This week’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig led us to a “random story title generator.” Out of the five titles presented, I chose “Riders and Fire.”
“You’ve all heard of it—the apocalypse, the end times, the tribulation—whatever name you prefer to call it,” the tall, dark skinned man leaned forward at the podium. “But do you really have what it takes to be part of it?”
Del rolled his eyes, hoping the Elder Partner couldn’t see all the way to the back corner. He should have known the apocalypse would come up at today’s meeting. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about the end times—that one of the reasons the Firm existed. He stifled a yawn, tugging his tie loose. Elsa shot him a glare as he inadvertently knocked her elbow off the armrest. He grinned back and winked. Del wasn’t afraid of Elsa Obrecht—oh, he knew what she was capable of—but she didn’t scare him. Not much did. He shifted in his seat again. The higher the price tag on the suit, the more uncomfortable it seemed. Del didn’t know why and it irked him. Maybe he could sue his suit-maker…
“Delancey St. Martin,” the man at the podium stared into the darkness.
Every head in the auditorium turned towards Del. He could almost feel Elsa smirking. He quickly straightened his tie and stood.
“Perhaps you’d like to share your opinions with us?” Colubra Maximus smiled toothily at him, teeth flashing white against his dark skin.
I’d rather rot in hell, he thought; the joke was funny only to him and he kept the smile from his face. “Of course, sir.”
Del gathered his papers and made his way towards the podium, taking special care to jostle Elsa as he squeezed past her. He shook Colubra’s hand, feeling the thin, papery flesh slide along his fingers with the usual internal shudder. He ran a hand through his dark hair—worn a little bit longer than some might consider professional and flashed the audience a smile. There were no responding smiles. But, in a crowd of lawyers, it wasn’t surprising. He leafed through his papers—most of which had nothing to do with the topic at hand and tried to remember where Colubra left off. He mentally shrugged. One thing he learned in law school and confirmed in subsequent years with the Firm was that he had a certain flair for bullshit.
“As our illustrious Partner said, the First Stage is for the elite—the dedicated. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be the harbinger of what is to come. For the al’Uttarak to succeed, we have to make sure the details are all perfect. Now, in the ancient texts, the Four Horses—white, red, black, and pale—symbolize in turn Victory or Conquest, War, Famine, and finally, Death,” he looked up from his nonexistent notes.
The blinding lights shining on the stage sent sweat trickling down his forehead; he narrowed his eyes. The gathered attorneys were still awake, so he continued.
“Of course, each horse must have a rider. The first rider will be the Antichrist, also called the al’Uttarak. ” Let’s hope they found the right one this time, he thought. Aloud, he continued, “He brings the first stage of the End. The other riders are uncertain from the ancient text,” he allowed himself a small smile. Funny how worked up everyone at the Firm got if you said the word “bible.”
Colubra nodded at him from the side of the stage and he gave the man an obsequious smile, mentally imagining several ways he would like to kill the bastard.
“Our esteemed Counselor noted that the First Stage is for the elite—the honor of being one of the Four to usher in the Apocalypse and wreak havoc is not for the faint hearted, not for those with uncertain loyalty,” Del’s eyes pierced the shadowy crowd; he was rewarded to see a few people flinch. He filed the information mentally—there were uses for faint hearts and wavering loyalty.
“Thank you, Delancey,” Colubra clapped a dry hand on Del’s shoulder; he resolved to take the suit to the drycleaner’s in the morning.
Del smiled again and bowed very slightly, gathering his papers and preparing to descend the platform.
“One moment, please,” Colubra’s teeth glinted in the parody of a smile.
Del ignored the chill that ran down his back and stood to the side where Colubra indicated.
“Our Delancey—bright young man—said it better than I could have. These Four will usher in a new era for the Firm along with many changes. The Partners are proud of all you have done over the years—over the centuries,” he laughed drily. “I know you all have work to do, important things waiting back at your desks, but all of it can wait.”
A rustle ran through the audience, Colubra always made you feel like he could read your mind. Maybe he can, Del thought.
“You see, I did not invite you here for a history lesson on ancient texts—fascinating as Mr. St. Martin’s speech was. Our Foresight and Oversight Committee has discovered that the time is nigh for another of the horsemen to be revealed,” he stilled the murmur almost immediately with a wave of his hand. “We all know the al’Uttarak will ride the first horse, the white horse—that much is obvious. The al’Uttarak is devastatingly important, of course, as the figurehead of our movement, but the next horse—the Red horse of War—is almost equally crucial to our cause.”
Del heard a strange sound behind the curtains and turned, straining to make out the noise. The curtains parted in a sweep of liquid, black fabric. A young man dressed incongruously in an expensive suit held the bridle of a blood bay stallion. The hubbub from the crowd took several moments to quiet. Del’s palms were beginning to sweat. He knew nothing about this demonstration. His sources said it was just an informational meeting, to bring them up to speed on the progress.
The horse turned its head toward Del and whinnied.