Volume One - The Four That Will Bring About the End-Time, and the Four That Will Seek to Oppose Them
A flickering, and the fire is alive. Orange flames burn in the inky blackness of the night.
Gileas sighs and sits back. Leans on the moulding husk of a tree stump. Lets his eyelids fall half over glazed eyes.
The firelight plays on his steel breastplate, but only dimly. He has greased it with thick, stinking goose-paste so that it won't shine or reflect in the darkness. The ancient designs are smooth with the oily grunge. He nestles into the wilting grasses and lets himself sleep, faintly, his eyes still half-open, still watching.
He stirs, after an hour. Keeps the fire alive. The motions are automatic, thoughtless. He is still half in the dream world, where he remembers all the faces of his old king's court. Of the one battle fought and lost one day on a wet and dreary morning.
Sleeps and dreams, but still his eyes are watching. Staring into the black gloom. Always wary. Always watching.
He is a knight, of an olden order. An archaic house. Perhaps forgotten by most in the lands he was born of. Certainly not known in the lands he walks now.
There is a new design on his chest. A design that dates back far, far longer than that of the Arthur-king. Far further back than time itself, mayhap. A design worked over those of the Green Knight, whose armour this was, before Gileas of Corbenic took it as his own.
The design is that of a clock-face, the numerals in stern, sober lines. The hands fixed at quarter past two o'clock. The design is that of the Clockwork, and the heraldry of its agent, the Clockwork Knight, who sleeps and watches under an alien sky in the blackness.
He knew of agents of that endless ticking thing before, but that is not the path he treads. He is a knight of the Clockwork, a mortal of free-will and choice. He acts as he will, where he can, and upholds oaths of his choosing.
But he does wear the device of the Clock. And he does do the deeds of the Clock, when it calls him to.
As it has tonight. As it has brought him to this desolate blackness, on a lonely and windswept grassy knoll, where he sleeps until the dawn.
There is a castle down below. Over the ridge of the hill. A castle where bad men are, and where bad men must be punished.
A castle of sorts, anyways. A castle of steel and Plexiglas. A castle that is not guarded by archers or men-at-arms, or a host of watchmen and gate-keepers, but by two security men with 9mms.
The castle is guarded by the laws of the city it dwells in, the city of New Atropos.
The Clockwork has brought its knight to another world, to do another deed.
He is the First of the ones that will bring about the End.
In a world where the Clockwork Knight's plate would read twenty to nine, a man is hunched, praying.
He prays to a god that doesn't exist, and knows it, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that he is praying, and is reassured by the fact that he has someone to talk to, whether they exist or not.
There is an signal, unheard and inexplicable, that tells him the time is now, and the man is rising. He twirls, raising his hands. They burn with sudden fury, a sudden intensity that is not fire or ice or anything but raw energy and power. To look at them is to see the world bending about itself, screaming as the corners are pulled taut and the whole canvas is stretched. He screams as his hands burn and he throws them, blasting the horrid thing out and tearing aside the wall of rock and stone and iron rivets.
Men yell. A bell is sounded. It clangs, panicked and disciplined all at once. The man screams and pivots, throwing the fury and rage of the things he creates and burning it across the castle. The ringing of the tin bell is cut off, suddenly and sharply.
The man is screaming and running, tearing down the fortress as he goes. His body is aglow with this strange and ugly burning power, and everything he thinks is rent apart and ruined, torn from existence and being. Great pillars wink out of tangible reality. Entire sections of the wall are torn apart and gone. People, lost. Disappeared. There is a whooshing sound as the vacuums - pure, untainted nothingnesses devoid of air, of shape, of colour, of anything - are filled, wind blowing as the molecules are simply sucked into the spaces, filling the gaps.
The man is taking atoms out of being, and the universe he lives in shrinks, contracting to close up the spaces.
He rages and he screams and he bellows and he weeps, and yet still he breaks the castle asunder until it is nothing. Literally nothing. A perfect square, a mile by a mile, in which he has stripped it to the brown sods of the soil. A square in which - for a moment - there is no blueness in the sky, only an empty nothingness. Then it is filled by sky, but not by clouds. They take longer.
The castle is gone. Everyone that dwelt within. Gone. The ramshackle huts and crops that had sprung up about the keep, smaller fragments of humanity drifting to join a larger hub, gone.
The man sinks to his knees. He cannot rage any more. The nothingness is filled around him. The universe shrunk, just that little bit. The atom number gone down. A minuscule fraction skimmed from the whole. Will they be missed?
The man's skin is pale. Bone and reddy muscles can be seen through gaunt cheeks. He is drained.
He puts his head in his hands, and weeps dry, no more tears to cry.
His name is Abbaddon. He is the Second.
A world where the Clockwork Knight's plate would read five o'clock.
He smiled slightly as he finished writing, and laid the quill down.
The black ink looked bright to him, as he watched it dry. Bright little ink-black letters. Neat, ordered. He knew where the letters were going. He had known before he'd started writing.
He'd always known.
Zerachiel closed his eyes and leant back, rocking the wooden chair on its legs. He looked young, muscular and well-built. Perfectly sculpted features, without blemish of stubble or grime or pox. A sculptor would have torn out his eyes in frustration, a painter broken his brush in two. He was all too beautiful, all too perfect.
There were few of his kind left. He knew this, as he knew everything.
He didn't open his eyes when the oaken door cracked, splinters spraying the stone room as some invisible force tore into the ancient wood. He didn't even open his eyes when the door gave, and the broken remnants were cast aside by some unseen might.
The room was dark, as it always was, Zerachiel having no need for candles or sunlight. He knew where everything was anyway. Now light streamed in, bright, orange light, glowing and burning fiercely, a sudden spark of anger, rage.
Metatron stepped inside. One hand burned ablaze, the skin unharmed, a ball of flames erupting from his very flesh.
His other was not so obvious in its intensity, but Zerachiel knew that it was deadly too, in its own manner. Blue, white, the cold colours of ice glimmered on his other hand.
Zerachiel did not open his eyes.
Metatron stepped forward. He ducked slightly to pass the broken door-frame. Immaculate white wings, like those of some giant dove, adorned his back, wings sprouting from his shoulder bones, skin merging with feathers.
Zerachiel knew him, had always known about him.
He was the man that was going to kill him.
Now he rose. Did not turn. Did not open his eyes. He spoke, his voice husky, suddenly old, aged. Weary.
"Metatron has come. The Church seeks me dead."
Metatron nodded, bluntly. His tanned face was harsh, deadset. No room for emotion. Not here.
"I know." Zerachiel smiled. "I know and I forgive you."
He lifted his arms, spreading them in a bizarre mockery of submission, the smile still broad on his face. An old man humouring a rebellious youth. A teacher, patient and wise, counselling his wayward student.
Metatron jerked. His hand rose, blazing flames, and gushed out, the fierce orange fire engulfing the writer in an instant, without cry of mercy. Not without pain.
The other hand rose. Ice flowed as fluidly as water, crashing in silent waves over the burning body. Freezing it in a final grimace, a final expression of agony.
Metatron's hands dulled. The glow of power faded. The wings folded, not gone, never utterly gone.
He picked up the page lying on the desk. It was thick, expensive paper, and was miraculously untouched by the fire still licking the wooden desk, the furnishings of the room burning and smouldering all around Metatron. He didn't pay them any heed.
There were words on the page, large, neatly inscribed calligraphy. Copperplate handwriting. Four words.
You are the Third.
A world where the Clockwork Knight's plate would read perfect twelve. Midnight. Midday.
The Detective smiles, wryly. He spirals, lazily, through the void.
Exiled. Imprisoned. A lone sable figure set on an endless backdrop of nothingness. An empty world. Devoid of anything.
Drifting. Thinking. Planning. Laying out his thoughts in neat, orderly queues and thinking. Always thinking.
The ruptured spleen of another floats by in the nothingness. The remains of another imprisoned within the world of perfect twelve. The Detective hadn't taken kindly to his fellow inmates.
Carelessly, the figure in black gestures, and the spleen thins, and spreads. He cannot make it nothingness, but he can break it up. Thin it out. He breaks the organ apart and scatters it across the void until he can no longer see it.
He thinks on. Waiting. His eyes twinkle, in the void, and in them all the majesty of the Clockwork can be seen. An echo, or reflection. The ghost of what was known. Still it is beautiful in its awesomeness. Wondrous to behold.
He is the Detective. The Fourth.