He sat in the saloon, on a dusty stool in a dingy room, holding a cold drink in gloved hands. Watching the world burn from hooded eyes. Earth slid after him into darkness. Every eye is upon him. The man of legends. King of Ashes. He who cannot be touched. Each man dreams of the bounty on his head. Each man fears death.
He dumps the brew down his throat, careful to ensure that no part of the glass touches his skin. Swallowing it all in one practiced gulp. A towering presence blocks his light. Its shadow belongs to a large mountain of a man who approaches where no others would dare.
"Are you the man myths claim you are?”
Emptying another glass, he squints up at the bulk: "I am he."
The mountain sits beside him and for a while they drink together and do not speak.
"E’er been down by old Atlante? Once was an outpost there..."
The man sighs. He knows where this is headed. He signals the barkeep for another drink, the prospect of death and the dealing of death was not one he relished sober. Another one of his many sins caught up to him. Another conflict comes, one with only the single possible conclusion.
"And what if I was?”
The mountain turns to face him, eyes simmering in rage.
“How'd you leave it, the town?"
Waiting for his drink, the King of Ashes winces and forces the difficult words out into the open, sealing both their fates.
"As I recall, there weren't much left."
He removes the glove from one hand, rests the other on the bar. The man, the tired, aggrieved man stares at the mountain a while as its face contorts with anger and grief. He watches, and imperceptibly, his stance softens. After a while of foisting off the desperate and the vengeful, one can begin to tell the difference between the two. Here sits a desperate man.
Finally, he whispers: "Who did I take from you?"
The mountain starts to weep. "M-my daughter[Ma1] ."
He stands and approaches the sobbing mountain, resting the still gloved hand on his shoulder. A futile gesture of comfort. He knows what else he offers is of greater worth to this lost cause.
"And... would you like to join her?"
Sniffling, eyes leaking, the large man doesn't answer. But he doesn’t reject the King either.
He removes the other glove. Both bare hands, weapons of mass destruction, at the ready.
"I can see it. Beyond the gate she sits and waits... for you. I, the keeper, can bring you there. The destination where all your suffering ends. Where you daughter lingers."
Where he waits for me…
He shows the mountain his hands. His unassuming, yet most dangerous, hands.
"I can take you to her. I will, if you wish it."
The mountain thinks, then asks in a mousy tone belying his bulk: "Does it hurt?"
The now gloveless man shakes his head. "No, not for long.”
The mountain bows his head, answer enough. The King of Ashes touches skin to his skin.
"Sorry" He says, realizing that he too is crying, "I'm sorry."
It happens quickly. The transformation, the disintegration, begins in an instant. The mountain’s skin grays, grows flaky. His face convulses once, then crumbles away. Where once there was bulk, now lies only ash.
The bar’s patrons watch as the King dons his gloves, quaffs his beer and exits, never to return. None rise to pursue, despite the lion’s bounty on his head. As he leaves, it is not the mountain he sees—his most recent victim—but another, younger face. One that mirrors his own. One that cracks and tumbles away with the wind. As he leaves, quiet tears become loud sobs. Grief settles heavily upon him yet again.
"My son! Oh my son!"
He mourns in the desert, a speck in the distance wandering away from one more lost watering hole. As always, he is alone.