It should’ve been another normal day for Marcus; picking up the herbs he needed, then going back to help Greyvern out with his work. But then he met Bloom, an immortal. The events that followed were anything but normal.
Greyvern arrived at Caramis after the ‘Eastern disaster’ that destroyed the Therusen empire 23 years ago. Although it was way before Marcus’s birth, he and Greyvern were always considered as outsiders by the villagers. The attitude they had received was only slightly better than what the immortals received now. So growing up, no other child wanted to befriend Marcus.
Except for Elsa.
She had been his only companion throughout his life, his only friend, only soulmate. And now, there was a unique feeling quietly budding in both of their hearts. So when she wanted him to bring her some velvet roses, of course, he wouldn’t refuse. Besides, the location of those flowers wasn’t far from the herb field.
The sound of conversations was what alerted Marcus. That was strange, as people usually avoided the Firekeep’s Garden; after all, no one wanted to chance upon the Sleeping tiger. He became curious, and as they say, curiosity killed the cat. A bunch of bandits were certainly not something he expected to find. Knowing that alerting them of his presence was the worst thing that could happen, he hid in the bushes and listened to their conversations.
But what he heard made his blood run cold.
Marcus knew he couldn’t delay longer. He had to escape and inform the villagers about this as soon as possible. He tried to leave quietly, but his foot fell on a twig. He ran like mad. He was fast, but the bandits on their horses were still faster. In minutes, they surrounded him.
Marcus was no pushover, but the odds were against him. Alone against seven bandits, he fought desperately. By a great amount of skill and some luck, he disarmed an opponent with a thrust of his quarterstaff and snatched his sword. The scimitar, although not the most suitable, was close. In his hand it came to life, taking the lives of two bandits.
Still, despite his skill, he was just one man.
It didn’t take long for exhaustion to grab hold of him from the relentless fighting. He took more and more missteps and injuries began piling up. Then came a moment of carelessness. It cost him a limb. He screamed, becoming more and more reckless due to pain and fear. It would’ve been easy to kill him at that point, but the bandit captain didn’t want that. He took Marcus’s other limb, the hand he was holding the sword with. Pain overwhelmed Marcus and he fell, losing his consciousness.
Marcus’s consciousness returned with a surprise. He... wasn’t dead? Why would the bandits keep him alive? What did they want?
He didn’t have to wait long for the answer to his questions.
“Where did you learn your swordsmanship, boy?” the bandit captain asked him.
The swordsmanship? That was something his father taught him. Why would the bandits want to know about that?
The swordsmanship, along with being incredibly fast and powerful, could also integrate his element into the moves. It was something only possible for the [Rare] skills or above. And the skill that helped him kill the bandits, [Split Moon]? That was unlike any other combat skill he knew about.
Such an advanced skill, along with so many other forms of combat and etiquette; he learned it all from his father. And how could the man who taught him all these be a simple gardener? Marcus had tried to ask Greyvern about it many times, but the only answer he received was the time to tell him hadn’t come yet. Were these bandits connected to his father’s secret in some way?
Marcus opened his eyes to a warm feeling. A thick rope tied around him, anchoring him to someone’s back. Was it one of the bandits? The pain! Those scums had tortured him until he fainted. Now they were taking him somewhere? What did they want?
No matter what, he wouldn’t answer them.
No matter what!
An attempt to clench his teeth flared a sharp pang of pain from his jaw. Marcus gasped. Yeah! He was missing a few teeth now, wasn’t he? And from the feeling, his jawbone might have cracked too. His whole face hurt. His face...
What would Elsie say if she saw me now?
“Oh, you’re awake!” Hearing the voice, a slight frown appeared on Marcus’s bruised face. That was a woman’s voice. Was there a woman bandit in that group?
And the voice, it seemed somewhat familiar...
“Hold on tight. We’ll be back to the village soon.” The girl turned her face to smile at him.
“Lady Bloom...?” Marcus said in a hoarse whisper.
“You remember me!”
Marcus smiled at the surprise in Bloom’s voice. How could he forget the first immortal he had talked to? And lady Bloom was such a peculiar girl, too. His misfortune also started after meeting her, didn’t it? He gazed at Bloom’s face, red and tight from the effort of carrying him, and sighed.
I can’t blame her for that.
“Thank you,” he muttered instead.
“No need to thank me. You helped me a lot. I’m just repaying that,” Bloom said with some difficulty. The rope she tied around Marcus was cutting into her. It made breathing somewhat difficult. “Gosh, you’re so darned heavy!”
“Sorry.” Marcus managed to chuckle. “I- have to- tell you something about- the bandits.” He paused, gulping some air. “They intend to—”
“Oh, shut up, will you!” Bloom snapped. “My brain’s mush. Say what you wanna say after we get back. Don’t distract me from the road right now or I’ll keel over.”
“Uff! Why am I wasting my breath here?” Bloom took a deep breath. “No buts! Just concentrate on staying alive!”
Marcus sighed. Stay alive, huh...
I’d like that too.
He ran his eyes over the dense cluster of trees all around them. Growing up here, he knew the area like the palm of his hand. They weren’t halfway to the village yet. And lady Bloom… she looked so tired. She had worked hard, but at the rate they were going…
He drew the fingers of his remaining hand close, trying to clench them into a fist, but they refused to listen to him.
He wanted to see them so much.
The crippling pain covering his whole body had long gone numb; instead, from the depths of his heart rose a chilling cold. It spread to his muscle, seeped in his bones, gnawed at his nerves, little by little sapping away any hint of warmth remaining inside. The tiredness, he couldn’t resist it anymore. Could they get back before he fell asleep? His eyelids felt so heavy...
A little rest won’t hurt, right?
“Just… a little… further…” Bloom huffed. The guy was seriously heavy. Carrying him, she already felt exhausted to the bone. At least, she levelled up, or not to mention carry him, even picking him up would’ve been impossible.
Maybe I should’ve kept one of the horses.
She smiled, shaking her head ruefully. What good would that do? Not like she could ride them.
Well, it didn’t matter anymore. As fast as she could, she had to get him home. She had to. He helped her when she needed it the most. And if she wasn’t wrong, his current situation...
It’s my fault, I think.
If Bloom hadn’t logged in at that time, and Marcus didn’t need Elsa to help her out, would he have to come to pick those velvet roses? No. Most likely he would’ve long returned to the village after picking up his herbs.
Yeah. All this... was her fault. Bloom grit her teeth. Again! Because of her, somebody got hurt again! She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to fill her lungs to the brim before she opened them.
No time for such thoughts!
She looked at the sword glowing softly in her hand. Maybe because of its threat, no more animals or monsters came to attack her. But the sun had sunk already, and no guarantee the rest of the way would be safe too. Besides, the bloody smell from Marcus's body strengthened with each passing second. Who knew how long he could hold on? So she had to hurry before—
[The time limit for the quest ‘For Marcus’ has expired. The quest has failed.]
Bloom staggered, nearly falling to the ground.
“What?” she mumbled, not registering the faint sigh of the system assistant A.I. as she stared dumbly at the latest window.
And then her heart jumped.
Find Marcus Therusea and the reason for his disappearance: Succeeded.
Solve his trouble: Succeeded.
Bring him back alive: Failed.
All future quests relating to the non-playable character ‘Marcus Therusea’ are cancelled.
Attached Quest: ‘News of Demise’ is now activated.]
News of demise (Attached quest of: For Marcus)
Quest difficulty: F
Quest limit: 2 days
Marcus is dead. Return to Caramis and inform Greyvern of his fate.
Witness Marcus Therusea’s demise.
Inform Greyvern Therusea of his fate.
-100 Affinity with Greyvern.]
Bloom’s knees hit the ground. The exhaustion she had been warding off came back, attacking her body like a pack of hungry wolves. They gnawed away at her, ravenously devouring the last bit of her strength. On her back, Marcus’s lifeless body weighed like a ton of hot bricks trying to crush her heart.
She punched at the hard dirt of the road, kept punching it again and again until she lost all feeling in her fingers.
She clenched her teeth; her face pale and twisted in a violent snarl as she glared at the skies; then she opened her mouth and screamed her heart out.
“It’s hectic, as usual.” Eva Rhodes muttered, sipping the last bit of coffee from her mug. The holographic monitor hovering in front of her looked calm, unlike the main monitor in the middle of the square office room sending out all those pings.
Finitum was an unpredictable game. And with the influence of players, minor and major changes never stop in the traffic-heavy parts of Ardaea, the first continent of Finitum. Desirecraft Co. had an entire sector dedicated to monitoring and archiving those changes. And Eva, a member of the C team, was responsible for the southern part.
Compared to the central and western area, the southern area had next to zero traffic. So Eva had nothing to do other than just stare at the monitor for hours.
Once again, Eva tried to take a sip from the mug, but nothing came out. “It’s already empty...” she stared at the mug for a second. This is the third one. She rubbed her forehead and stood up.
“I need another one.”
She turned her head, glancing at the main monitor almost by reflex. “Hm? It isn’t there?” Her eyes narrowed. Was it one of the newly explored areas? Without expecting anything, she turned her attention to her own monitor and her brows shot up.
“It’s in my sector!”
M swiped a hand through the air, bringing another screen to life.
“Chief,” the man on the screen said, nodding.
“Mr Tezuka. Why did you call me?” M asked the head of management of Desirecraft Co.
“There’s a...” the man pinched his forehead, unsure how to break the news, “a situation,” he said at last.
“A situation?” M frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Character SC21, Codename: Marcus deactivated.”
“Ah, that.” M glanced at another monitor showing Bloom’s distraught appearance. “Yeah, I’ve been keeping an eye on the situation.”
“So you’re aware.” Tezuka rubbed his chin, looking somewhat surprised. “That’s a relief. So what do we do now? One of the major quest-lines deactivated with him.”
“But…” Tezuka frowned, hesitating for a moment. “I know you don’t like interference, but if we don’t do anything, all that content—”
“No need to worry about that. That quest-line isn’t so simple.” M smiled. “And who knows, something more interesting might come out of it.”
Greyvern paced back and forth before the village gate, rubbing his hand and glancing at the road ahead from time to time. An anxious frown etched the wrinkles of his forehead into dark ravines.
He couldn’t wait anymore. It had already been too long. For a while, a bad premonition had been growing inside him, refusing to let his heart calm down.
Suddenly, his jaws hardened. Enough dilly-dallying. He should begin searching for Marcus.
He turned towards the road and was just about to start his journey, but suddenly, his feet came to a halt.
A silhouette, dark against the greying eastern sky, popped into his view at the end of the road. The glow of the sword the figure held; he remembered it. It was his sword! He gave it to the Immortal girl after infusing one of his greatest skills into it. But it should’ve only activated when Marcus was nearby. Did she find him?
He tapped his feet, raising a cloud of dust on the road as he vanished.
Bloom’s heart leapt to her throat as a figure literally popped into existence beside her. She stumbled back, raising the sword before noticing who it was. Greyvern didn’t mind her action. His whole attention was on the figure tied to her back. His expression kept changing from anxious to grim as his eyes fell to Marcus’s wounds. Suddenly, his eyes widened.
Marcus wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t breathing!
Blood drained from his face. Staggering, he extended a shaky hand and touched Marcus’s face. His skin, it was cold as a stone. He looked at Bloom, an unspoken question clear in his eyes.
Bloom shook. What could she say now? No matter how hard she tried, her mind remained blank. Neither words of consolation nor excuses for her failure, she couldn’t think of anything. Grief, frustration, guilt, they intermingled within her heart, rising like a cloud of black, oily smoke that clogged her lungs.
“Sorry…” She clenched her teeth so hard her jaws hurt. “I… was too late!”
A slight breeze blew the leaves of the maple tree in front of Greyvern’s hut, sweeping over a heap of freshly unearthed dirt lying below it.
Greyvern kneeled in front of it, silent, just like the grave. His old eyes were vacant, but indescribable grief lurked in their depth. Slowly, a grim determination replaced it. He stood up and turned to look at Bloom.
“Please return my sword,” he said in a cold, detached voice.
Bloom looked at the weapon in her hand. It had lost all its glow, returning to its original rusty form. She extended the hilt towards the old man.
The sword seemed to come alive as soon as it returned to Greyvern’s hand. The glow returned, more powerful than before. Rust chipped off its body, revealing the cold, gleaming steel within. Greyvern’s haunched body straightened, and although his appearance remained the same, strength and confidence burst forth from within him.
He sheathed his sword and looked at Bloom. “Lead me to the bandit hideout.”
Bloom nodded as she took a look at the changed description hovering above Greyvern.
Imperial Knight of Therusen (Ex)