The ground behind him would have been as smooth as a marble tabletop had his horse tracks not disrupted it with their cylinder hoofs. The yellow sand around him stretched on for dozens of miles, maybe hundreds, he really didn't know. It reflected the brilliant orange glow of the sun like water. The horizon ahead of him waved and rolled. The air was thin and he could almost taste the dryness of it around him. His covered face and hands were cracked. The land and the air spoke to him: no moisture here. No life spanning this desert. You are alone.
The traveler's long coat covered his vest, most of their color faded away from the cruel doggedness of the desert. His hat's brim covered most of his face from the sun, the rest of it covered by a bandana across his mouth. His dirty, piercing eyes were the only part of his body visible under his thick clothing.
His gloved hands held the horse's reins loosely. He'd lost track of how long he'd been traveling long ago. It could have been a few days; it could have been months. Time didn't seem to exist here. The sun was eternal, unmoving, forever radiant in the sky. His horse continued its steady rhythm of steps.
He would find him eventually. He didn't know where or when, but he knew this was how it was going to go. He was the only one left who is capable and willing to face the mage. Or that's what they told him. The wind blew across the ground, sending a few particles of sand into his ear. He reached down to his holster and grabbed the revolver. He was on edge. His uneasiness increased. He had to be getting closer.
He continued to ride for a few more hours until he finally unmounted his horse and sat down in the shallow valley of two large spanning sand hills. He grabbed his bag from the back of the horse's saddle and sat in the sand with the bag in front of him. He left the horse to wander. It was smart enough to stay close to him wherever he went.
He pulled out a metal canteen filled with water. He uncapped it and poured it down his throat. It was warm, hot even. He didn't dare take his gloves off to touch the metal with his skin. He wondered if it was safe to store in a bag, or if it could catch the canvas on fire if he was not careful. He put it out of his mind. It had done nothing yet, and there was no reason to think that that would change.
He thought of the mage as he ate his scraps. Where was he? Was he wandering across this vast land, just the same as he was? He supposed that would be unlikely. Surely now the mage had set up somewhere, probably protecting himself with his magic. He wondered if he had missed something on his journey already. A sign, maybe, leading him towards his enemy. But he decided that was impossible. Any discrepancy in this massive, bland desert would be spotted in an instant. He needed to keep going. The time will come when you will know, the traveler told himself. You felt it earlier. You are are getting closer.
Soon enough he had rested in the sunlight and woke only to continue riding. His leather holster croaked as it bounced against his thigh. The sand collapsed a few inches under the horse's hoofs every time the animal took a step. The sun was still there, sentencing the horizon to fire, doomed to its stagnant position in the sky forever.
He didn't know when it started, but it was there. It was pain. It felt like he hadn't eaten in weeks. His stomach pulled at his insides harshly. It thrashed around inside of him, the pain spreading up to his chest and eventually into his throat. He clenched at his stomach, choking the pain away, as his horse tensed. It nodded its head violently every few seconds like it was sneezing. But it wasn't a sneeze. He was here. The mage had to be here.
Eventually the horse stopped. It stood on all four of its legs steadily before it simply collapsed with the traveler on top. He hit the sand with a grunt. The pain was still there. He looked down at his horse; it had no marks on it. No blood, no trauma. One would have thought it would be sleeping, but the traveler knew better. He would have to walk. One hand still on his stomach, he reached down to his revolver and looked around. Everything seemed normal. The age was nowhere to be found. The sand curved around him like it always had in this hell, but the sun - it was gone. He turned around in a circle, scanning the sky, looking for the massive flaming ball. It was nowhere to be found, but its light still poured onto the land. It was only later that he realized that he had been crossing the threshold into the mage's section of this world.
Then, all at once, he was enveloped in a thick fog that restricted his sight to only a few inches in front of him. The air around him was nothing but a mix of gray and brown. No, he thought, this isn't fog. This was magic. A strong wind hit him, nearly knocking him over. His hat blew away into the tangible darkness. This was not fog. This was a storm, carrying the sand around him in a terrifying flurry. He brought up his arm to cover his face. The sand and wind pounded at him like a bull. It made the sound of a never ending explosion. The only thing he could hear over the storm was his heart pumping in his chest and throat and ears. Now, it was not just his stomach that ached. He bent over onto one knee to stabilize himself in the pounding winds, holding his revolver in one hand and covering his eyes with the other. He expected the horse to be lying there next to him. But he found nothing except more sand.
He couldn't see. He couldn't hear. Sand punched his face and snuck past his bandana. It burned his face like a hot stovetop. His body tried to open his mouth to scream but the storm kept it closed. It was only when he had just begun to think that it was never going to end when, all at once, it stopped. The hurricane that seemingly launched most of the burning desert at him now only spit small particles of sand and quickly died out. It ended as quickly as it started.
He was still down on one knee, the breath taken out of him and his mouth suddenly feeling very dry. He brought his hand away from his face and stood up, one hand still loosely holding the gun. He wondered how he had managed to hold onto it. The pain in his stomach was still there, but much less intense. The first thing he noticed was the darkness. There was just enough light to see but not enough to see well. It reminded him of the nights he had in his old village, months, years, decades ago. The only difference was the missing moon. The sky was empty from everything except a cool, dark blue color. Despite this, the heat remained. His black hair laid still on his hatless head, the wind refusing to blow. The silence after the whirlwind was deafening.
He looked across the dark endless scape in front of him. His horse was back lying in the sand, still as lifeless as before. He noticed the outline of something on a hill ahead of him. He could make out nothing but the fuzzy shape of what looked like a cabin. He glanced at his horse. The trip would be much faster if it was still alive. There was no telling how long it would take to walk there, only that it would not be a swift trip.
He completed the journey to the cabin with a rest in between. His canteen was empty and his food was scarce. He ate the last of his food - not easing the pain in his stomach - with a feeling of uneasiness. The cabin was closer now, and as he looked at it, it held an aura of finality. His insides seemed to twist more and more as he approached it. The feeling of excitement that this hellish journey would soon be over would not leave him. Somehow he knew that this cabin was his last stop. The mage would soon face his executioner.
Eventually he made it. He traveled the distance in the dark desert and then he was there. The cabin was crudely made of flat brown planks, and the door would be impossible to see had there not been a silver, c-shaped handle bolted to the wall. The traveler briefly wondered where in this empty desert anyone got these planks, then he realized: the mage conjured this out of thin air. He needed no supplies or effort.
Just to his right was a wide-brimmed brown hat hanging from a small piece of wood sticking out of the wall. It was the traveler's. He was expected. He grabbed it and put it on his head, covering his messy black hair. He rested a hand on his revolver, grabbed the door handle, and went inside the cabin.
The inside took a similar look to that of the exterior. The ceiling was low and the walls were those same brown planks. The floor was made of smooth, gray stone. Across the walls were a few small bookcases filled to its limit with literature. And, in the middle of the room, sat an old man in a wheelchair with his back turned to the traveler.
The traveler attempted to address the man. Nothing came out but a soft rasp. How long had it been since he'd spoken? He cleared his throat and tried again. "Mage," he called in a dead voice. His right hand still rested on the revolver in his holster.
"Traveler," the mage replied. The old man's hair was long and white and hung over the back of his chair. He sat relaxed, his back still turned, one hand on the armrest and another in his long black drape's pocket. "I admit, I didn't expect to meet you again. I may have underestimated your persistence."
The traveler said nothing in response. He unholstered his revolver, placed the end of the barrel at the back of the mage's head, and pulled back the hammer.
The mage sighed and sat up straight. "It is a shame that you are so hasty. I was hoping that I would have a chance to speak to you."
The traveler shook his head and said nothing. After a moment he aimed his gun upwards and reset the hammer to its normal position. He kept the revolver in his hand.
"Good," the mage said. "I'm relieved that I'm not dealing with a bloodthirsty mercenary. I'm glad to see that this godforsaken desert has not driven you into madness."
The traveler walked around the wheelchair, facing the old man. His face looked exactly as he remembered. Skin hung low, making his shadowed eyes look older. It was like he held twice as much skin as anyone else, granting him long wrinkles and weighing his facial features down. His mouth was turned downwards and his eyes drooped. He looked tired, though the traveler knew that he was not. He doubted if the mage needed to sleep at all.
The traveler stood in front of the wheelchair with his revolver in his right hand and stared. The mage stared back with much less intensity.
"You don't truly believe that this is the right thing to do, do you?" the mage said quietly.
"This is the only thing to do," the traveler replied.
"What did they offer you? I never took you as a man whose morals could be broken with money. In fact, I always took you as an honorable man. I never thought you'd be the one to come knocking on my door, serving their command. I thought I could trust you."
"You already know that they offered me nothing. They only negotiate with threats."
"What I know is that you were once your own man," the mage said. "That you didn't answer to the enemy in anything other than a fight."
"You don't understand," the traveler said after a moment. His voice was beginning to come back.
The mage interrupted before he could continue. "I understand perfectly. More than you seem to. Traveler - do not let these people control you."
"And what have you let them do?" the traveler said, aggravated. "You and your mages have been chased out of your home in the very same way. Do not tell me about bowing to them; you have allowed them the same control of you."
The mage said nothing for several moments. Finally: "We are not enemies."
"We never were," the traveler told him.
"Then why are you letting them do this?" The mage leaned forward pounded his frail fist on his armchair in a sudden burst of energy. It surprised the traveler, but he did not react. His revolver was still in his hand, although loosely.
"Because there is no other option," he said finally. "There is nothing left to do, can you not see that? They've won. It's either me or you."
"It doesn't have to be that way," the mage responded. He was much more calm than before. "Your life can be more than this. You don't have to throw away everything you believe in for this. At least die an honorable man."
An overwhelming sense of shame came over him. How long had he wandered in that desert, trying to hunt this old innocent man? They had known each other well before. He had nearly starved, dropped from exhaustion, and his horse had been killed, all in order to save himself. How far would he have taken it had he not found the mage? Would he have wandered in that shining desert forever?
He had no time to react. The mage flipped his hand upwards, and out came a sudden burst of glowing blue energy. He was thrown backwards, his revolver going the opposite direction. At some point his hat disappeared from his head. He hit a bookcase behind him, rocking it back violently, and depriving him of air immediately. A pile of books hit the ground next to him. His chest puffed outwards, trying to breathe, as he stood up desperately. He gasped for air. He needed to avoid the next wave. The mage had betrayed him. It was all an act.
He spotted his revolver across the room. The mage still sat in the middle of the cabin in his wheelchair, now looking completely different. He leaned forward, both hands on the armrests. Some of his white hair was blown to the other side of his head and now hung over his face, nearly reaching his pointing chin. His eyes were terrifying; a sort of shadow had formed over them, making them much darker. The old man's lip quivered. He was afraid.
He sensed another blow coming. He dove to the left of the mage as another spell was sent towards him, missing. The spell rocked another bookcase, this time knocking it over completely, hitting the stone floor with a deafening crash. Books scattered.
The traveler got onto his feet quickly. His revolver was just a few feet away. He dashed towards it, bending low to pick it up quickly. He stood up straight, faced the mage, and pulled pack the hammer in one motion. Just as he pulled the trigger, another wave hit him. His arm was sent upwards. A bullet tore through the fragile ceiling as he was knocked back.
He held on to his revolver as tightly as he could as he slid into the door behind him. He hit his right shoulder hard. He sat up and grabbed it with his right hand out of instinct with his left arm crossing his chest. His thumb pulled back the hammer for the third time.
He tried to lift the gun. He couldn't. He only lifted it a few inches before his shoulder gave out and his arm fell back to the floor. The mage wheeled towards him.
"I did not want this," the mage said. His calm voice did not match his shadowed, mad eyes and unruled hair.
The traveler grunted. He tried one last time to lift his revolver. It was useless.
"There can be no more trace of them," the mage said, somehow towering over him in his rickety wheelchair. "And their extinction must start with their puppets." The traveler began to reach his left hand for the gun.
Both men's hands moved at the same time. The traveler took his left, undamaged hand off of his shoulder and pointed his revolver upwards at the old man. As he cocked the hammer and let it fire the mage flicked his hand upwards. A pathetic, light blue burst of energy spurted out of the mage's fingers as his head recoiled backwards with a mist of red exploding upwards, out of the back of his head. The wheelchair balanced on its wheels for a few moments before falling completely backwards with the mage still sitting there. The mage's skull hit the hard stone floor with a disturbing, wet crack from the back of his head crashing in the pooled blood.
The traveler let his revolver rest on the ground and stood up slowly. An even more intense pain suddenly kicked in in his shoulder. He looked up. He could see two clean holes from where the bullets left their marks. Dark blood stained the ceiling but didn't drip. He looked back at the mage. The only thing he could see was the bottom the wheelchair and the mage's black cloak hanging over his lifeless legs, along with the blood behind it, in which its diameter was rapidly increasing. Books were scattered everywhere. A single bookcase laid on its front, nearly taking up half of the room.
The traveler grabbed his revolver and hat, pulled open the door, and left without another look. He was back in the desert. The sun was in the sky, in that old spot, and the darkness was gone. This was not the mage's desert any longer.
He had done what they asked, but had gotten nowhere. Were they going to leave him here?
He thought about the mage. The old man was never violent, never like that. He seemed to have changed in an instant, from completely sane to a mad animal.
He knew why, and the magic-hunters did, too. It was their plan, their motto, and their statement. Fear. That's how they would rule the world. It was the same reason he killed the mage, and why the mage tried to kill him. They weren't controlling themselves, fear was controlling them.
Suddenly, his vision was blocked. They knew when it was done. They were here to bring him back. Finally, he thought. I'm free from this endless hell. Although, in the back of his mind, he knew he wasn't. He never would be.
Thanks so much for reading until the end. If you enjoyed it or not, or saw any problems or have any suggestions, please, tell me what you think in the reviews. Again, thank you for reading. I may create a second part to this story if I can.