Chapter One Part 1: A Monster Hunter and a Cowboy Walk into a Bar (I mean uh, a Saloon)
At my lowest moments, when I am faced with the utter depravity of my heart, I try to recall all of the reasons that people say we are alive.
If we are merely trapped in a cycle of reproduction it is meaningless. To live just to make life is to deny the nature of humanity and the longings of the human heart. To be accepted. To be understood. To be cherished. To be loved.
But if we are simply made for the satisfaction of our longings, where can it be found? For what if one is truly, and entirely, alone? Forgotten by all beings who could possibly reciprocate a feeling of care, and loved by none? How can one live for love then? How can one be confident that they are loved, seen, heard, and known?
Does that mean that love must be fought for, bought, or earned? Do we have to search for it like silver in the dust? Panning in the water for those flecks of gold so we can call ourselves rich in life, because we found what seemed impossible, what felt so rare? To be truly loved and cared for, more than just in name and speech, but in heart and truth.
But where can it be found? If there is no one on the earth with a flawless heart unmarked or unshaped by the hardships we all inevitably face… where is real love? Has love been cheapened? Have we settled for a love that only really means to appreciated for the face we choose to show? And even if we find someone with a loyalty so fierce they insist their love is sincere until the end, what then, is love? Is it loyalty? Is it happiness? Is it comfort in knowing that who you are with will stick with you through every trial, every betrayal, every turning of life? Is it a person?
Because if I am truly alone, and I am...
Who would be willing to pour into a broken vessel such as me? Or am I truly lost to the existentialist fatalism that consumes the truly hopeless?
Months ago, I would’ve wished myself dead, to escape a pain I thought unbearable: the furthest extent of loneliness I have ever experienced. Now, I desperately seek a way out, but I do not know the way. There are no answers found in the earth to the burning question in my heart: Who am I, and what is my purpose?
Or better yet, what is the purpose of the Nye? What is the future of our world? Is there an appointed end to suffering, not just my own? Or will it only endure, forever, and ever, long into eternity, with my existence just a speck on a self-sustaining timeline of life living on.
Why did the dragons make such a place ?
Did they know it would be like this? Did they have a choice? Where is the creator, who knows what they’re doing? And why the hell haven’t they told us what it is yet?
Clandestine rode up to the dusty saloon, looking out at the little desert town and its abundance of tumbleweed and dirt. Upon her arrival to this dry spot on the earth, she found that it was just as dismal and lifeless as she expected. Even though she loved the life and greenery of the forests, this was the one place on the continent that seemed to share a sense of mutual understanding. Her and the desert were in agreement.
Life was dry and dreary.
With a small tug on her reins, she came to a stop in front of the saloon and hopped off.
"What do you think of this place, Billy?" she asked as she patted her dark steed and rubbed the white star between his eyes. Billy only blinked in reply.
"Yeah, I think so too," Clandestine mumbled back. "It's just... okay, I guess," she said as she looked up at the faded sign hanging over the doors.
She let out a quiet sigh, giving Billy one last pet before she walked up the steps and gently pushed open the swinging doors into the quiet room.
From what she could tell when she walked in, it was a slow day. There were people scattered across tables, but even the inside of the saloon seemed to reflect the mood of the outdoors. Walking down the center of the room and weaving through tables, Clandestine made her way to the bar, where she caught the attention of the lone barkeep.
"Hey mister! I'm Clandestine," she said with a cheerful smile. "I'm a registered monster hunter, and I was wondering if you've heard of any monster-ly activity around where I might be in need?"
The barkeep raised his brows, drying a mug off with a towel.
"I haven't 'eard much, miss," he replied. "But there's been some word about sandworms messin' with local farms 'n such."
Clandestine's eyes opened wide with interest and she nodded, leaning forward on the bar. The barkeep gave her a look.
"D'ya wanna order anything miss?"
Clandestine stared at him for a second before she pulled away from the bar and laughed nervously.
"O-oh yeah! Yes, of course! Just uh, a little uh..." she paused, trying to think of different types of beer, and what people normally got to drink. She hoped it wasn't too obvious that she didn't frequent bars often. "...rum?" She said with less confidence than planned.
The barkeep simply nodded at her request and reached up for a bottle on the back shelf. Clandestine watched as he poured her a glass and plopped it in front of her.
"Two silver pieces," he said.
"Oh! Yeah, yeah, right," she mumbled as she dug around her pockets and set the coins next to her glass before picking it up and turning around to look at the rest of the bar. Now she had to decide where to sit. She bit her lip and tapped her foot for a few brief seconds as she scanned the few patrons in the bar before she looked back at the barkeep, preparing a bowl of soup.
She leaned over the bar again, causing him to look over.
"I can bring that to whomever it's for!" she said eagerly.
"That's not really necessary, miss," the barkeep said as he placed the bowl on a tray.
"I mean... it's not but. I'm offering. And you're the only one working here. And I'm free labor!" She smiled wide, hoping her pretty teeth would convince him.
The barkeep just looked over at her and sighed, shrugging. He slid the tray over the bar and gestured to the man in a cowboy hat at the far corner of the room.
"Don't spill," he said quietly.
"I won't!" Clandestine assured him as she carefully grabbed the tray in her free hand. Taking in a deep breath, she mustered up the energy to walk up to the table and set the tray down in front of him. As soon as she did, he looked out at her from underneath his hat. He looked... a lot like what she would've expected for someone in a cowboy hat, though maybe a little less rugged. He had reddish brown hair, a little goatee, and thick brows shadowing dark blue eyes. She gave him a smile.
"Hey there, cowboy! I'm no waitress, but I take tips!" she said as she plopped down in the seat across from him.
He chuckled, sliding the bowl of soup closer to him and stirring it up with the spoon. "Does that line really work?" He asked in what sounded like the stereotypical cowboy accent.
Clandestine smirked, shrugging before she took a sip of her drink. "I mean, it's worth a try." She set her mug down, and leaned back in the chair. He reached into his pocket and flicked a gold coin in the air that she caught as a pleasant surprise.
"Hah!” He really did give her a tip. “So, what's your name? I'm Clandestine."
"So I heard." He nodded towards the bar, indicating that he overheard. "I'm Matt."
Clandestine reached across the table and shook his hand. "Nice to meet you, Matt!”
“Likewise.” Matt paused to take a sip of soup, and looked at her curiously. “So... you’re a monster hunter?”
“Oh, yeah. Monster hunter by trade, traveller by habit. I thought maybe I’d try my hand at the game out here in the desert. It’s a change of scenery from the forests and mountains I’m used to. Presents a nice little challenge, haha.” She took another sip of rum. “And what do you do?”
Matt gestured to himself and his hat with a small grin. “Just as it looks. You already said what I am.”
Clandestine smiled to herself, proud of her first guess. Maybe it had been an assumption, but she wasn’t going to think too long on that.
“A cowboy," she declared with confidence.
As she took in the image of the man before her, for a moment, a different face was superimposed over his underneath his hat. The face of her father figure. The face of her mentor. The face of her friend. The man she'd only ever known as cowboy.
She blinked a few times to clear away the mental image. In a mock accent, she replied.
"Well that's just fine and dandy."