He picked his way carefully through the woods, having put enough distance between him and his pursuers that speed was less important than caution. He couldn't leave a path for them to follow, only prayed they didn't bring in dogs. He'd never be able to outrun dogs...
Zechs Merquise -- an alias, he had many -- sank to a crouch in the relative cover of tall brush, safe for the moment. Frantically drawn breaths stuck needles in his lungs, so cold was the air, and the exhalation blew puffs of white into the midnight sky. Even the damnable moon was against him, a blithe sphere hanging huge on the horizon, casting far too much gaunt light. They'd see him for certain if they got close, see the telltale gleam of his hair... The breaths calmed, no longer quite so desperate, and he was just about to set off when he heard it again.
A thin voice, like distant wind over reeds in a moor. He couldn't remember where he'd first heard it, perhaps somewhere off the coast before he'd even made landfall. It had disturbed him little then -- the seas were filled with tales of strange sightings and sounds, nearly so many as there were fishes under the waves. He'd been more concerned with making port, and the details of slipping his precious documents past the watchful eyes of Federation intelligence.
Zechs Merquise was a spy.
~I'm waiting... waiting for you.~
He shook his head fiercely, not that it ever helped. The voice dogged his steps, through town and countryside, mostly at night, louder when he was alone. It had even followed him to the ill-fated rendezvous with his contact, apparently a turncoat as the rendezvous had been a trap. So close a thing to being caught then and there, and he thanked every god he could name that none of the soldier's bullets had struck him. A trail of fresh blood was an easy thing to follow.
Just as he stood to continue on, something rolled against his booted foot. Roundish and pale in the moonlight, a large rock. No, a skull. Its vacant eyes stared up at him, bared teeth frozen in a terrible grin of welcome.
~I've been waiting for you.~
Poor Zechs jumped, the voice closer than it had ever been, as if spoken in quiet tones just over his shoulder. There was no one there, of course.
A sharp click, like teeth snapping together.
~Where were you? I was waiting, and you never came...~
Vacant eyes continued to stare. Deeply disturbed, Zechs kicked the skull aside. In the distance his vigilant ears could pick up sounds of pursuit. No dogs, but the calling of voices, coming too near. They'd managed to follow his trail somehow. Zechs crouched back down, unable to run now for fear of pinpointing his position to the searchers. He'd simply have to hide and be still, and hope they passed him by.
Very small he tucked himself into a huddle, dark jacket over his head to hide the gleam of his hair. He found he was holding his breath, as the search neared, seemingly drawn in tighter circles. A constricting spiral, with him at the center.
~You never came, but you're here now. That's good.~
The skull again, back and resting against his thigh. Zechs would have yelped in surprise, except the soldiers were so close now... A rustle, a breath, his wild heartbeat -- anything might give him away. So close, he could see the gleam off polished barrel of the pistol one searcher held warily before him, cocked and ready for use.
Another click, and another. The soldier whirled, suddenly peering toward Zechs.
~Here now, here...~
The skull grinned, staring up at Zechs with its empty eyes. Chattering, the sound of teeth snapping like someone caught in the cold, grinding and gnashing.
~Here, here, here!~
The soldier took a step in Zechs's direction.
Something smashed him over the back of his head, and Zechs knew only darkness.
He woke in a ring of torchlight, the back of his head pounding fierce pain through his veins. The pain was laced with fear -- he was bound hand and foot and the scent of blood, old and new, hung in the air. Soldiers. The Captain stood in the torchlight, pawing through Zechs's documents, his secrets, Sank's secrets.
'Spy,' he heard them whisper. 'Spy.' One noticed he was awake, and gave him a sharp kick in the ribs. They way they ached, he guessed he'd taken similar treatment while unconscious, and wondered if any were broken.
He wondered if it even mattered. A barked order in an unfamiliar tongue, and the soldier who'd kicked him backed away. Two more crouched down, roughly hauling Zechs to his knees, and the Captain approached.
"A spy," he accused, words thick with accent as he waved the documents in Zechs's face. "You know what we do with spies..."
He was done for. But though he might forfeit his life, Zechs would never give his pride. Contempt glittered up at the man, borne in Zechs's eyes, and he drawled, "I don't suppose it's invite them home for tea and little frosted cakes."
He earned himself an almighty backhand -- the Captain must have been wearing a ring, because even gloved the hand split his lip, drawing fresh blood. As soon as he'd recovered his gaze from where the blow had jerked it aside, Zechs focused it back on his captor. The pair held thus, assessing, for a long moment.
Then, the Captain nodded slowly, the first to break eye-contact as he turned aside. More orders, one soldier fetching from the brush a short length of log, scoured with gashes and stained dark. Another rustled in packs for a blindfold, which Zechs staunchly refused. They forced him down low, neck stretched over the log, careful to pull gleaming platinum hair aside. The neck needed to be bare, for a good clean cut...
Muted in the night, the slither of steel being drawn. In the torchlight the Captain's saber was sober, as if dulled past shining by all the blood it had gluttonously drunk. "Last words?"
Zechs spat on his boot.
The backstroke was raised high, slicing the moon in two. Then the soft whistle of the fall, swift silver noise...
They left his head on a pike, for the birds to peck out his lovely azure eyes, and steal his soft gold to line their nests. No honor for criminals, and he the worst kind... Gaping maw of mouth was frozen in a silent scream, blood leaked from lip and nostrils and eyes. Leaked, dripped, ran down the pike and fell to the ground; it pattered like soft rain.
~I'm so glad you're here...~
Across the clearing another pike, on it a skull, already picked clean and bleached by the sun. Bared teeth created a too-wide grin, the empty eyes stared into Zechs's. His wayward contact, already met with the same gruesome fate.
~Because I won't be lonely anymore.~
~Otto...? Shut up,~ Zechs's head said.