Lying! They’re all liars!
Elsa ran through the forest. She ran recklessly, faster and faster through the trees that passed her by, getting denser and more clustered. Threads of spider silk entangled her messy brown hair, thorny brambles tore through her clothes and left bloody scratches on her delicate skin, but she didn’t care.
She gave it her all to escape! Escape from that place. Escape from the liars. Escape from the lie they had told her. Escape! Escape! Escape!
But where? She didn’t know! As far away as she possibly could go. Anywhere would be better than where she was!
She gritted her teeth as she ran; her face contorting with her determined effort to reject it all, to remove the memory of those... those... poisonous words, to push them out of her mind.
Because no matter how her heart told her otherwise, it simply couldn’t be the truth.
Markie is... he is...
A thick root sticking out of the grass caught Elsa’s feet. She stumbled, falling face-first into the ground. The force sent her rolling through the dirt and rocks before she could come to a stop. Immediately she tried to push herself off the ground, to keep running, but a flare of pain from her arm took her breath away.
“Ow!” She sat back and stared at the bloody scrape on her elbow. It stung. Blood dripped from the wound on her apron, leaving red splotches on the white cloth. She rubbed the back of her sleeve over her eyes, trying to wipe away her tears, but instead, she smeared dirt all over her face.
She wouldn’t cry. There was no need to. Marcus...
Nothing happened to him.
The rumbling roar sent a shiver down her spine, waking a primal fear that suppressed all other thoughts. She pushed herself up to her feet, big dark eyes alertly staring at the dense cluster of bushes ahead. It shook, just like her heart. Parting the leaves and branches, something enormous shuffled its way out. The black and red fur draped over its body, claws like long copper daggers, and four straight ears above its head... Elsa recognized it instantly.
A Copper Bear!
Copper bear famous for their absolute hate for those who intrude on their territory.
The beast watched her, its long snout twitching and sniffing at her. Its lips drew back from the fangs. The deep and low grumble reverberating in its throat raised the hair on the girl’s neck. A raw surge of fear washed over the cocktail of emotions stifling her heart.
But only for a moment.
When the emotions returned, they came back stronger, completely overpowering her fear. Her body heaved, a battle raging inside her.
Why did she end up here? What did she do to deserve this? Marcus...
Why did you leave me!
The hint of acceptance in that thought broke her heart. It whittled away the resistance inside her, bringing her to her knees. The bear growled at her again, warning her to stay away, but she had no strength left in her to stand up. Flame of anger sparkled in the beast’s tiny, black jewel-like eyes. It stood on its hind legs, towering over her fragile form.
Its open maw blew a musty gust of air, ruffling her clothes and hair, but Elsa just sat there staring emptily at the ground, her senses numb to everything but the crushing pain in her heart. The bear raised its paw. Its claws shone in the sunlight like polished copper blades about to slash down and shred the girl to ribbons.
A stream of red flame struck the beast's shoulder, erupting in an explosion that blew its enormous frame back several meters. With her proximity to the beast, the force of the blast got to Elsa too, throwing her back to the ground. An odd ringing filled her head as her lungs squeezed from a sudden lack of air.
Lying there in a daze, she sensed someone approach. Long, slender fingers enclosed on her upper arm and pulled her to her feet. A familiar touch, one she remembered dragging her through the street, bringing her to...
The touch of that girl! The one person Elsa never wanted to see again!
[Elsa’s affinity decreased by -10.]
Bloom sensed a weak resistance from Elsa. Too weak to matter. The girl was still disoriented and thank goodness for that. At least, regardless of her like or dislike, she wouldn’t start running anytime soon. Because right now, the angry roars of the animal behind her gave Bloom no room to worry about anything else. She let go of Elsa, putting the girl behind her and turned around.
Definitely stronger than me.
“Tch!” Bloom’s lips twisted. Could she take that down? Possibly, if she maintained her distance and fired a few more [Spark] charged arrows at it. But with Elsa tying her down, that won’t work.
Clenching her teeth, she set another arrow to her bow and took aim at the bear.
The creature took a step back, its beadlike eyes glued onto the tongue of fire crawling on the tip of the arrow, like a tiny red snake. With the smouldering fur on its scorched body a testament to its poisonous nature, it hesitated, restlessly pacing back and forth; though Bloom caught a spark of fury lurking behind the caution in its eyes. It wouldn’t just let them go after hurting it. Bloom knew. It just hadn’t attacked yet.
What’s it waiting for?
She narrowed her eyes, examining the bear’s behaviour. It moved from side to side, growling at her provocatively as if trying to keep all her attention on itself.
Is it... protecting something?
Bloom’s eyes shifted, taking a furtive glance around them. She almost missed the three tiny little bear heads peeking from between the leaves of a bush behind the creature.
So that’s why the thing is so aggressive...!
Bloom’s fingers involuntarily relaxed their pull on the bowstring,
but the stealthy movement of her eyes didn’t escape the bear’s attention. It roared, standing on its hind legs and spreading its paws wide.
It’s about to charge!
Bloom held up her bow, pointing at the creature’s face, but the beast remained unfazed. It dropped on all fours, getting ready to attack them.
Damn! If only I could...
Her eyes shifted towards the bush the bear cubs were in. The three little creatures had once again poked their head out.
An intense disgust rose within her heart. That she could even think of doing something like that… what was wrong with her?
But I’ve got no choice now.
She turned her bow away from the bear, firing a [Spark] charged arrow. A tree behind the bear cubs burst into a shower of red flame, too far to do them any real damage, but she couldn’t account for all the chips and splinters of wood.
[Damage Dealt: 2]
[Damage Dealt: 4]
[Damage Dealt: 1]
The [Damage Dealt] messages made Bloom’s stomach curdle. She had an impulse to throw away her bow and just log out, but she ignored it. She disregarded the maddening roar of the older beast as it gave up on her and ran towards the cubs, and pointed another arrow at the three little things as they tumbled out of their hiding place, grunting and whining in pain.
She didn’t release the arrow, but as much as it made her sick, her intent was clear. The intent to threaten a mother with her child.
And it worked. The beast stopped midway, not daring to move an inch. Its eyes radiated fear and worry as it looked from the arrow to the cubs.
“I don’t wanna fight!” she squeezed the words out through her teeth, staring at the bear’s eyes. “Just leave us alone. Go your way and we’ll do the same.”
Yeah! Talking to a wild animal and expecting it to listen. Genius!
Despite her self-ridicule, the bear’s hesitation lasted only a moment. It sent a last disgruntled howl her way and cautiously walked towards its cubs. It nuzzled them forward with its snout, pushing them away from Bloom’s eyes into the dark green bushes. Then, with a last glance at the girl that attacked its cubs, it too leapt inside.
A heavy stone lifted off Bloom’s chest, but she didn’t relax her senses, neither did she lower her weapon. Who knew if that beast was still lurking somewhere, waiting for a chance. If it came now, with the cubs gone, she had nothing to...
NO! A raw revulsion bubbled up from her depths, recoiling from that thought.
Never! I swear I’m never gonna do that again!
A rustle came from behind her. Bloom whipped her head around towards where Elsa stood.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Bloom bounded forward. Her fingers clamped onto the other girl’s wrist like a vice. Elsa’s level was a lot lower than her, but her speed had left Bloom in the dust.
This time, she won’t allow it.
“Let go of me! Let me go!” Elsa’s screams never stopped as Bloom dragged her through the forest, heading in the opposite direction of the bear. She struggled hard, shaking her hand, clawing at Blooms fingers, doing everything she could to free herself, but nothing worked.
“Enough!” Bloom shouted, jerking the girl around to face her once she was sure of their safety. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself as well as Elsa. “Stop behaving like this! You can’t just run—”
“No!” Elsa screamed back at her. “Let me go, you liar! Leave me alone!”
A hint of irritation flared inside Bloom, adding oil to her heart already burning with guilt. What was with that attitude? If only Elsa hadn’t run, she wouldn’t have to threaten the bear with...
Her guilt turned into anger, erupting like Mount Vesuvius. She slammed Elsa back against a tree trunk and pressed her there. The girl’s affinity had fallen so low that her already yellow name had taken on a reddish tint, bordering on hostility, but Bloom could care less. Her brown eyes bore into Elsa’s black ones as she breathed down on the girl.
“Go on! Try to run again! I swear I’ll break your legs this time.”
A sense of regret swept over Bloom as soon as she said the words. Looking at Elsa’s big dark eyes wet with tears stubbornly glaring at her, she bit her lips hard. She wasn’t the one who was hurting the most here. And blaming the one who was hurting for a choice she made herself...
What a jerk!
“Sorry!” she whispered, loosening her grip over Elsa, who seemed so small, so vulnerable. “I’m... so sorry.”
“Shut up!” Elsa mumbled, trying to push her away, putting up one last wall of resistance. “Get away from me, liar! I don’t want to see you!”
“I’m not...” Bloom took a deep breath, trying to sound as convincing as she could. “I’m not lying. I was with Marcus when...”
“Shut up! Shut up!” Elsa shook her head like a rattle drum. “Don’t you dare say his name! It’s your fault he... he...” She couldn’t complete the words before tears burst out of her eyes. She slumped down, leaning on the tree as sobs wracked through her body. Bloom instinctively reached out to touch her head, hesitating, in the end, she let her hand fall back to the side with a sigh.
Yeah. It was her fault. It had always been. Even as far as three years ago, she’d been the only one to blame. But...
“Oh! You caught up to her! Thank Hagrath!” The voice of Thoringar drew her attention behind her. The blacksmith walked towards her with both her goblins following behind.
Bloom frowned. Thoringar had been nowhere close to them, as far as Bloom could tell. So how did she suddenly appear here? Did she pop out of thin air or something?
Her eyes landed on the two goblins behind Thoringar. They were also staring at her, tilting their head at a ninety-degree angle. Their faces displayed an exaggerated amount of surprise.
“The girl!” Glibwort whispered, turning to the other goblin.
Menron nodded his head secretively. “Same, but not same!”
“Shut it!” Thoringar snapped at them. She glanced at Elsa, who still sat below the tree, burying her face in her knees. Her shoulders still shook from time to time as she sobbed.
The blacksmith sighed. There would be no easy fix for this except for time. After all, regardless of the scars it leaves, time does heal all wounds. She could only keep an eye on the girl so she wouldn’t do anything foolish like she did today.
But for now, she needed to take care of someone else.
“Put her to sleep and take her home,” she said, turning to the goblins. “Don’t let her wake up until I come back.”
The two green midgets waddled forward, standing on both sides of Elsa, and put their hands on her shoulders. With a flash of light, Elsa seemed to lose all her strength and slumped forward, but before she fell, with another flash, the three of them Vanished.
Bloom gawked at the scene with wide eyes. She turned to Thoringar. Although she was sure the blacksmith wouldn’t hurt Elsa, but her heart couldn’t remain calm. “Where did she...?”
“You don’t need to worry about her anymore,” Thoringar said, sensing Bloom’s concern. “I will take care of her.”
Bloom hesitated a bit before eventually nodding. Thoringar was right. She really had no idea how to handle the situation anymore.
“What... should I do now?” She asked Thoringar, feeling somewhat lost.
The blacksmith sighed. “You have to get out of Caramis as soon as possible.”
“You met one of the other immortals today, didn’t you?”
“That…” Bloom nodded. “Yeah, I think. Maybe at the inn. What about it?”
“Hmm…” Thoringar stared at Bloom, pacing back and forth in her mind. Should she tell her about the encounter last night? That girl gave her a warning. Something about a taboo...
She rubbed her arms to ward off a sudden chill. One shouldn’t provoke taboos easily. She’d sensed no harm from that girl. Besides, with the current situation as it was, mentioning her would only make it more confusing. She had to leave her out.
Well, those midgets could replace her.
“So those two are in cahoots with Vogan?” Bloom muttered after Thoringar finished. With all that had happened, she couldn’t help feeling angry.
“Vogan’s men have already begun their search for you,” Thoringar said. “Though they are being discreet, keeping it hidden from the villagers, I noticed some signs.”
“But why do they suspect…” Bloom paused, her eyebrows rising. She’d heard the guy calling out to her when they left the inn. And he sounded urgent too.
Did he see my level?
While that shouldn’t have been a problem, but her speed should be... anything but normal.
“So what do I do?” she asked Thoringar.
Thoringar gazed at the sky for a moment, thinking. “Remember the task I gave you?”
“Um... the Nettlehawk one?”
“Yes. What you lack most now is strength. Go complete that task and it should give you the chance to get stronger. Only after that, you can return to Caramis.” She spread her hand and suddenly two items popped out.
“This one is a map of the area,” she said, holding up a roll of parchment. “If you need something, don’t come to Caramis. Go to one of the other villages nearby. As for this,” She looked at her other hand where a piece of folded cloth laid. “I made this cape according to the one you wear. It can provide you with some protection and also help you hide your identity. Take them with you.”
[The quest ‘Shattered Love’ has been successfully completed]
- Find Elsa Ruze and keep her safe: Succeeded.
- Bring her to Thoringar: Succeeded.
- Wait for Thoringar’s instruction: Succeeded.
+20 affinity with Thoringar Hearthfallow.
+50 affinity with Elsa Ruze]
[Receive the quest rewards from Thoringar.]
Bloom pursed her lips, staring at the string of messages. Although by right, they were her rewards, it still didn’t feel right somehow.
“What’s their price?” she asked with a conflicted expression.
“Don’t worry about it.” Thoringar waved her hand. “They are what you deserve.”
“What a bothersome little girl.” Thoringar frowned. “Listen. Even if I told you the price, you won’t be able to afford it as you are,” she said, pointing towards the forest. “Now get out of here.”
Bloom frowned. Was there no way she…
Oh, yeah, there’s that!
Her eyes lit up. Opening her inventory window, she dumped all the loot she got when killing the bandits until they piled up in a small hill. She also took out the thousand and seven gold she had and looked at the blacksmith. “Will this be enough?”
Thoringar forgot to close her mouth.