Road to Peace: Chapter Thirteen

Lightning Strikes

hat night the camp was bustling with activity. The general opinion seemed to be that the flashes of light did foretell rain, and the men had been so excited to see it that Cyan had been able to keep them moving for hours after dark without anyone complaining. Even now they stayed clustered around the small camp fires, conversing over mouthfuls of food and laughing uproariously like a bunch of drunks in a pub. No one seemed tired.

Another burst illuminated the pitch-black horizon, followed by a loud, thunderous boom. The Chocobos cooed nervously behind him, clawing at the ground and brought up clouds of brown dust from the parched soil. If it was as though the storm were sitting in one place, waiting for the party to meet it, and beckoning them with promises of rain. It just seemed so… what is it about that storm? It almost looks… artificial. A memory stirred the back of his head, a thought he couldn't put his finger on. I've seen this before, but… where?

Celes was watching him from across the flame, her back to the lightning. Her eyes were vague, lost in thought, and her expression was painted in concern. Unconsciously no doubt. Wherever her mind was, her thoughts worried her deeply, and Cyan only wished he knew what they were. After a long while he stood, folded his arms, cocked his head, and fixed her with a look of irritation. "I'm unsure whether or not this is my place to pry, but if it means the safety of my men, then I must ask what has you so upset." She raised her head slowly but did not meet his gaze, instead looking off into the blanket of darkness, her mouth shut. "Oh, how you vex me, Celes! You have said nearly nothing since this storm began. If you know it's cause, or…"

"It's no storm." Her voice was nearly a whisper.

Cyan stooped down, giving her an exasperated stare from beneath thick eyebrows. "Excuse me?"

Quick as a viper she leaned forward, grabbing his head and drawing him in with amazing strength. Her eyes were burning with a wild fury. "He's back, little man." Her voice was a cold hiss, so low as to be almost imperceptible. "I can feel the power. Such fantastic power, coming closer. Ever closer. Calling to me, beckoning me in, and how can I refuse? I have been chosen!" With this she arched her neck backward, raising her eyes to the sky and laughing like a hyena gone mad, digging her fingers into her pale cheeks and streaking her hair with blood. In the glowing firelight it seemed a wild dance, her body twisting and convulsing sickeningly, metallic armor gleaming like the waves of a flaming sea. Shadows playing across her savage face gave her the look of a demon in hell, and her wild cackles seemed to come from the throat of a witch, echoing the mournful screams of the damned. A fearful, bewitching movement.

Mesmerized, it took Cyan a moment to shake the fog from his mind and realize what was happening. He quickly jumped up, grabbing Celes's arms and locked them behind her, trying vainly to keep her stilled. In an instant she had broken free, but now the soldiers had surrounded them, hesitant to restrain her despite Cyan's desperate orders. He still had hold of her wrist, and finally another man grabbed the other, two more men jumping in to take up her legs. She writhed in their grasp, biting at their arms and attempting to wriggle away. Her vigor was incredible.

They carried her into the officer's tent and set her on the floor, breathing hard. Another soldier rushed in to take Cyan's place when he rose. Panting, Cyan wiped the sweat from his brow and leaned against the tent's support poll, laying a hand on his heaving chest. His eyes stayed fastened to Celes, an expression of confusion and fear on his face. What is going on here? He wondered, horrified.

Cyan's thoughts remained fixed on Celes for the entire night. He tossed and turned on his mat, staring up at the faint line that was the tent pole, and wondering if Celes, flat on her back, saw the same view. If she could see anything at all, blinded by such a sudden and violent rage. It was no use trying to convince himself not to worry over the welfare of a former empire General; the girl had grown on him, and in the deep recesses of his heart he grudgingly respected her. She was a friend, she was ill, and Cyan was determined to find the cause.

* * *

The familiar blood-red sun rose above the horizon in waves of gathering heat, rousting Cyan from his sleepless night. Wearily, he stepped from his tent and surveyed the wasteland, the streaks of pink clouds blanketing the sky, and the rolling storm in the distance. The detestable thing hasn't moved an inch, he mused.

As Cyan approached the tent where Celes was guarded, he suddenly felt his insides turning ice cold. A nervous impulse overtook him; he broke into a run, burst into the tent, and sucked in a horrid, sour breath. The rotten smell of decay seemed to grab hold of Cyan's insides and twist them in a knot, dropping him to his knees even before his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the tent.

Blood ran in streaks down the canvas walls, dried brown and flaking like the paint of a perverted mural. The mangled limbs of men could be seen in the slash of light from outside the tent flap, and just barely visible was the empty table where Celes had been held, swathed in glistening red.

Swallowing hard, Cyan stumbled back into daylight and took a deep breath, bracing himself against the tent pole. He stood there for a long time, inhaling the clean air, while flies buzzed around his bloodied uniform. He was just about to begin waking the men when he heard the sound of horses approaching. Quickly, he washed all emotion from his face, looked up with eyes cold as steel. His body was frozen in place, he watched the figures riding toward him with a hawk's eyes, and all his muscles twitched as he felt the horrible evil in those men on horseback. Unconsciously, a low, territorial growl had begun in his throat.

There were four of them, armored in shining black. They came to a stop about half a mile from the tents, stood there like statues with their concealed faces turned to Cyan. Then one of the men dismounted and led a drab brown mare from behind the group. A man was slumped across the horse's bare backside, with his ankle's tied around it's torso, and as the horse moved the man's head raised feebly and then fell, his body shaking as though he wept.

The armored man, once he had led the horse a sufficient distance, drew his sword, stepped back, and took one heavy swing at the other man's neck. The blade hit bone, the body convulsed for a second then lay still. Quickly, efficiently, the soldier sheathed his sword, struck the mare to send it running, and mounted his horse as the others galloped off in a cloud of dust.

Cyan caught the frantic mare as it galloped by, untied the corpse that now straddled it's stomach. It collapsed on the ground, the nearly severed head angled back revoltingly.

Turning the face upward, Cyan recognized the face immediately. One of the four soldier's he had assigned to Celes's watch, a man as strong as a bull but quick as a rabbit. One of his best. How could she have escaped, with men like this at her side? He noted the burning red scars across the man's face, ran his fingers along bruised and bloodied arms, traced the burn marks on his palm. So they had interrogated him. Why? Couldn't Celes have told them everything we knew?

Whoever they are.

Go To:
Prologue || Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five || Chapter Six || Chapter Seven || Chapter Eight || Chapter Nine || Chapter Ten || Chapter Eleven || Chapter Twelve || Chapter Thirteen