James Blake stares at the magical circle where the young woman, Liv, had just vanished for a second longer before turning and leaving the room, closing the door behind him softly. He sighs, and leans against the door, trying to get his thoughts in order. At the end of the hall, guild members walk pass. Most ignore him, but a few eyes him curiously.
Blake runs a hand through his hair, grimacing when his short fingers tangle into the thick strands, mussing it up. He takes one step away from the door and straightens to his full height.
No matter how unexpected and jarring the previous hours of his life were, he still had a job to do.
The Empire had a new emperor, which meant that old promises and boundaries will be tested and questioned, and the coming months in the Empire will be turbulent as the country adjusted to its new ruler. He would be needed here more than ever and any information he managed to get back to his home could only be extremely valuable.
Blake knew the facts.
So, why hadn’t he moved away from the door? Why did his legs refuse to budge?
That girl...will she really be alright alone?
Blake looks down at his worn shoes with a frown. He couldn’t shake the sinking feeling in his stomach. It twisted up in a way he never felt before.
It was her eyes...
The way they had looked at him right before she had been transported. Even though she had been smiling, her eyes were like a black sea in the midst of a raging storm. At once, it revealed everything and nothing at all about her, and Blake had found himself reaching out to her without thinking.
He glowers at the far wall and shakes his head, trying to dispel the image of her eyes.
It didn’t matter anymore. She was gone and he had a mission to get back to. As if hearing his thoughts, someone stops and turns in his direction at the end of the hall.
“Blake! There you are!” A voice calls, and he looks up to see the Guild master stalking towards him with a scowl. He quickly smooths out his expression into something neutral and vaguely friendly. She stops just before him and puts her hand on her wide hips.
“What the hell are you doing back here? We have guests coming in with no receptionist to attend to them!” She says in annoyance. She pointedly doesn’t glance at the door behind him. After all, there wasn’t supposed to be anything there. It was hidden from all but them and two others.
Blake forces a laugh and rubs the back of his head sheepishly, “Sorry boss. I just needed to use the restroom. I’ll be right down.”
The guild master frown, “Is everything alright? You look a bit pale.”
“I’m fine. I was just feeling a little under the weather,” Blake says, grin still firmly in place.
The guild master orange eyes squint at him, “You sure? You look as if something is troubling you. I can get Frank to cover for you until Jenny gets in early so you can retire. I know the night shift can be a bit draining.”
“I’m alright but thanks for the concern, boss!” …is what he should have said.
Instead, Blake says, “Yeah, actually I haven’t been feeling well for some days now...” He says, touching his head and dropping his smile.
The guild master looks at him in concern, “Well, that won’t do at all. Honestly, Blake, how many times have I told you to rest when you are feeling under the weather? You boys just don’t know when to quit.” She says, shaking her head.
“Haha, sorry boss.”
She just huffs, “Alright, back to your room. I will have Linda bring you some food to eat, and after you must rest.”
Blake nods, and jokingly salutes to the guild master, “Yes, ma’am. I’ll get right on that.”
The guild master shakes her head one more time, giving him a look of fondness, before turning to leave. She stops at the end of the hall and turns back at him with a serious expression, “And make sure you keep away from the meeting room and my office. You shouldn’t be in this area unless you have business here,” she tells him sternly, not moving until he nods in agreement.
Once she is gone, Blake's expression drops. He looks back at the door one last time before turning away and going to his room.
He was just tired. Once he got some rest, all the useless thoughts swirling in his head would quiet. He was sure of it.
It was a clear day.
The sky was blue, and the sun shined cheerily in the sky, and the chirping of birds could be heard. The summer day wasn’t too hot or humid. After days of rain and storm, the more serene weather was a very welcome reprieve.
Too bad Livia couldn’t enjoy it more.
It was really unfortunate.
It sucks how running for your life could be such an inconvenience.
Her leather boots pound in a fast rhythm as she weaves in between trees. The ground was still wet and muddy, so her movements were a little slower than usual. Her feet would sink into the soft ground for seconds too long, and she curses under her breath as she could hear a loud animalistic snarl getting much to close. She vaults over a fallen log, and almost falls as one of her ankles twist awkwardly. She loses some of her speed, and she makes a sharp turn to make up for it.
A few seconds later, she hears a large body slam into a few trees before there is a loud wooden crunch of them snapping and later falling onto the forest floor. Her pursuer is only momentarily stunned before she hears a menacing growl and hooves pounding after her.
Those few seconds were all she needed. The distance between her and the creature has lengthened enough for her to cock her bow and twist her upper body around to launch an arrowhead that has a black paste smeared on it at the beast. It flies in a straight line and sinks right between the small eyes of the creature.
It doesn’t slow it down. It only seems to anger it more if its roar was anything to go by.
Livia's lips press into a thin line and she quickly turns back around, placing her bow back on her back and runs in a burst of speed in a small opening she sees a few feet ahead.
she stumbles into a large clearing and is almost on the other side when her foot catches on a rock, sending her crashing into the ground. She curls her body and rolls with momentum until she is crouching. Her bow is already back in her hand, and she fires two more arrows at the beast as it charges her. She barely dodges out the way, one of its many spikes scrapping into the soft flesh of her arm, ripping a clean line across it.
It was painful and blood quickly spills from the wound, but Livia does not stop moving. She dodges and rolls out the way, having close call after close call.
“Damnit! Why is it still moving?” Livia growls to herself, as she throws her body out of the way once more. The black paste was poison, and she just had struck it in the head with it. She knew it wasn’t that potent, but it had been a direct hit! The beast was a true monster in its own right...or she just got the dosage wrong.
Livia didn’t know the official name of it, but the beast was similar to an overly large bore with two large curved horns sticking out of its mouth, and three red eyes. It was grey and had thick leather skin and small spikes all over its body except for its head. Her arrows aren’t able to do much damage to it. The spikes prevent most of them from embedding in its skin.
She had encountered it on the way back to her campsite after spending most of the morning plucking up herbs and it has been pursuing her ever since.
If only I hadn’t tripped! Livia thinks as she twists away from spikes, grabbing at a dagger strapped to her thigh. She tries to fling it into one of the beast eyes. It swings its head to avoid the hit, and the dagger pings off its horn instead. It charges at her again and Livia curses everything from the sky to the moon before she turns to run once more.
Fifteen minutes later, and Livia is losing energy fast. Her thighs burn, and her ankle was definitely sprained. The wound in her arm has only gotten worse and throbs in time with her rapid heartbeat. She only had three arrows left and no daggers.
Even worse, she was still being chased.
It has almost a month since she had had been dropped into the expansive forest of Crocus. It spread across the edges of the Wisteria kingdom and into the neighboring Kingdom of Salvia. The closest settlement was miles away and was the small town of Zinnia. It was the same town she had once thought she would be exiled to.
Since she arrived at the Crocus forest, Livia has started working towards her goal to become stronger. She set up a harsh training regime for herself based on the workout videos she would binge-watch in her first life. She had always watched them and would become motivated to get in shape. She would follow a free program and start off strong but then she would stop exercising for a day, and then another, and suddenly she would be munching on chips with her laptop on her stomach and realize she had spent an entire day doing nothing. The cycle would repeat, and in the end, she would never commit herself to becoming healthier. She had ended up dying before she could even try again.
Now that habit has been broken by sheer force of will and circumstances. Livia forced herself through her workout regime even when all she wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep. She gave herself no breaks and kept up with it throughout the week. She knew to never push herself too hard, to go at her own pace. She would risk injuring herself permanently if she didn’t, but she also knew too slowly up the stakes.
She obviously couldn’t go all out given her pregnant state, so she limited herself to the basic of moves, and never did anything overly advanced or challenging. If she started to feel faint or sick, she always stopped immediately.
Livia knew that exercising while pregnant was fine and that it was even helpful. She also knew the basics of what to expect when pregnant, morning sickness, cravings, fatigue, back pain, etc. So far, she did experience morning sickness and fatigue, but that was it. Out of curiosity, in her first life, she looked up those things and watched a few videos, but didn’t go further than that.
She knew how far along she was based on how long she had been without her menstrual. She estimated that she was three months along. She was almost through her first trimester.
Livia had little idea if her pregnancy was going well or not, and though it worried her, she thought it best to no dwell on it too much. As far as she could tell, everything was as well as it could be. She knew she once harbored thoughts of ridding herself of the burden of growing a child in her body, but that was before the Empire was invaded, before Elias was murdered and when she had been still trapped in the Eastern Empire. But now, with her freedom finally granted and the Empire a whole ocean away, the prospect of gestating and later birthing Elias child didn’t seem so burdensome.
In her first life, she always thought that she would eventually have children of her own, but it always seemed so far away. Just as a prince rescuing her from her dull life and sweeping her off her feet did. But now it was her reality, and not only that but she had gotten pregnant in the most substandard way.
Putting aside Elias, Livia was only seventeen years old. Now, being pregnant at such as young age wasn’t unheard of, but it was heavily frowned upon, as was having a child out of wedlock. Even for commoners, it was looked down on, though less severely. That was simply the society she lived in. Though in her first life that had also been the case, but to a lesser degree. It wasn’t so scandalous or unheard of, and the reaction would be less of surprise and more of disapproval.
She didn’t care what other people thought either way. It was her body, and no one had any right to tell her what she c and could not do with it. Especially now. But she also knew it wouldn’t be that simple. Livia almost looked forward to it. She wasn’t ashamed. Not in this.
Of course, if she had her way, she never would have been in this situation, but that was the point. Her fate had been decided by those who wished to see her suffer, and her pregnancy was the result. She would not back away from the truth, and she would be damned if she let those who put her in this state make her feel an ounce of shame for it.
Livia had made a promise to herself that she would survive and get stronger. She did the later, and it was finally time she started on the former.
After almost four weeks of nonstop training, Livia had already begun to see results. Her arms have thickened up a bit with muscle and were no longer twigs waiting to be snapped. Her thighs, legs, and butt mirrored her arms, toned and even more shapely with the added muscle. Her stomach was no longer concave and also gained a bit of definition, but it was mostly hidden by the small growing bump of her unborn child.
She also probably wouldn’t have seen such results in her first life in such a short amount of time, without completely changing her diet. Back then, there had been many temptations that she wouldn’t have been able to resist, but now, smack dab in the middle of a forest, Livia had little choice but to eat healthily. Berries were in great abundance, as was apple-like fruit, and the stream offered plenty of fish for her to eat.
She was happy that all her hard work paid off, but it was still a far cry from her goal. She can shoot arrows without her arms feeling sore and run from one corner of the forest to the other without taking a break in between, but that is as far as she has gotten.
Livia knew there was still plenty of room for improvement. It is the reason why she had decided to challenge herself by forgoing magic for the next few months to focus on other skills, like archery, fishing, and gathering. No matter what, she had promised herself she wouldn’t use old one's magic.
She had the impression it would be simple enough. She would make sure to avoid all dangerous creatures and stick to weaker ones while she improved as much as she was able. But, the world of Etheria has a way of harshly reminding her how the best-laid plans can always come apart at the worse time.
Like, for example, right now.
She was slowing down, and the beast was gaining on her. Livia had the opinion that she could take it on with her new discovery of a certain poisonous mushroom. She had thought herself brilliant for coming up with such a plan. Now she wishes nothing more than to slap that stupid girl and tell her that she should have run away at full speed while she was uninjured and still had the energy!
After barely dodging the ramming body of the bore-like creature for the hundredth time in the day, she turns and runs into a wall of rock that she swears wasn’t there the day before. Now trapped in a dead in, Livia whirls around just in time to see the beast charging at her at full force. Her face twist in a dark scowl and her hands come up. A spell is half-way out of her mouth when a bright blue light in the form of an arrow hits the beast dead on and with enough force to stun it completely and topple it on its side.
Livia stares at it with wide eyes.
“What the fu-”
“Now, now, is that any way for a Lady of your status to speak?” A vaguely familiar voice chides tauntingly.
Her head turns in the direction the voice came, and her eyes widen even further when Sen steps out into view calmly, blue magic dancing between his fingertips.
Livia quickly moves away from the rocky wall at her back and cautiously glance at the still stunned beast before she turns her attention on Sen. She doesn’t approach him, in fact, she keeps her distance from him as she eyes him with clear bafflement.
“Sen...?” She says, before trailing off.
What the hell? Am I seeing things now? Livia thinks frantically as she blinks rapidly at Sen, trying to will away the illusion.
What is he even doing here!? Shouldn’t he be in the Empire? She thinks as she just stands there gaping at him for a whole second as he watched with bemusement. Then his yellow eyes look her over and he frowns. In the next instant, he is suddenly stalking towards her with a look of determination.
Livia unconsciously takes a few steps back, and she winces when she put weight on her ankle, Fuck, forgot about that. On cue, the jagged cut on her arms also throbs happily, informing her that yes, that gash was also still very present and untreated.
“I thought you could handle yourself, but the first thing I see when I check up on you is you cornered and about seconds away from being trampled on,” Sen tells her as he gently grasps her arm, analyzing the wound on it.
Livia closes her mouth and narrows her eyes at him, “I wasn’t going to be trampled on. I had everything under control. I was just about to blow that beast to kingdom come when you butted in.”
Sen pointedly looks from the wound on her arm, to her unruly appearance, and down to the ankle she had lifted a few inches off the ground then back up at her.
Livia grimaces, “Well, I did right before you showed up...” She says, her voice lower and almost a mumble.
“Right,” Sen says flatly, still holding her arm.
Livia is just about to resort when movement from the corner of her eye catches her attention, right above Sen's shoulder. The beast had slowly gotten to its feet, and all three eyes had been centered on Sens back.
She reacts on instinct. Her unwounded arm flings out and she says, “Þrýstingur!”
The arrow that was still embedded in his head suddenly jammed itself further, and almost instantly, its veins became more apparent until they started to bulge out, and slowly, she watches as green blood blacken.
A minute later, the beast falls over unmoving and dead.
Livia's eyes light up, it was just as I had thought. Though impotent when consumed directly, if it makes direct contact with the bloodstream, death is instant. The beast's skin must have been thicker than I had thought, and that is why the poison hadn’t taken effect instantly.
Sen looks to her then back at the dead Beast with unreadable eyes.
Livia just grins at him, suddenly in a much brighter mood, “Well, now that has been taken care of, I guess it would be polite to direct my guest to a more hospitable area.” She retrieves her arm from his grip and starts to limp westward.
Sen stares at the beast a moment longer before eventually following her.