The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts, huge, standing to the sky for what might
Have been parsecs in all directions. White; blinding; waterless; without feature save for
The faint, cloudy haze of the mountains which sketched themselves on the horizon and the
Devil-grass which brought sweet dreams, nightmares, death. An occasional tombstone
Sign pointed the way, for once the drifted track that cut its way through the thick crust of
Alkali had been a highway and coaches had followed it. The world had moved on since
Then. The world had emptied.
The gunslinger walked stolidly, not hurrying, not loafing. A hide waterbag was slung
Around his middle like a bloated sausage. It was almost full. He had progressed through
The khef over many years, and had reached the fifth level.
At the seventh or eighth, he
Would not have been thirsty; he could have watched own body dehydrate with clinical,
Detached attention, watering its crevices and dark inner hollows only when his logic told
Him it must be done. He was not seventh or eighth. He was fifth. So he was thirsty,
Although he had no particular urge to drink. In a vague way, all this pleased him. It was
Below the waterbag were his guns, finely weighted to his hand. The two belts
Crisscrossed above his crotch. The holsters were oiled too deeply for even this Philistine
Sun to crack. The stocks of the guns were sandalwood, yellow and finely grained. The
Holsters were tied down with rawhide cord, and they swung heavily against his hips. The
Brass casings of the cartridges looped into the gun belts twinkled and flashed and
Heliographed in the sun. The leather made subtle creaking noises. The guns themselves
Made no noise. They had spilled blood. There was no need to make noise in the sterility
Of the desert
His clothes were the no-color of rain or dust. His shirt was open at the throat, with a
Rawhide thong dangling loosely in hand-punched eyelets. His pants were seam-stretched
He breasted a gently rising dune (although there was no sand here; the desert was
Hardpan, and even the harsh winds that blew when dark came raised only an aggravating
Harsh dust like scouring powder) and saw the kicked remains of a tiny campfire on the lee
Side, the side which the sun would quit earliest. Small signs like this, once more affirming
The man in black’s essential humanity, never failed to please him. His lips stretched in the
Pitted, flaked remains of his face. He squatted.
He had burned the devil-grass, of course. It was the only thing out here that would burn.
It burned with a greasy, flat light, and it burned slow. Border dwellers had told him that
Devils lived even in the flames. They burned it but would not look into the light. They
Said the devils hypnotized, beckoned, would eventually draw the one who looked into the
Fires. And the next man foolish enough to look into the fire might see you.
The burned grass was crisscrossed in the now-familiar ideographic pattern, and crumbled
To gray senselessness before the gunslinger’s prodding hand. There was nothing in the
Remains but a charred scrap of bacon, which he ate thoughtfully. It had always been this
Way. The gunslinger had followed the man in black across the desert for two months
Now, across the endless, screamingly monotonous purgatorial wastes, and had yet to find