The plains before the wall were slick and muddy from the recent rains, pockmarked with blackened craters and the crisscrossing spider-web of trenches long-abandoned. It was a daunting sight, but there was nothing for it now. Oen sprinted across a stretch of level ground—a quick dash, breathless, and slid down behind a ruined outcropping of stone. The savage shouts of his pursuers rang in the air behind him. They had seen him at last, after all his caution and stealth, after all the hours spent crawling through the mud and filth with the rain beating down on him, half-paralyzed with the fear of discovery. He had only just made it past the Skakdi outpost. He had almost been in the clear. A short sprint to the shelter of the gate, and the long journey would be over...but the light of morning had given him away. It could never have been that easy.
Oen leaned out from his cover and scanned the ravaged field before him once more, waiting for his chance. The shapes on the horizon approached, hazy under a dull gray sky. The siege may have been lifted for a time, leaving the field before the wall empty of enemies, but the war was far from over. They would not let him reach the city alive.
The patrol turned aside to search one of the trenches, and there was his chance. Oen leapt up and ran, feet pounding the dirt. A shout went up, and he dove forward, headlong into another ditch. Mud splattered across his Kanohi as the sound of burning death seared the air above him. They almost had him that time. He crawled forward, following the direction of the ditch. It went parallel to the wall for a distance, and then curved towards it. Quickly now. Quickly! His lungs were burning, and his muscles ached, but he had to go on. So close. So close to those walls. They had given everything to get him here. Everything. He could not fail them now.
The ditch grew shallower, and soon he had no choice but to stand up and run forward in the open again. He was maybe a hundred bio from the wall now. The gate loomed on the left, and he was sure he could see the shapes of sentries on the parapets. They would see him. Surely they would: a small figure on the muddy, pockmarked plain below. They would see his pursuers at the very least. That would get their attention if nothing else. He was almost there. Almost there!
Another shudder in the air behind him, and the earth exploded in a surge of sweltering heat to his right. He stumbled, but kept going, trying not to run in a straight line. Don’t look behind you, Oen. Don’t even look. The gate was close now. Surely he was within range!
Another blast, closer this time, and he felt fire scorch the armor on his back. The shock from the blast sent him forward on his hands and knees, dazed and weak. Get up. Get up. You’re a sitting target. They’re drawing a bead on you right now. But it was hard...he was so weary, and there was no sign from the wall. What if they couldn’t see him? What if they didn’t care? He wasn’t fast enough...Was this the end? After all this time, after this long, desperate chase across the war-torn plains, he would die here on the edge of safety? Was that truly how it would end?
No. The tablet was in his hand, and suddenly he was up again, running with faltering feet toward the distant wall, arm upraised. The symbol on the tablet flashed and flickered in the dull light as he surged forward. Can you see it? Can you? I’m here! Look! Look at me!
And then he felt the heat at his back again, and the ripple in the air, and knew that they had him. Time seemed to slow, and he stumbled once more, hand still raised. His eyes closed, and he waited for the end.
A flash of light blazed around him, and he felt the surge of energy scorch the air into smoke, as he fell forward—
--but he did not die. A shadow fell over the ground, and a rush of expanding air washed over him. A hand gripped his shoulder, hauling him upright, and suddenly there was another mask staring into his face. A Mask of Teleportation, and then it was a Hau again, and another blast of energy poured over them, but it did not touch them. Strong arms lifted him, and the Toa spoke:
“Cutting it close aren’t you, Matoran? Where is Toa Kitah?”
“Sh-she—” he gasped, still dazed, “She d-didn’t make it.” The tablet was heavy in his hand. It had been Kitah’s, before she died. It was her Pass, her identification, before the cursed Skakdi burned a hole in her back. She had pressed it into his hands, as the life slipped from her.
“Get going,” she had rasped in his ear. “Still...still a chance.”
Her breath had rattled in her chest as they both lay hidden in the muddy ditch, and then she was gone. The last of his companions, gone. It was only him now...he was the last. He had wept bitterly, clamping his hands tightly over his mouth for fear of alerting the patrols. Harsh tears that were lost in the rain. You are the last...
Suddenly Oen realized that a Suletu was staring down at him now. A moment passed, and the gray Toa nodded in understanding, his face strained with the weight of shared memory. They had given everything for him, everything they had...it was a heavy thought.
But then the Toa’s eyes flicked up toward the horizon. The Kualsi was back, and the world reeled and flashed away as Oen, last survivor of the Millennium War, was carried to safety behind the Looming Wall.
For the Ambage Fortnightly Flash Fiction Contest. Theme: Tablet of Transit.