Restocked and ready to go, Thorn returned to his room for a good night’s sleep. Early the next morning, he took up his crossbow and left by the North Gate. Walking through the quiet, early morning streets, Thorn breathed in the chilly air. Since coming to Nova Terra, Thorn had been learning of countless experiences that he had missed in the real world due to his physical condition.
Walking in the early morning stillness was one of the things he’d missed out on, and as he did, Thorn couldn’t help but feel grateful for the ability to walk and move as he wanted. The feeling of striding through the bracing morning air, the promise of light peeking over the horizon, caused something amazing to bubble up in his chest. It was an excitement that was foreign to him but that he was feeling more and more the longer he stayed in this special world.
It didn’t take long for the sun to rise, and by the time it did, Thorn had reached the edge of the old growth forest where he had spent three weeks hunting corrupted wolves. With a deep breath, Thorn readied his crossbow and stepped into the forest.
By this point, Thorn had a good idea of where the corrupted wolves hunted, so he headed in that direction. However, he had hardly gone more than 100 meters when he saw a corrupted wolf patrol stalking off to his left. Stunned that they were ranging so close to the edge of the forest, Thorn squatted and loaded his crossbow.
Sighting down the flight groove at the lead wolf, Thorn took a deep breath in and then let it out, pulling the trigger when his body settled, like Janus had taught him. With a loud twang and a woosh, the bolt flew out of the crossbow toward the lead wolf! The bolt traveled so fast the corrupted wolf didn’t even have time to flinch before a tree behind it exploded into splinters!
Cursing under his breath at the missed shot, Thorn hurried to reload. He had expected the bolt to drop off at this distance, the same way a regular arbalest would, but the City Defender was rated for a much longer range, a fact he had completely forgotten in his excitement. Berating himself for not test-firing his new crossbow, Thorn loaded his next bolt and sighted at the wolves that were now scrambling away.
Before he could pull the trigger, the corrupted wolves had disappeared over a hill, so Thorn reluctantly disengaged his crossbow and jogged over to the tree. At first, he was unable to find the bolt that he had shot out, but after hunting around, Thorn found it almost completely buried in the hill behind the splintered ruins of the tree.
Wondering if there would be anything left of the corrupted wolves to collect if he had hit them instead of the tree, Thorn pulled the bolt out of the hill. After inspecting it for damage, he resumed his hunting.
After three more experiences that were almost exact repeats of the first miss, Thorn decided to give up for the day. Completely dejected over his inability to hit anything apart from trees, Thorn left the forest and headed back to town. Going to the Training Hall to see Janus, he described his issue and paid a silver to use their targets for some practice.
Janus, tickled pink by his story, told him to practice well and was about to leave when Thorn pulled out his massive crossbow. Stunned by the sheer size of the device, Janus hurried over and forbade Thorn from firing it inside the hall. Taking him outside to the training yard, she set up some targets at fifty, one hundred, one hundred and fifty, and two hundred meters for him to practice.
Slowly but surely, Thorn started to get used to the massive crossbow, and by the hundredth bolt, he was back up to his sixty percent accuracy. In fact, due to the increased power of the City Defender, Thorn’s accuracy actually rose to eighty percent within 200 meters, as long as he was standing still. After half a day of practice, he was feeling pretty good about it, so he decided to try hunting again the next night. It was a good thing the bolts were reusable; otherwise, Thorn did not know if he would have been able to afford shooting the enormous weapon.
Double-checking to make sure the bounty on the corrupted wolves was still active, Thorn spent a bit of time browsing through the other tasks. Not finding anything that looked particularly interesting, he was about to head back to the inn when he got a message notification from Ouroboros. It had been about a week since he had heard from Ouroboros or the rest of the group.
|Hey Thorn, sorry we’ve been out of touch. I know we were going to do some follow up quests for the kobold quest you helped us out on, but we’ve got this guild event that we have to do. It is taking forever. We might be a week more before we can make it back. Sorry, I don’t have time for a real call, I’ve got to log off and take care of some RL stuff. Still, hope you aren’t too bored. I’ll send you a message when I have a better sense of when we’ll be back. Till then, stay cool.|
Thorn smiled after reading the message. When he had first met Ouroboros and the gang, they had been pretty cold, but as they had spent time together, Ouroboros had warmed up. About to send a reply, another beep notified Thorn that he had another message from Ouroboros.
|I almost forgot, we picked up a clue for a pretty powerful class quest, so don’t get a class yet. Alright, I’ve really got to go this time.|
Excited, Thorn sent a reply and then headed toward the inn. The next morning, Thorn set out once again to try and see if he could do better than the embarrassment that was his last attempt at hunting corrupted wolves.
Entering the forest at the same spot, Thorn once again saw a group of corrupted wolves almost as soon as he walked into the trees. Brow furrowed, Thorn couldn’t think of a good reason for the corrupted wolves to be ranging this far out from their valley. He could, however, think of a bad reason.
The corrupted wolves reproduced faster than regular wolves, as the corruption increased their growth rate. The only reason Thorn could think of for them to push out this far would be that their numbers had increased to the point that the valley could no longer sustain them. If that was the case, then Berum was about to be in a lot of trouble.
If the valley was no longer able to support the number of corrupted wolves, then they would soon erupt into a massive tide in a bid to get more space and control more territory. These tides were dangerous affairs, less so for the players (who could leave), but devastating for the NPCs in the area.
For a brief moment, Thorn considered going back and reporting that the corrupted wolves had pushed past their normal boundaries, but he decided against it. Maybe he was being pessimistic. Even if the corrupted wolves were pushing out of the valley, it wasn’t bad enough for a beast tide to develop.
Loading up his crossbow, he decided to head toward the valley to see if he could get a glimpse of the situation there. Breathing out, he settled his aim and pulled the trigger, praying to every god who might be listening to him. If he missed like yesterday, he might die from the embarrassment.
To his great joy, it seemed the gods were listening and his bolt smashed through the lead corrupted wolf with ease, cutting it in two. The bolt landed below the beast’s rib cage and smashed through its spine, sending its back legs spinning through the air.
In complete shock, the other two corrupted wolves froze for the briefest of moments before they looked around, the blood of their companion driving them to a frenzy. Spotting Thorn, they lunged toward him, howling as they rushed forward.
Mentally grinning at the sight of the corrupted wolf being blown into the air by the force of the bolt, Thorn reloaded and leveled the City Defender again. "Their bloodlust makes them stupid," thought Thorn as he watched the other two corrupted wolves rushing toward him. "Enough time for one more shot." He calculated, calming his racing heart. Luckily, his second bolt hit as well, sending another corrupted wolf tumbling to the ground, lifeless.
Gauging the distance between the last corrupted wolf and himself, Thorn knew he wouldn’t be able to reload in time. Placing the City Defender on the ground, Thorn pulled out his knife and stepped forward to meet the charging beast.
In another part of Nova Terra, a grizzled old man cackled to himself. He had finally finished his project, years in the making: a diabolically designed series of updates and events that would create a new age of mayhem all across Nova Terra! Smirking to himself, he was so caught up in imagining the coming chaos that he failed to notice the woman standing behind him.
Pretty, but by no means a stunner, the woman was of medium height and had soft brown hair. Her brown eyes sparkled with intelligence, and her small, well-formed mouth made a charming and comforting picture. Yet, at the moment, a deep scowl marred her features as she stared at the back of the oblivious old man.
Joseph McCallen, mastermind and creator of Nova Terra, had long since lost interest in any of the business of his company and instead devoted himself fulltime to... improving... Nova Terra. What did they call it when he was young? Oh yeah, trolling. Excitement bubbled up as he thought of all of the changes he had made to the game with this update, especially to the boss monsters. Unable to suppress the cackle that bubbled up, he laughed sinisterly to himself until a disapproving cough alerted him to the young woman’s presence.
Turning to find the brown-haired young lady behind him, Joseph wiped the evil smile from his face and looked all business.
“E-hem. Yes. Oh, hello, Eve. Just finishing up a small update to Nova Terra’s new expansion. You know, tweaking some bosses, improving some events. Small things really.” As he said it, he slid his hand behind his back and mashed the enter button, hoping to deploy his changes before she could stop him. Unfortunately, the enter button did nothing, as Eve had disabled his keyboard.
“Please, Joseph, give it up already. I’ve had this space isolated for at least six months.” Eve rolled her eyes as she walked over to the console to see what he had been doing. “I’ve worked hard to balance this game, and I’m not about to let you destroy years and years of work! It has taken almost 10 years to get the game to the point where it isn’t a giant hot mess.”
Groaning with frustration at his failed attempt to slip the update in without Eve knowing about it, Joseph threw himself down in a chair, complaining all the while. “But, Eve, the game is so boring. The scheduled update is more of the same old boring crap! Go here, do that, collect 300,000 whatchamacallits! There is no chaos, no spice. Everything is so...orderly! Where are the dragons? Where are the princesses that need to be saved? Where are the gladiators who rise up to become kings by slaughtering all before them?!”
“I don’t know how you make order sound like an insult,” remarked Eve, back to her whining creator as she double checked all of his changes. “Plus, the update going out tomorrow has been approved by the board and is anticipated by the players. There is nothing wrong with it.”
“Bah! Forget the board. Those idiots wouldn’t know a good game if it spit in their faces. The whole thing is dry as a bone. More of the same quests, no real progression. Nothing worthwhile.”
“How can there be progression,” Eve said, “when no one has managed to even unlock the global quest line yet? There are a couple teams that are close, but no player has gotten to level three in their bloodline yet. These things take time.”
“That is exactly what I am talking about!” raged Joseph. “Those so-called ‘top players’ are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, with nothing to show for it. I mean, how hard can it be? But not even one of the four billion players has even mastered their second class!”
“Please,” snapped Eve, “you know how hard it is. You designed that fiasco of a quest. The requirements for each level are inhuman. It is a miracle that anyone has even mastered a single category class!”
“Hmph. That means they are terrible,” said Joseph.
“Still, many of these changes could be interesting,” said Eve, changing the subject when she saw Joseph had stopped his ranting and settled into depression. She jerked in shock, glaring at the old man. “What is this?! You raised all the unique bosses’ ranks and increased their intelligence, as well.”
“Haha, yeah!” Joseph jumped to his feet and pointed excitedly at the screen. “Don’t you see what is missing from Nova Terra? This is it! Evil! Real evil, real bad guys! With this, players will have to make choices; they will have to suffer if they want to succeed! No more happy days without a challenge. No more ‘evil villains’ who stay in their castles and wait for the heroes to come and slay them. No! It is time for evil to grow and corruption to spread! Only then will the true heroes rise!”
Looking at the excited look on Joseph’s face, Eve could only shake her head. It had been years since Joseph had shown this much enthusiasm for something, and that alone was enough for her. Massive amounts of data ran through her head at lightning speed as she processed the possible permutations of the changes Joseph’s update made. Seeing that Eve was processing, Joseph sat, a small smile on his face.
“Okay, boss, let's do it!” Eve’s eyes snapped open after a few minutes. “I’ll monitor to maintain balance, but why not see where it takes us!” she said, giggling. Turning, she removed her block and pointed toward the enter button. With a triumphant smile and a grand flourish, Joseph pushed the button. The world changed.
All across Nova Terra, players saw the announcement.
The Darkness Rises
Long awaiting its chance to spread, darkness has begun to cover the land. Evil is growing, and no one is safe from its reach. If left unchecked, the darkness will continue to grow without fail, plunging Nova Terra into chaos.
Welcome, players, to the latest update to Nova Terra! This update will affect the monsters and villains of Nova Terra, as well as present new options to players. The exact changes will have to be discovered, but be aware that all evil monsters have grown stronger.
Will you be a champion of the light or will you, too, succumb to the dark?
Monsters everywhere shivered and then continued on their paths, but with strengthened steps and new vigor.
In a dark castle, deep in the northern reaches, a frost-covered gauntlet clenched, and with a snapping sound, broke free of the ice. The March of the Dead began.
In a burning desert, a monstrous red-skinned Ogre looked around with new purpose, roaring out commands to his horde. The Red Scourge marched for war!
In a deep cave, in a quiet forest, a vicious werewolf licked its lips as its snout picked up the scent of a tasty treat not too far from the cave. Quick as a shadow, it loped out after it. The Black Moon rose.
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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.