Luca shifts around in his seat, looking uncomfortable. He's staring at the letter Bryce wrote for Zack, and I know he wants to read it. We all do, but we have to wait for Zack to wake up, give it to him, then wait for him to decide if we get to read it or not. It's a cruel cycle to some, but that's the way it is.
"Are you going to the mines again?" I ask Luca, who nods, sending the letter back into his Inventory. "Is Kylie going with you again?" He nods. "Stop torturing her so much, would you? She really does just want to have a healer around, she's not trying to get close to you so she can steal Zack from the team."
That's why Luca is perfectly okay with her coming along with him for his training, though I feel he's pushing her a little too hard. Brandon told me that Samantha mentioned to him that Kylie was complaining about the only viable training option for her current break is to go with a sadist. He was wondering if I could say something to Luca to get him to calm down on that.
"At the very least," I say. "Don't whack her over the head for being stupid."
"Please, Luca?" I ask, and he sighs. "Thank you."
Luca hops off the bench and leaves, probably to meet up with Kylie to head back to the mines for their third week of training there. I look at Kit and Aurum, who are playing chess right now.
"I'll be gone for the rest of today," I inform them. "And probably at least tomorrow, possibly more."
They nod in acknowledgment, then I leave. I make my way to the Dark Temple, wondering if I will get word on how Zack is doing as I walk. He's still unconscious, and it's been seventeen days, now. We are all hoping Zack falls on the three-week end of what Bryce said and not the four-week end.
My thoughts also wander to Max. No one actually knows what he's doing. He shows up from time to time, then disappears again. We doubt he's even in Maelnor or the valley or mines, actually. He's doing something, though, because his Level's shot up. Not that I can see it, but Brandon mentioned it to me. He's definitely taken on another Class.
I'm still at just the two, meaning I'm still at Level 100. I did not want to use up my next Class Slot and risk not being able to take on Druid soon. In the meantime, I've trained hard, raising a few of my Stats while also working on a couple of my Skills. In addition, I've acquired some new techniques.
All in preparation for what I'm setting off to do.
I probably would have reached Level 25 of a third Class before now, but I didn't want to risk not and needing to train my ass even more just to reach it so that I can take on Druid when I'm able.
When I reach the Dark Temple, Brandon and Nik are already waiting, along with two of the Dark Order's servants.
"Ready?" Nik asks as I step onto the sigil, and I nod. "Then let's be off."
For a moment, the sigil glows, then we're in another City. One much more crowded than here. Nik wishes me luck, then enters the Dark Temple, the pair of servants sitting on the steps to wait for whatever reason they are here for.
Brandon dips his head to me, then I follow him. We stick to the sides of the streets, where the number of people are fewer. We also stick to the shadows as much as possible, as both of us want to avoid attention and this makes it easier for Sneak to kick in.
There are people of all sizes and types here, many of whom are in just regular day clothes. The Adventurers are obvious, and would be even if Appraisal weren't picking them out. They walk differently. We walk differently. The regular people are obvious because they move differently than those I've been around before. Everyone in Maelnor is an Adventurer, and a strong, experienced one – even the merchants and clerks.
Because of that, I never knew ordinary people moved differently. I knew the beastborn did, but that is because of their harsh treatment. The servants of the Dark Order have begun to move differently now that they aren't undergoing it anymore and are recovering from said trauma, gaining confidence and happiness.
It seems Adventurers walk with not just purpose, but an air of confidence and strength. I can even pick out an Adventurer lacking in confidence. She's around seventeen or eighteen and is dressed like a normal person. She averts her gaze from everyone and stammers if spoken to. Either she's a good actress, or she's lacking in confidence. Yet there's still that air she's giving off as she moves. A confidence to her movements, even if not to herself.
The noises and smells are overwhelming, too. Spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables, freshly-baked goods, and cooking meat are among those smells, and we aren't even in the market, that's the next road over. But then there's the smell of sweat, of perfumes, of Adventurers just returning from a hunt, caked in dirt and blood. The clamor of voices fill the air, along with the sounds of metal clanking against itself, jingling, yelling, children playing, and more.
Overwhelming, but I brace myself through it.
We manage to reach the inn, where Brandon pays for a single room. He's handed a key, then we head up to the room. It's on the second floor of the inn, the top floor. The room has two beds, one on either side of it, and a table against the wall between them, underneath the window.
I walk to the window and look out it. We're on a mountain, but my mantle and clothes are keeping me somewhat warm. While there's no snow on streets of the City, there is on the mountain around us.
Walking from the window to the bed furthest from the door, I begin emptying my Inventory of anything I won't need for this. I'll need the space in it for my loot.
Once my Inventory is cleared up, I follow Brandon out of the room and the City. Only once we leave the City and are away from the crowds of Adventurers coming and going do I realize I was tense the entire time we were inside the City. Outside, away from all those people, I feel at home. At ease.
For a few hours, Brandon and I walk, our feet barely crunching the snow. Then, we stop, and he places a hand on my shoulder.
"Its den is that way," he indicates a slightly-northwestern direction. "I'll be around if you're in danger, but remember – this is for you to do alone."
I nod and he leaves, disappearing into the trees. I ready my bow, then begin stealthily moving through the forest of the mountain, making sure to stay downwind. If it notices me first, then the fight will become more difficult.
Twenty minutes after I start making my way towards the den, I notice paw tracks in the snow. I kneel and inspect them, then move forward. This is what I'm looking for, and they are fresh, maybe twenty minutes old, at most.
For another thirty minutes, I hunt, until the beast finally comes into view. Over twelve feet in length and over four feet to the shoulders, with more than half a ton of muscle and meat. White fur striped along the body and tail, with rosette on the head and legs. Its legs and tail are thick, but that doesn't hinder its speed or stealth at all. The maneless creature, a white liger, moves stealthily through the woods.
He is beautiful. Beautiful and graceful, and I want to damage his pelt even less than the allowed amount for this. He is just so beautiful. The only way to truly do that is to kill it with a single shot to the eye, but white ligers are intelligent beasts, in addition to being powerful. It would no doubt notice the arrow and close its eye quickly, and at the same time, move towards me to kill me.
This one isn't a normal white liger.
Brandon received word of him a few days ago and came to investigate. Most of the Adventurers in the City we just left are under Level 100, with the vast majority being under Level 40. L'Almar would ordinarily take at least ten Level 150 Adventurers to kill.
That, or one ridiculous Adventurer with quality gear, like members of my team. He's strong, he's fast, he has high perception, his hide has a high resiliency to physical and magical attacks… he's the perfect predator.
The best plan for this is the simplest. I'll have one chance, one shot, to succeed in killing L'Almar without needing to run around taking as many shots as I can while also doing my best to avoid damaging the pelt too much. A single attack which must end L'Almar. If I damage the pelt too much, I won't be able to use it for acquiring an Animal Form, which is necessary to take on Druid.
So I raise my bow and draw it, doing my best to stay far enough away the beast won't notice. An arrow of green magic forms, and after I aim, I let the arrow fly. The liger shifts, it's noticed something passing through the air. I let out a whistle, and the liger's head snaps to face me.
Just in time for the arrow to reach it, piercing straight into its right eye, killing it immediately.
One chance. One shot.
"That," Brandon is suddenly beside me before the beast has fully fallen to the ground. "Was a risk rarely taken by anyone but experienced, powerful Adventurers."
I nod. There was no guarantee the liger's eye would be where I hoped. I took a calculated risk, another arrow already formed in my bow, green sparks crackling along it. I relax my string and wait for the arrow to fade as I walk towards the liger.
Once the arrow is gone, I set my bow down and feel the pelt. So soft, and I can feel the beast's strength, its muscle. Brandon was keeping an ear out for a wolf or bear Bounty Beast, we were both planning on me taking on one of those first, then going after a liger Bounty Beast once I was much stronger. But this was an opportunity that presented itself, and we wanted to see if I could manage it.
The body is still warm, and I need to remove its hide now, so I take a knife and get to work, doing my best to be as careful with it as possible. With my skinning training the last couple of weeks, I am able to do it, especially with Brandon here to correct me if I start to mess up.
As soon as the hide is separated, I pull a bucket out of my Inventory, then open it up. I gather up the hide and place it into the liquid within, then seal the lid back on. This starts the process we need to do, according to Brandon.
That finished, I begin segmenting out the corpse, separating it into sections to fit into my Inventory and sell better. When I finish, I use the snow to wash my hands and rub off the blood that got on my clothes. I clean my knife, then stand and look at Brandon.
"We should have your new outfit read in about two weeks," Brandon says. "Until the hide is ready for you to work into it, I'm going to teach you how to work it."
I nod. We'll use the hides I'm already treating for that. Most of my experience is with wolves I killed in the forest in Naelmar Valley. Their bodies are similar enough for the training purpose that I can do it, and Brandon will guide me the rest of the way when it comes time to work the liger's hide into an outfit to wear.
"Come," Brandon says. "Let us return to town and sell your loot."
And claim my reward. I nod, then follow him. Hopefully, Zack is awake before I take on Druid, but some sense of mine tells me that what he did was so ridiculous, he probably won't finish recovering from it until after I do.
But that's okay, he could use the rest, after everything he's put himself through. I hope he takes it easy for a few days after he wakes up, too.