Most used abilities: Holy Sight, Arcane Covering Fire
Most used weapon skills: Snipe Shot, Quick Draw, Ambush, Headshot, Arched Shot, Fire Low, Ricochet, Double Arrows, Rapid Fire, Point Blank, Power Shot
“Nosy, use Fire Spit!” Imaya shouted as she heard the flame-red cat gurgling. She had already shot an arrow into the piggy’s flank, but Nosy was eager to do his share of the hunt.
Nosy’s spit caught the raob straight in its face, effectively blinding it. Imaya quickly retreated as the beast changed direction and suddenly surged forward, shaking its head as it went. The raob wasn’t really aiming for Imaya, but it was better to be safe than sorry: those long horns were quite scary.
“It’s super effective!”
The raob ran head-first into a tree and head-butted it repeatedly, trying to put out the flames.
“Piggy became dazed! Okay Nosy, now finish it off with a Savage Bite!”
“What are you doing, Imaya?” Devi asked from the back, watching the progressing fight from behind a large tree.
Nosy lunged upwards and jumped onto the raob’s back, sinking his claws into its hide. Sadly, the rodeo proved to be too much for him and soon he was sent flying by the trashing animal. He landed on his feet, and began circling the raob cautiously.
“Why not just shoot it then?”
Imaya scrunched her face. “I wanted Nosy to kill it, but I guess this is just too much for him.” She nocked an arrow to her bow and took aim. “Nosy, back!”
Amazingly, the wildcat listened to her command and retreated. Imaya never ceased to be impressed how intelligent he was. She had never seen a cat like this before, though it was also true that she had never seen any animal that was capable of spitting fire.
Imaya reckoned that the distance was far enough for her to use Snipe Shot. The skill was just about to level up too, so it would be perfect for this occasion. She activated Holy Sight, and after focusing on her target she thought about using her weapon skill. Her body took over, performing a perfect long-range shot that hit the raob in its neck. Well, it was only perfect if no one knew that Imaya was actually aiming for its burnt-out eyes, but the arrow still found a vulnerable spot on the animal, so who would complain?
Just to make sure, Imaya shot two more arrows into the raob’s head before it collapsed. With this, her Snipe Shot would surely level up! Imaya could barely wait to check it out. No, on a second thought, she couldn’t wait to check it out. She opened up her menu to see the glorious number 5 at Snipe Shot’s level. She must have reached a milestone, because the mana cost had been increased by 5 now. It had never happened before with this skill.
Devi walked slowly towards Imaya. “Randel won’t be happy that you let Nosy fight like that. Dangerous.”
True, all they had told Teva’ryn was that they take Nosy to a morning walk, at least while Randel slept. Fighting raobs wasn’t part of the plan, but the opportunity had presented itself and Imaya took it. She didn’t have many chances to dawdle: Randel was pushing the team pretty hard in order to catch up to Soul Eater. It was their fourth day on the road and they still hadn’t found whoever was carrying Soul Eater. According to Randel they were getting closer, and Imaya sincerely hoped it was true. With each passing day Randel became more and more angry, aggressive, and generally intolerable. It would be nice if everything went back the way they were before.
“Randel isn’t happy about anything in these days,” Imaya replied sadly. “He is so obsessed with his dagger that he probably wouldn’t even care if anything happened to his pet. And I think it’s good for Nosy to have a little exercise. He’s gotta train how to use those fangs of his!”
Devi just hummed noncommittally and squatted down to pet Nosy while Imaya was distracted by her menus. Now that her Snipe Shot had leveled up, it probably became more accurate. She would have to test her skill again. From a distance of about 200 paces, her arrows could find a melon-sized target 7 times out of 10 if she performed a level 4 Snipe Shot. That was when she had Holy Sight turned on. She didn’t know why it was so important to see her target properly when it wasn’t actually she who made the shot but her collar, but it worked that way.
Having Holy Sight was a real blessing. Imaya had been wearing glasses on Earth, but they were taken from her when she was transported into this world. But now she could turn on her Ability whenever she needed to see far, and it was waaay better than any pair of glasses she could get.
Sadly, testing Snipe Shot at the moment would have been even more frustrating than before, because with the increased mana cost she could fire fewer arrows before she ran out of mana. It would have been great to see how many arrows she was able to hit out of a hundred, but she never had the patience to wait so long for her mana to regenerate. Performing 10 snipe shots might not be enough to see the difference between level 4 and level 5 of the skill, but Imaya hoped it wasn’t the case. The increased mana cost could mean that this time she would be able to hit her target 8 times out of 10. Either way, she would need to begin experimenting at a later date because this fight with the raob already depleted her mana reserves considerably.
She often wondered whether she should put a few more points on Spirit. It would be useful, but she needed the points on Dexterity and Magic for maximum one-shot OP-ness. Dexterity boosted her weapon skills, and Magic strengthened her Arcane Covering Fire. Why would she ever need a high mana pool if she could just finish the fight early? Since HP wasn’t a thing in this world, this approach made the most sense to her.
“Imaya?” Devi called the girl who still didn’t look up from her collar’s menu.
“Yes! Umm, before we head back, I have another idea. Just give me a sec,” Imaya said enthusiastically. She navigated to her Quest Log and began to scroll through the entries. There were quite a lot, because she had taken up every quest she found at the Bountyhouse. It hadn’t been difficult at all: she just had to read every request once and they were automatically saved by her collar. The downside was that a proper interface for her Quest Log would cost at least 50 gold in the Shop, and without it she couldn’t even make quests disappear from her list.
“Aha! Found it.”
Dead or alive, the body is cold either way
Objective: Bring in a frost elgae, possibly alive, for Jerome’s experiments.
Reward: 6 attribute points, bounty: 20 gold if alive, 5 gold if dead
Description: You’ll need eagle eyes to catch this eagle! Frost elgae often roam the skies near Bildy, but their sky-blue color and the canopy of the forest usually hides them from sight. And watcha gonna do even if you see one? It’s not like you are fast enough to catch one!
Imaya would definitely need to buy a different style for these quests to be written in. It was funny— well, sometimes awkward but still more or less funny— okay, actually they weren’t that humorous, but she could appreciate them at first. Now, however, after who knew how many quests, this style was getting more and more annoying.
But Imaya liked this one quest in particular, because the collar provided a little bit more information than usual. She could probably get more details about this frost bird if she bought information about it in the Shop, but the quest description provided enough information for her to get started.
She read the Quest out loud to Devi, so that she would receive it as well. Previously, Imaya had spotted one particular tree that would be ideal for climbing. It had lots of intertwining branches, the only problem was that she couldn’t reach the lowest one. After that, climbing would we easy-peasy. She just had to explain her plan to Devi.
Unfortunately, Devi considered tree-climbing dangerous. Which was totally unfair, because it wasn’t she who would be doing the climbing. Imaya spent the next several minutes alternating between pleading and whining, trying to convince Devi to help. In the end she succeeded, though she suspected it was only because Devi got fed up with her, and not because of her fantastically logical reasoning. Still, a victory was a victory.
“So! That’s the tree,” Imaya pointed. “Now boost me up.”
“Like, push me up. Or let me step on your shoulder.”
Devi frowned. “You want to… stand on me?”
“Hey, you promised to help!” Imaya said. “You can’t back down now!”
Devi glared at her, then made two clones and had them lock arms and stand in the base of the tree.
Imaya walked closer to the clones, but looked at Devi with puppy eyes.
“Could you create one more clone on all fours? So that I can step up from its back?”
“Sorry, sorry, had to ask,” Imaya said, then slung her bow across her shoulder and began to climb.
Devi couldn’t maintain her grumpy silence for long. “Imaya! Watch where you touch!”
“Hmm? But these are just puppets.”
“But they look like me, and— hey, don’t touch it there!”
“Too late, too late,” Imaya sang as she stepped on one of the clone’s head and pulled herself up to the lowest branch.
Devi dismissed the clones and scowled up to her. “I don’t catch you if you fall.”
Imaya laughed. “Don’t worry, there won’t be any need for that!”
And there really wasn’t. Imaya loved to climb, ever since she was a child. Not even that accident when she broke her arm had deterred her for long. Admittedly, she wasn’t a kid with plenty of free time anymore, so she hadn’t climbed too many trees lately. But climbing was like riding a bike: you never really forgot how to do it. You could only become fat enough to be unable to do so.
Once she reached the top, she would look around to see if they can spot any frost birds. She wouldn’t be able to pop up above the canopy like a cartoon character: the branches there were too thin. But the tree she was currently climbing was taller than the others around it, so there was a pretty good chance that she would be able to see quite far ahead. And with a little more luck, she might even be able to shoot her bow.
There was of course a pretty high chance that she wouldn’t see the bird. It was fine. Climbing the tree was worth it just for this nostalgic feeling alone.
It reminded her just a little bit of home. It wasn’t a pleasant reminder, but she didn’t mind. Her father had always disapproved her hobbies, and climbing trees and hillsides was the foremost among them when she was a kid. Basically anything that wasn’t intellectual activity had met her father’s disapproval. If it hadn’t been for Mother, Imaya’s father would have just locked her in her room to study whenever she wasn’t at school.
Imaya believed that growing up like that was precisely the reason why she hated studying and had often snuck away from home or immersed herself in video games. Her father believed that the reason she hated studying was because she was lazy as fuck.
Well, there weren’t any books in this word to study from— okay, there were, but Randel’s scribbled dictionary didn’t count. Anyways, her father wasn’t here, so he couldn’t really object if she climbed a tree or two, could he?
When Imaya got as far up as she dared to climb, she looked around. She then snapped a couple of twigs that blocked her view and tried to look around again. The scenery that awaited her was beautif— frankly, not that amazing at all. Bright blue, cloudless sky and the tops of the trees all around her. This world was supposed to have all kinds of magical creatures, but from up here, everything looked just like an ordinary forest on Earth. Looking around with her Holy Sight didn’t reveal anything either. No magical butterflies, and definitely no frost birds to shoot at. The only airborne creatures were a flock of crow-like birds hurriedly taking flight and—
“Is that smoke?”
“It was a laaarge campfire,” Imaya explained to Randel and Teva’ryn. “There is a clearing there in the forest, and I could see wagons circling the area. It might be some kind of resting place for travellers or travelling caravans, and it’s right in the direction where we were heading!”
“Good,” Randel said eagerly, “Hopefully we will find Soul Eater there. Let’s go.” Not waiting for anyone’s opinion, he started marching down the road. Imaya and the Sylven hurried to catch up.
There was an uncomfortable silence. Having rested more than the others, Randel dictated quite a fast pace, and Imaya with her shorter legs basically had to run to keep up.
“Could you slow down a bit? I can’t walk this fast.”
Randel made a face, but took back from his fast pace in the end. Imaya considered this a good sign. Randel hadn’t insulted her yet either, which gave her some hope that he was getting a hold on whatever was affecting his mind. Maybe he would be more inclined to a little chat this morning.
“We took Nosy to a walk this morning, while you still slept.”
Randel gave Imaya the Grunt of Acknowledgement.
“We also killed a raob and then a giant snake that attacked us on our way back.”
Randel gave her the Nod of Acknowledgement.
“Nosy was really awesome in both encounters. He fought the raob bravely, and spotted the snake when it tried to ambush us!”
Randel gave her the Grunt—
“Hey, you have already grunted once. Do something more original this time, like a thumbs up.”
Imaya expected a Huh?, or a What? but Randel just straight up ignored her. Oh well, at least he isn’t shouting. Maybe she shouldn’t push her luck too far and leave Randel alone instead.
“Imaya?” Teva’ryn asked from behind her.
Imaya turned around and began walking backwards. “Yes?”
“Is that true what you say? Fighting snakes?”
Imaya, to her credit, realized that this was a trap question. Devi slightly shaking her head behind Teva’ryn helped in this realization a little.
Teva’ryn’s expression became severe. He turned towards Devi and began talking angrily in their language. Whoops.
“And you too,” Teva’ryn finally turned back to Imaya. “No going out without me. We stay together,” he said, emphasizing the together.
“Ehhh,” Imaya said, emphasizing the Ehhh. “I get it, alright, but we weren’t in as much danger as you think. We are quite capable of defending ourselves, you know.”
“I told him the same thing,” Devi injected. “He says that there could be other, stronger monsters around here. Which is true.” She gave Teva’ryn a sideways glance. “For once, he might actually be in the right here. Remember what Jaks said?”
“Well… Something like animal population is denser around towns and cities because the Cores attract them? Or the mana in the air, or something like that. But that doesn’t mean that those creatures are stronger! There are just more of them. On the other hand, I can rain a torrent of magical fire on them, while Devi can create clones and do her flashy thing! You are underestimating our power, Teva’ryn!”
“No? That’s it?” Imaya griped. It was the perfect opportunity for Teva’ryn to say that he had the high ground. His dictionary could definitely use some improvement. And his knowledge about human pop culture. And memes. Lots of lots of dank memes.
“Shut up now, we are getting close,” Randel said, disrupting Imaya’s wonderful mental image about MemeMaster Teva’ryn.
“Only because you asked so nicely,” Imaya answered. Randel really wasn’t that bad today. When he was focused on his precious this much, he tended to ignore everything else. It was miles better than him raining curses and insult at them all day. Last night he had been so bad that Imaya actually suggested Teva’ryn that they tie up and gag Randel. The idea had been vetoed by the two Sylven, but a few more days in Randel’s company and they would change their opinions, Imaya was sure.
As they progressed closer and closer to their destination, several kinds of noise became distinct. Those weren’t sounds that Imaya expected to hear at all. Shouts, screams, and metal clashing mostly.
“Uhh, guys my spidey-senses are tingling,” Imaya whispered.
“Your what?” Devi asked.
“Shut up,” Randel said.
They crept towards the noise until they could see past the trees into the clearing. Their vantage point was slightly higher than the field in front of them, so they were able to observe everything relatively well.
The sight that awaited them made Imaya’s stomach turn.
Six wagons, one of them on fire. Most of the merchants huddled under the backmost wagon as a dozen or so guards tried to set up a defensive ring around them. They were in combat with masked figures and were losing badly, but not because of their numbers. There was a different reason why the better armed guards were dying while their attackers were not: one of the masked figures was shooting blue laser beams from his palms. The beams sometimes changed direction midair, avoiding shields and finding weak points in the guards’ armor. What’s more, the masked man had a translucent aura around him in arm’s reach. The bubble let anyone walk through it and didn’t hinder the lasers, but it disintegrated every arrow that the guards shot at him.
Event: Defend the caravan and kill the bandits!
Imaya wanted to check the details of this Event, but now was not the time. She turned on her Holy Sight and focused on the fight instead. The laser-shooting man was certainly a Player, and Imaya determined that he was the leader of the bandits as well.
It was a massacre. Dead or dying guards everywhere, gaping holes all over their bodies. This, coupled with the panicked shouts and the sounds of the dying, was almost too much for Imaya and the smells… Oh god, the smells were just as terrible. She watched with wide eyes as the bandit leader reached the last wagon and pulled out one of the merchants from under it. Even from this distance, Imaya could pick up their words faintly.
“Alright, let’s see what we’ve got here,” the Player said jovially. “Where is the relic, old man?”
“Wrong answer!” the bandit exclaimed, then shot the man through the head with a short burst of laser. He then tossed the body aside and reached for the next merchant.
“What do we do?” Imaya whispered with shaking voice, but no one had any answer.
Some of the guards were still fighting the bandits, but the bandit leader took no notice. Three of his men surrounded the wagon so that the merchants couldn’t escape, while the leader cheerfully pulled up a young woman by her hair.
“Hello sweetie! What a nice dress you have here.”
“Please, no!” the woman shrieked.
“Ah, don’t be so afraid, honey! I’m not gonna hurt you. You just need to answer a simple question. Wh— ”
“Please, please don’t hurt me, I don’t know what you are talking about, there is no relic, I’m just a— ”
The bandit threw the woman down to the corpse of the dead merchant and shot her in the leg.
“Tsh, I hate it when they interrupt me.”
The woman was screaming in pain, up until the bandit leader shot her in the head to silence her. Imaya flinched at the sight, but gripped her bow and tried to spur herself into action. Her arrows probably wouldn’t do much against the bandit Player, but his lackeys didn’t enjoy the same protection as him. She also had her Arcane Covering Fire that might pierce through the leader’s defense.
It would mean shooting someone. She would have to kill something other than animals. Now that she had to do it, it seemed harder than she imagined. She— She could do this. It was the right thing to do, after all. Save the people. Kill the bandits. Murder them.
Or maybe… maybe if she just scared them away? Shot a couple of flashy warning shots? She didn’t know if that would be enough. But maybe if the bandits saw that they were facing four Players…? They didn’t necessarily need to know that they were all noobies.
“Imaya, no,” Teva’ryn said and laid a hand on her bow. “Bad idea. We don’t have a chance.”
“I- I can’t just sit here and watch those people die!”
Imaya’s sentence was punctuated by a horrible scream as the third merchant was gunned down. Further away, five of the guards were still fighting with some of the bandits, but the rest had been taken down. The bandits themselves had lost a couple of men too, but their leader didn’t seem to care.
“E-Enough!” A portly man crawled out from under the cart. “If y-you were looking for the dagger, you could have just said so! You wouldn’t have to kill anyone!”
He got a laser beam through his left foot for his troubles.
“My quest told me that you have a relic,” the bandit leader said, “Obtaining that is my objective. I know nothing about daggers, but my patience wears short.” He stepped closer and grabbed the portly man by his shirt. “Now tell me. Where. The. Fuck. Is. The. Relic?!”
The merchant was obviously in a great deal of pain, but he struggled to make himself coherent. “The- The belt of the man you have just shot. H-He has it.”
“Thanks dude,” the bandit leader said before shooting him in the head.
Imaya was pale and shaking. She turned her head aside when the portly man fell, not being able to bear the look on his face. They should just retreat now. If they weren’t going to help the merchants, why did they stay here to watch? Oh right, Soul Eater was supposed to be in this direction. Imaya fervently hoped that it wasn’t the relic that the bandit Player was looking for. Surely a random man like him wouldn’t know about its existence, right?
Imaya looked at her friends to see how they were taking the events. It didn’t surprise her to see Teva’ryn and Devi’lynn relatively calm and collected, inspecting the events through Teva’ryn’s portals. The Sylven always took these things better than she ever did. As for Randel… where was Randel?
Imaya looked around frantically, just to spot him bursting out from the last of the trees, running straight towards the bandits with Nosy at his heels.
“Randel, what the— ” Imaya exclaimed but Teva’ryn reflexively silenced her by covering her mouth with his hand. Only then did he look up from his portal to see that Randel was doing. A flicker of anxiety passed through his face as he looked at Randel approaching the bandits.
“We go out now, he kills us too,” he said on a grim tone.
“Then put a portal into his bubble and I’ll shoot him!”
Teva’ryn just shook his head. “Can’t. Not inside.”
“GET YOUR HANDS OFF THAT, YOU BASTARD!” Randel shouted, then hurled a knife at the bandit leader who had just retrieved the unmistakable form of Soul Eater from one of the murdered merchants. The knife missed him, missed his protective bubble, and slammed into the side of the wagon, embedding itself there. At the same time Randel stumbled and fell forward to one knee. To Imaya it seemed as if— as if he felt the impact the knife made on the wagon.
The bandit leader took a glance on Randel and immediately erected a translucent wall between them.
“Oho, another Player,” he shouted, excitement clear in his voice. “Came for the relic-hunting quest too, eh? Well, bad news, this wall I just created blocks any projectile you fire from that side, but it lets anything pass through from my side. Guess who is going to die horribly by laser today?”
“But he is not alone!” Imaya stepped out of cover against her better judgement, raised her bow and aimed at the bandit. “There are four of us, and we have you surrounded!”
When the bandit Player saw Imaya’s bow, he extended his wall upwards and sideways. It probably wasn’t necessary because Imaya wasn’t able to shoot him anyways, but to his credit he didn’t take her threat lightly.
“Hah! I call your bluff,” the man yelled. “If I’m surrounded, why did the two of you come from the same direction?”
He had her there. Imaya tried her best not to glance at Devi’lynn or Teva’ryn to ask for their help, but she didn’t know what to do next. Luckily, she didn’t need to, because the bandit continued to speak on his own. It seemed like he liked to gloat.
“The way I see it, I still have the advantage here. I have plenty of defense against ranged attacks. In fact, I dare to say that I’m nigh invulnerable from afar!” He took another glance at Randel who was panting heavily on the ground, then looked back at Imaya. “And look at that! The guy is still in his starter clothes. I’ll be damned if you guys collectively have more than five Abilities! Do you know at all who you are fucking with? I am called the Jackal, the nightmare of traders in the Western Woods! I’m level 362, with Abilities you can only dream of! My protective Abilities already make it impossible for you to hurt me, even if there were dozens of you aiming bows at me! But if it’s not enough, my— grghhlll— ”
Randel swiftly withdrew the knife from the bandit leader’s neck, yanked his head backwards, and slammed the whole knife into the his mouth. All of it happened so fast, that even Imaya was taken aback. Apart from the blood spraying everywhere, it was Randel’s ruthlessness what shocked Imaya the most. He hadn’t hesitated for a second after teleporting to the knife behind the bandit.
For a brief second, everyone was just staring. The bandits, the merchants, Imaya… everyone was standing still and watching as the translucent wall that the Jackal had erected disappeared into nothing. And then Randel began to laugh. He reached down with bloody hands, pried Soul Eater out of the Jackal’s hand, then began to laugh even harder. And when Randel finally looked up, Imaya could see true madness behind his eyes.
“Who’s next?” Randel asked with a wide grin, for some reason looking straight in Imaya’s direction.
None of the three bandits next to the wagon were brave enough to take up Randel’s offer, even though probably any of them could have taken him easily. They were too wary because they didn’t know Randel’s Abilities. Nevertheless, they didn’t back down: they shouted for their buddies to finish up playing with the last of the guards and come to help.
“Going in!” Devi called out to Imaya as she and Teva’ryn sprinted past her. Imaya’s hand was shaking so much that she had trouble fitting her arrow to her bowstring, but she would try to cover them nevertheless. She had to.
Randel leisurely reapplied his Dark Bond, this time on Soul Eater. He grabbed the knife with his other hand, then stopped waiting further for the bandits: he charged straight at the closest one. Nosy attacked the one on the left, while the third— the third was coming at Randel from the side. He would stab Randel in the back if Imaya didn’t shoot him. She took aim and made the shot hurriedly, in her nervousness forgetting to use any of her Weapon Skills. She missed the bandit by a wide margin and fumbled to get her second arrow ready. The problem was that she knew she wouldn’t be able to shoot again in time.
The bandit behind Randel swung his sword, but found only empty air. At the same time, Randel reappeared above his target. He fell on top of the man and began stabbing him with both of his weapons repeatedly. What he didn’t have in technique, he made up with ferocity.
“Watch out, he can jump to his daggers!” the other bandit called out to his buddies. He didn’t have time to chase after Randel, because the next instant Imaya shot an arrow into his calf. The bandit’s shout of agony was so terrible that Imaya almost dropped her bow in her fright. She tried not to focus on what she did, but she couldn’t. Her eyes were glued to the man she had just hurt.
This wasn’t like a video game. For all that she fantasized about living the lives of her favorite characters, she had never imagined it would be like this. To hurt someone, and hear them cry out in pain. To see the light fade from the eyes of all the people who had been killed right in front of her. It was just too much. Everything was too real.
She kept looking at the man who was on his knees, trying to crawl away with the arrow still sticking out of his leg, struggling and cussing and shedding tears all the while. She kept staring at him until Teva’ryn arrived to the scene and decapitated him with cold efficiency.
Imaya then looked away with dazed eyes, just to see even more death. Nosy managed to take down the second bandit with some of the merchants’ help. The bandit’s clothes were burning, his face horribly mangled, his limbs broken several times. Randel in the meantime had abandoned his earlier aggressiveness and tried to avoid meeting the rest of the bandits head-on. He threw his dagger with frightening precision, then teleported it back to his hand and ran around until his teleport was ready again. In spite of his maddened behavior, he was showing a surprising amount of strategy. He kept dodging around wagons and attacked only when he had a chance. When Imaya spotted the savage glee on his face, she averted her gaze quickly.
Teva’ryn was fighting too, and he was like a whirlwind. Although he spent most of the time killing those who attacked Devi, he was everywhere. He easily defeated two of the bandits who were coming at him at the same time, then created a portal behind an archer who targeted Randel. With a precise forward thrust through the portal, he stabbed the archer in the neck. The sword didn’t pierce too deep into his flesh because Teva’ryn pulled the sword back quickly, but the damage was done: the archer dropped his bow and fell forward, clutching his neck.
Teva’ryn didn’t stop after he withdrew his blade, lunging straight for the fourth bandit who stepped back from Devi to avoid her Flicker Strike. Imaya wasn’t sure how effective that would have been against the bandit’s shield, but luckily it looked scary enough to have him back off. However, with Teva’ryn coming to the rescue, the bandit didn’t have a chance anymore.
Finally, Imaya took a deep breath and nocked another arrow. All her friends were fighting for their lives and she wasn’t going to stand around and just watch them. They were winning the fight, but there were still a few bandits remaining. She aimed at one of them, got ready for another Snipe Shot, and— nothing happened. Her vision became blurry, and she realized suddenly that her mana was depleted.
“Should have put more points on Spirit, after all,” she mumbled as she sank to her knees.
It was a strange feeling. She was disappointed in herself that she couldn’t kill the bandits. She was ashamed that she didn’t help her friends. She was dejected by her failure. But inside, deep inside, a tiny part of her was glad. She was glad that she didn’t kill anyone. Glad that she had run out of mana and didn’t have to kill… this time.
“I’m so pathetic,” she said bitterly.
Eventually she got to her feet and made her way down to the wagons. From what she was able to see, the few bandits that didn’t die were in the process of fleeing to the forest. She could also tell that her companions were relatively unhurt, because all of them were still standing. By the time she reached them, there was only one person left who still wanted to fight.
“Randel? Randel it’s me,” Devi said. She and Teva’ryn were maintaining a healthy distance from Randel, who didn’t look completely right in the head. His posture was strange, for one, and his hands were shaking. He was holding Soul Eater in one hand as if he still wanted to fight, as if he would kill anyone who got near him.
Nosy was standing on top of one of the wagons, apparently unscathed but very much confused by the situation. The remaining merchants were standing to the side, trying to treat the injuries of one of their wounded. They knew something was still going on with the Players, and obviously didn’t want to get caught in yet another conflict.
“Yes it’s you. I didn’t lose my mind, you condescending bitch. I still recognize pretty well who I want to kill.”
Randel took a step towards Devi, but Teva’ryn got between them with his sword raised. He told Randel something that Imaya didn’t understand, and in the next moment Randel threw Soul Eater at them.
Devi and Imaya dived to the ground, but Teva’ryn deflected the dagger upwards with his sword. Randel teleported, and Teva’ryn was prepared for it: he grabbed Randel’s arm with his free hand and threw him down to the ground. Randel landed on his back with a loud thump, and Teva’ryn kicked Soul Eater out of his hand.
“Will you stop now?” Teva’ryn asked and sheathed his sword.
Randel sat up slowly and hung his head. He was breathing heavily, and was probably running low on mana. Imaya could see that he wasn’t without injuries either, though none looked too serious.
“Alright, you win,” Randel said.
Then he abruptly jumped up, reaching out towards Teva’ryn and shifting Soul Eater into his grip. He aimed for Teva’ryn’s head, who in turn easily stopped Randel a second time. One hand grabbed Randel’s wrist before the blade could have reached his face, while the other batted away a weak punch.
“Predictable,” Teva’ryn said flatly. “You can’t win. Why not stop?”
“Predict this!” Randel spat.
Teva’ryn let go of Randel’s wrist in surprise as Soul Eater’s blade suddenly shifted and extended towards his left eye. He barely had time to jerk his head away, earning a light cut on his cheek. Imaya watched with wide eyes as the thin orange lines on Soul Eater’s blade receded while the blade itself lengthened. No, not just lengthened. The weapon’s whole structure were changing, until it became almost the exact copy of Teva’ryn’s sword.
“Good,” Teva’ryn said, wiping the blood off his cheek with a thumb. “But still not enough.”
Randel charged at him with a wordless cry, swinging his sword wildly. Teva’ryn didn’t even bother to draw his own blade again: he just caught Randel’s sword arm and twisted it behind his back.
Randel struggled to get free, to no avail. He kicked and tried to swing with his other arm, but Teva’ryn forced him to the ground and held him down.
“Teva’ryn, I don’t think he will stop like this,” Imaya spoke up as she came closer. “He is going to fight as long as he is able.”
Randel snapped his head in Imaya’s direction, and the look of hatred in his eyes made her freeze.
“I see you are just as infuriating as ever,” Randel hissed. “Talking as if I wasn’t even here in front of you. Well, let’s see how you like this.”
He let go of Soul Eater that he had been still clutching in his hand. It didn’t really fall far, as he was already on the ground, but that didn’t matter. The moment Soul Eater was free from his grip, Randel teleported himself to it in a different position, effectively freeing himself from Teva’ryn’s grip.
Not wasting any time, he leapt up before Teva’ryn could recover, and jumped towards his newest target. It happened too fast for Imaya to react properly. She stumbled backwards and held her bow in front of her defensively, but it was a weak attempt to defend herself. As she looked at the bloodthirsty look on Randel’s face, all she could think about was that she was going to die.
But just before Randel could have reached Imaya, Devi jumped in the way, trying to block him. It was a valiant effort, but Imaya’s relief was short-lived as Randel rammed the entire length of her sword through Devi’s stomach. Only then allowed Imaya herself to scream. Her whole body began to shake with fear and she was about to turn around and run, but then Devi’s body suddenly disappeared in a puff of back smoke.
“Ugh, that must have hurt,” Devi said, watching the fight from behind Imaya as two more of her clones rushed forward and dogpiled Randel. The clones managed to hold him down long enough for Teva’ryn to catch up and tackle him to the ground. Nosy chose this moment to join the fray too, biting into Randel’s sword hand.
“Traitor!” Randel shouted at his pet as he tried to shake him off.
It soon became clear that something had changed. It was as if Randel completely forgot about the presence of Teva’ryn and the others. Devi’s clones disappeared, and even Teva’ryn had released Randel from his grip. But even though no one was holding him down, Randel’s attention was occupied by Nosy… and the strangest thing was that he didn’t even try to hurt him.
“Hey Nosy— ouch that hurts! Let me go!” He tried to open his pet’s jaw with his other hand without success. “Fuck! Hey, what’s your problem?!”
Teva’ryn was still hovering nearby, ready to step in if Randel tried to attack someone suddenly. It didn’t seem very likely. Nosy had bitten down not only on Randel’s hand but Soul Eater as well, effectively pinning the two together. Randel couldn’t use his latest trick anymore. What’s more, the faint black mist around the weapon suddenly evaporated as Randel dismissed his Dark Bond.
“See, I cancelled my Ability! Was this your problem? HEY! Nosy, I’m gonna hurt you if you don’t stop this. Stop!”
Randel began pinching the wildcat’s nose and Nosy finally let him go. Randel inspected his hand as the cat jumped up to his shoulder and draped himself around his neck.
“Nosy, that was going too far. See, it has even drew blood! Not all of this is mine, of course, but— ”
As if it burned him, Randel dropped Soul Eater suddenly and scrambled backwards. Imaya could see the realization dawn on him as his eyes went wide and he began to shake.
“Oh my god.”
Imaya didn’t know what to say, and apparently neither did the Sylven. What did one say in such a situation? Say that they were sorry? Say that it didn’t matter? Say that they forgave him for trying to murder everyone?
“I— I tried to kill you.”
“No, you not,” Devi said. “It wasn’t you.”
Randel shook his head as tears began to fill his eyes. “No. It was me. I remember doing everything. I remember feeling everything.”
“It’s our fault,” Devi said. “We not keep eye on you, before the fight.”
Randel just kept backing off. “No, I— You are not safe from me. I don’t know if I’m back to normal now. I— I wouldn’t know the difference. I— Give me a minute. I need to think.”
He turned around and walked away.
“Should… should we follow him?” Imaya asked hesitantly.
“From a distance, I think,” Devi suggested. “Give him space. Make sure he not do anything stupid.”
Teva’ryn took off after Randel quietly. Imaya sighed and looked down at the black weapon that Randel left lying on the ground. It was already turning back to its original form, the orange lines growing out from the shiny core as the blade shrank in size.
“I’m not touching that,” she said.
Devi didn’t seem to be keen on taking Soul Eater either. She kept staring at it, then went over to the merchants to speak with them.
The merchants were huddling close to each other, haggard and shaken. Most of them could only look at Devi fearfully, but one at the front, a woman with an angry expression spoke up.
“What is it?”
“I ask if we can take that weapon. The black one. As payment for saving you.”
The merchants were surprised, and so was Imaya. Why did Devi have to ask that? Why not take Soul Eater simply? It was Randel’s to begin with. Imaya wondered what would Devi do if the merchants refused to give them the weapon.
“Bah! Take that cursed thing,” the woman spat. “I would have just buried it anyways and prayed that I forget it ever existed.”
“Thank you,” Devi said and bowed slightly.
“Don’t thank me, you wretched creature! Take the relic and get lost!”
“Sa-Samantha!” Another woman spoke up with a hint of panic in her voice. “Watch your tongue! They have just saved your life too!”
“As if! I know very well what they did. Players fought each other for that damned dagger. You think they came here to save your life? Hah! You forget who we are dealing with. The fact that we live is just a side effect. Happenstance. Don’t you think for a second that they wouldn’t have cut you down if their precious quests had told them to do so!”
Imaya clenched her fists but didn’t say anything. For once, she didn’t feel like talking. What the merchant said was unfair and untrue, but Imaya couldn’t blame her. Not after she lost so many people close to her. Imaya didn’t even knew these merchants, but even she was shaken by what happened here.
“Come on, let’s go,” Devi said, taking Imaya by the elbow. “We are unwanted here.”
They made their way back into the forest, leaving behind ruin and death.
“We should have helped bury the dead,” Imaya said. They were sitting around a hastily made campfire, the light green moon already being high up the sky. “It is the right thing to do in these situations, isn’t it?”
“I’m worry about predators and monsters,” Devi said. “People there without guards. It can be dangerous here.”
Imaya gasped. She hadn’t thought about that one. “Shouldn’t we hurry back then?!”
“Patrol might come,” Teva’ryn said. “They save them.”
“But what if they don’t? What if— ”
“They not want us to stay there,” Devi interrupted Imaya, “They tell us to go.”
“And better not have him there,” Teva’ryn said, nodding towards Randel.
Randel hadn’t said a word ever since Imaya caught up with him. He was incredibly withdrawn, avoiding even looking at Imaya and the Sylven. He was scribbling something on a yellowish paper at the moment, sitting a bit away from the three of them. Imaya had no idea where he got the ink and the paper, but considering what his job had been on Earth, maybe it wasn’t that surprising that he bought some. She was curious to see what he was drawing, but Devi suggested not to bother him for now.
Not that Imaya could have said anything to him anyway. Things were… awkward. How did you have a friendly chat with someone who tried to murder you just a couple of hours ago? Imaya could still remember that look of hatred in his eyes as he lunged for her.
Devi’s voice brought Imaya back from her memories. “Randel, where are you going?”
Randel mumbled something about toilets, then disappeared between the trees.
“You go, watch him,” Devi told Teva’ryn. Teva’ryn shook his head and answered something on their language.
Listening to his voice, Imaya pouted. At least Devi was kind enough to speak her language when she was present. Imaya couldn’t blame Teva’ryn because she did no better, but it was still annoying that he defaulted so often to the Sylven language.
But at least Teva’ryn was learning. For Imaya, the Sylven tongue was too incomprehensible. Randel’s dictionary was super bad at teaching the words, and Devi’s and Teva’ryn’s voice was way too musical to understand properly what they were saying. Even when they spoke slowly to her, Imaya had trouble imitating the way they pronounced the words. She had no idea how Randel managed to do it. Sure, the way he spoke sounded quite a bit lackluster compared to the Sylven’s voices, but apparently it was good enough to make himself understood.
Devi and Teva’ryn got deep into their conversation, so Imaya reached for her backpack and took out her newly purchased sleeping bag. It wasn’t the best that she could have bought on the market, but it was small and it had been cheap.
“I’m going to turn in for the night,” she told them, then lied down with her back towards the fire. Her thoughts were swirling with the day’s events, but she was also very tired. It would be so good to sleep, then wake up to realize all of this today didn’t even happen. She was just beginning to fall asleep when Devi shook her shoulder.
“Imaya, wake up! We can’t find Randel.”
“Huh?” Imaya sat up and rubbed her eyes.
“We find this, but we can’t read it,” Devi said, pressing Randel’s yellow paper into Imaya’s hand. It had shaky lines written on it in poor quality, smudged and smeared at several places.
I really appreciate everything you risked just so that you can help me. But the thing is, this is not over. Everything that happened today could happen once again, only with a different outcome.
I don’t feel comfortable being near you, knowing that I could hurt you whenever Soul Eater decides to make me do so. And you obviously don’t feel comfortable near me, knowing that I could stab you in the back. You can deny it, you can wrap the truth into nice words, but you’re not deceiving anyone. I saw the look in your eyes, and I agree. I’m a madman.
Even now, my mind is a jumbled mess. I remember how I felt when I was intent on murdering you. That’s the worst part. Even though I don’t agree with my previous actions now, I remember everything I did. Not as another person’s experiences, no. Everything was my own deed, my own decisions, and I remember them clearly. Killing was the simplest thing in the world, and I enjoyed it. Now, I don’t know what to think about that. I feel ashamed, but at the same time I feel like it was the most exhilarating thing in the world. I feel… but it doesn’t matter what I feel, does it?
My feelings might not even be my own.
But I don’t need your pity. I don’t need false kindness. I don’t need to hear that it’s over, that it won’t happen ever again. We all know that would be a lie.
I don’t want to be part of a team where everyone has to be wary of me. Where everyone has to be wary of the time when I go mad again. I don’t want you to simply tolerate me. I don’t want you to suffer my presence just because it’s not my fault that I’m going mad.
Imaya read the letter out loud, and Devi translated it for Teva’ryn. As it turned out, Randel’s farewell message had evoked sharply different feelings in every remaining member of the group.
“Why not he say something!” Devi exclaimed. She was furious, cursing Randel vehemently as she paced back and forth in the camp. Teva’ryn took the news rather calmly: he sat in silence and looked simply thoughtful. As for Imaya… well, she felt bad. But not because Randel left. Not exactly. She felt bad because of the relief she felt as she read Randel’s words.
Imaya knew she shouldn’t be blaming Randel for anything he did, because he couldn’t help it. It wasn’t his fault. She knew it, but… Did it really matter? Even if it wasn’t his fault, she still couldn’t trust him. It was exactly what Randel wrote. As long as it was possible that he fell back into insanity, she wouldn’t feel safe near him. They didn’t know for sure in which situations could Soul Eater control him. He already tried to kill Imaya once, so what guarantee was there that he wouldn’t feel inclined to do it again?
Yes. Even if it wasn’t Randel’s fault, even if it was just a rare occurrence, it would still be there. Imaya could forgive Randel everything that he said and did in the last few days, but would do nothing to change the current state of things. The thought came to Imaya’s mind unbidden, and she just couldn’t get rid of it.
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to see Randel ever again.