Standing atop a wooden watchtower, a young man in a leather jerkin eyed the morning sun and stifled a yawn. His shift should have ended an hour ago, but his replacement was late. “Is he still sleep—”
The arrow struck his throat like a jackhammer, strangling his voice to a single wordless croak. His whole body spasmed as a scorching current boiled through his blood, burned his muscles. He stumbled back, a hideous grimace twisting his face. The torture almost drove him insane, but he gritted his teeth, persevering.
He had to get to the gong, sound the alarm!
Wanting to lean on something to gain his balance, he instinctively reached out, but the open watchtower had no support like that. His hand went through the air, momentum pulling him forward to trip on the waist-high protective wooden fence and plunge towards the ground. His eyes grew wide as he grasped around desperately, but he still couldn’t stop the jagged rocks below from rushing towards him.
The impact crunched through his bone, and a flare of pure agony took his consciousness away.
[Damage Dealt: 85]
[Passive skill: Burn(beginner) triggered. The target will lose 1 HP/second]
[You have defeated a Bandit Scout]
[Acquired Old leather Armor]
[Acquired Gold Coin(s) X20]
Hidden behind the treeline, Bloom lowered the Silver Elm Bow, gawking at the string of messages with eyes wide open.
A huge cavern covering half of the curved face of a tall cliff, along with small and large cabins, huts and other wooden structures; all spread in the valley below, behind a sturdy palisade and the watchtower standing guard at one end of the cliff. All of it covered enough space for a small village. And with the huge, empty slope leading to it from the forest, the main bandit hideout didn’t look a good place to sneak in during the daytime.
That’s why all Bloom wanted was to have the fellow raise an alarm or something and make them come out. But he just went and died on his own. Was she lucky or what?
And all this luck from using the weapon of a dead guy.
Putting aside what she automatically got from killing the tiger, even now she couldn’t believe she looted corpses. That damn A.I. assistant thing. She’d only followed its suggestion and muttered [Autoloot] after picking up Marcus in the bandit camp. She didn’t know what was gonna happen next.
That had been disgusting!
But at least there was a silver lining. She now had a weapon she could use, or several, if she decided to break this one too. And this one had 5 more damages than the one she had, along with a 5% additional chance of critical damage. Also, she could only find the hideout due to a map she got from the looting.
Bloom turned her head and glanced at Greyvern standing beside her, looking at the faraway hideout with cold, emotionless eyes. She could make out no trace of anger, sorrow or any emotion through her inexperienced eyes. Even without them, the feeling he gave off was…
“Whew!” Letting out a breath, Bloom reached for the quiver for a second try, but Greyvern suddenly stepped forward, making his way toward the hideout.
“Wait!” She ran after him, frowning. Since he’d said nothing after she told him her plan, she thought he agreed. What was he doing now, walking out in plain view like that? He couldn’t be planning to waltz in with his guns blazing, could he? No matter how much he wanted to avenge Marcus, that would be stupid.
Even from a distance, with the number of sunlight glinting off their helmets and weapons, there should be at least 50 people atop that wall.
Greyvern turned around to face her. Looking at her anxious state, he sighed and said, “You’ve done enough, leading me here. You should leave now. What comes next doesn’t concern you.”
[The quest ‘Way of Revenge’ has ended. Greyvern has separated from your party]
[You have Levelled up]
“Doesn’t concern me?” Bloom’s body stiffened as she mouthed the words. All the emotions she’d felt since bringing Marcus home, and the hollow feeling when she’d watched Greyvern dig the grave in silence, they all flashed vividly through her mind.
“Have I ever told you that Marcus helped me?” she asked.
“Yes.” Greyvern nodded. “Yes, you did.”
“Maybe you don’t get it, but for me, it wasn’t just help. He’d saved me. But I,” she drew a deep breath, “failed him!” Bloom raised her eyes, peering straight into Greyvern’s grey eyes.
“So I think it concerns me very much.”
“You have no need to feel guilty. With your strength, no one else could have done what you did for him. You don’t have to take any more risks.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Bloom said. At least her death wouldn’t matter much here.
Greyvern sighed. “From what I can tell, there must be more than a hundred enemies there. I might not be able to protect you if you go with me; instead, you’d end up becoming a burden.”
Hundreds? Bloom gulped. She clenched her teeth and said, “Y- you don’t have to protect me. I can take care of myself.”
For a moment, Greyvern stared at her determined expression. He knew, even if immortals didn’t die permanently, the penalty they suffer from was nothing to sneeze at. He sighed.
If I don’t take her, she won’t be able to rid herself of that guilt of her’s, would she?
“Are you certain?” he asked one last time.
“Yes! No matter what you say, I’m coming with you.”
“Very well, follow me then.” Greyvern turned around.
“Are you just gonna go like this? From the front?”
“Yes,” Greyvern didn’t turn back for the answer. “So you can still back out.”
“No, I won’t,” Bloom said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
Let’s just be reckless for once.
“Only their team hasn’t come back?” A burly bandit in tough leather armour asked the man standing beside him on the rampart.
“Yeah.” His companion nodded, his bored eyes scanning the tree line beyond the fifty-meter wide slope ahead of the palisade. Except for the huge Saint-oak tree standing alone in the middle, the view was bald enough to be boring.
“What’s keeping them? We have a raid tomorrow.” The armoured bandit rubbed his scraggly beard with a thoughtful look. “Did they get caught?”
“Well, that’s something for the higher-ups to worry about.”
“Who goes there? Halt!” The other man’s sudden shout drew the burly bandit’s eyes towards the road outside. Two people, an old man and a tall girl with ridiculous hair, were approaching the camp. He leaned his head forward.
“Are they messengers from the village?” he speculated.
“They should be,” his companion said.
“They are already this close. Is the sentry sleeping or something?” The bandit turned to look at the empty watchtower on the eastern side of the clifftop. “Huh? Where did he go?”
“What? She’s taking out her bow!”
His companion’s alarmed voice brought his search to an abrupt end.
A sharp sound cut through the air. His head snapped around, just in time to see an arrow sinking into the shoulder of his companion.
His heart dropped to the pit of his stomach, and he ducked behind the wooden logs.
His cry triggered the first alarm. The shouts of bandits and the sound of drawing weapons followed soon, mixing into a clamorous uproar. Men drew their bows and nocked them. Arrows buzzed through the air like angry hornets, ready to turn the approaching two into pincushions, and the old man beside the girl pulled out his sword.
His wrist flickered, and the sword vanished, leaving a three-meter wide net of white light that turned all the arrows into ash the moment they touched it.
Hidden behind the light net, the girl fired another arrow as if determined to finish what she started. The armoured bandit thrust his hand out, his fingers tightening around the collar of his injured companion and yanking him behind the cover.
“He’s strong! Just arrows aren’t gonna make it,” he said.
“Should we call—”
“No! Our heads might roll if we interrupt their meeting. Besides, they are just two people. We can overwhelm him if we close in.” He drew his sword and looked at the bandits preparing another volley.
His roar worked like magic, waking a primal lust of blood within the bandits. They drew weapons and shouted, jumping or sliding down the ladder and charging towards the two assailants like hungry wolves.
The girl among the two looked restless at their approach as she should. The bandits could sense her fear. But the old man remained unfazed by the pressure. He only lifted his sword and sliced at the bandits.
And then a light more brilliant than the sun covered their senses.
[You have levelled up]
[You have levelled up]
[You have levelled up]
Bloom gulped, falling in a daze as she stared at the utter destruction in front of her. It just took one slice. One slice and so many bandits... evaporated, to put it nicely. The skill, it looked like the same one that killed the sleeping tiger, just tens of times more powerful. Not only men, it even cut through the palisade and some surrounding buildings! And... and…
And why the heck did she level up five times? She did squat except for the arrow. Even that because Greyvern told her to shut them up. And, by the way the rest of the bandits were acting now, shouting and screaming and charging at them, she failed spectacularly.
[Well, you did accept the party notification. It’s a free ride, enjoy it.]
Uh, yeah, that party thing!
Greyvern calmly examined his work, his eyes gliding over the wooden houses and fortifications the bandits were spilling out from. “You possess the fire element, don’t you?” he asked. “Why aren’t you using it? Fire would be useful against these structures.”
“Fire element?” Bloom tilted her head. Was he talking about the ‘Burn’ skill? “I do use it, but it’s a passive skill or something. I can’t control it.”
“Passive? No, you should have an active skill too.”
Bloom scratched her head. Do I, though?
[Yeah, you do. Really, how can you be so clueless? You should be about the only player in the entire game who doesn’t bother checking her stats.]
Bloom pursed her lips. The rudeness scale’s going up.
“Be careful!” Greyvern’s warning surprised her, and the alarm in her mind followed soon. Dozens of arrows whistled through the air, arcing down just as her eyes shot up to face them. Five arrows targeted her alone.
Shit! She was distracted!
Greyvern was too far away to do anything. She dived and rolled away. All the arrows struck the ground, barely missing her. They either sank in or glanced off the hard rock. All except for the last one. It headed straight for her calf, the broad-bladed head cutting right into her flesh.
[Damage Received: 200]
“Ugh!” Bloom grunted as a biting pain shot through her leg. That was almost 20% of her health. All five could’ve killed her!
But no time to think. More and more arrows were whizzing towards her. Bloom whipped her head around, but even the nearest trees were too far away for her to reach in time. Her teeth ground audibly as she turned towards the arrows.
Is this it?
“I told you I can’t take care of you here.” A net of light spread in front of Bloom, scattering the arrows once again. Relieved, she turned and looked at Greyvern’s disgruntled face.
“I…” Bloom opened and closed her mouth for a moment, eventually lowering her head with a defeated sigh.
And she’d even bragged he didn’t need to protect her.
“Enough! Don’t get distracted anymore. Follow me closely.”
Greyvern turned around, making his way deeper into the hideout. And as she fell in behind him, Bloom’s fingernails couldn’t help digging into her palm.