Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.
Revelation 6:1-2 New American Standard Bible
“Wait, wait, wait,” Klaus sputtered out with a jolt, leaning forward so far he was practically laying down on the table. “I thought Five spent years alone in the apocalypse. Like literal decades there.”
Hazel nods thoughtfully. “That’s probably accurate.”
“But, you just said they were kids?” Luther questioned, confusion thick in his tone. For a moment he thought perhaps he had missed something, but based on his siblings’ expressions they were all just as confused.
“Yes, that is correct.”
Klaus tossed his head back and groaned. “Dude! Can you try to be a little less super unhelpful maybe?”
Hazel, for his part, looks entirely unperturbed by their impatience. A man who does things on his own terms, in his own time. Luther can respect that. However, at this moment, Klaus is surprisingly right. It’s very annoying.
“It wasn’t all at once,” Hazel finally allows eyes flickering between each of them, searching for something.
“Five went back to the apocalypse more than once!?” Luther blurts out before he can stop himself. It’s quite surprising. With the loathing Five used to describe his apocalyptic living situation, he can’t imagine that his brother would’ve returned once he left.
Hazel shoots him a strange look. “He didn’t go back willingly…” he begins, the same tone Five used to take when pointing out the faults in his mission plans, as though explaining something to a particularly dull child.
Luther bristles but then Hazel is rising, pushing his chair back as he goes.
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I feel very comfortable talking about this. If Five hasn’t told you…”
The sweep of collective panic from his siblings is instantaneous. Hazel is their only source of information and they’ve barely learned anything. If he leaves, they’ll have intentionally gone behind Five’s back and gained nothing but a few vague facts and more questions then before.
Allison’s mouth is desperately parted, seeking the words to convince him to stay without the use of a rumor, but she seems at a loss. It’s hard to justify prying into their brother’s private life to a past coworker. Nevertheless, Luther racks his brain for something to say. He needs to salvage the situation, but he’s never really been good with his words…
In the end it doesn’t matter, Klaus beats him to it.
“You know what else didn’t make me feel very comfortable Hazel – being tied to a chair and tortured for two days. That didn’t make me feel very comfortable at all and yet I had to go through that.”
A second of tense silence. Another.
And Hazel slumps back down into his seat, glaring weakly at Klaus. Luther feels the relief in his bones.
“I did see them once,” Hazel finally grants them after a brief period of silence.
“Wait you knew Five before all this shit?” Diego asks incredulous. “And we are just learning this now?”
“Didn’t say I knew him,” Hazel corrects quickly. “Just saw him. The Handler loved showing off her possessions.”
Something inside him tenses at Five so casually being described as a possession. By Diego’s sudden white knuckle grip on his mug and Ben’s subtle shift to cross his arms over his chest, his brothers (and by extension, the interdimensional monsters residing inside said brothers) don’t like it very much either.
“It was when I first started at the Commission. The Handler showed up to recruit me with Cha Cha. Paired us together right off the bat. Explained the basics and gave us a job to complete. Said we should consider it a trial period. If we completed the assignment and managed to work well enough together, we’d get the gig.”
Hazel sighs heavily, a tiredness in his eyes Luther has also seen in Five.
“We finished the job - nothing too difficult for our skillset. Neither of us were of the disposition where killing was particularly aversive. So they brought us in to finalize our contracts...”
The Handlers heels clicked as she sauntered down the hall of the Commission headquarters.
“This is a nice place. Will we be spending time here often?” Hazel asks, eyes scanning the lavish furnishings and high arched ceilings of the lobby.
The Handler pauses, turning with a bright smile that doesn’t quite seem to reach her eyes. “Oh no, no, no. Most of the floors in this building are reserved for the higher ups. I’m afraid you simply don’t have the clearance. All the things you’ll need are on the lower levels of course – training rooms, supplies, infirmary. But I doubt you’ll be here much at all actually. We’ll keep you quite busy out in the field.”
“Of course,” Cha Cha nods with a quick glance at Hazel, as if to dare him to protest and the words die in his throat. One job together was enough to know this wasn’t worth the fight.
Didn’t mean he couldn’t be upset about it. Of course, all this luxury, but they’ll be accommodated in hostels and paid, what Hazel now realizes, far too little given the organization’s wealth. Bureaucracy at its finest.
The Handler watches the quick exchange with hawk like attention. “Problem?” she intones, one carefully plucked brow raised in question. When they hurriedly assure her there is none (though Hazel figures there is one) she nods, before suddenly turning on her heel once more with a quick, “Right this way then” thrown over her shoulder as she goes.
She stops at the end of the hall in front of an old caged elevator with bars of gold trim. Sliding the grate open she walks in, Cha Cha following and Hazel shutting the grate once more behind himself. Hazel gapes for a moment at the number of floors – there had to be at least one hundred, in what looked to be, at most, a three story building from the outside. The Handler punches the button for the proper floor and the elevator lurches to life.
In the small space, Hazel shifts uncomfortably, searching for something to focus on as the elevator descends deeper and deeper. He can feel the Handler's eyes on him and it’s almost like she's enjoying his discomfort. He could be mistaken, ut either way, she’s standing far closer than she needs to.
Blessedly, the elevator comes to a stop and the three step out. The Handler keeps a brisk pace, navigating them through a maze of halls and pointing out places of interest along the way. She never bothers explaining the contents of the locked rooms they pass or any other floors and they don't bother asking.
After the quick tour, she allows them to ask any lingering questions and then apparently satisfied with them, leads them back to the elevator with the promise of dropping them off in the proper office to finalize paperwork.
Hazel can't help but notice that instead of pressing the button for one of the upper floors, where he knows the offices are located, she touches her finger to a keypad and selects one of the lower sub-basements.
He exchanges a quick, discrete glance with Cha Cha. The Handler catches it all the same.
“There’s just one last stop we need to make and then you’ll be on your way.”
The elevator stutters to a stop once more.
The difference between this level and the ones they've seen is stark. The hallways are clinically white and devoid of any hints of life. They don't come across anyone here. Every door is shut and Hazel doesn't hear a single sound aside from their echoing footsteps. There are surveillance cameras monitoring every inch of space.
Finally, the Handler pauses in front of a door. She scans her finger on the keypad and ushers them in when the door opens with a click.
The room is a viewing area. It's a long, thin space, with windows all along the front side opening up into a training arena down below. The Handler forgoes the seating and walks right up to the window, peering down.
“Excellent they’re just starting! Let’s watch for a moment why don’t we.”
“Starting what?” Hazel questions as he approaches with Cha Cha.
There are armed guards in heavy tactical gear all along the sides of arena. Guns held at the ready.
In the center of the room, there are six people. Four of them, he realizes, are children. Or perhaps more accurately, teenagers, 16 years old at most. Three stand facing the left, shoulder to shoulder in a lineup – hands at their sides and chins raised. Two boys and a girl in the middle. On the other side and separate from the rest, the fourth teenager is fiddling with his hands in agitation, pacing back and forth like an animal trapped in a cage. Looking directly at the viewing room and in the middle of the two groups, stands a big, burly military man in uniform. When he catches the Handler's gaze her nods.
On the floor between them all, is a women. She's in her late twenties and she's sobbing desperately. Pleading in a language Hazel doesn’t know.
“Desensitization,” the Handler replies, eyes never leaving the scene, “It seems the Trainer is focusing on Conquest honing his power today. What a rare treat”.
“I did this yesterday,” the boy standing alone snarls suddenly, whirling to face the Trainer.
This must be Conquest, Hazel supposes. A strange name, so he guesses it must be a code. Not unheard of in this line of work.
“And you’ll do it again everyday until you stop hesitating and again whenever I ask after that,” the Trainer announces with an air of impatience. “Now, kill her.”
Hazel stiffens, a sinking feeling settling into the pit of his stomach.
“Fine,” Conquest declares, gutting his chin out and pulling a gun fluidly from its place at his hip, pointing it at the women on the floor who shrieks louder at the sight. The air of confidence he’s attempting to exude is shattered by the way the weapon shakes in his hold.
Before he can fire, the Trainer throws up a hand to stop him.
“Not like that.”
Conquest visibly pales.
“Why not?” he finally grits out, anger replacing fear as he gesticulates with the weapon. “Why does it matter how I do it?”
“It matters because you’ll do as I say,” the Handler replies, voice sharp as steal. “Drop the gun.”
The boy complies. Dropping the weapon and kicking it away and behind him.
“Now kill her. I won’t ask you again.”
But Conquest doesn’t move and Hazel can almost feel the Trainer’s annoyance.
“Very well, how about some motivation?”
The Trainer pulls a gun from its holster at his side. For a moment, as he releases the safety, Hazel thinks he’ll shoot the woman in front of him himself. Instead, he turns suddenly and fires without warning, shooting the boy beside him in the leg.
The boy gives a startled shout. The shock and pain too much to keep him standing, he drops to the ground with a cry.
“Five!” the girl yells, rushing forward as if to check on him. The other two boys tense like they’re going to move as well, but before any of them have taken more than a single step, every gun in the room cocks and aims towards the center.
“In this room he is only Death. You’d do best to remember that War,” the Trainer growls at the frozen girl before making his way towards the wounded boy (Five? Death?).
The Trainer grabs the child, dragging him out of the lineup and back to his original position in the center. A scream rips from the boy’s throat as he’s manhandled into a kneeling position, putting pressure on and exacerbating the injury. Throwing an arm around his throat to keep him still, the Trainer pushes the barrel of the gun into the back of the Death’s head.
At the threat to the fourth’s life, the other three teenagers pale.
“I don’t recall giving either of you permission to move,” the Trainer growls eyes flicking to his left. With a nudge from the boy still standing, the girl stumbles up and resumes her stance, though her eyes keep glancing frantically at the boy on his knees. At the end of the lineup, the boy who had nudged her, has his hands clenched in tight fists at his side, his jaw working back and forth as he grinds his teeth.
“Now,” the Trainer begins, voice calm as he turns his attention back on Conquest, “will you be requiring further motivation Conquest, or can we continue with this simple exercise?”
Conquest is trembling, eyes wide with horror as he takes in the bleeding boy.
"Pl-please," Conquest begs, "please don't make me do it again..."
“It’s o-okay,” and it takes Hazel a second to realize it’s Death whose speaking, voice shaking and tight with pain, but gazing directly at Conquest. “It’s okay... if y-ou ca-n’t Chase…” the boy cuts off as the Trainer shakes him in warning. With a pause to take in a stuttering breath and a pained grimace, the boy clears his throat and continues defiantly, “You don’t have to d-do it. I can take it.”
The Trainer abruptly releases his grip, only to pistol whip the teen in the back of the head with such force that the boy is violently thrown back down to the floor. The weapon never wavering from where it's pointed at his head, the Trainer kicks out vindictively. He forces the boy on his side before stepping down on his leg, grinding his heel down viciously on the gunshot wound.
Death screams in agony and Conquest roars.
Hazel has never heard anything like it in his life. The sound makes his hair stand on end. The boy looks furious and Hazel swears his eyes are glowing. A moment later, he throws himself forward and suddenly Hazel is not looking at a boy at all.
Where Conquest had leapt, a Bengal tiger now stood. The poor woman screams louder, terrified as the tiger pounces, lunging for her throat.
Cha Cha tenses beside him, looking every bit as shocked as he feels.
“Who the hell are these people?” she questions.
“Aren’t they something," the Handler says proudly. "These are my Horsemen. We are so very fortunate to have acquired them. They’re gifted. Every one. The result of a strange anomaly in time.”
“Again.” the Trainer announces. “Kill him.”
Below, the women's body has been dragged away. A bloody smear painting the direction she'd been taken. A man now sits before them bound and gagged, body trembling as he watches the tiger silently.
The tiger however, makes no move to action, lowering its head and baring his teeth at the Trainer instead. If the Trainer is concerned by the sign of aggression, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he slowly shifts his body weight, steadily pressing down on the gunshot wound his foot had been resting on with increasingly greater force. Beneath him, Death whimpers weakly. A pained, broken sound.
With a snarl, the Bengal tiger becomes a timber wolf and strikes.
The body is dragged out. A new victim is brought in.
“Again.” A grizzly bear roars.
“Shouldn’t he be taken for medical attention?” Cha Cha asks and Hazel is relieved to see hints of hesitation on her face.
“Oh, he’ll be fine,” the Handler waves off nonchalantly. “Our doctors are the best after all. As long as he’s not dead, they can heal any minor training injury like this just fine.”
A gunshot wound to the knee doesn’t seem like a minor training injury to him but Hazel keeps his mouth shut.
“Again,” the Trainer bites out.
A horse trumpets, a loud war call and Hazel looks over just in time to watch a great white stallion rear before slamming its hooves back down on the man underneath it. Blood has splattered onto the three other children. Hazel’s stomach rolls with nausea and he turns away, unable to bear watching the stallion continue to stomp the man to death.
The Handler however looks giddy. It’s the first genuine smile he’s seen on her face since arriving, Hazel realizes with a start. She’s deriving pleasure from watching this. From forcing terrified children to murder. Because they are children and given the way the girl is trembling from head to toe, they are clearly terrified.
"Why are we here?" Hazel forces himself to ask at last.
“I do love watching them train,” the Handler states, “But more importantly, I think it's necessary that our new hires see this. I think it makes a lasting impression.”
She tears her eyes away from the scene below to look at them, all traces of fake kindness gone from her face.
“If you ever think to try and leave us. Break contract or anything of the like. This is what will become of you," she gestures below where a reticulated python is strangling its victim to death.
"They're still training now. They don't like the killing, not yet, but they are exceptional at it. One day I'm sure, they'll come to enjoy their work, it does take some getting used to. In the meantime however, they'll need the practice. Then in a couple years time, they’ll be the ones coming after you in the field if you try to run. And I can assure you, they'll be infallible."
Hazel's blood turns to ice in his veins.
Those couldn't all be past Commission workers...could they?
“Just something to consider," the Handler finishes, faux smile returning to her face. "The Commission is not an organization to betray lightly. You will not escape with your life.”
The beat of silence that follows is stifling.
“Well, let’s move along then,” the Handler says turning away and gesturing towards the door they entered through. "You've got contracts to sign!"
Conquest must’ve killed the man again, because as they go, the command rings out once more.
He spares the children one last glance before he’s out the door and decides right then and there never to return. That despite the appeal of the luxury within the Commission’s headquarters, he’d rather avoid the place at all costs.
Hazel's hands are cupped around the mug when he finishes, eyes downcast.
Luther’s mouth feels dry.
He tries to imagine it. Being forced to kill like that – at 16 years old.
He closes his eyes. Takes a moment to ground himself but his mind suddenly conjures the image.
Five bleeding out on the floor, looking so, so young. Vulnerable and afraid and alone.
He snaps his eyes back open before his thoughts can spiral further.
“Fuck,” Diego breathes, eyes glazed and lost.
For once, Luther can't help but agree.