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35 Part II

 Birds as black as shadows burdened the winter trees bereft of leaves. The crows looked down at the boy that was firing stones with a catapult that resounded in the quiet woodland whenever it came in contact with the branches. Once the troublemaker hit the smallest of the blackbird with a smaller stone, the rest cawed, flapped their tarry wings and descended on the boy.

Bertha run!!!" The two fled with the crows chasing them. Rowan's feet beat the blanket of snow, he breathed steadily, and ran at a speed of light. Bertha couldn't run as fast as him.

She was just lucky the crows had stopped, but she'd lost sight of her friend in the dim woodland. "Ro!!!" She called out. She kept trudging through the deep snow until she tripped over a rope, and soon she heard a creak. A pointed log was moving towards her at a fast speed. The little girl was glued in place, eyes cloudy with tears as she screamed for help.

Someone grabbed her small body and carried her from the unsafe spot meant for animals. Bertha looked up to her savior's face, and once she discovered it was Artemis, she knew she was in a lot of trouble.

***

"He's the one that was slinging stones at the crows! I didn't want to go, but he made me tag along!" Bertha tried to explain her Innocent self.

"You're making it look like I forced you!"

"You did!!"

"I did not!!!"

Listening to their bickering made Artemis facepalm then she fixed her attention back to the children then firmly pinched their cheeks.

"What if something bad happened? I thought I warned you both about the traps in the woods. You're not supposed to go there without an adult," she crossed her arms, trying her best to bottle up her rage.

Bertha was crying, but Rowan was fighting to stop his tears from escaping.

Artemis didn't enjoy yelling at them, but she'd been too nice. If she didn't act strictly, they'd foolishly wander into the dangerous woods again. Winter was the era of bandits. She was playing her part to keep her and the rest of the small community safe.

"We're sorry" Artemis couldn't help but pull the children into a hug after their apology. She released them from her embrace a few seconds later, wiped Bertha's tears away, and pat Rowan's head.

"Don't do that next time, okay!!!" They nodded, and she dismissed them. The kids scowled at each other before turning to leave, and Artemis sighed. Their expression meant they'd unfriended one another again. It was something like a hobby. Another thing they both did frequently was making up and acting like nothing ever happened.

Artemis went back to where she'd placed a trap and stared down at what she'd taken an hour to set up. She frowned. Her efforts were a waste because of those naughty children.

A crow hopped on the branch above her, and it cawed. She looked up to see the grievous eyes, then she walked away, trying to ignore its boring gaze.

She doubted it was a beastman in disguise. They hardly had business on earth, and after she faked her death, it was a slight possibility that they'd still be watching her. Besides all that, her hair colour had changed, she also cut it, and left it at a length above her neck. She looked like any other boy hunting, and the drawback of any deception skill was that magic radiation couldn't be sensed.

She moved on to other traps, and she noticed the crow floated over her to the next branch with a swift movement. She ignored it again.

She pulled out the dead rabbit that an arrow pierced, then put it into her sack. She had something to sell.

She was gathering money for durable gears that caught her interest, and bribe to give the gatekeepers to buy their silence and access to the portal.

It took her five years of hunting and trade to gather up fifty gold coins. She was still short, and the deadline she'd marked for herself was fast approaching. She had to go to Sol soon to retrieve an enchantment book Orion's grandfather had written. Orion was sure it would be of excellent use and favour.

After gathering six more rabbits, she headed for the market close by and walked along the stalls crowding the footpaths, until she reached the one she was familiar with.

"How much can I get for six rabbits?"

Surprise took the butcher at the store. He expected a customer, but it was the boy that always came to trade. (I stated boy because that Is Artemis's current disguise)

The shopkeeper eyed her before proceeding to place freshly slaughtered meat on hooks.

"How much can I get for six rabbits?" She asked again, this time louder, and the man hissed.

"Look boy, nobody really buys rabbits right now. It's just beef and chicken. The cloth sellers are the ones cashing out, but butchers like me barely make ends meet even when we reduce the price of our meat. Do me a favour and buy something for once."

The old man watched the boy walk away from his shop, and he stopped by his enemy's. The lady on the other side handed the boy a small parcel for the rabbit he'd brought. A smile appeared on his face before he waved goodbye then headed for another stall.

Artemis stopped walking once her eyes feasted on the sword she had fallen in love with. A forty-seven inches claymore.

She daydreamed of herself in the arena again, effortlessly swinging her sword at any beastman that came her way. But the price of the sword made that dream somewhat unachievable. A hundred and ten gold pieces for a blade forged by a renowned blacksmith. The measly tip didn't make any difference. The gap between her and the weapon remained wide.

A short sword next to the claymore, but there was no need to look long. She still couldn't afford it.

She plopped herself on her bed once she got home. She'd lost hope on getting a good sword. It would take a lot of time before she saves up double of what she could offer.

"Coming!!!" She said once she heard knocks on the door, "Yes?" Her eyes met with Anna's, then the woman in her late twenties presented a small box.

Artemis took hold of the container, then opened it when Anna gestured for her to do so. The amount of gold inside the box left Artemis stunned.

"H-how?!"

"Ma Lari had a lot of friends she could get some money from. A hundred might not be enough, but it's all we could get."

Artemis's face lit up in seconds, and she wrapped her arms around Anna. The gift lifted her spirits, and her mood had gone rosy.

"We're counting on you Artemis, don't let us down!"