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The Hunter and the Wanderer

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Everything he knew and loved was gone, incinerated. The fire had swept through the town and consumed everything in it's path. The Wanderer had been alone for years, hunted by the Hunter. The others said it wasn't real, but he knew, he knew in his heart it was real. It was a mighty firedrake, a dragon, a wyvern of epic proportions. It had been hunting him all these years, to finish what they started. He could never stop, never turn back. It was coming.

He was tired. He had walked for hours through the mountains, so tall they touched the sky. But he was sure that he had seen it all before. He knew this terrain he had left behind. He was going in circles. His palms were sweaty. he had to hurry, or the Hunter would find him and kill him. He started trying to climb the nearest mountain, hoping to find out where he was, hoping to escape the Hunter in the highest clouds where even it's mighty wings couldn't take it. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. And then... he was falling...

When he awakened, he was in the same little meadow as before. The same view, the same mountain. Except he was standing over his dead body. he screamed and stared at the mangled remains. He had struck his head hard, and it had burst violently. His neck was broken, almost removed from the rest of his body, and ribs stuck out at odd angles. His arms and legs were spread out, as if he was a fallen angel. Then, slowly, the body faded into nothing. He looked at his hand and picked up a rock, lying on the ground. He slammed the rock into his foot. It hurt. It was probably broken now, and blood stained the grass. He grinned, and then he started laughing, but his laugh turned into a scream, a scream that echoed through the mountains for hours.

No matter which path he took, he couldn't leave the meadow, even via death. He tried drowning himself, hanging himself, leaping off the mountains, retracing his steps to the point where he'd entered the meadow, grabbed up his sword and smashed everything in sight. It wasn't working. He could hear the wingbeats. The Hunter was coming. He had to escape or he would die.

He stabbed his sword through his own chest. He knew it probably wouldn't work, but he had to try. He tore out the sword and found his own heart impaled on it, still dutifully beating away. Then he fell and died again. When he awoke, he was staring at his body again. The sword lay where he dropped it, his heart still there, still beating. Enraged, he grabbed up his heart and flung it into the distance as his body, too, disappeared. He looked up at the twilight - the same twilight that, in retrospect, had been present for all the time he was trying to escape. He wondered how much time had passed in reality. Suddenly, he heard a roar. The Hunter.

He hid in the tiny thicket of trees as the huge monster alighted. It looked weathered and aged, somehow, as if a hundred years had passed between now and the last time they had met seven days before, by the shores of the bottomless lake. The Wanderer wondered if this was, in fact, the case, whether or not he was stranded in a place where time had no meaning. The Hunter didn't notice him and flew towards where it had come from. The Wanderer breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly, it was back. Out of nowhere, the Hunter had returned. It seemed confused, startled. It flew over the mountain, but it still returned. Why? Did it suspect he was here? Was it trying to flush him out by making him believe it had left, only to reappear? By now, it knew the Wanderer wouldn't fall for the same trick twice. Or a third time, for it tried to escape again, up the boulder-strewn cliff. But a boulder dislodged and flew towards it's head, and it struck and split open the Hunter's head. It fell and fell and it was dead. And then it was back. The Wanderer laughed, and laughed, and laughed. The Hunter was just as trapped as he was.

Careful that his foe didn't see him, the Wanderer approached the edge of the clearing and stepped his foot out of the boundaries he had established. He did not return to the centre. Apparently, the clearing could only hold one prisoner at a time. But in the reflective water of the stream, he saw an old, ancient man. A man who had lost everything, who lived in a world he would no longer understand. In the distance, he could see a city of metal, and strange aircraft floated overhead. His world was gone, replaced by something new. The battle was over, and now the only way to win was by losing.

He walked towards the growling and angry Hunter. He held up his sword, almost reverently, and then jabbed it into the ground. He held up his arms as the Hunter came closer, seeking to end their quarrel at last. And in a burst of fiery light, the Wanderer was no more, and the Hunter was doomed to eternity, trapped in that little meadow, until it went completely and utterly insane after millennia, for it was immortal and trapped and utterly alone until the end of all things.

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