Chapter I: Elsewhere

As he sat upon his steed and looked off into the distance, the lone wanderer reckoned most folk would’ve considered the evening as normal as any other. As meandering across those bleak, dusty hills was his profession, he knew differently.
No sirree, he reaffirmed in his head. That just ain’t right.
The sky was silhouetted with shades of grey that faded with moonglow into black, but at one end of the foreboding desert landscape, a separate light shone bright and ominous. It was a strange kind of radiance, and while not terribly different from some of the natural phenomena he’d witnessed while crossing the land, night should’ve already swallowed it from view.
He’d traversed those plains countless times, and while most might find the long swaths of solitude he experienced difficult, he positively embraced it. There was something about the sound of the view. It was a noise imperceptible to those that weren’t used to traveling those canyons, who didn’t spend significant amounts of time with just themselves and their faithful mount, clip-clopping them dutifully forward. The beauty of the wastelands could be as easily appreciated as it might be intimidating, but to really recognize it for what it was, he knew you had to see and hear it behind your eyes. Everything in the desert was alive, even though it didn’t appear so at times, and that included the sky and clouds themselves. One need only sit and concentrate, and if you listened hard enough, you could hear it all not so much with your ears as you might your entire body. At dusk, the sun would audibly set, eaten slowly and in small chews by the mountains in the distance. The stars tiptoed out as it was consumed, stealing looks with blinking lashes to make sure the coast was clear. The brilliance of the day gave way to the shadows of the night as if swept back by a heavy curtain, dragging itself across a creaky wooden stage of land below it. These were loud and beautiful things.
The violet hue that hung in the distance rang with a din close to a sound he recognized, but it still was distinctly foreign to his trained ear, and Over-Sized Hat didn’t like it. It was worth investigating, and he’d been traveling towards it for nearly an entire day.
The unique moniker of “Over-Sized Hat” was one he’d gained not simply for the larger-than-necessary head-tent he wore, but also the great deal of time he spent with his eyes hidden behind it. He’d recited his idea of hearing the land around him to many of his customers as they’d traveled along his side, emphasizing his point that listening to those dunes was just as good as seeing them by dropping the lid of his felt helmet down to his nose as he rode. Skeptics were quickly proven wrong upon witnessing him successfully navigating the landscape in such a manner, an act he readily accomplished time and time again. In reality, he knew those trails so well that his whole head could have been covered; riding across them was something he’d done since he was younger than his earliest memory. The skill gave him a nom-de-plume that treated him well and increased his popularity amongst the townsfolk he’d help travel those dusty paths. Escorting those less proficient in the local geography was his livelihood, and being known by something as distinctive as “Over-Sized Hat” wasn’t the worst he’d been called. He’d been Hat for so long, very few remembered his real name, which was just fine by him. He’d become a story, an idea, and that wasn’t so bad. Better to be one in a legend than one of a legion, he thought.
He’d been alone when he first saw that purple glow and didn’t know anyone ripe with worthy opinions to ask along with him on his investigation. He thought it might be some kind of figment- he’d heard of the “northern lights” and had seen things similar to what he’d imagined those were, along with a bevy of other mirages out there in the moments between day and night. The setting of the sun wasn’t always peaceful, as that great, fiery globe was reluctant to go quietly from time to time. It liked to put up a fight, casting itself across the sands as if clutching at the dunes, searching for a handhold to stop it from sinking. Tendrils of blue and orange stretched across the valleys like fingers scraping, desperately grasping with glowing nails. Sometimes, darkness was an earned thing.
This new light, however, seemed like it was clawing up.
As he rode closer, a sound began to hum through the air, one that wasn’t part of the zen-like purring the world allowed him access to. It was a kind of buzzing, almost electric, and the atmosphere felt charged as he grew nearer. The further he traveled towards it, the more it beckoned him. It seemed strangely personalized in its seduction, as if some kind of sentient noise, knowing all the silly stories told of his exploits and the semi-truths behind them. It saw through the funny yarns chortled-over that made clients choose him for their tour of ‘the great big dirt,’ the tales he spun of things forbidden and dangerous that showcased him as a competent guide. No, this sound, this lavender beckoning, it spoke in a voice directly to him. It had his drawl and mannerisms, and invited him nearer with promises of things difficult to obtain out in the ghastly wild. It spoke of cool water and delicious food he could cook over an easily-built fire that wouldn’t spoil in-between settlements. It echoed music he might hear and dance to in a town square before resting his weary feet in an actual bed at night’s end. It knew his enticements, and the further he got, the more difficult the notion of turning away became.
And so, he rode onward.