The Kiss of Two Moons
“This isn’t the place.” I whisper, watching the children play among the flowers as their parents watch on from afar. Some watch more attentively than others, and there are still many nursing hangovers from last night’s celebrations.
More than a few have taken their celebrations too far and are still passed out on the street, though nobody really minds it. The flowers mostly cover the ill scents of booze and vomit.
I lift my bags from the ground and shoulder their familiar weight, turning away from the scene.
A few tears sparkle on the cheeks of the parents I pass, one old man is sitting on the corner of the streets ranting and raving in half-drunken lunacy. No one pauses to listen, and I soon leave his rambling behind.
The whole town seems to have agreed to take the day off, as most of the population seem to be either relaxing in the flower fields and embracing spring’s coming, or sleeping in and enjoying their dreams.
I walk along the old cobblestone road, checking over my supplies again, while hoping that my usual shop is open. I don’t want to waste another day waiting around until the owner recovers from a hangover.
A wooden sign board hangs over the door to the shop, freshly painted in garishly bright colours. The fair fowl, it’s called, though the pink and green monstrosity in the image is nothing that I would consider ‘fair’, and barely recognisable as a fowl.
The owner stands outside looking up at the sign with a wet paint brush in his hand, and a ladder by his side.
“What do you think?” He asks, looking over at me for a moment.
“It’s a good thing that you don’t make a living from painting.” I say. It hurts less to look at the sun, it might burn your eyes, but at least the colour scheme is inoffensive.
“Bah, you wouldn’t know good art if it bit you on the behind.” He replies, his great big smile deepening the wrinkles around his face.
“I don’t think art is meant to bite.” I reply, looking up at the painted fowl.
“Then what’s it even good for?” He asks, setting aside his brush and leading me inside. “You come by for something?”
There’s a reason I come to his store over the others, he doesn’t hold me here for hours on end with small talk that I’d rather not deal with. Small talk is apparently part of the bartering process, or something like that.
“I brought some more shell.” I say, pulling the dark black shell from my bag and setting on the table. I only brought the largest and easiest to carry parts, but even so, there should be plenty here to trade for what I need.
The old man hums thoughtfully as he glances over the goods, I don’t quite get what there is to see, but I leave him to it as I look around for the things I’ll need. Mostly just travel rations.
“You heading back out to the desert?” He asks, turning his wizened eyes up from the shell.
“No.” I reply, reaching for the bag at my side. It’s still there. “I found what I was after.”
“You have?” He asks, his smile broadening. “Just in time too.”
“From your being here, I’m guessing you’re leaving us, then?” He asks, tapping his finger on his table.
“What is it to you?” I ask.
“This’ll probably be the last I see of you before the Lovers embrace takes us all.” He says, rubbing at his chin. “The truth is, I can’t do much with this shell. The travelling merchant I usually sell it to has headed off, I don’t think they’ll be back.”
“Ah…” I look down at the travel rations that I’ve taken from the shelves. I don’t have any coins, or anything else I can use to trade.
“There was another this other travelling merchant who left town just this morning. She was the sort to pick up strange things like this, if you could catch up with her on the roads, I’m sure you could make a deal.”
“Which way?” I ask.
“She was heading out of town along the north road.” He says, “She’s riding on an old, flat wagon, pulled by a beautiful, black horse. You can’t miss her.”
I nod, hanging the shell back over my shoulder as I head out of his store.
“Live well.” He shouts, “And enjoy your spring.”
“You as well.” I say, turning for one last look at the old man. He wears the same smile as ever, but the wrinkles are a little deeper, and his hair a little greyer.
I quietly nod in goodbye and take my leave.
Stepping over a passed-out drunkard, I turn onto the north road and put some more energy into my step. The wagon wheels have left deep grooves in the cobblestone over the years, and for the longest time no one has bothered to repair the damage.
The space between the wood and stone buildings slowly increases the further I get from the centre of town, until I pass the last of them, only a few distant farmhouses ahead of me.
I quicken my step, sparing the nameless town only a brief glance back before focusing on the road ahead. I need to catch up with that merchant if I don’t want to sleep on an empty stomach tonight.
I check my gear again, but nothing’s changed. My sword is still free, and my bags are still bound together.
A warm breeze rolls in from the desert far behind me, familiar but unwelcome, it washes away the chill morning air.
Sanguine looks down at us from above, her warm red colour subdued by the light of the sun. The red moon is alone this morning, Cerulean, her lover, is asleep for now. It’s less than a year until they finally meet, and our world ends.
The Lovers embrace, some call it.
Hard packed dirt road is harder on my feet than the desert sands, but it’s so much easier to walk on. My growling stomach urges my feet to move faster. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I can catch up before lunch.
The road cuts through empty fields, some scattered with the same flowers I saw in town, but never so thick with them. A few, gangly trees offer a little shade, here and there, but nothing much more than that.
The first forests should be found nearer to the snow peaked mountain range ahead. I’ve always wanted to see what a forest looks like, and the mountains from up close.
Scattered hills grow more common the further north I travel, and the road dips and rises slowly as it weaves between them. Climbing one of those hills to get a better view of the area, I turn back and see the vast desert behind me.
I hope this to be a final farewell.
Unfortunately, the desert still clings to me, even if I want to let it go. The desert sands hide in every seem of my boots and remains scattered throughout my bags, I’ll probably be pulling sand from my boots right up until the end.
I look up to Sanguine above.
“Would you be ashamed of me? Of how I’ve lived?” I ask, my hand finding the brown bag at my side. It’s still there.
“This is enough for me.” I say, looking at the dirt beneath my boots. “All that’s left after this is to watch the end.”
A cool breeze rolls in from the mountains to the north, and I return my focus to the road ahead, looking for the merchant.
“Just do what I tell you to do, idiot!” A deep male voice shouts loudly from the north, the sight of him blocked by a hill.
He doesn’t sound friendly.
Unstrapping my backpack, I draw my sword and rush up the next hill. I can vaguely make out the sounds of an argument taking place and slow my steps when I catch sight of the people below.
A flat wagon has been stopped in the middle of the dirt road, a tall black horse—far too tall and beautiful for the wagon it’s harnessed to—snorts in aggravated displeasure at the young men standing in its way.
The young men carry weapons, but they’re quivering in fear, much like a maid caught red handed stealing her master’s jewellery. Those closest to the horse are already taking steps back from it.
“I can give you my coin, but that’s all I can spare.” The woman sitting on the wagon, with the reigns in her hands, says to the large man standing beside her.
“You don’t understand how this works, do you?” Asks the man as he plays with the hilt of his sword. “You do what we tell you to. If we ask for the dress you’re wearing, then that’s what you’re going to give us.”
“I’m not convinced that it’d fit you,” Replies the merchant, “Though if that’s what you want, I know a seamstress who could make you something quite lovely. Layers of frills, and a low cut to show off those large breasts of yours.”
“Pecs. They’re muscles, not…” The man growls low before laughing with his deep voice. “Do you know who I am?”
“Are you a famous consort or something?” She asks, brushing her blonde hair aside as if to get a better look. “I can’t say your particular style is familiar.”
“Let’s see how long you can keep that attitude.” He says, stepping closer to the wagon.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” I call out, surprising the bandits and the merchant both as I stroll down the hill, my sword returned to its sheath and the black shell in my hands. The other young men widen their eyes at the sight of me, stepping back in confusion and letting me pass.
“Yes, do I know you?” She asks, turning away from the large bandit, who looks my way in uncertainty, trying to figure out what I’m about.
“No, but I was told that you’d be interested in this black shell.” I say, holding it up a little to show it off. “It’s from the monsters of the desert.”
“Oh, that does sound interesting.” She says, waving me closer. Her long blonde hair keeps getting blown into her face, and she has to fight to keep it away.
“Does no one understand what’s happening here?” The bandit loathes, staring between us as he scratches at his head.
“Don’t mind him.” The merchant says, “He fancies himself a bandit.”
“Is that common?” I ask.
“More than you’d think.” She shrugs and smiles.
“Damn fake bandits, no one takes banditry seriously anymore.” The large man groans, rolling his eyes as he glares at the other men around him, who cower away. “The world is ending and suddenly a bunch of losers want to give it a try. Merchants throw a few coins on the ground, and they run around picking them up like the beggars they really are.”
I get closer while he’s making his speech, the shell in my hands somewhat hiding the sword on my hip. He clearly doesn’t see any of us as a threat.
“A real bandit-”
One breath, one movement.
My blade sinks into the man’s chest, his voice dying as he slowly realizes what’s happened. My shell falls to the ground at our feet with a small thump.
The bandit looks down at me in surprise, grasping for his own weapon. I pull my sword out, and quickly step away.
The other young men look between me and their leader, who is falling to his knees trying to hold his blood in, and failing. They’re mouths hang open, not one of them draw their own weapons.
“Who’s next?” I ask, looking between them.
The first to turn and run breaks the silence, the rest quickly follow.
“Thank you!” Shouts one strange fellow as he runs. “That guy was a dick!”
“Well, that was all rather exciting. A shame that we missed the end of his speech, but it was too perfect for this world, apparently.” The merchant says. “It seems like you saved me. By what this man was saying, I owe you the very dress off my back.”
“I’d rather some food and, ah, some directions too.” I reply. Watching the young bandit die, feeling my stomach twist as I meet his despaired gaze. It isn’t the first time I’ve killed someone, but it still feels wrong.
“Well, lets head along a little further before talking.” She says, waving me around to the other side of the cart and patting the seat beside her.
I turn away from the dying man.
“I need to get my bags.” I say, “I’ll be back in a moment.”
“I’ll be waiting.” She replies.
I rush away, hoping that none of the other bandits stumbled upon my things. I don’t want to waste time hunting down a thief.
Thankfully, my bags are untouched. Shouldering the familiar weight and checking again that everything is as it should be, I quickly rush back to the merchant.
I slow my steps as I get closer, hearing a strange and peaceful lullaby whispered on the wind. The merchant kneels by the side of the dying bandit, while singing, a bloody dagger in her hand.
“Goodnight.” She whispers, standing and brushing off her dress. “You have everything?”
“I do.” I reply, stepping closer as she wipes the blood from her dagger.
“Well, let’s be off. You can put your things in the back if you like.” She says, hopping up to the wagons seat.
I carefully place my bags close to the front of the flat back wagon, and climb atop the old wooden seat. The wooden bench has been worn down over years of use, and the back of the wagon rattles as we start to move.
The horse, however, shows greater dignity. The proud horse stands tall, its black coat has been recently brushed and retains a certain luscious shine. It looks at me the same time as I look at it, and snorts before it returns its attention to the road.
“Don’t mind Shadow. He as stubborn as a mule and behaves like an ass.”
Shadow snorts, stomping at the ground, while turning his head to look at her.
“Don’t you deny it.” She waves a fist at him. “Anyway, my name is Fate. What about you?”
“Hope.” I reply. She smiles hearing it.
“Another victim of new age naming.” She says with a quiet chuckle. “Is there something I can help you with, oh saviour o’ mine?”
“Travel rations.” I say.
“Rations? You want to live your last year on dried rations?” She asks.
“I’m going somewhere.” I say, shuffling uncomfortably to her questions.
“Where’s that?” She asks, “If we’re going the same direction, I could share some of my meals instead. I don’t carry much in the way of dried rations.”
“Ah…” I pull some of the sand out of my nails as I think over her offer.
“At least until the next town.” She continues. “You’re not in that much of a rush, are you? We’re heading the same direction?”
“Somewhere beautiful.” I say, staring up at the god in the sky above us. “I want to find somewhere beautiful.”
“That sounds nice.” She replies, smiling bright. “I’m sure I’ll be travelling through all sorts of beautiful places.”
“What about you? What are you doing?” I ask, wondering what it is that a merchant plans to do with her last year.
“Me?” She asks, “I’m trying to save the world.”
It seems I’ve become acquainted with an idiot.