Chapter 1:

The First Day of the Last Spring

The Kiss of Two Moons

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“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I lift my bags from the ground and shoulder their familiar weight, turning away from the scene.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The owner stands outside looking up at the sign with a wet paint brush in his hand, and a ladder by his side.Bookmark here

“What do you think?” He asks, looking over at me for a moment.Bookmark here

“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. Bookmark here

“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. Bookmark here

“I don’t think art is meant to bite.” I reply, looking up at the painted fowl.Bookmark here

“Then what’s it even good for?” He asks, setting aside his brush and leading me inside. “You come by for something?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“You heading back out to the desert?” He asks, turning his wizened eyes up from the shell.Bookmark here

“No.” I reply, reaching for the bag at my side. It’s still there. “I found what I was after.”Bookmark here

“You have?” He asks, his smile broadening. “Just in time too.”Bookmark here

“I guess.”Bookmark here

“From your being here, I’m guessing you’re leaving us, then?” He asks, tapping his finger on his table.Bookmark here

“What is it to you?” I ask.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Which way?” I ask. Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

I nod, hanging the shell back over my shoulder as I head out of his store.Bookmark here

“Live well.” He shouts, “And enjoy your spring.”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

I quietly nod in goodbye and take my leave.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I check my gear again, but nothing’s changed. My sword is still free, and my bags are still bound together.Bookmark here

A warm breeze rolls in from the desert far behind me, familiar but unwelcome, it washes away the chill morning air.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The Lovers embrace, some call it.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I hope this to be a final farewell.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I look up to Sanguine above.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

A cool breeze rolls in from the mountains to the north, and I return my focus to the road ahead, looking for the merchant. Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

He doesn’t sound friendly.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Pecs. They’re muscles, not…” The man growls low before laughing with his deep voice. “Do you know who I am?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Let’s see how long you can keep that attitude.” He says, stepping closer to the wagon.Bookmark here

“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. Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“Does no one understand what’s happening here?” The bandit loathes, staring between us as he scratches at his head.Bookmark here

“Don’t mind him.” The merchant says, “He fancies himself a bandit.”Bookmark here

“Is that common?” I ask.Bookmark here

“More than you’d think.” She shrugs and smiles.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“A real bandit-”Bookmark here

One breath, one movement.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The bandit looks down at me in surprise, grasping for his own weapon. I pull my sword out, and quickly step away.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Who’s next?” I ask, looking between them.Bookmark here

The first to turn and run breaks the silence, the rest quickly follow.Bookmark here

“Thank you!” Shouts one strange fellow as he runs. “That guy was a dick!”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

I turn away from the dying man.Bookmark here

“I need to get my bags.” I say, “I’ll be back in a moment.”Bookmark here

“I’ll be waiting.” She replies.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Goodnight.” She whispers, standing and brushing off her dress. “You have everything?”Bookmark here

“I do.” I reply, stepping closer as she wipes the blood from her dagger.Bookmark here

“Well, let’s be off. You can put your things in the back if you like.” She says, hopping up to the wagons seat. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Don’t mind Shadow. He as stubborn as a mule and behaves like an ass.”Bookmark here

Shadow snorts, stomping at the ground, while turning his head to look at her.Bookmark here

“Don’t you deny it.” She waves a fist at him. “Anyway, my name is Fate. What about you?”Bookmark here

“Hope.” I reply. She smiles hearing it.Bookmark here

“Another victim of new age naming.” She says with a quiet chuckle. “Is there something I can help you with, oh saviour o’ mine?” Bookmark here

“Travel rations.” I say.Bookmark here

“Rations? You want to live your last year on dried rations?” She asks.Bookmark here

“I’m going somewhere.” I say, shuffling uncomfortably to her questions.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Ah…” I pull some of the sand out of my nails as I think over her offer.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

“Somewhere beautiful.” I say, staring up at the god in the sky above us. “I want to find somewhere beautiful.”Bookmark here

“That sounds nice.” She replies, smiling bright. “I’m sure I’ll be travelling through all sorts of beautiful places.”Bookmark here

“What about you? What are you doing?” I ask, wondering what it is that a merchant plans to do with her last year.Bookmark here

“Me?” She asks, “I’m trying to save the world.”Bookmark here

It seems I’ve become acquainted with an idiot.Bookmark here

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