This is an official announcement and apology before the chapter: So the short story I promised... ain't happening right now. I thought it'd be a bit more than 500 words, but lo and behold! Now it's grown to nearly 2k. Won't be finished before 3k, that much's for sure. So yeah... no more getting overexcited over a shiny new idea for me before I actually finish the damn thing!
So short story status: Coming soon(I think).
Now, the chapter.
As Bloom pulled the string of her bow, the red targeting circle on the straw human figurine fifty yards away shrunk to two meters in diameter, but it felt... unnecessary.
By now, she could eyeball where her arrow would land pretty accurately.
Unlike the quest Kratos, Thena and Gandoff had to go through, the exam setup for the archer class was easier. She had to shoot down ten dummies, from a giant four tusked elephant to a small ball of fur and thorns her memory preset identified as a hedgehog. Her current target, human, fell eighth.
Only two more to go.
The fletching reached her cheek. She forced down the urge to blink, letting a low breath escape her half-opened lips, and released the string. Half a second later, the dummy’s head snapped back as half an arrow shaft poked out of its featureless face.
[Through repeated usage, your mastery of the skill Archery(Beginner) has improved to Archery(Intermediate)]
Bloom stared at the message box for a while before turning to glance at a lanky man in a dark blue tunic.
The level 45 combat instructor, Kith Aristone.
He’d been observing her, sitting on a bench on one side of the archery field, though when he stood, he was even taller than her. And from what she’d seen until now, that was rare.
Looks like his advice is useful after all.
“Good!” the man nodded, running his fingers through an impressive set of bushy brown moustache. “No more wild, bad habits. Now your form looks properly trained.”
Bloom dipped her head towards him and picked up another arrow. She aimed at the next ...dog? Wolf? Fox? She couldn’t tell. As she drew the string fully, her brows raised a little. The red target marker had shrunk by half.
So... intermediate archer does that.
She sighed. She liked archery. She did. Then why was it...
Shaking her head, she fired the arrow. It struck the dummy right above the left eye.
“Is something bothering you, girl?” Kith asked. “I can see some hesitation in your form.”
Bloom lowered her bow and looked at the dome-shaped ceiling of the barracks. Yeah, she was second-guessing herself. Choosing archery as her class... did she really want it?
She nocked the last arrow, studying the last and smallest dummy. The only hurdle between her and the archer class.
Two classes at the same time...
Was that possible? She should’ve asked Arun. She looked at Kith.
Bloom sighed. It should be general knowledge and asking about that...
Oh! Didn’t Greyvern have a gardener—
The momentary distraction made her hold on the string loose. Bloom jolted awake, but too late, the fletching had already left her fingers. She opened her mouth, watching the arrow wobble forward and take a nosedive halfway to her target.
[Failed to achieve the goal of the quest ‘Proof of an Archer’. The quest has failed.]
- Shoot 10 dummies(9/10): Failed]
Bloom ground her teeth as the arrow clattered onto the hardwood floor. She hadn’t even fully drawn the bow.
“That’s too bad. And you were doing a spectacular job until a while ago,” Kith said, shaking his head. He got up from the bench and walked up to her, looking more like a bamboo tree than a man. “Would you like to try again?”
For a while, Bloom frowned at the arrow lying listlessly on the ground, before shaking her head. She needed to think about this more.
“Good. You are distracted. That’s no good for an archer.” Kith took the practice bow and quiver from her hand. “Come back after calming your mind.”
“They are slightly off-balance, that bow and the arrows,” Bloom commented.
“And that’s how they are supposed to be,” Kith smiled. “Class exams for Advanced category would have even more imbalanced tools for you to work with. I’m impressed you actually noticed it. That’s what they call a natural-born archer.”
[Kith’s affinity increased by +5]
Bloom scratched her head as her cheek started warming up. More than her archery, the credit belonged to her sense of touch. After all, few things could escape its notice.
“Let me tell you a secret,” Kith moved in close to her ear and whispered. “Be sure to succeed on the first try when you take the advanced class exam. You really missed something this time.”
Bloom raised an eyebrow at the man. “Meaning?”
“Completing your class quest on the first try is rewarding!” Kith smiled at her. “A great chance to grow your aptitudes.”
“I see,” Bloom muttered. “Not like that helps me now.”
The man shrugged. “You already lack concentration, so why would I give you another thing to worry about?”
Bloom glared at the man from the corner of her eyes. She would’ve at least tried harder if she knew. Well, she couldn’t rewind time, anyway. She’d already failed. The thing she needed to focus on was why.
I need to sort myself out.
Bloom glanced at the statue of Morana one last time as she crossed the bridge and sighed. It felt bad, leaving her. She wanted to stay, but a few stars already occupied the darkening vastness of the skies. The streets of Weikiind also became less active. A lot less active than Caramis would be at this hour.
She gave up the archery class, but she needed strength. Needed... something.
Her feet stopped in the shadow of a house right after the bridge. There was something. The skills Greyvern had left her. Should she use them?
She bit her lips as what Greyvern had said passed through her mind.
Did she have the right to?
Bloom released a tired sigh and looked at the village gate ahead of her. Two braziers burned on both sides of the gate, casting a circle of light where a few people gathered. Some people dressed like village guards surrounding two guys on horsebacks.
Bloom frowned, studying the two riders. The hoods of their dark cloaks obscured their faces, but bits of armour peeked out, gleaming under the firelight. And with the shady vibes they gave off... whoever they were, she didn’t wanna meet them.
Besides, there was also this nagging feeling that she shouldn’t.
But who are they?
Bloom looked this way and that for any watchers before swiftly sinking into the shadows. Instead of her eye-catching green cape, her long voluminous black hair came useful here. She practically blended with the darkness. Sneaking from the shade of one house to another, she got pretty close to the gate without being noticed.
Close enough to catch their conversations.
“–sure she came here?” Something was familiar about the voice of the rider who spoke, but Bloom couldn’t place it.
“Yes, I am,” Eric, the guard she met earlier, nodded. “She headed for the barracks. Said she wanted to get a class.”
“So she is here!” The rider said. Nodding at the other rider beside him, he turned towards Eric. “Lead us to her.”
Erick frowned at the hint of command in the rider’s voice. “Why are you Caramis people looking for her?” he asked, putting a bite of his own in his voice. “Did she steal your geese or goats?”
“Caramis people?” Bloom’s eyebrows scrunched up. The ‘she’ they were talking about, was her, wasn't it? But how did they find her?
This can’t be good!
She sneaked forward, trying to see what names they had floating on their heads, but only one had a name. The other was invisible. Maybe because of something like her cape.
But one was all she needed.
“Geralt... Geralt...” She frowned, tapping her lips. Wasn’t that...
Yeah! The guy hounding Greyvern at the gates!
“It’s none of my business, nor yours. Our chief is the one looking for her.” Geralt replied to Eric. “And what does it matter to you? Are you trying to protect an immortal?”
“So what if I protected… wait!” Eric frowned, craning his neck to peer at the hood covered face of the other man. “What did you say? An immortal?”
So they were looking for her. Bloom inhaled deeply. She narrowed her eyes, studying the surroundings of the gate. Could she...
No. With the crowd around the gate, walking past them unnoticed would be impossible. Bloom frowned, pulling a few strands of her hair in front of her eyes. Especially with their length, they made sure people would remember her.
And with that length, she couldn’t just hide them. Not even with her cape.
She looked at the skies again. The abundance of stars overhead well and truly announced the arrival of Night. She should’ve been in the game for over five hours in real-time.
[You’d be in front of the village gate when you log back in.]
Oh, yeah! Arun did say once she needed to set up a camp to log in outdoors.
Let’s wait and see.
After some brief back and forth, Eric led the riders into the village. Soon they passed by her hiding place. Bloom went completely still. She stopped breathing, listening as the footsteps and hoofbeats went further and further, going towards the bridge.
They’re going to the barracks.
Once they find out she left, with those horses of theirs, how long would it take for them to chase her down? No. She couldn’t wait anymore. She gripped her fist.
They should be far enough now.
Bloom took another look at her surroundings. The gate was still open, luckily, and except for a few guards beside it, no one was close by.
She walked out of the shadows. She kept her head down, advancing towards the gate at a quick yet steady pace. She tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but her eyes couldn’t help darting towards the gate guards. Though they were too engaged in their chitchat to notice her.
“Hey! Isn’t that her?” A voice behind her called out, and her heart jolted up her throat. She gripped her fist. It took an immense effort to not stiffen up and keep walking normally. A bit more! Just a bit more and she’d be out of the village. She just had to get to the jungle.
The trees! They would help her hide.
“Close the gates! Close them immediately!” The sonorous shout of Geralt Andicar blasted the gate guards out of their banter. They looked at each other, and then at Bloom a few meters away. For a second, everything seemed to halt, then they sprang into action. The hinges creaked and squeaked as they pushed the two doors closer and closer. The giant slabs of metal studded wood were heavy, and it took time to push them close. Enough time for Bloom to make a dash for the gap and slip through.
But she didn’t.