Image courtesy of The Hub Pages
Image courtesy of Michael Whelan
High above them the sky was blue, blank, and cloudless, and seemed innocent of any gods. And yet it might have been that forces were massing invisibly behind the two men; though the gunslinger and the sorceror stood alone as they faced each other before the battle, it could be said that each had a higher power on his side.
In Roland’s world, it is called ka. In Rand al’Thor’s, it is the Wheel of Time. They are guided, protected, blessed, burdened, and cursed by these forces; in mysterious, unseen hands are their fates written. Ka has always guided Roland to the Tower, through all his endless lifetimes; the Pattern is woven around Rand.
But these were not the only powers that ruled this match.
Before the battle, another yet more ferocious battle was raging in the stands, as wagers were taken, the odds rose and fell by the hour, and long, boozy arguments were carried over from tailgate parties to the arena benches. Though the tumult in the stands was nearly deafening, every voice sought to answer the same question: What was it, after all, that would decide this battle? Some referred to ancient and immutable laws–Guns beat swords. Magic beats guns–in endless philosophical rock-paper-scissors-style throwdowns. Convoluted quasi-theological arguments parsing the nature of ka, the vast and mysterious workings of the Pattern, grew thick and fast like choking vines.
The Tower junkies and WoT fanboys raised voices, raised fists…and raised glasses in celebration of the two great warriors before them. In the end, their applause would prove greater than either ka or the Wheel.
But as the match began, Roland gave no thought to cultivating their adoration, to converting those skeptics who had doubted he could take down the Elric and Gandalf–there was no time. No matter how it ended, it would end quickly…so quickly that later few who watched could even describe what they saw.
It was agreed that Roland must have drawn his guns. It could even be seen on the instant replay after the match–though only when played back in slow motion, and even then the motion of the gunslinger’s hands was a bright and blinding blur.
And even the most fervent Tower junkies could not argue that Rand al’Thor–now the highest-ranking seed left in the tournament, the oddsmakers noted–had not been ready, or that he did not have great, universe-shattering powers to call on. After all, the destruction of both Locke Lamora and Conan had been the work of an instant.
But it happened in less than an instant, in a unit of time so small it cannot be measured or named.
It was only for Roland that the event was perfectly perceivable; it had happened in the strange field of infinitely slow time that only gunslingers know. It was as if, when Roland drew his father’s guns, he had years to line up his sights and find just the right spot in the center of Rand al’Thor’s forehead. That the bullet took another decade to fly to its target straight and true. That the pitiless fusillade of bullets that followed–after fighting Elric and Gandalf, Roland knew that it was better to be safe than sorry–seemed to him as the stately movement of the planets around the sun.
As the bullets slammed into the sorceror’s body, Roland saw Rand hang suspended in the air, borne aloft by the impact of each bullet, for so painfully long that the old sorrows gripped his heart; another hero dead, and all for the Tower. He watched each droplet of blood gleam in the sunlight, soar through the air, and fall to the ground to darkly stain the dust. When Rand’s body finally fell to the ground it was slowly, heavily, with all the weight of the terrible deed, only the latest in his long and cursed life, that Roland had wrought.
The world around Roland slid into focus again. The killing had ended, for now.
For a moment, but only for a moment, the stands fell silent as the stunned audience wondered if they could believe what they had seen. And then they raised their voices…
Predicted Winner: Roland Deschain
(Rand Al’Thor is a character from Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series; Roland Deschain is a character from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.)