The Last Hour of Olan Duraiby Shotgunnova
Entire Fiction (2005)
"The path walked is more important than the goal. By looking backwards you can appreciate your cause." - Olan
The morning of March 18th was no different from the others. Writing in a leather-bound book by candlelight, stopping every so often to shake the ache out of his fingers, a figure hunched over his mahogany desk, scribbling and scribing his syllabus. Each word was of utmost importance. Soon, a page was flipped and the back etched on. In columnar form, a right hand wrote the important list of vital parties and beside them, their role. As if the quill had found a stopping point, the ink blotted on the page. "Blast!" huffed the man, sending the candle's timid flame bending like a reed. The shadows of globes and bookcases wavered on the wall.
"Olan, supper's ready."
A fair-faced woman stood in the hall, leaning into the room. Her plain gown and shoes were that of a maid's. She quietly watched as the man blew on his ink, assuring himself that it was dry, and shut the book.
"I'm coming," said Olan, pushing his chair back to rise. Groaning from lack of movement, he stiffly strode to the door and followed the maid down the stairs into the kitchen.
"You've been locked up in your room for hours!" Taking a ladle as she turned her back, the cheerful maid pointed to the sitting room with her free hand. "You take a seat in the rocking chair, and I'll dish you up a plate. Goland pheasant tonight, you know."
It was only now that he saw the harvest moon dangling in the evening sky. He leant on the windowpane, captivated by the wintry landscape of frost on the cedar trees and the firefly lights of the city below.
"I want to thank you, Elise. I would die of malnutrition in my room if you never told me it was dusk or autumn or suppertime. I should say you would find me a mere skeleton with a quill in his hand and his bones stained with ink."
The scraping of metal and pot-banging could be heard in the kitchen, followed by pattering footsteps. Olan rocked back, taking in the meaty aroma of game fowl. "Of course, you would, dear," replied Elise from the depths of the adjacent room, stopping the tune she was humming at the time. "I would see you more often too, I'll bet." A kettle opened and exhaled the steam in a quick sizzle.
Olan laughed, reaching under the chair to get the footstool. "Dark rooms help me think better! I'd advise you to do the same if you wanted to write anything." A harrumph was uttered, and a steaming plate of hen and rice was brought to Olan, Elise pretending to spill it on him at the last moment. "Aye, Olan Durai, I do write, but you are never around to see it."
Instead of replying, Olan stuck his fork in the meat, smiling at he stuck it in his mouth.
"Bah," breathed Elise, walking to the opposite side of the sitting room to the table. While most homes might've had silverware set out and decorative napkin displays, Olan's table was empty save for a vase of dried crocuses. Elise took her waiting plate and began to eat as well.
"You know, speaking of doing things, you haven't paid me for this month, Olan. You know how the husband gets over monetary matters. He'd wring your neck I should say, and I can't very well stop him, you know. Not that you really could either, losing all your strength while you waste away in your upstairs cavern." She caught Olan's eye and winked at him. "Not to say that it's gravely important to me at the moment, but it would help me out..."
Her feminine persuasion was nothing new to Olan; she did it every month, subtle hints about new clothing or church offering. It was almost a game to see who would give in first. Of course, it was always he who lost.
"Alright, I'll do it in the morning, first thing. I need to buy a few inkwells anyway. I'm nearly done you know." As he swallowed the last bite, he took the plate in hand and dropped it off in the water basin, returning to where Elise was sitting.
"I don't even know what you're writing anyway. You said 'it's very important to me' and 'when it's done, it will make history', but you've never disclosed the subject....you've always skirted around it before, and I have no notion to ask anymore. I'm no interloper, and I don't want to know if you won't tell me anyhow."
All the times he had refused to answer her questions or make small talk about it were true, and if asked, Olan couldn't deny it. He had kept it a secret from everyone and this had allowed him to remain in relative peace and prevent any rumors about his work. Not that there weren't rumors about him already, what with his nocturnal habits and self-imposed concealment. It's all for the best, he had once thought, but now it was a personal path he walked. The fortitude he had received over the death of his father and friends demanded this of him, and would continue to encumber his habits until his writing was finished.
Trudging up to his room, he felt galvanized. Though he was a 39-year-old unmarried man, he felt like his completion of soul was at hand. Like a flurry, he quickly brought out his thick manuscript, taking quill in hand and was already planning out his words before he had sat down. "So close, Olan, so close...you'll be a raving lunatic by morning."
The morning sun peered in every window in Goland and even Olan felt happy. The summation of his work had been completed the previous night and rejuvenated him regardless of long he had slept. Quickly dressing into his street-appropriate clothes, he ran to his drawing room to get his book. Touching the leather was touching realization of his dream. Closing the book, he ran downstairs, waved to a dishwashing Elise ("Have fun at the bank", she yelled after him), and he was gone.
The winter air was crisp and the lazy sun in the clouds turned the snow into diamonds. "I've missed so much! O, the beauty!" Being able to accurately depict his thoughts, he quickly vowed to write a poem when he got home. "I feel like I've dug my way out of Bethla Garrison!" Exhilarated by the freedom of mind, he began to laugh uncontrollably, excited by the wagon tracks in the road and the snowy tinsel hanging down from the overarching cedars. When he finally was able to stop, he breathed in the air, delectable with timber and dry air. Even when was with his Nanten subordinates or father had he been so proud. He was making a legacy.
Goland was bustling by the time Olan arrived. The people Olan knew waved a friendly hello to him as he returned them with an even friendlier version. Moving along the sidewalk at a restrained pace, he nodded to passersby, each bundled up tightly in scarves and winter coats. They gave him looks of oddity as he beamed a smile at them, walking past them in an elated state. "It certainly looks like he has cabin fever," remarked the town butcher as Olan bustled past him, but a smile surfaced on his face anyway.
The townspeople's' attitude towards Olan was one of general acceptance, despite their lack of suppressing rumors regarding his absence in the local society and his reclusive tendencies. They loved Olan, and had since he was young, as he was an intellectually stimulated man and was thought to be the spitting image of Orlandu, albeit that was more for his strong broadness rather his facial features.
Turning the corner, the Graten Publishing Company building came into view. Olan had come past it many times before, but had never had a reason to enter. Today he did. Inside was a veritable operation of business; people scurried in and behind walls, carrying rolls of sheet paper; open barrels of marked ink could be seen stacked in the room's far corner, rippling as printing machinery ground out someone's novel or thesis.
Olan hurried to the front counter at the room's far wall, his manuscripts tucked underneath his arm. Looking up from what seemed to be the rough draft of a book, a man with intellectual eyes and a wiry, black mustache dropped his pen and looked at Olan. From the looks of the liner notes and circled words, the clerk's eye for detail and conciseness were very keen.
"Hello, sir. Come to publish some literature?"
Olan nodded, sliding the book across the counter. The man took the book in his hands, flipping through the pages. "You've nice handwriting, mister. It makes my job a lot less tedious. Oh, by the way, I'm Shackelford--I'm the editor."
"Nice to meet you, Shackleford. I'm Olan Durai. Hopefully you won't need to edit any of my work because I've poured my heart and soul into the text, if you get my drift. Each word is only a way of conveying an idea, and word selection is very important."
"Quite, quite! I'm glad someone appreciates grammar as much as I do. Now, let me see what I can do for you here..."
Flipping through the pages--this time his eyes inspecting the word size and length--Shackleford began to write his notes. "Your handwriting is nice as well," said Olan, gazing at the stately capitals in which the editor wrote. "Might I ask how much to be billed? I'm going to the bank anyway."
Shackleford finished with a grunt. "Well, we bill according to how much text is to be fit into the literature. This book looks to be about five hundred pages, and you've scrunched every last word into the page, so five hundred gil seems like a likely estimate. If you want to lessen your pocketbook, you can always come back after the editing process and point out what you want taken out. We keep the book here, in a safe of course, for legal reasons...that sort of stuff. If you plan on circulating this here book, I'd urge you take advantage of the duplication process--it saves money."
Olan shrugged. "What's the duplication process? Wouldn't the fees rise according to how many copies are to be made?"
Shackelford's posture immediately straighted, as if he had been waiting for an outlet to describe the process, or any process for that matter. "The duplication process is a fairly new process that takes advantage of the region's paper and ink production. Since the Lesalia and Yardow regions' grow trees like weeds, the timber prices are down; In Zeltennia, Goltana's decree on university spending made ink prices go down and they've said down. It takes awhile to import them, but we have a nice stock as it is.
Calculating the professors and friends who would be curious to read what had taken him five years to write, Olan soon came up with a suitable answer. "Three hundred."
"Three hundred? Well, then by the duplication process," said Shackleford, also adept at freelance computation, "the sum should be 37500 gil, from 150000 gil. I guess there really is power in numbers, huh?"
"That's a decent sum, but I'm heading to the bank as it is. I'll be back with your fee." Olan waved and walked out, not seeing a puzzled expression by the editor as he closed the book left open on the counter.
The talk of money had made Olan feel like his brain had swelled to twice its size. He was so used to relating to words that numbers seemed a bit foreign, but nevertheless, he understood them. "That's quite an amount of gil notes," said he, waving around a flock of women huddled together on the street corner, their mouths opening and shutting like horses'. "I hope I have the required amount..."
Olan bit his lip the rest of the way to the bank, worried and slightly distraught over his account. Having no income for five straight years didn't help his situation and going once a month into town to draw out a thousand gil, without checking his balance, was just careless. He entered the Goland Securities building with a pit in his stomach.
The building was probably the biggest building in the city, and one could get vertigo by looking at the high, jagged ceilings and light-bending windows. A marble staircase loomed ahead, showing a clean upstairs office. "I seem to have beat the early morning rush," assumed Durai, gazing at a few citizens arguing with bank tellers over interest rater. As was his routine, he took a right into the first hallway and entered the bank manager's office, full of its owners weird interests in art and plants. Bending around a fern's prickly leaves, Olan ducked down, navigating his way to the desk like he was in an urban jungle.
"Hello, Olan," said a cheery voice nearby. Olan broke through the greenery to find a bald, sweaty man sitting comfortably in his cushioned chair, surrounded by abstract paintings and various glass figurines on shelves.
"I thought I was going to be attacked by a tiger or a moogle," said Olan, brushing himself off. "You need to start trimming these things." The manager looked on as the lush indoor woods were pointed out to him.
"I've come to check on my bank balance and collect Elise's salary, Roger. I hope you have it prepared already." Olan stood despite having an equally impressive chair to sit in.
"The salary, not the bank balance. Don't despair though! It will take a second." Hoisting himself out of the chair, the manager waddled through the underbrush. How can the man keep his job in these conditions, debated Olan, guessing that he was somehow stifling complaints.
"Here you are, Durai, straight from the ledger." Popping out of the leaves, the man dropped the paper in Olan's hand and bound into his seat. He watched as Olan's frown dissipated.
"Well, I certainly have enough to accommodate the publishing cost. Thanks, Roger," said Olan, taking a deep breath, then plunging to the doorway. The sound of Roger's growling noises were taken for stupid.
Drawing out the necessary amount, Olan walked back out into the sunlight. Wagon carts and street vendors offering bread and fruit had set up. "A farmer's market. Hmm. Maybe I'll stop by later and surprise Elise." Going down the sidewalk in quick steps, Olan entered the publishing office. This time, there was no noise or movement. Shackleford sat still at his desk.
"Did production rates suddenly go back up or what," inquired Olan, now unafraid to spread his cheerfulness. Shackleford bit his lip, setting the book on the table. "The payment please."
Olan did not hesitate. "Here you are now. I was worried that something was wrong."
As if a man looking down the barrel of a gun, Shackleford jumped off his stool, disappearing behind the counter. Olan's head swerved left and right, seeing armed soldiers dive at him. He was brought to the ground and flipped on his back before he could run away. "What is the meaning of this!" roared Olan, struggling as a soldier fastened his wrists together with a cord of rope. "I demand an answer!"
The soldiers said nothing; instead they kneed him in the back, knocking the wind out of Olan. Breathing heavily and wheezing, Olan was led out of the publishing house as a prisoner, much to the dismay and astonishment of onlookers. Like a candle being snuffed out, the decibel level of the street disappeared. "What are you doing to that young man," yelled one of the women on the corner, her attention drawn. A soldier threw a menacing glance to her direction, dragging their captive man off down the street.
"You alright in there?"
"You alright in there!?"
Olan sat up, rubbing his throbbing head. "Oh, I..." The walls were cement. The door had bars. Something was rustling in the corner of the room. The immediate realization that this was not his cabin in Goland struck Olan hard.
The voice came from beyond the wall. "Yes," said Olan meekly, feeling like he had been in prison for ages. Feeling his face, he found no stubble or beard; he must have been brought recently. "I'm alright," yelled Olan back, trying to get a grip on his situation.
"Alright, what have I done wrong?," he said to himself, urging a feeling of dread back into his system. "I've paid all my taxes and debts in town, and I haven't bothered anyone in five years. Surely this can't be some type of arrest on charges of war crimes? No...my Nanten comrades wouldn't trade me in like that." Olan rubbed his temple.
"Good, I'm glad you're alright. Those guards really did a number on you. They always seem to treat people like you life unworthy of life."
In the darkness, Olan's face scrunched, almost offended. "What do you mean people like me?" he shouted back.
"Goodness, you don't know? I can't believe I'm the first to tell you. You, Mr. Durai, are being charged with, not war crimes, but heresy. I can't believe it myself, actually."
Olan sank back onto his bunk, his headache already taking a step up to a migraine. Heresy? How could they accuse him of heresy? "Ramza, did you turn me in on conspiracy charges? No, you're not dead." He buried his face in his pillow, having to convince himself that Ramza had died all again.
"Hey," said a guard in through the door bars. "Quit yelling. You're going to get me in trouble." With the slurred rs in the man's speech, Olan quickly attributed it to the Zarghidas region of Ivalice. How it would help him, the prisoner did not know. "I hope your hearing goes well to-morrow, old chap," whispered the guard. "You're in a real bind."
Olan stood up, creeping to the door. "What did I do exactly? I said anything against the church? Why, I've..."
From that day at the Beoulve funeral to the time had sat in prison, there had only been one person who knew of the book's contents. That beautiful face of an assassin came back to him, the image of her throwing a bouquet of flowers onto the grave of Alma brightening in his mind.
Just saying her name made him quiet down, wondering if anyone heard him. "No, it couldn't be her. Why would she wait until now to set the guards on my back? It has to be someone else, someone I'm forgetting...Shackleford, I'll bet. That sneaky little bastard. No wonder the book production is down; he's handing all of them over to the examiners!"
The guard knocked on the door, telling Olan to shut up and get some rest. "Save all your energy, because you'll need it for the rundown tomorrow." Thoughts drifting, Olan wondered who was in the cell one over, and how he knew so much about him. Instead of jumping to conclusions, the man on trial for heresy closed his eyes, soon falling into a troubled sleep.
The next morning, a calloused hand slapped Olan into reality. Recoiling from the blow and the light from the outside hall, Olan trembled against the wall. The towering figure of the guard stood like a column of muscle, angrily looking at the disheveled prisoner. "I hope you get what you deserve, you Glabados traitor," spoke the mammoth of a man, hoisting Olan into the air by his neck collar, and landing him in the hallway. Never had Olan been treated with such incivility.
The journey to the tribunal court started by Olan being drug by his ponytail, but was quickly expedited as he was picked up. Tired and hungry, pained and numb, Olan submitted, allowing the goon to swing him over his shoulder and carry him the rest of the way. "Urgh..You...ahh..." murmered Olan, flickering between consciousness.
His head was full by the time he was placed in the tribunal court room, the doors closing afterwards. The room was dimly lit and the alternating sound of coughs and clomps began to flood his ears. Under the room's dome, Rows of pompous white-wigged men filed through the rows above, each looking especially cross at the man sprawled in the chair below them. As they all sat in unison, a poignant-looking man, dressed in a glimmering white robe, walked in from the room's side and walked to the raised pulpit directly in front of Olan.
The Pagan Examiner.
Olan leant on his desk, not wanting to stare into the pairs upon pairs of eyes staring back at him. It was nerve-racking to be in the presence of so many people let alone to place his life in the hands of those who were hand-selected by Glabados.
"Olan Durai," began the examiner, "you are charged with the following: conspiracy to commit heresy; desecrating the national religion; conspiracy to publish libel. If you have anything you'd wish to say, do so at this time as you'll get no other."
Olan nearly hiccupped, but said nothing.
"Very well, then, let me tell you the extremities of these charges. Heresy, as you know, is the deviation from church doctrine and you have been spotted executing the act by several persons, who have alerted the proper authorities to your dissention. Thanks to them, you are in and will remain in our custody until proper sentencing can be carried out."
Reaching underneath his desk, the pagan examiner brought out a leatherbound book. "Look familiar, Olan Durai? I should hope so. This novel is bursting at its binding with lies and fiction which you have been trying to propagate as truth. If it would please the tribunal members in attendance, I would like to read a paragraph for the court record." Flipping through to a bookmarked page, the examiner paused to look to either side of the court before beginning:
'The Zodiac Stone legend is the most contemptible act perpetrated by the Church of Glabados in our lifetime. Through its own believing followers, Glabaods placed those "willing" in situations where that would satisfy the own desires, and many times those individuals ended up dying. By taking a widely-known myth like the Zodiac Brave story and planting deceiving falsifications, and spreading them as well, the church not only Ivalice's god-fearing citizens, but put their whole doctrine in jeopardy. An equilibrium must therefore be reached, and the wrongs righted. May my words serve as a marker to understanding.'
The examiner set the book down and bent over, attempting to look into Olan's eyes.
"Do you actually believe that Glabados is capable of such nonsense!? Publishing this would not only bring ignominy to you, but to the generations who came before you. If your father Orlandu could see you now, I should say he would be most displeased and infuriated."
Olan shook his head. "But my father is not here, and I do not need his approval. He was a man of the people and, God rest his soul, he would not consider truth a vice as you do now. If anything, I would hope you have lived your life well enough to document anything of worth down. Sir."
The examiner flushed, slamming his bifocals onto the pulpit. "Even now you speak of God and truth when you have no idea of the meanings behind the words! You fail to understand that Glabados word is correct and that keeping the people satisfied in aspects unattainable by wealth and items is of utmost importance. You weave words well, Durai, but your word is now worth as much as a Romandan trion; as I speak, word is spreading of the disloyal son of Orlandu, languishing away as a heretic in the Lesalia Castle's dungeon. The shame and humility of your own doing must be unbearable."
Olan's head had lowered when Orlandu was brought up, the sense of doing the right thing disappearing momentarily. As the examiner's voice died away, Olan slowly raised his head, looking the tribunal in the eyes for the first time.
"It is not me who should feel unbearable shame, but all of you, who defile the name of faith in a greater good. Each one of you has scraped and fought off another to get to your position and each one of you has failed in your task. As I look amongst you now, I see that each face is the same--hollow and soulless. Unworthy of your position in this court and in society, all of you!" As he talked, Olan had turned to face each side of the court, the gleam in his eyes distilling fear into the closer members.
"And you, Examiner of the People, do you not convicting me will bring about your own ruination? Your position is based upon influence on those who trust you. Do you not have the foresight to know that misinterpretation and deceit will strip you of your position and you will become a beggar, destitute and forever with an empty stomach. You are the greatest evil in this room, slithering in the darkness with your band of snake-tongued fools. May your pain be as great as that inflicted you've inflicted on the masses. May your foundation crumble to dust beneath you."
A great hubbub arose at Olan's last word, each court member turning to the other to let his opinions fly. Amidst the sea of black robes, the white-robed Examiner stood silently, perspiring heavily. Having attended trials of this nature with his father, Olan knew how to pull the strings, even if would not benefit him. Glabados was afraid of reactionaries who would sabotage its efforts to control the people and was even more afraid of its conscious wrongdoings getting out. Everyone from a miner to a marquis was told a story warped into the Church's favor, never portraying the sides as they were.
Silence finally began to settle, and the Examiner was looked to as if he would have the words to counteract Olan's suggestions in his throat already. Things seem to have struck a personal chord, as he simply wiped his forehead and flipped through the open pages of Olan's book.
"You, Olan Durai, have disgraced yourself by ways subversive to the Church, and you are hereby sentenced a heretic. You will be burned at the stake on the eve, and every last remnant of your ashes never be seen again! Good day!"
The fate had grasped Olan the second his thoughts were uncluttered, and he was not going to disgrace himself by kicking and screaming over innocence. Issues such as that were immaterial now; what mattered was confiding in someone so his work would not be in vain.
As Olan rose to leave, the Examiner, who had already began walking out through the right-hand exit stopped, yelling Olan's name to get his attention.
"You may think that you've done yourself a service or the whole world for that matter. Do you think you will be known as a martyr after the attitude you've shown here today? No matter how you think people will see you, the Church will portray you as they see fit. I wanted you to know that before you smell the flame." And he disappeared through the exit.
The guard led Olan back to his cell, this time letting the man walk. Olan looked around; thinking about making a daring escape like he had read about in novels, but a shove from the guard jerked the thought right out of his mind. A look out the nearest window showed a sun burning red over a roof. "Time is burning away with the sun," was the immediate thought. Herded into his cell, he was left to the rats and darkness.
It was awhile before Olan talked--not out of fear or hesitation, but because his thoughts needed to be clear. Having completed a novel of such weight and magnitude as he just had, he would refuse to die a shell of a man. Dooming him to die would not rattle him.
"Hey, how did it go," asked the voice from the wall. "Well, I know how it went, but how did the court go, I mean? Was it thick with blind martinets and fools?"
Olan chuckled despite the weight on him. "Yes, friend, it was very full of fools. Very, full. Since it seems you're my company until I am to take my place in the square, I have something I want to ask you."
The voice spoke up, sensing something important. "Sure thing, friend. Anything. I don't know how much good it will do when I'm stuck in here, but if I can, I'll do it."
Olan pressed his ear to the wall, then sat on his bunk. "I am doomed to die, as you have already guessed, and I would like you to tell my maid Elise that I love her. Are you listening still?"
"Alright, I want you to tell her that I love her and that I would never have completed my syllabus without her. Remember to tell her this." A grunt of approval was heard through the wall, sounding disappointed that he wasn't bequeathing some treasure into his custody.
"Oh, and one more thing, friend."
"I want you to remember that Glabados is a run by mortal men...interpreters. Never should you give up your freedom to carry on the will of something that will only snap its jaws into you and not give way. Remember."
The expected voice of approval did not reply, probably pondering the meaning or relevance. For all Olan knew, this person was a heretic as well and would get as much of a chance to spread word and remember things as a mayfly. With no answer, Olan lay on his bunk, staring off into the dark space of the ceiling.
Night fell and the news of Olan's execution had spread like a plague, each townsperson gripped with horror as if they expected themselves to succumb to it. The town square was prepared shortly after the verdict was doled out, and as Olan was taken from his cell and led down the detainment hall's ramp. Olan's head hung limp on his shoulders. The last inkling of escape or betrayal of his fate had gone, and he walked forward dejectedly, but not enough to cry out or beg.
The chilly night air turned the crowd's breath into a flat bed of smoke, each person standing around and watching like cattle. The murmur bubbled but no vegetables were hurtled at the prisoner. Olan took a good look at the sad faces as he past, each melting into a mass of sorrow or tears. Those closest to the guard fence were wretched. Womens' heads were buried in their handkerchiefs and peals of sobbing sprang up intermittently with each step Olan took. He had known each and every one of them, and now he was going to be gone; he was thankful to see them at his pyre.
"Father," he uttered, closing his eyes as he walked. The sound of the guard's shuffling footfalls behind him was a reminder of his placement. "Move it, you mangy cur," barked the guard when his pace faltered, much to the dismay of the crowd.
He was tied fittingly, and the guard slugged him in the face for good measure. "God punishes the wicked," he hissed, turning his back on Olan to fetch another bundle of tinder. Olan closed his eyes for a second time, tasting the blood in his mouth. The onlookers watched and heard the frictional sound of flint striking flint, doing nothing.
In his last thoughts, Olan Durai vowed not to leave the earth a mass of self-pity. "Oh, God, let the truth be told," he wished, sending the prayer upwards as the first crackle of smoke followed after it.