That Horrible Moment Chapter 7

The Next Day

By Donraj

The dawn only illuminated the horrific scene more clearly.

        Rosa awoke to find her hand clutching Xavier’s. For a moment, that fact comforted her, bringing back the peace that she had felt as she slept.

        Then she remembered, and reality came crashing down on her.

        She released the dead hand instantly, scrambling away awkwardly. Her breath quickened and her pulse raced as she remembered the vicious battles of the night before. She remembered her duel with the assassin, the shock of Xavier’s murder, and her futile attempt at revenge. And after that…

        After that, everything became hazy. She vaguely remembered some sort of light, but the details of the memory scattered like pollen in the wind as she tried to recall them.

        Perhaps it had all been a dream?

        She rose, dismissing the confused images. What did it matter? It would not change anything. He was dead.

        She looked at Xavier’s still warm body. Grief filled her once more, but the edge was gone. It had been altered somehow, become easier to bear, less raw, although no less deep.

        As she stood, she realized that her leg was supporting her without complaint! Her ankle felt fine, and her many cuts and bruises seemed to have vanished without a trace. She did not understand it, but she knew, somehow, that Xavier was responsible.

        A single tear rolled down her cheek. Wiping it off, she turned away. She had to see if anyone else had survived the night.


        Gilliam’s awakening was less peaceful. As he rolled over slightly, he laid on the wound Lanal’s dagger has left in his side. The pain broke his dark, dreamless sleep like rock hitting pottery. He sprang into a sitting position, only to immediately fall prone again, this time gasping in pain. He opened his eyes to see Ellis staring down at him. His head had been lying in her lap.

        “So you’re awake,” she said quietly.

        “W-What happened?” he asked, trying again to sit up. “How did I end up here?”

        “You fainted last night,” she said as she gently but firmly pushed him back down. “You should not have been running with those wounds.”

        All traces of the vulnerability and panic that had been written on her face last night were gone, replaced by the calm, cheerful adventurer’s façade she normally wore. Gilliam wondered if he had imagined the stark terror he had seen in her, or if Ellis was as adept at acting as she was a juggling.

        Another stab of pain drew his attention back to his injuries. He reached for his side with his left hand to find that it was tightly bandaged. His right arm was also heavily wrapped with cloth. Ellis noticed his movements.

        “I cleaned out your wounds the best I could. They’re bad, but there was no internal bleeding, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. I did have to cut your shirt off though.”

        Gilliam wondered what he should say.

        “I, thank you. Where did you learn how to do this sort of thing?”

        Ellis shrugged absently.

        “When you travel as much as I have, you pick up a thing or two.

        Gilliam started to say something else, but a wave of nausea cut him off.

        “Not so fast,” Ellis cautioned him. “Alberto gave you a drug to reduce the pain, but it must be wearing off,” She turned her head back towards the entrance. “Alberto!”

        “Where are we?” Gilliam managed to croak.

        “In one of the wagons. Now hush.”

        Gilliam began to drift back into darkness, but it was not the cold blackness it had been. It seemed almost comforting this time. Ellis…


        Gilliam awoke once more sometime later (he could not tell how long) with a shriek of pain. His head jerked up and he saw Alberto’s face as the mage knelt over him. Alberto nodded and released Gilliam’s arm.

        “What are you doing?!” Gilliam demanded.

        Alberto looked at Gilliam intently, his pure blue eyes fevered.

        “Checking you injuries. You were lucky, the blade nicked the nerves and damaged the muscle, but nothing was severed. You should be able to regain the use of your arm, eventually.”

        “Eventually?” Gilliam asked nervously. “How long?”

        Alberto shrugged. “A few months. Less if we can find a good healer.”

        Alberto held his thumb and forefinger less then an inch apart. “It came this close to slashing the blood vessel in your forearm open!” he said cheerfully. Now, does it still hurt?”

        Gilliam started to snap at him, but realized that the pain had in fact faded. He shook his head.

        “Good,” Alberto said. “The opiate is taking effect.”

        Gilliam glared at him. “And why didn’t you wait until after it did before you started poking my arm?”

        Alberto shrugged.

        “Where’s Ellis?” Gilliam asked as he looked around the wagon’s interior.

        “Outside,” Alberto said cheerfully. She and Rosa are digging a pit for all the bodies.”

        Gilliam winced despite the pain-killer.

        “How many?” he asked quietly.

        “Not many of ours, actually,” Alberto said, oblivious to Gilliam’s distress. “Many of the guards died, but at least half of them managed to escape when the goblins came. A bunch of the bandits are dead, and I think that the priest guy is too.”

        Gilliam closed his eyes at that last part. He had barely known Xavier, but the young cleric had been the most comforting person in the entire caravan. He reopened his eyes and looked back at Alberto as a question hit him”


        “Long story.”

        Rapidly, Alberto filled him in. Gilliam shook his head in disbelief. They had been saved by a pack of goblins? That was why they had survived?

        “Actually, the old guy, Hanlon, managed to capture one. I was just about to go out and see it when you woke up. Do you feel up to moving?”

        Gilliam nodded unsteadily. Alberto pointed to a broken branch about three feet long that was leaning against the foot of the bed.

        “We found a stick for you to use.”


        Gilliam blinked as his eyes adjusted to the morning light. As he emerged from the wagon, leaning on his make-shift staff, he saw Hanlon, Rosa, and Ellis standing around a squirming form lying on the ground. Hanlon seemed completely unconcerned, but whatever it was clearly had Rosa and Ellis on edge. Rosa was fingering the hilt of her sword nervously, and Ellis had bow and arrow in hand. She had not pulled the shaft back yet, but she was clearly ready to do so at any time.

        Hanlon looked up as Gilliam and Alberto exited the wagon. “Ah good, you’re here. We can begin.”

        He pulled the bound creature to its feet. Gilliam started as he realized that he was looking at a snarling goblin!

        “This is Katoi,” Hanlon began calmly. “He and I had a long chat last night about his clan and those bandits. Isn’t that right Katoi?”

        Hanlon had not done anything threatening, but the goblin flinched at his words. Ceasing his struggling, Katoi settled down. Gilliam wondered just what Hanlon had done to induce such obedience in the savage creature.

        “Apparently the bandits we were hunting have skirmished with some of Katoi’s people, and have occupied one of their caves as a hideout. This made the goblins very unhappy, and Katoi’s group has been hunting them for revenge. As luck would have it, they went after the bandits at the same time the bandits went after us.”

        Rosa shuddered.

        “Who were those people? No ordinary bandits, that’s clear.”

        Hanlon started to respond, but Ellis beat him to it.

        “Touten,” she said, in a voice of utter hatred.

        Hanlon nodded, his face turning grim.

        “Indeed. But how did you know?”

        Ellis looked at him coldly.

        “Several years ago, a group of soldiers rode into my family’s camp during the night and slaughtered every single one of them. I was only a child, but I will never forget the dragoon that led them, or the red-haired assassin that followed him.”

        “Drake and Lanal.”

        They all turned to look at Hanlon.

        “That is their names. The one in the armor is Drake, the red-haired one is Lanal.”

        He turned to Alberto.

        “The wizard you fought in the forest is named Chell. The three of them were officers in the Touten knights during the war, and some of most evil bastards I’ve ever seen.”

        “How do you know them?” Rosa asked suspiciously.

        “I fought as a mercenary during the War; I was assigned to the same area as them a few times.” Hanlon stared off into the distance for a moment, seeming to look at something in the depths of his memory.

        “They’re monsters,” he said quietly. “They butchered anyone who got in their path, slaughtered entire villages to keep the enemy from using them, and the things they did to prisoners…”

        Hanlon fell silent.

        “How did they end up as bandits?” Gilliam asked.

        Hanlon shrugged.

        “Back then, they nobles were willing to ignore the way they fought as long as they were successful. But once it was over, they couldn’t be allowed to continue. They were probably either banished or arrested afterwards when the Touten were disbanded.”

        “Just what are we up against?” Gilliam pressed. Hanlon looked at him gravely.

        “Some of the worst enemies you could find. The small one, Lanal, is a master assassin. He’s adept at infiltration, and with his demeanor people automatically trust him, until he puts a knife between their ribs.”

        Gilliam winced and held his side as Hanlon continued.

        “The one in the armor is Drake. No one knows where he came from or what he looks like behind that mask. All I know is that he is probably the most efficient killer in the world. He comes out of nowhere, is a master with the spear, and is almost invincible behind that armor.”

        “The third one,” he continued, “is Chell. On the surface, he appears emotionless, but don’t be fooled. He’s a sadist, and he loves nothing more then feeling a person die at his hands.”

        Hanlon’s body shook.

        “He’s the one that’s haunted my worst nightmares over the years. Some of the things I’ve seen him do, no, you’re better off not knowing.”

        They were all silent for a moment.

        Finally, Gilliam cleared his throat and spoke up.

        “So what do we do now?”

        After a moment, Ellis spoke, her voice as cold as ice.

        “We track them down and we kill them.”

        Hanlon turned to her in surprise.

        “Agreed,” Rosa said, her tone equally grim.

        “You mean to go after them after all I’ve told you? Are you insane?! I don’t care how much you are being paid, it’s not worth it!”

        “Money has nothing to do with it,” Rosa said, her voice trembling with suppressed emotion. “I watched a good man die in my arms last night after Drake murdered him. I can’t walk away, not after that.”

        “This is personal,” Ellis agreed.

        Hanlon turned to Gilliam, hoping he would see reason, but he too nodded.

        “We left the Hokuten because of people like them. I’ve stood by and watched innocent people die too many times; I won’t let it happen again! If we walk away now, more people with die at their hands.”

        Growing animated despite his injured state, Gilliam gestured around at the carnage around them.

        “If they are not stopped, this will happen again to someone else!”

        Hanlon turned to Alberto, but realized he would find no support there. Sighing, he finally relented.

        “Alright. If you are all determined to go, I’ll come with you.”

        They looked at him in surprise.

        “You would come with us?” Gilliam asked.

        Hanlon, his face a stone mask, looked at him.

        “Those were my men who died last night, guards under my command, people I lived and worked with. This is my fight too.”

        A spot of moisture filled his aged eyes, Hanlon quickly brushed it away.

        “Besides,” he said huskily, “I stood by and watched too many times myself.”

        All was silent for a minute. Then Alberto asked a question.

        “So how are we going to find them?”

        Rosa, Ellis, and Gilliam all flinched at that. None of them had thought that far ahead. Hanlon, regaining his composure, grinned.

        “Remember how I said they took one of the goblins’ homes as their hideout? Katoi here knows exactly where they are.”

        “You want us to trust a goblin?!” Gilliam asked incredulously.

        “We trust Alberto, don’t we?” Ellis pointed out.

        “Good point,” he conceded.

        Crouching in front of the small creature, Gilliam looked into its red eyes.

        “Are you willing to help us find Drake and the others?”

        Katoi leapt to his feet. “I will tear them limb from limb and eat their hearts!” he snarled viciously.

        “I think I am going to like him,” Alberto commented.

        That drew a slight chuckle from Hanlon, but, after seeing the dead serious expressions on the other’s faces he stopped. A new thought occurred to him.

        “What happened to Chell anyway?”

        Alberto just smiled.



        Amid the blasted trees and burnt underbrush, a charred, blacked figure lay motionless. The ground around it had been scorched bare, leaving only flame-hardened earth behind.

        Its clothing had been ripped and partially burned away by the energies that had seared its flesh black. For several long moments, it was utterly still, then it shuddered as it drew in a ragged breath.

        Somehow, Chell clung to life.

        He did not seem likely to stay that way for long. His body had been blasted mercilessly; it was a testament to Chell’s iron will that he survived at all. But the trauma was too severe; stubbornness could only hold the darkness back for so long. In a matter of minutes, Chell would be dead.

        The wizard refused to accept it. Desperately, he tried to focus his remaining strength. His thoughts flew back to his early days, to the gentle monks that had taken him into their monastery and taught him all they knew of the healing arts.

        He remembered how he had grown dissatisfied with such simple spells, how he had delved deeper, learning darker magics.

        He remembered how he had used that magic to murder the kind monks, one by one.

        He had enjoyed that.

        It was those first spells that Chell needed now, needed the gentle healing energies that could save him. He called to them, shaping his will to summon forth the magic he needed to live.

        It was no good, the magic would not come.

        Chell’s magic centered on the balance between two poles, light and dark, life and death. He had realized early on that if he tilted the balance in the opposite direction a healing spell could become a deadly weapon.

        But Chell had thrown that delicate balance aside, had embraced the darkness, embraced death. And now, when he needed it most, the light of life would not come.

        Infuriated, Chell screamed in outrage. Defiant and unrepentant, he used his rage to reach for the other pole, calling out to the darkness. And the darkness answered.

        Blackness began to crawl into being around his body, spreading over his form like ink. It engulfed him, enshrouded him, enfolded him. He could feel it worming itself into his body, coating his burns, seeping through every pore. He screamed, whether in torment or ecstasy he could not say.

        He stood, black energy surrounding him like a cloak. He laughed in triumph, knowing that somehow he had prevailed. He rested his hands against one of the still standing trees. The dark aura spread from him and slid onto the tree.

        As the corrupting power swept over the tree it withered and died. Its leaves fell and its branches rotted. Finally, the once proud giant broke with a dull crack and fell to the ground, already rotting.

        Unlike his life-draining spells, none of tree’s strength flowed into him. That was alright, it was a small price to pay for the unholy pleasure of killing the once living thing.

        The nimbus of darkness around Chell began to fade, revealing the necromancer in his tattered robes. All trace of injury was gone; his flesh was whole and seemed completely unmarred, albeit a bit gray. He clapped his hands exultantly, then looked down at them curiously as the made a dry click.

        His hands were nothing more then fleshless bone. Where the energy from Alberto’s counter spell had burned him there was nothing left but two skeletal appendages. From the wrists up his arms were normal, all except the bleached bone at the ends.

        Curiously, he tried to flex them. The nerveless fingers obeyed his will as perfectly as if they were still covered with skin.

        Deciding it must be the result of whatever magic had saved him, he shrugged, accepting the bizarre change. He rather liked their new appearance, actually.

        He started to walk off, then stopped as a strange feeling came over him. He stopped and focused his attention on a point several yards away. A strange sensation swept over him, and his surroundings simply fell away to be replaced by a new setting!

        He looked around, trying to regain his bearings. Somehow he had simply teleported across the intervening distance!

        Chell smiled. This new state, whatever it was, had many advantages indeed. But for now, he would walk.

        He had to find the others.


        Far away, in a dark, lightless place, Lich watched Chell’s progress.

        And smiled.


        Lanal shut up for once.

        He sensed Drake’s anger at the night’s events, his rage at being forced to flee in defeat. Lanal knew he should remain silent for now, knew that better then to remind his vicious leader of his own failures.

        But for all of his years of hard experience, Lanal had never learned to keep his mouth shut.

        “How many are left?”

        Drake made no reply. After several seconds, Lanal started to speak again, but Drake cut him off.

        “Less then a dozen remain at the base. It is unlikely that more then a handful of the men who fled into the forest will return, if any.”

        “Too few to continue operations,” a new voice interrupted. Both Drake and Lanal turned to see Chell standing there, his hands tucked into the full sleeves of his tattered robes.

        “So you survived!” Lanal said enthusiastically. “After the sounds I heard, I was worried. What happened?”

        “That is none of your concern,” Chell said flatly. “Now, what is our next move?”

        “We will have to go underground until we can replenish our ranks,” Drake said.

        Lanal sighed. “We will have to train them from scratch, and most of our officers died last night,” he groused. “It will take awhile to put together an usable force.”

        “There is never a lack of men willing to kill for wealth,” Drake stated coldly.

        “I take it our arrangement with that nobleman is off?”

        Drake nodded.

        “Then we must get rid of him, he knows too much about us and our operations. Tiran as well, after tonight he will realize what I am, and he knows my face.”

        “We will see to them all,” Drake promised.

        “I will not be going with you,” Chell interjected. Drake turned to regard him. Anyone else he would have killed on the spot for speaking thus, but the dragoon had reached a mutual understanding with the taciturn wizard over the years. He waited for Chell to elaborate.

        “I may be able to strengthen our forces. I will meet you at the base.”

        So saying, Chell closed his eyes. With a crackle of black light, he was gone.

        “When did he learn to do that?!” Lanal exclaimed. Drake started at him coldly.

        “Chell’s magic is Chell’s business. Now, we go.”

        “As you say sir,” Lanal replied obediently. “Ah, which way is Dorter?”


        Katoi sniffed suddenly. Stopping in his tracks, the goblin went down on all fours. The others eyed him nervously, wondering what the unpredictable creature was up to. Katoi looked up at them.

        “They passed this way.”

        Hanlon looked at him intently. “Which ones.”

        “Two,” the goblin grunted. “I smell metal. One of them is heavy, the other light.”

        “Drake and Lanal,” Hanlon said. “Which way were they going?”

        Katoi was already moving. “This way.”

        They followed Katoi’s lead as the goblin followed the tracks, often stopping to check for a boot print or sniff the ground. After about an hour, he came to an abrupt halt.

        “A third one joined them here,” Katoi announced. “I smell death.”

        “Death?” Rosa asked curiously.

        “Death,” the goblin confirmed.

        Before Rosa could ask him to elaborate, the goblin began speaking again.

        “They stayed here for sometime, then left in that direction,” he said, pointing east. “They are not heading towards their lair.”

        “They’re headed towards Dorter,” Rosa pointed out. “They must still have business there.”


        As one they looked towards Ellis.

        “He might be able to help us, if they are in the city,” she finished.

        “He might be working with them. You said he was the one that assigned Lanal with us,” Gilliam pointed out.

        Ellis shook her head.

        “I don’t think so, he seemed trustworthy.”

        “I would have said the same thing about Lanal,” Gilliam muttered under his breath.

        “If he isn’t, he might be their next target,” Hanlon pointed out. “That would be their usual tactics; they never like to leave witnesses behind.”

        “Either way, Dorter is where we need to go,” Rosa interjected.

        “I know a woman there who could treat Gilliam’s injuries completely,” Alberto said unexpectedly.

        “She’s right,” Gilliam agreed, privately shaking the thought of having Alberto chose his doctor. “Let’s get a move on; they have a head start on us.”

        They all agreed, and soon the party was off. Katoi sniffed the air in confusion as they left the area though.

        Only two sets of tracks led away from the place.


        Chell opened his eyes as the abandoned campground came into being around him. Removing his skeletal hands from his sleeves, he clicked his fingers together rhythmically. Slowly, he looked the place over.

        The wagons still stood there, abandoned by the survivors. The ground, torn up by the clawed feet of the galloping chocobos, was turning to puddles of mud under the light rain that had begun to fall. In his mind, he could hear the screams of dying men from the night before as clearly as if he had been there. He smiled.

        He walked across the tortured earth, newly gained senses guiding him inerrantly towards what he sought. Soon he stood before a large patch of recently overturned soil. Under it, he could sense the bodies of the fallen buried beneath. Spreading his hands wide, he began to emit an eerie sound from the back of his throat. It was a song of smothering earth and rotting flesh, of the nothingness that lay beneath reality. It was a canticle to Death Itself.

        Crouching, he placed his hands palms down against the dirt of the mass grave. A black ichor began to congeal into being atop them, dripping into the soil. The ground seemed to wither somehow as it did, a sickening, fetid stench arising from it. Poisoning the earth itself with his evil, Chell chanted, calling out to the darkness.

        The ground began to bulge and shift, as though the very land was straining to escape his touch. Finally, a pallid hand pushed through the soil, followed be many, many more. A grin of depraved pleasure split the evil man’s face as bandit and guardsman alike rose to his call.

        When it was done, Chell looked at them. They stood at strange, unnatural angles, like puppets jerking to crude tugs on a string. Fatal wounds lay wide open and covered with grave soil, letting out a stench that would make a normal man vomit. Only their eyes showed any signs of true life, red, and gleaming with malignant intelligence.

        “I have summoned you here and clothed you in mortal husks that you might do what you love the best: kill the living. Know this. If you obey me, you will feel the crunch of human flesh and bone beneath your hands. Defy me, and I will cast you back into the pits I drew you from, and find replacements from among your brethren. Do you understand?”

        A ghastly moan went up from among the zombie ranks, answering Chell’s question. He smiled again and prepared to go, but then something else caught his attention.

        There was another body nearby.

        At the edge of the clearing, under a tall, majestic tree, a small grave had been dug. Focusing his will, he blinked in and out of existence, reappearing before it. Placing his hands atop the grave, he repeated his chant.

        But something blocked him, driving him back. He fell back a few steps, hands instinctively positioned to block whatever inexplicable force had driven him off. As hard as he tried, he could not reach the grave!

        Snarling with anger, he slapped his hand against the tree. He jerked it back the instant he made contact with the bark, hissing with pain. It had burned him!

        Angrily, he called out to his undead minions, telepathically commanding them to dig up the grave. The nearest ones shambled over to obey him, but as they came close they too stumbled back, arms raised as if to shield their eyes. Chell shouted at them to go on, but no matter how much he cursed them they would not budge.

        Finally he gave up and walked into the forest, heading towards the base. His undead host trailed behind him, stomping the underbrush to death beneath their feet.

        And through it all, Xavier’s body did not budge.

Chapter 8

Donraj's Fanfiction