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Steam rising from the winding, labyrinthine concrete streets of New York City in the winter. The sky is deep, black, and endless; lined with the cold fire of dying stars. And there are a million other places Levi would rather be.
Walking home from a late shift at a shitty job, hands jammed in his coat pockets, he craves a cigarette he can’t afford to buy. His stomach grumbles in protest from a freezer-burnt TV dinner at lunch. He hasn’t eaten since then.
Yeah, he was angry and miserable with his life and wished he was someone else who lived a thousand miles away. But he was Levi Reed of New York City—he who spent years of his life in college, only to discover he was not able to find a job in the field he studied. He just resigned to working a minimum-wage job with terrible hours.
He wanted out.
He just didn’t know how to go about doing it.
Levi mulled over this as he trudged through the park at night. Hobos lay on benches in freezing weather, with haunted eyes following him silently as he walked past. He did not avert his gaze.
A few moments later and further down the path, he glanced up, feeling uneasy. The streetlamps up ahead would flicker for several seconds before dying out entirely. This continued, one by one, until the lamp nearest to him went out. This was accompanied by the distant thump of hooves beating against pavement. Confused, Levi came to a halt. He strained to listen, not entirely convinced the sound was real and not just a product of his own mind. The nearer the hooves beating drew, the more the rest of the world seemed to fade out and away, as if somebody was turning a dial. His own heartbeat, thudding in his ears, seemed to sync with the outside source; and then, an eerie silence.
Over the crest of the hill came a horse and a rider. It was a great, powerful stallion with rippling muscles and a coat of fur as white as death, eyes burning with all the cold fury of hell. Atop its back was a constantly shifting enigma, a large blur. Levi could not comprehend those morphing colours, the likes of which he had never seen. And then it spoke: “Do you wish to die?”
The Rider did not speak English, but somehow Levi understood its garbled tongue. He found he could not speak in its presence. “I said, do you wish to die?"
Levi could not think clearly—his mind ran screaming in a thousand different directions, threatening to break apart entirely. All he could manage was, “Who are you?”
The Rider’s steed snorted, steam billowing from its flared nostrils. It pawed the ground impatiently with one enormous hoof. The Rider’s ever-changing features seemed to settle, somewhat, into that of a broad, vaguely humanoid shape. Its eyes remained blurry, rapidly shifting, looking straight through him to his soul. “Ask not who I am, but what."
Without warning, the Rider reached out and placed its hand to Levi’s forehead. From its fingertips and into his brain flowed eternity: chaos, destruction, life, death, rebirth, kings and men, war and famine. The secrets of the Universe. Everything.
Levi dropped to his knees, wailing in agony. The Rider observed him quietly, watching with indifference as Levi doubled over. His whole body trembled and shook as he collapsed, heaving once. Blood splurted from his mouth, staining snow the colour of brilliant crimson beneath him.
For a long moment, he was still. At the sound of the Rider’s voice, his eyes rolled in that direction and he remained silent but willing. A soldier standing attention to his commander.
“Go forth, mortal, and tell your fellow man this world will end in 49 days.”
Levi’s eyes rolled in his skull, replaying the terrible secrets he had seen again and again and again. Having been a witness to those horrors, he found he was no longer quite the same, no longer quite human.
The Rider lifted the reins of the stallion, snapping them once. Those cold, hellfire’s eyes never leaving Levi's own. “For I am Death, and you shall follow me.”
In a blaze of flashing white, the Rider and the horse were gone. Levi lay there for what felt like a very long time, hearing those words and those words only. Then he slowly rose to his feet among the blossom of red in the frost and snow. The sharp breath of winter brushed past, but he didn't mind. There were greater concerns to be had now.
The world was going to end.
Levi was the messenger.
Written by Fleeingserpent