The Fifth

The door to War-King Magnus’ personal quarters is opened by one of the two guards stood on either side of the door. They are both armed with polearms which they hold in one of their hands. Ishma pays them little mind as she passes through the open doorway into the large open room beyond. She has to admit that for a monarch the War-King has very little in the way of furniture and that surprises her. She had been expecting some overly and elaborately decorated space even though this isn’t his permanent residence. She has no idea where his permanent residence is.

In fact, she thinks that this is the first time the War-King has visited Skywall since being conquered by his army. She can still remember that day, the bodies, the blood, the smell of the burning dead. It’s like it only happened yesterday, but she knows that it didn’t.

Ishma stands in the middle of the vast space furnished with only a four poster bed, a table, wardrobe and two sets of drawers. Ahead of her is the opening beyond which lies a balcony. Over the opening white silk is draped, which the War-King parts with his hands as he re-enters his quarters. He is still dressed in a black robe trimmed with gold but now she can see that his eyes are grey in colour and that he is a couple inches taller than her. Though, he does look as thin up close as he did when she’d been in the middle of the arena looking up at him in the royal box. It is clear that he is an older man, her guess would be middle-aged. However, she would have thought a man of his age would be showcasing grey hairs, but he isn’t much to her surprise.

“Ah my dear, congratulations on your victory and on becoming the greatest fighter the arena has ever seen.” War-King Magnus says with a warm and polite tone. He is talking to Ishma like he has known her since she has born, but he hasn’t. Before today Ishma has never seen him before. She is sure of that and that is why she is just one of the reasons as to why she is wary of him. It is clear the War-King wants something, but what she has no clue what as she stands still clad in her amour, her arms folded across her chest.

“Come, make yourself comfortable. You are a guest here, my guest. You do not need to stand on ceremony.” The War-King assures her with a smile on his face while he gestures toward the balcony.

“Don’t be shy.” The War-King says after a short motionless silence has hung in the air.

Ishma drops her shoulders. She doesn’t trust the War-King but sees no harm in stepping out onto the balcony. Though, she refuses to let her guard down as she agilely covers the distance from where she had been standing to the silk covered opening. Unlike the War-King she doesn’t move the silk drapes out of her path and instead simply walks through them. They part for her just the same as they drift across her armour. She can’t feel the soft sensation of the material, but she can smell the lilac that they have been bathed in. Ishma rolls her eyes at the discovery before bracing her arms against the balconies stone railing. Her eyes gaze out over the city the kingdom of Skywall that lies beyond its confines. At one time she would have been fascinated by this view, but now she is sickened by it. This place is no longer her home. Most of the people that once lived in these walls are dead, including the children. She knows this for a fact seeing as she has heard that over the last couple months the soldiers have been bringing slaves in from nearby conquered kingdoms to work the mines in place of the children of Skywall.

“It’s a magnificent view, don’t you think?” The War-King asks from her side, but he isn’t looking at the view. Instead, he is studying Ishma’s face. He knows who she used to be but that doesn’t matter now. Things have changed, he tells himself as he blinks slowly, sure that she knows nothing.

“Why am I here, your majesty?” Ishma asks without answering his question. She realises that she is being blunt, but he did say that she should not act as though she is on ceremony, so she isn’t.

“Straight to the point, I like that.” War-King Magnus states as he licks his lips greedily.

“You have proved your strength in countless battles, so I ask for your hand in marriage. I need a strong queen to sit at my side and you would be perfect for the role, I think.” The War-King admits making sure to add flattery to his words that aim to convince Ishma.

“So what do you say?” War-King Magnus then asks with a grin on his thin face.

“That’s very flattering your majesty, but no. I’m an arena fighter, not a queen.” Ishma replies after a short pause. Is he mad? She asks herself. Why would I want to marry him? He’s an old man and the commander of the soldiers that conquered my home! And those same soldiers slaughtered my friends, family and neighbours before sending me to be a slave in the mines and then to die in the arena!

“No! NO! You dare to tell me no!” War-King Magnus bellows angrily. How dare this woman say no, he thinks to himself as a sneer tears across his face.

“Who do you think you are? I am a king. The War-King! Conqueror of the south, cleanser of the north! I own you and you think you have a choice? I asked the question out of courteously! Nothing more!” The War-King continues while his hands, which are down at his sides, shake angrily.

But Ishma says nothing in response to his outburst of anger and simply stares back at him with her bright green eyes.

“Silence will not soften my rage. You will marry me! That is your king’s want and your War-King always gets what he wants.” War-King Magnus continues as he leans toward Ishma. He hasn’t laid a hand on her, at least not yet. She wonders if he will dare. He saw what she did to his precious champion, does he think he’ll fare any better?

“My answer is still the same.” Ishma says through gritted teeth. She isn’t angry but she is losing patience with the man, king or not.

“What if I kill your people? The children, the last of your people, all of whom work the mines. Is your answer still the same then?” The War-King questions with a sick smile on his face.

“My people are dead. Your army made sure of that.” Ishma replies. If the man before her hopes to rile her up with threats against the few of the people of Skywall that remain, he has failed. Ishma really does believe that they are dead, whether they know it or not yet is irrelevant.

“You’re as foolish as your parents were. I see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in your royal bloodline.” War-King Magnus spits revealing that he knows exactly who Ishma was before Skywall was conquered by his army and that surprises Ishma.

“Does that surprise you? Did you really think that I would not recognise Princess Ishma Sarai of Skywall?” The War-King queries before breaking out into raucous laughter.

“Whatever my station and title used to be does nothing to change my answer.” Ishma fires back as she feels rage boil up inside of her. She isn’t sure why, whether it is because of the mention of her parents, her former title, or whether it is something else. Whatever the reason may be she can do nothing to stop it.

“You are as weak as your mother. She begged you know. Right before I killed her. Oh that surprises you. Is that because you were so sure that Severin did it? You pathetic little girl you only avenged one parent, not both.” War-King Magnus says admitting the truth of how Ishma’s mother died as he roars with laughter, mocking her for her lack of foresight.

But Ishma’s rage is becoming too much, her hands are shaking furiously as she tries to fight the urge to set it free. He isn’t worth it, a voice in her head states, but she silences it instantly. She doesn’t care if he’s worth it or that she can’t change the past. He killed her mother and for that he has to pay. Her eyes flare and glow as the rage becomes too much for her to contain. She has lost control and beyond the point of being stopped as the War-King suddenly stops laughing. Instead, his eyes fill with fear but he can’t move. He wants to, he even orders his limbs to obey, but they refuse. He doesn’t understand why he is immobilised as his fear threatens to crush his body. He has never felt anything like this is all his years, while Ishma’s face twists into a grimace of anger and pain.

“DIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!” Ishma screams loudly as green fire explodes from her body and incinerates the War-King in an instant. But the flame doesn’t stop there; it continues to spread, engulfing the palace, then the city streets, the homes, the market, the arena, the farmers and finally the mine. Before long the green flames cover the entire kingdom of Skywall. Everything that the flames touch is turned to ash in an instant and all the while Ishma continues to scream.

When Ishma finally stops screaming she lifts her head to find that the War-King is no more and that the city is in ruins. The green fire is gone. It disappeared as quickly as it came into being, but Ishma is unharmed. She doesn’t understand how or why though as she remains down on her knees, her eyes probing at the remains in front of her.

Somehow she knows that everything and everyone is dead. That she is all that remains in Skywall as four bright dazzling lights appear at her side. At first Ishma is sure they are formless, but by the time she drops her arms that had been shielding her eyes from the blinding flashes she can see them in all their glory.

Each one is clad in armour of some form of another but none of the four figures are the same in any way. However, Ishma feels no fear. Instead, she simply gazes upon the four figures that stand proud and confident as they look down at her. It is clear that they are waiting for her to speak, but she doesn’t understand how she can be so sure of that.

“Who are you?” Ishma says finally.

“We…we are the four horsemen.” A skeletal figure whose face is hidden beneath a hood of shadow says with a rumbling voice. The figures armour is fashioned from bleached white bones intricately and impossibly woven together.

“I don’t understand.” Ishma admits without thinking.

She realises quickly that she can’t take her eyes off the four horsemen.

“We have been watching you and we have a proposition we would like to put to you.” Another of the figures says with a strong commanding voice. His mouth is masked by a substantial beard that stretches down to his stomach. His eyes are as black as night but his armour is golden and polished to a shine, while a sword hangs off one side of his hip. The blade is enormous and Ishma wonders how the man manages to wield it due to its sheer size.

“And what if I refuse?” Ishma asks wary of another proposition being put her way.

“Then you shall be left to your fate.” One of the remaining figures, who had up until this point not spoken, says from beneath his blood red helmet. Twin horns sit atop the helmet; they are in line with one another as they stab skyward like rhino horns. Meanwhile his robes hang off his broad wide shoulders. This figures voice is calm and emotionless and nothing like Ishma would have imagined it to be.

“Then speak your proposition horsemen.”

“We seek you to join us as our fifth and final form.” The last of the four says with a warm voice. He smiles at Ishma. His eyes are blue, his hair black and reaching down to his shoulders while his armour is grey and ribbed. Of all of them, Ishma has to admit that he looks the most like her. That gives her more comfort than she would have expected, she realises.

“The fifth and final form of what?” Ishma queries for some reason needing an answer to this question. She isn’t sure why even as she asks it.

“Of the apocalypse. We are the ones that bring the end. But you would serve as the end. The state in which the worlds will exist once we have brought doomsday.” The warm voiced horseman explains patiently.

“But why me?” Ishma asks surprised as her eyes flick from horseman to horseman seeking answers she doesn’t know whether they are willing to provide.

“The answer to that is all around you.” The skeletal horseman answers succinctly and when he does Ishma knows that he is right. The greatest showcase of why they might be considered a candidate lies in the ruins of her home, the one that she herself destroyed with a single release of anger.

“What is your answer?” The red helmeted figure asks after a period of silence.

“I agree.” Ishma utters. She isn’t sure why, but somehow it just feels like the right thing for her to do.

“Then rise and become the fifth horsemen.” The black eyed horseman orders without his words being an order.

Ishma obeys and rises back to her feet. As she does her eyes take on a permanent glow, her armour evolves to become thicker yet retain its flexibility, while her nails become black and grow to become razor sharp and four inches in length.

“Your name will be…Desolation.” The four horsemen utter in unison as green flames dance about in the palms of her hands. A smile creeps across Desolations’ face as unbridled power flows through her. She can feel it and it makes her feel more alive than she has ever felt before in her whole life.

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