Thorn was currently in combat, so the notification of the update was muted. Even if it hadn’t been, he would have missed it, as all of his focus was fixed on the corrupted wolf currently charging him. Extending his left hand out, his fingers spread, Thorn waited for the corrupted wolf to start its leaping pounce before moving.
Taking a big step toward the jumping wolf, Thorn’s massive hand smashed toward its snout. The blow would have sent the wolf tumbling back if he hadn’t followed up with a lightning fast stab, guiding his knife into the wolf’s neck. Black blood spurted from the wound, and the wolf dropped to the forest floor like a limp rag.
Collecting the two bolts he had shot before, Thorn spent a moment cleaning them off before he started hunting again. Soon he fell into a steady rhythm. Shooting the first wolf and the second, and then applying his new close combat techniques to take down the third. Like this, he pushed deeper and deeper into the old growth forest.
The deeper he got, the closer together the corrupted wolf patrols became, making it more and more difficult to only engage a single patrol at a time. Deciding to change his tactics a bit, Thorn found a good defensive spot with two large trees that were close together. Looking around, he found a large boulder that he rolled over to the trees. Propping it up against the two trees, Thorn created a natural wall against which he could put his back.
With his new-found confidence, Thorn wasn’t worried about facing large numbers of corrupted wolves, so long as they could not surround him. After all, while he was a pretty skilled martial artist, he did not have eyes in the back of his head. Taking a moment to settle himself, Thorn stuck six bolts in the ground next to him and loaded his arbalest. With a deep breath, he sighted at the group of corrupted wolves that was farthest away.
It was a long shot at more than 200 meters, and Thorn had no expectation of hitting them, but he sighted his crossbow and released a shot. With a harsh whistle, the bolt flew through the air, covering the distance in a bit over a second. Missing the corrupted wolf that Thorn had aimed at, the bolt impacted the ground right in between two wolves, showering them with dirt debris from the forest floor.
Without waiting to see the result of his shot, Thorn reloaded and aimed at the next closest group that had turned to look behind at the commotion. Squeezing off the second shot, Thorn was a little luckier this time and caught a corrupted wolf in the shoulder, causing it to explode in a shower of blood and gore. Fortunately, the rest of the corrupted wolves had not spotted him yet, so he reloaded his arbalest again, sending another massive bolt into the crowding wolves looking for the source of their trouble.
Apart from the one he had killed, three groups of wolves gathered at the sound of the bolts. With eight corrupted wolves milling about, it was almost a miracle that Thorn missed his third shot, the bolt flying between two wolves and smashing into the ground. The impact did knock a corrupted wolf off its feet, but the other seven wolves immediately turned to look at Thorn, their blood red eyes locking on him.
Feeling the increased pressure from their savage attention, Thorn did his best to calm his beating heart and loaded his arbalest again. During their training, Janus had stressed that, to be a good archer, one must always be calm and collected, no matter the situation, able to complete reloading and aiming without letting the environment affect the smoothness of the actions.
Thorn was by no means that good and had to work hard to suppress the slight shake in his hands. Still, due to how far away the corrupted wolves were, he was able to release two more shots, killing two wolves before they closed in on him. The last bolt he left in the ground. Tossing his arbalest behind him, he readied himself to face the last six corrupted wolves.
Trying to keep everything Dovon had taught him in mind, Thorn, engaged the group of wolves. Due to the barrier he had made, the corrupted wolves could only approach from the front, causing them to bunch up. This made dealing with them easier, as only two could attack him at a time, which was much more manageable than six.
The fight lasted only a few minutes, the corrupted wolves’ bloodlust driving them forward with no regard for their wounds or each other. Thorn’s armor also worked wonders, staving off three attacks that slipped through his guard. Pleased with his results, Thorn was about to continue his hunt when he heard howls coming from nearby. Grim-faced, he backed up as he saw six more corrupted wolves dashing through the forest toward him.
Catching sight of the blood-splattered ground and hearing the increasing number of howls, Thorn realized he was in trouble. Corrupted wolves were, after all, wolves. The noise of his fight with the three groups of wolves, combined with the torrential amounts of blood that had spilled across the ground was attracting more corrupted wolves!
For the briefest of moments, Thorn considered running, an instinctive terror taking hold of his heart. But that idea was crushed. The aggressive nature of the wolves was such that they would not let potential prey go. There was little reason for him to believe that he could outrun them, which meant that keeping something at his back to protect himself was the only possible way to survive.
As the howls grew in volume, a thrill shot down Thorn’s spine. No doubt the coming fight was going to be the most vicious he had yet been in. Yet, somehow, the fear that Thorn expected to feel was not there. Instead, a gleeful energy began to build in his chest, almost making him howl back at the closing wolves.
It only took a few moments for the corrupted wolves to come into view, their big, brutish bodies jostling for position even as they closed on him. Thorn wasted no time when they appeared, immediately sending bolts from his arbalest smashing into the wolves as fast as he could. Not even bothering to sight, Thorn aimed and pulled the trigger before drawing back the string and dropping another bolt into the flight groove.
Bolt after bolt flew toward the oncoming corrupted wolves, some smashing into them and causing large, bloody rifts in the crowd, others missing and destroying trees or leaving furrows in the ground. Regardless of the result of the shots, each twang of the arbalest string seemed to drive the corrupted wolves into an increasing frenzy!
By the time they got too close for Thorn to use his arbalest anymore, he had killed or injured at least fifteen corrupted wolves, but there were at least twice that still coming. Knowing that the arbalest wasn’t going to help any longer, Thorn placed it behind his back. Rather than drawing his knife like the last time, Thorn took up a bolt in each hand. While the knife was great for slicing, he was worried that it would get caught on a bone or dull before he was finished with this fight.
Plus, as they said in the martial arts world, “An inch longer, an inch stronger.” The bolts, while not the length of short spears, were three and a half feet long and made of solid wood with a metal bladed tip. Not only could they be used for stabbing, but they were long enough to help keep the jaws of the corrupted wolves at bay.
Preparing himself, Thorn’s eyes fixed on the blood red eyes of the corrupted wolf in the front of the rushing crowd. With wild abandon, it threw itself forward, launching itself through the air at Thorn in a desperate bid to be the first to take a bite out of him. With a shift of his body and a slight side step, Thorn put himself out of the line of attack before lifting the bolt in his left hand to chest height and striking out, the bolt driving through the side of the corrupted wolf and pinning it to the tree that stood to his right!
Leaving the corrupted wolf hanging on the tree, struggling with its last blood-frothed breath, Thorn lashed out with the bolt in his right hand, drawing a bloody arc across the heads and chests of those corrupted wolves that were close. Stooping, he pulled another bolt from the ground, and, a furious energy erupting from his chest, threw himself forward into the milling group of wolves!
The resulting melee was painful and bloody. Wolves ripped at Thorn’s armor, most failing to pierce the chain or plate armor on his arms and legs, while Thorn ripped at them. The bolts he wielded at first left long gashes on their flanks and bellies or massive stab wounds on their necks and backs. Somewhere along the line, he lost the bolts in his hands and drew his knife, slashing through legs and spines in a bloody frenzy.
The corrupted wolves, driven mad by the smell of blood, backed down not a whit, throwing themselves with ever increasing abandon at Thorn. Not one bit calmer, Thorn paid no attention to the growing wounds on his arms and legs and stabbed, slashed, and crushed any corrupted wolf that was within reach. The excitement that had risen in his chest had begun to burn at an almost feverish pace, making him lose any sense of time as he killed one corrupted wolf after another.
Ultimately, the armor that Thorn had purchased showed its worth many times over, protecting his chest and stomach and even preventing any major wounds on his arms and legs. When the blood finally faded from Thorn’s vision, he found himself standing in a hellish landscape, blood and body parts scattered wide. Broken bodies of corrupted wolves lay smashed against trees, dismembered limbs strewn across the ground.
No stranger to blood, the smell didn’t bother Thorn much, but, as he staggered away from the death scene, Thorn couldn’t stop himself from shaking. The burning fire in his chest slowly receded, seeming to take his strength with it. His legs trembling, Thorn found a place only a few steps away from the fight where there was no blood and collapsed to the ground with an earth-shaking thump.
Resting his back against a tree, Thorn took a deep breath and closed his eyes. What shook him most was not the bloody scene he had created, but the sheer relish he had felt during it. What stood out was not the danger of the snapping jaws but the satisfied feeling he had when smashing them. Thorn had always considered himself a peaceful person, not prone to anger or violence. Why then had he grown so excited about it a moment ago?
Gulping in huge breaths as he calmed down, Thorn couldn’t help but shake his head. He had tried to use the bolts first and then his knife, but somewhere along the line, he had lost them all, resorting to crushing the corrupted wolves with his bare hands. Rending them limb from limb with sheer strength, his actions had proved Dovon’s assumptions. Once he laid a hand on a corrupted wolf, the only possible outcome was its death.
After a few moments resting, Thorn stood to his feet. The stench of blood was becoming overwhelming, the metallic tang coating the back of his tongue. After collecting his arbalest and as many of the bolts as he could salvage, Thorn cut the tails off of all the corrupted wolves and left the scene to look for a place to wash.
Thorn’s first priority was to find somewhere to clean off the sticky, ropey residue of his bloody fight. After clearing the various notifications he had accumulated, Thorn opened up his in-game map. According to his map, Thorn wasn’t far from a river. Nova Terra was quite convenient in many ways, and one of those was a lack of sweat and dust when traveling. The game still included sweat when players worked hard and exerted themselves, but traveling down a road did not produce sweat, no matter how hot the sun or how far a player might go.
Blood, however, was a different story, and Thorn soon felt disgusting as the blood that covered his armor began to dry. Luckily for him, the river was close, and after only twenty minutes of tromping through the woods, he found it. The river was fast and deep. Thorn was a bit worried that his armor would be swept away. He was still pondering what to do when he heard a low rumble, almost like constant thunder. Curious, he began making his way up the river.
Pretty soon the thunderous sound grew in volume, and as he rounded a bend in the river, he began to feel mist in the air. Through the trees, Thorn saw a curtain of water falling from above, cascading down a rocky cliff face to land in a large pool. The pool was the river’s source, providing an outlet for the rushing water.
Excited, both by the natural beauty of the waterfall and pool and by the prospect of being clean, Thorn waded in, splashing his way underneath the falls. The churning water washed away the dried blood, a thick streak of crimson flowing away from him. Relaxing under the pounding water for a couple minutes, Thorn sighed in satisfaction. The water was chilly but refreshing, and he enjoyed soaking in it for a bit.
After his armor was clean, Thorn took it off and put it in his inventory, getting out a new set of dry clothing to wear. Breaking some branches for firewood, Thorn started a fire and got out some food for a meal. Most of his inventory was full of food, so he would not be going hungry.
He had tried to estimate how much food he would need if he was in the wilderness for a week. Based on how hungry he was after that fight, though, Thorn was pretty sure that he would run out much sooner. He was not about to eat corrupted wolves or any of the other small creatures he had come across.
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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.