Chapter 1: Home
We were home, finally. Night time has fallen, and the rest of the town was already quiet, save for the soft echoes of the piano coming from the tavern across our house. Soothing music, nonetheless, so I didn't mind.
Echoing aside from the music was the soft purring of a sleeping Luneth, who was across the room with his back facing me. Suddenly I took me back to when I last shared this room with him, the night before he encountered the Crystal in the cave. Much has happened since, and if anything, I've become more of a coward.
All those books I've read during our travels and battles I've fought with him were still not enough to give me the strength to tell him. Earlier, he told me how great I did during our adventure, that I fought well, but did I really? My mind, it has always amplified what he said. It always sounded melodious. I figured maybe it wasn't worth it to dwell upon.
I looked up to the ceiling, hazy and tired. I let out a breath I didn't realize I've been holding. Being in Ur once again has triggered much a memory, now I let a particular one dwell in my dreams as I drifted off.
"Hey Arc..." I heard Luneth's whispers from across the room. The dainty lamp beside the doorpost emitted a soft glow. It was in perfect balance with the calming silence of the night; besides Luneth's soft voice the only sound was the dripping water outside from the recent drizzle.
Our room in Elder Topapa's hut was quite crammed, with all the piles of books and wooden cabinets, which altogether gave out a familiar musty scent. Luneth lay opposite of me, on his own little sleeping mat. It was the middle of the night, judging from his being awake; he had stopped tossing and turning in his sleep, now he was up, giddy, and calling to me.
I whispered back, "what is it?" He heard, and I saw him beam.
"Thank the gods you're awake!" I shushed him, but he was already turning his mat over, and in a moment he had brought himself with his blanket to my area and has sat next to me on my sleeping mat.
"L-luneth! Why are you here?" I said as softly as I could. Elder Topapa might just be in the next room for all we knew - we didn't need another scolding for waking him up. "Go to your own space."
"I couldn't sleep, okay? I suddenly had this great idea for an adventure." I could see his smirk growing even in the faint lighting. "You know the cave by the—"
"Cave?!" I shook my head. "Please, Luneth, not now..." I replied, sullenly. The thought of caves was terrifying to both me and Luneth, but at least it gratified his penchant for thrills, which I unfortunately did not have the same liking for.
"This is so much better, so hear me out," he insisted. "You know the cave just outside of town?"
"W-well, yes ... I suppose..." I stammered. "What about it?"
"There are some goblins along the way; they should be easy to get rid of." He paused and thought for a moment. "But I've heard that people have seen bombs too ..."
I snapped. "Bombs?!"
"Yeah, Arc! But it's-" Luneth was cut off by the sound of locks clanking and of the floor outside our room creaking. It alarmed us both that we froze in place.
"Shh, that has to be Topapa!" I warned Luneth. "Go back to sleep!"
"Darn it ..." He sighed. "I'll just sleep here, Arc. Can you move? Come on, before he gets here!"
I rolled my eyes. He quickly pulled his blanket and gently pushed me to the edge and lay down next to me. His warmth was comforting, inviting... He pretended to sleep and snore as he heard Topapa's footsteps get closer.
I felt him tug the back of my robe. I followed, lying back down, but this time he was there, lying next to me. As I was about to close my eyes it occurred to me how close he was. No, not too much, but he was there, close enough for me to feel his breath on my neck. A slight burning tinge grew across my face, and my heart raced. Despite this, I closed my eyes, knowing Luneth has done the same.
We felt the door open, and heard the elder's curious tapping on the post, probably checking if we were the ones making noise. It went on for a while, but after which he shut the door once again, and then there was the sound of his footsteps fading into resuming silence. Once it was gone, I turned around to look, and sure enough, my best friend had completely fallen asleep.
And so he continued with his slumber . . . needless to say I could barely bring myself to do the same now with him next to me like that. I lay down with my back facing him, but I did feel the urge to actually turn towards him. I could then just gaze peacefully at his angelic face all night long …
No. It was not the time for that. There was never a time for that. Not really, in this universe we were in. Could someone be strong enough to destroy an entity of the void, but still cower at this thought? Perhaps, in some other reality, I was brave enough to do that, as well. But not here, not now…perhaps not ever.
Chapter 2: Stars
"Arc? We'll get to see the rest of the world together right?" Luneth said as we were lying down on the grass one evening. The cold wind gently swept across the hill.
"Oh... Of course .. I would really love that." I looked at him, with a smile forming on my lips. The thought, after all, was something that's always been comforting and captivating to me.
He looked up, with a peaceful, content look on his face. His eyes were wide and curious, as if he was searching for something in the stars. Then he said, "Hmmm, I like to think that ... by then you'll already be the brightest mage in the entire continent."
"You think so?"
"I would never doubt it."
"T-thank you," I replied, trying not to look flustered. I guess he could tell, anyway, couldn't he? "How about you, Luneth? What do you want to be?"
He thought for a while. I know Luneth; he could already do so much, even for our young age. I've seen him build weapons from scratch, hunt for creatures in caves, get lost in a mountain and find his way back. Over and over, I've seen him defend me ... not only from those bullies who constantly threatened me but also from everything else. Somehow he never got tired. I always got the feeling I was becoming a burden to him. He didn't deserve a burden like me. Even though he was, indeed, a hero ... Dare I say, my hero. But I know he's better off a hero of the world instead.
He finally replied, "I wanna be a lot of things ... A warrior, a knight... Maybe even an airship pilot...you name it. I just want to be out there and see the world. And defend it, too ..." He made sure to add the last one.
As I expected. Someone like him, carefree and adventurous, forever possessing his wonderful child-like curiosity, would do great as any of those, and I told him that. He could be whatever he wanted. Someday I'll be stronger so I could accompany him in his adventures. "You'll let me be right there with you, right? I'll be your trusty companion."
"Nah, I'd say I'll be your companion. Because, honestly, Arc," He turned to face me. "I know someday you'll become even greater than everything I'll ever be. And remember that!"
I paused. He smiled at me, and did I start losing my words at this point.
"You're already a great warrior, you just don't see it. But don't worry, I'll make sure to keep you safe and alive until you finally realize that... And even after you have. All my life, pretty much."
"L-Luneth, I ..."
"Hey, look at that one." He pointed to a star in the sky. "That shiny one over there. It may be all alone up there, just silently watching over the rest of the stars, but it sure is... bright... Beautiful ... Thing is, you won't actually see it unless you really look, but when you see it you don't want to look away."
I felt myself blush as I returned a smile to him. I know it was the star he was referring to, but it didn't stop the butterflies from fluttering in my stomach. I looked at the sky for a while, then back to him, for he was lovelier than all of the stars, anyway. Then I took the opportunity to laugh (albeit nervously) at his unusual attempt to be sentimental. "Since when did you become so ... Poetic?"
He laughed, too. Then he laughed louder, whether at him or at me I wasn't sure. Possibly both. "Well, look who's talking! You're the one who recites poetry while making lunch." He stretched his hand to reach for my hair and messed it up.
"Hey!" I whacked his hand, sat up, and tried to grab his hood, but ultimately failed. "Ugh! Luneth!" He grabbed my arm and next thing I knew we were jokingly flailing at each other on the grass. He tackled me, pinning my one arm to the ground. I was groaning and also laughing, catching my breath. He grinned the biggest grin I've seen all day.
"Ha!" With strong solid conviction, he looked me in the eye and said, "No one messes with the hood. Not even you."
Chapter 3: Vanity
I looked in front of the mirror on mom's dresser, and sure enough my hair was clumsily falling onto my face again. It's been years since Arc and I had our hair cut, and mine has been growing faster than his. The results were more pleasing than I expected; now if I could only find a way to prevent it from getting on my eyes every now and then. I brushed my hair to the back of my head with my fingers, leaving a little fringe sticking out. I sighed.
I turned around to call Arc, who was sitting by the dining table, reading possibly one of the thickest books I've ever seen. He was slouched over, knees to his chest, almost curled up in a ball, and he was probably unaware of everything going on around him. He tapped his fingers on the cover rhythmically, and I was certain he wanted to focus just on the book. Part of me didn't want to disturb him, but the other part just wanted to make him snap out of it so he could have a little bit of some other kind of fun. Like going outside maybe… If he could only get rid of those annoying village kids who constantly made his outdoor life a misery.
I crept towards my best friend, careful not to startle him (but there was always the temptation to shove the book away, grab him by the shoulders, and drag him outside). I stood next to him, and only when he saw my shadow looming over the page did he look up to notice me.
"Hi," he said, almost like a whisper. He quickly closed the book. "Luneth, what's up?"
I rested one hand on his shoulder, another on the table. "My hair. It's freaking me out."
"But… It already looks good on you," he replied with a hint of smile. He put his feet on the floor and sat up.
"Well, thank you, but… I can't have it flying against my face all the time."
Arc examined my hair, and I could tell he was most interested in the little fringe that stuck out, from the way he looked at it. He did mention before how he wanted that on his own hair, but it did not seem to allow it for him. I told him his freckles made up for it, and upon saying that he blushed madly but also had this kind of look that showed he wanted to slap my face.
He rose from his seat and took my hand. With a demanding but nevertheless gentle tug, he began dragging me along away from the table. "Hmmm? What—" He was going to where I had been just moments ago.
"Sit down." He made me sit in front of mom's dresser, and I complied.
"Oh, well… okay," I muttered, looking at our faces' reflection at the mirror. Mostly at his. "Wait, are you gonna…?"
He swiftly slipped his gloves off his hands, grabbed a small wooden comb from the drawer and placed it on the dresser table. He also looked through it once more and this time brought out a little band and placed it on his wrist. "Do you think Nina would mind if I use these?"
"I don't think so, go ahead…" My voice trailed off as he alternately combed and wrapped a length of my hair around his hand, after which he began twirling it. I watched him on the mirror as he worked his way and smiled at him as he made curious faces trying to figure out what he was doing. I had forgotten that he had a habit of watching mom get her hair ready in the morning—he probably picked it up from her. He tied the band and after he was done he took the lock of hair that was my fringe and teased it towards the side of my face.
"Done!" Arc declared. He placed both hands on my shoulders and leaned towards me, asking, "What do you think? Do you like it?"
I tilted my head to one side and to the other, and was ultimately pleased by what he had done. A smile of satisfaction was plastered on my best friend's face for a moment, and I gladly returned it. I tapped one of his hands that were on my shoulders, and thanked him.
"That's pretty neat," I told him. "Never thought it would look half as nice on me."
"It looks perfect," Arc interjected.
"Really?" I smirked. "'Cause you did it?"
"That…" He started blushing again. "And because you really look good already."
"Nawwwww…" I once again gazed at the mirror, just in time to see his eyes widen and his blush grow redder as I held and kissed the back of his hand.
(Luneth's ponytail is cute. I figured if anything could make it cuter, it would be that Arc is the one who ties it up for him.)
Chapter 4: Legacy
It was only upon waking up and seeing the empty sleeping mat next to me that I remembered Refia and Ingus were going to visit today. It's been months since we've seen each other, the last being the time after the World of Darkness. It was Ingus who suggested the reunion, to be held specifically in Ur, through letter. Arc had been excited about it since receiving the news, and I could tell more so since he wasn't usually the early bird between us. I got dressed, headed out of the room and to the kitchen, and was immediately welcomed by the sight of Arc silently cooking up breakfast.
"Good morning, Arc," I greeted him, as I got a waft of the food he was making.
He turned around to greet me back, and it took me only a while to notice the dark circles underneath his eyes. I walked towards him to take a closer look, but he continued to loom over the pot before him. "Didn't get enough sleep last night?" I asked. His expression suddenly changed to a more brooding one, and he sighed quietly. "Is there something wrong?"
Arc spoke in a noticeably hoarser voice. "It's just … I was too excited for today … I almost forgot about…"
I remembered how the mat was still sprawled on the floor. Usually he would tuck it away before heading out. He was definitely preoccupied, and knowing Arc, there was one thing in particular that he never wanted to forget, despite other occasions. "Oh," I said. He felt guilty every time he almost did, but I tried to reassure him. "Hey, it's okay. She'll understand. If you want I can go with you."
He shook his head as he watched and stirred the food. "No, you don't have to. I'll just go there early before Ingus and Refia get here."
"Are you sure?"
He nodded, and proceeded to ladle some food into a bowl. I helped him out with it and prepared the table afterwards. Mom came back in from outside the house a bit later, and she carried with her a vase with freshly picked sunflowers. She placed it on the center table upon greeting me and Arc a good morning. We waited for Topapa for a few minutes and finally had our breakfast.
I wanted to make sure to eat a hefty serving, and I could see Arc happily looking at me as I finished my first bowl. As we ate he told me about how last night as he couldn't fall asleep he saw how I almost kicked a nightstand over in my sleep, and how I scared off a bird that flew by the window with my snoring. Naturally, I made sure to get back at him.
"At least I don't cast Aeroga and knock bookshelves over in my sleep." I stuck my tongue out at him.
"Hmph." He turned back to his food, silenced and a bit disconcerted.
Then again I was glad to see him eat more than he was used to today. I constantly praised his cooking, too. And as I was about to finish my second bowl, there was a loud knocking on our door. Arc stood to answer it, and I saw him jump as Refia appeared before him. She just happened to bear the most eager smile I've seen anyone have this early in the morning.
"Hello, Arc!" She grabbed Arc into a hug. She turned to the rest of us. "Good morning, Luneth, Nina, Elder Topapa."
"Refia!" I called out as I placed my finished bowl down. I walked to her and also got caught in one of her hugs. "Well, you're pretty early." I said.
"Why?" She scoffed, at me in particular. "Kazus is practically next door." Arc and I took her to the table before he excused himself to go back to our room and get dressed. Mom gave Refia a bowl of breakfast, which she coyly accepted and thanked her for. She then proceeded to eat, and was probably determined in beating my record for the day.
"Delicious," she said as she finished. "Better than what I get at home, actually." She chuckled.
I cleared my throat. "Well, mythril isn't exactly food, so…" She shot a glare of death and I stopped before I could further provoke it.
It was then that Arc returned. He went to mom, who gave him another hug and a pat on the head. He looked towards me and mouthed the words, "I'll be back." I could tell he was in a hurry and all giddy, since Refia arrived much earlier than we expected.
"Be safe, okay?" Mom told him.
"I will, Nina. Thank you." He said, letting go from her embrace and heading out the door.
Refia and I waved as he left. We helped mom clean up and before she went off outside with the elders again, she made us cups of tea. As soon as we've sat down again I saw the puzzled look on Refia. "Uhh, Luneth?" She looked at me and asked. "I know you two aren't actually brothers and all, but … why doesn't Arc call Nina 'mom', like you?"
I paused, thinking of what to answer. I wasn't sure if Arc would mind if I told Refia, but I'm sure she'd understand, anyway. I guess she had always noticed it and found it worth asking. "I … well, it's kinda complicated."
"Try me." She moved her seat closer and placed her hands on the table.
Thinking of what to tell Refia took me back to that day. The day I first met Arc. We were about five. He was reading by the lake, surrounded by the flowers and damp grass. No wonder he looked familiar at that time, that I felt so drawn to him. Turns out we had been in the same airship ride some time before. I approached him, who was to me the strange brown-haired boy with a book too big for his small hands, and his response was just a meager "Hi" followed by "I'm just waiting for mama". From there, I somehow started a conversation with him by telling him about the traveling merchant who sold books and stopped by Ur every other week.
After that, it wasn't until a few days later that I saw him again, and that was when I found out he and his mama didn't really live in town, instead just by its outskirts. But since then he's always visited, at first just to look at the books for sale and eventually he told me he came by to see me. Then mom let me take him to our house and we would talk there, get out every once in a while, but we were already inseparable.
One thing I did notice was Arc never stayed later than sundown, because, in his own words… "Mama's waiting for me."
"Well, because I was the one given to Nina. Arc was first given to someone else. I first met Arc when she brought him to town with her." I explained.
I continued as I saw Refia's increasingly curious stare. "This woman, I think she was an ex-Scholar, or something like that. So in case you were also wondering why Arc loves books…" The fellow warrior before him smiled at the thought. "Mom has actually heard of her before. According to the Elders, she traveled to Ur wanting to break away from a hunter group she used to be part of. She settled in a place far from them, determined to have her own family, so she adopted Arc. Arc lived there with her until we were eight."
"...Why?" Refia wondered. "What do you mean? What happened?"
I crossed my legs as I sat. "Oh, uhh, she … died a long time ago. Seven years now, actually. It's her anniversary today. That's why Arc was in a hurry. He's going to her … resting place."
"Oh … oh, dear." The look on her eyes softened. She put a hand over her mouth.
"This.. hunter group went rogue and looked for her. They thought she lived in Ur, so they invaded us and sent a hoard of monsters crawling through town. The monsters were too strong for us villagers so in the end the Elders just evacuated us, and I think we all hid in this cave for three days." I felt a lump in my throat as I spoke, but dismissed it. "Arc's mother… she was the one who took them all down. She used a banishing spell … it used up too much of her strength that it killed her."
I remembered that, too. Being in that cave with Arc, who cried for days on end after it happened. And what made it worse was how some of the villagers blamed his mother—who at most was considered a martyr, not even a hero—for the destruction, for which he became known to some as an exile's child. I had seen how he took this all in, and it always pained me how I couldn't do anything about how these others saw him.
But I was always there.
"It was only after that that my mom Nina also took him in, and when Topapa heard of this, he let us move with him here at the Elders' home."
Refia fell silent. She got her cup of tea and sipped from it, trying to reconnect with her words. "You two … I never would have thought…"
I nodded, and the combined look of awe and empathy continued to linger on her face.
She laid the teacup down and coughed. Moments later there was another knock on the door. I stood up to get it, to be welcomed by none other than our favorite chivalrous condescending elder brother, Ingus. He greeted us as he entered, and Refia offered him the seat next to hers. I got Ingus a drink and laid some fruit and bread on the table, and Refia, eager to lift the tense air I had just created with the things I've said, quickly propelled a more lighthearted conversation onto Ingus's face.
At one point he finally managed to steer way from Refia's questions (most of which were about Princess Sara) to ask one himself. "Where's Arc, anyway?"
I bowed my head. "Don't worry, I'll go get him now. You two just stay here." I excused myself and got up, strapping my pack onto my belt. "Be back in a jiffy," I bid as I ran outside to get Arc. Hopefully he can feel better again upon seeing us all together.
(Just a thought I had after noticing Arc never explicitly called Nina his mom; only Luneth did.)