This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge is to spend 1000 words on three random pictures.

My pictures are:

Criticism is welcome and appreciated.

***

Anes regretted her wardrobe. The wide hem of her dress dangled beneath her feet, the black cloth bleached gray by the dust of heavy riding.

She had left Phoenix in haste, by night, with no time to prepare travel clothes. She should have been safe in the pathetic little capital for at least another fifteen years, but somehow the hunters had found her. She was actually somewhat thankful, Phoenix was both uncouth and appallingly boring.

The sun was rising as she neared the abandoned town, setting the desert aglow. Goldfield lay beneath unfriendly mountain, and she hated it at first sight. Another fickle flame sputtering to life with the discovery of gold or iron and flickering out when the veins of metal ran dry.

She stopped before the saloon, tethering her horse at a bone dry trough. Cassius, or whatever he was calling himself these days, should be here soon. He could water the beast.

The saloon was drier than the trough. Whatever furniture once belonged here must have been carted away when the town died, a dust caked upright piano all that remained. The open floor and bare shelves unsettled her, resonating with some half forgotten memory.

Footprints were easily visible and she followed them to the bar, her dress like the prow of a ship, creating a wake in the dust. She would delight in burning the garment as soon as this was over.

She opened the envelope laying on the bar and began reading the watermarked parchment inside.

 

Mistress,

I apologize for not being here in person. I have found a potential identity for you and am currently taking steps to secure it. The Saloon’s cellar is stocked and I’ve filled the cistern. If I am not back by the 25th, please proceed to Beaumont directly, and ask for Donalt Castor at the Goodhue Inn. 

 

She frowned in annoyance, tucking the parchment inside the envelope. Cassius was just starting his second century but showed rare promise for one so young. He seemed to understand society better than any of them, and his control of water rivaled the Praesul himself. Still, requiring her to spend time in this grimy little hellhole was presuming too much. He would need to be punished.

With a wisp of concentration she gathered warmth from the early morning air and focused it into the envelope. The day was still cool but there was more than enough heat, the envelope flashed into flame and ash fluttered to the floor.

She saw to her horse with efficiency, making warm noises for the beast as she rubbed it down, ensuring that it was watered and fed. Making sure that it was ready to carry her away from Goldfield.

The stores Cassisus had stocked the saloon with were adequate, and she passed two days lost in reverie. On the third day, they came.

Hooves thundered upon dirt, coming to a stop just outside of the saloon. She was on the second floor and walked out on the patio, counting six men on horse. Her brow furrowed and she quelled the impulse to rash out with fire as she recognized the rider hanging behind the others. A heavy black coat hung from his shoulders and a ridiculous beard sprouted from his cheeks and upper lip but left the chin bare. She’d given up trying to understand fashion by her third century.

“Cassius, do introduce me to your… friends.”

Cassius met her gaze, fear in his eyes.

“Mistress, forgive me. They are,” he paused, his mouth tightening. “holding someone I care about.”

“Tsk. You should not care so much for your pets. But you are young, the necessary detachment will come with age.”

All but one of the riders pointed their guns at her, and she drew back from the edge. Amazing how cannons had been made so portable.

The man who had not drawn tilted the brim of his white hat back, the cross at his throat glinting in the afternoon sun as he looked up at her.

“Anes Martinez, you are accused of witchcraft. You will be escorted to phoenix for trial, or be shot down where you stand.” He paused to spit a wad of tobacco into the dust and looked back up with a grin. “Frankly, you’ll make my day if you resist. Keeping a set of eyes on you all the way back to the city is gonna be a pain in the ass.”

She grinned, and then laughed.

“Cassius, you delightful child. You didn’t tell them what an elder can do, did you?”

The afternoon air was brimming with heat. She could feel it pounding down from the sun, and she could feel it rising from the ground in waves. Begging to be used. She smiled wickedly and focused it into the guns below her. Into bullets the fools had strapped across their chests. Into the air before their eyes.

The men’s calm was shattered by small explosions and blinding pain. Their horses panicked and three of the hunters fell to the ground, clutching at their eyes or flailing mindlessly. The fourth, wearing a long leather coat she quite admired, shrieked as his horse dragged him away from the saloon, his left foot tangled in a stirrup.

She approached the railing again. The man who had spoken was bringing his horse under control, the cross at his throat still gleaming. The stallion’s front hooves touched dirt and his hand flashed to the handle of his pistol, only to flinch away from the red hot metal.

She met his stare for a moment, then reduced cross at his throat to slag. Even though he must be fighting panic, the hunter flung the molten metal away with his already burned hand.

“You are suspected of being a fool. You will answer my questions, or have the skin burned from your flesh where you stand.” She paused, showing teeth as she smiled. “Frankly, you’ll make my day if you resist.”