“Good morn…” Calling out as he heard the bell on his shop door ring, the shopkeeper trailed off in shock as Thorn’s massive bulk squeezed through the door. Ducking to avoid dragging his head on the eight-foot ceiling, Thorn’s huge body took up most of the small store.
“Morning. I heard you carry custom armor,” said Thorn, looking around at the leather and chainmail adorning the various mannequins.
“Uh..yeah…Yes! Yes, I do. For uh...for all shapes and...uh...sizes,” stammered the shopkeeper, still trying to process the giant who was squeezed into his shop.
“Excellent. I’d like to get some armor!” said Thorn, in his most chipper tone, mentally shaking his head. He had no idea why his height was such a barrier to conversation for people.
“O..okay. Let me take some measurements, and while I do that, we can talk about what sort of armor you are looking for.” The shopkeeper’s merchant side finally kicked in when he heard Thorn wanted to purchase some armor, and he was able to get his wits about him. “Do you have any thoughts on what sort of style and material you are looking for?
“Um...hmmm…” now it was Thorn’s turn to hem and haw.
“Why don’t I give you a brief introduction to the kinds of armor,” said the shopkeeper, to Thorn’s relief.
Almost three hours later, Thorn stepped out of the shop, his wallet a whole six gold lighter. Still, Thorn was happy. After discussing all of the options, Thorn finally agreed to get a custom-made leather armor with a scale covering on the torso, thighs, and upper arm. According to the shopkeeper, scale armor, which was made of many overlapping metal scales, was great at defending against both piercing and blunt force attacks but lacked some of the flexibility of chain or leather.
Because flexibility was important to Thorn, they had decided on a very fine chainmail at the armor’s joints and a hardened leather everywhere else. After looking over multiple designs, Thorn had rejected all of the pauldrons and had settled on shaped metal plates to guard the shoulders, forearms, and calves. Most sets of armor used pauldrons to increase the profile of the wearer, but that was the last thing Thorn needed.
Having settled his bill and agreeing to come back to pick up his new armor in a few days, Thorn headed for the Training Hall. He had not been gone back to the hall for further training since his first visit, but he thought that it was time to pick a weapon and get some practical in-game instruction. The last few weeks of fighting corrupted wolves had broken him of the assumption that his martial arts background could be applied as he knew it.
Almost every one of the fights he engaged in devolved into him swinging his sword as fast and hard as he could or simple punches and kicks. He learned that all the blocking, special stances, footwork, and the like, went right out the window when a large, slavering monster was trying its best to bite your head off.
While Thorn had pretty much mastered the basics of the sword, saber, and spear, what he knew were vague concepts and forms. Not actual combat. Remembering a time when he was fighting three wolves and his sword had gotten stuck in the first wolf he had stabbed, resulting in three savage bite wounds, Thorn grimaced. He had resolved that fight by ripping the last wolf in half, but it had been a close call.
Watching the ease and fluidity of Ouroboros’ fights had reinforced the idea that Thorn’s fighting style had a glaring problem. Ouroboros used a shield and sword, but it was often hard to tell which was for defense and which was for offense. He was able to adjust to the situation, blocking blows from either side with ease and striking out at impossible angles to cut down his foes before they could even approach. Before watching Ouroboros, Thorn had been feeling that he was pretty good at combat, but it took only a few minutes to realize that he wouldn’t last more than a few moves against the Holy Guardian.
Not only did he lack practical fighting experience, but Thorn realized that his size would actually be a major hindrance in a fight against someone who was more skilled than he was. In order to maximize his power, Thorn had to maintain a specific distance, and once his opponent had stepped inside that distance, the best he could do was frenzied grappling. This was by no means a problem unique to himself; however, his increased size magnified it.
Getting to the door of the Training Hall, Thorn was a little taken aback when it opened to reveal a glaring elf, Janus Fairgoode. Unbeknownst to Thorn, the projectiles trainer had fought with all the other trainers for the right to take Thorn as a student.
“Where have you been?” she barked, reaching out to latch on to Thorn’s shirt.
Instinctively, he slapped her hand down and stepped back into his stance before rubbing his head.
“Sorry, sorry. I’ve been out hunting to get money to pay for lessons,” Thorn said, standing and bowing his head.
“Hmph, that’s more like it,” Janus said, her angry eyes lighting up when she heard the word money. “Come on in.”
Heading into the empty hall, Janus led Thorn to a corner where bows of all shapes and sizes rested in racks along the wall. Large quivers of arrows stood at various stations, ready to be sent downrange to the straw targets against the opposite wall.
“So have you decided if you want to learn thrown weapons or archery first?”
“Well, I was actually hoping to ask you,” replied Thorn, putting on as humble a look as he could. “I am trying to figure out what would be the best weapon for me to learn, but I’m not able to decide.”
“Yeah, you are something of a puzzle,” Janus admitted, looking him over.
“Hey, kid. Welcome back,” interrupted Hamm, who had walked in beside Dovon, the dwarf who taught grappling. Ignoring Janus, who was glaring at him, Hamm looked at Thorn. “Looks like you haven’t met Master Sun yet. Or did he reject you?”
“No,” replied Thorn, shaking his head in embarrassment, “I actually forgot about finding him.”
“Eh, that actually works out. I found out that he is out traveling, so you wouldn’t have been able to meet him anyway,” said Hamm, unconcerned that he had sent Thorn on a wild goose chase. “I heard you tell Janus that you are here to find a good weapon, huh?”
“Yeah, he came to me to ask about what he should learn,” said Janus before Thorn could respond. “Me. Not you. So leave us alone, old man. I’m trying to instruct my student.”
“Old man, huh?” said Hamm, a belligerent light in his eyes. “How about this ‘old man’ gives you some instruction?”
Ignoring the two bickering trainers, Dovon stepped up to Thorn and tried to pat his back. However, because of their height difference, the best he could do was to pat Thorn’s upper thigh. Seeing how defeated the dwarf felt, Thorn felt bad, so he repeated his question from earlier.
“Sir, I’m trying to figure out what weapon I should use going forward. Do you have any suggestions?”
“Actually,” Dovon chewed his pipe for a moment before spitting on the floor. “We’ve been tryin’ ta figure that out ourselves. Ever since ya first stopped by, there has been a constant debate ‘bout what would suit ya best.”
“It’s true.” Turning away from Hamm, Janus sat on one of the archery racks. “Your strength is out of this world and your flexibility is astounding for someone your size. Couple that with inhuman reaction speeds, and you are literally built for combat. The problem is, what sort of combat?”
“That’s right,” said Hamm, taking over the conversation. “You are not suited for finesse-based weapons, which puts most blades out. It also rules out hidden weapons like darts and daggers, short blades, and stuff like that. Spears and polearms are out since they would have to be ridiculously oversized to work for you, which would impact their adaptability. Axes and lances are in the same boat as spears, and the more esoteric weapons are bad anyway.”
“Yeah, stuff like chains, whips, scythes, you know.”
“Does that mean that you can’t offer me any training?” asked Thorn with a frown.
“No, no. We are happy to train you in any weapon, so long as you pay for the course. What I am talking about are weapons that you are unlikely to be able to master because of your physical condition and the limitations of your environment. Take swords, for example. You already have a great sword form and are a passable swordsman. However, it is unlikely you will ever get better for a very simple reason.” Hamm paused for dramatic effect.
“You are too strong,” cut in Janus, stealing Hamm’s thunder.
“Too strong? This is the first time I’ve heard of strength being bad,” mumbled Thorn.
“Of course strength is not bad,” said Hamm, glaring at the slim elf who had interrupted him. “But your level of strength makes it impossible for you to cut with a sword the way you are supposed to. A slash from you doesn’t focus on the power of the sword, which is the ability of the edge to cut. Instead, your strength turns every blow into blunt force, smashing through anything that resists. Remember that sword you borrowed? The thing was ruined by the time you brought it back. After all, swords are not meant to be hit against metal, or even bone. They are designed to cut soft tissue and cause bleeding. But when they enter your hands, they end up being no different than a metal stick.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” said Thorn, scratching his head. “Do you have a recommendation for me?”
Shouting out their answers together, Dovon, Janus, and Hamm glared at each other. Seeing they were about to break into another argument, Thorn jumped in.
“Sounds great! Where do I pay?”
“You want to do all three?” Janus asked, separating herself from the squabbling men.
“Yeah, they all seem pretty interesting, so why not give them all a try?”
“Excellent. You can start with archery,” said Janus, rubbing her hands together. “What level of training would you like? The cost is 10 silver every three days for basic training, 50 silver for intermediate and 1 gold for advanced.”
“Umm, let's start with basic training for now. I’ve never shot a bow before.”
“Sure. That will be 10 silver.” Janus held out her hand.
After paying, Thorn spent the next few hours getting a detailed lesson in the different types of bows that were available in Nova Terra. There were longbows, short bows, long recurve bows, short recurve bows, compound bows, composite bows, crossbows, and the list went on and on. Thorn had assumed that Janus would push him toward the longbows, since she was an elf, but was soon surprised when she pulled out a massive, cloth-covered bundle from behind one of the racks.
“Here, open this up,” she said, giving the bundle a kick.
Unwrapping the thick blankets, Thorn saw a thick metal bow mounted with bolts to an ash-colored frame as thick as his arm.
“Is this a crossbow?” he asked.
“Crossbow? Ha, no way. This is an arbalest! Do you know what the difference is? It is in the bow. See how it is made out of metal? That makes the arbalest much stronger, though it is generally considered unwieldy, since it is so much heavier and harder to draw. However, that shouldn’t be an issue for you.”
Picking up the arbalest according to Janus’ instructions, Thorn soon learned its basic usage. Like a crossbow, the arbalest included a basic winding mechanical structure that assisted the user in drawing back the string. There was also a simple release mechanism to allow the user to fire with a trigger, much like a rifle. Winding was rather tedious, however, so Thorn soon resorted to pulling back the string with his hands, finding it much easier and quite a bit quicker.
Bolts were loaded into the flight groove after the string had been pulled back and shot with considerable force down range. After playing around with the arbalest for a bit, Thorn was rather pleased to see that he could hit the target at 50 meters most of the time. Six out of ten shots might not seem like much at first, but considering that this was his first time, he was pleased. Janus, however, was not pleased at all and set out a strict shooting practice routine for his next two days.
Since Ouroboros and the gang had sent him an in-game message to let him know that they would be tied up for a few more days than expected with a guild activity, Thorn applied himself to Janus’ training with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. The arbalest was fun to shoot, and Thorn found himself immersed in the training routines.
Fire while standing still, fire while moving, fire while prone, turn and fire, reloading from a quiver, reloading from bolts on the ground, moving and reloading. Over the three days of training, Thorn felt like they covered every possible situation.
As he fired bolt after bolt after bolt, Thorn started to understand the mechanics of the arbalest, and his accuracy crept up. There was no astounding breakthrough or magic assistance, which almost made him wonder if this was still a game, but he did get more accurate as time progressed. Soon he was hitting all of his shots from 50 meters when standing still and at least 6 out of 10 when moving. Farther than that and his accuracy dropped, but Janus said that was because of the strength of the bow and its smaller powerstroke.
After finishing up his last exercise on the third day, Thorn bowed to Janus and was about to ask for the intermediate training, when Hamm jumped in front of him and started yelling.
“No, no, no! You stupid kid! You’ve wasted too much time on this lame arrow stuff!”
“Lame arrow stuff?!” Janus’ eyes narrowed and a shortbow seemed to appear in her hands. “How about I show you how stupid it is?”
“Yeah, stupid! Whoa, wait, I mean…” Hamm, still facing Thorn, felt a cold chill run down his spine and glanced back to see Janus pulling out an arrow from a quiver on the floor. “Hey, w...wait a second,” he stammered, putting up his hands and backing away.
“What are you backing away for, Hamm?”
“Hey, no need for that. Why don’t we talk this out?” said Hamm, backing up faster.
“Talk it out with this!” yelled Janus, drawing her bow and sending an arrow flying at Hamm, who dodged with a diving roll.
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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. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.