Seven Years Earlier
“I was only a little curious,” Leguna said with a slight chortle, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel like it.”
“Actually, there isn’t anything that can’t be said about it. Truth is, you remind me of my younger brother,” said Vera with a gentle yet somber voice as she looked at him.
“Younger brother? Why don’t I know about him?” asked he.
Vera downed another mouthful of beer.
“Do you know why everyone takes so much care of me?”
“Maybe because they’re kind? Sis, Boss, and Cyranos are all good people! I’m a good person as well. One lucky enough to meet you guys,” he replied, pointing at himself with a laugh.
Even your personality resembles his. You’re just as nonchalant as he was, thought Vera as she observed the youth.
“You call yourself a good person? You’re nothing but a cowardly, scrawny, perverted little rascal!” barked she.
“And I… I’m far from what you could consider a good person,” whispered Vera under her breath.
“Didn’t you say you have a younger brother like me? Are you calling him a rascal?” Leguna teased with a smile, “Sis, when are you going to introduce us?”
“I… I don’t think there’s a chance to anymore,” she sighed, “He died seven years ago during the second orc invasion.”
“What?!” exclaimed Leguna.
“Actually, everyone takes care of you so well mainly because we’re all like you. We’re orphans,” said Vera softly.
Leguna’s mouth was agape.
Then again, come to think of it, I’ve never heard Kurdak mention his family even after all the time we’ve spent together.
Vera had a slightly nostalgic expression, within was a trace of thick and deep grief.
“I was born in a family of hunters. We used to live in Nightsong Forest somewhere up north. Our family had five people: my two parents, my two brothers, and me. My father was a famed archer and a mid-ranked ranger. He kept us going with his hunting. At night, he would teach me and my brothers archery. My older brother was a hard worker, while my youngest one was rather talented. Both were far more skilled than me.
“Our life was simple and uneventful. But being able to spend time with my family made me understand how precious such a simple peace was. I lost that peace a long time ago.
“I was the only girl among my brothers, so my parents and older brother cared for me a lot. They protected me from everything. My younger brother, two years younger than me, was just like you, he was always joking around and playing pranks. He never messed around in front of me, though. He used to call me ‘Sis’ and ‘Big Sis’ as well. Perhaps my short temper started developing because of him.
“One day seven years ago, my father left to hunt as usual, but he didn’t come back even when night fell. I thought he had stalked a prey for a little too long. It didn’t happen often, but it wasn’t something we’d never experienced. At midnight, we heard a commotion outside. Mother thought Father had finally come home but when she hurried to open the door, she saw a group of bloodthirsty orcs.”
Leguna paid intense attention but didn’t know what he could say to console her. Seeing the teary-eyed Vera, he couldn’t help but feel sad on her part. At the same time, a weird feeling welled up in his heart; he couldn’t tell whether he should be thankful or not for his life as an orphan.
While he could listen and console her, there was no way he could understand how she felt or bear some of her pain. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, he simply couldn’t. He had always been an orphan. He didn’t know what it felt like to lose one’s family.
Even though Vera was just as much an orphan as him, her memories and experiences frequently fueled tears. She had experienced and lost, happiness. Leguna couldn’t do anything other than console her awkwardly while trying to feel for her loss. No tears fell from his eyes. He simply couldn’t cry.
One of the earliest things he could remember was the stench of a pile of trash and the rat and insect-infested waterways. He had never had any family to lose. Was it a gift that he had been spared the pain of loss? Or was the ignorance of loss itself the harsher tragedy?
Vera took another swig to calm down before she continued.
“My mother was decapitated by an orc. My older brother reacted quickly and had me and my younger brother leave through the back door and run to the south. We never went back. But he… He was cut into pieces in an attempt to buy us time. Back then, we only barely made it out alive. I was really horrified. It was my younger brother that tugged on my hand and brought us to Starfall. Even though we were pretty young back then, Father had already taught us to use impetus, so, while it wasn’t an easy journey, our lives weren’t in any imminent danger. Just before we reached Starfall, however, we encountered a magus.”
“A human magus?”
“Was he the one who brought the two of you to…”
Leguna suddenly stopped when he saw the picture of hatred and unmistakable shame etched on Vera’s face. It occurred to him that if the magus had helped the two of them, Vera’s younger brother would’ve survived. At the very least, Vera wouldn’t have said he died during the second orc invasion.
The magus was the one who brought about Vera’s brother’s ultimate doom. But he couldn’t understand why or how Vera and her brother managed to survive the orcs’ assault and cross the forest, only to fall at the hand of fellow humans.
” He was a necromancer,” Vera said, pained, “When he met the two of us, he attacked right away. He underestimated us, though. I had third stratum impetus and my brother was already at the fourth stratum. The necromancer was just a low-ranked magus. Even though we weren’t his match, if he wanted to finish us off, he wouldn’t have walked off unscathed either. So, he began to talk.”
“What did he say?”
“He said…” A trace of a struggle flashed in Vera’s eyes, but she grit her teeth and continued, “He said he required the soul and body of a pure boy for his necromantic spell, and that he didn’t have any interest in me whatsoever. So, he offered to let me leave alone and not get in his way. If I chose to stay, he said he would make sure he would defeat us regardless of the cost before he claimed my brother to fuel his spell. As for me… he said he would rape and kill me before using my soul to make a puppet. That way, I would forever be unable to escape the bindings of a physical body even after death and be his target of humiliation and torture…”
“That sick bastard!”
Even though he didn’t consider himself a saint, there were some lines Leguna would never cross. The mere thought of doing so made his hair stand on end.
Looking at Vera, slumped on the table, her face buried in her hands, he asked gingerly, “And… Did you… abandon your younger brother?”
Vera finally broke down and pea-sized tears trickled down her face. Some of her flame-red hair even stuck to her face. She wore an extremely torn and tortured expression.
“Even though we tried our best… We didn’t stand any chance against him at all! My dad, mom, and older brother are all dead! The people who’d been eating and sleeping under the same roof as me a few days earlier were gone just like that. They weren’t even left corpses! I frequently dreamt about the bloodied axe that terrified me greatly during my escape. And… And I chose to abandon my younger brother, the only relative I had left. I abandoned the child who had followed me all the time adoringly just like that! Waaaah!”
Seeing Vera in such a sad state, Leguna couldn’t help but feel endless concern and pity.
Does that mean I abandoned her too? thought Leguna.
But all he could utter at that moment was ‘Sis’.
“Did you know?” Vera continued after she wiped her nose, “All these years, I told myself the two of us would’ve died to console myself. But I can’t forget the look on my brother’s face when I ran away. He didn’t say anything… he merely looked at me quietly. I could see hatred, disappointment, and anger in his eyes. Those eyes still haunt me every night.
“It’s been seven years but I still remember that look. Even though I survived, I will always hate myself for choosing to run away. If I could go back, I would choose to stay. You called me a good person, didn’t you? You are wrong. I am not a good person and I don’t deserve to be one! I’m just someone who abandoned her younger brother and left him for dead!”
“Sis, Sis!” cried Leguna as he struggled to stop the woman slapping herself in the face.
He knew she was having a mental breakdown. Even though they were seated at the tavern’s far corner, which wasn’t too easy to see, some sensitive guests noticed the commotion and began to gather around.