When the End came, it arrived on the back of a red horse. War brought famine, and eventually death. The world collapsed around us, trampled under the riders’ hooves. Then the white horse came. Our saviour. We bowed to mighty Conquest on his alabaster steed, and he cut off our heads.
I stopped trusting horsemen after that.
We picked our way over the rubble, a slate and steel blur. Decayed towers stretched up above us, their few unbroken windows winking gold at us from the setting sun. The sun always set too quickly these days. The world belonged to the horsemen now. Our job was just to make it through the ever growing nights.
“Wait,” Māui called, and I turned back to see him scrambling up the side of a concrete beam. Iron rods stained with rust jutted from its side. There were other rusty stains as well. I didn’t point them out.
Reaching down, I grabbed his small hand in mine and hauled him up to my side. He straightened his coat and his backpack. The pack was almost as big as he was, but he wouldn’t let me carry it for him.
“Ok,” he said, once he was ready to keep going.
“We should stop. Find a shelter. Have a rest.”
“I can keep going.”
I shook my head, and placed a hand on his. “Even warriors need to rest.”
He smiled at that and let me lead him into the nearest smashed out building that still had some structural integrity.
The inside was the colour of charcoal, broken by flashes of silver -- tech that people clung to in the early days, before the black horse arrived, before they realised this was the End.
I started a small fire, out of sight of the road, and orange light flickered up against the walls, illuminating graffiti someone had left long ago.
It sates itself on the life-blood
Of fated men,
Paints red the powers’ homes
With crimson gore.
When Red arrived a lot of people debated its meaning. Many called it Ragnarök, and said this was the war to end all gods. Others said the Mayans had it right, and a Red signalled the approach of a solar storm to wipe us all out. Instead, the opposite happened, and the sun was dying.
“Dad, can you tell me about Māui again?” Māui asked from his place by the fire. When the End took his mother away, I started telling him the stories of his namesake. “The one about the sun.” He looked out towards the ink colored sky. We both knew it was too early to be so dark.
And so I told him the tale of how the cruel sun had dashed across the sky, not giving the people enough daylight, until Māui had made a hook from a jawbone and went to face him. Unafraid, Māui lassoed the sun, and held him down, forcing him to behave.
“Was the sun a god?” he asked.
“Some people thought so. Māui faced lots of gods.”
He was silent for a moment, staring into butter yellow flames. “Would he ever face a horseman?”
I looked up. “No one faces the horsemen.” My voice was sterner than I intended.
“But, if someone did, if someone convinced them to stop, maybe the world would fix itself.”
“It’s never going to fix itself,” I snapped, regretting it instantly when Māui flinched. I softened. “This is the world now, we just have to survive in it.”
The next day we found trouble. A group of travellers, a small family probably, had been attacked by bandits. Their food was gone, the daughter was injured, her thigh bleeding from a deep wound.
“Dad, we can help,” Māui said, tugging on my hand. I stayed at the top of the hill, looking down into the ashen valley. “Dad.”
I should have left then. My job was to look after my own child, not someone else's. But the father cried over his injured daughter. We all knew that without treatment she would be dead in a week.
I let Māui lead me to them, and I offered the man the last of our water to wash her wound.
Then the hoofbeats came.
I pulled Māui to me, and the mother grabbed her son also. The father clutched his daughter, but it was clear she couldn’t walk.
“Run,” I told him anyway. He shook his head.
Grabbing Māui’s hand, I towed him to the nearest shelter.
Red appeared. Armour like blood, astride a chestnut steed, the only thing that wasn’t stained with soot or ash. Bronze hooves clattered against the concrete, as the horseman of war descended towards us.
Māui pulled free of my grip and raced out. I called to him. He ran towards Red, now almost upon the father and injured girl. Placing himself between them, Māui faced the horseman.
Red dismounted, and removed his helmet. I blinked, horsewoman. She knelt down, looking at the cringing father, then placed an armoured hand on the girl’s leg.
Crimson light flashed from it and when she retreated, the wound was gone.
“Why?” the father asked, looking up in amazement.
“I was sent to bring war, and I did. But I’m tired of battle.” She looked over us, mounted her steed, and now I saw a flicker of soft sky blue ripple across its flanks.The others watched her ride away, but I watched my son. The boy who faced a god in the name of injustice. And just like that, four horsemen became three, and the world was that much closer to fixing itself.