“Moron!” Bloom cursed inaudibly, glaring at the yew longbow in her hand. Who did she curse? Why herself of course! And for good reason. Who gave her the bright idea to choose a bow as her weapon?
Oh, right! It was me!
“Oooh! Archery! So cool!” she bit out the words with a hint of scorn. Yeah, to aim at her enemies, to catch them off guard with her arrows and take them down. That was the stuff she imagined doing while reading those stories. Cause, of course, that would be soooo cool!
From her hiding place behind a boulder, Bloom gazed at the place she had died just half an hour ago. The killer couple was still there, basking in the afterglow of a dying fire in the nearby bushes and leisurely hoofing the pieces of bread she had dropped.
Those robbers! That was her bread. Weren’t animals supposed to be scared of fire?
What’s the name again? Some garden or something?
Anyway, to get to the whateverit’sname velvet rose field, she had to pass through these two boars. At least from the location Elsa’s father gave her.
It sure was a surprise and a pleasant one at that. Were there other ways? She didn’t know. And not that she cared, anyway. After all, how else would she have such a perfect excuse for revenge in the middle of her search?
Or at least, the revenge she could have had if she knew how to fire the damn bow.
“Look at this thing!” she grumbled, frowning at the weapon. “Thin as hell!. Can’t even use it as a club to beat them up.” She sighed. A club would be way more useful here, even though it was a barbarian weapon. Heck, even a tree branch would be better than a bow.
This is the thickest part, so this should be where you hold it, right? She thought, holding the grip of the bow, the string facing away from her. She took an arrow out from her quiver and brought the tip up to her eyes.
And sharp! She ran her thumb along the leaf-shaped edge of the iron arrowhead. She pointed the arrow towards the boars. It made sense for the sharp and pointy arrowhead to be the real thing that hurts, but how would she attach it to the bow?
Carefully, she aligned the point with the string and pushed. “Wow! It’s bending!” she pushed some more, and the bow started to curve gradually, creating tension in her arms.
“Uh… feels off somehow?” she muttered. Was it really ok to push the string with the arrowhead? Won’t it cut the string…
[Normal tendon bowstring has lost 80% Durability.]
“Oh!” Bloom’s eyes widened as a lightbulb turned on inside her brain. “It’s the other way!”
The sound echoed throughout the rocky valley as the torn string whipped the air. Bloom fell on her back, her eyes trailing the arrow that spun towards the sky, going higher and higher.
[Sheep tendon bowstring has lost 100% Durability.]
[Sheep tendon bowstring is destroyed.]
The sound of stomping and snorting brought Bloom back to the ground. The boars! The snap must’ve alerted them! She scrambled up, running towards the lines of trees a few meters ahead, but the male boar already stood there.
“Shit!” She turned around and as expected, the female one blocked her path. She took out another arrow from her quiver, pointing it from one beast to another as she started backing away towards the boulder.
The male boar snorted. How dare this silly little man-cub interrupt its romantic moment with the missus! It shook its enormous head towards Bloom and took a step forward.
Bloom gritted her teeth. She didn’t want that horrid experience of death again! Her fist tightened on the bow shaft, preparing to throw it towards the boar, but stopped. However useless this thing was now, she didn’t want to lose it. Besides, a thin piece of wood like this wouldn’t even faze those two brutes.
‘The brutes’ didn’t wait for her to decide. The night was still young. They wanted to quickly teach her another lesson and go back to enjoy the fire. They quickened their pace, trotting towards her.
No time to think!
Bloom raised her hands, about to throw both the bow shaft and the arrow towards the creatures anyway, but right then it came down.
The first arrow she misfired. After enjoying the scenery of the sky for a moment it embraced gravity, falling straight onto the head of the male boar. the sharp, heavy arrowhead easily sunk into its skull.
“Squeeeel!” the boar’s great body toppled over, surprising both Bloom and its mate to a stop.
[Damage dealt: 15]
Bloom’s mouth opened at the messages. That was so dumb! she turned her eyes at the collapsed boar. Was it dead?
Uh... no, it wasn’t. She could hear its shallow breathing, see its muscles quivering.
[The enemy is stunned]
That confirmed her suspicion. She looked at the red bar over its head. Only a tiny sliver at the edge was gone. Did she have to reduce it fully to kill the thing?
That’s impossible for me.
The creature stirred, starting to get up. The female one also turned towards Bloom with fire in its eyes.
“Dammit!” Bloom cursed as she ran forward. She jumped over the male boar, sidestepping a charge from the female to run towards the depths of the rocky valley.
The beasts cried out in tandem. How dare this puny man-cub sneak attack them and run away! They quickly charged after her, pulverising every obstacle in their path.
The weight of their threat drew closer and closer to Bloom, bearing down on her back like a tangible wave of hot pressure. Her heart thudded inside her chest, pumping adrenaline-fuelled blood through her veins. She ran through the bushes and brambles, jumped over the rocks and boulders. Faster! That was the only thing in her mind.
A sharp turn ahead!
She tried to slow down but skidded into the rock-face ahead with a thump.
“Uff!” She groaned at the impact. Gritting her teeth, she pushed off the rocks, shooting herself forward just as the boars rammed into the place where she was. One into another, they fell into a bundle, screaming and squealing.
“Yes!” she smiled, glancing back at the tangled up beasts. Now she just had to lose—
Bloom’s body tilted, plummeting as the ground beneath her feet vanished. She gasped, flailing her limbs for less than a second before she slammed into a thick tree branch.
“Ah! Ouch! Ow!” Branches snapped and cracked as she crashed into one branch after another, falling further and further until she plunged into the thick undergrowth.
[Damage Received: 5]
She lay on the grasses, looking at the red bar reduced in increments and listening to the sweet sound of the boars roaring their hate to the world from overhead. Her entire body was in pain, and she couldn’t exactly tell, but there were a lot of snaps just now.
Did I break something?
She lifted her hand. Yeah! The arrow was in pieces, all right. She looked at her other hand with some apprehension. Though the bow shaft was useless, maybe she could still fix it?
Only if it doesn’t break.
Looking at the long, unbroken piece of wood clutched in her hand, she let out a breath of relief. Lucky! But...
“How the hell is it still intact?”
“So this is a velvet rose!” Bloom ran her finger over the dark red petal that gleamed under even the dimmest of starlight. “Feels nice.” she stood up, looking at the field of roses. Her luck wasn’t bad. Her destination literally fell into her hand.
Or I fell into it, to be exact.
She kind of expected it, but Marcus wasn’t here either. “Where is he?” she muttered. This was the last clue she had. If she still couldn’t find him, she had to give up.
She sighed, making her way to the jungle on the other side of the field. All she could do now was hope he returned to the village already.
She spotted it just as she stepped into the line of trees. A glint of yellow light into the distance. It looked just like when she had her torch on.
Firelight? Her eyes widened. “Marcus?”
She hurried towards the light through the dense cluster of trees. If it really was him, he was gonna get a punch to his face for putting her through all this.
But if it isn’t?
She stopped, a frown creasing her brows. What if there was some danger there? She crouched, sneaking closer to the place.
Bits and pieces of music and merriment entered her ears. It didn’t sound like one person. Voices of several people, not clear enough to make out the contents amongst all the nightly noise, but they were human, of that Bloom was sure.
Being alone in this dark forest for so long was starting to get to her. Should she go say hi to them? The villagers were kinda insufferable, but these could be a friendly lot. They sounded cheerful enough.
Well, before that she needed to make sure.
“Ok!” she whispered, stopping behind a bush. No one should be able to see her from here. Gradually, she extended her head above the leaves obscuring her view and saw the people camping around a bonfire. They were humans. All six of them.
A man in a feathered hat playing the flute, another by his side dancing as he shook a tambourine while three others sat on a fallen log, drinking and clapping. The jolly music and the smell of roast meat by the fire, everything else crafted an inviting picture.
Everything else, except for the sixth person who was tied to a thick pole by the fire.
Bloom drew in a sharp breath. “Marcus!” she whispered, unable to turn her eyes from the youth. A shiver ran down her spine as she saw the state of the person who had helped her stand up once again.
His face swollen, beaten so miserably that she might have doubted his identity if not for the same blue tunic she saw him wearing before. Now splotches of dried blood covered that tunic. He didn’t have a right hand and his left leg only remained till his knee. A few careless scraps of dirty rags were wrapped around the stumps, the blood soaking through it still wet
Blood rushed to Bloom’s head. For the briefest moment, she lost her sense of reason and took a step forward. She stopped herself, balling her fist until her knuckles white from the effort. No! She couldn’t just rush in there.
Is he dead? Ice seeped into her heart at the thought. Did they kill him?
She squinted her eyes, a flicker of hope appearing in her heart. A bar Just like the one she had hovered above Marcus’s head. That meant life, didn’t it? About ⅓ of it was still red.
“He isn’t dead! He isn’t dead!” she whispered shakily, her muscles loosening.
Her face twisted as she glared at the five people. They would have to pay. Doing that to someone who helped her, no way she was letting them off easy.
But the way she was, could she even harm their hair?
Shit! She bit her lips. The whole day she had only been on the weaker side. How frustrating! If only Marcus wasn’t there. At least she could have charged in to vent some of her anger.
And maybe die immediately. She shivered, remembering what the two beasts had done to her before.
She shook her head. Information. That was what she needed if she wanted to avoid dying and maybe jeopardising Marcus’s safety in the process.
She couldn’t have that. Absolutely not.
She crept even closer to the camp, hiding from the shadow of one tree to another. About ten meters from the camp, she carefully craned her neck from behind a tree and observed the men. She disregarded the shining yellow names over their heads and focused on the other information on display.
And above the man wearing the feathered hat,
She sighed. Nope! She wouldn’t harm their hair. A plan! That’s what she needed. A plan and some help, preferably.
A movement from Marcus’s direction drew her attention. Her eyes sharpened, scrutinising the source of the movement, the red and grey bar floating above his head. Her heart skipped a beat.
Did it just go down a little? Yes, she was sure it was just a fraction less than before.
Bloom fidgeted, her fingers clenching and unclenching. Was his time running out? That… was plausible. He had such grievous injuries. She remembered the quest window. 24 hours! That time limit. It was most likely related to his lifespan. That wasn’t a heck of a lot of time.
I have to be fast!
She glanced at the tall trees surrounding her, an idea forming in her mind, but she shook her head immediately. It wouldn’t work. Besides, more than her bow being broken, she didn’t even know how to use it.
Do I even need to?
A bandit camp so close to the village, just informing the guards should do the trick. She took out her map, scrutinizing the location she was in. if only she could mark—
[Would you like to put a pin on the indicated location? YES/NO]
She watched as the bleeping red pin-shaped indicator settled firmly on her location, and then slowly began backing away into the darkness.
From the darkness, Bloom stared at the campfire a hundred or so meters ahead of her. The forest at night was noisy, but the music and noise of the camp couldn’t reach her anymore.
Should be far enough.
She had no time to waste. Taking a deep breath, she turned around and started running as fast as she could. She had only run for a few seconds when she stumbled upon a clearing among the densely packed trees. Suddenly, a strange pressure enveloped her and her steps faltered. Just before she could fall, she caught herself and stood her ground.
What happened? Why were her eyelids so heavy?
[You are under the effect of the Curse of Sloth. You feel sleepy and your movement speed has slowed down by 30 %.]
[Oof! You really have a terrible luck. You even ran into this one.]
The rustle of dried leaves beside her raised the hairs on her neck. She turned her head almost mechanically, gaping at the huge creature lying lazily just a couple meters on her right. She swallowed, the sound somehow loud and clear in the odd silence surrounding the place.
The creature’s ears twitched. It raised its head from its paws, languidly meeting her brown eyes with its sleepy, golden ones. It swished the tuft of its bushy tail once. The yellow name above its head blinked once, before turning into deep crimson.
The tiger’s head shot forward faster than Bloom could blink. Its dagger-like fangs flashed once in the starlight before its jaws clamped shut on her head.
Bloom didn’t have the time to cry out. For the briefest second, she heard and felt the pain of her skull being crushed under the creature’s jaws. And then, the final window appeared.
[Damage Received: 100]
[You have died.]
[You have dropped the following item(s): Arrow (x20).]
Whew! At least it wasn’t the bow.
[For dying twice within 12 in-game hours, your access to the game is restricted for 3 real hours]
[WHYYYYYY?] Loki’s shout told of the frustration she felt. [Now she’s out for 9 whole hours!]
M sighed. “Yeah! And she was just beginning to get her bearings too. I didn’t expect her to get used to sight so quickly. The understanding package worked better than expected.”
[Of course, it did. That was my idea!] Loki said proudly. [But now that she’s out, she’d fail the quest for sure.]
[She does not have much chance of success even if she continued. The villagers of Caramis are not going to help her.] Minerva said.
[But Greyvern could.]
[Only if she managed to find him.]
[I guess.] Loki gave a defeated sigh. Suddenly, something occurred to her.[By the way, wouldn’t Marcus die if she fails? Wouldn’t that be kind of bad? His existence is kind of important, you know.]
Silence filled the room.
[Loki is right! Should we prepare a contingency plan, just in case?] Minerva asked.
“No need,” M said. “Let’s just see how it develops.”
[Well, you’re the boss.] Loki chuckled. She looked at the dark display screen. [Seriously though, why the heck would she walk into the most difficult quests in the village? She’s only level 1 for crying out loud! Arya even warned her!]
“Arya?” M asked.
[The Active assisting her.]
“Ah! The one that you designed, that questioned your intelligence, that Active? Good name!”
[Your blatant interference with her choices lead her to this path. You should have Chosen an easier starting point for her than one where even the beginning mobs are level 10.] A rare hint of displeasure was present in Thanatos’s voice. [Besides, subject 1 is active in Caramis. What if Her presence interferes with his plans?]
[Oh! Everybody’s favourite subject 1!] Loki mocked. [His plans are gonna destroy Caramis! So what if Chitra stopped him?]
[I seriously doubt she would be able to.]
[Now now. No need to behave like that. This is not like you, Thanatos.] Said, Minerva.
Thanatos fell silent for a moment. [You’re right. I apologize.] He said in a softer tone.
“Well, I think we’ve had enough of peeping done on her to put most stalkers to shame,” M smiled, “so no need to bother me anymore. It’s fine if you guys still wanna keep an eye on things.”
[Then should I turn the screen off?] Minerva asked.
“Go ahead.” M took a last glance at the screen as it disappeared. “No, wait! Turn it back on. Turn it back on right now!”
[Ok?] Minerva said doubtfully as the screen once again lit up.
“There! What is that?” M leaned forward, observing the screen for a second before pointing at it. “What’s that about, Loki? Why is she still there?”