Rory sat in her dorm room, Bible in her lap. It had been a bit difficult to explain to her roomie, Jeanne, why she had gone to study the great wars in history and returned to the dorms with a Bible. She could barely explain it to herself, or explain why she had accepted it more readily. Barbato had told her that he had ‘mild mind control powers’ but could that really make the words “You are the incarnation of War” sound as innocuous as “You look nice with your hair like that”?
That was another thing that should have been a bigger deal than it seemed. The librarian could control minds, albeit only on a level where he could keep her from freaking out and running away the moment he’d started talking about the Apocalypse. The librarian was a demon, from literal Hell, as were all of the other teachers. And, from what she had understood, Rory was one too. Or part demon. Or something.
“You have two jobs right now,” the librarian told her. “The first is to find the other three Horsemen, so they can join you. The horses arrived together over the summer, so we believe that means you are all here. The school is divided into four to make the task a bit easier. War belongs in Team Garnet… that’s you. There should be one Horseman in each of the remaining teams: Onyx, Alabaster, and Peridot.
“The second is to become closer with your horse. Those are the two most important things for you, right now.”
Rory groaned and flopped onto her bed. The Bible had been meant to help her figure out who she was looking for, but there was such a tiny mention of the Horsemen in Revelations that it didn’t help much. The descriptions mostly told what color horse the person rode and what they carried, which was useless as the horses were in the stable and Barbato apparently held onto the bow and the crown and such. Besides that, the descriptions weren’t even right, if they said there was to be a man on each horse. Unless that meant she was looking for more girls with boys’ names.
With nothing else to turn to, Rory began opening the book to random pages and picking a verse, because her mom had done that sometimes for answers. Her first try resulted in some verse about Eve, the second result yielded a verse about hills being white with corn, which sounded like the opposite of famine. She supposed she shouldn’t have expected God to help her with her quest. She was supposed to be ending the world. Or something.
It seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do, at that point in time. It mad sense to end the world, although Rory couldn’t have told why. She supposed it had something to do with the librarian’s mind control.
And she was perfectly fine with that.
Classes began the next day, and things suddenly became hectic with about a third of the school trying to find their classrooms in time, and attempting to become accustomed to new teachers and classes when they were not passing through the hallways. The class schedules were individualized, as well, so Rory could not just ‘follow the herd’ when going to math or science, although she could generally find someone who was going to the same class for the next period.
“Hey, where are you going next?” Jeanne asked, as they waited for the bell to ring. Most of the teachers were spending the class periods simply introducing the subject matter and what would be covered in class, so the full class period was not being used.
“Um… Stables,” Rory said, checking her paper. “Why? What do you have?”
“Art.” Jeanne grabbed Rory’s schedule from her hand and examined it. “I don’t see a study hall on your schedule… must be what they booted to make room for the horse class, right?”
Rory rubbed the back of her neck. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“I wonder if I’ll get a chance to do that next marking period, or something. There are only seven horses available, though, so it’s gonna be a small class… I bet you got it because you’re Teufel’s special little protege!”
The bell rang, a lucky break. Rory wasn’t quite sure how to approach the fact that she was a magical girl with her classmates… how she should hide it, if she should hide it… Now that the mind control was wearing off a bit, she was really wishing that she had had a choice in the matter, even if her choice in the option of getting magic powers and a sword would have been yes. She grabbed her things and headed out to the stables.
It was a cold, cloudy day. Not the sort of day that Rory would have wanted to be outside. If it hadn’t been for the horse, and her connection to him, she would have skipped the class. She would have headed back to the dorm room and curled under her blankets for a bit, but something inside her needed to see her horse again. Because it was her horse, and Barbato had told her so. He was her teacher for the class, even.
It was probably a good thing that no one had noticed that her schedule said the librarian was to teach her horseback riding.
“If you try your mind control thing again,” Rory warned him as she entered the stables. “I’m going to clock you.”
Barbato merely laughed it off. “I doubt that, Miss Flannery. But I will refrain from using my gifts against you. I had only done so because I knew you had no prior experience with magic and the like, so I had no idea how you might have reacted. It was for your own safety, and to minimize the… distress… you might have felt in such a situation.”
“Would you like to meet your horse, Miss Flannery?”
All was forgotten when Rory was allowed to enter the red horse’s stall. He… and he was indeed a male horse… snapped at Barbato, but calmed down the moment that Rory laid her hands on his side. His fur was soft to the touch. She laid her cheek on his side. She was tiny compared to him.
“He needs a name,” she said, feeling calmed by the contact between them. She hadn’t even realized how tense she had been. It was as though two halves of a puzzle had come together at last.
“That would be your responsibility, Miss Flannery. He is yours.”
“Napoleon,” Rory decided. It sounded like a good, strong name, and a fitting one for the horse of War.
Napoleon nickered in agreement.
“How do I get on him?” Rory asked, looking around the stall. There didn’t seem to be any sort of horse gear in sight.
“Eager to begin, I see,” Barbato said. “Your horse, as well as the other three, brought no saddles or equipment when they came to us, being horses. When you transform nearby your horse, Napoleon will also be given his equipment, so that you can ride him.”
Rory bounced to the door of the stable and looked out at the librarian. “Can I try?”
“If you’d like.”
Rory pulled her pencil/sword from her skirt pocket, where she had been keeping it since she had gotten it (with the exception of when she was sleeping) and held it between her hands.
“With the power to take peace from the earth, and make men slay each other… come and see!”
The transformation happened much as it had the night before, but this time Rory was ready for it, and knew what would happen. She watched as each part of her uniform came into existence… the gauntlets, the skirt, the chest plate, the boots. The sword didn’t change weight much from being a pen to being a sword, although it should have. Or perhaps Rory simply didn’t notice.
“You’re getting the hang of that,” Barbato said approvingly.
Rory turned to look at Napoleon. Her horse wore not only a saddle, but also armor, colored red and grey to match her own color scheme. Rory bent her knees slightly and hopped, finding that she could launch herself straight in the air, landing on the saddle perfectly.
“As I thought, horse riding is in your nature,” Barbato told her. “Or, rather, riding this horse. Why don’t you take a stroll?”
“Won’t that draw attention?”
“You are quite invisible to those who wouldn’t expect to see you like this.”
Rory nudged Napoleon gently with her foot, and the powerful creature moved out of the stall. The four horses in the stalls opposite Napoleon’s backed away, trembling, but Rory paid them no mind as she guided her horse, the other half of her soul, out into the clear pasture. Not knowing what else to do, Rory nudged the horse again, and he broke into a run, just as she had wanted.
You’re lucky I am no ordinary horse.
I could tell.
The wind blew through Rory’s hair as she felt the most exhilarating sense of freedom. She was speeding like the wind on a powerful animal, one that would listen to her and only her, and no one could see her. She could do whatever she wanted.
After satisfying her hunger for freedom, Rory led Napoleon back into the stable and transformed back into her school uniform. Napoleon’s own armor disappeared as well.
“I’m glad that you were the first one we found,” Barbato said as he locked up the stable once more. “The others are calm enough, but that one tries to kill anyone who steps foot in there to muck the stall.”
“I thought everyone here was a demon,” Rory said flatly. “Shouldn’t you have demon magic to help you heal or something?”
“Yes, well… broken bones still hurt…” Barbato said.
Rory skipped off to her next class.
Rory went to the stables every day from then on, both sunny and rainy. The librarian no longer watched over her as she practiced with Napoleon, a blessing. Whenever she saw him, he asked her if she had made any progress in finding the other three Horsemen… Rory had been ignoring that part of her ‘job’ because the horse part was so much more enjoyable… although she often found herself poring over the Bible or Internet articles on the Four Horsemen after a trip to the library.
You’re getting much better, Napoleon noted as they cleared a high jump.
“Thank you,” Rory replied. “If anyone could see us, we could be show jumpers or something. Win some prizes.”
Wait. Napoleon’s ears swiveled, and he pawed at the ground. If Rory thought that her horse could have been skittish, she would have attributed the action to nervousness.
“What’s wrong?” Rory asked.
Something is coming.
The horse turned around, his body growing tense and ears pulled back. Rory instinctively placed her hand on her sword, not knowing what could cause Napoleon to act in such a manner. She knew that horses spooked easily, even though they appeared to be strong creatures, but she had assumed that Napoleon, being a magic horse birthed from the pits of Hell, would not suffer from the same fears.
It was white, unnaturally white, as if from a sheet of paper, a creature which stood as high as a horse… if ‘stood’ was the correct term, for the entire lower half was a snake’s body, holding the torso upright like a cobra’s. The body had four arms, looking much like a human’s, but with cruel black claws on each finger. The ‘face’ was only a pair of thick lips, the upper portion of it obscured by shadow. The thing had long, white hair that stood in the air, which caused Rory to refer to the thing as a ‘she’ in her mind.
The most striking of the creature’s features, however, was an enormous gilt mirror which seemed to make up the being’s torso.
“Should we get Barbato?” Rory asked, tugging on the reins to try and make Napoleon back away from the thing. “Or Teufel?”
No time. You need to fight.
Rory pressed her lips together and nodded, before pulling her sword from its sheath. It was not heavy, though it really should have been impossible for a girl of her size to lift something like that. She could only hope that her swordmanship would be magically as good as her horsemanship seemed to be.
Are you ready?
Rory nodded and leaned forward, sending Napoleon galloping towards the thing. She swiped at the snake creature as she passed on the horse, and clung to Napoleon with her knees until the horse could come to a stop. She turned to look behind her, at the creature, only to see that it had barely been scratched. The red line that Rory had left began to knit itself together almost immediately.
“I thought that the monster things that attack you were supposed to be on easy mode at first,” Rory said.
That is ‘easy mode’. Napoleon replied.
“Let’s go again, then,” Rory said, pulling her sword up to slash again.
Napoleon galloped at the creature once more. Rory hacked and slashed at it will all of the strength and energy she could muster. When she paused to catch her breath, she saw that the creature reacted in the same way, suffering very little damage.
“How do I kill this guy?” Rory asked.
You need to use your power.
“What do you think I’m trying to do? Do you think I’m giving it little love taps or something?”
Not physical power, Napoleon replied. I suppose one might call it spiritual power, or magical power.
“Yeah? How do I do that?”
The snake creature had finished recovering from what little damage Rory had managed to inflict on it, and had begun to slither towards them, a forked tongue poking out from between its lips every so often as though it were trying to taste them.
You already know how to do it, if you think about it and trust yourself, Napoleon chided. Come on, dear. Use your words.
“Use my…?” With realization dawning, Rory clutched her sword tightly between her hands. The silver blade began to glow red. “I’m ready.”
Napoleon bobbed his head in a nod and moved forward to meet the adversary.
Rory looked at the beast, brows furrowed in determination… and saw her reflection in the mirror that was the creature’s torso.
She was absolutely microscopic, sitting on her horse. She looked like a tiny girl playing at a game of cowboys. Her arms were like twigs, her sword was like a toothpick. She was no warrior; she was not strong. She did not even have to consolation that she was pretty; the face in the mirror was ugly and misshapen.
Rory? Rory! Listen to me. That is not you. Whatever you are seeing in that mirror, it is false.
“Mirrors don’t lie…” Rory murmured.
Suddenly, the horse reared up on his back legs. Rory slid backwards from her seat and landed on her behind with a thump. Looking up, she saw Napoleon come don on the mirrored torso of the creature with his front hooves, shattering the image of the fragile Lady War, too weak to hold a sword.
The spell was broken.
Finish the fight, Mistress, Napoleon said. There is nothing to hold you back.
Rory nodded and brought herself to her feet. She walked calmly to her opponent, who sat on the ground, devastated at the destruction of her precious mirror. She lifted her sword with confidence and sent her emotions into the blade, as she had felt them drawn into it before. The sword resumed its fiery glow.
“Bladed fury,” she said in a low voice, bringing down her sword on the sad creature before her. It sliced clean through.
The thing seemed to fracture into a thousand pieces before breaking apart. The fragments died in the pasture like glowing embers. Rory felt no remorse in ending its life.
“What was that?” Rory asked, pushing a lock of hair away from her face. It had become stuck to her cheek with sweat.
An angel, Napoleon replied. That is the name that we give them, at least. A great number were sent to the mortal plane, to prevent us from achieving our goals.
“That… was an angel?” Rory asked in disbelief.
Yes. They were too pure in their original forms to be able to stand against the Riders, so they allowed themselves to be corrupted by the evils of this world so that they might gain strength and the ability to inflict pain. They became addicted to the power they were given.
Rory nodded and turned to the stable, not feeling well enough to continue her riding practice for the day. Now that the battle was over, she felt weak at the knees, and disturbed at the way the creature had wormed its way into her mind.
Don’t leave its soul here.
Throw it out of the school’s wall, at least, or it will find you again.
“I killed it.”
You killed the form it had taken. Only Death can eliminate the power of its soul and transform it into a form that would be useful to Riders. It is why she is the Reaper.
Rudy knelt in the grass where the angel had fallen and poked around. She saw that the angel soul was shiny, like a jewel in a golden cage. She lifted the thing, pinching it between her metal-encased fingers, and chucked it through the air. She was stronger than a normal human in this form, and sent it twice as far as she would have without her powers. She wondered at the idea that she could have seen herself as weak.
With the appearance of the angel, Rory could put it off no longer. Napoleon could only answer so many questions, so it was time to go to the library. If Barbato tried to control her by making her search for the others, the joke was on him. She had made up her mind to look for the other Riders, or at least look for the Reaper. If freaky angel things were going to start attacking, she would prefer if she could put them down for good.
“Why did an angel attack me while I was riding?” Rory asked as she strolled into the library. Barbato held a finger to his lips and motioned to some students who were studying. “You can control them if they overhear, can’t you?”
“I’d rather not,” Barbato whispered. “What do you mean, an angel attacked you?”
“Okay, I attacked it first, technically,” Rory admitted. “But you didn’t tell me anything about angels.”
“I didn’t think you would need to worry about them until the other Riders were gathered. Perhaps they were attracted by your connection with Napoleon?”
“What’s up with these things? Napoleon told me they’re my enemy and they’re addicted to badness. I threw a soul thing, but it can come back again?”
“Once it gains enough energy, yes,” Barbato said. “But Death can collect and neutralize the soul, and use it to make the Riders more powerful.”
“How many of these things are there?” Rory asked, hopping onto the librarian’s desk.
“Get off that… there are six hundred sixty-six angels in total.”
“Of course there are,” Rory said flatly.
“Or there might be six hundred and sixteen… obviously, the Powers That Be are not too eager to share all of their secrets with us. You need to collect all of them,” Barbato chided. “And you need Death for that, which is why I have been telling you how important it is to find the other riders.”
“I know, I know,” Rory said, hopping off the desk. “I promise, I’ll find them as soon as possible. Starting tomorrow.”
“… Tonight, then.”