'Focus,' Yin thought as she stared down the shaft of an arrow at the target. A second arrow was lined up 'It's only twenty meters, you were trained on longer ranges than this. So just...' She closed her eyes as she took a deep breath. She had already set her hearing to 0% in the menu, so even though the Training Field was busy as ever there was not a single sound to distract her. Opening her eyes she stared at the target, determination steeling her gaze. 'Focus.'

She loosed the arrow, and a moment later it went spinning off to the side as it caught on the edge of the target.

Yin nearly snapped her bow in two with her white-knuckled grip, holding her breath as she stopped herself from getting angry.

Soon, she let out a defeated sigh. "...At least it's progress," she decided as she set down her bow before walking over to retrieve her arrows.

A few players looked on, surprised to see Yin doing so poorly with a bow, but several understood the problem and simply nodded sympathetically before returning to their own training.

Recently, a player had created a new Skill called [DAMAGE BURST] that increased the damage of arrows fired in rapid succession. It was the first archery-focused damage-boosting Skill since the start of New Eden Online, and so all of the ranged hunters were feeling excited.

This was the current source of Yin's frustrations because while the others had simply chosen to learn the Skill from the guy that created it, she wanted to learn it on her own.

As much as Yang liked to claim that her sister was perfect in everything she did, this obviously wasn't the case. Perhaps she had an easier time with her academics and extracurriculars than others, but none of that came without diligent study and practice, and she always felt that was the most apparent in archery.

Yin hadn't been particularly skilled in archery when she started out, not bad but not good either. The only thing that made her stand out was that she loved archery. The repetitious, almost ritualistic motions of drawing the bow and letting the arrow fly straight for the target felt meditative for her. The training was not easy, but every time she made a good shot it made every second worth it.

Yin was no genius, she simply found validation in a training regimen that others would describe as unbearable.

But now that training was working against her.

As Yin finished picking up the two dozen arrows scattered around the target, she looked up and glared at it with so much venom you would think it was insulting her, and in some ways it was. Yin had been training for several hours now, and yet the target was without any scratch or blemish, the only exception being the small tear left from the arrow she had just fired, and she couldn't call that a successful shot.

Even when she had first started taking archery lessons she hadn't done this poorly, but at the very least she understood the source of the problem. Just like Zed had explained during their first sparring session, Yin's years of experience and practice in traditional kyudo were holding her back.

To learn [DAMAGE BURST] she needed to fire two arrows in less than a second while hitting the same target. It was simple enough, and something that could probably be accomplished through stats alone, but the player who created the Skill had done it with technique, and so Yin wanted to do the same.

She just needed to hold a second arrow in her drawing hand while resting it on the arm of the bow so that she could quickly drop it into position and fire it. Once again, the whole process is exceedingly simple, but that just seemed to be making it harder.

Yin spent years learning exactly how to hold a bow, exactly how to hold an arrow, and practicing those forms until she could do them in her sleep.

The differences between her normal form and what she needed to learn [DAMAGE BURST] were so small that every time she fired she would unconsciously try to go back to normal at the last second. Even knowing what the problem was, it seemed like no amount of effort was able to fix it, leading to this being the most frustrated she had ever felt while training.

Yin knew that she could just go learn the Skill from the other player, but she wasn't satisfied with that. She took pride in her archery skills and had spent years honing them, she wasn't about to take a shortcut just because it was available.

'It's not as though I don't have ample time for training.'

With the addition of inventories, a small handful of players could easily carry back ten times the food they used to and so the need for hunters suddenly decreased. Even before the version update, the ever-increasing levels of the players and efforts to reduce overhunting have led to Yin spending more time around the village than out in the woods.

It certainly wasn't all bad. Yin enjoyed her hunts much more now that they were just the occasional excursion to quietly hunt a few White Squirrels and Green Rabbits instead of more dangerous prey.

'But Yang is just going to keep running off into dangerous situations, and I can't just let her do that alone.'

The only reason Yin didn't join those three on their journey north was because she knew that arrows were useless against the armored bodies of the Iron Ants. But that didn't mean there wouldn't be other powerful opponents that her arrows could hurt, and so she needed to get stronger.

Picking up the last of the arrows, Yin walked back to where she set down her bow and returned to her training.

'I still have approximately one hour before lunchtime,' she thought as she picked up her bow and readied a pair of arrows. 'I can get a few more volleys in.'


Yin stared glumly into her bowl as she ate, not even the taste of her favorite squirrel stew was enough to improve her mood.

It turns out the improvement Yin thought she had earlier was just a fluke, as even after another hour of practice not one of the over two hundred arrows she fired connected with the target.

"Really though, only one?"

"Indeed, and it was a complete accident."

Yin was currently sitting near one of the entrances to The Pit along with Rika, who was quite possibly taking their first real break from crafting since they came to the village. Around them, numerous other players walked about trying to find a place to sit with hands full of food and drink, as was always the case around lunchtime.

"And how long have you been at this?"

"Only a few days. The Skill was only created latterly," Yin said with a shrug.

"...Then don't worry about it," Rika said, barely acknowledging Yin's obscure vocabulary. "You're the best archer in the village, you'll get it eventually."

"I understand that," Yin ran her fingers through her hair. "But I know the root of the problem, I just can't rectify it."

Rika shook their head with a small smile. Yin was normally so composed and mature that it made you forget that she had only just graduated from high school. "I never realized you could be as impatient as your sister."

"I just wish my own body wouldn't neutralize my efforts." Yin paused for a moment to eat some more stew before turning to Rika. "How does that even occur?"

"I mean, we both know about muscle memory."

"Yes, but I have no muscles at the moment. If this body is digital why does it have the traits of my physical form?"

Rika shrugged. "I don't know the specifics, but it has something to do with how the game renders your base form during character creation." Yin stared questioningly as Rika paused before continuing. "When you and your sister made your characters, it started out with your normal appearances, right? You never told it what you looked like?"

"Indeed." Yin's eyes widened. "It went through my subconscious!"

"Exactly, and it does the same thing with your movements."

Although players would never use their actual faces for their gaming avatars, providing their real appearance helped to give a level of uniqueness that no amount of prerendered models could match. In doing so, the AetherGear would also pull information about how that person moves and behaves in real life as a byproduct, resulting in things like muscle memory and unconscious movements being preserved.

Some games would use systems to prevent this, but if implemented incorrectly it could create additional problems where more necessary unconscious behavior didn't cross over. Such incidents were rare, but even one instance of a survival game that required the player to manually breathe is something that few people would forget.

"I suppose that makes sense."

Rika shrugged. "About as much sense as anything involving the AetherGear does. I once had someone try to explain how the damn thing worked to me and I just couldn't make heads or tails of it."

"Did you- DO you study computers in real life?" Yin asked, speaking loudly as she corrected herself.

Rika flinched at Yin's sudden outburst, but she did seem to be acknowledging it, so they didn't either. "Uh, no, a friend of mine did."

After a few minutes and the mood returned to something more comfortable, Soze suddenly walked into The Pit, looking frantically back and forth. Yin watched as he spoke to a few different groups of players, presumably asking them something but getting nothing but shaking heads in response.

Eventually, he noticed her and Rika sitting together and came over.

"Hey, have either of you seen Loran?"

"I've been in the Workshop all morning, he wasn't there."

"He was not in the Training Field either. Didn't he have guard duty this morning?"

"Yeah, but the girl stationed with him said he just ran off once their shift was over and called him an asshole."

"Mmm, how informative."

"Yeah," Soze said, pushing some hair out of his face. "I wanted to talk to him about something, but no one besides her and Aman have seen him all morning."

"So he just disappeared?" Rika asked.

"He went on a hunt."

The three of them turned to look at another player lying in the grass a couple feet away.

"You saw him?" Soze asked.

"Yeah, I was stationed at the West Gate this morning. I saw him heading out into the woods wearing armor."

Soze sighed. "That's what I was afraid of. Aman said he took a huge amount of rations and a small pot of fresh stew this morning."

"Then why are you asking around?" Rika asked. "Seems pretty obvious that he went hunting."

"Because with that many rations he probably plans to be gone for multiple days, but he's going out on his own." Soze said, resting his face in his hands. "I'm worried alright?"

"Loran is many things but he's no fool," Yin said. "And he's grown even more cautious ever since the incident with his arm. He'll be fine."

Still looking unsatisfied, Soze looked off toward the western mountains. "He better be. I swear, if he doesn't come back alive, I'll kill him."


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Bio: Just an American otaku who loves good stories and is now hoping to make one. I want to write professionally but I hate paywalls and will only accept payment through donation.

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