Chapter 25:

Chapter EX: Ven, Part 1

Setting Sun Story: Beta


Parted only by the occasional squish and shuffle of a leather seat, silence hangs in the air. In a warm workshop, light pouring in from every angle, far away and long before the tragedy that befell the fortress of Baustas, a giant tree is erected; its shadowed trunk eating up most of the view, and its crown, comprised of red autumn leaves, blocking the afternoon Sun.

With the soft, silky, sweeping sound of brush hairs along his palette, the painter, sitting in the wash of a window, coats the strands of his own brand of blade in a bright orange hue.

He taps along the canvas, dotting around the large bark symbol, bringing to life a drifting foreground of Autumn leaves, hovering over the grass and roots below, recited and rendered in perfect reflection from his memory.

Leaning back, the stool creaks beneath him, its well used legs shifting and grinding slightly. The image complete, but his scruffy beard layered wrinkles show no sign of satisfaction.

The painter simply observes. The empty void on his face, in a time where one might show ease, smiling over another shard of the world, cemented in a permanent paint, is not out of distress, dissatisfaction, nor even discontent. The fact is such, that this piece was finished and beheld many years ago, when he experienced firsthand the whirlwind that kicked up the Mirrored Wood, and this giant tree sat translated to paint in that moment.

This painting is not for him, he is well aware of that. It exists for the Other People. For any individual who may seek his path. Like his other pieces, this one, a low angled glance into a canopied sky, is meant to be a cliff-edge, off of which, one can leap, their eyes drawing them onto the trail of their own adventure.

Giving the old man proper space, Ven, his face glowing with the resilient polish of a comfortable and intrigued teenage heart, sits across the dusty room, looking down at an unfinished painting of a large lake surrounded by a tall sheet of white space.

It will never be finished... such is the old man's intent.

Standing up from his abused seat, the wise man takes a stance next to Ven, both eying the frigid, icy waters, the blinding wall of canvas, creating a raw contrast of untouched white and ominous dark blue.

Putting a hand in the young Ven's short hair, the old uncle speaks.

"The longer you stand at the edge of a cliff, logically, the more clear its details will become. As you inspect each and every jutting of the rock, outstretched root, and cut of loose dirt, more information will fill in, overwhelming and overlapping the cliff itself. With it, the cliff will grow. Getting larger and taller as you familiarize yourself with its make, forgetting the waters below.

"Leap, Ven. Leap before the height of the fall will kill you, and thankfully, you'll find the waters to be how you imagined them in the first place."

Removing the hand from his head, Ven looks up, opening his mouth to respond-

Outside the Sanctuary - Ven - Late Morning

His confused response is cut off, as he finds himself standing on the only path in the golden grass fields just North of the sanctuary grounds' indent of the mountain. 

At the edge of the crescent shaped mountain wall, a willow tree of pale, almost translucent white, seems to reach out over the crescent mountainside, wooden fingers clawing for the ocean waters.

In an attempt to keep his mind cleared for a moment, he must've begun to dream about his childhood. He didn't snap out on his own though, as a certain Baustian refugee seems to be prodding his shoulder.

"Hey, buddy," Arrabelle fires off with a general air of aggression.

Ven turns as the pokes continue.

"Wha-"

Another jab.

"What! What! Cut it out!" Ven yells, grabbing her index finger out of the air.

She wiggles her hand, slithering away from his defense.

"What is it?" He repeats after angrily staring her down.

"I wanna make a bet with you-" Arrabelle announces.

"Hmm?"

For some reason, just as quickly as he returned, he's sent back at the resonance of those words.

"Oi! Quit zoning ou-"

West Coast Waters - Several Days Ago

At the edge of a grassy patch, where green harshly cuts into a beach of white sand, a small child, flopping about in a colorful tunic runs to the water's edge, pointing out into the sea.

"C'mon! Hurry! Look look!" He yells in an overwhelmed, seagull-like squawk.

Two more infantile companions come forth, all entranced by the iron fish that swim far out on the horizon.

A line of blue light traces from its back to the front, these must be deep sea creatures, as their skin looks poor, even showing its inner veins in the daylight.

The leader of the children looks behind him, beckoning an older boy forth.

The bow on his back, clanking over his hunting gear, the boy, equipped for some duty of protection, stands beside them, his light hair swaying in the salty breeze.

As he catches view of the ships, his hand clenches up.

"Get inside," the village protector announces, grabbing the shoulders of the kids and ushering them back to land.

One of the children, a little girl, clings to his waist.

"Huh? Why? I wanna see more!" She complains.

"More?" He repeats to himself, looking up from the children to find countless other magnificent "fish," drifting in from around the land's bend.

The boy glances down at her pouting face and bubbling eyes, then quickly back to the threat.

"Uh- ah, Okay! I have a mission for you all then," he stammers out, quick wittedly.

As he bends to a knee, they gather round.

"Go tell the chief about this, and the last one there is a bloated sapfish!" He orders, snapping his fingers with a false smile.

The last child, the most competitive of the three, dashes off, kicking up sand into the bow-bound boy's face.

The other two children look at each other in panic, and as they run off, the girl exclaims, "Huh?? Gary! Waiiiiiiiiit!"

Left alone, the white of the rushing tide creeping up and folding into the sand at his toes, the village protector spots a soldier atop the far out crafts, looking straight back at him.

"Please, whatever you're planning, just leave us out," he pleads to himself.

On the other side of the stare down, leaning as best he can on the rods of a chain-link railing, is Ven.

He watches closely as a young boy on the far off beach attempts to lead some children away from the Luminian presence, pushing them back toward stilted wooden homes, put up by the dozen on the grass just beyond the beach.

"Everyone outside the capitol fears us," Ven notes.

Behind him, touching down onto the deck of the ship, two hover crafts land, the Aether draining from their metallic form as fellow soldiers step from them.

One pushes the other.

"Man those things just eat you up, you know?"

"Well you're so damn big, I'm surprised you can even pump enough in to power it, hah!"

A large man with a thick chin approaches, poking Ven's shoulder.

"Were you talkin' to yourself a second ago?" He inquires, getting a look at Ven's solemn gaze.

Ven nods his head in the village's direction. It's small enough that the cluster of twenty, maybe thirty homes all sit idly in view.

"Any place outside of Lumina, it seems like these people always see us and run. Why do you think that is? Aren't we the peace-keepers?" Ven asks, side-eying the large man.

He regrets asking it as soon as he does, for the large man tilts his head in confusion, or maybe ignorance altogether. His friend, a thin man with a sharp face, steps to Ven's other side, sandwiching him in.

"It's 'cuz they're all dirty sinners. They see us, and the know retribution's comin'... heh heh."

"Retribution for what?" Ven asks, a nerve clearly struck.

"Now how de' hell did you come to be a Prodigy, eh? It's about repenting, glamour boy, they chose a faith in things non-existent, you get it yet?" The sharp-faced man continues smugly.

"But Lumina doesn't uphold any faith-"

Ven's words are cut off by the immensely loud cracking of knuckles to his left, as the thick man looks ever determined, his massive jowl jutting forth.

"Maybe we oughta come around and teach 'em a lesson of this er' retribution... only after we clean up Baustas of course!" He says, callously.

Ven sighs, letting the talk come to silence while they pass the forest and hills of the village's respite. The flow of seawater, and soft hum of rudders below whirr through the quiet moment.

Soon after crossing beyond a mountain deep in the land of the peninsula, there, topping a grand plateau, upon the high cliffs, an ominous stone fortress sitting beneath a giant red bubble.

The Big Red Dot, Ven performs in thought.

"Wow," he verbalizes in tandem.

"Ya know, seein' it from this close, it kinda looks like the Light barrier in Lumina, don't it?" the elfish man says.

Using Ven as blunt means to an end, the muscly soldiers pushes him, sending a playful, but albeit violent shock through Ven to his partner, who holds tight as he's almost pushed over.

"Watch it, ya moron!" The thin man yells in response over Ven.

"I can't help it! You're an idiot," the buff one states ironically before pointing up at Baustas. "That red color? That's Chaos up there, it's nothing like Lumina!"

At the mere mention of Chaos, the burly one works himself into a stupor.

His leg twitches, and if it were one of the old models, he probably would be shaking the entire ship.

"I bet they crawl around on all fours in there. Just like rats, scurryin' over one another," he theorizes.

And where do you, genius, ever so thoughtfully get that idea? Ven angrily thinks to himself.

With another quiet sigh, he pushes the thought away, lashing out won't help his case.

Something, however, lashes out against him. The pointy elbow of the sharp-faced man prods at Ven's side.

"Ow, what the fuck!?" Ven blurts out.

While the lean soldier chuckles, his bigger buddy starts to laugh wholeheartedly.

"Those bony elbows are the best weapon you've got! Gonna use those?" The large man asks, laughing.

Suddenly insecure, the thin man draws back, feeling at his arms.

"They- they're normal... a-anyway, VEN!" He suddenly announces.

"What." Ven replies in a densely monotone, aggravated impatience.

"What say you, we have a little contest?" The thin man asks through a horrible grin.

Ven refuses to respond, simply staring down the strangely crooked man.

"C'mon, hear me out. When we bust down the walls, lets tally up our kill count," the thin man's voice turns from a lighthearted jokester, to a devilish low rumble, or at least as low as a man like him can churn out.

"By the end of it, loser has to do anything the winner says!" He completes.

The penalty's weird, he isn't hitting on me is he? Ven thinks.

Ven shakes his head. 

No... no, Ven, wrong genre.

Another one of those titular dagger elbows lands in his side.

"Whadya say? Don't get the chance to take on a Pro- ah, former Prodigy very often!" The thin man continues to push.

"When you own the world... rarely do you take part in its festivities..." suddenly spurts out from Ven's left.

...

. . .

Ven and the sharp faced soldier both look in awe at the out of character words spoken from the burly man.

As Ven's brow furls, the fledgling philosopher's friend shakes his head.

"Wh- where'd you steal that one from?" Asks the thin one.

The large man looks slowly from the waters to his pal.

"It's an original."

As he accepts the applause from his partner, Ven is hunkered down over the chain railing, his jaw dropped.

That... didn't even mean anything. What the hell are they talking about?


"So, Ven? You in?"

Ven leans over to the challenge's presenter.

"You're out of your mind," he finally says with an angry squint, removing himself from the idiot sandwich, and making for the entrance below deck.

"Don't be like that!" The thin man yells as Ven leaves.

"No, no. He's right!" You are out of your mind. Ven's a-... was a Prodigy, no way you could beat him," the larger man says, talking down to his friend.

"Speaking of that... why did you break up the Prodigies? Maybe all that blue dye gave you brain damage, but who'd ever do something so stupid?" The smaller one calls out in question, trying to entice Ven back to them.

"Right before your big mission, on top of that..." he adds quickly.

Turning around, Ven has a half smile on his face.

"Just wasn't for me... you know how it is."

With that, he shuffles away, deciding not to leave deck, but parade around to the bow of the ship, making well sure that they know he's avoiding them.

From behind the wall, the small man rants, "What an ungrateful, entitled asshole!"

Alone, he looks to the cloudless sky above.

It'll all be over soon, Veny... we don't have to be wrapped up in this game much longer.

Peering out to the West, the late sun enters his view over the open ocean, burning his eyes.