He hummed to himself along the way, songs from church or the radio, anything at all that entered his head.  It was a ridiculous thing to do, considering the odd situation he was in, but it felt good.  Everything felt good, in fact.  For the first time in years, Ethan Pitney felt happy, and sane.  He was inexplicably stranded in the middle of a desert, and yet he was having the best day he’d had in years.  He laughed out loud.

            I’m probably suffering from sunstroke, he thought to himself.  I’m going to get blisters on my bare feet, and I’ll probably die of dehydration, and here I am humming and laughing.  This is definitely the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to anyone, and I’m having the strangest possible reaction to the situation.  Oh well, at least I’ve managed to be unique even in death.  Contrary even to the end, eh, Ethan?

            As he walked, he began to make out the details of the blurred shape that he had seen.  The blur was almost certainly a cluster of rocks.  Perhaps from there he could figure out which way to go.  It would give him height, which could reveal something about this strange terrain other than sand, sand and more sand.

            Water, water, nowhere, and not a drop to drink, Ethan misquoted to himself.  I have an ocean of sand, however.  Should that someday prove useful, I won’t be in short supply. 

            He reached the rocks just as the sun began to sink low in the sky.  He swung up onto the first rock, which was leaning against another, taller rock.  From the first he could climb up onto the second, which was perhaps twelve feet high.  Ethan scrambled up on top, and then looked towards the west, shading his eyes against the setting sun.

            Another blur, but it could, perhaps, be hills in the distance.  The other directions offered nothing, nothing save sand and a sure, lonely death.  The hills then, if he meant to go on.  And he did.  There had been times in his life where he had felt like giving up, times of despair and pain, but this was not one of those times.  Even then he had found the strength to go on, so now, when he felt strangely stronger than he ever had before, now he was more than willing to continue.

            Tomorrow, he told himself.  Tomorrow we’ll head for the hills.  He got down from the rock and hit the sand.  He crawled underneath the first rock, for it created a hollow where it leaned against the other.  It would make a good shelter, for now.  Ethan curled up in a ball for warmth, feeling the cold of night coming on with the setting of the sun.  The desert was an oven during the day, but its heat left it at night, so it became a freezer.

            It took awhile, but he gradually drifted off to sleep.  And as he slept, he dreamed.

He dreamed first of the snow, as he usually did.  Buried in an ocean of whiteness, drowning alone in the cold, he clawed to get out.  He reached the surface of the piled snow, only to find a blizzard howling all about him.  A voice was calling out to him, a warm, feminine voice, and it gave him hope.  She was coming to save him.  He could see her silhouette through the snow, coming towards him.  Closer and closer…  He could almost make out features this time, could almost see her face, but once again the dream ended too soon for it to become clear.

            Closer this time, he thought to himself.  Soon I’ll see her…  He drifted, and dreamed a new dream.

            There was still snow, but the blizzard was no more.  He stood on a hill, holding a sword in his hand.  He wore leather armour, and warm furs.  His breath steamed from his nostrils and mouth, rising like smoke into the frigid night air.  A battle raged all around him, and the spilled blood steamed as it hit the snow, painting it red. 

            Several metres away he saw two figures struggling.  They were at the edge of the battle, away from the others, and he suddenly saw one drop its sword and fall.  He rushed towards them, and saw the other run, heading west towards the setting sun.  It set like a thin line of blood on the horizon and the sky was painted in rich violet as the stars began to come out, but he saw little of this.  He was more concerned with the fallen figure, lying at his feet in the snow.

            Long dark hair spilled around her face in waves.  Tendrils of it covered her visage, so he pushed the strands of hair away.  It was his sister, and a thin trickle of blood lined the edge of her mouth and headed down her cheek towards the ground.

            “Evie?”  He asked, his voice seeming to echo in the dream.

            “Ethan,” she answered, her voice carrying the same way, “Ethan, you must stop him.”

            “Who?”  He asked, clutching her hand in his.  He looked into her eyes, such a dark blue, so different from his own, and he panicked.  She seemed to be drifting from him, hardly seeing him at all.  She looked up, perhaps at the stars, and he saw how blue her lips were, how pale her skin.  Her leather armour was bloodstained, but he couldn’t tell if any of it was her blood.

            “He is the Reaper.”  She said.  “The Dark Warrior.  He is the Tiger.  He is Death.  You must stop him.”  She closed her eyes.

            “Don’t leave me, Evie!”  He demanded.  He screamed it over and over, clutching her hand, his head tossed back.  He could see the stars, staring like billions of cold eyes in the dark, eyes that didn’t care what happened below, so long as they could go on watching.

            He woke up screaming.

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