I rode until the night and then some more. The goal was clear: Scarland, before the guards at the border had gotten the news of who I was. Villages flew past, and the full moon dimly lit the way. I eventually reached the ruins, the sound of hooves on dirt changed to hooves on stone. I slowed down.
— Halt! Who’s there?, a guard yelled.
— A traveller, headed to the scarred lands.
— You mean Gon?
— If that’s the place of this godforsaken place ahead, so be it.
— Business or pleasure?
— Sort of business, I suppose. I’m looking for a liquid that can burn, and I had hoped for the fiery mountains in there to help with it.
— I see, but you don’t seem well equipped to go to a desert like it.
— It’s all I have. I’m no wealthy merchant, I’m just a regular guy, desperate enough to try to invent a thing before becoming part of the poor.
— Do you have a water storage?
— No. I had hoped I wouldn’t need one if I travelled at night.
— You’re a crazy son of a bitch, just enough to have my sympathy. Here, take my waterskin. It might just help you on your crazy endeavour.
And it did. I rode onwards, until sunrise, until the heat came. Ralph had warned me that it’d be unlike anything I ever felt, but he was wrong. It felt exactly as standing between two steel melting ovens.
Ovens, which stretched into every direction.
The horse’s movements slowed down as the heat started to rise. I couldn’t be upset at the poor thing, I wouldn’t want to carry anything around in this heat either. But we had a goal to reach, the fiery mountain that was straight ahead. The scarred landscape we had travelled through in the night had changed again, the sand had given way to black rocks. But the peak still was far away.
As it turned evening, the horse suddenly refused to move on. It seemed to feel that this was the end. I drank the last bit of water I had and unmounted. The heat of the sun gave way to the heat of the ground. I stepped forwards and jumped backwards, causing the horse to run away in horror. My foot was on fire. I quickly removed my boot, maybe the foot would survive though it, and looked around. What I thought to be yet more black rocks turned out to be the crust of a burning liquid. I had reached my goal, except that I was following the wrong goal all along. This liquid was viscous, it clung like cheese on the remnants of my boot, and as it cooled down, it stopped being a liquid and became as sturdy as the black rocks around me.