Chara: Phase 1: Chapter 1

Chara: Phase 1: Veya’s Ladder

Chapter 1:

Ios wanted to run as fast as he could. He knew it would only be a matter of time if he kept up this pace, but he couldn’t go any faster, not without losing her.

Veya trailed behind him, tears streaming down her very exhausted face, and behind him, he saw the lights of their pursuers and the sounds of horses and shouting. Ios was running out of options. Even if he could move at his own pace, they would catch him. He stopped suddenly, and Veya came crashing into him, shouting something in panic that he couldn’t understand. He motioned for her to be quiet, and pointed to a tree with other various bits of foliage near it. He grabbed her arm, and pointed to the spot, rushing her to take cover behind it. She shouted at first, then he put his finger to his lips and bid her to silence. Instead she just began to whisper her disagreement. Not that it did her a lot of good. He didn’t understand her language at all.

When she was tucked away, he put his hands in the air, and remained still.

“I’m here!” he shouted. Suddenly the lights seemed to regain a sharp focus, and within a moment, many men riding horses stood in a line in front of him, shoving their lights in his face, which stung from remaining in the dark so long. He couldn’t see them very well with the light, but noticed one of the men dismount and walk closer.

“Ios… child of flowers and rain,” the man spoke, a gruff voice Ios knew well. As his namesake was mentioned aloud, the rest of the men laughed heartily.

“Child of sanity and redemption,” he retorted to the man.

The man set his lantern down, and Ios could clearly see him now. He had shaggy dark red hair, and a beard that was equally unkempt. Seeing him, Ios shrugged and smiled, lowering his arms.

“Sanity you say? Yet madness of your doing is why I’m forced to hunt you down.”

“I only do what I must, Drie.” Ios knew the man well, and wanted to make things seem at ease. His eyes darted about wildly though, and he was formulating differing plans and weighing the costs and risks of each many times over.

“You help a witch escape from confinement, you aide her even now.”

“Not anymore, old friend. I’ve sent her off ahead. In case you didn’t notice, I’m a distraction.”

Drie laughed.

“How far do you think she’ll get on her own? She comes from a posh and foolish people.”

“I don’t know, but I saw fit to give her whatever time I could.”

Drie sighed now, walking closer to Ios, looking at him not with suspicion, but with sorrow.

“Why do you do this, child? You could have been so great a person. A perfect soldier made ready to become a perfect leader. Why throw it all away for a witch?”

“She is no witch. She is kind and deserves whatever life has been given to her.”

“That’s not what our law says.”

“Law laid forth by corrupt priests and bureaucrats. I see no fear in the unknown. She saved my life, now I shall save hers.”

“You see things in too simple a way, Ios.”

Ios slowly moved his hand towards his side, and pulled the firearm from its holster.

“This is what we fear,” he said. “This is wielded by me now. Does that make me a demonic thing?”

“Put that down child!” Drie’s men fell back, as did Drie himself. Ios pointed the weapon at them, anger in his face.

“You fear not only the device, but all those who would wield it. What others see as the future, you see as infection!”

“Don’t do it…” Drie couldn’t say anything else.

“I have dedicated my life to killing them…” Ios had no idea what was flowing through him, but it gave him just as much clarity as it did confusion. “Saving one will not undo what I have done… but it’s a start.”

The forest erupted into a cacophony of loud cracking sounds and screaming. Drie fell silent, half of his face suddenly missing. Two others turned their horses and fled, while those that drew their weapons against Ios met a similar fate as Drie. The horses shook off their dead and dying riders and acted as though the end of all things was hunting them. They stormed off in panic, and Ios leapt to where Veya was, to see her looking away from the carnage, crying.

“We must run!” he shouted. She didn’t understand, so he grabbed her arm, and started to move forward.

They ran for another two hours it seemed, before Ios finally thought there was enough distance between them and any chance of being followed. He brought Veya to a stream, and pulled a flint from his bag to start a fire. Veya started to calm down, but now Ios was the one that felt ill at ease. He pulled the firearm from his side again, and set it in front of Veya.

“Things like this make ending lives too trivial. If we can kill so easily, why do we even exist at all?”

She stared at him.

“Ah, but still, you are no witch. I’ve seen enough being at war with your people to know that God and evil aren’t a part of this at all.” He picked up the weapon again, and Veya seemed confused.

“Soon you will need to lead us. I have no idea how to get you home safely.” He was pacing about his very poorly and hastily constructed campsite. Mostly talking to his self considering Veya had no idea what he was going on about.

Ios went to rest by the water, and washed his face. It was bitter cold, but he felt that was a good thing at the moment. His heart still raced, and his mind was on fire. He’d killed many times before, but never with such ease. He tried to steady his nerves, but felt his hands shaking suddenly. The issue he always had with death was that he could never anthropomorphize it. Every person he killed was just a faceless creature with no life or soul to them. He understood how wrong he was when Veya saved him… and he understood it even more now after killing his dear friend.

Ios sunk his hands into the stream again, and splashed more water on his face, but it wasn’t working. His breathing became harsh, and he shrunk away from the stream, and sat looking at the ground.

He began to cry fiercely.

Veya saw him and came to his side with soft steps and gentle hands. He shook her away at first, and walked back to the fire, but his sorrow was too immense, he could do nothing to bury it or hide it. Veya followed him, and held him, and he continued to cry.

Within mere days, everything Ios had come to know was torn from him. He was at the front lines of a successful campaign against Veya’s people. Despite the disadvantage they suffered technologically, Ios taught his men to fight smart, to fight underhanded, and to fight without mercy. Drie was his commanding officer, and a good friend of Ios’s family. He had always envied Drie when he was a child, and even though he was conscripted to military service anyways, Ios saw it as a great honor, considering all that Drie had done.

Everything in his mind was in revolt against itself. He no longer believed that he served a just and loving god, he no longer believed that he was an honorable person, and he no longer believed there was any difference between war and murder.

He wanted Veya to hate him for all that he had done. That it would be the right thing for her to take the weapon she gave him, and use it to strike him down. Because of him, her family was dead. He felt ashamed that she was comforting him. He killed a friend, but one he no longer trusted, one that was also instructed to kill him. Ios forcefully took her entire life away from her for no decent reason, and here she sat, holding him until his tears subsided.

Ios felt like the worst creature that had ever walked the world.

The night was not going to last forever though, so he shook his self loathing away when he felt he had vented enough of his sorrow. Veya fell asleep quite easily, and as he watched the fire die down, he suddenly found his spirit renewed. She needed his help, and after what he had done, he would not refuse her. That was his purpose. He would help find a safe place for her to rest, no matter what the consequences were for him. If she was safe, then he could be content that he had done something to make the world better before he left it.

She was so different from other people, he thought. Not just her dark skin and how she dressed, but her tone, her temperance, and how accepting she was of Ios. Were she anything like him, he thought that their first meeting would end in gunfire. An unjust invader stealing the world away… and instead, she saved him. He knew next to nothing about her culture, beyond the terrible lies he was told by the zealous ones he defended. He had no idea if this was merely their way of life, or if she really was just a remarkable person.

Deciding to make sure they were safe for the time being, Ios wandered away for a bit. If anything, it felt good for him just to meander about and be alone with his thoughts. Evil songs were haunting him, a clamor of blood and hatred, with stomping feet providing the rhythm. He was a heretic now. Saving one meager life from doom was not much of an offense, but considering he saved what they branded a witch, and he killed many of his own to grant her just this brief moment of safety… Ios knew they would hunt him down purely on principle.

So what mattered now was getting Veya to safety. If he could get her some place where her people could shelter her, he would be free to run from his people at his own pace. Likely wouldn’t escape their wrath forever, but he already assumed that his choice to save Veya was a choice that meant the end of his life.

Wandering a bit too far… Ios noticed the weather become more chill and turbulent. Coming to the foot of an oak that was clearly mightier than all others around it, he saw an owl perched high on a branch looking down at him. Spotted brown feathers hid a white face and piercing green eyes. For whatever reason, it was intensely interested in Ios. He walked away from the tree, and started to head back towards his crude camp, only to see the owl again staring at him from a perch on a tree. It was so stoic, it seemed as though it didn’t even fly to catch up to him, as though it had been there all the while, waiting for him. The creature stared him down very clearly, and he stared back, noticing the wind change.

As the gusts grew greater, they pushed at his back, and he thought he could hear faint whispers on it. Words calling out to him as this creature glared at him with such condemnation.

“Interloper…” the wind said, “trespasser!”

Ios felt awestruck and confused. Yet, as quickly as the words touched his ears, they fell away, and the owl took off into the night.

The forest seemed a touch different now though. The cool air seemed harsh and cold, the trees seemed even more impossibly tall, as though they did not end, and it was not the night sky above him, but a canopy of nothingness. He started to hurry towards the campsite, but noticed he was going the wrong way. Somehow he had gone astray, and he could find no trace of old ground he had treaded. Nothing was familiar. The air felt stale now, and it seemed like everything he stepped on was already dead and rotting. His footsteps carried an odd sound with them, like they echoed backwards and followed him, growing denser and louder. Like at the end of the wake, the soil trembled from his careful steps through this strangeness.

Ios turned, and beheld a great beast lumbering towards him.

“Interloper,” the words followed it, but did not come from it, “trespasser!”

Standing frozen, Ios was amazed by the pure impossibility of the creature. A giant mouthless face resting on a body that looked something like a large feline, but with more avian features, with six eyes of pure black arranged ornately across its face. He did not run from it, he felt it would be pointless. However, there was also no sense of urgency in the creature. It approached him slowly, with large careful strides on its talon feet.

“What are you?” it asked. The voice seemingly calm and monotone, but it gathered around Ios like it strangled him.

“I… I am from the west,” was all he said.

“The ignorant that cling to the man hanged?” it asked again.

“Yes, but no more. I…” Ios realized how mad it was to converse with something that should not exist, his words stopped, and he just stared at this massive creature.

“You escort a woman of the east?” The creature spoke, continuing its prodding.

“Yes. Her name is Vewaylia, my people condemned her. I wish to help her.”

“She will die…” the creature seemed to lower its head, bringing it very close to Ios, as though it wanted to examine him further. Ios noticed the creature’s coat was of a spotted brown down.

“I can help her,” Ios said quite defiantly.

“You know nothing. She must die.”

“Why?”

“Because it is demanded.”

“Who are you?” Ios stepped towards the creature, anger in his face, but his heart was choking on fear. His courage to argue with such a thing would not hold.

“Older than this world, older than many worlds. She is trivial, but she is dangerous.” Ios noticed as these words came to surround him, they changed tone quite often, as though other things were joining with this creature’s voice.

“She is a kind woman, why must she be killed?”

“Her kindness means nothing. She herself is unaware of what is inside her. Planted in her heart the day of birth. Manifests with a trigger. It will consume her, and many others.” Many different things were now speaking to Ios, but not in anger. They were not making demands of him… they were pleading with him.

“I will not let you harm her!” With their changing voice, Ios felt his courage swell again.

To his surprise, the giant creature actually retreated when Ios stepped forward, keeping one foot held aloft as though ready to defend itself.

“Trespasser,” they shouted again, “it must be this way!”

“It will not!”

For a long moment, there was silence. The creature looked around and away from Ios, as though conferring with other things that were not around.

“There could be another way,” it said, as though an admission of defeat. “We tell her of what she is, a chance she can be saved.”

“What are you?” Ios asked, still dumbfounded by the size and strangeness of this thing.

“Eredsh,” was all it said.

“You do not exist here?”

The creature tilted its head.

“No.”

“Where must I bring her?”

“Freuoth. Place of resting in the mountains.”

“Promise me no harm will come to her!”

“That is not something that can be said. It is up to you, Ios.”

“You know my name?” the creature was already stepping backwards though, and the voices that had already grown soft, seemed to disappear now.

“Should not be,” was the last thing they said.

As Ios watched the strange darkness recede with the creature, he felt the air return to its natural damp state, and the trees gave way to moonlight again. He was suddenly very familiar with the spot he was standing in, and knew he was not very far from Veya. Turning around, Ios could even see a faint glimmer of light from the embers of their fire.

Above him, the same owl from before stood perched in a tree, watching him, but only for a moment. It flew away into the woods as soon as Ios acknowledged it. Some other sound caught him for a brief moment though…

A flicker from far off, the sound of a twig snapping in half, and Ios stood intently, about to ready the firearm he still had at his side. He looked to the spot where he thought he heard noise, but before he could investigate, or hide, he saw a bright flash streak towards him.

There was only enough time for him to see that what was coming towards him was a silver arrow. It struck him slightly above his stomach, and he fell to the forest floor in immense pain.

As Ios laid there bleeding, he could hear screaming from far away, like the sounds of joyous insanity.

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