A/N: My first foray into Darksiders fanfic! Yay! *blows trumpet*
Okay, so this was originally supposed to be the first of a bunch of character studies into the characters of the Darksiders universe, but I can't promise when the others will come up. Also, this unsurprisingly has a lot of conjecture since we know jack-all about Strife. I took the idea of the Horsemen being Absalom's children from the story Room of Angel by Frostfyre. Go check it out; the drabbles are short but more profound than this 2,241 word vomit.
There is a canon thing that doesn't make sense to me: in the original comic it states the Horsemen are the surviving Nephilim from the battle at Eden, which annihilated their race. The wiki and the book, though, both state or imply that the Riders turned from the Nephilim earlier. For purposes of this story I've chosen to use the latter scenario, because otherwise that stuff about Death feeling guilty for the death of his race is pointless.
I'm not totally happy with this, because I feel like I could have carried over Strife's pain better, but to do that I would have to rewrite this thing and it was supposed to be a break from Fate/stay night. Eh, whatever. I can promise you that if and when I write War's, it will be better.
So, hope you enjoy!
Strife is the weakest of the four.
It's a common myth that Fury is the least capable of the Horsemen, but that stems mostly from the fact that she is the only female in a male-dominated group. No one seems to really notice that Strife is the only Rider who favors ranged weapons as his mainstays.
Oh, he can handle himself in a melee; none of the Horsemen can ever be considered anything less than gods of battle, but he lacks War's grim determination and bone-headed stubbornness. He can't match Death's brutal pragmatism and easy lethality, and even Fury's focused rage and consummate grace is beyond him.
He remembers when Absalom first taught them to bear arms. The leader of the Nephilim had taken them to a courtyard and immediately sized them up, giving them each a weapon uniquely suited to their bodies and styles. Death had taken to the two miniature scythes like he had everything; quickly and effortlessly. War was so enthusiastic about his new two-handed blade that he nearly decapitated a nearby trainer. Fury made her whip dance only seconds after it reached her hand. Only Strife, when tossed a simple sword, failed to measure up. He almost tripped when trying a practice swing, and it only got worse from there. The pride in Absalom's eyes when he looked at the others turned into derision and disappointment when he observed Strife's pathetic efforts.
In the mock duels that followed, he was easily outmatched by his siblings. Fury taunted him with words that stung like the cracks of her whip and Death made a habit of letting out sarcastic, biting comments every time the twin scythes scored hits. Only War was silent, never saying anything even as he battered his older brother to the ground. Strife had always thought this was just his way of taunting him, but in other battles he soon saw that his sibling was just as eager to insult the foe as his elders. Though he would die before he admitted it, he is grateful to War for that.
His father was not so lenient. Absalom had never stinted with his condemnation of his son's lack of ability, especially so compared with his three siblings. Every word of praise offered to the rest of his brood was matched by an offhand remark that made Strife's blood boil. Even these centuries later, it still enrages him when he thinks back on those long-past days.
When the Charred Council issued the Nephilim the ultimatum: serve or die, Strife was the first to accept. As the armies of the Nephilim massed for an assault on Eden, the newly-created Riders rode to meet them along with the Archangels. Their kin fell before them in great swathes, empowered as they were by the Charred Council, until only the most elite of the Nephilim remained. Naturally, their father was one of them.
The once-verdant fields of Eden now ran red with blood, so much blood that everything stank of it. The trees, the ground, the air; the tang of iron was ubiquitous and inescapable. Screams of pain cut the atmosphere as Nephilim and angels battled.
Strife strode through the fields, his hands swinging leisurely at his sides. Both his weapons were sheathed; the angels dared not attack him and the Nephilim had other concerns right now. Even if someone had, the guns in their holsters were far easier to slip out then three feet of edged steel.
His siblings were scattered across the battleground. War had dived headfirst into a particularly stubborn knot of Nephilim, and Fury, after an eyeroll at Strife, had gone to assist him. Death, as usual, had vanished without a trace. He felt their absence, but they had their missions to accomplish.
So did he.
It was easy to find his objective; the remaining Nephilim had gathered into concentrated groups, attempting to see off their attackers through solidarity. While this tactic was prolonging their collective lifespan, it also made them very easy to find, and thus, eliminate.
An angel fell to the ground before him, golden armor spattered with his own lifeblood. Strife looked up and smirked beneath his helm.
"Scum! Cowards! Come and fight me!" Absalom roared, slate-grey eyes alight with rage. He slammed the mighty blade of his axe into an oncoming angel, whirling it around in the air before smashing it ruthlessly into the ground. Feathers flew from the impact.
Grunting, the leader of the Nephilim turned around to face Strife. His eyes narrowed as he took in the insectile helmet and the form-fitting black armor.
"Treacherous spawn," he thundered with enough force to ruffle the dead angels' feathers. "You dare to raise arms against your kin?"
Strife spread his arms mockingly. "I see none of my kin here, do you?"
"Ungrateful whelp! After all that I have given you, you turn against me?"
"And what did you give me, father?" Beneath his helm, Strife's smirk had vanished. "Pray tell, father. What did you give me?"
Absalom slammed the axe's haft into the ground. "Everything! This war, this fight! Eden was to be for you and your generation, not the dust-spawned humans who the White City would give it to!"
"I care not who Eden falls to, one way or the other." Strife spat. Absalom's eyes widened.
"Then why? What reason could you have for betraying everything your brother has worked to build?"
"My brother? Do you mean the Rider of the Pale Horse?" Strife laughed. "He led us in turning away from you and the rest. Evidently your depredations got to him." He waited for Absalom's eyes to grow even wider. "The others followed his lead because of revulsion for all the atrocities you committed, but myself?" He reached up to remove his helmet, and cast it to the ground. "My reasons are, admittedly, more selfish."
The patriarch of the Nephilim reared back, axe coming alight with flames in his hands. It was alive somehow, Strife sensed. He could feel the hate coming off the weapon, but it mattered not how formidable that blade was. The Rider of the White Horse would not be denied his victory.
"I should have drowned you at birth, you pathetic excuse for a son!" Absalom thundered.
"Yes, you should have!" Strife fired back. "If you had, maybe you would not die today at the hands of a son you never felt the need to care about!"
Something very like guilt flickered in the dark eyes of the patriarch, but that only fanned the flames of Strife's anger.
"It is far too late to feel guilty, Father. All the hate you poured down on me, all the contempt you reserved for me alone..." The First Horseman's hands were shaking now, his face no longer steady. Memories poured back, the harsh words of his father mingling with the taunting of his siblings. Even the other Nephilim had not spared him; the other three children of their leader were envied and admired, but in Strife they had found one who they considered less than them. The fact that Absalom had never bothered to hide his scorn made their jeers even stronger.
"You are so worthless," they would taunt, "great Absalom can barely suffer your presence. You would be better off killing yourself so that your family does not have to live with your shame."
With an effort, Strife shook himself back to the present, facing his father with hate-filled yellow eyes.
"Whatever treachery I have committed has been brought about by your own actions," he spat. "What I owe you is nothing but pain and despair. It hurt the others to turn against you, for they remember you with love and admiration. Death almost didn't do it. But for me? The choice was easy."
The flicker of guilt in Absalom's eyes vanished, and with a chilling grace Strife's father lifted his mighty battle-axe once more.
"Come then, whelp!" he challenged. "Kill me, if you can."
Strife smiled. "I'm not who I was, father. You may have considered hammering your enemies down with a piece of metal the pinnacle of the warrior's art, but I know better." Mercy and Redemption slid free from their holsters.
"Why go to all the effort to get up close, when I can end your life here, with the press of a finger?"
When the Nephilim were finally exterminated, the other three Riders searched long for Strife but couldn't find him. Just when they were beginning to fear his death, the soft canter of hooves heralded his presence.
"Brother!" Fury ran to him as he slid off his horse, throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his neck. So hidden, she didn't catch the surprise in his eyes and for a moment he remained stiff and unresponsive.
"It's the custom to return a hug when one is given," Death drawled. Whatever grim events he had undoubtedly experienced had not dented his sarcasm.
"Like I would know," Strife retorted, but softened and wrapped his arms around his sister.
"I'm sure this is the most awkward hug ever recorded," War replied, face concealed by his hood.
"Shut up," Fury replied, and the youngest of the Riders duly did so. Strife awkwardly disengaged from his sister's arms, still not sure what to think about her attitude switch.
"You scared us for a bit there," War said. "What happened to you?"
Strife had not replaced his helm, and his smile widened ferociously. "I had a little chat with father."
As he had expected, his siblings' faces darkened, though he couldn't be sure with Death's face covered by his new mask. They stared at him for a while, and rage flared up within him again.
"You never had to go through what I did!" he exploded. "You were the favorites; he never cared for me. I was stupid to try to gain his approval for so long-"
"Brother," Death said softly, "we don't condemn you for it."
"and I would do it a thousand times over - what?" Strife paused mid-rant.
"He was our father," Fury replied, "and we mourn him because of that bond, but he was destined to die anyway."
"And if he was to die," War concluded, "why not by the hand of the one to whom he did the most harm?"
Strife looked between the three of them, expression disbelieving. "You...why do you suddenly care?" The laugh was too bitter and rough to be called so. "Now you decide to be understanding?"
"We were children," Death said gently, "and we were as thoughtless as they usually are. Father was a god to us, and if he treated you that way he must have had a good reason, we thought." His eyes took on a wry cast. "Except War."
"It was the first constructive thought he'd ever had," Fury remarked. Strife turned to War.
"I never enjoyed our spars," War confessed. "The obvious reason is that you weren't much of an opponent," Strife barked out another bitter laugh, "but also because the more I beat you the angrier father would get and the more he would berate you for being worthless. It sat ill with me, because you put so much effort into your training, worked harder than any of us. Even when we grew into adulthood and you demonstrated your talent in other areas, he never changed his opinion of you."
"We talked about this," Death took up the thread of the story, 'and had events not forced our defection, we would have confronted father on the way he treated you."
"Instead, we left them." Strife concluded. "I wondered why you took me along, Death. You never cared much for me before."
"Care or not, you are still my brother." Death's words brooked no argument. "It was impossible to save father, but at least I could save you." His voice turned wry. "I also knew that you, of all people, would be the easiest to convince to defect."
Strife laughed, and this laugh wasn't as hateful as the others. "Yes, I suppose I would be."
"Can you forgive us, brother?" Fury asked somberly. "We should have known better."
In answer, a gun appeared in Strife's hand. Fury tensed and War's hand gripped Chaoseater, but Death merely laughed, a hollow sound.
"So you grant us mercy, brother?" the fourth Rider queried. Strife smirked.
"You probably don't deserve it, but yes." The gun spun on his finger, and Mercy slipped back into its holster. "So. What task would the Charred Council have us perform next?"
The bitter personality that Absalom had created never went away. Strife remains the least likeable of the four, in part due to his habit of taking umbrage at any slight, real or imagined.
That, he sometimes thinks, is his father's true legacy.
His siblings still outmatch him in melee, but their spars are no longer the thoughtlessly cruel affairs of their childhood. They are kindest to him in the practice ring, where instruction is always forthcoming on his forms and techniques.
But he no longer defines himself by how well he measures up. His weapons of choice may be vastly different, but he is no less skilled with them than his siblings are with theirs. Guns in hand, he is as lethal as Harvester or Thresher.
Now only loosely, can he be considered the weakest, and those who dare to label him that never do so to his face.