Four Horsemen1

1 assumes familiarity with the conventions of Japanese animation.

Rainbows strike the ground. Orange flowers writhe up from the earth. A sense of impending beauty hangs over the city Thessel.

Sarah and Yvonne have not yet noticed.

They’ve let their lives distract them.

“You need to study harder, ” Sarah says. Her face is hard and stern.

Yvonne looks up.

“It’s not relevant, ” she answers. “You know I’ll never leave this place.”

The high school is called Our Lady of Penitence, or OLP High. Yvonne is a junior. She has a 2.8 grade point average. She does not expect to graduate.

“Maybe,” Sarah says. “But that’s not important. Your performance shames all of us. It shames the school. It shames your parents.”

“They’re dead,” Yvonne says.

“Yes,” Sarah agrees.

“By agape I was born,” Yvonne says. “By eros, they were slain.”

A sweatdrop appears on Sarah’s brow.

“Yvonne,” Sarah says. “You have that backwards.”

“Oh,” Yvonne says.

In the distance, they hear a crash. They hear one scream. Then more.

It is the arrival of an emissary of love.

“We should go,” Sarah says.

Yvonne shrugs. She stands up. She strolls towards the sound. “The cafeteria, you think?”

“Yes.”

In the cafeteria, a horrid chimera crouches, as much metal as beast. It is squat, like a giant frog. Its body is pierced with long hollow white tubes, big enough for a person to crawl in. They bend at its points of articulation. Tendrils wave from its head. It has great monstrous paws. Most of the students stare helplessly. Some cower behind tables or in the kitchen. It has caught Sandra. It has caught Johnny. Giant paws pin them down. They weaken.

“I didn’t think it would be this way,” Sandra says.

“It’s not,” Johnny insists.

“It’s just,” Sandra says, “it’s kind of funny. We’ve been friends for so long.”

“Yes,” Johnny says. “Friends.

“I never thought about whether we could be more.”

The tubes set in the chimera glimmer with radiant light. It whispers to itself. Johnny’s face sets in a rictus of pain. Then his face relaxes. He slumps.

“I’m wondering too,” he concedes. “I mean. If we can.”

The room’s shadows shift. The door to the hallway opens. The chimera turns its head. Tubes shift within its flesh. Its eyes narrow.

“Filthy creature,” says Yvonne. “You’re bringing love to this place?”

For love it is that sprouts beneath the creature’s paws.

Tendrils lash out towards Yvonne, dozens of them lacing in and out amongst themselves as they blur towards her head. Calm and quiet, Yvonne touches a button on her watch. The tendrils do not reach her. The giant robot named Death—HER giant robot, ghostly and terrible—rises through the cafeteria floor. Its scythe cuts the tendrils through. The creature hops backwards, uncertain.

“I am death,” Yvonne says. “I am the sentry. I forbid you Thessel.”

Yvonne’s eyes glow violet. Death’s eyes glow the same color. The giant robot glides forward.

The tubes set in the chimera’s flesh shine bright red. A great light pours from them. Its power stops Death’s advance. Yvonne’s face grows tight from the strain upon her will.

The tableau lingers.

“I’m stuck,” Yvonne manages.

“This wouldn’t happen if you studied more,” Sarah observes.

Death slides backwards half a yard.

“Help me or you’ll die a virgin,” Yvonne grinds out.

Sarah shrugs. She touches a button on her own watch. The air seethes. Particles of food skitter upwards from overturned trays. They form the great swarm robot Pestilence.

“I am poison,” Sarah says. “I am sickness. I deny you this place. Infestation vengeance . . . attack!”

Pestilence exhales upon the creature. The chimera shivers and its light modulates towards sickly green. Then the creature jumps. It sails through the swarm and the swarm through it, and the particles of Pestilence come out clean. Sarah screams, shrill and high. The chimera does not hesitate. One paw knocks Sarah aside, into the wall. The other lands on Yvonne and bears her down to the ground. The creature stands there, comically suspended on one leg, its eyes scanning the room.

A young man enters. He’s got a sword. His name is Samuel. He lunges for the creature in a blur of steel, and draws sickly green blood. It keens horribly.

“Death,” he says. “Death, take it now.”

Death starts to move. Then the violet fades from Yvonne’s eyes. She blinks. She looks at Samuel.

“Only now I see you,” she says, “when I had not seen you before.”

“For the—,” Samuel hisses. “That’s the creature. It’s clearly the robot animal ALITHEIA, the sudden recognition of love for someone you’ve known a long time. Frag it, you stupid bint.”

Yvonne snorts and looks away.

“Jerk,” she says. “See if I help you now.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” he says. “I meant to say, Yvonne, would you please be so kind as to invoke the seal of Death upon this chimera?”

“No,” she says.

The creature’s tendrils lunge towards Samuel, burning with yellow light. He parries them with one sweep of his sword. Blood drips.

Slowly, weakly, Sarah struggles to her feet.

“Yvonne,” Samuel says. “You can’t afford to fall in love.”

“Why not?”

Samuel stares blankly at her.

“She refuses to study,” Sarah says.

A sweatdrop appears on Samuel’s forehead. “You’re kidding.”

Sarah shakes her head.

Yvonne’s eyes go happy, unfocused, and distant as she looks at Samuel. Then they snap back into focus. “Beast,” she says, and turns her head away again.

“Yvonne,” he says. “Thessel is under punishment from God. There can be no love here. Do you understand? If there is love, if for one moment someone dares succumb, the earth shall crack open underneath us and we shall fall into Hell.

“Sandra succumbed,” she says. “Johnny succumbed.”

“They’re weak,” Samuel says. “They’re teenagers. Selfish. Oh, sure, they’ll look at each other with dreams in their eyes, but give them one real challenge and it’ll fall apart. That’s how we survive. That’s why Thessel is still here. People are nothing. Their love’s just lip service.”

“So?” she says, making no movement to fight. “I wouldn’t go to Hell for you.”

Samuel grits his teeth.

“Fine,” he says. “Fine!”

He throws down his sword. He stomps towards the door. There’s a terrible hissing sound, and a thump.

“Would you think me critical,” Sarah says, “if I said that that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen anybody do?”

“Yes,” Samuel says. The creature’s paw is on his back and he is prone. “Yes, I would think you critical.”

“Ah,” Sarah answers.

“It’s a stupid curse anyway,” Yvonne says. “Why would God levy a curse like that?”

“We loved the wrong person,” Sarah says. “He came to our town. He was so beautiful. All the women loved him.”

“Women are degenerate,” Samuel mutters.

“All the men loved him.”

“Men are degenerate,” Yvonne snarks.

“But we weren’t supposed to love him,” Sarah says. “It was wrong. It was evil. So the curse fell on us. We woke up and he was dead, given the blood eagle on the OLP lawn, and we knew that if we loved again, we’d go to Hell. And ever since then, love’s sent the rainbows and the flowers and the beasts, and the horsemen have fought them.”

“Oh,” Yvonne says.

The chimera’s tubes pulse a brilliant aquamarine. One foot holds Yvonne down. The other pins Samuel. The food in the room dries and fades away.

“I would,” Samuel says.

“What?”

“I would,” Samuel says. “Go to Hell. For you.”

“I hate you!” Yvonne cries.

Her eyes turn on the chimera, burning. They flash the deepest violet. Death’s scythe comes down. The chimera’s tendrils catch the blade. They tremble. The creature stands there, wreathed in light, as the blade presses closer towards its skin.

“I’m famine,” says the last horseman quietly. Her name is Theresa. “I’m emptiness.”

“You’re late,” Sarah says.

“Cafeteria,” Theresa explains.

“Ah.”

The giant robot Famine is a shape cut from the air. Its great pneumatic fist rams the chimera’s heart. The creature shivers. It keens. It releases its grip on Death’s blade. The seal of Death falls upon it. Love is gone from the room, and emptiness prevails.

“There’s no point,” Yvonne says, after a while.

Samuel looks at her.

She hasn’t gotten up yet. He’s made it to a chair.

“I stopped studying,” Yvonne says, “because I found out what happens to Death.”

“Ah.”

“When Death is a senior,” she says, “When I— next year. Next year I’ll fall in love with you. Because you have that sword. I’ll fall in love, like every Death with every War, but before the ground caves in, I’ll die.”

Samuel shrugs.

“Like I care,” he says, and struggles up, and leaves the room, all trembling.

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