It's amazing how beautiful the world is just before you die.

I stood there, my sword in hand, holding it as I had been taught long ago. I could feel its sturdy leather grips beneath my fingers, sturdy as the red clay earth I stood upon. The sky above was warm with tones of evening as the sun threatened to lose itself behind a mountain, as though using it as a blanket to keep itself warm in the dark night. The fading light made the clouds blush the delicate pink of a virgin bride while the empty sky around them bled out the remainder of the day from orange into ever-deepening shades of crimson, maroon.
A breeze began to pick up and it blew, almost soothing on the back of my neck, simultaneously calming me and making my flesh crawl as though this were the very breeze that would carry the lips of Lady Death upon it.

I looked into his eyes; stark, black eyes. He was a traitor, to his people, to his cause, and to me, and there's nothing I can tolerate less than a traitor. The same breeze that had kissed my neck now brushed his hair, tossing it just the way he hated it, and blew raw desert sand over my shoes and into my mouth.

I hated him. With every fiber of me that still cared, I hated him. He had lied, and his lies had caused the deaths of the very people he was meant to protect, which was exactly what he had intended to do. He lied as he whispered sweet nothings into my ears and bedded me as hot, innocent blood quenched the thirst of the earth, staining it red, feeding it what it should not be fed, and I was oblivious. I believed him. And he never once stopped smiling. He never failed to look me in the eyes when he vomited falseness onto me and then twisted quick fingers into my hair to sate me with a plague of kisses.

He was so fucking proud of himself. Even now, he couldn't make a toothy sneer fall away from his lips; even still, he looked me in the eyes.

One of us was going to die.

We both had loaded guns in the holsters at our hips, but that was not a proper duel, that was a coward's duel. And though he may have been a traitor, he was certainly no coward. And I was certainly not afraid of him.

He held his sword at the ready, and the crimson sunlight bit the edges of it, a warning sign, a threat that this immaterial red that now graced the blade could soon be replaced by something much more sinister. Catching a deeper balance in the stance of his body, he began to recite, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

"Lies," I whispered, but the fell wind caught it and swept it to darkening heavens, an oath from my lips to God's ears.

In that instant, he lunged at me, and I at him. The twenty paces between us were quickly reduced to nil, and in once grand, practiced sweep, our swords collided, once with metal, and then with flesh.

An instant was all it took, and then it was over. I stumbled and nearly planted my face into the dusty earth, but caught my footing, regained my balance, and stood straight up to face the setting sun. My back was to him, exposed, and I feared, if for just a moment. Whipping around to face him, my hair gracelessly caught the wind, fluttering, then laying sedate along my shoulders once more.

He was on the ground in a pool of his own blood, one hand trying to keep his guts inside his body, the other reaching for his pistol. He stopped when he saw me turn, his eyes and mouth agape, the blood washing over his lips telling me I had cut into his stomach, and could smell the acrid smell of acid and blood and death in the air, a metallic odor that molested my senses.

Bleeding to death by way of the stomach is one of the slowest and most painful ways to die, and he deserved every second of it, but I didn't have the patience.

"I loved you," I whispered to him, and then caught him just above the ear with a bullet. Slipping the pistol back into the holster, I watched the ground soak up his blood for a moment, feeding it with his tainted blood as it had fed on the innocents he's put to death. I spit on his chest. A fitting end.

"A fitting end indeed," I murmured, reaching for a cigarette, but my pocket was damp. Dropping my sword, it landed with a dull clank as I touched my side with both hands. Pulling them away, scarlet fingertips prophesized my fate.

"Oh…" was the only word my moth formed, and it sounded strange to my own ears. It wasn't an "oh" of surprise, or an "oh" to God, but a happenstance, "well, damn", sort of "oh".

The sun curled up beneath it's mountain-blanket and even the wind seemed to settle down for the night. Everything was still and quiet as a red moon rose, signaling the end of a season, the end of summer. The harvest moon.

As the sky darkened, so did my vision, and I was filled with an overwhelming warmth as I crashed to my knees, then onto my side, right next to him. His eyes were still open, and still black, and the blood on his lips only made him look alive. I'd shot him on the other side of his head, and from this angle, as my eyesight blurred, he looked like an angel. He had once been my angel.

It occurred to me, then, that angels fall. We all fall. And here I was, having falling into the arms of a man who had once been my friend, my comrade, my lover, and my enemy. To him, I whispered, "I loved you." With my remaining strength, I turned to kiss his lips one last time and my mouth was flooded with the taste of blood, a taste like sugar and copper, and I wasn't sure if it was his or mine. I rolled my head to watch the blackening sky as tiny stars blinked into existence one by one, but then, in a last great wash of cold and blackness, they were wiped away again, and my eyelids slipped shut.

It's amazing how beautiful the world is just before you die.

(Authoress' note: If you think this looks familiar, that's because it is. I wrote "The Duel" a very long time ago, and pretty much just revamped it for my Creative Writing class...I didn't even go back and look at it, I just remembered what I liked about it pretty much the opening and closing line, yeah, I know and turned it into something else.)

(PS. For as much as I hate Microsoft, Word 2007 pwns in the face.)