“Hey! Rahul!” Rose smacked the back of her brother’s head. “You’re supposed to not burn the meat!”
“Huh!” Rahul’s eyes returned to the grill from the marvellous blue sky. “Oh yeah! Oh, shit!” He quickly used the tongs to pick at the crackling, smoking mess, but the thin slice of beef had already become charcoal.
Like such a waste! They had to buy it secretly, hiding from their parents, carry it all the way here to Arun’s holiday home, set up a barbecue. And after going through all that trouble...
“Ya know you’re eating that, right?” Rose giggled, earning an irritated glare from Rahul.
“Like you could’ve warned me, sis,” he said, scraping the burnt bits off the grill. “Beef’s expensive.”
“You’re worried about money? Wow! That’s a new low, even for you!” Rose leaned forward and pressed the back of her palm on Rahul’s forehead. “Are you ok? Did you catch something from Chi?”
“Don’t drag me into this,” Chitra said, sitting on the small mat they’d spread on the grass. “But what’s wrong with you, Rahul? Where’s your mind been lately? Worried about the exam?”
“Well, that too, but...” sitting beside her, Arun chopped down on the head of a carrot, “I think it’s the [Element] he got recently. Lucky son of a—”
“Stop there!” Chitra held up her hand. “Children shouldn’t curse.”
“I wasn’t gonna!” Arun said. “And what children? We’re—”
“Adult!” Chitra pointed at herself before pointing at the three of them one by one. “Children.”
“Ya know, you got a lot naggier after getting your ‘adulthood badge’,” Rose said while wiping thin chinaware plates with a napkin. “Just wait a few months. We’ll get ours too.”
“Talk when you get them.” Chitra leaned back on the trunk of the birch tree behind her. Those three insisted on her sitting this one out, so she was the only one without work.
And she wasn’t complaining.
With the frequent on and off of blindness and sight, she’d been avoiding things that could injure her. Fire, knives, those kinds of things. The game was affecting her real life more than she’d thought. Good thing aunt Reshma and Swati were there or...
Maybe take some time off of gaming?
She shook her head. Not yet. Not with that situation unresolved. That’d be irresponsible.
“Is something wrong, Chi?” Arun asked her.
“Nothing.” Chitra took a deep breath and turned towards Rahul’s general direction.“The spellbook. That’s the one you wanted my advice on, right? What? Is that girl, what was her name? Yume or something? Still mad at you?”
“They aren’t. Well, not to the point of mad, but you can’t avoid some hard feelings,” Arun answered for him. “But that’s already passed. It’s just him being a worrywart.”
“But it’s been half a month already!”
“Only five days outside,” Rose said.
“Well yeah, but that’s long enough too.” Chitra frowned. “Could it be something else?”
“Like it’s nothing.” Rahul shook his head. Really, it wasn’t anything. Except for him feeling strangely energetic after learning that element. Strangely energetic outside the game. And with the time frame, the whole situation just felt bizarre. It could be him thinking too much, but when he wanted to mention it to someone else, he just... couldn’t.
That’s like, so not me.
“Don’t worry about him.” Rose’s voice seethed with annoyance. “We got seasick, and mister here got an [Element]. A fricking [ELEMENT]! How could he possibly cope with such horrendous luck?”
“Language!” Chitra raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t worry, I censored it.” Rose smiled at her. “Anyway, forget Rahul. What about you, Chi? How’s your game life?”
“Me?” Chitra took a whiff of the charred smell still lingering in the air. Exactly like those burnt venison and hawk meat from her cooking experiments. Magic fire was NOT suitable for cooking. Though not like her attacks never burned those poor creatures.
“Fine. Just doing an errand from a blacksmith.”
“Wow!” Arun’s eyes widened. “You got a quest? In Caramis?”
“Yeah, my first quest. In fact, if all goes well,” Chitra smiled, “I should be done by today.”
Bloom jumped off the cliff. The dry wind of Dragonspire canyon whipped her face and hair. Motes of red light swirled around the sword she raised high above her head, crimson tongues of flame writhing around its razor-sharp edge. It left a trail of fire in the air behind her as she fell towards the parched, rocky soil below. Bloom gripped the hilt tight.
Please be on time!
As if listening to her call, an enormous form flew into her vision, blocking her way to a certain, unwanted suicide.
Gotcha! Stupid bird!
Bloom brought her feet forward. Like a living meteor, she crashed into a back full of dark blue, almost black feathers. The flying creature below her faltered from the sudden impact, but before it could get its bearings, a furious shard of sharp heat plunged into the flesh of its back. Savage red flame exploded inside. Fire cooked its bones, boiled its blood and flesh like red hot lava. A shockwave burst out its way of the flesh of its back, along with gouts of flaming blood, blasting it off the very skies it ruled.
The sharp wail stabbed Bloom’s eardrums. She blanked out for a moment, letting go of the sword jutting out of the creature’s body as it struggled to stay aloft. But the fire burned through its nerves, cramped its muscles. Its wings shrunk, curling inwards as its body spun out of control, flinging Bloom off as it plummeted towards the ground. Bloom sailed through the air for a breathless second, then her body smashed into the side of a cliff. The collision crushed the air out of her lungs. She slid to the ground just as the giant body of the creature rammed into the rocky terrain ahead of her.
[Damage Received: 49]
Bloom’s ears buzzed, making her dizzy, disoriented. She shook her head, trying to clear it. Her eyes fell on the colossal silhouette behind a cloud of dust and smoke. She sprang to her feet. Her bones ached, but she gritted her teeth and backed away, going as far as she could from its reach. But the beast didn’t chase her. For a moment, it didn’t even move. Bloom frowned.
Did I kill it?
As absurd as that thought was, she couldn’t help taking a quick glance at the attack notifications.
[Additional Effect: Shock(Greater)]
[Target is paralyzed]
She shook her head with a wry smile and glanced at the red name floating above the creature.
Ruler of The Skies
Level 65. And she’d just reached level 50 yesterday. Not even [Rend Earth] could let her one-shot such a monster. That attack only took two-thirds of its health; though the crash landing piled on some more damage, it could still easily kill her. She’d faced this monstrosity two times already, and only her luck saved her from an early ticket back to the Circle of Descent in Caramis.
I’m still in trouble.
Bloom took a look at her magic point bar. Totally empty.
Her eyes scanned the blissfully empty window, landing on two sad, transparent vials sitting on its upper left corner. 1 red [Common Health Potions] and 1 blue [Common Magic Potions]. She’d found them in a wood treasure chest, though she only got the key to it after taking down the Grasslion King. And thanks to the thoughtnet, she even knew how to use them.
With a flick of her wrist, the magic potion appeared in her hand. After a brief glance at the crystal clear substance sparkling like liquid sapphire inside, she downed it in one gulp.
She’d drank one of the health potions before. And though it’d saved her life from the hawk king, It was too sweet and had a strawberry-like taste. Not her favourite. But anyway, it did its job. Her mana jumped back to half full state instantly.
Bloom exhaled, took out one of her spare swords, and dashed towards the Nettlehawk king.
The beast spotted her move. It let out an angry screech, trying to charge at her, but with the blood inside it still boiling, a mire of crippling pain bogged its senses down. Panicked, it tried to flap its quivering wings, desperate to return to the skies, but they felt like jelly.
Bloom slashed her sword down, sending out [Crescent Slash], the most powerful skill of [Flash Sword]. A red half-moon blade of flame flew forward. It struck one of the bird’s wings, leaving a long, crimson cut burning through its feathers. Again and again, she kept sending those slashes from a distance. The skill had a five-second cooldown time. Each of them was also a big dip on her magic points, but she didn’t let up. After going through all that to finally pull it down to earth, she had to make sure it stayed, no matter what.
[Damage Dealt: 565]
[Damage Dealt: 663]
The bird screeched, struggling even harder with each burning cut. Just as bloom raised her blade for another attack, one of its wings overcame the paralysis. With a scream of fury mixed with fear, it swung that golden-tipped wing towards Bloom. Blades of wind just like her [Crescent Slash] blasted out from the edges of the razor-sharp feathers. Bloom ducked, sidestepped, avoiding them. Most of them, except for one hidden behind the other blades. It struck her squarely on her chest. Her body shot back, crashing hard against the ground.
[Damage Received: 1431]
[The durability of Sturdy Black Leather Armour reduced to 58/110]
Bloom sucked in a breath. Her eyes bulged as she swallowed back the scream threatening to rip through her throat. Tentatively, she put her hand on her chest. Yup. The armour had a crack. At least her ribs hadn’t pulverized, though she still might’ve broken a few. And all that from a single swing of its wing. The damage she did was barely half of that.
I’ve been too greedy.
Bloom picked herself up. The sword in her hand changed into a bow. [Crescent Slash] might be powerful, but she’d rather be a living turtle than a dead rabbit. She shot arrow after arrow at the bird while widening the distance between them. Blades of wind chased after her far quicker than her arrows, destroying everything in their path. Bloom rolled away, barely dodging one that shattered a boulder into dust mere inches from her feet. With the distance and her [Acrobatics], avoiding them was a piece of cake. But retreating? That was another matter entirely.
She wasn’t the only one struggling, though. As she got further from the hawk, a strange restlessness rose in the beast’s heart.
Its eyes glowed red. Struggling to its feet, it raised its wings and beat them down. The wind exploded behind it as it leapt forward. In a blink, the distance Bloom built up vanished. Sunlight glinted off its sharp golden beak, pecking at her face like a missile.
Bloom wrenched herself away from its path. Her body twisted around as she took aim reflexively. Red flame blazed on the arrow tip. She let it loose, and one of those large golden eyes burst into a shower of blood and gore.
[Damage Dealt: 113]
[Target is bleeding]
The hawk thrashed around. Blades of wind flew everywhere from its wings, leaving deep scars on the ground and the walls of the canyon. It clawed desperately at the burning shaft protruding from its eye socket. Its claws, like large sabres, could rip apart a Skull Bisons as easily as a ragdoll, but too large to grasp that thin piece of wood.
Bloom ducked another wind blade, crouching down as she tried to slip away, but suddenly the bird whipped its body around. Its tail spread out like a fan, swatting towards her. It was slow enough for her to dodge, but an idea sparked in Bloom’s mind. She crossed her hands before her face and jumped back, letting the tail sweep her away like a giant fly-swatter. She rode the wind, instantly increasing the distance between them, and landed far away.
A thanks would’ve been appropriate, but she made do with a smile of appreciation towards the hawk, just before once more raining arrows towards it.
The hawk’s remaining eye glared at her, seething with fury and vicious hatred. It opened its beak, its bright red tongue vibrating as it crooned. It brought its wings in and covered its whole body with them like a giant umbrella. One second... two seconds... no matter how many arrows she pelted it with, the creature didn’t move.
An assured sense of anxiety made Bloom’s heart skip a beat. It was about to do something! She was sure.
She sent a glance towards the blue bar above her and bit her lips.
Still not there yet.
Suddenly, the bird swung open its wings, spreading them far and wide. A gust of wind blew away everything around it, including her arrows. Its feathers vibrated, buzzing loudly, and glowed with golden light. And then it started fanning them, raising dust and gravel to the air with each powerful flap of those ginormous wings.
And just like that, it was off the ground.