Dumbfounded, Thorn could only watch as Janus began shooting arrow after arrow at the dodging Hamm, who seemed to get out of the way of each of them. Some were so close that his leather armor was nicked! Standing there staring, Thorn felt a tug on his arm. Looking down, he saw the pipe-smoking dwarf, Dovon, standing next to him.

“Hey’a, boy. Why don’t we take this chance to get some grappling training in?” said the dwarf, chewing on his pipe.

Throwing a bemused glance at the elven archery master who was still making Hamm dance, Thorn nodded. Might as well train at something else since she was occupied. Thorn followed Dovon to a different part of the large training hall, handed over his 10 silver, and sat down on the ground. Even sitting, Thorn towered over the four-foot tall dwarf, but at least their heads were in closer proximity.

“Alright, boy, let’s chat about grappling. Grappling is the art of grabbing on to someone and hurting them or restraining them through the use of technical grappling techniques. However, we are going to simplify it since you have some background in martial arts, and your body isn’t suited for the technical stuff, anyway. We are going to break this down into a couple categories, some of which we will cover, some not.

“First, we have ranged striking. This is any punches or kicks from a distance without direct body contact. We will not be covering this since you have a pretty solid striking foundation, and grappling focuses more on body contact. That is, what to do once you have made contact with an enemy.

“Second, we’ll look at close contact striking. How do you strike someone after contact is made? This is going to be our main focus and will take up most of our training. We’ll talk about three different things: Indexing, Control, and the basic starts. Then we’ll drill those until you puke!

“Last, but not least, we’ll go over some actual grappling since that is what this course is called, and we should cover what happens when you are too close to strike. How does that sound?” As he finished speaking, Dovon lifted his left leg, a quivering arrow stabbing into the floor where his foot had been moments ago!

“Okay, let’s talk about the basics.” Completely ignoring the fuming elf across the room, Dovon resumed his teaching without missing a beat. “What I am going to teach you are the foundations of how to wreck your enemy with your hands and feet once you are within arms reach. We’ll spend the first two days on close contact striking, and then we’ll deal with how you will incorporate grappling into your combat routine.”

Standing across from Thorn, who was still sitting on the ground, Dovon stood in a relaxed position, his feet less than shoulder width apart and his hands resting by his side.

“This is the basic position we will work from. We call it, ‘you should have been prepared but you aren’t and now you are in a fight’ or ‘roll initiative’ for short.” Dovon paused for a moment to chuckle at his own joke. “From here your goal is to get to a combat-ready state as fast as possible. There are three possible positions. Passive, which is where we are. Reactive, which is where we will be when we flinch. And active, which is when we attack or block. Passive is useless, reactive is good, but more often bad, and active is where we want to be.

“So, if you are in a passive position, and you see something coming, your natural reaction will be to recoil in some fashion. You want to get through that recoil as fast as possible without obstructing your ability to follow up with a useful action. Got it? We’ll be drilling it until you don’t even realize you are doing it. Next, we are going to cover indexing, which is how you target.”

Waving to a human who was watching from the side, Dovon pulled him in front of Thorn.

“This is Sam. He is going to help me demonstrate the next couple of things.” Turning to the man, Dovon nodded. “Sam, try to hit me.”

Squaring up his shoulders, Sam started blasting out punches toward Dovon, who bobbed and wove with ease, sliding past the punches like he could see them coming a mile away. Holding up a hand to stop Sam, Dovon grabbed Sam’s left hand and put it on his chest. When Dovon nodded at him to start swinging again, Thorn was surprised to see that no matter how he moved, Dovon was unable to get away from Sam’s punches, forcing him to block them with his hands to avoid getting his face battered.

“Okay, enough, enough,” grumbled Dovon after Sam threw ten blows. “I swear that is his favorite part of working here. Anyway, did you see what happened as soon as we made contact? Once he had his hand on me, no matter how I move, his body is able to adjust his blow even after he has thrown it to hit me. This is because the point of contact provides more information than his eyes do. The combination of visual clues and tactile clues allow him to react to my attempts to get away.

“This is called indexing and forms the first rule of unarmed combat. ‘If you can put a hand on your enemy, do.’ The second rule comes from what we call controlling, which encompasses the way you create angles and bypass obstructions. The second rule can be stated as, ‘The fewer things between you and your enemy, the better.’ Okay, so we have indexing and controlling. This brings us to the last of the basic rules.

“Rule three: ‘If what you are doing is working, keep doing it.’ Now, this sounds like a basic thing, but you would be astounded at how many martial arts muck about trying to add variety to a very simple thing. If you hit your enemy, and they miss the block, hit them again. If you kick, and they buckle but don’t go down, kick them again. Hell, if they do go down, kick them again anyway. We only switch our method when we have to.

“Alright, enough of me jabbering. Get on your feet, and we’ll start going through the drills.” Dovon set up a circular ring and then pulled a large humanoid training dummy from near the wall. Thorn had previously seen various players sparring against the dummies, which could move like a regular person. Dovon equipped the training dummy with punching mitts and keyed in some commands.

Standing across from the dummy in the ‘roll initiative’ position, Thorn started practicing his reaction drills. Closing his eyes, he waited for the dummy to give him a sharp push on his chest before opening his eyes, trying to recover his balance, and striking the training dummy’s punching mitt, which was held in a different position each time. After this, Dovon had him begin full contact sparring with the training dummy, focusing on indexing, control, and successive strikes.

At first, Thorn was knocking out the training dummies with a single blow, but Dovon soon adjusted their threshold for force, causing them to ignore all but the strongest hits. After a bit of tweaking, Thorn could only knock them out after three or four hits, which caused him to ramp up his strike’s power. This continued until he was once again knocking each training dummy out in a hit or two.

Dovon, for his part, was ecstatic to have such a strong student. In fact, he got so excited that he spent all three days teaching and drilling Thorn on his close contact striking abilities. When Thorn tried to ask about grappling, Dovon looked at him and said in a completely serious voice, “Just grab them and rip their arm off.”

Thorn was confused until one of the training dummies lost its head from an off-target punch, the sheer force of his blow twisting the head right off. Toward the end of the three days, Dovon started armoring the training dummies with metal armor and giving them weapons. Thorn was given bracers and metal gloves to defend himself, but the sheer force of his blows turned his steel covered fists into pile drivers, smashing the training dummies to pieces.

Finally, his training was over, and Thorn bowed to his dwarven trainer, who was doing his best to keep a massive grin off of his face.

“Thank you, sir. I learned a lot about practical combat over the last three days. I’ll put it to good use,” said Thorn as he bowed.

“Haha, of course, kid. I’ve got plenty more, so come back when you want to learn something else. But you better go talk to Janus before she shoots us full of holes,” Dovon said, gesturing to the slim elf lurking in the background with a throwing knife dancing across her fingers.

After placating Janus with a promise that he would continue to practice shooting, Thorn looked for Hamm but was told that he had gone out and was expected to be gone for a week. This seemed to be common, and the players did not seem to mind one bit. Then again, players could speed up time by logging out, so the NPCs being away did not bother them. Thorn didn’t have that luxury, so he decided to pick up his old standby and go hunt some corrupted wolves.

After, of course, a shopping trip. The sword that Thorn had used on his first hunting trip had been returned and melted down for scrap. He had a machete that he was using as a knife, but Thorn lacked a ranged weapon and something to protect his hands, so he decided to go browse the weapon shops.

Thorn’s first stop was the armorer he had commissioned to make his custom fit scale armor. The shopkeeper had sent word to the inn where he was staying that morning, letting him know that the armor had been completed as ordered. When he got to the store, the excited shopkeeper took him to the back room, where he got changed. The shopkeeper had also made a set of clothing for underneath the armor, so Thorn did not have to put it on over his beginner’s clothes.

Once dressed, Thorn admired the sleek scale armor in a floor length mirror that showed up to his chest. Dark brown leather with hardened reinforcements gave the armor an earthy tone, complemented by the hardened steel scales on the chest piece. With the shopkeeper’s recommendation, Thorn had the scales treated with a matte brown varnish that kept them from shining, for stealth’s sake. Two tight pauldrons gave some protection on the shoulder while the metal bracers and shin guards were treated with the same varnish as the scales, as were the chainmail guards at the joints.

The black underclothes contrasted well with the brown armor, offset by some dark green stitching and dark green leather belts that crossed his chest and wrapped around his waist. Out of the unflattering beginner clothing, Thorn presented a rather dashing picture. After admiring himself in the mirror for a few more minutes, Thorn thanked the shopkeeper and went off to find some weapons for his hunt.

As Thorn walked down the wide street in Berum, he noticed a lot more people glancing his way. He wasn’t sure if it was the new armor or the training he had gotten, but he was feeling much more confident, and that confidence was reflected in his walk. Where players and NPCs paid him little attention before, they now moved out of his way or looked twice. His skin was pretty thick, so the extra attention did not bother him.

The bow store that Janus had recommended turned out not to be a bow store at all. Rather, it was a mercenary resupply store that sold everything a mercenary corps might need. Thorn saw everything from basic camping equipment for individual mercenaries to massive stew pots and ‘e-z-build bunk beds’ for managing a whole company. Weapons could be bought individually or ordered in bulk.

After telling the gawking clerk that he was going to look around, Thorn browsed through the extensive weapons section. There were a number of bows and crossbows, but what caught his eye were the ‘City Defense 800’ series of arbalests. Designed to be mounted on a wall or a cart, the City Defense series was halfway between an arbalest and a ballista. With a five foot lath, the crossbow was too unwieldy for the average person to handle on foot. By fixing it on a cart or city wall, a mercenary corps could increase the threat range of their warriors.

An average arbalest was lucky if it had a 100-meter range with any degree of accuracy due to the shorter Powerstroke, but the City Defender tripled that by increasing the size of the lath and lengthening the flight groove.

Priced at 4 gold apiece, the City Defender 800 Series was not cheap, but looking at it gave Thorn all sorts of crazy ideas. Finding a shopkeeper, he purchased the City Defender and had them pack it up, asking for directions to the nearest weaponsmith. While the City Defender suited his size, it lacked a proper handle, and the whole winding mechanism was in the way.

Before Thorn left, he also purchased three hundred bolts for the arbalest, making the shopkeeper wonder if he was about to declare war on someone.

The weaponsmith, located in the western Forge District, agreed to modify the massive crossbow for Thorn. Removing the mounting point and all of the mechanical parts of the winding system, he attached a metal stock, laid down a metal slide in the flight groove to reduce friction and wear and tear, and reinforced the trigger system. The resulting crossbow was simplified and stripped down.

While he was there, Thorn asked about some sort of auto-loading mechanism like the ones he had seen on some of the other crossbows that were for sale but was told that most of them were more of a gimmick than anything else. By including an automatic fire system, a crossbow sacrificed both range and power to increase fire speed.

Since it took Thorn almost no effort to draw the string of his crossbow, it was not worth the sacrifice in range and power, so Thorn put the thought out of his mind. Once his crossbow was done, Thorn was left with a bit less than 1 gold to his name, so he decided to skip getting any gauntlets, for the time being.

He still had his knife for close combat, and with his armor, Thorn was confident that even if the corrupted wolves closed the distance with him, he would be able to defend himself even better than the last time he hunted them. Thinking about how he often had to rest after each tussle, Thorn vowed that, this time, he wouldn’t allow them even that victory.

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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

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