The world ended not in fire and ice, nor in clouds of pollution. It was neither the rupturing of earth nor the death of our stars. It ended for reasons beyond science and understanding. It ended through hubris.
First came the rider upon his White horse, with crown and bow to conquer. He strode the skies and from east to west, north to south he scourged lands and nations. With his rule, came plague and illness, and the judgement of humanity began. Our firearms were useless, our wonders of technology were futile against the First of the Apocalypse. Our civilisations had turned against divinity and superstition, and when the last child renounced the light of God, that pride was our crowning doom. Across the globe, in the skies above, man, woman and child all bore witness to the Conqueror.
I was the last child to forsake God, and seven years ago, I saw the first of his Horsemen descend upon the mortal earth. Conquest ushered brother War, as man turned against its master and against one another. Old superstitions turned brother against brother and son against father. Allah, Christ, and Yahweh were invoked for the first time in centuries as reasons to war upon one another.
And so the rider upon the Red horse, whose flesh was painted with the blood of war, descended from the heavens and man turned its weapons against one another. In the streets of our cities, humanity turned on itself. It wrought ruin. Armies brought their might to bear. Children died. Men and women ripped through innocents with bullets and shrapnel.
As War ruled and reigned. The world turned to madness and chaos. The rider on the Green horse descended, and Famine swept throughout the countless homes of the earth. War had turned great stores of food to smoking debris, and fields were razed in fire. I watched my mother and father waste away to Famine’s power. He needed no sword, nor crown. He decimated, not with blood and wounds, but with withering time, and starvation. Bodies wasted away.
The Last rider came upon his Pale Horse, and the deeds of Conquest, War, and Famine came to fruition. Death rode across the scorched and poisoned earth, and so humanity died. On his steed of rotted flesh, he reaped life from man with a scythe in hand.
This was how the world ended. The Apocalypse.
My brothers and sisters, survivors of four years of the apocalypse, a year for every Seal, named me their Shepherd. The world knew me as the last renouncer of god and flocked to me. Our superstitions were bred in us, and I was a figure to them.
It made no sense.
“Shepherd, the Fifth Seal will soon be broken, and the Lamb will release the screams and cries of the faithful souls, and will ascend into heaven.”
“Hush now, Eve.” I pulled her against me, and my arms held her tight. We had two years left before the world would truly end. We birthed no children, and our time was measured. We treasured what little we had left.
“Shepherd, the Horsemen have called upon you,” she said, and with a sense of finality, she hugged me so tight, I felt the finality. She pulled away.
“I know. The call cannot be ignored, sweetheart.” Which was true, they appeared together in all skies, eyes and minds of the living. The summon the Shepherd to sit at their table, and feast with them for the breaking of the Fifth Seal.
“I will go to them.”
“Do not go without laying with me one last time,” she said, demand evident.
And we lay with one another, in the holy union of man and wife, as is God’s will.
I met with the Four in the ruins of Rome, at the heart of Christendom. The Basilica of Peter rose around us in my mind’s eye, memories of its destruction on the screens of my childhood, as my parents wept to see their holy city destroyed.
A circle table of dark wood with five chairs arrayed around it. Four people were already seated. The Home of Christ on Earth loomed behind them. I shivered and took my seat.
The Four Horsemen looked at me, as only divine beings could. They looked at me, through me and inside of me.
“Shepherd,” said Conquest the First.
“Shepherd,” said War the Second.
“Shepherd,” said Famine the Third.
“Shepherd,” said Death the Fourth.
“My lords and my kings,” I said in reply, with sweat beading down my forehead.
I looked at Conquest, his Crown upon his brow, garbed in yellow and white robes, not unlike the Popes of old. He looked kingly, as a conqueror should. Handsome and regal, he bore the crown with ease, as no human ever could. He looked at me as an emperor regards the lowest slave in his empire, as Caesar Augustus would look upon a plebeian. I felt myself shrink before him. He looked indifferent, but his bearing reduced me from the leader of humanity to a child in a world unknown.
“Man looks to you, child,” he said to me.
“I teach them only to look to God, and our Saviour, the Lamb of God.”
“And you would be His Shepherd?” he asked.
“I only act as my people need, they are lost in their ruin.”
“God wills it,” began Conquest.
“God wills it.”
“God wills it.”
“God wills it,” finished Death.
“God wills it,” I said, “but I will not see God’s children lose faith again.”
“And so you are their Shepherd, to bring them to the light of God?” asked Death.
I looked at Death, who spoke with a voice of whispering, insidious force. He was skeletal and wore skin like a cloak. It was draped over his skull. The torn and frayed flesh revealed ivory bone. The rest of him was a smoking mist. He was enshrouded in an immaterial robe. It was black, reached over his head like a hood, and splayed around his feet. Only his face was visible. The cloak smoked around him, the tendrils of black reaching outward. His scythe loomed from the darkness of his regalia. If Conquest unnerved, Death was the worst of his brothers. He was what all of us feared, we few survivors of these Four Horsemen, we feared our inevitable end and Death would bring us all to our Eternal Hell.
“The Seal shall be broken today, upon the site of the Lamb’s apostle’s place of crucifixion,” spoke War. It sounded a booming shout, after the calm statements of Conquest, and the infectious whispering of Death. His voice was sharp and it belonged to him as it would belong to a commander upon a battlefield. His eyes were bright red with the blood of his victims. Muscle rippled when he leaned forward. He had an evil grin that threatened violence. He lacked a neck, hidden under bands of muscle.
Famine spoke his wretched words, with wet mucous and hacking coughs breaking up his sentences, “We are … here to have you … meet your Lord … God, Christ’s Second … Coming.”
I froze, my fear dried up. “What?”
“The Lamb of God would meet the Shepherd of his flock,” said the eldest, Death.
“I am not worthy,” I replied.
“Humanity needs no longer know humility. Your forbearers ensured your doom through sin and excess, now your acts are past judgement, for it has been decreed in our coming.”
“He is nigh approaching,” said Conquest.
“The King of Kings will descend upon his White steed, and you shall know pain in your apostasy,” whispered Death. War grinned at me, and Famine coughed.
And with the timing of divine beings, who saw all, glorious light surrounded us five. Behind the Four Horsemen, stood a man swathed in white robes. His black hair fell to his shoulders in curls. His beard was wild and unkempt. He was dark skinned and seemingly unassuming.
The glory of the Lord shone through his mortal coil. I fell to my knees and wept, unable to look upon the face of God.
Then I heard the rapturous cries, and I knew the whole world heard. The vindicated lamenting of martyrs gone to God. Around the globe, men and woman fell to their knees and wept. They saw me before God and his Horsemen and knew their final doom.
In the language of his time, Christ, my Lord, said to me, “My child, never kneel to me. The sinner who has sought forgiveness need not kneel to the Lord God.”
“Here stands the Four of Horsemen of the Apocalypse, my son. From Conquest to Death. But there stands the ruination of you all,” said the Lord. I had yet to stand. His finger was wrapped in a haze of light, and it pointed to me.
“I did not know better,” I cried.
“No,” said Christ Jesus, “Humankind, the first horseman of the apocalypse, truly. Mankind, on their golden steed Hubris. You, the shepherd, were the first of my harbingers. You were the last to forsake god. Man breeds conquest, man breeds war, man breeds famine, and man breeds death. You, my son, are the progenitor of the Apocalypse. You were the last child to turn from the Light of God. Humanity bore pride to great heights, my child. It delivered you unto Evil.”
His words were Truth, they were universal, no matter the language. My soul understood God’s truth as I revelled in his glory.
“Now, Shepherd of Man, take your seat upon Hubris and let us break this fifth seal. It has been saved for you,” said the Lord.
“If they could be saved, I would have done what I could, my Lord,” I still wept. I sobbed and shuddered, but the Lord understood me, as I knew his truth. He saw my Soul.
His accusing finger turned into an open hand, and I took it.