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Strife: I know! Let’s play a game!

Death: [Sighs.]

War: [Groans.]

Fury: [Rolls her eyes.]

Strife: What? It’ll be both fun and useful.

Death: Useful how?

Strife: As a team-building exercise!

Death: An exercise in futility, more likely.

Strife: Oh, c’mon. At least hear me out.

Death: Fine. Speak.

Strife: Alright, so… we never talked about what our brands mean, right?

War: No.

Strife: Is that like, “no, not right”, or like, “no, we never talked about it”?

Fury: Oh, get on with it already. What is it you want us to do?

Strife: Well, here’s what I have in mind. Three of us take turns guessing what the fourth one’s brand means.

War: Why not simply explain it?

Strife: What’d be the fun in that? This way, we learn not only some amusing factoids about each other, but also something about how the others think and solve problems.

Death: And what if I don’t want you to know how I think?

Strife: You just did, bro.

War: You already know how I solve problems. By cutting off their heads and sticking them on spikes along my way!

Strife: Yeah, not what I—

Fury: Let us play. It can’t possibly be more boring than sitting with the three of you in silence and watching the fire turn to embers.

Strife: This! What she said.

Death: [Sighs.] So be it. Who will be the first… subject?

War: It is only fair that Strife be the one, as it was his idea to begin with.

Strife: Sure thing. Bring it on!

[Silence.]

Strife: [Laughs.] I knew it. None of you ever even thought about it before.

Fury: You have?

Strife: Oh, absolutely. I regularly lose sleep over it.

War: That’s… disturbing.

Strife: Your lack of humor is disturbing.

Death: Is it an alchemical formula?

[Blank looks.]

Death: Your brand, Strife.

Strife: Oh! Ooooh, that’s clever. Wish I thought of it! Quicksilver would fit me perfectly, right? But sadly, nope. That’s not it.

War: The rune in the middle – is it not your third eye?

Strife: Uh… close? But not exactly.

Fury: And those are your curved blades.

Strife: You’ve got the right idea, sort of, but not quite.

Death: Your pistols, then?

Strife: Bingo! The mark of the gunslinger, baby.

War: Ah. Then the rune is for your second sight?

Strife: You got it. See? I’m easy.

Fury: That’s one way of putting it.

Death: Mine should be straightforward as well.

Fury: Indeed. A skull, and the scythes.

Strife: That’s a description, not an interpretation. And it’s not a skull. It’s a soul.

War: It is neither. The sigil is to be read as a whole, and represents the Reaper.

Death: You are sure we have not spoken of it in the past?

War: Yes.

Death: “Yes” as in, “yes, you’re sure”, or “yes, we talked about it”?

Fury: He does that on purpose.

Strife: I used to think so too, but then I figured out that you can say “yes” and “no” without parting your teeth. Really, his whole vocabulary is built around that.

Death: At least he has a vocabulary.

Fury: [Snorts.]

Strife: I didn’t—

War: Was my guess correct, brother?

Death: It was.

Strife: That’s what I was saying with the vocabulary thing! War is the smartest of us.

War: And the strongest.

Fury: And the most insufferable. Your own brand can be nothing other but your bloated ego in perpetual expansion.

Strife: Ouch. You don’t take no prisoners, do you?

Death: It’s the blade geyser, isn’t it?

War: No.

Strife: Huh. I always thought that too. You wouldn’t put Chaoseater on your forehead, right? That thing hardly needs advertising.

War: No.

Strife: Is that a—

Fury: As you both should know, but apparently don’t, in angelic culture, the branding is unrelated to combat proficiency. It needn’t be about his magic, nor about his fighting style.

Strife: Aaaand, she drops a hint! [Mimes making notes.]

Death: A misleading one. Fury wasn’t raised by angels.

Strife: See? This game is pure gold. Not only I learned that Fury wasn’t raised by angels, I also learned that you two exchanged your pre-Horsemen histories. Wait, don’t tell me—it was that time you bunked together, wasn’t it? Tee-hee, I bet some quality bondage—oops! I mean, bonding—went down.

Death: Only you keep your history secret. If you wish to learn ours, you need but ask.

Strife: Really?

Fury: No.

War: Sister, won’t you make a guess?

Fury: About your brand? I already have. Aw… did you think I was joking? I wasn’t. Whatever it is, I’m sure it represents you, in some glorified fashion. A sun rising out of an eclipse? A world torn asunder by its inner fire?

War: You flatter me.

Strife: Bruh… I hate to break it to you, but that was not flattery.

War: I could never invent something so poetic.

Death: Pfft. Poetic. The only thing that matters is whether it is accurate.

War: No.

Fury: Gah! You are definitely doing it on purpose.

War: What?

Fury: The yes/no thing! Your “no” could’ve equally been a disagreement with Death on what matters, or a reply to his implied question on the accuracy of my “guess”. But instead of providing enough information to make yourself clear, you make us pull it out of you, like rotten teeth!

War: Perhaps you should ask better questions.

Death: [Laughs.]

Fury: Unbelievable.

Strife: Alright, War – enlighten us.

War: Is explaining not against the rules?

Strife: Rules? What rules?

War: You said—

Fury: Oh, for Creator’s sake. Just spit it out already!

War: [Blushes.] It is… the Apocalypse. The circle is the cycle of life and death, and the lines that cut it, those vying for dominion over all Creation in the End War.

Strife: Ok… I can see it, I guess. Heaven, and Hell, and… don’t tell me the big one is for humans.

War: At the time of our branding, it was for the Nephilim. For we… they… stood neither with Heaven nor Hell. After Eden… I assigned it a new meaning. It stands for the Balance.

[Silence.]

Death: You are the smartest among us.

War: And the most handsome.

Strife: Let’s figure out our one and only lady-rider before we start giving out rewards and accolades, ok?

Fury: [Yawns.] I can hardly bear the anticipation.

War: It is a heart. The heart of a warrior, pierced times and again, yet still beating.

Fury: [Gives him a long look.] That’s… poetic.

War: But is it accurate?

Fury: No.

Strife: Ah, so that is how you ask a yes/no question.

Fury: [Snorts.]

Death: What I see is… the thorns of a beautiful rosebush.

Strife: [Snickers.]

War: [Bows his head to hide a smile.]

Fury: Really.

Death: Am I not allowed some humor, like you were, with War? Forget the rose, then, and let the thorns stand for your… highly approachable personality.

Strife: [Rolls on his back, laughing.] Bro, you’re killing me.

Fury: Stop making a fool of yourself. It isn’t even funny. And it’s your turn to guess.

Strife: Ok. [Wipes the corners of his eyes.] Ok. Well… I always assumed the barbed curve is Scorn. ‘Cause I’m simple that way. But the uh… other thing. I don’t know what that is. Looks to me like the human rune, V.

War: V could stand for Victory.

Death: Virginity?

Strife: Vulva? Vagina!

Fury: I take it back. Staring at the fire in silence is infinitely preferable to this.

Death: The V-rune could be a lightning strike that splits the ground.

Strife: Haha, now you’ve gone all poetic too, big D! I should write this down, for posterity. Let no man say that the last surviving Nephilim had no sense for the finer things in life, such as—

Death: A slow death by pulling out the vocal cords of those who enjoyed the sound of their voices too much for their own good.

Strife: [Mimes making notes.] Beautiful! Keep it coming!

War: Sister? Won’t you tell us?

Fury: [Sighs.] The “V” is not a rune. It’s the symbol of the Horsemen – apparently too stylized even for the Horsemen themselves to recognize. And beneath it is a symbol of scorn, yes, but it wasn’t inspired by the weapon. Rather, the weapon was inspired by the symbol. It used to stand for the contempt I felt for the rest of our race, and after they were gone, for all of Creation. I thought them beneath me. Beneath us. Unworthy of our struggles to maintain the Balance. Sometimes… I even despised the three of you.

Strife: I’m shocked, Fury. Speechless! Wouldn’t’ve guessed it in a million years. [Mimes fanning his face.] Ooooh, my heart can’t take this. Someone, pass me the smelling salts!

Death: This is no time for your jokes.

Fury: Let him joke. I deserved it.

War: You said it used to stand for scorn. No longer?

Fury: [Nods.] Nowadays I choose to think of it as… a spiked shield we raise in defense of humanity. I’ve come to believe that has been my mission—our mission, the real one—from the beginning. Only we didn’t see it. Or at least, not I.

Death: None of us saw it.

War: Strife did.

Strife: [Spreads his arms theatrically, pointing at the ruins around them.] And look at all the good that has done.

[Silence.]

Death: It’s not often I get to say this, but you were right, brother. We did learn something new from this… game of yours.

Strife: Yeah. We discovered yet another division among our ranks.

Death: How so?

Strife: Pragmatists [fist-bumps Death’s shoulder] vs Philosophers [points at War and Fury]. ‘s amazing how many ways you can split a group of four.

Fury: You see division where I see… [glances at War] unexpected common grounds.

War: It is no surprise, from the one called Strife.

Fury: Hm. I concede. You are the smartest Horseman.

War: And the most modest.

Fury: [Shoves an elbow in his ribs.]

[They keep the fire burning throughout the night.]