It was early morning when he woke up. Eating the rest of his bread, he waited for the farmer who had given him the quest to appear. Turning in the quest was simple, and Thorn collected the ten copper coins the farmer was offering for the pest corpses and walked back to Berum. The line at the gate wasn't long. Apart from some nervous looks from the guards, he got into the city without issue. Heading back to the eastern district, Thorn turned in his quest at City Hall.
Seeing his somewhat lost look, the secretary recommended that he go to the job board and look for some tasks to get himself started. Thorn, who had been wondering what to do next, thanked her and hurried off to see what other sorts of things the game had for him.
Quests in Nova Terra were different than quests in other games in that there was no physical indicator that an NPC had a quest to give. With no yellow exclamation points or question marks floating above the NPCs' heads to tell Thorn that there was something special to do, he had been a bit lost as to how to find something to do. The job board settled that.
Located outside of City Hall, the job board displayed quests issued by the NPCs of the city. It also showed tasks that players submitted to have other players complete for a fee. This worked out well for everyone because Nova Terra did not have experience points. Functionally, there was no difference between a task issued by a player and a task issued by an NPC. Not only was the board a place for tasks, but it was also a recruitment board. This allowed guilds, mercenary corps, and other groups to advertise and recruit players to work with them.
Looking over the board, Thorn found a task that suited him. The surrounding forests were being plagued by a large pack of corrupted wolves, and the city had offered a bounty on them. They were paying three copper per tail turned in. Pleased that there was no limit to the number of tails that could be submitted, Thorn headed for the forest after spending his 10 coppers on more bread.
He had never hunted anything before, so he had to rely on walking around some of the areas mentioned in the task on the job board. Thorn spent almost an entire morning wandering this way and that through the forest, looking around for some wolves. Unable to catch sight of even a single wolf, Thorn sat down to eat lunch while he considered his next move. At this rate, he would starve to death before he found his first wolf.
Opening the in-game browser, Thorn looked for information on finding wolves. There was quite a bit of information on hunting in general, and Thorn spent an enjoyable hour reading through some of it. Bookmarking a couple of pages for later reading, Thorn finally found a forum post that mentioned that the wolves around Berum were farther out in the forest than the task said. Looking at the area on the map that the post mentioned, Thorn confirmed he had not yet walked through that area.
Standing up and dusting his pants off, Thorn moved in that direction. The forest was nice, but the constant ducking to avoid the low hanging branches was getting old. So, though Thorn was still excited to get some wolves, he decided to find somewhere else to walk around. The journey wasn't too long, and Thorn arrived at the edge of the marked space within an hour.
According to the forum posts, the corrupted wolves had been around for a while and the task that the city issued had been a pretty consistent task. To the north-west of the city, north of McCarthy Farm, was a large stand of old growth forest tucked between three large mountains. This forest was the home of the corrupted wolves; from there they spread to the north and west of the city.
There wasn't any information on where the wolves came from or how they had been corrupted, but the post had mentioned the way to differentiate a corrupted wolf from a normal wolf. Corrupted creatures, as a rule, had extended claws and fangs and red glowing eyes. Many also had streaks of black running through their fur that increased with their level of corruption.
The main feature of corrupted creatures was a complete fearlessness and a deep bloodlust that would cause them to attack with abandon as soon as they discovered prey. While this made them very hard to fight, they didn't have to be chased down like normal wolves. As he moved forward, Thorn began to see the trees thinning out and the undergrowth disappearing. After a while, he noticed that the trees were bigger, and he had much less trouble walking under them.
The forest floor here was covered in a spongy layer of composting leaves and debris from the trees, fine blades of grass poking up wherever beams of light were able to pierce the thick foliage. Thorn was walking around a large boulder when his scalp prickled, and a dark shape came barreling at him from the side. Instinctively raising his right shoulder, Thorn felt a sharp pain as a corrupted wolf's teeth ripped into his skin, forcing him to stumble backward.
Still reeling in shock from the ambush, Thorn reached out, his immense hand curling around the corrupted wolf's chest. With a grunt, he heaved the wolf off and scrambled backward until his back was against the boulder.
Three corrupted wolves appeared, low growls issuing from their throats, and began circling him, looking for a weakness. Checking his shoulder, Thorn was relieved to see that it wasn't bleeding too badly. Still, he could feel his health trickling away, so he couldn't afford to wait too long. Seeing him look down at his shoulder, the wolf on his left howled and dashed forward, its claws flashing.
This time, ready for the attack, Thorn pulled his sword out with his right hand while shifting his weight onto his right foot and snapping a sidekick at the wolf as it jumped. Feeling his foot connect, Thorn borrowed the rebounding force to drop into a squat before shifting forward into a bow stance as he cut upwards with his blade, bisecting the wolf in front of him while dodging the snapping teeth of the wolf attacking from the right.
Without even looking, he reversed his swing and lopped off the attacking wolf's head with a neat slash. Turning to face his left again, Thorn's mouth dropped open. The first wolf to attack was also dead, its head crushed by his snap kick! Releasing a big breath, Thorn patted his chest. Real combat was nerve-wracking!
Collecting the tails of the three wolves to turn in for the quest, Thorn rested for some minutes before continuing forward. The attack had come out of nowhere; Thorn's perception wasn't strong enough to spot the hiding wolves, so he wasn't sure what else he could have done. He had heard people talk about being able to sense killing intent, but Thorn had grown up in the most peaceful environment possible, so he didn't even know what killing intent would feel like.
In fact, the countless hours that Ms. Chen spent forcing him to complete his slow Taijiquan moves and the fact that this was a game were the only reasons he could fight at all. Despite how lifelike the game was, Thorn was not able to suspend his disbelief completely, giving him something of a laissez-faire attitude when it came to things like getting hurt. This allowed him to be completely fearless when facing his opponents.
Advancing, Thorn had more warning before his next fight. He caught sight of another three wolves coming over a hill. Three bloody minutes later, he had earned three more tails and a nasty bite on his leg. Fortunately for him, in Nova Terra health regeneration was closer to a game than to real life, otherwise, Thorn would have been in a lot of trouble as the wounds built up.
After resting for a couple moments outside of combat, all of his wounds began to knit themselves back together, taking only a few minutes to heal completely. Emboldened by his two encounters, Thorn decided to speed up a bit and, covering vast amounts of ground with his enormous stride, ran into six more groups of wolves before dusk began to settle. Knowing that the thick layer of foliage would make the forest completely dark soon, Thorn decided to call it a day and head back for town.
After about forty-five minutes of walking, he made it back to Berum, picking up another three tails on the way. Over the course of the day, he had collected 27 tails, which, at 3 coppers each, came to eight silver and 1 copper. After a guard pointed him to a cheap inn, Thorn bought some dinner and went to bed. Even though he could stay up for a couple days in a row due to the time dilation, Thorn was not in any rush. After all, he had the next 14 years to do quests.
The inn was somewhat run down, but since cheap was currently the name of the game, Thorn did not care. He paid the gawking tavern owner and squeezed up the stairs to the small room he had rented. Like he had dreaded, the bed was a small single. Stripping the sheets off of it, Thorn lowered himself onto the groaning floor. Worried that the floor was going to collapse under him, he stayed as still as he could. Running through his breathing technique, more out of habit than anything else, he soon fell asleep.
At some point in the night, feeling a cold breeze, Thorn woke up. Sensing something wrong, he lay still, his eyes barely open. It took him a moment, but he made out a small figure crouched in front of the window. Dressed completely in black with a mask over its face, the figure seemed to have just come in through the slightly open window.
Reaching around in the dark, Thorn grabbed the first thing that his hand fell on. As the figure stood and snuck toward the window, Thorn hurled it at the thief!
Oberlin Danihoff, III, had been out of luck recently. Starting with that twelve-year-old kid from whom he’d tried to lift a magical tome. That kid had turned out to be an archmage of some sort, specializing in lightning. And to make a bad thing worse, the magical tome had almost eaten one of his fingers! Then it was the madman with the portal in his room who summoned some sort of eldritch horror. Ugh. He had been washing slime out of his hair for weeks.
Needless to say, his often impeccable luck had recently been complete garbage. It was so bad, in fact, that he, the greatest thief in all of Angoril, had been reduced to scrounging for coins in a dump of an inn in the middle of bloody nowhere. Shaking his head in frustration, he continued to move forward slowly until a cold breeze blew across his back.
“I thought I latched that!” he thought, swearing to himself. A quick glance at the bed showed that it was still empty, but Oberlin was a professional, so he turned to close the window. When he got to it, he realized the latch was actually broken, explaining why it had swung open behind him. As he began to re-affix the latch, he heard a heavy creak behind him and turned his head in time to see the entire bed flying across the room at him, a gargantuan shadow monster that filled the room rising up behind it!
With an ear piercing scream, Oberlin dove through the window in an attempt to avoid the bed hurtling toward him, all the while cursing every god he could think of.
Startled by the loud commotion, the inn's owner rushed out from the back, his nightgown askew, clutching a comically large axe. Thorn pulled the bed out from the hole he had created and looked down. The bed frame had smashed out some of the wall next to the window, allowing Thorn to squeeze his bulk out of the hole and drop to the ground next to the thief, who was on his back groaning after falling 15 feet.
Landing with a thump, Thorn watched the unresisting thief, who was muttering something about quitting this stupid game while he waited for the innkeeper to come out. The commotion, resulting from the loud smash as the bed frame impacted the wall moments after the thief dove out the window, seemed to have roused the whole inn.
Still fuzzy, Thorn was unsure of how to proceed. Before he could decide if he should find a guard or take the thief to jail himself, the innkeeper rushed out the door of the inn, his giant axe waving around him in the air. The innkeeper looked around wildly, and, upon spotting the gaping hole in his wall on the second story, let out a furious shriek!
"WHO SMASHED A HOLE IN MY WALL?!"
"Um, that was me," Thorn admitted, raising a hand.
"HOW ABOUT I SMASH A HOLE IN YOU?!" Apoplectic, the innkeeper tried to grab Thorn by the collar, but, due to the difference in height, he only managed to grab Thorn's shirt near his ribs. "YOU….you…." realizing that he was currently threatening someone twice his size who, moments before, put a massive hole in the wall, the innkeeper trailed off, deflating.
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that. I didn't realize I had grabbed the bed," said Thorn, rubbing his nose. "I was trying to scare off this thief."
"Well I'd say you succeeded," muttered Oberlin to himself, trying to push off the ground.
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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 https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.