A life is a life. Regardless of how they wished to spend it, what they wish to do, everyone has the divine right to live. And that alone is worth protecting.
As those words, so familiar and yet so mysterious to him, resonated in his mind, Varuna found himself abruptly pulled from his sleep by the sound of someone coughing. Sitting up in bed, the silver-haired Night-Seeker immediately recognised the source of the coughing. It was coming from his brother's room.
A sense of concern gnawed at him as he slipped out of his bed and quietly made his way out of his room. He didn't have far to travel to reach his brother's room as it was right next to his.
With the door already open, Varuna wasted no time stepping into the room, immediately noticing that his brother was sitting up in bed with a silver-haired medic offering him some relieving healing to his back and ribs.
Venturing further, he paid little attention to vast volume of full bottles of medicine. "What's wrong?" Varuna immediately asked.
The silver-haired man dressed in a white medic's coat turned to him. He looked at him through one eye as the other was constantly covered by his hair, something that did little to bother him or inconvenience him in any way. He had a small vial of medicine perched between his teeth, which was still full, so it meant he didn't have to use it.
"Nothing serious," Isiah replied as he pulled the vial from his lips and slid it into the pocket of his coat. "Just strain from not getting enough sleep."
Looking at all the full bottles of medicine, Varuna couldn't say he was surprised. He sighed. "You stayed up all night again working, didn't you?" he asked Nitish.
His brother, a Runemaster, looked momentarily uncomfortable as he gave a small shrug. "I lost track of time," he replied softly.
Nitish may look stoic and aloof, with his tall, lanky frame, piercing blue eyes and long blond hair. But the reality was that he was really quiet. He didn't talk much, only speaking with those he was comfortable with. And he was actually younger than he looked.
Well, to be quite honest, neither Varuna nor Nitish knew how old they really were.
Ten years ago Varuna and Nitish were discovered walking around aimlessly, Varuna holding Nitish's hand in his, on the edge of town by Isiah's father. Being a medic, the man took them both in and looked after them. Varuna had a nasty head wound, with blood dripping from his brow over his face, while Nitish had an injury to his left eye.
Even today his vision in his left eye was so much poorer than in his right. It was a minor annoyance to him, but it didn't really affect his quality of life, thank goodness. But he was physically quite fragile. He would get sick quite easily.
Varuna couldn't remember anything before that day. His earliest memory was that of a dark forest, holding Nitish's small hand in his tightly. He didn't remember the pain or the feel of the blood dripping from his forehead. Next thing he remembered, there was a man standing in front of them, a darken figure standing in front of a bright light. Varuna remembered the fear he felt, a small voice in the back of his mind pleading not to let that man hurt him. But as that man, Isiah's father, gently placed a hand on his hair, he felt safe.
Varuna couldn't remember what had happened and Nitish wasn't able to talk, and wouldn't talk for a few years. Thankfully, neither of them were pushed into remembering and were told to simply live for the now.
Isiah's father had passed away a few years ago, unfortunately. He was a kind and gentle man. Old age got in him the end, which was better than losing him to the horrors of the labyrinth.
After the death of his father, Isiah took on the role of caretaker for the two of them. They became a rather unconventional family after that. They might not even be related, but that was of little consequence. To both Varuna and Nitish, they were brothers in every sense. And, in turn, they also considered Isiah to be a brother to them as well.
"Get some rest," Isiah ordered as he placed his hand on Nitish's skinny shoulder, giving a reassuring squeeze. But his tone of voice left no room for argument. "You'll feel better tomorrow."
"I'll take these medicines to the Atelier," Varuna offered as he began to gather up the blue bottles of medicine. "I need to speak with the Count today, anyway."
A few years ago, after the Count issued an invitation to all explorers to learn and reveal the secrets of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, he, along with Nitish and Isiah, had become researchers to the court, dealing with requests from the Count himself.
"Do you think there is enough?" Nitish asked with a small sense of concern as Varuna gathered all the bottles. He knew far too well how important it was to have enough medicas and nectars on hand.
"Don't worry, I'm sure the Atelier will be more than happy to give you more ingredients to play with," Varuna was quick to reply.
A small smile appeared on Nitish's lips and he nodded his head, seemingly satisfied with that.
After gathering all the medicine bottles, Varuna placed them into a bag and ducked back into his room in order to get dressed. He quickly slipped into his usual clothing with consisted mostly of the clothes that were red and black, which stood out starkly against his pale skin and red eyes. And, out of a habit he had no idea came from, he holstered a pair of hunting knives, hiding them under his clothes. He felt better having them with him whenever he went outside, away from his lodgings.
He pushed his silvery-white hair away from his face and squinted his red eyes at the morning sunlight as he stepped outside. It was unusually bright that morning. Fixing his red cloak around him, he held the bag containing all the medicines against his chest and made his way through the bustling streets of Tharsis. He kept mostly to himself during his walk, his heavy-set boots clacking against the sandstone pathways.
First stop, the Atelier.
Varuna nodded his head at the skinny blonde-haired girl who had yelled at him in greeting, waving a hammer in the air quite merrily. She was quite young, but was already manning the atelier in town. She was a local, a lively one at that. You couldn't help but like her.
"Ooh, didya bring more stuff?" Wynne asked him with a sense of anticipation as he approached the shop.
Varuna nodded again as he lifted the bag he was carrying and presented it to her. Wynne eagerly gathered up the bag, unable to resist taking a peek inside. Seemingly thrilled by what she saw, her smile widened and she turned the hurry back into the shop.
"Hey, boss!" she could be heard yelling. "We've got more medicas!"
There was a bit more yelling back and forth, having a rather normal conversation at the top of their lungs. A few moments later Wynne skipped back out with a bag of money in exchange for the medicas and another bag full of natural ingredients. It's not nearly as much money they would get if Varuna, Nitish and Isiah decided to sell the medicas on their own, but they get free range of the items they get from explorers to make medicines with.
Working for the Count ensured that they never had to go without anything. The Count was a pleasant man, courteous and highly respected. Really, he couldn't have asked to work for a better man.
Besides, the only time Nitish seemed happy, not bothered by the memories of the past, was when he was dealing with making of items. He was a naturopath and he liked to make potions and medicines. And he was so good at it that he was virtually working for the atelier.
"Da boss wants to know how ya make such awesome medicas!" Wynne said as she handed over his reward.
Varuna gave a small smile. It was an on-going joke between his family and the shop. He was never going to tell them that Nitish had the ability to simply tell the quality of an ingredient or item by mediating with the object in his hands. The better quality of ingredient, the better quality of the end product. Simple.
Varuna had a similar ability, but for him, it was poison. Simply looking or touching an object he could tell if it was poisonous or not. Which was he was working for the Count. He was a toxicologist. His skill was quite handy, as there were a few food items that appear benign at first sight, but were actually really quite poisonous.
"Our secret," Varuna said simply in response to Wynne's question. The bright and cheerful expression on her face never faltered as they would have this exchange every time they met, so she wasn't remotely annoyed by his response.
Since the invite of explorers to visit Tharsis and join in the exploration of the Labyrinth and the search for Yggdrasil, the blacksmith had been very busy. Making weapons, armour and accessories was their specialty. But they soon realised that rookie explorers could be quite reckless, so the need of medicines had also increased.
It was a bit of a catch 22, really. They needed ingredients to make medica for explorers, but they needed explorers to find the ingredients to make medica.
"Da boss says come back any time!" Wynne said as a goodbye and Varuna nodded his head once more before turning to leave.
Although he had a lot to deal with the atelier, he had never actually seen the boss in charge. In fact, not many people actually knew what the boss actually looked like. He favoured staying out the back, making weapons and armour in solitude. He preferred to let Wynne deal with the public.
With his errand done, Varuna decided to head home and drop off the small flowers, and maybe check up on Nitsh before visiting the Count. The lodging where he was now living used to be a general medical practice. And it kinda still was, but since Isiah was a medical researcher, he dealt with the most unusual patients, patients that the clinic at the Inn couldn't treat.
Isiah wasn't you average medic. When one thought of the word medic, instantly the image of someone gentle and caring, someone compassionate and empathetic would spring to mind. Isiah, on the other hand was...a bit of a hardass. He was an incredible carer and medic, but he was severely lacking in any bedside manner.
The doors to the lodgings that Varuna was sharing with Nitish and Isiah suddenly flew open with a loud crash. An explorer of some description came tumbling down the stairs, hitting the stone walkway rather hard. But that didn't stop him from immediately scrambling to his feet, a look of pure disgruntlement and distain on his face.
"What the hell?!"
"Get out of here ya dumbass," Isiah stated rather calmly, while also sounding quite forceful. He stopped at the top step and peered down at the explorer through one uncovered eye. "If you want help, go the clinic. That is what it's there for."
Varuna sighed. It was happening again. He couldn't really blame Isiah for being so ill-mannered sometimes. People had this habit of taking complete advantage of a medic. Since their profession was that of caring and healing, other people (be they locals or explorers) would confront Isiah and asked to be healed. Why pay for help at the clinic when you can get a medic to do it for free? And if the medic had the audacity to decline for whatever reason, the ones asking for help would get all obnoxious and abusive.
Like the latest explorer Isiah had just booted out of his place.
"What kind of medic are you?" the explorer simpered. "It's your job, isn't it?"
"My job," Isiah said slowly, his visible eye narrowing quite fiercely. "Is to heal those who need it, not because they think they deserve it. I'm a medical researcher, not a doctor."
"I'm in agony over here!"
"…It's a splinter. You're hardy going to die from it."
"I could! What if I did, huh? It'll be your fault!"
"Then congrats to me. One less dumbass to worry about."
Varuna shook his head as he moved toward his lodgings, purposely brushing past the indignant explorer and up the stairs to Isiah. He shared a look with the silver-haired man, immediately noting the irritation in his gaze. The explorer would be wise to take the hint and leave before Isiah got his mace out. He wasn't afraid to use Knock-out Blow on a human patient.
He has. Numerous times.
Varuna had to admit that he didn't really like people. Oh, sure, some of the locals of Tharsis he knew he could count on, but people in general he didn't like. Maybe it was just crowds. It didn't matter. He, along with Nitish and Isiah tended to keep to themselves. Their research took up most of their time, anyway.
Before the unnamed explorer could shout anymore abuse, Isiah followed Varuna inside, slamming the door shut behind him. He muttered an insult under his breath as he moved to sit at his desk that was covered with study notes and references. Isiah had his own little office, as did Varuna and Nitish, although Nitish did tend to spend most of his time either in the kitchen making new potions, or outside in the garden where he grew herbs and vegetables.
"How's Nitish?" Varuna asked as he carefully placed down the bag of small flowers onto the kitchen counter.
"He was sleeping until that dumbass came barging in," Isiah muttered as he pinched the bridge of his nose.
"I'll go check up on him," Varuna offered as he handed Isiah the money he had received from the Workshop. Any money he or Nitish made went straight to Isiah. He knew what to do with it and neither Nitish nor Varuna had any desire to possess money.
Slipping into Nitish's room, Varuna felt a slight frown tug at his lips. Nitish seemed to be having a fitful sleep, his brow furrowing as if remembering some kind of pain. Perhaps he was remembering something from long ago…
Thankfully, he quietened down when Varuna placed a hand on his head, soothing down his hair.
Varuna felt a light sense of guilt that he couldn't remember what had happened to them ten years previously. He was certain that Nitish remembered, be it bits and pieces or everything. He felt guilty because he couldn't remember, so he couldn't share his uncertainty and fear.
He spent a few moments simply watching over Nitish, before deciding to let him sleep in peace now.
After quietly leaving the room, he realised that it was time for him to visit the Count to offer him some of his latest research notes. After that, he might pay Ciaran at the cargo wharf a visit. He was a bit of a chatterbox, but at least he didn't ask any prying personal questions. He was only interested in building and fixing airships.
Even with all the new explorers flooding into town, their lodgings were still being whispered to be home to 'those weirdos', as some of the locals had dubbed them.
"I'll be out for a few minutes," Varuna said to Isiah who was sitting at his desk, flipping through a few notes. He received a lazy wave of the hand, indicating that he had been heard.
Once again tugging his cloak around him, Varuna ventured outside and headed toward the Mark's Grand Court. Getting in and out of the court was quite easy, the Count personally meeting and greeting new guilds and explorers.
"Ah, Varuna," Count greeted the moment Varuna stepped into his lush office, stepping over a chew toy and shooing away the little white dog that Count always had with him. "Good to see you again. How's the research going?"
Pulling out his research notes, Varuna handed them over as he stood in front of his desk. "Fortunately, the food found so far in the Windy Plains isn't hazardous to anyone's health at this point. From what Nitish has deduced, the produce is actually beneficial to explorers."
"Ah, that's good to hear!" Count genuinely seemed pleased as he turned his attention to the notes. "How is Nitish today? Not over taxing himself, I hope."
"He, ah, stayed up late last night making medicines, so he'll be resting today," Varuna explained quickly.
"Good, good. It's important that he takes it easy," Count said. "And Isiah?"
"Been busy, I'm afraid. Unfortunately, quite a few explorers have been returning to town complaining of paralyses," Varuna said, remembering Isiah complaining about the influx of patients who were freaking out because they couldn't move. "There doesn't seem to be an item or a type of food that is behind this, so we're uncertain what the source could be."
"Yes, I can see why this would be troubling," Count said as he idly petted Margareta, whom was perched on his lap. "Any ideas of what it could be?"
"A plant that we haven't discovered could be to blame," Varuna stated as he shifted on his feet. "Although, a monster's attack is also highly possible. It's hard to tell, though, from second hand accounts."
Count hummed in thought for a moment, allowing the information to sink in. "Perhaps you require a bit of first-hand experience?" he suddenly suggested, sort off the cuff as he carefully studied the research notes.
Varuna was a little stunned by his suggestion. But it made a lot of sense. The items that they've worked with, the monsters that they knew about, the food that they've studied has all been given to them by the soldiers of Tharsis. They've never had the chance or opportunity to do any field research themselves.
"Thank you for all your hard work," Count said, pulling Varuna from his thoughts. He turned his attention back to the other man to see him smiling at him with a sense of gratitude.
"With this information, Tharsis will be better equipped with the caretaking of explorers," he continued before adding. "I do hope you give my suggestion some thought."
Varuna nodded before taking his leave. "I will."
Leaving the Mark's Grand Court, Varuna found himself wandering around aimlessly. He couldn't stop thinking about the Count's suggestion. Although he was satisfied with the life he was leading now, he couldn't help but feel restless. Maybe it was all the talk about the Lush Woodlands, the still very mysterious labyrinth that was making him antsy. He couldn't help but wonder what types of items and ingredients he could find within the forests and grottoes.
Getting his hands on some new items would make Nitish really happy. Which, in turn, would make him happy.
But…Three researchers heading out into the labyrinth by themselves? Yeah, that's just asking for trouble. How could all three of them search and research the items while also keeping a lookout for potential danger? Not going to work. Ok, so Isiah could be a right badass with a mace, still…
If they had a couple of experienced explorers with them, maybe, but what guild would want three researchers holding them back? These explorers, all they wanted were fame and fortune. Maybe an odd jaunt into the labyrinth with a reward as an incentive, but nothing more than that.
There was no way Varuna was going to trust his life, let alone the lives of his brothers, to a group of strangers.
Varuna was pulled from his musings by a loud yell. He blinked and looked around, wondering who was yelling and to whom. Explorers suddenly picking fights with rival guilds wasn't a rare thing, unfortunately.
"Yeah, you! The Night-Seeker!"
Again, Varuna blinked and turned toward what he assume was the source of the voice. Gathered in a small group were four male explorers, two Landsknechts and two Snipers. A tall Landsknecht with spiky brown hair and narrowed brown eyes seemed to be at the forefront of the group, his hands on his hips.
In a rather dumbly manner, Varuna pointed to himself, wondering if the Landsknecht was referring to him. There didn't appear to be anyone else around…
"Yeah, you're the one I'm talking to," the brown haired man stated as he boldly strode over to him, followed quickly by a short blond-haired Landsknecht, a red-headed Sniper and a short black-haired Sniper. "We need a fifth person for a quest. Interested?"