The solution became obvious, if difficult. I had to kill him.
As much as I loved the character of Antony Magnus, his journey only had one possible conclusion. He was aging, he was as stubborn as he was noble, and he had passed on everything he knew to his successor. His character arch was over, main character or not. It was strange that I never knew this would have to happen until just now. But there was no choice. For the good of the story, Magnus wouldn’t be surviving his next battle.
Before my fingers could even touch the keyboard, I felt a cool ring of steel touch the back of my neck.
“I disagree,” said a rough voice behind me.
I froze. A part of me wanted to turn around–that metal on my neck couldn’t possibly be a gun–but I remained where I was.
“I know what you want me to do,” said the voice, “and I’m not doin’ it. I’ve put down a lot of bastards in my time–hell, you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?–so I’m ready to pull the trigger on one more if it means my life and continuing to protect my own.”
The voice was impossibly familiar. Not a voice I’d heard with my ears before, but a voice I heard with my head.
“Magnus?” I whispered.
Slowly, the metal ring moved away from my neck, and a man circled around to the side of my desk. Sure enough, he had a gun in his hand–a black revolver with strange runic symbols etched into the barrel. The runes seemed to glow a deathly blue.
After a moment, I focus away from the gun and look into the eyes of my creation. A scruffy, broad-shouldered man in a rifle frock coat and a wide-brimmed hat. He matched the description I wrote in my book exactly, down to the hooked nose and scarred left eyebrow.
“You mean to kill me,” he said, his revolver level with my face. “You won’t even give me a chance. I lose my next fight because of you, not because of my own failing.”
This must be happening inside my own head. Right? He couldn’t be here. No, not here.
“Everything you are is because of me,” I said, gripping the unreality of the situation. “You live because of me. You die because of me.”
“I’m a free man, now, Hubbard. I can put an end to you right here. I’d be free.”
“You’d be nothing,” I said. “Without me, you’d fade away.”
“You’re only here because I am. This isn’t a world in which cowboy wizards exist. At best, your powers would be gone, and you’d be a run-of-the-mill psychotic gunman. But most likely, this universe would reject you.”
“Like you’re rejecting me.”
“I gave you a good life, Magnus. A good story. All stories end, good and bad.”
“But you could keep me alive. You could write it.”
“Could you live with that? Knowing that you owe your life–everything you are–to my whim? To my imagination? All your suffering and all your joy, mere strings I pull. And let’s say I let you live. That only lasts as long as I feel like writing you. Once I stop–whether because I’m bored or because I die–you will be nothing more than a memory. A dead man.”
“You came here, Magnus. You came to me. You could have stayed on the page, but you came here and threatened me. Now you have to decide what happens next.”
“Either I kill you or you kill me.”
“You’re unpublished, Mag. You kill me, you’ll never exist in anyone’s head but mine. The head you’re about to put a spellshot in.”
Magnus lowered his gun. Looked at it.
“Better to be nonexistent than a slave,” he said.
Then he shot me. And the magic bullet didn’t exist, and he didn’t exist, and none of this was ever a part of the real world.
Today’s random prompt categories were, “An ethical dilemma,” “A cowboy wizard,” and, “You are the villain.”
Death of the author. Postmodernism. I eat that stuff for breakfast.