Lightning crackled across the night sky. Gray storm clouds hung low, promising rain that would never come. Sarah Henley and her two-year old daughter, Mara, lay huddled together in the safety of their makeshift shelter, listening to the ominous rumble of thunder. A sound, something not part of the dry storm, brought Sarah up to her knees. She reached for her gun, only to recall she'd used the last of her silver bullets on a hellhound the day before and had not yet managed to acquire any more. So she turned to her backup weapon, a five foot, twin bladed samurai sword. Gripping the hilt of the sword tight, she leaned over and kissed Mara on the forehead. "Momma will be right back, baby."
The world outside their shelter was lit with a soft pink glow. The reflection of flames against the clouds. When the fires finally burned out she and Mara would find themselves enveloped in darkness thick as a heavy blanket. Sarah didn't like to think of that. She looked north, where she would normally have seen the Golden Gate Bridge. But the bridge, like so many other once familiar things, was long gone.
A sound of metal striking cement came from within the old fort battery. Sarah refused to take cover there, too many ways for something to sneak up on her. She glanced back at the shelter, which was covered on all sides by thin sheets of silver foil. It was hard to leave Mara there alone but if someone, or something, was encroaching on their turf it was best to deal with it quick.
It was much darker inside the battery. Cooler too, with the cement walls holding out the heated air. Sarah slowly stalked the halls. Her sneakers hardly made a sound, but even a slight noise would surely alert the intruder to her presence. She thought about taking her shoes off, then decided against it. If she had to run she'd rather not do it barefoot.
The sound she'd heard did not repeat itself and she began to wonder if it was all in her imagination. Ever since the Collapse, paranoia was a common condition among the survivors. Paranoia could be good, it could keep you alive, but it could also drive you mad, make you hear things, see things, and with Mara depending on her Sarah couldn't afford to start slipping in that direction.
She was about to give it up and go back to the shelter, when she turned a corner and came to a startled stop. Her mouth gaped at the sight of a tall, grey stallion standing in the middle of the empty room. About a month ago, Grady had claimed he saw one of the horsemen and everybody laughed. Two days later the pox got him and he was dead. Nobody was laughing after that.
Sarah backed away, unable to take her gaze from the stallion's eyes. He looked like a normal horse. Maybe he was a normal horse who simply wandered in here from somewhere. It was possible. Surely more possible than a horseman come to visit this little, isolated spot she'd claimed as her own.
A whimper slipped past her lips. She thought of Mara and what would become of the little girl with no one to look after her. Something warm brushed against the back of Sarah's neck and she froze with her breath caught in her chest. Slowly, she turned, the hilt of her sword gripped even tighter in a sweat soaked hand.
Behind her stood a tall, dark eyed man, dressed as if he'd stepped out some movie about Greek gladiators. All gold and blood red with a plumed helmet atop his head and a broadsword in his hand.
Sarah had spent most of the last three years fighting hellhounds, wraiths, and all manner of other Tartarus spawned creatures. She had even once shot down a harpy from a rooftop using a bow and arrow. But to face a horseman was too much.
scape was the key to survival. If only she could get Mara and get away from here, surely the horseman wouldn't give chase. Sarah didn't think about what she was going to do. Thinking too much was a sure way to get yourself killed.
She spun around and ran toward the stallion. No way to know how it would react to her pulling herself up into the saddle and no time to worry about it. The stallion didn't bolt or buck or even shy away and when Sarah kicked her heels into its sides, it jumped forward toward the doorway. Sarah leaned low to assure she wouldn't slam her head into the top of the arch.
As they passed the horseman, Sarah gave her sword a one-handed spin, not even imagining she could harm him but only hoping to prevent him from turning his broadsword on her. The blades of the sword whistled as they cut through the air.
With a thunderous pounding of hooves, the stallion raced out of the battery and into the warm night. Sarah pulled back on the reins when they neared the shelter, then leapt from the saddle and dove inside to retrieve her daughter. The little girl lay sound asleep on the blankets.
Sarah started to lay aside the sword, only to pause when she saw blood splattered across both blades. Was it possible? Only one way to find out. She gathered up her weapons and her daughter and stepped back outside. She glanced at the battery, knowing what she had in mind was crazy. But then, Grady had always said she was a little crazy.
"Hold on tight, baby," Sarah said as she settled Mara into the saddle. The little girl obediently grasped the pommel with both hands, never saying a word.
Taking the reins, Sarah led the stallion back inside the battery. Back to the hall where she first saw the horseman. A pile of golden armor lay on the floor. No more than that. When she reached down to touch the helmet, it shrank beneath her fingers until it was just her size. It turned silver, then the plume fell away and the sides of the helmet shifted to form a pair of wings. Sarah picked the helmet up and settled it on her head.
The broadsword was much too large and heavy a thing for her to lift, but she tried it anyway. And was only mildly surprised when it transformed into a slim katana before her eyes. Sarah gave the sword a few experimental swings, then turned to Mara and smiled. "Looks like momma's going hunting."