Chara: Phase 1: Chapter 3

Chara: Phase 1: Veya’s Ladder

Chapter 3:

It was like walking in some wonderful and terrible dream. Ios was so filled with confusion, but he knew to temper that with the knowledge that all he beheld was in ruins. Still, he had never seen anything like this from Veya’s people, and the further they traveled, the denser it became.

Veya was still mostly silent, refusing to speak with Ios for any long stretch of time, though it did not seem like she was angry with him. She seemed more overwhelmed with the chaos than Ios did.

It was only the second day in this new strange environment before Ios broke down, begging for forgiveness and apologizing. He knew what kind of guilt should be choking him, but honestly, he didn’t know what he was feeling. Everything was chaos, and silence.

Ios did his best to tell Veya that she would lead him to whatever fate awaited him, that he would not ask her to go anywhere. He wanted to make it clear that he would be the only one of them dying any time soon.

She seemed despondent. No matter what Ios tried to say to her, she would just look at the buildings still left billowing smoke into the sky.

What struck him as odd, was how few bodies there were. They all seemed highly desiccated as well, making it seem like whatever happened here, already took place long ago. It was almost peaceful for Ios, to see corpses that were just laid about casually, rather than being torn limb from limb, or showing signs of horrific trauma before death. It seemed like within only an instant, whoever was left here just… ceased. The part of him that found that reassuring though, was a part of him he wished would go away.

Veya’s disappointment seemed less aimed at the tragic fate of her people, and more on something else though. Ios suspected that she knew what caused this catastrophy, but would not try to tell him what had done it. Perhaps it was a long story, and trying to bridge the barrier between their languages would have made it a difficult tale to tell. Or, maybe she was just ashamed that her people would do something like this to their selves, he couldn’t honestly tell. Between his revelation that she needed to die, and this, he knew that the sorrow was too much for her.

It was difficult for Ios to provide any comfort for her though, as so much of this place was strange and new to him, even in its ruined state. Veya helped him scavenge for food in shops that seemed unlike anything he’d known, and everything they gathered seemed like it required no preparation to eat.

It was like this everywhere they went. The vehicles that were strewn about in the streets did not require horses to move, but instead had mechanical legs that seemed to carry them along. He thought the kind of engineering Veya’s people knew was devoted entirely to weapons of war, considering that was the only thing he understood about what made them remarkable. Now he realized he wasn’t even truly fighting a war against her people… he was just slaughtering refugees.

What the city he was wandering through was like at some other point in time fascinated Ios endlessly, while what it became made him greatly mournful. For Veya, it was as though losing a loved one. She knew this place well it seemed, but had been separated from it. Now, she could only return to it as it was now, a broken husk filled only with death and sorrow.

Another thing that shocked him, as how expansive and vast this place was. His perception of what a city was in regards to size in no way compared to this. Considering all the areas for housing people, Ios realized that at their best, his people were likely outnumbered twenty to one. All of it seemed too grand for its own good though. Tall buildings held few spaces for people to dwell, and instead, it seemed each home was meant to allow even a single person to live in luxury, while the city itself just pressed outward for more space. Ios’s people were doing everything they could to occupy as few spaces as possible, to give the illusion that their numbers were smaller. He was used to cramped quarters with many people calling a single small room home.

Their progress became achingly slow. The mountains he could see in the distant horizon taunted him every day, that he could have direction if he would allow it. But honestly, he didn’t want to take Veya there. He promised to keep her safe, and he was no longer sure he could do that. Instead, they meandered about this giant scar on the world, slowly trudging towards the east for no particular reason.

So much of him ached to do anything he could for Veya, but as the days passed, things only got worse. He had let her decide where they should go and when, allowing her to move at her own pace as she dealt with her sorrow. He had no idea where she was taking him, but honestly, he did not care. They were not moving swiftly anyways, so they both became languid as they trudged through the wastes. Veya seemed empty inside, and Ios was desperately searching for meaning, when all that surrounded him was utter loss.

It all came to a head one day when they were slowly walking along a major thoroughfare for what looked like a lively area of the city. Bodies were scarce, and whenever they encountered any, both of them did their best to avoid them. However, while walking past an area that seemed like it was converted to be a shelter, Veya gasped, and pointed.

Ios beheld the corpse of a woman clutching her now mummified infant. He was drawn towards it instantly, and wanted to observe it closely. The now leathery skin on the woman was locked in an expression of intense pain, while the child’s face almost seemed to not exist, so contorted it was. Ios could hear Veya uttering strange things, and then she walked further away from the scene, to cry out of earshot of him.

Ios looked at the face of the woman again, and felt something awful wash over him. Looking inside himself, he found nothing, so in desperation, he kept searching. He fumbled in his back pocket, and found a forked shaped piece of metal, and he clutched it close to his breast.

“Dear Lord,” he uttered, almost in a trance, “forgive the evil in our hearts and let these souls pass to you free of burden.”

Veya turned, and looked at him. He did not notice.

“Like your son hanged upon the tree,” Ios held out the forked piece of metal, and held it aloft over the corpse of the woman and her child, his eyes still closed and his face downward, “let the evils of this world wash away, and forgive us for our trespasses against ourselves, and against you. Let these souls find peace, let them find rest…”

Ios dropped the item from his hands, and listened to it clatter on the ground. He fell to his hands, and began to cry.

He did not truly believe in his God anymore, or that any such god could exist. He didn’t believe the world held any good in it at all. The slaughter of what remained of Veya’s people, their end coming about by their own hands, the willful ignorance of every soul he encountered. He could not stand it anymore, and viewed these corpses as the final result of everything terrible about the world. He was staring at the byproduct of pure evil, and he could not contend with it, he could only offer his petty halfhearted prayers and weep in the face of such pointless atrocity.

He could only remember the times where he was responsible for actions like this. Memories came flooding back into him, of houses burning and the occupants screaming inside, and how he was the one to set the homes ablaze in the first place.

He could not fight this evil, because he was a part of it. A soldier on the frontlines ensuring every good thing in the world withered and died.

Veya put her hands on his shoulders, and began to whisper to him, but he shook her away. He picked up the forked bit of metal again, and threw it away from him as far as he could, screaming as he did so. Odd behavior considering what he’d done only moments ago. He wanted to never see that symbol again though.

Again Veya approached him, her own eyes also filled with tears.

“Why?” she asked him.

It was difficult to explain to her. He pointed to the patch on his jacket, saying that he was a soldier. She understood that quickly, but when he pointed to the woman and her child, she didn’t make any connection with whatever words he could say.

“Me,” he said, “I did this.”

“No,” she replied.

It took further explaining that he didn’t mean the current example, but that civilians had died by his hands, and that he was not mournful of it at the time. When finally she understood, he expected her to be filled with anger. Instead, she took him into her arms and hugged him.

“Past now,” she said simply in his words. “Past.”

He did not believe her.

Something changed after that though. Veya still regarded her surroundings with contempt and sorrow, but she actively wanted to converse with Ios again. As more days passed, he felt his spirits lifted as she returned to her habit of continually prodding him for new words to learn. Their pace became more hurried again, and Ios realized he was being drawn closer to the mountains.

After a rather long day of spending their time going back and forth instructing each other on language, they laid to rest in an empty home resting somewhat far away from the usual congestion of toppled buildings. When Ios closed his eyes though, he felt as though he was still awake. He was within an instant, returned to the thoroughfare where he found the dead mother and child. It was far different this time though. It was lively, free of dust and decay, and many souls wandered about. Considering his pale skin and outfit, he was very out of place. Yet no one noticed. Ios was a ghost in this scene. People walked around him, or into him without so much as a glance at what obstructed their path. He saw now how the strange vehicles that littered the city worked. Some acted as mass transportation for many souls at once. It would come to a stop on its many legs, and lower itself to the ground. A door would swing wide, and people would enter or leave and it would pick itself up again, and scurry off down a predetermined path on its stout legs.

As he surveyed the nighttime scene with all of the strangely bright illumination of the city, Ios could find no shared consensus of feeling throughout the swell of bodies. Some groups of people seemed overly joyous as they meandered about, others were even openly intoxicated in their laughter and conversation. Others seemed highly agitated and worn down, and some simply looked bored.

It was so chaotic, yet highly organized. Ios was the only one standing in anyone’s way. So many people were going so many different places, but they all had it down to a routine. One they did not deviate from.

So much noise was assaulting him from all sides, yet it was somewhat tranquil how everything played out. Something was off though, and he knew that.

Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eyes, and he could briefly see a shadow fluttering about on the ground in between a crowd of people. No one else seemed to notice it, a flat thing on many legs running between people with blinding speed. He turned and noticed it again, but whenever he would turn to find it, the shadow would vanish out of sight.

Then the sounds of all the people chattering in a chorus he couldn’t comprehend started to die down. Everyone still wandered to and fro, but their voices seemed hushed and disconnected. So Ios closed his eyes for a moment, and opened them again.

Everyone stood perfectly still in an orderly line. Their faces still, but dislodged and uneven. The shadow he saw multiplied, and went everywhere, it made a noise now, but it was soft and hard to hear. It sounded almost like cloth in the wind being whipped about. No one stood on the street but Ios, and he wanted to scream at them, but he felt something strange crawling over his face.

He closed his eyes again, and when he opened them, there was nothing. The street was desolate and rotted again.

An owl sat perched on a street lamp, its feathers were strange, with almost a silver sheen to them. Its eyes were black and yellow, and seemed to widen and shrink down at random intervals without being interdependent of one another.

Ios realized the beast was entirely mechanical. And promptly realized who was manipulating it.

“I will not help you,” he said to it, his voice emerging with no difficulty now.

The owl stared at him, and the wind picked up, carrying with it many angry whispers that surrounded Ios.

“Everything…” they spoke, before loudly continuing. “This is all her doing.”

“Veya has had no hand in this tragedy!” Ios shouted.

“She will make another great sorrow,” the eyes of the owl seemed to flare up as the words came to Ios and wrapped around his neck. “It grows already. You are defiant… you are the first to be consumed.”

“You are wrong.”

“Still time to stop her,” they pleaded with Ios, “still time to make this go away.”

“I will not help you. Her fate is her own, and is no longer for me or any other to decide.”

“You go to Freouth either way,” they almost seemed amused when they spoke, “you see there, what she tolerates. You see truth there. She will consume you, or you will silence her. Two go, one returns.”

“You are wrong,” Ios repeated.

But the voices said nothing, and the owl seemed silent.

When Ios awoke, Veya was gone.

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