This was written as a prompt from this image: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/Jl5Qd
Tattered robes lay strewn across the small grass meadow. Though by the strictest definition the clearing in the trees was a meadow, Jonathon considered it as much forest as the rest of the damned wood. The grass towered over his head, and above that the fog hung at the tips of the titanic blades, not giving Jonathan any indication as to where the chase took him. He grew weary of his feet aching, of the drenched air he breathed, and most of all the melancholic age-blackened greenery.
A twig snapped in the meadow. Or was it in the forest? “That wasn’t them. They couldn’t find me here. I left nothing behind. Nothing,” Jonathan whispered to the clump of grass that brushed his head.
He heard a soft scrape against the bark of a nearby tree, followed by a hushed whisper. The sound was unmistakable. Without hesitation, Jonathan dashed through the grass and into the thick brush of the trees on the opposite side. While the meadow was dreary, it oozed sunshine and joy compared to the black forlorn forest. Despite the fog emanating a frightful light, the same curious light that pours from a full yellow moon on a crisp autumn night.
“His robes!” a voice shouted. He didn’t bother to turn around, he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He kept running, ignoring the brush clawing at his legs, ignoring the itch in his throat, and ignoring the cavern that loomed ahead of him. At any other time, Jonathan would have noticed the cave. His destination didn’t matter as long as his pursuers were left behind.
If Jonathan noticed the minor breaks in the fog, though thick as the fog was it did not always obscure the sky, he would have seen the sun dip below the horizon. He would have seen the black stone surround him. He would have stopped and found another way to go, as any rational adult would. Though, Jonathan left reason behind long before he ran from the meadow. Even longer still than before, he began running altogether. At some point, Jonathan couldn’t tell when the fog’s light vanished, in fact the fog seemed to have gone.
“You’ve betrayed the Almighty!”
“A demon has taken him!”
The voices of his once humble followers faded a few hours into the first day of the chase, but Jonathan remembered them. William’s voice shouted loudest of them all. Jonathan almost gave his own life when he saw the devastation in William’s face. The man followed Jonathan longer than anyone. William had been the chosen follower, the one to lead after Jonathan would pass to the Almighty. The poor soul refused to accept Jonathan’s confession. Instead, he led the followers. He led them just as Jonathan taught him. They were to purify the sinner. Offer them up as a sacrifice to the Almighty. What greater sacrifice would there be than the Almighty’s very voice on this Earth? The Almighty would have been pleased. If Jonathan hadn’t been the target of William’s zealotry, Jonathan would have been proud to call William his true successor.
“I’m sorry, Will. I truly am,” Jonathan said into the darkness. He stopped running. Instead, Jonathan felt around the dark cavern for a place to sit and dropped his head into his hands and sobbed. For three days he’d been chased through the forest. For three days he hadn’t so much as glimpsed the sun. For three days he’d been running and not once thought if he even should run.
“It’s not like I don’t deserve it. After what I did to those people. After I lied to them, stole from them, and worst of all after I sold them a false religion. I don’t even deserve to sit in a moment of comfort. Why am I running?” Jonathan slipped off the mossy rock he sat on and stuck his head into the cool soft dirt. It soothed him. “I have to go back. I have to give them justice.” Jonathan’s eyes flashed open, and he sat up, looking around in the dark cavern.
Jonathan turned around and took a step toward the black forest when a glitter of yellow light sprang into his vision. It lit the far end of the cavern, opposite to where Jonathan came from. He glanced toward the dark end of the tunnel and shrugged, walking away from the darkness and wiping the dried tear stains from his cheeks.
The light twinkled in the distance, always fluttering on the verge of vanishing into the dark of the never-ending cavern. Jonathan walked on. He fixated on the light, yearned for it. A hunger he did not yet know ached within him. It drove him. It took over his being. The light danced in a rhythm to a silent song that Jonathan imagined. Jonathan labored with each step, though he did not feel it. Jonathan struggled to breathe, though his body felt at ease. The light gave him strength.
Hours, maybe even days, passed as Jonathan followed the light. It lit the now bright green moss and grass that lined the cavern’s surface. The bright wet stones began to glow themselves, giving off a soft gray light, as they gave way to a lush, green forested oasis. Jonathan focused still on the single yellow light that led his path, he only noticed the cavern ended when he tripped over a blue mushroom. His trance was broken. His eyes wandered from place to place, taking in the myriad of colorful fungi that sprouted in harmony with the flowing grass and moss. A bubbling brook encircled a clearing outside the cavern’s walls. Beyond the clearing the misted forest remained as black and lifeless as the day Jonathan first stepped within, but the clearing itself opposed the very essence of the forest. In the very center of the clearing stood a massive ancient tree, upon its branches a plethora of captivating yellow lights bobbed in a smooth gust of wind.
Jonathan focused his attention to one particular orb that lay on the dirt at the base of the tree. Its light shimmered as a spray of water dropped on the orb’s surface. As Jonathan crept closer, he could see the orb’s flesh dimpled with darker flecks of gold. Five petals protruded from the bottom of what looked to be a golden fruit. He picked it up and rubbed the surface dry with his free hand. It was nothing short of beautiful. Jonathan tried to take a bite, but the tough flesh of the fruit was too strong to pierce with his teeth. Instead, he smashed the fruit against a rock, splitting it in two. Inside were dark red seeds encased in a sack of similarly colored juice. It was then that Jonathan realized he had never been so hungry. He couldn’t remember the last time he ate; it was before the chase began.
“That’s right,” Jonathan said to the fruit. “I’m running from them. They wanted to kill me. You won’t harm me though, will you, my friend?” Jonathan took a single seed from the fruit husk and tossed it onto his tongue. The red juice spilled down his throat, satiating him. At the first taste of the seed, Jonathan tore into the rest of the fruit, devouring it until only the golden husk remained. He slumped against the exposed roots of the tree and sighed. Then he fell asleep.
Above him a gust of wind fled through the sky, delivering destruction to the earth. Below him trees were torn from the dirt, water was lifted from the sea, and mountains crumbled. A crevice opened in the center of a black forest. From it a fiery demon rose, wielding a scepter of lightning and followed by a two-headed wolf. The demon fell upon the valley and consumed it in its fire. Destroying all life and claiming death as its own.
Jonathan awoke screaming, “No! You will not take me!” He scrambled to his feet and surveyed his surroundings. He slept against an old decrepit tree, upon its branches a single red fruit. Only the moist, fertile dirt covering the forest clearing dared to encroach upon the tree’s domain. The gnarled branches and twisting trunk reached toward the edges of the grove, as if wanting to partake in the life of the surrounding forest.
In the distance Jonathan could hear the voices of his followers. They found him. Despite all he had done to escape them, they were coming. He’d done everything to keep them from destroying the city he held dear, but now their wrath was upon him. He could no longer control them. They would run rampant, killing the heretics and sacrificing the sinners.
Jonathan’s stomach rumbled, and he looked toward the single fruit that grew on the old tree. Remembering the taste of the sweet golden fruit, he took the similarly shaped red fruit from the branch and broke it open, revealing the red seeds hidden within. Jonathan held nothing back as he tore at the husk, consuming every seed the fruit offered him. Strength coursed through his veins, hope returned, and power revealed itself to him.
His religion was not false. The Almighty stood before him as a dying tree bearing a single fruit. Jonathan understood. His life was not a lie. The fruit made that clear. The forest, the Almighty, guided him, by the Almighty, to bring to pass the demon that would destroy the city. It was his duty to set the stage. The voices of his followers echoed around the clearing; they were upon him. Jonathan would not disappoint them. The Almighty would not let him.
“He’s here! I see him through the mist!” William shouted to the four men that followed him.
“Welcome, William,” Jonathan said as William and the others burst into the grove.
“Yoseph, we’ve come to help you seek redemption. After all you’ve taught us. After everything we know that not one soul is so far lost that the Almighty cannot cleanse it. Please don’t run anymore. Let us purge the evil within you,” William inched closer to Jonathan as he spoke.
“I know, William, I was deceived by a demon. I know that now. The forest has given me clarity. I know now that the Almighty doesn’t exist in an unknowable plane of existence, but has, in fact, surrounded us day in and day out. It is here, William, this is the Almighty,” Jonathan said pointing to the tree behind him.
William looked back at the men behind him and then to Jonathan again, then to the tree. “Please, just come. I don’t wish to hurt you.”
“Neither do I, Will. I’ve been wrong in my life far more often than I did admit to you when this all started. I led you astray, but by doing so I did the bidding of the Almighty. I was used as His voice without believing in it myself. I know now though. Think of what we can accomplish with this knowledge. With the power of the Almighty, we can truly purge the heretics.”
“Yoseph, this isn’t you. What demon have you let into you? I thought you’d have been stronger. I thought you of all people wouldn’t have fallen victim. Yet here you are. We must purge you. For the sake of everyone else,” William grabbed a rope from one of his men.
“I’m sorry, Will. I’m sorry that you could not see the truth,” Jonathan said. “You will be the first to know for certain of my honesty.” Jonathan looked toward William and frowned. The man’s potential was limitless. It was a shame to waste it.
Jonathan awoke, naked and covered in a mixture of dried blood and dirt. The bodies of his followers piled at the base of the tree. His chase was over, but his work was just beginning.