The Creation of Heaven and Earth Chapter 9
The Running Man
A sharp, scraping noise pierced the silence that hung within the four walls of the hut as the whetstone slid over the scimitar's edge. Sparks leapt outward as blade and stone made contact, flying only a millimeter away before burning out of existence. The man holding both slid the two together several more times before he set the stone on a small table beside him.
The table was one of the two pieces of furniture contained in the hut. The other was a cot that rested next to the table. A medium sized man covered from shoulder to toe with a cobalt blue armor sat upon the cot. Two bandoleers holding a multitude of daggers criss crossed his chest. To look at his face would cause one to see both a youth who was barely out of, if not still in, his teens and yet at the same time, you would see someone who has witnessed more violence and heartache in his few years than most men have seen in their entire lives. In his hand, the freshly sharpened blade of a large scimitar gleamed as the light from a kerosene lantern ran along its razor edge.
Suddenly the man stopped inspecting the blade he held in his hand and sat straight up. His eyes narrowed into thin slits and he strained to hear every sound. He craned his neck around, checking over both shoulders, his steel gray eyes darting left and right as he did so. As he scanned the room he reached up with his free hand and drew three daggers from a bandoleer, holding them between his fingers. He stood up slowly...
That's when it happened.
It seemed like everything happened at once but rather they happened in rapid succession, like a string of firecrackers going off. The ramshackle doorway of the hut was torn from its hinges as a large, snarling quadruped shape tore through it. The man reared back, then snapped his arm forward, letting the daggers fly. There was a wet thump and a yelp of pain as two blades penetrated flesh. The third blade imbedded itself in the door frame with a dull thud. The shape was carried forth by its momentum, crashing into the man throwing him backwards onto the cot and tossing it off balance. He landed on the floor, getting the wind knocked out of him, the heavy creature still lying on his chest. He shoved the corpse onto the floor next to him and pushed himself onto his elbows to examine it.
An Imperial attack dog that was crossbred to produce the largest, most vicious animal possible. 'They probably starved it for several days, too.' he thought he sprang to his feet, snatching up a samurai helmet from the spot where it lay. He barreled toward the door, sliding the scimitar into a large scabbard at his back and throwing the helmet over his head. There would be no time for concocting an elaborate escape plan, only time to run. If an Imperial hound had found his scent, then a hunting party would only be a few paces behind.
This point was driven home as he stepped into the doorway. Instantly his instincts shouted at him to duck. He threw himself into a forward roll just as a quarrel fired from an autocrossbow whistled overhead.
"Halt in the name of the Empire of Camelot!"
"Hold or we will open fire!"
These muffled shouts rebounded off the rocks of the mountain side, giving the impression that they were coming from all directions. Immediately he lunged forward and began to hurl himself down the mountain, jumping from left to right, making himself as difficult a target as possible, giving not a damn how well he could see in the dark. All he cared about at this point was escaping. A thin film of sweat began to coat his brow as his legs pumped like pistons, propelling him further and further down the landscape.
He flinched and nearly lost his balance as another quarrel sliced through the air near his ear. He peered behind him for only an instant, catching a glimpse of several torch fires bobbing up and down as their owners charged after him. As he whipped his head back to what lie in front of him, he made the unpleasant discovery that the terrain ended in a steep drop off only a few paces ahead. There wasn't enough space for him to stop.
The next thing he knew, he was airborne, yelling incoherently as he hurled toward the edge of a thin stripe of a brook. A split second later he crashed into the muddy banks, rolling several times over until he found himself lying face up, staring at the velvet sky, thin streams of water sliding over him. He pushed himself up and began to clamber over the slippery rocks, trying to get a decent grip.
"There he is!" someone shouted from above.
Several minuscule splashing sounds alerted him to the storm of arrows that rained down on him from the enemies who had taken firing positions on the bluff above him. That was enough to give him a surge of adrenaline that launched him from the slick footholds of the brook onto its opposite shore. He gagged and spit out a clod of mud that he had a 'taste' of after he landed face first into the wet soil. He scrambled to his feet, his flailing limbs throwing mud and clay in all directions.
An autocrossbow bolt slammed into the scabbard that held his scimitar. He gave a startled cry and staggered forward, slumping against a tree. "Shit!" he hissed between his clenched teeth as he reached behind him and pulled the arrow out. Then tossing it aside, he gave chase again while the frustrated shouts of his pursuers rocketed after him.
"I had 'em in my sights!"
"He's down there, you idiot bastards! DOWN THERE!"
The chocobo clucked as the white sage laid a saddle across the creature's back. He fastened the seat with the leather strap that ran around the yellow bird's underbelly, then placed a large bundle behind the saddle. The memory of the vision he had seen in the moon still burned in his mind's eye. The face of the man standing among the crystals still leered at him. He could try to force it out of his mind, but there it remained, unmovable. The man leered at him once more, mocking him again and again. "You have failed, Owen. You and all of the sages have failed." his voice echoed inside the Owen's skull. Owen clenched the reigns in his hand and placed his foot in the stirrup. 'Anak.' he spat at the phantasm. 'Sparing your life was greatest mistake any man has ever made.'
"Brother Darklighter!" a shout from behind Owen pulled him from his mental stand off. He looked in the voice's direction to see a young woman dressed in the same robes as he. Her golden blonde hair was tied up in a bun that rested on top of her head, though a few unruly strands managed to slip free and hang down into her face. She was young enough to be his daughter and she was breathtakingly beautiful.
Owen Darklighter stepped down from the chocobo and turned to face her. "What is it, Sister Xophar?"
"Brother Mathias and the others demand to know why you are leaving."
"Tell them whatever reason you can concoct, Sister Xophar." He turned away and climbed into the saddle.
"B...but Brother Darklighter!" she stammered, briskly stepping into the path of the bird. "Mathias said that mere hours ago he saw you fall to the ground and scream, begging the heavens for forgiveness. Then when he inquired as to what happened, you shoved past him and disappeared into your chambers. Now he sees you here, preparing to leave."
"If your eyes beheld what mine did, Sister..."
"What did you see, Brother Darklighter?" she said grabbing the reigns from him.
"Something that only I can prevent." 'And could have prevented years ago.' Anak's voice mocked him from the recesses of his mind. "But to do that, I must leave NOW!" he shouted angrily as he violently snatched the reigns from her hand.
"But Brother Darklighter. The sun has already passed behind the mountains."
"The Creator's guiding hand will protect me." he snapped, more annoyance than faith in his voice. He shifted his weight in his saddle. As he did, the hilt of sword slid from its hiding place in his robes. Xophar gasped and backed away.
"Brother Darklighter!" she said, horror etched into her face. "You swore that when you joined the sages, you would never take up a weapon of violence again!"
"You wouldn't understand." he muttered before he dug his heel into the chocobo's side. The animal clucked loudly and began to dash down a mountain path. Within a few seconds, bird and rider had vanished around a bend in the road. Xophar stood still for a moment, contemplating what she had heard and what she had seen.
Xophar was meet inside the yawning mouth of a cave by an old man, also dressed in white robes. "What did he say?" Brother Mathias questioned her.
"He has fallen, Brother Mathias." she looked away from him as a look of grief and betrayal took residence on his elderly face "I...I'm sorry" she replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
Mathias shook his head and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "No child, you have committed no sin." His hand slipped away once those words were spoken. He turned away from Xophar and began to walk further into the depth of the cave. "First him...now Owen as well. All mighty Creator, has the world gone mad?" he whispered. He stopped, his soul torn between his loyalty to his friend and the loyalty to his God.
"What must be done..." he said to himself before turning to face Xophar. He raised his hand and motioned her over to his side. When she came close, he began to speak. "Child, what I ask you do to will be difficult for you. Come with me." The two walked side by side through a myriad of corridors before reaching a large open room.
Inside was two rows of stones blocks covered by red velvet cloths. Standing in front of the rows of stone was a raised dais upon which rested a marble pedestal. Another dragon cross resided atop of it. A band of gold ran around the center of the pedestal. Mathias stepped behind the pedestal and stooped over. He ran his hand along the gold band, applying pressure all the way. Once he took his hand away, Xophar heard an audible click and her eyes widened in amazement as part off the gold band slid out a few inches. Inside the secret compartment was a sinister looking curved dagger. Mathias gently picked it up by the handle and turned to Xophar.
"You must seek out Brother Darklighter." Mathias told her. "And demand that he return to us...if he refuses..." Mathias fell silent and held out the dagger.
Xophar's jaw hit the floor and she backed away from Mathias' outstretched hands as if they were a pair of poisonous snakes. "No." she hissed under her breath. "Brother Mathias! You can't mean..."
"The knowledge known to the order of the sages is too dangerous in the hands of the fallen."
Xophar shut her eyes, trying to fight back the tears and turned away. "No! I refuse. Brother Darklighter... he's my teacher!"
"I know child." he said. "That is the reason you must do it. "
'Because he trusts me.' Xophar thought. 'I must be his executioner. What a bloody set of affairs this is.' she thought as she regretfully took the dagger from Mathias' hands.
"You will leave in the morning." Mathias said.
Disgust for Mathias burned the back of her throat like bile. Only the words 'And demand that he returns to us...' gave her the slightest twinge of hope. There was a chance she could persuade him to turn back. Persuade him to return to the sages.
"I will leave now!" she nearly shouted before spinning around and stomping out of the room.
The armored man's kinetic charge came to a bone jarring halt as he jumped from the mountain slope onto the gravel coated pathway that was being used as a road. He grunted as he landed hard on the roadway in a crouching position. He did his best to ignore the volts of pain that were shooting up his legs. For all he knew, he could have broken an ankle, but the adrenaline coursing through his veins would be enough to keep him going.
"HALT!" a commanding voice cut through the night air and slashed at him. The man turned to his left and came face to face with a plethora of Imperial soldiers. The flickering lantern light cast a demonic glow onto their figures giving them the appearance of angels of death. Each one held and autocrossbow in their hands and had them trained directly as his head.
"Dammit!" he swore. "They herded me toward this road...right into their open arms." The man remained stock still, crouching in a way that made him look like a cornered animal. His heart was thumping loudly in his chest as he scanned the area around him. One side of the road was lined by the steep mountain side. The other was a cliff that plummeted straight down several hundred feet. If he dashed away, the soldiers would cut him down. Charging them would yield the same results. There was only one choice.
He rested his knees on the ground, straightened up, and laced his fingers together behind the back of his head. An Imperial, possibly the leader of the hunting party, stepped forward, motioning two others to come with him. They kept their weapons aimed at the man, their fingers tightening around the trigger the closer they drew to him. "Gram Bladeslinger." the leader announced, calling him by name. "You're to be placed under arrest by decree of Emperor Zimeon St. Cloud."
"Under what charge?" he spat back venomously.
"You have been charged for the murder of an Imperial Magistrate and with willful destruction of Imperial property. Attempting to undermine the authority of the government of Camelot." The leader continued to rattle off charges, some true but many false.
Gram muttered a few profanities under his breath as they drew closer. In all the years he had been doing this, they had finally caught him.
As came closer, Gram sighed a sigh of defeat. "I've got no chance...."
Final Fantasy 6 Fanfic