter comes from a flashing red emergency light.
Your team leader points at you and you sling your rifle onto your back. You grab the black box from your belt and lower it through the hatch. One moment the signal is as strong as if the hordes of hell were standing on top of you, and the next moment, nothing.
You look up at your team leader, palms up, and shake your head in frustration. You have no idea what’s going on. Maybe your equipment needs a tune-up.
Your team leader glares at you again and you know you’ll be assigned all of the crappy shifts tonight. He gestures to your teammates and they dart down the stairs in single file. You grab your rifle and follow them. As soon as you reach the bottom you get into formation.
The hall is long and narrow. There isn’t enough space to stand two abreast, so your formation is staggered. Two of your team members kneel in front. You stand behind them against the left wall, staring hard into the darkness ahead.
On the wall above your head, a red bulb flashes slowly, pulsing like a weak heartbeat. Its light doesn’t permeate the end of the hall. Beneath the bulb is a diagram showing emergency exits. According to the map, the complex is large and winding, and the hatch you’re under is one of two exits. The other hatch you saw is the second exit. A few feet ahead on the right is a small control room. The computers inside are all off. The desk chair has been rolled back to the opposite side of the room, as if its last occupant had jumped up and left in a hurry. The complex feels empty and the heavy silence makes your ears ring.
You check the black box on your belt. No signal. You glance back at your team leader and shake your head, letting him know there’s nothing to report.
He steps through your team and slips into the control room. His attention is drawn to a small object lying on the desk. You can’t tell what it is. It’s shiny and flat like an obsidian shard.
There’s a movement on your belt. All of the tabs around the metal ring point toward the room and needles on the black box are going wild. As your team leader reaches for the shard, the needles’ movements become more frantic.
You yell but he doesn’t seem to notice; his eyes are fixed on the shard.
As his fingers touch the shard, the red bulb winks out. You turn toward the staircase as the hatch above slams shut, encasing you in darkness. The locking mechanism in the hatch clicks. Your team leader shrieks, then all is silent.
The light returns. The side room is empty and your team leader is nowhere to be seen. All that’s left of him is his black bandanna lying crumpled on the floor. There are no other exits from the room. The tracker runs inside and looks around. She throws up her hands.
“What the hell?”
The tech sprints up the staircase. After a few minutes, he returns.
“Won’t budge. We have to find another way out.” He gives the hallway another wary look and mutters, “Routine rescue mission, my ass.”
You pull the emergency exit diagram from its frame. After studying it, you decide there are two options. You could continue the mission and head to the mainframe, hoping to shed some light on what’s happened here, or you could clear the way to the second hatch to ensure you have an escape route.
You decide answers are more important than an exit and head to the mainframe. Your tracker leads. The team’s sniper goes next and you can hear your tech specialist grumbling behind you as he brings up the rear.
The dark corridor spirals away. According to the map there are no straight passages. Everything in the complex centers around an enormous round room. At least you think it’s a room. It’s drawn like one, only it has no doors.
Every few feet, other hallways branch off and curve into darkness. As your team moves through the passage, you strain your ears for other noises, but hear nothing. The sounds of your own movement seem amplified. As you continue toward the center of the complex, you get an itchy feeling like you’re being watched.
You step into the hallway that circles the center room. It’s even bigger than the map suggests. The unknown symbol from the first hatch is carved into the concrete wall every ten feet. According to the black box on your belt, the symbols are active.
You snap your fingers, calling for a stop. You flip through a small, dog-eared notebook from your bag and compare the symbol to a few that you had jotted down. It doesn’t even have the same base construction as the ones you’ve studied. It may not even pertain to demons. You copy the symbol and direct your team to continue down the hall.
You start to see more control rooms like the one from which your team leader disappeared. They’re small and sparse and the computers are all off. A few minutes later, you reach the mainframe.
The room itself is quite large. Two black towers stand in the center. The rest of the room is filled with electronic medical equipment. There’s two of everything and it’s all turned on, blipping and flashing.
Your tech approaches the mainframe and sets his duffel bag on the floor. He pries off the front panels, slides out the terminal, and starts typing. The keys sound like little bones clacking together. He grabs some gear from his bag.
While the tech works, your team surveys the room. You circle slowly, wondering what the equipment is monitoring. In the last half hour you’ve seen no evidence of survivors, yet you stand before two EKG units that blip with activity.
“Research,” the tech says, pulling everyone’s attention.
Your team gathers around the terminal.
“This place is a research facility. There’s not much here except ancient religious texts about the apocalypse.”
Your tracker snorts.
“Why read? All they have to do is look outside.”
The tech nods his agreement.
“Most of it’s about the Seven Seals and the Riders of the Apocalypse.”
He types another command and more text scrolls up the screen.
“There’s another level below us. There are dormitories are to the north and labs to the south. The two wings aren’t connected, but we can get to them by stairs at either end.”
He packs up his gear while you discuss which end to search first. You turn toward the door and freeze. You realize all of the tabs on your belt are pointing at the door.
An enormous sword leans against the wall to the right of the door. You’re sure it wasn’t there when you entered the room – you would have noticed. It stands as high as your chest. Its black blade gleams in the light. A slender fragment is missing from the front of the blade.
The tech steps toward the sword, eyes wide. You’re worried he may try to touch it, but he stops three feet away.
“Where did this -“
Before he can finish, the lights cut out and all the machines go dead, encasing you in black. You hear a scuffle. A hand clamps down on your arm. The tracker shouts.
Before you can pull yourself free, the lights return and the machines whir to life, each casting their glow about the room. The sniper is holding you and the tracker by the arms, as if he’s afraid one of you might disappear. The tech’s bag is on the floor. The tech is gone. So is the sword.
The sniper releases you and reaches for his pistol. He flicks off the safety and looks to you for direction.
You decide the laboratories would be more productive. Following the map, you backtrack to the south staircase and walk down three flights of stairs. There’s a closed metal door at the bottom. As you step onto the landing, some of the metal tabs on your belt flip outward toward the door. You hold up a closed fist, calling for a stop.
You check the symbols emblazoned on the active tabs. Before you can read them all, the tabs slip back in with the rest of the jumble and new tabs emerge. You’re able to read the first three before they change again. Death is the only recurring symbol, but one symbol isn’t enough to tell you what’s on the other side of the door.
You ready your weapon and grab the handle. The tracker stands near the opening and the sniper lines up behind her. Using your fingers, you count down from three.
On zero, you crack open the door. The tracker leans forward to step outside. Her eyes widen and her head snaps back. You release the door. It closes with a soft thud.
“It’s the sword!” she whispers.
You respond with an incredulous look. The sniper responds by raising his pistol with one hand and grabbing a grenade with the other.
In this situation, you’re more equipped to lead the charge. You switch positions with the tracker. This time, she counts.
3… 2… 1…
You rush into the hall. The sniper is right behind you. You’re standing at the end of a long, carpeted hallway. The red emergency bulbs continue to pulse their warning, flooding the space with sanguinary light. The sword is nowhere to be seen.
“I swear it was here,” the tracker whispers. She points at the blank wall in front of you. “Right there.”
The sniper glances down the hall.
He whispers, “There’s no way something could have grabbed it and gotten away so fast without us hearing.”
It’s not possible unless something was controlling the sword remotely. You decide it’s best to keep that thought to yourself.
There’s another emergency map on the wall. You take it and start down the hallway.
There’s an office ten feet from the stairs. Under the red bulbs, the splotches of blood on the walls and carpet appear as ominous black clots. The scent of decay is heavy.
You’re smelling corpses and they aren’t fresh.
You pass a few workrooms filled with cubicles and desks. There’s more blood. Black streaks and heavy splatter mar the walls and the scent of rotting flesh thickens in your nostrils.
You find the first two bodies in a large conference room. The first is chest down on the conference table, its head hacked off and mounted on a flip chart frame like a trophy. A small fire axe lies discarded under the table. A second body is slumped in a corner. You reach down and lift up the head. A ballpoint pen is jammed in her eye.
The sniper says, “Maybe they went crazy from the confinement and killed each other?”
It’s not unheard of. After the invasion, the remnants of humanity went underground fast. There wasn’t time to worry about aesthetics; survivors were crammed together in makeshift cities that felt like tin cans. Some people didn’t react well to their new dreary environment.
You look around the otherwise-plush conference room. You’re not convinced of the motive. This place is nicer than your dorm.
The main laboratory isn’t much farther and might give you answers. As you turn to leave, a tall, black column by the door brings you to a sudden stop. The sword is leaning against the wall, dangerously close to your only exit.
The sniper and tracker see your startled expression and turn around. The tracker stiffens when she sees the sword.
“Nobody move,” the sniper says.
You’d like to sneak through the door, but that won’t solve the problem. The only way to eliminate the danger is to destroy the sword.
You sling the rifle onto your back and walk slowly to the front of the room. As you bend down to grab the axe, you keep your eyes on the sword. You grab the axe in both hands and stand. You take a step forward. You notice the floor is vibrating slightly.
“Wait,” the sniper says, holding up his hand. His eyes dart from the axe to the sword eagerly. He flexes his shoulders. “Let me do it.”
He’s stronger and has a better chance of actually destroying the sword. You hand him the axe and back away. The sniper steps to the side of the sword, holding the axe like a baseball bat. The floor starts to vibrate more noticeably and a low hum, barely audible, tickles your ears.
Suddenly, all of the tabs on your waist swing toward the sword.
You shout, “Wait!”
It’s too late. The sniper swings hard. The axe arcs wide and slams against the blade. A sharp clang rings out, only slightly louder than the boom your sniper’s head makes when it explodes. Bits of flesh, blood, and bone spray in all directions, peppering you with wet matter. The headless body launches upward and disappears into the ceiling. The sword is gone.
You stagger into the hallway holding your stomach with one hand and wiping your face with the other. The tracker emerges right behind you, squats down in the hall, and puts her head between her knees.
Miraculously, neither of you vomit.
After a few minutes, you glance at the black box on your belt. The needles quiver, showing small signs of otherworldly activity. The periodic fluctuations in the signal suggest something powerful nearby but its signal is muffled. Before you can dwell on it, the tracker stands and grabs her rifle.
“Let’s figure this out and get the hell out of here,” she says.
You follow the map straight to the lab without investigating any other rooms. Quick glances through other doors reveal scenes more violent than the conference room. After a few rooms, you finally stop looking. You’ve seen enough.
The lab is the largest room in the south wing and almost in the center of the facility. The wall facing the center is curved slightly and covered in the same runes you saw in the upstairs hallway.
The lab is in a state of disaster. You don’t see any blood, but the room looks like the aftermath of a panicked evacuation. Shattered glass and papers are scattered everywhere. A few computers had been set on desks but were knocked off and broken. Bookshelves line another wall, packed with old, leather-bound tomes and glass boxes filled with scrolls. The room looks more like a room for historical restoration than a laboratory.
The tracker steps around you. Her rifle is slung back and she has a small flashlight in her hand. She starts to wander through the array of tables. You do the same.
The majority of the papers look like classified research or memos bearing the emblem of the Unified Sovereignty of Mankind, the government that united the fragmented survivors after the invasion.
You turn your attention to the walls. A long piece of paper has been attached from one end of the room to the other. A timeline is drawn down the center, starting with year zero. Beneath the number are words in various languages. You recognize two names at the bottom: Adam and Eve.
You walk along the wall, surveying the span of worldly and religious events. Toward the end of the timeline, a red arrow marks the present day. It points to a spot on the timeline that reads “The Second Horseman of the Apocalypse”. A picture of a red horse is tacked beneath it.
You catch yourself before laughing out loud. Someone in the fledgling government has been taking their religious prophecy a little too seriously.
“Listen to this,” the tracker says. “Memo from Brass: First Rider of the Apocalypse caused humankind to be conquered and brought to near extinction by the armies of Hell. We have received your report on Second Rider. His mission will turn the remnants of man against each other in war. Detailed analysis is required on detainment of Second Rider and possible repercussions of -“
She flips the paper over but it’s blank. You’ll never find the second page in this mess.
“Repercussions of preventing God from ending the world, I guess,” she says.
You chuckle and reply, “Well, if you see an angel on a giant red horse, try to detain them.”
You both glance around the laboratory one last time. There’s nothing more you can do here.
According to the map, the hall is supposed to end at the laboratory, yet it continues to curve around, out of sight.
You wonder if there’s an unmarked exit in that direction and decide to follow the hall. As you round the corner, the cement wall transitions into thick glass, revealing the hidden silo at the center of the complex.
Inside stands an enormous red horse. Smoke billows from its nostrils. It swings its massive head around, regarding you with an obsidian eye.
At the end of the hall there are two doors. One is above you, accessible by a flimsy metal stair. Its symbol has a large gash through it, rendering it inactive. The door beneath it bears an active symbol. You don’t recognize either symbol, though now you understand why: You were trained to use symbols that pertain to demons. These apply to angels.
You decide to check the bottom door that bears an active symbol. As you near it, you hear a light scuffling noise on the other side. The tracker tests the doorknob and you ready your rifle. The door is unlocked. The tracker opens the door and you step into the room.
The room is much larger than you expected, and its size is emphasized by the ceiling, so high above that it disappears in darkness. You feel cool, fresh air that you suspect is coming from a vent high on a wall. The walls continue to curve around the center silo, though the left wall swings wide. A large array of computer equipment is stacked up against it like a command center. Most of the sensors and buttons are flashing erratically. You take a closer look at the panel and realize it controls the center silo, raising and lowering it like an elevator. On the right wall, the glass you saw in the previous room has transitioned back to concrete, though there’s a wide gap where it meets the floor.
A dead body has been jammed into the crack. His limbs are bent and twisted awkwardly. You can’t see his face and you’re glad for that.
There isn’t a lot of blood in the room but you can tell there was a hell of a battle in here. Rolling office chairs are upturned and torn. The cement walls are marred with gashes and bullet holes from a small firearm. Makeshift weapons lie on the floor, broken and discarded: a kitchen knife duct-taped to a wooden chair leg, a glass shard wrapped in cloth, and a hammer with a broken handle.
You wonder what sorry bastard was left with the hammer as a weapon.
Your eyes follow the spray of bullet holes that run upward along the center silo and you notice one of the engraved symbols high on the wall is partially grated off, making it inactive. It looks as if the center silo was on its way up to the surface when the fight broke out.
A scraping sound brings your attention back to the wall beneath the symbol. You notice a small hole in the wall and some granules of grated cement falling out.
The tracker grabs one of the chairs and wheels it over. She climbs up and looks into the hole.
She yelps. Her eyes widen and her head snaps back. The office chair pivots wildly and tips, throwing her to the floor. She doesn’t seem to care. She scrambles to her knees.
“Oh my God,” she whispers. “It’s in there. The Second Rider.”
You pull the chair upright, wheel it back over to the wall, and climb up. The hole is a couple of inches wide and the wall is at least two feet thick. You hear a soft rustling of wings. You look into the hole.
A large ruby-red eye stares back at you. You’ve seen enough demons to know this eye doesn’t belong to one. It’s unnerving. You jump down from the chair and look at the flashing console. You see the lever that would send the silo back down, sealing the Second Rider back into the bowels of the earth. You take a few steps toward the console and stop.
You turn around and climb back up on the chair. You look into the hole. The ruby eye is still there, watching you.
You clear your throat nervously.
“What’s the catch?” you ask. “If I let you out, the world ends. If I trap you underground… what’s the penalty for that?”
A thin lid slowly closes over the eye, shutting it for a few seconds. The eye opens. The walls around you start to burn away. The tracker gasps.
You are alone in a land scorched by fire. Nothing grows. The ground is cracked and barren. Rivers and lakes are red, fouled with blood. The air is thick and dry and your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth. You taste sand and noxious fumes. Above you, the sun is barely seen through a murky haze and the sky grows dimmer by the minute. All around, the bodies of the damned rise up from the ground – a new army of Hell. You look down at your hands and arms. They’re covered in boils thick with puss. A swarm of locusts descends; without their natural food source they feast on flesh.
This world is trapped in its near-death state. It longs for a release that never comes.
You blink and you’re back in the control room.
Your heart is racing as you step down from the chair. If you set the Rider free, you’ll be responsible for the end of the world. If you secure him underground, the world will be saved, but without the happy ending. What you saw wasn’t Hell on Earth. It was worse.
The vision has ended but you still feel boils on your skin and the sting of poisoned air in your nostrils. You know could save the world but the vision you saw isn’t salvation. You decide it’s better to set the Second Rider free.
You turn toward the control panel and scan it, looking for a lever or switch to send the silo to the surface. The tracker retreated to the far side of the room but you feel her eyes on you now.
“What are you doing?”
You hear the horror in her voice and turn toward her. Your eyes lock. Hers widen.
You decide not to say anything. It’s clear that she knows what you’re about to do. You look away and step toward the console.
You don’t. You’re determined this is the right thing to do. You hear an excited rustling of wings. Out of the corner of your eye, you see the tracker’s rifle swing upward and point in your direction. She’s staring at you through the gun’s sight.
“I can’t let you do this,” she says.
“It’s the right thing to do, Lozano. Keeping the Rider locked up isn’t going to save anyone.”
She stares back with an incredulous look and shakes her head.
“Put your weapon on the floor and back away from the console.”
You’re close to the console but you don’t think you could make it without getting shot. You set your rifle gently on the floor and step back to the wall by the office chair.
As Lozano walks over to your discarded weapon, she keeps her sights on you. She kicks your rifle toward the door. She then starts walking backward toward the console.
You wait. Eventually she’s going to have to turn away and look for the lever that will send the Rider back down.
Lozano renews her grip on the rifle, holding it at a comfortable position. Reluctantly, she takes her eyes off of you…
You grab the office chair and shove it, sending it flying across the floor at her. Lozano looks back as the chair nears. She fires her rifle erratically, blasting a hole through the chair and into the wall to your right. You duck down and charge. She tries to get off another shot but misses again. You slam into her legs and knock her on her back. Her rifle clatters away a few feet to the right.
You scramble to the rifle, grab it, and jump to your feet. As you turn around, you see Lozano is running toward the door, heading for your gun. You fire a warning shot into the ceiling.
She stops. Her hands go up in surrender and she turns around. Her lips are pinched in a taut line.
“Kick it away,” you say.
She sends the gun sliding toward you and says, “Don’t do this. If the Rider turns us against each other, we won’t have enough manpower to fight the real fight.”
Her voice is muffled. There’s a strong ringing in your ears. You assume it’s from the gunfire. It’s strange that the rustling of feathers is loud and clear.
Your eyes flicker toward the console.
“Listen to me!” she screams. “Of course he showed us a terrible future. He wants to be set free!”
Movement on your belt catches your attention and you both fall silent. All of the metal tabs are pointing right at her.
The sword is in the hall behind her.
You say, “Don’t turn around.”
Her eyes fall to your belt, then back up again. She looks terrified. Her voice is a whisper.
“Don’t let it take me. You know what to do.”
Slowly, she starts to turn.
“Stop!” you shout. “Lozano, stop!”
She turns her back to you and the lights begin to dim. She screams.
You act on instinct and raise the rifle. You put Lozano’s head in your sights and pull the trigger. Her head snaps forward. Blood splatters heavily against the wall. Her lifeless body falls forward and collapses on the floor before the black sword.
You stand there, staring at the scene in the hallway. Lozano’s words replay in your head and, for a moment, you wonder if she’s right. Should you not set the Rider free?
The sound of rustling feathers breaks through your thoughts and your doubts fade. You lower Lozano’s rifle and walk to the control panel. You quickly find the lever that sends the silo up to the surface and flip it up. You hear heavy machinery humming somewhere below. As the silo begins to move, its sides grate against the ceiling, removing the remaining symbols. The Rider is free.
Your ears pop. The ringing immediately stops. New thoughts come flooding into your mind.
You were deceived.
You look back at the hallway. The sword is gone, probably to meet its master on the surface. You cast another look around the room and notice a door on the far side that’s just around the bend of the silo. You run to it and throw it open, revealing a staircase going up.
You take the stairs two at a time and quickly find yourself back on the main floor. You sprint down the hall to the first hatch. At the foot of the metal stair is another dismembered foot. You kick it aside and climb up. You throw open the hatch.
The full moon is directly above, casting a bright, bloody light upon you. Smoke is thick in the field.
They emerge from the smoke together: a humanoid, larger than any demon you’ve seen, atop a massive red horse. The Rider wears ornate black and silver armor. Silver wings unfold as if out of nowhere and expand across the clearing, then quickly retract and disappear. The black sword is in his hand. Flames flicker around the horse’s hooves. It leaves ash and soot in its wake, turning the flora black. The Rider stops at the hatch and stares down at you with his fierce, ruby eyes.
You know you were tricked. The world probably would have been bad, but not nearly as bad as the Rider showed you. Anger swells in the pit of your stomach. The Rider nods at you almost apologetically. There’s nothing you can do to stop him by yourself and there are no words to aptly express how you feel in this moment. Only one expression comes close:
You give him the finger.
The Rider’s eyes narrow. He jerks the reigns and kicks the red horse into action. The sound of hooves on the forest floor is like thunder as they ride away.
For the next six hours, you sit on the edge of the hatch with the dirty dismembered foot you found earlier. You stare upward, watching the night sky light up with rockets and gunfire. The next stage of Armageddon has begun.