The muscles of Bloom’s legs worked extra hard, not to mention her heart. It joined the race, pumping streams of adrenaline-fuelled blood to her whole virtual body, and pushed her to a reckless sprint. The rumbling behind her grew louder by the second, but she didn’t care to look back. Looking back would be a waste of time. And wasting time right now meant one thing.
Wind, the thick forest of grass that sometimes reached over her head, all of them swept by her, whipping her face in a united attempt to not let her draw breath. She struggled, pushing and pulling as much air as she could through her gritted teeth. Her restless irises moved up for a fleeting glance. The green stamina bar above her head reduced constantly, and with the tiny amount she had left, would she even reach the forest?
Damn! So persistent!
“Ghh!” The sound came through her throat like a growl rankled with frustration. She gave up on reaching the tree-line, eyes darting around, looking for another possible goal.
Yes! She found it, something reachable, though barely; it was still close enough to the forest.
Gotta make it! Fast!
Her hairs stood on ends. Their breaths! She could almost feel it on her back. The avalanching pressure squeezed against her lungs. Her eyes widened, about to burst. She drew on the last shreds of her strength and sprang forward, diving towards her goal, the tree on the outermost edge of the forest.
No time for a normal climb. She jumped, putting her foot against the rough bark, and ran up the trunk with the momentum of her sprint. Her fingers had just closed around the lowest branch when the tree shook from the first crash, nearly making her let go.
She clenched her fingers tighter, her heart leaping, trying to break free from the cage of her ribs. Her weight, all those crashes one after another, the branch started bending and swinging. She folded her legs, trying to keep them out of the reach of those deadly, sharp antlers, but that was hardly a relief. One after another, the angry hoard of Two-headed Dicroceruses ran in, ramming their shoulders and sides against the tree.
“Give it a rest!” she screamed. What the hell! She’d just shot one arrow as a test. Hadn’t even killed any of them, not that she could, as a level 25 against level 30, but only one of them got slightly injured. Was there a need for such overreaction?
A prey a few odd lions could chase down, now chased her down by the droves. How ironic!
No way I deserve this! She grumbled internally, putting strength in her arms to pull herself up onto the shaking branch. How stupid! Just because she’d taken on the bandits with the help of Greyvern...
She’d taken this “measly herd of fifty deer” too lightly.
[Yeah well, that was a ballsy move, just lacking in the brain department.]
A fraction of her stamina had barely recovered when a huge tremor ten times intense than before ran up the tree. The culprit? A deer more than a head bigger than its friends.
“Level 33.” Bloom clenched her teeth. So damn persistent. At least it wasn’t that three-headed boss. Or being on a tree wouldn’t matter. When a hail of pebble bullets assaulted her, that’d be a quick way down into a sea of antlers and hoofs.
And who knew if these guys eat meat or not. She'd read normal ones sometimes munch on birds.
“Uh?” Bloom frowned. That sound, where did she hear it before? She tore her eyes away from the deers and turned to face the source. That level 33 deer at the base of the tree. Its muscles bulged like a bull on steroids as it put its back into pushing against the trunk. And the tree...
A chill went up through her spine. Was it... bending?
Yup! Even the roots were coming out of the bloody ground. Bloom clamped her teeth. Giving the sea of antlers below one last glance, she got her hands around the trunk of the tree and slowly stood up. Trying to balance herself on the branch of a shaking tree...
By each second, she came this close to falling. One thing was for sure, if she didn’t wanna get deer-lynched to death, this place was the last one where she should be.
She closed her eyes for a moment, letting the pitch-black embrace her again. It was strange. For the first time, she didn’t feel as much aversion to the darkness as before. The familiarity helped her clear her brain instead, and when she opened them a moment later, they were more focused. Ignoring all the shaking, the grunting and that weird “kreeting” of the angry deer herd, she turned her gaze to the forest nearby, to the tree closest to this one.
If I don’t make it...
Death meant returning to Caramis, and from what Thoringar said...
Let’s make it!
More than half of the roots tore themselves off the ground. Bloom crouched low, and as the thick trunk of the tree took a sudden, downward dive, she leapt. For an instant, weightlessness held her captive. She reached out, fingers latching onto the branch of her target, snatching her body from the air with a bone-rattling jerk. Bloom thrust out her other hand and closed it around the branch for extra support.
Scary! If not for the last push the falling tree gave her, she’d have missed it by a long inch. But what was this excited feeling bubbling up her stomach?
Scary but fun!
She calmed her breathing. Having fun could wait, but those two-headed critters won’t. They were still too close, some even below her feet. Happily trampling all over the falling tree, they hadn’t noticed her absence yet, and with a bit of luck, they won’t. Ever.
But with how great her luck was...
Bloom pulled herself up the branch and jumped again, landing on the next tree on her way into the woods. From tree to tree, branch to branch, she flitted around like an awkward grasshopper. A tall one, with a trail of long black hair waving through the air behind her. An exhilarating ride. The experience of surviving all those uphill battles until now wasn’t entirely worthless. If anything, they definitely helped her in the mobility department.
“Oh, shi—” startled by the cheerful ring, the tip of Bloom’s foot slipped off the next branch. Her body plummeted, fear freezing her heart. One of her flailing hands landed back on it. She clutched on immediately, swung forward by the momentum, it propelled her into the air. She somersaulted once, correcting her body almost instinctually as her feet managed to land back on the same tree. Releasing a breath of relief, she looked at the culprit behind the sudden pinging.
[You have gained the skill: Acrobatics(Beginner)]
For a few seconds, she gawked at that innocent-looking red and black window silently, then she gnashed her teeth.
“Thanks! I hate it!”
Fuming inside, she turned to look back at the herd of deer. Maybe realising they had missed her, they had begun walking back towards the grasslands again. Narrowing her eyes, she kept the image firmly in her mind. This humiliation. She won’t forget it.
“I’ll be back.”
<So you finally decided to call.> Kratos sent back to Bloom. He turned his head, taking a glance at their team bustling about. Other than Rose and Rahul, seven extra people, helping out in the preparation before boarding the ship. Fengshen, Vespa, Yume, and their team of six, as well as Red, who was VERY eager to see Chitra’s gameplay for some reason. She had been ever since she learned Chitra was blind. As soon as the three of them revealed they were travelling to Caramis, interested people started popping up everywhere.
Well, at least it removed the hassle of info gathering and other miscellaneous stuff from the to-do list of the three. Slave driving your “friends” to do things for you was one of the finer aspects of having them.
<What took you so long? I’ve been waiting for a while.> he sent again.
<Yeah, it kinda… slipped off my mind?>
“Heh!” Kratos smiled. <Figured.>
<So where are you guys now?>
<Grandark port.> He looked at the masts and sails of the ships and fishing boats floating over clear, blue water. The cawing seabirds, sailors hollering, moving things back and forth between ships and warehouses on the far side of the port, players like themselves doing their own things around the wooden piers...
The port was a fantastic place full of quality quests, and also the most popular way to travel throughout the continent, including the southern part.
<We’re getting ready for our ship. It’ll be here in an hour.>
<So you’re really coming, huh!>
<Are you kidding? Of course, we are! We can’t leave you alone in Caramis of all places.>
Bloom pinched her temples. She was ok, really!
Should I tell them my level?
“Um-hm!” She shook her head. It’d be too embarrassing. Besides, they seemed so eager to travel.
<What’s the matter, Chi? Why are you silent?> Kratos’s message took her mind off those thoughts.
<Nothing. Just thinking about something. But why aren’t you guys travelling on land?>
<Land?> Kratos shook his head. <That’s not gonna happen. Even NPCs below level hundred don’t dare to cross the Cursed Land, not to mention us.>
<Yeah, it’s a big fat piece of land sitting right in the middle of the continent. All the mobs there range from level hundred and up. No player’s reached that yet.> He remembered something. <Oh yeah! It’s also kinda close to Caramis. A few miles to the north, I think. I’m not sure. I heard Vista guild went south after crossing it. They even got an achievement for being the first. They kinda paid a lot for that, though.>
<Won’t the sea be dangerous too?>
<Well, it is, but other than some pirates and stuff, the route we’re taking should be a lot safer> Kratos smiled.<Well, don’t think about unnecessary stuff. Just stay put where you are. We’ll be there before you know it. We can begin the game for real then.>
<Yeah.> Bloom shrugged. She’d already begun. Though for her at least it didn’t feel like a game anymore.
<Where are you, by the way?>
<In the woods outside the village.>
<WHAT!> Kratos stumbled. Catching himself, he sent a furious flurry of words. <What do you mean outside? Why aren’t you in the village? Hurry and get back inside!>
<Hey! Calm down! It’s not that dangerous.>
<Listen, Chi, the mobs outside are level 10! And you—>
<Arun…> Bloom sighed. <If you’re gonna continue this, I’ll cut the call. I’ve got no interest in your lecture. Just wanted to know some things.>
Kratos released a long, helpless sigh. <Okay, shoot.>
<Well, you guys got your classes at level ten, right?>
<What does it do? I mean, what’s the use of having a class?>
<Why do you wanna know?>
Bloom frowned. <Curious.>
“Hmm…” Kratos tapped his chin. <For one, it gives you access to some class-specific skills. Besides, it makes levelling up a lot smoother. There are tons of other benefits, but you don’t have to worry about that for now. When we get there, we’ll make you ready for the best class selection experience you could have.>
<I see.> Bloom nodded. <What classes you guys have again?>
<Rahul is a Mage. He’s got many kinds of spells, fire, lightning, even some healing ones. So he’s basically the attack and recovery force of our team.>
<So a wizard, huh…> She smiled. <Figures.>
<Well, technically, the wizard class is more advanced, but you could say that.> Kratos looked towards Gandoff, exchanging some words with Yume. He’d been obsessed with the healing spell book he got from her. <Next is Rose. She’s a Guardian. Good at using a shield and soaking up a lot of damage. The tank of the team.>
<You mean like protecting?> Bloom frowned. <That’s... odd! Thought she’d pick a more… I don’t know… aggressive role. Did you put her up for that?>
<What? No! Why would I do that! She chose it herself!>
<Right… And you?>
<I’m not really anything special. Just a trapper.>
<Yeah. I basically lay and detect traps. Though I can catch some big mobs if I prepare well.> Kratos shrugged. <Got a downside, though. My attack and defence, both are kinda shit.>
<Aaah...! I see!> Bloom raised an eyebrow. No wonder Rose chose a bodyguard role. She smiled, shaking her head. Well, she wasn’t gonna meddle.
But traps, huh!
Bloom drew her eyes away from the chat window and glanced at the sprawling villagescape peeking out of the woods.
The same circular buildings, same colourfully dressed pedestrians busying about, same mischievous kids running on the streets, getting in the way of adults, running away after getting scolded, but in some fundamental sense, Weikiind differed from Caramis.
For one, it had a distinctly more rural feel to it, maybe due to the lack of a Circle of Descent. The villager’s glance carried curiosity, and though there was some wariness, it didn’t feel as unwelcome as Caramis.
The cape works.
Bloom pinched the hem of a new leaf-green piece of clothing hanging from her collar to her shoulder. It completely hid her name and levels, stopping her from standing out like a sore thumb.
“Haven’t seen you around these parts before,” A voice stopped her. “Where do you come from, lass, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Ca…” Bloom caught herself midway as she studied the middle-aged man standing by the village gate. A full head shorter than her, the man was just as wide. He sported a red and grey beard that hung to the chest of his sturdy brown leather vest, carrying a spear in one hand and a basket full of vegetables in the other. He looked like the kind uncle sort.
“From the west,” Bloom replied. A guard at least should be knowledgeable about the people of a neighbouring village. Better to take the safer bet.
Well, technically Caramis was to the west of Weikiind, so it wasn’t exactly a lie.
“West, huh,” Eric frowned. “Heard there’s been a lot of immortals dropping there each day.”
Bloom’s heart skipped a bit. She shrugged. “Yeah, there’s been a few.”
Eric sighed, shaking his head. “Morana keep us. Bad days are coming. Anyway, what brings you here, Lass?” he asked, looking up at her.
“Well, I’m heading further south. Didn’t have the chance to get my class on the road.”
“So you came for a class?” The man glanced at the bow slinging from her back. It didn’t look like a beginner's weapon. “The barracks here are quite basic, so we can’t really help you advance here, though.”
“Not even an archer class?” Bloom said, frowning. Now, that’s a bummer.
“No, of course, we have archer facilities. It’s a basic class.”
“Oh!” Bloom’s lips twitched a bit. Yeah, asking about basic things. Not suspicious at all. “Where can I…” She trailed off, keeping her alert eyes on the man.
“Head to the village square. It’s over that way, just after you cross the bridge.” Eric pointed at the bamboo bridge arcing over a small creek bubbling through the village. “It’s the largest building. You can’t miss it.”
Bloom let out a relieved breath. Either the man was an excellent actor, or he really hadn’t noticed her slip up. The latter, preferably.
“Thank you.” she dipped her head at him and headed for the bridge.
[You are near the statue of goddess Morana]
[Status recovery increased by 20% in the area of effect]
[As the first player to visit the statue of goddess Morana in Weikiind, you have received a minor blessing of the goddess]
[All negative status effect nullified]
“What’s that about?” Bloom muttered, raising her brows.
[Luck. That’s what it’s about.]
Bloom Rubbed her neck, looking up at the white stone statue of a beautiful woman. She stood on a pedestal of clouds, with her long flowing dress, a circlet of small roses on her head and a lute in her hands. An ethereal, sort of uplifting mood lingered around her, leaving Bloom with a feeling of relief and peace.
She felt, in one word, divine.
Behind the statue stood a huge, dome-shaped building that, like Eric said, was impossible to miss.
The Weikiind Barracks.
A few shops lay scattered around the building. Weapons, armours, accessories, and other things; though they lost quite a bit in quantity to Caramis. Bloom’s eyes stopped at the shelf of a particular shop, on a box with Ropes, chains and various other assorted devices, just like the one she’d seen in Caramis. A basic trap set.
Now she had a chance to try out the idea she got from Arun.
Some announcement(since many people don't read the author's note, including me): It may be tomorrow, or the day after that, I'm planning on adding a chapter that won't have much, if any relation with Viewpoint. Basically, it's a short story idea I came up with and planned to add it today as an extra chapter, but it's been somewhat of a busy day for me and I didn't have the time. So would you like to see it on not, write in the comments. It won't be a regular occurrence though, only a one time deal...
Ah, what the heck, I'll put up a poll too, I guess...