Title: 100 Yards
Tagline: Destiny is not always a great or glorious thing.
The sword waited.
It did not anticipate, for it had no mind. It did not desire, for it had no will. It had only purpose, and the immeasurable weight of destiny behind it.
The shifting sands brought it toward the surface of the dune. This was not a unique event, for it had been exposed several times in the long years it had lain untouched in this desert, but none of those had mattered, for, in this barren waste, no living man had chanced to pass by in that brief interval before it had been covered once more.
This time, though, there was a soul – a single, weak, flickering soul – above it. And destiny churned.
Ahmad Bel-Azir trudged. He did nothing else – could do nothing else.
He did not hate. He had no energy left to hate. Not his cousin Bazel, traitor and kin-slayer, who had murdered Ahmad's father and usurped his throne. Not his 'loyal' courtiers, who had flocked to Bazel's banner for bribes of gold and power. Not even his supposed best friend, the mysterious foreigner Ri'ard, who had abandoned him here in this desert without water or camel.
He did not sweat. He had no water left to sweat. He had allowed himself to relieve his sorrows with a touch of wine the night before – foolish, he knew, in this desert – and Ri'ard had vanished off in the night, with all the supplies but the tent Ahmad had been in, leaving no water to replace what the wine had stolen.
He did not hope. He had no will left to hope. All heart, all thought had long since left him, burned out on the desolate yellow plane. Each step was taken for no greater reason than because he had finished the last, each painful breath drawn in only because it, as yet, still hurt less than failing to breath.
Without warning, his legs failed beneath him and he tumbled to the sand. There was no shaking, no indication of the collapse – his poor, abused body could give him none, for there was no sensation of hurt, no harbinger of failure that it had not been signalling for longer than he could remember. Or, perhaps, his mind simply no longer had the power to process such warnings.
Ahmad lay unmoving, as minutes slowly passed. His legs recovered a modicum of strength, perhaps even enough for him to rise once more, but there was no will left to drive him. He continued to lie, waiting to die.
A sudden gust of wind blew across him, and when it had passed, his dry eyes were were drawn to a glimmer before him. He blinked, and the glimmer became clearer – the shine of light from… a pommel? Yes, not two paces before his face was the golden handle of a sword, it's blade still covered by the sand. Struck by a sudden impulse, he reached out his hand to it. It was so beautiful, would it not be a worthy thing to die with it in his hand?
His palm closed about the handle, and the world swam about him. When he opened his eyes, he had no idea how long he had been, but his thoughts were clear again. And he Knew. His mind rang with an incredible sense of Destiny and Purpose. He had to stand. He had to go on. He could not fail.
With shaking arms, he pushed himself to his feet. The sword emerged from the sand as he did, and he marvelled at the beautiful blade, unmarred by the rubbing of the sand. His hand, he knew, should have been burned badly by the metal of the handle, so long baked in the hot sands, yet he could barely feel it – it had no heat, yet neither any coolness, like a handful of straw rather than metal. Laboriously, he began walking once more. A faint tugging sensation guided him, and an idle thought noted that his path was rather more northward than it had been before.
He marched on, his strength fading fast. Even as his vision blurred and his feet grew numb, he pressed on, driven by the inexorable purpose. He knew that his reason, the very thing he had been born to do, lay ahead, and he forced his failing body onward, step by step. He passed over the crest of the dune, and the place where he had found the sword fell from sight behind him.
After a hundred yards, he fell again, his body utterly spent. He tried with desperate strength to force himself up once more, but all strength had fled his muscles, and he could not get his arms under him, let alone rise.
As the light faded and the world dimmed, he reached out for the sword where it had fallen beside him. No! How could this happen? His destiny… his purpose… to fail them… so… soon…
The sword lay in the sand. The wind began to pick up, already burying it once more. It would be half a century before it would be found again. But that did not matter. It was 100 yards closer to the place it would eventually be needed.
Destiny had been fulfilled.
The sword waited.
If it is the Hero's inevitable destiny to take the Magic Sword from a bandit and use it slay the Great Evil and reclaim his kingdom, then surely it must be the bandit's equally inevitable destiny to steal the Magic Sword from a trader and then attack and be killed by the Hero, no? And the trader's destiny to be killed in a bandit attack while carrying the Sword.
Taken to its logical extreme, you get this: a man who's 'grand destiny' is to carry a sword a hundred yards in a desert – no more, no less. All so that, a century later, it could be used by a Hero who hasn't been born yet to slay an Evil he's never heard of and save a kingdom that isn't even his.
Destiny can be a bitch sometimes.