“The end is nigh!” according to the media, which is fascinated by the four cloaked figures riding out of the desert. A headline that’s about as believable as the existence of dragons.
Truth or hoax? Daphne isn’t paying much attention because she’s busy geeking out over the awesome relics that just came into her museum. She’s giddy at the prospect of getting to see them up close, until she drops one.
In her defense, she was attacked...by a guy made of smoke. Things might have turned out really bad if she’d not been rescued by a stranger.
A man who is also a dragon.
Yup. Dragon. It turns out they are real and super hot. Azrael is also domineering and dangerous with the most toe-curling embrace.
The end of the world began its steady march because of a cat. No one was surprised.
Somewhere in an arid land, where the sun beat down, baking the dirt, at the very rear of a shelf, in a closet rarely opened, sat a bottle that never gathered any dust. More than a century now it had occupied that spot. And before that, ten times as long in another home, showcased with pride. An heirloom passed down along the generations, so many of them that the story of the glass amphora was lost, its true value forgotten. Thus the bottle was hidden away and ignored.
The amphora bided its time. Settled quietly on that shelf, unassuming, waiting. Over the years, the muffled voices and noises that penetrated its hiding spot changed, as did the bedding shoved into this rarely used closet, each new sheet and pillowcase pushing the container farther back until it found itself in the farthest corner, never even sensing daylight.
It waited some more.
One day, something exploded nearby—it could have been a bomb or even a gas stove—rattling the very structure of the house, shifting the old stone. The bottle wobbled for a second, but cushioned between the wall and bedding, it steadied.
The house remained standing. For now.
But the process had begun. A crack appeared. Then another.
No one repaired the damage. And it got worse. A bullet came right through a window, the angle just right to hit the wooden closet door, where it remained wedged. Not close enough to help, but apparently enough to empty the house.
It didn’t remain abandoned for long. Transients moved in, searching the place top to bottom, looking for anything of value. They rummaged in the closet, shoving in their arms, their hands never quite reaching deep enough past the musty sheets to find the bottle.
The closet slammed shut, and the amphora quivered. Close. So close.
It wasn’t long before they returned, yanking on the sheets and blankets stuffed in the closet. They pulled out everything they could, revealing the bottle.
The glass was dragged forward enough to be seen. Daylight at last.
Freedom was at hand.
Rather than crack the top, the less-than-gentle hands shook the amphora. Peered at it. It almost got tossed to the ground.
The bottle was placed back in the closet, intact. The vagrants left, but they didn’t close the door.
Soon a new occupant moved in, a feline with ribs showing through its fur and a crooked-tipped tail. It sauntered past the closet, teasing with its leisurely walk.
The cat didn’t even deign to look. It left.
But it returned the next day. It entered the closet, drawn by a bobbing pinpoint of light refracted from the bottle. The cat chased it around, almost knocking over the amphora. It came close a few times, but the feline proved too graceful, teasing the amphora instead with the silken rub of its fur. As if to taunt, it spent the night curled around the bottle.
It took several days before the feline finally tipped it over and rolled the glass close enough to the edge. The tip of it protruded over the shelf. So close to falling.
Just give it a tiny push.
Because cats were ornery, it pushed the bottle away from the edge to the back of the shelf.
The bottle waited some more.
The feline skipped a few days before returning, this time playing more roughly with the bobbing pinpoint of light, knocking the glass hard enough it rolled to the edge.
The bottle didn’t fall, but it wouldn’t need much.
Here, kitty, kitty. Less actual words and more a thought. A command the cat ignored. It lay down and groomed itself.
Had to admire its suave nature. The bottle bounced a pinprick of light, trying to draw its attention. The cat chose to lick its genital area instead.
Apparently, today was not the day. Or maybe it would never happen. It should resign itself to spending eternity on the shelf.
The cat rolled and stretched, reaching out a paw that it placed on the bottle. Right on the spot. Only the slightest nudge would send it over the edge. The anticipation made the amphora hum with sound.
The feline growled and rolled to its feet. It hunched over the bottle.
The cat hissed.
Hit me. The bottle glowed and hummed some more. The cat’s growl rose in pitch, and it batted the threat.
The bottle tipped and dropped to the hard tile floor. It didn’t so much shatter as splinter. Hairline cracks formed in the glass. The cat leaped down beside it and sniffed.
The impact lines spread, and a hum of sound escaped. A hint of something other. The cat cocked its head and leaned closer for a better sniff just as the bottle exploded.
The cat yowled and wished it were somewhere else.
An ancient scream was released as the prison disintegrated, setting events into motion.
Deep in a desert, the ground trembled as an ancient tomb opened. Fissures appeared in the hard-packed dirt, turning it back into sand, the fine grains and pebbles sinking into the earth. An entire section dropped away, showing a widening funnel that swirled, churning rock into sand and getting bigger, as if a stopper had been pulled, until it all ran out.
A rift that hadn’t been accessed in three thousand years opened with a burst of power that radiated, pulsing outward, and all things living felt its passing. They just didn’t understand what it meant.
The innocence before the storm.
From within the whirlpool of dirt appeared four shapes atop steeds made of bone. As they marched steadily upward, motes of sand and dust coalesced to give their mounts shape. Of those riding them, nothing could be seen but the cloaks that covered them. They trotted up the side of the funnel as if gravity did not apply. The heavy plods of the hooves made steady progress up the slope. They said not a word.
At the rim of the funnel, they each chose a direction to face. Everywhere they looked, they could see only a barren wasteland.
And a mangy cat.
It stood north of the rift and meowed. A hand, encased in a gauntlet, leaned down to grasp it. Set it on its saddle. The horsemen kicked their heels and set off. No need to discuss their plans. They’d had three thousand years to hone them, waiting for the day they’d return.
They shimmered from view, as if a mirage, and yet that didn’t stop a dragoness named Elspeth—who sometimes saw things no one else did—from stirring in her sleep and muttering, “Should have known it would be a cat that broke the first of the seals.”
That left six.
Six chances to keep a great evil out of the world. But first, they should probably deal with the horsemen of the apocalypse.