Horsemen, Book 2
Ebook ISBN: 02238-00705
[ Futuristic Paranormal Romance, MMF ]
New York. A future filled with chaos and oppression. A good woman, haunted by her past. Long ago the Iceni warrior queen Boudica led her army to their deaths in a battle she had no hope of winning. Now Boudica has a mission: to lead the greatest revolt against oppression of all time. And to find peace with herself.
“We go now. We push for summit.”
The Sherpa urged Boudica to move from where she’d been resting, huddling in a small tent high at camp six just inside what mountaineers term the Death Zone — above eight thousand meters in the sky. Most men and women climbing this mountain used bottled oxygen once they reached the Death Zone. Some needed it before that point. Boudica accepted it gladly. It was just one more small measure of control, this time over her own body.
She exited the tent and looked around her. The night sky was blanketed in stars. Boudica imagined she could touch the stars this high up in the sky. It was midnight. Summit pushes always started around this hour in order for the climber to make it back down during the daylight hours. They would be tired from a long climb and not as alert as they were at the start. Today, she would stand on top of the world and look out over the vast expanse of sky and imagine she could see her home in Britain.
The trek wasn’t easy — especially in the dark — and someone living at or near sea level all her life shouldn’t have fared as well as she did, but Boudica was tireless in her quest. Up to this point, the entire team had been climbing slow and steady in order for their bodies to acclimate to the altitude, but this climb would be hard and fast. Boudica had to reach the top by sunrise or her army would have to wait until the next year. This was the day appointed to her. It was now or never.
“You must slow down. Save energy to make it back down.” The Sherpa had her best interests at heart, but she had no intention of slowing. She’d studied the route for years. Made the trip to Everest Advanced Base Camp several times over the years, but this was her first summit attempt. Now is the time. The voice inside her head was most insistent.
In the wake of the electromagnetic distortion weapon set in motion by the White Horseman, the way was paved for the Red Horseman. Now it was her turn. She was one of the greatest freedom fighters ever known. Her past fights had been to avenge her honor and that of her daughters and the Iceni people. This war was with oppression and those who brought it.
Later. It wasn’t time for that. Not yet.
Everest would be her first conquest. Not only was her army born of the aurora, but it would prove to her human generals exactly what she was capable of. War was inevitable without her because with the unrest over global martial law, there would be a revolt. Her job was to inflict the maximum amount of damage globally, but she also had another, more personal goal. One that would require a supreme amount of control over every possible element of this equation.
The trail was difficult, and she had to use the moonlight to guide her. Nothing that used an electrical current of any kind worked in this new world. It also meant no radios. Most of those who had planned on making the climb this year had backed out, but a handful of true mountaineers decided to brave it one last time. Likely by the next spring, everyone would have more important things to worry about. Boudica wasn’t a mountaineer by any means, but she had focused her entire being on making this climb since her emergence into this world with the other Horsemen several years before. She had a way of doing what she set out to do, not matter how difficult.
The night was exceptionally clear. No clouds. No wind. In short, a near impossible night on Everest. The top of the mountain clipped the jet stream, making a summit almost impossible except in a narrow window in the spring. Boudica, her party and guide had such a window, though it didn’t warrant weather as fair as this. There was something at the top of the mountain she needed to see, and it was as if the One who had sent her was intent on her reaching the peak.
“You slow down! Miss! You must be able to return.” The Sherpa was obviously agitated, but Boudica was uneasy. She needed to summit while the weather held. This high up, she should be able to see a change in conditions coming several hours away, but she wouldn’t bet her life on it.
Ignoring the Sherpa, she pressed on, her focus totally on the summit maybe three hours ahead of her.
“Boudica.” A low masculine voice in her ear sent shivers down her spine. He had as firm a grip on her arm as his thick gloves and her down coat would allow. “If you tire yourself too much, you won’t make it back. I’m struggling too much as it is. I won’t be able to help you down.”
“Aries, I’ve got to make it to the top. If I miss the dawn, the armies won’t come for another year.” She tried to keep going, but Aries held her back.
“I won’t be able to follow you, CiCi. You can’t lead an army if you’re dead.” He used the nickname he’d given her when they’d met a year prior. It always seemed too intimate when he used it, but she couldn’t bring herself to correct him. “There are many things I can conquer, but the heavens are not one of them. That realm belongs to Another.”
Aries always spoke with cryptic words. But he had always come through for her. It was he who gave her the means to gather her army. He who chose the generals who would carry out her commands. Still, he never interfered or offered suggestion unless she asked him to, and he was always at her side. He never left her, saying she was the next link in the chain and too valuable to die prematurely. There was something about him that bothered her, though. He was too perfect for this mission. Too good at what he did.
“It doesn’t matter, my friend. I doubt He Who Sent Me would bring me all this way only to let me die. If it must be alone, then it must be.”
“Just gather your spirit warriors and be down from here. You don’t belong to the heavens yet.”
She had no time to lose. She could feel it in her very soul. “I don’t expect you to follow. This is my journey, and I have to complete it.”
He tried to say more, and she could hear him growling his frustration behind her, but she pressed on, ignoring him. She didn’t spare any concentration wondering if he followed or turned back. She simply pressed onward. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.
One agonizing second in the blistering cold after another.
Control. It was all about control. She couldn’t control the mountain, so she controlled her own body and how it moved on the mountain.
Her hands and feet were so cold, she could barely feel them. They ached horribly, and she was sure she had frostbite. Her lungs burned with the need for oxygen. Her muscles burned with the exertion of the challenging climb.
The Third Step was her final big challenge before reaching the summit. The rocky band was steep and difficult to navigate, especially given there had been no previous expeditions this season to affix ropes and ladders to assist later climbers. She had to do it for herself and the team behind her.
She imbedded hooks deep within the ice and rock, then clipped on and continued her exhausting climb. Each step was nerve-wracking. Each hook she buried in the rock with the safety line attached was her salvation on the way down.
It took some doing, and more time than she’d have liked, but she finally made her way to the top of the Third Step. She looked up at the summit peak before her, shining in the moonlight, and sighed in desperation. It wasn’t necessarily that far, but the slope was about sixty degrees. She still had a hard climb ahead of her, and sunrise wasn’t that far off.
Boudica looked below her. Aries was at the bottom of the Step and still going, but he wouldn’t reach the top before she started back down. She had no time to wait. On she pushed. She could almost hear Aries screaming at her to wait for him, or turn around altogether, but still she climbed. She didn’t look back until she stood atop the summit. Finally!
The moon shone brightly over the vast expanse of snow-covered peaks, and the other members of her company were clearly visible below her on the mountain. Even though the weather was absolutely perfect, all of them but Aries had turned around. Even the Sherpas. It was as if everyone could feel the perfect calm was only a front for hellishness to come. But the stubborn man still climbed after her.
As she patiently waited for the nearing sunrise, she contemplated her relationship with the enigmatic man. He was always at her side. From the day she’d reentered the world — this time as the Red Horseman instead of a Celtic queen — he’d been there. He knew who and what she was, yet he cloaked himself in mystery. The only thing she knew for sure about him was his determination to see her reach the end of this journey.
All the Horsemen had issues in their past lives that made them ideal to perform the tasks they were assigned. Alexander — the White Horseman sent to conquer — died at an early age and thus didn’t reach his full potential as the king of the world. By accepting his challenge, he’d had a chance to complete goals in his life he’d never had the chance to before.
Boudica was sent to make war. She saw it not as war in general, but war with a specific purpose. Since the collapse and restructuring of the electromagnetic field around the Earth, and the complete failure of all electronic equipment, civilization had declined sharply. The lack of food processing and medical supplies and equipment were paving the way for the later Horsemen. Boudica’s job was to create a third world war. This time, however, it would be each country against itself instead of each other.
Normally, this wouldn’t be something she could bring herself to do, but the way the world’s governments were handling this crisis was so reminiscent of the way Rome treated the people of Britain in her time, there was no way she could ignore her calling. Summary executions were commonplace. With the collapse of the modern banking system, citizens were forced to pay with whatever they had of value. Property. Food. In some cases, children were sent to fortify the armies — some barely even old enough to hold a weapon.
It sickened her. Angered her. She felt betrayed all over again. For the children, she’d do this. Even if it meant her death, as it had before.
The sparkle and glow of a sudden aurora snapped her attention back to the sky. The new EM field acted strangely with the solar winds and other cosmic radiation, and auroras were common all over the world instead of only at the poles. Sometimes, Boudica thought the sky might actually catch fire. The sky lit up as if lightning flashed from cloud to cloud except they were above the clouds, had there actually been any. A myriad of colors glowed and glittered brightly in the early morning sky. It was hard to tell, but from what she could see in the moonlight, it looked like nothing obscured her view of the valley below the tallest mountain in the world.
The display before her was the most beautiful and frightening thing she’d ever seen. It was as if the gods fought over the fate of the world. She knew the outcome, but perhaps they struggled as to how deep mankind would sink into the mire of chaos this time.
Boudica! The voice boomed in her mind so that she staggered backward a couple of steps. Dangerous on the roof of the world. The time is at hand. You can no longer delay the wars that are ripe to spring up. Everything is set, awaiting your command. Give it!
“Are you the One who sent me?” She spoke aloud because she didn’t know what else to do.
I am His Messenger. That is all you need to know.
“You need to know, if I’m to do this, I’m doing it my way.”
You were given the conditions and the choice, Boudica. Nothing has changed. You were willing then, why not now?
“Because I don’t see how so much killing will help civilization. I’m doing nothing but adding to their misery.”
It’s not for you to question. It is for you to do as you were instructed.
“I’ve never been very good at taking orders.” At her words, a gust of wind knocked her back a couple more steps, but she stood her ground.
More than your compassion is at stake here, Boudica. All loss of life is regretted, but it is unavoidable. All this is a necessary part of life and growth of all civilization. Sometimes it must take a step or two backwards in order to move forward. You were sent here to start a world war, not to pick and choose who would live and who would die.
“But must the children suffer?” She’d heard this a thousand times since it was first put to her to take on this responsibility, but she didn’t like to see innocents die.
Everyone suffers, little one. Him most of all. He chooses the Riders and sets them on their path knowing the damage and destruction they will cause. Think you He can do that and not be affected? This is a time of suffering that cannot be avoided.
“But why? Why not just let things stay the way they are?”
For everything that is done, there is a greater purpose. He is looking ahead at what is to come. Generations and generations down the road, all this will have been necessary. Mankind will survive, and thrive. It sometimes takes a cataclysmic event to spark the imagination and survival instinct of man to push through a stagnant period.
“I don’t see how you could call the greatest technological explosion ever a stagnant period.”
This is not the greatest technological explosion ever. Not by a long shot. Man is only now doing things the Romans could do in your time and they need extensive computer modeling to do it. Man is too dependent on computers and it’s time they remembered where they came from. Trust me. When it’s all over, civilization will be greater and stronger than anyone could possibly imagine.
It was an old argument. One she’d had many times while she waited to enter the world. It was up to her and the other Horsemen to tip society over the edge. Alexander had already started the decline.
Still, if she did as she was instructed, the results would be catastrophic. The violence was escalating. She needed to focus that violence toward a common goal. Otherwise, anarchy and chaos would replace genuine government, and society would continue its decline into the greatest Dark Age mankind had ever seen. Boudica wanted to avoid that at all cost. If she was careful to control things, she might be able to minimize the effects now rippling through the world. She just wouldn’t say anything about it. This was her time. She was in control.
“I will go,” she said, sighing. “But knowing the end result doesn’t make my job any easier.”
No. But it might give you the strength to complete your task. You are a strong woman, Boudica, and you’ve chosen your allies well. Now, call the armies to you.
With his final words, the sun broke through the unnatural looking, aurora-filled sky. Its brilliance almost blinded Boudica as she looked out over the expanse of the snow-covered Himalayan mountain range. The scenic beauty was incomparable. Not a cloud marred the view, and she fancied she could see the entire world before her. She stretched out her hands. “I am Boudica!” she shouted. “You will know me and follow my command!”
Once again, the aurora snapped and glowed in the early morning light, building and building in size and intensity. Ghostly figures appeared from the cloud of light. They had no substance and little form other than to tell there were tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Millions. The number grew and grew until the entire sky was filled with the legions she would unleash upon the world. Awaiting her command.