"Dovon, leave him be. He already knows how close combat works. He needs more experience, like Hamm said. What he needs are long-range attacks," said the elf maid with an evil smile. "And that is my purview."

"Back off, leaf head," growled the dwarf, cracking his knuckles.

"No, you back off, shorty," said the elf, in no way intimidated. Her eyes narrowed. "Or how about I tell your missus where you were this past Tuesday?"

Face blanching, Dovon dropped his hands and put on his best smile, immediately stepping out of the elf's way.

"Anyone else fancy themselves this boy's teacher?" Seeing that none of the other trainers stepped up to challenge her, the elf chuckled. "Hello, Thorn, I am Janus Fairgoode. I specialize in projectiles. Mostly bows, but I do dabble in other thrown weapons, as well. If it's made for fighting at a distance and isn't magic, then I'm your gal. I teach lessons at the same price as Hamm."

"Thanks, but I don't actually have money to pay for lessons. I only started playing today, so I stopped by to check things out and complete my starter quest," said Thorn.

Ignoring dumbfounded expressions on the crowd's faces, Thorn waved goodbye and strode quickly away. Down the street, he suddenly realized the sword that Hamm had lent him was still in his hand. He turned around to return it, but when he got close to the door, he could hear Janus' high pitched voice yelling, so he decided to return it later.

It wasn't marked as a stolen item, so he stuck it in his inventory. Nova Terra's inventory system worked much like inventories worked in other games. It was a subspace where the character could store almost anything that they possessed.

Checking his quest, he saw that he still needed to go to Edgar's Emporium and the McCarthy Farm. Edgar's Emporium was in the southern district, also known as the Market District, where the majority of the trade goods came into the city. A large shop, Edgar's Emporium sold everything an adventurer could need. However, five copper coins weren't enough to buy much of anything, so Thorn didn't stay long.

The currency of Nova Terra was pretty simple, with ten copper making up a silver, one hundred silver making up a gold, and one thousand gold making up a platinum. UCs or Universal Credits, the currency of the real world, were also usable, but the exchange rate fluctuated based on how many people were trying to buy gold.

That left only the McCarthy Farm. McCarthy Farm was outside the city to the south-west, sprawling over rolling hills. At the entrance to the farm, an NPC was handing out a quest to kill some rats that had been raiding the farm's fields. After accepting it, Thorn walked over to the nearby fields only to stop and stare in amazement.

Players were dashing this way and that, each trying to land a killing blow on the pests as soon as they spawned. No sooner had a rodent appeared than a mass of players would surge toward it. Shrieking and hooting, they tried to land a blow on it before the unfortunate creature vanished back into the code. Shouts of "kill stealer" and loud swearing were everywhere. Unsure of what to do, Thorn stood in place. He was so engrossed in this new scene that he barely felt it when someone ran straight into him and tumbled to the ground.

"Oh, excuse me," said Thorn, instinctively concerned for the girl who had landed on the ground.

"No, no, my fault. Haha, I should be watching where I’m going!" said the redheaded girl, scrambling to pick up her witch's hat before she jumped up and dashed off again.

Bemused, Thorn could only watch as she sped off. With a shake of his head, he backed up and started walking out of the yard, trying to find a quiet place to kill vermin in peace. His wandering took him out of the fields where new players were slaying creatures and into a nearby forest.

Due to his physical condition, Thorn rarely left his house during his 16 years of life except to go to the hospital, so he quite enjoyed the cool quiet of the forest. Winding his way aimlessly through the trees, he cast his mind over what he knew about the game.

Nova Terra was a unique game that bragged it was more of an alternate reality than an actual game. This is why stats were hidden and the game required you to actually complete tasks to improve your skills.

When he had first heard about entering the game as a form of treatment, Thorn had become excited about the idea of being able to move as he wished. He was especially excited about being able to put his martial arts training into practice. He had played turn-based strategy and management games, as they did not need the quick movements that Real Time Strategy games and Shooters did.

But, compared to most sixteen-year-olds, Thorn was way behind when it came to familiarity with games. Then again, he was way ahead when it came to maturity. This stood him in good stead since Nova Terra was less of a game and more of an alternate reality. Plus, the idea that he could fall back on his aunt if he found himself floundering was always in the back of his head.

While Nova Terra wasn't a pay to win game, there was no denying that money and influence could give you a definite edge. The shop sold all sorts of items that could give a player an edge, and players who had the cash to spend benefited from it. Thorn was not lacking in that department, though he had not yet decided how he felt about spending money on a reality that wasn't ultimately real. Besides, there was something quite romantic about the idea of forging your own way, setting your own destiny and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

With his only experience fighting being the two matches that he participated in at the training hall, Thorn was looking forward to practicing in the game. Thorn, cautious by both nature and experience, recognized that he needed to learn in actual combat. A normal fight was not like a fight in the ring, where his wounds healed after it ended.

Stopping in a little clear area in the woods, Thorn settled into a horse stance and completed a few of his forms. He had always focused on very slow and steady movements, infusing strength through gentleness and control. But his body was different in Nova Terra, and with mounting excitement, Thorn began to inject more and more strength into each move. He moved faster and faster until his hands and feet were snapping through the air. Ecstatic at the feeling of moving his body freely, Thorn let loose, stepping, turning and bursting with power. Slow to fast, smoothly transferring his weight and energy.

His master, Ms. Chen, had talked a lot about Fa Jin, the energy bursting principle of Taijiquan, but Thorn had never been able to practice it himself. Instead, he had often spent hours in meditation, visualizing himself moving through his techniques, focusing power into his strikes by coordinating his whole body's movement. Engrossed in his practice, time sped by, and before he knew it, the sun was starting to set, and his stomach was starting to rumble. He sat down where he was, and pulled out one of his loaves of bread.

The loaf, a reasonable size for an adult, looked tiny in his hand. With a shrug, he ate it in two bites, grumbling as he pulled out another one. Munching on the other loaf, he looked around at the trees and the soft sunlight filtering through the leaves. It was quite beautiful in this new world, and Thorn couldn't help breaking out into a huge grin.

Life was looking up. His usual routine had smashed wide open and adventure was on the horizon. Gone was his life of watching the world pass from his chair. He took a deep breath, drinking in the clean, crisp evening air. For the first time ever, he didn't have to worry that a sudden movement would have him bleeding all over. He could finally relax and enjoy the moment.

Darkness arrived, blanketing the world in a deep blue, pierced by the bright yellow of the moon. While the light from the moon was more than bright enough for Thorn to make his way through the forest, the trees' long, dark shadows stretched into each other, creating a sinister atmosphere. Though shocked at how drastically the feeling of the forest changed with the coming of night, Thorn was not particularly worried. Feeling smug, he toggled his map display and retraced his steps toward the McCarthy Farm.

Arriving at the rolling hills and green fields that marked the edge of the forest, Thorn saw that the fields were as full as before. Players were doing their very best to find the randomly spawning pests for their quest. Shrugging to himself, Thorn walked out and joined the throng.

Finding a spot in the crowd was easy, and Thorn's size worked to his advantage. Space quickly cleared around him, especially once he pulled out his sword. With the six-foot sword, Thorn had an almost ten-foot reach. A few practice swings emptied out his surroundings as other players backed up to avoid the whistling blade.

Dealing with the pests turned out to be much more difficult than Thorn anticipated. Each time a pest would spawn, the closest players would swarm over to try and kill it to get credit for the quest. The real dangers, however, were the players farther away who would shoot arrows or throw projectiles, resulting in the area around each spawning pest turning into a pincushion.

Finally, after almost three hours of frustration and not managing to get a single kill, Thorn had had enough and squatted down. Extending his large sword, he began to sweep it across his side, a few inches above ground level. Switching hands without stopping, he continued to sweep his sword back and forth, the hum of the sword cutting through the air, creating a deadly reminder to the nearby players to stay away.

After two minutes, a pest popped out of the ground, only to get bisected! Not even bothering to pick up the body, Thorn continued his swings uninterrupted. Nodding to himself in satisfaction, he checked his quest mentally, happy to see his kill count increasing. This method generated the ten pest kills he needed after a few minutes, and he stood up, stretched, and went about gathering the bodies of the rodents.

Tossing them into his inventory, Thorn walked back to the edge of the farm where he had gotten the quest. The NPC quest giver was not at his usual post, leaving Thorn confused. Seeing Thorn looking around, a friendly player informed him that the NPC was sleeping and wouldn't be out till the next day.

"Huh, I guess that makes sense," Thorn thought to himself. "If this is an alternate reality, it would be strange to assume that the NPCs were going to stand around in the same spot waiting for players. Does this mean that all the NPCs have their own lives?"

Looking around, Thorn decided to try and find a place to sleep for a bit. While the farm wasn't far from Berum, Thorn wasn't interested in going back to the town and trying to find an inn for one simple reason. What sort of inn would have a bed that was more than 8' 9" long? His bed in real life was a custom-made monstrosity that could fit a full family of five, but Thorn could not imagine he would be that lucky here in Nova Terra.

The number of players that were out and about had in no way decreased, causing Thorn to wonder what was going on. Pulling up his in-game browser, Thorn searched for information on sleeping in Nova Terra.

The result surprised him. Despite the time dilation, players often had to sleep in a semi-regular schedule in-game. This was due to the mental energy that the players were exerting during each in-game day. A player's mental energy expenditure would increase based on how tense their situation was. This meant that a player out in the wilderness fighting monsters might need to sleep every night while those who stayed in the safe cities might only need to sleep once a week.

Players could sleep in Nova Terra, but many players would sleep when they logged out, setting up their schedule so that they were in Nova Terra for five game days, and out for two. An interesting side effect of this was that the players who spent their time producing were able to keep up with the production demands of the adventurers who often had to spend a third of their game days sleeping.

Still, that did not help Thorn's current predicament, which was where to put his head down to rest. Looking around for a dark corner, Thorn found a spot by the barn and sat down. Leaning back against the wall, he instinctively began the breathing exercise that his master had taught him. It helped him calm down and manage his pain. For years, sleeping had been more of a chore than a pleasure as lying down only increased the pressure on his chest and lungs.

Concentrating on his spirit, he touched his tongue to the roof of his mouth and began to exhale in a long, continuous breath, pushing the air from his diaphragm. As he fell into the rhythm and felt his body begin to relax, Thorn wondered if the Chi that his master always talked about was real in Nova Terra.

As a fantasy setting full of fantastical creatures and ancient mysteries, Nova Terra teemed with things that would be pure myth in the real world. Even magic, a difficult and esoteric subject, had popped up in the last few years, causing fledgling mages to begin to spring up like weeds. While doing his research, Thorn had considered trying to learn magic but decided that it was not for him.

Spells, while powerful, were a total pain to cast and even more of a pain to learn. According to the little that he had read, every spell had multiple pieces that all had to be in order for the spell to work. Not only did spells require a deep understanding of the verbal command that triggered them, but also the accompanying hand gestures and sometimes physical reagents. All this seemed like too much trouble when Thorn could hit things with his sword.

Thinking of hitting things with his sword, Thorn reflected over the two fights he had experienced earlier in the day. The first fight had fit his expectation pretty well. Despite Mac's experience, Thorn's training had proven better, and he was able to win. However, the fight against Hamm had been very frustrating.

Hamm's movements were precise and seemed to anticipate Thorn's every move. In fact, he had not been able to touch him with his sword no matter how he swung it. Resolving to practice more, Thorn drifted off to sleep.

A note from WildCard

If you've enjoyed what you read and are interested in reading more, please consider supporting me on Patreon where you can read advanced chapters, explore the world of Nova Terra, and help me determine where the story goes.


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About the author


Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at

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