"Hey, you're that frea...that big guy from before!" stammered a voice, catching itself mid-sentence.
Looking up from his meal Thorn, saw the red-haired girl in the witch's hat who had run into him the first day he had arrived in Nova Terra.
"Hello," replied Thorn in response, taking her in. Dressed in open fronted cloth robes with hot pants and a belly shirt, she presented the classic look of a fantasy witch, from the pointy hat perched on her mass of red hair to the high heeled boots with a slight curve in the toe.
"Yeah, I was going back into town to drop off some skins since our bags were getting too full. Oh! I have a great idea! Come with me!" Turning back the way she had come, she grabbed Thorn by the hand and pulled him along as she dashed off. Or at least, she tried to. Pulling on him was no different than trying to pull a mountain with a tow rope. Thorn didn't move at all, and the unexpected resistance knocked her off her feet again.
Thorn quickly took a step forward and put out a hand to steady her. Taking the opportunity, the red-head continued to pull him forward as she walked toward a small hill that was off to the left while Thorn, somewhat perplexed, followed. Over the top of it, Thorn found a small group of individuals sitting around a small fire, taking care of their equipment.
The group watched them approach. As the two got close, a six-foot human who seemed to be armed like a knight moved forward to greet them while an elf in robes shifted a wand closer to hand and someone who looked like a dwarf slipped back into the darkness.
"Mina, who is this?" called out the knight, his hand tucked into his belt near his sword as he looked at the giant before him.
"Ouroboros, this is that guy I was telling you about! The huge noob I ran into a couple weeks ago in the starter field. Noob, this is my team, Ouroboros, Velin, and Jorge!" Finally letting go of his hand, Mina gestured toward the knight, the cleric and the back of the camp where the small figure had disappeared.
"Uh, hi. My name is Xa...Thorn. Um...sorry for intruding." Thorn felt quite bashful. It was his first real interaction with other players, and he wasn't sure how to handle it. Normally when people looked at him it was with fear, strange fascination or pity, but the group in front of him seemed to not care about his abnormal size.
"Nice to meet you, Thorn," said the knight, reaching out a hand. "I'm Ouroboros, the leader of our small band of misfits. By your gear, am I right to assume you only started Nova Terra a little while ago?"
"Yeah, I started a couple of weeks ago," responded Thorn, taking the offered handshake. He was thankful that the game seemed to scale his force based on his intentions, so Thorn didn't have to pay careful attention not to crush the knight's armored hand. "I just met Mina for the second time a few moments ago, and I'm not quite sure why she brought me over."
"Oh, yeah, yeah. Ouroboros, you said we needed to recruit a fifth for that mission; why don't we take Thorn here? He looks super strong, so I bet we can loot everything!" Thorn could almost see the dollar signs in her eyes as she gushed to her team.
By this point, the cleric had come over and a short figure appeared next to Thorn, revealing Jorge to be a dwarf in dark leather with a wicked-looking curved knife that he was in the process of sheathing.
"Pleased to meet you," said Jorge in a gravelly voice. "Can you carry a pack?"
"Uh, yes?" Thorn wasn't sure where this was going.
"Good." And with that, the gruff dwarf walked back to the fire, where he resumed caring for his gear.
Following the dwarf, Ouroboros invited Thorn back to the fire to share the meal they were eating, and the group sat down together while Ouroboros explained their situation. The four of them were a group of adventurers who took quests from the traveler's board. They had been thinking about taking on another quest, but it required five members. They had been discussing going back to town to see if they could find someone who would be willing to sign on with their group as a Porter.
Seeing that Thorn was unfamiliar with the term, Mina explained. It turned out that a Porter was a player who took on a special group role in Nova Terra that could be assigned by a group leader to one of the members of their party. It increased inventory space and reduced the weight of the items the porter carried, but it prevented any special movement abilities or skills from being used.
Additionally, there were some restrictions on how the Porter could use their inventory. Anything that the Porter put into their inventory from the party could only be retrieved by the group leader and was sent to the group leader when the party was disbanded, preventing the Porter from being able to run away with all the loot. The main exception was, when the porter died, they would drop all the loot they had picked up.
The quest they were about to undertake promised a fair amount of loot as well as quite a few chances to gather skins, so the group wanted to make sure they could bring everything back with them. The quest itself was something they could complete with four players, and bringing along a noob to act as Porter would help the group maximize their profits. It sounded good to Thorn, as it would help him get a better understanding of the game. Plus, Ouroboros was offering to pay him two gold a day plus 5% of their total haul as compensation, so he agreed.
Pleased, Mina welcomed Thorn to the group with an overwhelming flood of words. Seeing his somewhat frantic look, Ouroboros cut in while Mina was taking a breath, ignoring her nasty glare.
"So, Thorn, why don't you tell us a bit about yourself?"
"Sure," said Thorn, nodding his head. "I started playing only a couple weeks ago, and I'm still getting used to this whole thing. This is my first time with a virtual reality game like this, but I am learning as I go. So far I've been hunting wolves for the bounty, which has kept me going pretty well."
"Oh wow, so you really just started! Are you having any trouble getting used to the time dilation? When I first started, I would always forget that there was a time difference, which caused me some issues."
"It hasn't been too bad. Things seem to move at a slower pace in game than they would in real life, which helps quite a bit."
"That is true." Ouroboros nodded. "Still, loading into the game in the morning and experiencing multiple days in the game always threw me off since it was the same day when I logged out at night. I have a regulator, which helps me play more consistently."
"A regulator?" asked Thorn.
"Man, you are a noob," laughed Mina.
"Sleep regulators are devices that attach to your gaming equipment. They help you wake up and sleep on a particular schedule that minimizes your time out of the game. It lets you play while you sleep. Professional gamers use them to maximize the number of hours they can be in the game," Ouroboros explained with a smile.
"Whoa, are you all pro gamers?" asked Thorn in astonishment.
"Yup. We are part of Ragnarok."
Surprised, Thorn could not help his indrawn breath. Despite being a noob, Thorn was not entirely ignorant. Ragnarok was one of the strongest guilds in Nova Terra! Made up of elites, Ragnarok was an absolute powerhouse and held numerous records in the game. Unlike the Society of Roses, who were mercenaries, Ragnarok kept to themselves and worked to unlock the many secrets of Nova Terra.
Thorn, excited to have fallen in with guild players, began asking questions, and Ouroboros kindly humored him, chatting about Nova Terra while Mina interjected long rambling rants every time they got onto a subject that caught her fancy. Jorge, on the other hand, sat by the fire drinking out of a large mug that seemed to never run dry. The cleric, Velin, sat near Ouroboros, tossing a word in when she felt like it.
After a couple hours had passed, Velin got to her feet and excused herself, mentioning that she had to log out to eat. Deciding to give everyone a break and to resume on the next game day, Ouroboros set a time to meet, and the group of four logged out, leaving Thorn to wait out the night. While he was waiting, Thorn fished out some more food and enjoyed another meal. Once he finished, he pulled up his in-game browser and began to look through the information on parties. After having lived his entire life without much interaction with his peers, Thorn had never even thought of forming a party. He had assumed that he would go through Nova Terra the same way he went through life. Alone.
However, that wasn't really a fair assessment since he had been surrounded by people his whole life. His aunt had taken wonderful care of him, and he trained with his master at least once a day. Additionally, he generally got along quite well with the nurses and doctors with whom he came into contact, to say nothing of the bodyguards who followed him and his aunt around at all times.
Despite the presence of so many other people in his life outside the game, Thorn couldn't help his overwhelming feelings of being alone. One of the counselors he had talked to had aptly described it as ‘feeling trapped in your own skin'. For many years, Thorn had thought that his feelings were unique because of his situation, but talking with counselors had helped him understand that this feeling of loneliness in a crowd was a common thing.
Thinking about the next day's activities, Thorn could not suppress his mounting excitement about working with Mina and the others. Hunting the corrupted wolves was fun, but Thorn was determined to explore all the wonders of Nova Terra, and that meant playing well with others. About to turn in for the night, a pop-up announced that he had gotten a new message. Expecting that it was his aunt bothering him about playing together, Thorn sighed and clicked on the notification.
To his surprise, it was actually a message from his master, Ms. Chen, asking how the game was going and if his training had been helpful. His sleepiness vanishing, Thorn opened up the video chat feature and recorded a message to send to her. He explained how the Taijiquan he had learned had been helpful for the most part. However, he was running into Taijiquan moves that seemed good in practice but were not helpful because of his size.
Several times he had tried to execute a move when fighting the corrupted wolves only to completely miss because of the size difference. Taijiquan had been created with two similar sized people in mind, and as a result, he was struggling to put it into practice with his massive form. On the other hand, when it worked, it was very effective! After explaining his experiences so far in the game, Thorn asked for some advice on how to make what he already knew work against smaller, weaker enemies.
Closing off the message with a description of his interactions with Hamm, the sword trainer from the Training Hall, Thorn bowed with respect and said goodbye before clicking the send button. Due to the difference in time between the game and real life, the message had to be processed so that it wouldn't look to Ms. Chen like it was being fast forwarded.
Thorn suspected that what he needed was more practice in how to apply the techniques, but he was hoping that his master would have some good insight into how he could use the forms that were second nature to him now for effective combat.
Sending the video message to his master got Thorn thinking about the issues with his form that were brought about by his size. Many of the smaller joint manipulations and locks that he had been seeing did not work the same way for him due to how large his hands were. At the same time, he was so strong that he found he could overpower everyone else he had met in a direct contest of force.
For someone who had trained for more than ten years to employ as little force as possible in his movements, this concept was throwing him for a loop. For example, when he matched strength with the large warrior in the Training Hall, he had tried to give way to his opponent's strength in order to use his force against him, but no matter how much he gave way, his opponent simply couldn't move him.
Yet, when he exerted a force of his own, his opponent could not even begin to handle it. The same thing had happened countless times when fighting against the corrupted wolves. Moves that were designed to accept and redirect force did not work the way they were supposed to while moves that would never work for a normal person killed the corrupted wolves with ease. Palm strikes intended to deflect crushed bone instead. Granted, it was not the worst problem to have in a fight.
Having finally verbalized the problem he was having, Thorn decided to do some research on other fighting styles. Over the next nine hours, Thorn combed through the game forums and searched for other types of martial arts that favored a more direct, aggressive approach. A couple of the different styles caught his eye, and he spent some time looking them up and sorting them according to his interest.
Direct striking arts like Karate from Japan and Pencak Silat, which had been created in Indonesia, both favored sharp powerful strikes and hard offense. While both contained empty hand and weapon forms, Silat was more weapon oriented while Karate favored empty hand forms over weapon forms. Another interesting martial art out of Thailand was Muay Thai, a hard striking art that placed special emphasis on external strengthening. While adaptive combat arts like Systema from Russia and Krav Maga from Israel were also popular, they focused more on defense and grappling, which was not Thorn's main focus.
Taijiquan was only one of the many Chinese martial arts, and at first, Thorn looked for another Chinese martial art to learn, but he realized that almost all of them were very similar to Taijiquan in their movements. Putting them aside until his master responded to his message, he looked instead for an art that he could learn on his own to maximize his attacking potential.
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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.