There is a mountain range that divides the Western continent along a vertical line. Though desolate, people still lived there.
Charon's home was such a place. Though they weren't truly prosperous, no one starved and no one froze to death. The people were happy.
Tall grass covered the sides of the mountain road that extended past the village, with a large hill just beyond that.
Everyday, the village kids would play on that hill.
Charon, her golden hair marked by an eerie shock of blue, would join them.
But she didn't feel like playing today. Instead she sat in the grass and gazed at the sunset, and the village beneath.
All the chimneys of the village were flaunting their dinner menus and the kids began to disappear one by one, led by the hands of their parents.
The chimneys beckoned with the siren smell of dinner, as parents led their little ones home one by one.
Charon saw another child her age wrapped in their mother’s arms and thought...
"I wonder how tender that feels."
Charon had no parents.
Her mother went missing when she was too young to remember. And she’d lost her father a few years ago after a battle with the Fomors.
"The strong must protect the weak. No matter how scared I am, I made a vow to protect this place. Though it hurts today, I know you'll come to understand.”
She could still see her father walking out the door, as she sobbed and begged him not to go.
There were times when she blamed him for abandoning her. But he had been right. With time, she finally came to understand.
"Your father was a true hero."
"This is our way of honoring his sacrifice."
"If you ever need anything, let us know. We'll look after you."
And so they did. The villagers cared for Charon like she was one of their own.
It was the least they could do for their hero.
Charon took pride in her father.
She began to believe that justice was a great virtue. Something that left a deep impression on all who witnessed it.
She believed in her father’s righteousness so much, she claimed that in death, he had become a star.
She had spotted a new star not too long ago, and proclaimed it to be her father’s star. As the sun sank lower, she eagerly awaited its arrival.
As the bright stars presented themselves in the night sky, Charon's revelry was shattered.
It was a war horn with a warning of an incoming Fomor invasion.
She knew the noise instinctively.
It was the same sound that beckoned her father to his death.
As the horns blared, the girl stumbled as she tried to run.
Despite the danger, her vertigo made it harder and harder to stay moving.
She shook her head and kept moving towards her village.
She arrived to find pandemonium.
The local militia clashed with goblins in thick armor, standing at twice their size.
Countless villagers were swallowed up by the chaos, desperately trying to flee the scene.
Through the smoke, Charon saw five of her neighbors fall to the greatsword that a goblin swung.
She scanned the horizon and sprinted into the dark. Where there were no Fomors.
Her instincts told her this would be a safer place than the crowded village.
She believed it - until she found herself cut off.
Near a solitary cabin stood a giant goblin.
Fear seized her as she peered into the goblin's blood-shot eyes.
It was as if invisible hands locked her ankles in place.
Frightened, Charon couldn't even scream.
She prayed for a hero— No, anyone, to save her.
The goblin cracked his neck from side to side as he crept towards the girl.
His rough, obnoxious breaths grew louder as she felt her death drew nearer.
With her final moments, she turned to the sky.
Her father's star blinked. Radiating light against the inky darkness.
During her reverie, the goblin had reached her. Close enough to finally grab her.
And then, as he raised his giant ax to fell her, her salvation arrived.
Her father’s star drew closer and larger until it blasted the goblin.
The falling cluster of lights exploded multiple times on impact. The smoking goblin dropped with a guttural scream.
Surprised, she whirled back to see her father’s star. It had not moved.
She turned again and found a middle-aged woman before her.
Had she killed her Fomor pursuer?
The woman's vibrant blue hair, illuminated by the moonlight, fluttered on the wind.
The woman wore an ash-tinted pointy hat with a wide brim. The kind magicians would wear. A floating sphere rotated by itself above her hand, soaking in moonlight.
The girl gazed at the woman for a long time. It was as if a fairy tale hero had leapt from the pages to meet her.
Her heart pounded. This couldn't be real.
Thrilled. This mysterious hero had completely changed her terror to rapture.
Her heartbeat drummed in her throat as she stood in anticipation.
Her hero turned to face her then spoke.
“I made it just in time. What a relief."
Who was this woman, relieved by little Charon's safety?
She had to know.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Luchia. People call me the 'Midnight Witch.'"
The girl gasped.
The Midnight Witch was a legendary figure. A mistress of magic who stole stars from the night sky every midnight.
Charon was stunned. She had been saved by a figure she feared as much as she loved the stars.
That such an infamous witch was also a great hero, rocked Charon to the core.
As Charon stared in awe, Luchia reached out her hand.
"Would you like to come with me, child?"
So much had happened, leaving Charon in total disarray.
Yet having just had her first taste of war’s horrors, something told her that staying at this stranger's side was the safest place in the world.
Beneath the witch's enormous hat, Charon could not see the woman's face that well. But she swore a warm, loving smile slid across her hero’s lips.
The hand that held the girls felt all consuming, like a warm breeze of the spring. It was like holding the hand of the mother she’d only met in her dreams.
"My name’s Charon."
Luchia lived deep in the woods.
Her small cabin was filled with books. And the fireplace burned bright beneath a shelf filled with various magic tools.
It was in this cabin, under Luchia's care, that Charon began her new life.
Change is always hard, but for Charon, life was simple if she abided her new guardian's rules.
"1. Don't leave the forest without Luchia's approval."
"2. Be wary of strangers."
"3. Don't touch Luchia’s tools without permission."
The rules were simple. Foolproof.
The problem lay elsewhere.
Charon worshiped Luchia as her hero, and desperately wanted Luchia to validate her faith.
However, Luchia was a secretive person, and constantly sidestepped her ward’s questions.
Today was just another repeat of this dance. Charon called for confirmation.
Though the event was months ago, the little girl remembered it like yesterday.
"Luchia, you were like a hero descending from the heavens. Powerful and just."
As she had for months on end, Luchia took no interest in her ward’s admiration.
"You are mistaken. I am neither powerful nor just. I will never be anyone's hero."
"No! You saved me. Just like my father gave his life to save our village. They thought he was worthy of praise. You deserve the same, Luchia!'"
Luchia sighed deeply at Charon's words, pondered for a bit, then replied.
"I am someone who has not yet reached the truth. Therefore, I cannot call myself a hero."
It was the same kind of metaphorical maxim she always gave.
Maxims that only served to create more questions for Charon.
"The truth? What is that?"
Luchia drew something on the air with her finger.
Following Luchia's fingertip, a word began to light up in blue then quickly faded away.
"Well... If I had to describe it, It's similar to these 'Celestial Runes.'"
The words went right over her head, so Charon frowned and asked again.
"What are you talking about? What does it mean to not reach the truth?”
Despite her ward's repetition, Luchia smiled.
"It refers to someone who is too weak to define justice. Though I saved you, I couldn't save anyone else, could I?"
This confusing question threw Charon off guard, and she was left with no answer.
“If I was a 'true hero' as you claim, I would have saved everyone in that village. But I couldn't. I chose to save you, and in turn, gave up on everyone else. Therefore, you cannot call your salvation justice. It was just a consequence of my decision."
“Humans are not all-powerful Gods. It takes great effort just to save the people in front of us.”
“And as that's happening, someone else bleeds out, begging for that same salvation.”
“The burden of those with power is the difficult decisions they must make."
“‘Who do I save' is essentially the same question as 'who do I abandon?’"
Naturally, Charon struggled to grasp her mentor's words.
Getting a clear answer from Luchia was simply a pain.
So instead, Charon conceded that Luchia was simply too humble to embrace praise. Or too shy to boldly proclaim her virtue.
This only reaffirmed Charon's faith that Luchia was a hero.
Yet that faith was less intuition, and more the affection that Luchia doted on Charon.
Charon suffered from low blood pressure. Luchia found out coincidentally, and proceeded to bring back rare medicines that Charon had never heard of.
As a child, Charon wasn't fond of these medicines. But she could see through the lengths that Luchia went to get them, she deeply cared about her.
On nights when she couldn't sleep, likely because of whatever medicine, Luchia would sit by her bedside.
"Can't sleep? Do you want to hear a story about the old times?"
Luchia’s stories weren't fairy tales. They were horror stories about the inquisitors and the witch hunts.
Most children would be disappointed by such a subject, but for Charon, these parables stimulated her childhood curiosity. So when her guardian spoke, she listened intently.
The stories were indeed scary, but Charon put on a brave face.
Because a hero who was more powerful than anyone in those scary stories was by her side.
She knew Luchia was a hero. And it was all in the way she cared.
It wasn't just that Luchia saved her— it was that she had dedicated herself to caring for Charon that so amazed her.
Charon knew that her guardian was the same kind of hero as her father.
It was only natural that Charon would inevitably want to be like her hero.
So when did that truly begin?
Perhaps when Charon took interest in Luchia's rune magic.
She would memorize the symbols that Luchia used, then recreate them later, drawing them on the ground with a tree branch.
At first, Luchia thought nothing of the cute habit. However, over time she began to observe her ward's progress with great interest.
Until one day, a symbol Charon drew suddenly glowed bright blue.
Luchia rushed out of the cabin.
"Charon, stop right now! What you just did, you can't ever do that again."
"Yes. That is a rune symbol. When mana is fed into the symbol, it generates magic in this world."
"I can do magic?!"
Charon was overjoyed. Without even trying, she had used magic.
This meant that she might have the same powers as Luchia. That she was one step closer to emulating her hero.
That excitement burst like bubbles in the face of Luchia’s sharp warning.
"Rune magic is not a toy, Charon. It marks you as a witch. You'll become a target of the church and their inquisitors. For your own safety, you cannot use it again. Understand?"
Charon remembered the inquisitors from Luchia's stories, and the fear they sparked inside her.
Though Luchia kept a calm demeanor, Charon knew this was no longer a curious bedtime story, but a true danger.
More than that— Charon was not ready to admit that her childhood hero was also a witch. A figure that the world despised.
"You're not a witch! You saved me! Rune magic can't be bad!"
...That's right. Rune magic had to be just like how Luchia was just. And if Charon learned rune magic, she would be one step closer to being her hero.
“Please. Teach me rune magic. So I can be a hero of justice. So I can be like you.”
Charon's eyes sparkled with desperate passion. To her credit, Luchia did not look away.
There was a long silence before her guardian spoke and it was thick with dread.
"No. I will not put you in danger."
But Luchia did not budge.
Devastated, Charon cried for hours on end. She even refused to eat or drink.
By the second day of her tantrum, Luchia became gravely concerned.
It was not easy for a child her age to put up such fierce resistance, let alone without food or water. But Charon would not yield.
After another Luchia finally caved.
And with grim hesitance, spoke to her ward.
"All right. You win. I will teach you. It'd be a shame to waste such talent if I didn't. But remember, this is not a light decision and you will carry its burden for the rest of your life."
Charon leapt from her blanket fortress in delight, and bounced up and down hard enough to shake the whole bed.
From that day on, Luchia and Charon's lives had a new component.
“Rune magic lessons.”
“What you did before- engraving the rune symbol then charging it with mana. That’s called ‘Mana Imprinting’.”
"Mana imprinting, mana imprinting..."
It was another day of magic lessons.
Charon chanted each day's new concept over and over to memorize it.
And she'd ask innocent questions as children often did.
"You have to have an imprinted rune for any situation right?"
"Doesn't that mean you have to draw all those runes? And carry them with you? Isn't that heavy?”
Charon imagined herself hauling a bag stuffed full of runes. Waddling with it through a hellish battlefield. She shook her head at the notion.
Luchia smiled at her apprentice then spoke.
"We use the 'Orbis' to get around those physical limitations."
The Orbis was a floating sphere that constantly orbited Luchia.
It had the power to store imprinted rune symbols. With enough power, the owner could store an unlimited number of imprinted runes.
The stored runes could be used at any time, so long as they were charged with a sufficient amount of mana.
However, it was far from a perfect system.
"Linking your mana to the Orbis is what allows it to function. This is no small feat, as you must continuously feed it mana to keep it going."
“A Mana... Link?"
Charon nodded and began to concentrate. She tried to envision a river of mana that flowed from her to the Orbis.
Silence flooded the cabin, as if time itself had stopped.
Charon closed her eyes and let her mana flow into every corner of the Orbis.
As she tied the Orbis to her with an invisible string, the sphere began to float.
“Luchia! Are you seeing this? I did it!"
Luchia beamed at her apprentice’s accomplishment.
Suddenly, the Orbis lost its strength and sank back down to the table.
Charon's smile quickly flattened.
Luchia patted Charon's shoulders, and pressed her on.
The floating sphere repeatedly rose and fell countless times throughout the day as their lesson ran late into the night.
So late, that Charon fell asleep at the kitchen table.
Luchia smiled and placed a blanket over her student, so she wouldn't catch a cold.
Some time later, as summer gave way to autumn...
Luchia left the forest for an errand.
She and Charon could only be so self-sufficient on their little cottage plot. So every now and then, she would need to grab a few necessities from other village estates nearby.
Charon wanted to tag along, but Luchia insisted she stay in the forest where it was safe.
So the girl did as commanded, practicing rune magic as she waited for her guardian to return.
And when she got sick of that, she snuck to a neighboring village's well, just a short walk from the cabin.
It was nothing special. Just a change of scenery. But things were different that day.
She noticed signs of another visitor. One who wasn't her.
"I swear I took this bucket out. Why is it back in the well? Did Luchia do this?"
A chill ran down her spine.
As a voice called out behind her.
"Oh, sorry. I used it and forgot to leave it out."
Charon whirled around cautiously at the sound of an unknown girl.
The source was maybe six or seven years older than Charon. Though far younger than Luchia.
"You're the first person I've seen around here. Names Lila."
They both seemed shocked by the other's presence.
And stood silent for a long time after their formal introductions.
It was Lila who finally broke the silence.
“You live here?”
Charon shook her head no.
Luchia's warning to be wary of strangers rang inside her head.
Her best bet was to keep the cabin a secret.
“Figures. I used to live here as a kid so I would’ve recognized you.”
A fellow survivor of a ruined village.
Though she hesitated to say it, Charon felt a strange kinship with this stranger.
"What happened to this place?"
"It was made up of slash-and-burn farmers. One of them was a witch. And the church had them all killed for hiding her."
Charon thought. And the idea filled her with dread.
... was all Charon could say. She couldn't think of any other way to console her new associate.
"Ah, that’s old news. I'm all grown up now. I've made my peace.”
Lila smiled, her weariness betraying her youth.
Behind her was the ruins of a house. Flowers laid before it.
They must have been for her family.
“I lost my home too. It was the Fomors.”
"I see. It's a shame this kind of thing happens to so many people.”
Despite her wariness, Charon appreciated their sudden rapport.
A strange rapport that grew the longer they talked.
For Charon, Lila was like rain after a long drought. She was the first friend she'd made that was her age.
"It is because of the Goddess mercy that we’ve been granted such prosperity.”
Offhand, Lila mentioned that she worked with the church.
It wasn't that strange a prospect. Orphans often had to turn to the church to survive. So, Charon didn't think to question Lila any further about her religious connections.
Before they knew it, the sunset had dyed the sky gold.
"I have to return home. Will you be alright out here?"
"I’ll be fine. My home isn't far from here."
"I see. Well, it was nice to meet you Charon. May Goddess grace you. I hope we meet again."
As they were walking away, Lila quickly turned back around.
"I visit this place every year. It'd be nice to see you as well."
Though turning a chance encounter into a fated one seems like such a grand thing...
It really only takes a small push. Like a wish, or a promise.
The two girls promised that each year, they would reunite at that well, then parted ways.
As she arrived at the cabin, Charon saw Luchia up the road with two big bags of luggage in her hands.
Though Luchia's kind face welcomed her, Charon panicked, fearful her clandestine meeting would be exposed.
That Luchia would learn her ward had broken one of her cardinal rules, to be wary of strangers.
"Best keep today a secret from Lucia then."
With a blink, Charon quickly wiped the worries from her face, then ran to Luchia as she waved.
The years passed quickly.
Charon's body and skill with rune magic continued to grow.
The day’s lesson was over, and Luchia was about to run her errands as always.
Charon was at the table, mindlessly moving the Orbis up and down. Pouty and jealous that Luchia got to go out.
Suddenly, Luchia paused and said something that pulled Charon from her gloom.
"I think you're old enough to come with me, today."
Charon bounced with joy, the same as she'd done as a child.
“How much has the outside world changed?” she wondered.
She was excited to finally experience the place she'd only heard about from Lila.
As she put on a dark cloak and followed her mentor, she imagined the lively streets she would see.
The song of birds and running water that accompanied them, sounded more beautiful than usual. So much that Charon found herself humming along.
At least, until they arrived outside an underground tunnel, connecting the forest to a nearby city.
It was a dark, humid, foul smelling place and not at all the lively streets Charon had imagined.
Luchia bent down to enter a narrow passage, with an ease that suggested she'd done it a million times before.
As Charon was reminded of a reality she had tried her best to forget.
They were witches. And creeping about through the dark was part of their lot.
The tunnels were a lightless maze.
There were countless cracks in the moss-covered ceiling, and the echoes of the water droplets falling through those cracks made the maze seem even larger.
After following Luchia for what felt like hours, Charon finally saw a sliver of light.
They exited the tunnels into a grungy back alley, only slightly brighter than the darkness they'd exited.
Luchia began trading with a nearby smuggler as soon as they arrived.
The two began to barter.
Luchia handed over an imprinted rune, and the smuggler gave her a bag of essential items in exchange.
Charon grasped the situation instantly.
Rune magic was forbidden by the Pontiff's Court, so openly dealing it was dangerous.
It was nothing more than an illegal trade. But the sight of it tied Charon's stomach in knots.
The discomfort was enough to make her turn away, to the sunlit streets beyond the alley.
The average people, living their happy, everyday lives was a sharp contrast to her mother and this smuggler- making shady deals for common, everyday goods.
Charon was only a block away from those normal people. Yet she knew she could never join them.
She was a witch. And that cold reality would haunt her the rest of her life.
Suddenly, something crashed onto the ground behind her.
A mob of smugglers swarmed a man who had fallen to the ground.
The man cried out in terror, as his attackers barked threats.
"You have the gall to report me? Is that how you get your kicks?"
"It wasn't me! I swear!"
"Say it to my boots."
The lead smuggler stamped on the man’s head. The rest of the mob quickly joined in.
The man wailed, desperately trying to block their kicks.
The kicks and stomps went on for a long time. Charon shuddered.
"The strong must protect the weak."
Her father's words echoed in her skull with each blow the man took.
Charon turned to Luchia, who looked right back at her.
Her mentor didn't budge.
“Why isn't she stopping this?” the girl thought.
Charon decided to step in herself, but Luchia grabbed her, as if she'd read her mind.
"Don't be stupid."
"Not everyone welcomes the help of a witch. Didn’t I tell you about what happens to people who help them?"
Luchia’s old bedtime stories leapt to the front of Charon's mind.
Bloody tales of papal inquisitors slaughtering witches, their families, and even those who received their help.
The fear of that story becoming her reality, froze Charon in her tracks.
Satisfied, the mob disappeared into the back alleys from whence they'd come.
The bloodied man painfully picked himself up, glared at Charon and Luchia, then limped away as well.
The gaze of that miserable weakling, limping home after being trampled, made Charon feel as if she was to blame.
She would have stayed staring at that site of the attack had Luchia not urged her on.
"Shall we head home?”
Charon didn't sleep that night.
The dark, humid tunnels, the illegal trade, witnessing cruelty, having the strength to protect the weak and refusing.
This new, nightmarish reality made her head spin.
But the thing that hurt most of all was watching Luchia stand on the sidelines. A silent observer to this nightmare.
Despite the pain, she had to believe that moment was just a lapse. A one off blemish on her idol's character.
Months passed. Charon did her best to forget about that day, and try to return to her normal life.
When she checked the calendar, she smiled.
It was time for her yearly reunion with Lila.
The two had continued to meet at Lila’s village as they'd promised.
And the tradition grew more fun with each passing year.
Though they bonded over their shared experiences, Lila lived an entirely different life. So it was always thrilling to hear her latest story.
Charon rushed to meet her old friend. However, the minute she saw her, something was immediately off.
Lila wasn't in her usual clothes. Instead, she wore strange silver armor.
"You're here. Good. I've been waiting."
"Lila, what is that? Is that armor?"
Lila answered with a cold smile.
"I've finally achieved my dream. I’ve become an inquisitor."
Charon flushed. Her mind racing.
“All that work with the church - it was to become an inquisitor?”
“Even though they had killed her parents?”
“How could this happen?”
After a long silence, she finally spoke. "C-congratulations. An inquisitor, huh? That’s a surprise. Haha..."
"Huh? Why's that?"
Lila seemed to notice Charon's pause, and the look of fear on her face.
Charon stood frozen, staring at the flowers Lila had laid behind her.
“Ah, so that's it. Why'd I join the people who killed my parents?"
Lila spoke with tiredness as if she'd been asked this question a thousand times.
For the first time in years, Charon began to wonder if she truly knew her friend.
"I studied the word of the Goddess and was enlightened. I know now that my parents were blameless. It was those abominations that led them astray. And I will ensure no one else suffers as we have."
Charon knew that by abominations, she meant witches.
Lila projected the blame for her parents' deaths not on the church that killed them, but the witch they'd protected.
Witches were the perfect scapegoat for all that was wrong in her life.
"I came here today to pay my respects but I’m also here on business as well."
Instantly, Lila drew her sword and pointed it at Charon's throat.
Charon was so shocked she didn't even resist.
She just froze, keeping her chin up in the air.
“Why do you have a witch's aura, Charon? And why has it grown worse each passing year? What are you?"
"It's strange, isn't it? A young girl living alone in a forest like this. Doesn't seem natural to me."
It was a living nightmare.
Lila's voice was cold and her eyes were distant. Charon was afraid of what would happen no matter what answer she gave.
By “aura”, she must have meant Charon's rune magic, which had grown exponentially the past few years.
Without realizing it, Charon now radiated the same type of aura as Luchia.
And now that she was Charon was a witch, Lila had finally decided to end her friend’s life.
A blue beam hurtled at Lila from behind.
On instinct, Lila rolled out of the way.
Startled, Charon looked for the source of the blast.
Luchia stood before them, a terrifying look of rage on her face.
The Orbis hovered above her hand, pointed at Lila. She was ready to strike at any moment.
"Stay back, Charon! This woman's an inquisitor!"
Lila's hateful eyes jumped between Charon and Luchia.
It didn't take her long for her to put the pieces together.
"Of course. You deceived me right from the start."
"Lila, I never—"
Lila scowled. Charon could not bear to look back at her.
In her heart, Charon knew she and Luchia weren't witches. They weren't sinners or abominations. They had led no one astray. Yet before this inquisitor’s accusing eyes, she felt all those lies were true.
Lila raised her sword and pointed to the sky.
"In the name of the Goddess, I will execute these heretics and purify this place."
Overwhelmed by Lila's murderous rage, Charon could hardly stand.
Lila seized on this and rushed towards her. Luchia threw herself between the two.
Then multiple strands of blue lights poured out of the Orbis. Lila closed the distance by parrying the lights with her sword.
Before they knew it, both combatants were in striking range.
As soon as Lila swung her sword, a whip of light shot out of the Orbis and snared her sword hand.
Luchia waved her hand in the air, and the coils of light wrapped around Lila's body, binding her.
The rope of light tightened around Lila’s throat. Her armor crumpled beneath the coils as she was lifted into the air.
Charon could see life leaving Lila’s body, though the inquisitor continued to struggle.
The winner had been decided, but neither would yield until the other was dead.
Charon whimpered at her guardian.
"Luchia, you're not going to kill her?"
Luchia was silent.. Charon knew what that meant.
Luchia would murder Lila for what she had done.
"Please, don't do this! I know you're not that kind of person."
Luchia said nothing, and tightened the coils of light.
Lila looked back and forth between Charon and Luchia, and smirked.
A line of blood dripped down from her mouth. Then her entire body went slack.
As Luchia lowered her hand, Lila dropped to the ground with a hard metal crash.
Memories of her time with Lila glided across Charon's mind like a panorama.
Charon covered her eyes and wailed.
"How?! How could you?!"
"Inquisitors slay not only the witches but their families and peers as well. I killed her to protect you."
"I don't care if she was an inquisitor! She was still my friend!"
Charon let out an anguished scream.
But Luchia was unmoved.
"Your friend, huh? Wake up. Life is not a fairy tale. That friend of yours plotted to kill you."
Luchia was right. Charon had felt the blade against her throat. She couldn't deny the coldness in her friend's eyes.
But Luchia’s eyes as she killed Lila were also cold.
Cold enough to make Charon freeze in place once again.
“Inquisitors and who they call heretics. These two cannot coexist. It's a battle that only ends with the end of the other. Could you have killed her?”
Charon had no answer.
She never imagined a world where she would have to kill her friend.
All she could do was close her eyes and shake her head.
"You can't. And you would have died for it. I killed her to save you."
Again, Charon had no retort.
Luchia approached her slowly.
She tightly held Charon and spoke softly.
"You are my entire world, Charon. There is nothing I wouldn't do to protect you. That is my justice."
Charon didn't understand.
She tried to justify it. She knew if Luchia hadn't acted, one or both of them may have died.
But that didn't quell the anxiety taking root in her heart.
That Luchia was not who she believed her to be. That Charon's hero was just a selfish murderer. The realization shook her to the core.
So she did as she had done before. She gave up on understanding and pretended everything was fine.
It seemed like the easiest way forward.
The pain in Charon's heart had become a festering wound.
So she took a walk in the forest to clear her mind.
"Maybe Luchia isn't who I thought she was..."
That thought only made her start to ache again, so she shoved it away.
But every effort Charon made to forget her anxieties, only lodged them deeper into her mind.
The forest was quiet that night. The only sound was her footsteps over fallen leaves.
How long had she been walking?
She heard the sound of other steps then turned. There was Luchia, with a smile on her face.
"On a walk?"
Charon nodded. Her mentor joined her.
For whatever reason, they found themselves stopping near a lake outside the woods.
The moon could be seen shimmering in the water’s reflection, as fog seemed to coat everything.
The two gazed at this sight in silence, until Charon finally broke the ice.
“I've had too much on my mind lately.”
"I don't know. It's as if— It's like we're growing apart. Like we’re not of one mind anymore.”
"That means you’re growing up."
Luchia patted Charon's head proudly.
Luchia's hand was warm. But remembering her mentor's icy side, her touch made Charon uneasy.
Charon moved away from Luchia and grumbled.
"If that’s what growing up means, I never want to grow up."
"It's not exactly that. Becoming an adult means becoming enlightened about the ways of the world. Things like the Truth..."
Charon realized that despite all the times Luchia referenced it, she still didn't know what the Truth was.
But now, she needed to.
"What is the Truth, Luchia?”
"The Truth is the key component we need to make our ideals reality. The reason people often stray from their ideals is because they haven't discovered the Truth."
Another question, another ambiguous, abstract answer. So Charon pushed back.
She needed to know.
"No. No more riddles. What is the Truth? Knowledge? An object? You once said it's similar to the 'Celestial Rune'. What is it?"
"The Truth is not something neat and tidy. Truth for one person can be different for another. It can only be found by those who dedicate everything to their ideals. For me, the 'Celestial Rune’ best represents that."
The Celestial Rune was a rune of mysterious power that had yet to be discovered.
Charon clung to a vain hope that Luchia, who had allegedly gained Celestial Rune, had also reached the Truth.
“Then, since you have something similar to it, you've seen the Truth right?”
"No, not quite. The Celestial Rune I possess is not enough to fully represent the Truth."
And so they were back to square one. Charon gave up on digging any further.
In fact, maybe the key to making one's ideals a reality, was less important than the ideals her mentor sought.
"What exactly are your ideals, Luchia? Why do you want to find the Truth so badly?"
Luchia lifted her head up towards the sky and paused for a long while. Then she answered.
“My ideals... I’m afraid to say I’ve lost them. That said, I do know that I pursued them as fervently as you pursue yours."
Luchia's response caused Charon's doubts and fears to vanish.
That Luchia was once the same as her. That maybe she could find her old ideals again. It gave Charon a small but strong hope.
The sound of steel ringing against steel shook the entire forest.
It was the sound of weapons and armor becoming tangled together. It was the telltale song of battle.
"Is that— Oh, no!”
Charon rushed toward the source of the uproar.
Even as she panted and heaved, she did not stop running.
As the clash of metal on metal grew louder and louder.
Eventually came upon a small battle, just beyond the bushes where she was hidden.
A member of the clergy and the soldiers guarding him were being besieged by muscular, bent back Fomors.
The soldiers held the Fomor trolls back, as the fat clergy pointed fingers and screeched orders. Orders that drowned beneath the sounds of conflict.
Charon ducked down and whispered to Luchia, who had followed behind her.
“They're surrounded by trolls. We have to do something."
"Yes... We have to return to our cabin."
Luchia's voice and expression were deathly serious.
Charon was horrified.
"What are you saying?!"
"Who are you going to save first, Charon? That soldier holding a spear? Or that loud, obnoxious priest?"
This unexpected question threw Charon off balance.
She had meant to save everyone. Who was actually worthy of salvation was the last thing on her mind.
Suddenly, all Luchia’s past talk of choice hit her like a Fomor club against a soldier's shield.
"What will you choose?"
“We have to save everyone. There's no time. We need to..."
Suddenly, one of the troll's clubs smacked a soldier to the ground.
Blood leaked from the soldier's helm, soaking the grass with blood.
Charon tried to dart out but Luchia blocked her and firmly shook her head.
The balance landed in the Fomor’s favor. There was not a single hero among the humans who could help them turn the tide.
In the end it was a massacre. One Charon could not bear to watch.
Luchia placed a kind hand on Charon's shoulders, then stood up.
"Let's go home."
Charon followed Luchia with heavy footsteps.
Their walk home was a void of silence.
There was so much to say, but Charon couldn't piece her racing thoughts into words.
When they finally reached the cabin, the whirlpool of feelings inside her came pouring out.
“How could you ask me something like that?!”
“I merely asked you who you would save.”
Luchia was still calm and composed in the face of her student's wrath.
That nonchalant attitude only irked Charon more.
"And I tried to save everyone. If you hadn't stopped me—!"
"You and I have not reached the Truth, Charon. Which means we cannot save everyone."
Charon still didn't understand her guardian's rambling. But she was able to grasp what she meant.
They were both weak. Far too weak to act upon what they deemed justice.
However, Charon still despised the way Luchia casually weighed human lives.
"How can we know if we don't try. And who are you to judge who lives and who dies, Luchia?!"
“Think back. One man died the moment you hesitated. Then the rest fell one by one. Do you think you could have saved everyone in that situation?"
She wasn't wrong.
The soldiers were dying left and right. Far too quick to save everyone.
But if they acted, couldn't they have saved at least one of them?
She didn't understand why Luchia insisted on snuffing out even the tiniest light of hope.
“The strong are supposed to protect the weak! You're strong! So why do you always choose to do nothing?!”
Charon despised Luchia's bystander attitude.
Specifically, she hated how Luchia didn't seem to care whenever lives were at stake.
The hero she had worshiped for so long, had so little humanity.
“Because I don’t believe I can save them. Because I have someone more important to protect."
Someone more important. That meant Charon.
The young witch shook her head and covered it with her arms.
Shaken by the ruin of everything she'd ever wished for.
Charon yelled at Luchia. Her voice more of a scream of pain than a shout of anger.
"Why?! Why are you like this?! I thought you wanted to save everyone like me! I thought you cared about other people! That you had saved me because of that!"
Luchia stood before her. Warm as a campfire and cold as ice.
It was impossible, but she was exactly that.
Charon didn't know which side of her mentor was her true face.
But she needed to know now.
“So if no one really matters to you— Why do you keep saving me, and leaving everyone else to die?!"
Charon's outburst left Luchia speechless.
Once again, the cabin was silent.
Charon's judging eyes were met with a warm, tender smile.
Finally Luchia answered.
“Because you're my daughter, Charon.”
Charon's mind went blank.
She was winded, as if someone slapped her stomach with a sledgehammer.
All she could do was blink and stare in shock.
"You're my mother?"
With those words, everything Luchia had done, finally made sense.
Her unconditional care and protection all stemmed from one source.
Charon was her daughter. And Luchia would always protect her, whether that meant slaying others or leaving them to die.
Luchia wasn't a hero. She was just a parent. The only justice she sought was keeping her daughter safe.
It was nothing like justice that Charon strove for.
There had been no lies or deceptions. Charon had simply misunderstood.
And so, her admiration for Luchia was drowned in sorrow. The sorrow that she had been betrayed.
"I don’t— I don't think I can trust you anymore."
Charon fought back the tears as best as she could.
Then, eyes full of disgust, she glared at Luchia and walked past her.
She didn't bother to look at Luchia's expression. She simply pushed her way out the door.
The worn-out hinges of the door strained against her. The door opened slowly, as if it was begging her not to go.
Charon’s hands trembled as she tried to suppress her rage.
Whatever Luchia had said, she didn't want to hear it.
However Luchia felt. She didn't want to see. She wasn't looking back.
On a mid-autumn night, Luchia walked out into the dark. Never to return.
After that day, Charon took to wandering.
She headed north, where there were rumors of endless battles erupting. All in hope of a chance to prove Luchia wrong.
She marched towards her ideal - to save those in need. Those who were close to death.
Finally, she arrived at the battle. A source of the despair she sought to defeat.
But though she fought boldly, the battlefield was a harsher place than she could ever imagine.
Here was a place that rejected the very concept of salvation.
As if laughing at her heroism, the battlefield snuffed out the lives of one victim after another.
Alone and exhausted, Charon struggled from sun up to sun down.
But when dusk arrived, she looked out upon a battlefield that had been burned and demolished. Her eyes as empty as the ruins they looked upon.
Even as she fought with all her might, even as she used up every rune she had, no one, neither human nor Fomor, escaped the slaughter.
There was only silence and corpses.
Be it weakness, uncertainty, or hesitation, Charon did not save anyone, and so, all her allies died.
"If I had been stronger I could have saved them. No, if I had just made up my mind, I could have...”
In the face of this hellish reality, Charon was inadequate.
But the battle was over. Her regrets would not change the outcome.
Crows came to feast on the corpses. Their ecstatic cries covered the field.
The reality was a wretched place. Enough to make Charon fall to her knees and wail.
She could not believe the justice she yearned for, was nothing but a nightmare.
Time marched on. Seasons passed. It was a pitch-black night.
Charon still wandered from battlefield to battlefield. Where she stood now was the same as all the rest.
Hours ago, humans and Fomors had clashed, and all was laid to waste.
She combed the ground, looking for any survivors amidst the rubble.
And shook her head when she saw a corpses’ hand sticking out of a pile of rocks.
“If only I had more power..."
Her lack of strength was her shackle. Always dragging her down, holding her back.
It reminded her that justice without power was a scream into the void. Impotent. Useless.
Her wandering had changed her. The corpse filled wastelands, a sharp contrast to her youthful hopes of saving people.
The passion in her eyes, the hope in her words, and any joy that lingered in her face. They were all gone.
Small, idealistic Charon was gone.
The "Midnight Witch."
That's what the locals called her now.
Sharing the same name as Luchia, someone she had tried desperately to reject, felt like a cruel joke.
Even so, Charon was acknowledged as a strange figure that would creep around battlefields to save people.
No one knew why.
Curious onlookers quickly turned their backs on her as soon as they learned of her heretical rune magic.
A few even wished she would never appear at all.
Did they really believe it better to die faithful than live saved by a heretic?
Even if they did accept Charon's salvation, they had to keep it a secret.
Because being saved by a witch often led to witch hunts, trials, and executions.
In time, Charon was marked not as a savior, but a harbinger of disaster. Bringing misery wherever she tread.
This reputation horrified Charon at first, but now it was no more than a callous on her heart.
Cruelty and betrayal from strangers had become her new routine.
At this point, the disdain was mutual.
She had finally accepted that believing in others, only led to disappointment when they failed you.
Though she was never added to the wanted list. Charon had to stay incognito once inquisitors began to seek her out.
Charon suddenly staggered, her whole body overwhelmed by a rush of vertigo.
Her anemia, which had never been a problem under Luchia's care, had flared up once again.
She crouched and waited for the waves of dizziness to pass.
Without warning, the memories of when her mother held her in her arms, came to mind.
As the face that she tried to forget came to mind, Charon was overwhelmed by a mix of yearning and watered down hatred.
As she thought back, she felt pathetic for how much she resembled Luchia.
All her horrible experiences had made Luchia's words and actions in the past crystal clear.
And this newfound understanding came with a new, obnoxious emotion.
The fear that the last of her ego, her firm belief that “I'm not like Luchia," would shatter.
Such was Charon’s life, wandering battlefields in search of someone to save, fighting a lonely battle.
She felt that if she gave up on even that tiny bit of justice, she would become just like Luchia.
That she might still be capable of salvation, was the only thing that comforted her.
It had been so long since she became the Midnight Witch, a dark specter that orbited battlefields like a moon around the sun.
Her old idealism and hopes to save everyone had now become a badge of shame.
“At least I had something to believe in back then. I don't even dream these days."
Even as a small voice nagged that she could do better than this, there was no hope left in her exhausted heart.
Ideals and dreams, these felt like foreign concepts to her now.
She thoughtlessly raised her head and stared at the night sky. Above her was a vast celestial body that seemed to dwarf even her problems.
Suddenly, Charon remembered Luchia’s words.
"The Truth is the key component we need to make our ideals reality.”
“The reason people often stray from their ideals is because they haven't discovered the Truth.”
“The Truth can only be found by those who dedicate everything to their ideals.”
Did she not give everything she had to her ideals?
If so, then why couldn't she achieve them?
Fragments of thoughts swirled inside her head, like being lost in the depths of space.
Why couldn't she save everyone?
It was because she lacked power.
That was her deficiency.
If she had been stronger, like a hero, maybe even a God— Then, she could have saved all those people.
Luchia had said that she once held the same ideals as Charon.
Charon wasn’t sure if Luchia was the kind to have regrets, but her words rang true now more than ever.
Hacked and mangled from all her experiences, she now fully resembled Luchia. In spirit if not appearance.
If so, then perhaps they both really were looking for the same Truth.
In the past, Luchia had described the Truth as something similar to the "Celestial Rune".
That it might be the power she needed to realize her ideals.
This realization parted the dark clouds that had shrouded Charon's thoughts.
The only person who could validate this theory was Luchia.
Charon had no other choice but to seek her mother and ask her directly.
They say that one can wander for a long time. But enlightenment comes in an instant.
The answer she sought wouldn't be found on the battlefield, but in the peaceful cabin she called home.
Charon slowly retraced her steps down memory lane.
When maps and directions failed her, she would use the stars to guide her.
She walked for days on end, until she found herself in familiar territory.
She followed her childhood self down a dark, humid and narrow road. A road she'd walked alongside Luchia.
Nostalgia washed over her.
The trees swaying in the wind, the oak-scented wind, the crickets singing of autumn. All these things felt no different than the day she left.
Ten steps past the big chestnut tree, then take a right at the rock...
Every landmark on the road to the cabin dredged up old memories.
Even the cabin was exactly as she had left it.
As if time had completely frozen there.
Charon carefully opened the cabin door.
The old wooden door screamed and led her into the cabin.
"She still hasn't fixed that thing."
Charon shrugged and walked inside the cabin.
It was dark from poor sunlight, and reeked of the smell of mold and old books.
Charon lit the candle on the table, shedding a dim light inside.
The dusty fireplace, table, books and furniture were exactly how she left them.
Only one thing had changed. Luchia was gone.
And there was a letter on the table. Charon opened it.
The letter began with "To my daughter," but was empty underneath. As if Luchia had stopped writing it midway.
There was a quill pen on the right side of the letter.
Understanding its meaning, Charon blew out the candle.
Then lightly tapped the Orbis twice. A pentacle lit up the letter.
As she expected, the light from the Orbis's pentacle revealed hidden words. Charon began to read them carefully.
“If you're reading this letter, it means you've returned.
But I won't be here. I'll be off in search of the Truth.
Tell me, did you manage to achieve your ideals?
Or did you too face sorrow and despair?
I have so many things I want to ask you. And I’m sure you have just as many things to ask me.
This world is full of mysteries.
I once told you.
That we pursue the same ideal.
But I could not carry out that ideal any further.
I stopped seeking a better path, and chose to dwell in the shadows.
If I had the strength I would have been able to save so many more people than I did.
Instead, the storm of life wore me down and left me in despair.
But if I had obtained the strength I needed, would things have been different?
Would I have been able to save everyone?
That strength, that power. I call it “Truth”.
It is the means to make my ideals a reality.
What if I told you, that power lies within the 'Unknown Rune'. A rune hidden somewhere in this world.
I've been searching for the Unknown Rune for a very long time.
My search led me to the Celestial Rune, which is a fragment of the Unknown Rune.
I firmly believe that finding the rest of the Unknown Rune will grant me the power I seek.
Charon, my beloved daughter.
When you left, I found myself adrift. Wandering aimlessly, with nothing left to protect.
But I finally found the courage to search for the Unknown Rune again. That power I had sought in my younger years.
And recently, I've acquired an intel that there was talk of the Unknown Rune at a mercenary outpost in Colhen.
I intend to follow this lead.
Charon, I cannot even begin to fathom what troubles have brought you back to me.
But if you seek answers, find the Unknown Rune.
I believe that the Truth within it, will let you make your ideals a reality.
Your mother, Luchia."
Charon placed the letter on the table with trembling hands.
"Colhen, a mercenary outpost, and the Unknown Rune."
She repeated the key words like a mantra. Just like how she did when she was young.
Although she didn't get to see Luchia again, all the answers she needed were in her letter.
"You knew that I would return." She found herself floored by her mother’s insight.
She felt conflicted that the person she hated most, understood her better than anyone else.
Yet she resented herself for hating Luchia, and blamed herself for leaving her mother behind.
The cabin looked exactly the same as the day she left, reminding her of her happy childhood days. It struck her with a feeling of shame.
But she couldn't even hate herself.
She was so much like Luchia now, that if she hated herself, it meant that she hated her mother as well.
That thought, snipped through the tangled threads of love and hate inside her.
She missed her mother so much.
She took one last look through her childhood home, then stood in front of its door.
"I'll be back soon, mother."
She called Luchia a name that she couldn't bear to use before she left.
She opened the cabin door and a beam of warm sunshine poured inside.
It was hard to see within the bright light. But it also felt like the warm hand of Luchia.
Charon turned around, taking one last look at her old life.
Then she walked into the pouring sunlight, pleasantly thinking of her mother.
Her destination— Colhen.