Chapter 2: Lost Siblings – Part 1
Two words filled in the darkness threading the greenery of the forest around them. The crystals that lined the ceiling of the 18th Floor of the Dungeon had long since petered out. ‘Night’ had fallen for the floor and so those who were still milling about could be counted on one’s fingers.
Or just two in the case of the forest where they were at the moment.
“I swear it was an accident!” Bell cried out as he looked back only for the cold sweat beading his brow to thicken as saw his older sister smoldering with anger to the extent her body seemed ablaze. Pure, unadulterated rage that had been a long time coming. “Lord Hermes made a weird face all of a sudden and I tripped!”
For starters, Lefiya already had enough to worry about after the expedition to the 59th Floor. Things were already hectic enough between that and the red-haired monstrous woman who attacked them last time on this very floor. And then there was the fact that Aiz had the blood of Spirits within her and somehow that drew other creatures like that to her.
Her mood had gotten better once Filvis had come to visit her. It was unannounced and unexpected, but it brightened her day so much that she had forgotten all about how mad she was. That was the effect she had.
Filvis was so beautiful to Lefiya. It felt like every moment around her was warm and bright. Even now she could feel the lingering warmth of her touch. And she would have been content to just bask in it until they were back on the surface…
If not for the fact that fool who dared call himself her brother had the audacity to actually peep on herself and the others in the bath. Even if Lord Hermes had been the one who instigated him into it, he should have known better. To think she was related to someone like that.
When she had heard he was going around camp to make apologies, she had decided to wait until he was done and they were alone before getting on him about all the trouble he was causing. He should go back to living a life outside of the Orario or join a Farming Familia or something else that kept him out of the Dungeon and out of her life. But then he had groped her!
Her—of every other possible person!
“I’M SORRY!!!” Bell promptly ran faster as the flames of rage seemed to intensify. But she was Level Three and fueled by a rage born from many different things at the moment, which left her more than capable of keeping up even with his absurd speed.
For once the chaser and the chased had swapped places, with her pursuing him to the limits of her ability and him running from her as fast as he could. They ended up deep in the Under Resort, a vast forest that sprouted crystals that were fed from the light above and shed it during the night to leave the pristine vegetation a majestic tint of blue. The maze of trees, its hearty foliage serving as blinders and dividers, swiftly punished the two for doing so as they both realized once they had reached the limits of their stamina.
Namely, they both got lost. The pair ended up leaning against separate trees, the hearty trunks supporting their weight as they caught their breaths. They were both sweaty and red-faced from the exertion.
“This… is all… your fault…” Her breath came out heated as she stood across from him. The spirit was still enflamed. But the flesh was aching. She could run no more.
“I’m sorry, sister…” Bell said once more, his throat hoarse from the apologies. “I really didn’t mean to touch you like that.”
“It’s only because it was an accident you’re still breathing!” she snapped at him. She might have been more… liberal-minded than most elves who heralded from their homelands, partly because of her circumstances and her stay in the Educational District, but there were limits. “And you’d better not have told anyone else about us!”
The fact that they were related was a secret that only a handful of people alive were aware of—specifically, herself, her mother, and him. And she wanted to keep it that way to the extent that she never wanted him speaking of their connection.
Bell shook his head. “I haven’t.”
Lefiya huffed. “Good. It’s bad enough you decided to intrude on my life here. But then you have to get involved with my Familia and Miss Aiz! The fact that she saved you was already a miracle alone for a First-Tier Adventurer like her, but to have the nerve to ask her for training afterwards—as if you haven’t caused enough problems!”
Bell rubbed the back of his head as he looked away and muttered. “Well, you said that if I caught up to her then you’d acknowledge me, so… who better to learn from than her?”
And with that the flames in her chest were rekindled. “For something so stupid, you…. went after a Minotaur of all things!? You nearly got killed by one and then you decide to reject her help so you can go fighting a second one!”
It had really ticked her off to know he had done something so incredibly stupid intentionally, refusing the help of the others so he could fight it one-on-one! Of all the suicidal things he could have done! Even for Adventurers who had reached Level Two it was ill-advised.
And for good reason. They were among the Apex of monsters on the floors above the 18th for Level Twos. Speed, strength, stamina—they excelled at those attributes and could tear through Level One Adventurers like tissue. Especially one who hadn’t even been there for more than two months!
“I had to wait until Level Three before I fought one on my own!” Bell was left cowering as his year-older sister now hovered over him with her eyes burning red, flames coming from her mouth as though she were a furious hellhound. “And even then, it was with my Familia supporting me! You do not fight a Minotaur on your own!”
The flames inside of her roiled madly like a wildfire. Everything that had been building up became kindling that was burning her from the inside out. She had to let it out before she exploded.
“When are you going to realize this isn’t a game, Bell!? Four times! Four times since you’ve been here, you’ve been lucky to not die fighting things that should have killed someone else your level! What do you think will happen when your luck runs out!? Did you consider what’ll happen then to the rest of us? Your Goddess? Your Friends? My Mom!?”
The thoughts of his gravestone resurfaced. There laid a fool who died entering the Dungeon, the most dangerous place in the world, just so that she would call him her brother. Just so that he would acknowledge that blood tie they had.
She could see it. That small Goddess who loved her child enough to chase him down to the 18th Floor, violating so many rules and facing so many dangers because of him, crying on her hands and knees in front of his gravestone. That Supporter, who had begged the others to help them against the Minotaur, weeping next to her. That Blacksmith with Spirit’s blood, who’d followed him all the way down here, his expression struggling not to break apart.
Her mother, whom she knew still regretted not taking him in that day, crying when she had to break the news that she lost one of the treasures left behind by the only man she had loved—her younger brother.
And it would be her fault because she said those words the first time they met as children.
Words that she couldn’t take back.
That imagery coerced stinging, hot tears from the corner of her eyes. “You have so many people who would miss you if you died. And yet you keep risking it all for something… so stupid…”
It hadn’t been his fault. The bullying. The discrimination. None of it had been his fault. But she saw in him that day everything she went through and piled it onto him. And since that day she saw those eyes of his and how they watered when he was rejected by her.
Even now she looked away, not wanting to see them again as the flames within her began to finally burn out. Everything she held back having finally been turned to ash and left to peter out. “You… don’t need someone as selfish as me as your sister…”
A haunting silence loomed as she finished her tirade against the boy. She had said everything she had to say, where no one could hear them. She wasn’t happy to have said it, but she felt like if she hadn’t then she wouldn’t be able to keep it bottled up anymore. Maybe now he would get the message?
“… I… don’t know anything about our father,” Bell said after a moment, breaking the silence.
Lefiya’s mind froze for a moment as she processed what she heard. “Huh?”
“I don’t know what he looks like,” Bell continued. “Or his personality. Or anything. Nothing.”
It was absurd. So absurd that she couldn’t believe it. “Didn’t… didn’t your Grandfather tell you about him?”
He shook his head. “I only asked Grandpa about him once. Before we met. And… he told me that it shouldn’t be him telling me about him. That it should be my sister, since coming from her it would have more meaning. Because we’re family and it’s a bond that we share, regardless of circumstances.”
“…Unbelievable,” she muttered under her breath in simmering anger. She had never thought his grandfather would have kept information about their father from him. Then again, he was from Bell’s mother’s side of the family so he might not have known much about him to begin with. So he shunted it off onto her.
And… she didn’t even know her own grandparents. Albeit that was because it was forbidden. Her birth had made it so.
Still… had Bell spent his entire life waiting to hear about their father from her, because of what that old man had said? Had he spent nights and days, just wondering about his father? If she never said anything, who else was he going to ask now that his grandfather was gone?
Looking into those red eyes that seemed as innocent as the day they first met, she remembered his first words to her. How they were among the first kind words she had directed to her by someone other than her mother. How she had responded afterwards. It dropped a weight from her chest into her stomach as she clenched her teeth. He… deserves to know that much.
“I didn’t know him personally either,” she began, taking a seat next to him with the magic-stone lantern between them. “But Mom told me about him. About every little thing she knew about him and the time they spent together. It’d take too long to get into a lot of the details, but… I can tell you a little of what I know while we catch our breaths.”
His ears stood up in attention, almost like a rabbit. She’d say it was cute if not for the fact that it was… him.
“To start with, our father was like us,” Lefiya said. “He was also a member of an Exploration Familia. One that used to be here in Orario but frequented outside of the city often for quests. It was the Zeus Familia.”
He perked up at that. “Then, he was an Adventurer?”
She shook her head. “He was a Supporter. Nowhere near as glamorous or whatever ideal you’ve got in your head about him. In fact, Mom said the rumors from the other members of the Familia who stayed at the outpost when she was visiting at the time painted him as a coward who would run away at the first sign of trouble… and even then he’d still try to look cool in front of women.”
It was like watching a balloon deflate as whatever image he was forming in his head crumbled. Most people don’t think Supporter after all when they think of someone being part of a Familia. It carried a stigma even beyond Orario, and she could almost imagine that same look on her face when her mother told her the story of how they met.
“Still… he had saved Mom when it counted,” she continued before his image was ruined entirely. “Despite being a coward, he put himself in danger to save her from a monster that had come close to the forest. Despite there being others capable of dealing with it, he was there when they weren’t and ended up getting hurt for her sake.”
Her mother had described how terrified she was that she was going to die. How relieved she felt when he rushed in and put himself between her and it, only to be replaced with horror as the scent of blood and her vision turned red from the wound he sustained. It seemed like it would have almost been a mutual kill—the short sword he had plunged into the monster whereas the claws had torn into him, but he had only asked if she was okay.
“Mom said it was like a whirlwind of emotions had swept her up since then. She felt bad that he ended up being left behind, but he assured her they could get by even with a coward like him not being there since the only good thing about him was his running speed. She felt angry he talked about himself that way even as she ended up tending to his injuries while the rest of the Familia went on to finish their quest over the course of the month. But, by the end, she said it was the happiest month she had known—and well one thing led to another.”
That tryst had complicated things. A lot.
“…Grandpa told me a little about Elves,” Bell said. “He explained that she had a rough time because of it. And that might be why it would have been better if I stayed with him after we left. It must’ve been hard for you too.”
He wasn’t wrong. Being impregnated by a human, not even a strong Adventurer but a Supporter at that, had left a certain stigma with her mother. More so since she was unwedded. It left her sullied—and unable to return to the heart of the forest where she first hailed from. Working and living at the outpost was the only way she could remain even close to the forest.
Even so, her mother had loved her. And even though she never saw her father, her mother made sure that she knew he loved her. He had been the one who also provided part of her name—named after the leaves that danced in the air after being swept up in a whirlwind, just like how her mother had felt.
“…Anyway, that’ll have to do for now,” she said, bringing that to a close for the moment. “We’ve caught our breath. We should focus on getting back to the camp—”
For a moment she thought she heard the growl of a monster lurking nearby. But then she heard it again and noted it came from next to her. Specifically, the stomach of her younger brother who had a crimson hue painting his cheeks.
She gave him a flat stare. “You’re hungry at a time like this? Really?”
“Well, you chased me right before dinner time and I spent most of the day running around apologizing to everyone before that, so…”
“…You are unbelievable,” she said with a sigh before looking around. No food she could spot with limited visibility. She scrounged around the pockets of her combat outfit until she came across the Crystal Drops that she found the day prior. She had thought to share them with Filvis, but desperate times. “Eat this one, it’ll at least tide you over until we can get back to camp.”
He beamed at the treat. “Really!”
It ranked her. “Only because we’re lost. Those are worth a lot on the surface, so make sure you savor it slowly!”
“Yes, sis—” He caught her glare. “–er, ma’am.”
“Hmph…” She gave him a side-glance before taking the other one into her mouth and doing the same as she began to wrack her brain on how to get back to their group. As much as she hated to admit it, this was partly her fault rather than his.
She needed to see him back safely to his own Familia, at the very least. There were rumors that Adventurers who explored this part of the floor had gone missing, on top of monsters from other floors coming in, so it wasn’t safe for him to be here. Not when he was a fresh Level Two Adventurer.
It was her responsibility to see him to safety.
So she would.
Chapter 1: The Start of a New Tale
Few knew the “true” tale of Argonaut. For the one who was heralded as the “hero of the dawn” was a jester who wished for his tale to be a foolish comedy without tragedy. But, as his next great adventure took his life, there was one who stood by his side and made a solemn pledge:
To my dearest and beloved brother, Argonaut, I make to you this pledge.
Even though we part in this life, I will await you in the next.
May we be reborn as true siblings, so I can remain by your side.
And I vow as your sister to see the next chapter of your story be written…
As a heroic tale without a tragic end.
—Fina, Beloved Sister of a True Hero.
As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be written in Orario…
Of brother and sister.
Bell and Lefiya.
[-The Start of a New Tale-]
There were two things that Lefiya Viridis hoped would remain buried in her past.
The first was that she was born sullied. She was dirty by the distinction of her blood not being of two that heralded from the Wishe Forest. It was a rich paradise of greenery, where magic was woven into the very roots as rites and rituals from before the age of the gods were recorded and preserved. But beneath the veneer of its glamour laid an undeniable truth that was abundant to her from the first day she had been old enough to recognize the look that others cast upon her was one of scorn.
She, as a half-elf, was not welcomed. Born to a society that represented elegance and grace, one born between a non-elven father and an elven mother was not seen as an equal. That was something she had to live with as long as she called that forest her home.
There was little wonder why she set out for Orario and never looked back.
The second, however, chased her all the way there.
His name was Bell Cranel.
And he was her younger brother.
She hadn’t known about him until she was around four years old. It was only because she lived on the outskirts of the forest that such a meeting was even possible—that her birth was possible, for that matter. Their home claimed not to be as restrictive of visitors as that of the Alf’s Royal Forest, but few who were not of pure elven linage could claim to have laid eyes on the heart of the forest.
Travelers never made it past the edge of the forest. The outpost was where her mother worked, and it was through there she had met her father. It was a union that never should have happened, but it did and she had been born to an unwed mother.
That day there had been an old man waiting for them. Her mother recognized him. They talked alone for some time in a room as she sat outside with a little boy that looked like a small rabbit. He had a bed of white hair that looked soft like a cloud and spotless eyes that were as beautiful as rubies—and, with two little words, he made her heart flutter.
It was the first time someone had told her that. Not that she was sullied. Not that she was different. She was left with her cheeks flushed the color of a rose as she couldn’t meet his innocent gaze.
But then her mother came outside and told her. She told him that his name was Bell Cranel. She told him that his father was her father.
That he was her younger brother.
Then… she didn’t see him as the little boy that looked like an innocent rabbit, his round eyes widening with joy at having a sibling. She saw him as the sum of every problem she had. Her absentee father had left her mother alone, only to have a son with someone else. It stoked in her anger that she never knew she had as the man wanted her to take him in so that he would have a family.
“I never want to see you again.”
Those words came out on their own before she ran off and hid until he and the older man were gone. The sight of his eyes watering lingered in the back of her mind for years to come afterward.
She threw herself into her studies as she got older. Every second put forth to excel. To prove her worth. But even when she demonstrated talent befitting one of the Wishe Forest, it was seen as being despite her heritage. The lineage of her elven ancestors compensated for her human flaws, from her appearance to her magic.
Then she left the home and came to Orario. She managed to join one of the most prestigious Familia there. She managed to become the student of Elven Royalty, where others who were pure could only dream.
That was when she met Bell again.
He had come to Orario now that his grandfather had died and he was alone again. He wanted to join her Familia to be with her, because they were family, despite never seeing one another since that day. But once more words came out of her mouth before she could stop herself.
“You aren’t good enough to join this Familia. So go back to your farm.”
It was cold. But it was true. She had studied to get this far and went through hardships he hadn’t. Countless others wanted to join as well, so why should she use the fact that they shared a father to give him an easy ride?
“Then, if I get strong enough will you accept me?”
“If you can get as high of a Level as Miss Aiz, maybe I will.”
It was nothing more than to humor him. The Sword Princess had become Level 6. It would be impossible for him to reach that level, so he should just go back to where he belonged.
But that was when the rumors started. Each one telling stories of the boy with white hair and red eyes. Each one telling how he was risking his life in ways that should have killed him over and over again.
And each one stirred different emotions within her.
The first threaded her chest with tension due to a Minotaur appearing on the upper floors, followed by relief when the white-haired boy had been saved by Aiz. She hoped he’d take it as a lesson and quit going into the Dungeon, to go back and live a safe life somewhere else. But she felt more grateful to Aiz than usual since that day.
Then was the fear and doubt upon hearing of the boy who fought the Silverback on Daedelus Street having silver hair and red eyes. That couldn’t possibly be him given that was a monster that upper-tier 1st Level Adventurers struggled with and he hadn’t been there for more than a few weeks.
It must’ve been someone else. But she felt that maybe she should make sure he isn’t getting in over his head before brushing it off. It wasn’t her fault if he did something stupid in the end.
Then bewilderment upon hearing that he was the one who beat Aiz’s record as the fastest to reach Level 2. It was insane. She struggled so hard to reach Level 2 and clawed her way up to Level 3. Yet here he was already and suddenly his words resonated in her chest.
The third time they saw each other was on the 18th Floor. She had heard the commotion and came out to learn that a party had come down from the 17th Floor, having been attacked by the Goliath. And one of those was a boy with white hair and red eyes who had no right being there.
There were no words to describe the feeling of pain in her chest when she opened the tent to see him lying there. She volunteered to watch over him until he woke up. No sooner did the flaps of the tent close did she curl into a ball as her mind flashed back to every time they had seen each other before then.
“I never want to see you again.”
“You aren’t good enough to join this familia.”
“Then, if I get strong enough will you accept me?”
“If you can get as high of a Level as Miss Aiz, maybe I will.”
Now, as she looked over his sleeping face, she pictured what their fourth time meeting would be. It would be her standing there and looking over a gravestone with his name on it. All because he was getting himself into so much trouble trying to catch up to her. All because he was putting himself in danger just for her approval.
It was so stupid. So suicidal. So why…
Why couldn’t she stop herself from crying when she thought about that?