Thorn’s size had always been as debilitating as it had been a benefit, but as he ran, he could only marvel at the advantage he had gained in Nova Terra. Unlike the real world, where he couldn’t even stand, in game, Thorn’s body was perfect. This was nowhere more apparent than while running. Due to the springy forest floor, Thorn’s stride was almost four feet long when he walked, almost twice that of an average person.
Now that he was running full out, Thorn traveled over nine feet with each step. His long legs seemed to devour the distance, sending him forward at an incredible rate. As he ran, he pondered how he was going to manage the fight against Gargish. Not only was Gargish much faster than he was, but he had natural claws that seemed sharper than those of the corrupted wolves, which meant that close combat was going to be difficult.
Gargish was also very strong, as his blow had shown. The punch that had sent Thorn reeling was the first time anything had been able to move his immense weight since he had started Nova Terra. "Man, I don’t know that I can win." For the briefest of moments, the thought of how overwhelming Gargish was made Thorn’s spirit plummet.
‘Wait, I can get some help!’ Opening his chat feature, Thorn could not help but curse. Like the logout button, the messaging button was greyed out. Not only was he unable to leave the game, but he also could not let anyone know that he was being hunted by a terrifying werewolf.
Needing a new plan, Thorn began to analyze his situation, looking for any advantage that he had. After a couple minutes, Thorn had only come up with one: strength. It was not much, but something was better than nothing. A plan began to take form. He would only have one chance, but one chance was better than zero chances. With a deep breath, he opened his map. He had twenty minutes.
The first thing he needed was a space that would restrict Gargish’s movement. Looking at his map, Thorn considered his options before looking for a cave in one of the nearby mountains. He soon found a cave, almost a mile away, that was inhabited by corrupted wolves. Hoping that it was going to be suitable, Thorn changed direction and continued to run.
It took him a bit less than three minutes to get to the cave, covering almost a mile in record time. Shaking his head to himself, Thorn marveled at what he could do when physics no longer applied to his body. The cave was a large hollow in a hill that led deeper into the heart of the mountain. While running he had been able to see on the map that the cave contained a small labyrinth of twisting passages behind the large front chamber, perfect for Thorn’s plan.
Striding into the front chamber, he soon dispatched the four corrupted wolves that had been resting in the cave. In the back of this front chamber of the cave was a slight crack that he could barely squeeze through to enter the tunnel system. The tunnels themselves were almost eight and a half feet high, meaning that he only had to stoop to make his way through.
Finding a nice spot to set up, Thorn checked his clock. Assuming that Gargish had actually adhered to the rules of the game, Thorn still had four minutes before Gargish would even start. However, Thorn had a suspicion that Gargish did not care about following the rules and was on his way already, which meant that he didn’t have much time to prepare.
Thorn flexed his hands and then began to dig into the walls of the tunnel, pulling stone and dirt down into the cave to widen it on one side. Since the tunnel was uniform, Thorn blocked the whole passage as he stood in it. By digging out the wall on his right, Thorn created a little pocket where he could swing his knife, just deep enough that his knife would not touch the wall. Thorn nodded to himself and continued his work.
Gargish, who had already arrived outside the cave entrance, as Thorn had guessed, was experiencing a strange sensation - shock. He had started as soon as Thorn was out of sight, his sensitive nose following the special scent of the paste he had applied to Thorn’s armor. Sneering to himself, he could imagine the hopelessness on his prey’s face when he realized that, no matter how far he ran, Gargish was right there. Nothing gave him more pleasure than appearing next to his prey as soon as the half hour head start was up.
At least, that was the plan. But Thorn traveled too fast. Way too fast. Looking at the massive footprints in the forest floor, Gargish couldn’t help but be somewhat unsettled. Never before had he tracked such prey. Thorn covered distance at an astronomical rate, almost faster than Gargish could. The other strange thing was his direction. Every other human Gargish had hunted instinctively headed for a city.
Yet this fellow went in a different direction, angling away from the city and heading, instead, toward the corrupted wolf-infested mountains. Wasn’t he afraid of being surrounded? Sniffing at the entrance to the cave, Gargish hesitated for a moment. Something about the dark cave mouth made him feel uneasy. Shaking his head in annoyance, Gargish growled to himself. When had he ever been afraid of his prey?
With a last glance around, Gargish bounded into the cave only to come up short. Four bisected corrupted wolf corpses lay on the ground. Eyes narrowed, Gargish knelt down and examined the bodies.
Given the smoothness of the cut, he could imagine the speed at which the blade had been traveling, but the angle was a bit strange. As he continued to look, a mental image of Thorn slashing out with his large knife appeared in his mind.
Once again, a sliver of warning tried its best to worm its way into Gargish’s heart. This massive human was different. The feeling was not anything concrete, but the combination of many small things that Gargish had seen was starting to add up. As he had made his way to the cave, he saw none of the signs that terrified prey would give off. There were no broken branches, crushed undergrowth, or anything to indicate that his prey was running scared.
His big prey had run, yes, but not in fear. Based on how fast he had moved, it was reasonable for Thorn to believe he could actually escape, yet he had come to this out-of-the-way place and trapped himself in a cave, where his size would restrict his movement. The man’s entering the cave had been deliberate and forthright, despite knowing that there were corrupted wolves inside.This was not the mark of someone who was afraid.
And, judging from the corpses of the corrupted wolves, Thorn had dealt with them without breaking a sweat. The cuts were too smooth and precise to be the work of someone shaking with fear. This left only one reasonable possibility, and that possibility left Gargish shaken.
Was Thorn not afraid?
Gargish could not be entirely blamed for the worry that had begun to form in his heart. His natural ability to terrify had never failed before, so Thorn presented a new, strange situation that he had never come across. Thorn had seemed to be scared when they first met, but none of his actions since then had even smelled of the terror that he should have been feeling.
Shaking himself, Gargish crushed the small thread of worry in his chest. So what if his prey was not terrified right now? Wasn’t terrifying his prey Gargish’s greatest skill? If that stupid human was not afraid, then Gargish would teach him the meaning of fear! With a rumbling growl, Gargish launched forward into the depths of the cave.
Thorn was standing in the tunnel he had modified, giving one last look around him at his handiwork. The more he thought about what he was doing, the more foolish he felt. Gargish had proven himself to be much faster than Thorn back at the river, so Thorn had no idea if this was going to work. It would come down to how Gargish attempted to kill him.
Opening up his inventory, Thorn took out some food and planted himself in the middle of the tunnel, facing the way he had come. To his left, there was almost no room between his shoulder and the wall while, to his right, he had cleared enough space to allow him to swing his blade. Also, tired of crouching, Thorn had dug out a bit of space for his head to fit when he stood up.
Munching on the sandwich he had gotten out, Thorn waited patiently for Gargish to arrive. Surprised by how calm he was as he faced his first death in Nova Terra, Thorn could only guess that it was his Titan’s Strength ability kicking in. After a couple of minutes passed, he finished his fourth sandwich, so he pulled up a browser and began to look up information on dying in Nova Terra. Information was sparse, but after reading through a few threads, Thorn managed to piece some details together.
Unlike the real world, death in Nova Terra was not permanent. It was, after all, a game. However, the penalties were not light, either. When a player was killed in Nova Terra, a couple things would happen. First, their equipment and a bag containing a random selection from their inventory would drop. Each item in their inventory had a variable chance to drop, which meant that players could lose a lot of items, or very few, based on how lucky they were.
Second, the killed player would experience a drop in the mastery of their class. While it was not as bad as being reset, it was a definite setback. After all, it took a long time to train up mastery in a class, and every single death would wipe away countless hours of hard work. Skill proficiency was left untouched, but having to retrain a class over and over was painful.
Many players had complained bitterly about this mechanic, which led Horizon to introduce a patch that allowed players who died to regain their mastery faster than they had before they died. The tradeoff was that, if they died again before their mastery was regained, it would be gone.
These two penalties had created a timid player force, which had driven the creator of Nova Terra crazy but had paved the way for a solid, systematic settling of the world of Nova Terra, much the same way the far reaches of the earth had been settled. Over time, however, players had come to realize that death was not something to fear, and the current sentiments toward dying in Nova Terra were very casual.
Thorn was finishing his seventh sandwich when a flicker in a shadow at the other end of the tunnel alerted him that he was no longer alone. Dusting off his hands, Thorn firmly gripped his knife, drawing it out and holding it diagonally in front of him. Crouching a bit, his left hand raised up with his palm out, Thorn watched Gargish slink out of the shadows.
Gargish was at home among the flickering torchlight and deep pools of shadow. He seemed to become part of the shadow as he passed through it, moving fluidly toward Thorn in an unhurried manner, his silent steps making no sound even when he passed over the gravel that Thorn had scattered.
“You found me,” said Thorn when Gargish drew close. Thorn’s eyes stayed glued to Gargish, taking in every tiny move the werewolf made.
“Was that ever in question?” asked Gargish, curious as to how the mind of this giant human was working.
“No, of course not. It was a matter of when.”
“Haha, it's good that you recognized that. Saves both of us much trouble,” snickered Gargish. “Tell me, though. Why didn’t you keep running?”
“Running? I was never running,” said Thorn with a small smile, a bead of sweat trickling down his face.
“Haha, you sure looked like you were running to me!” laughed Gargish.
“Nah, I was not running. It was a tactical retreat,” said Thorn.
“What? Tactical retreat?” Gargish narrowed his evil eyes. “Do you think you have a chance to live?”
Still watching the werewolf, Thorn could feel the danger radiating off of him in palpable waves. He knew, without question, that this one enemy was more dangerous than anything he had faced up until this point. Once again, a dreadful excitement began to build in the base of Thorn’s chest.
“Isn’t there always a chance?” asked Thorn, struggling to keep his voice from shaking.
“Ha!” Gargish snarled, his eyes starting to become bloodshot. “There is never a chance when I am the one hunting.”
“Wait, wait. Hold on.” Thorn stood up from his crouch and took a hurried step backward, almost hitting his head on the roof of the tunnel. “Can’t we talk about this?”
“A bit late for that.” Almost instinctively, Gargish took a step forward, mirroring Thorn’s action. “Once you become my prey, there is only one possible outcome. Your agonizing, slow death!”
“Come on, I know we can come to some sort of solution here.” At this point, Thorn was babbling as Gargish stalked toward him, ignoring what Thorn was saying. Trembling, Thorn put his knife between them as he continued to move backward.
Gargish, seeing Thorn continue to retreat, flashed forward, his wicked claws stabbing toward Thorn’s chest! Almost too fast for Thorn’s eye to follow, he covered the few feet between them in an instant! Acting on pure instinct, Thorn stabbed forward with his knife, while bringing his left arm across his chest to block.
Twisting his body to avoid the knife, Gargish’s claws clashed with Thorn’s bracer with a loud clang, sending sparks flying. Before Thorn could strike again, Gargish danced back out of range, his padded feet making no sound as he stalked back and forth. Snarling at Thorn as his bloodlust began to grow, Gargish’s fury deepened. When had he ever had this much trouble with his prey?
At this point, Thorn should be a quivering mess on the floor! Instead, he was a literal wall of flesh, taking up almost the whole passage. As Gargish watched in fury, getting ready for his next attack, Thorn had backed farther into the passage, where he had to crouch to walk, causing Gargish’s eyes to light up for a moment.
Where Thorn had been standing, the roof was high enough that it did not impede Thorn’s movements. However, now that he had left that space, his large size would be a hindrance. Not only was his forward posture bad for his defensive form, but if Gargish could get around behind him, Thorn would have trouble turning around.
As it was, stepping out of the taller part of the passage was a rookie mistake, especially given Gargish’s blinding speed. Sneering at Thorn’s inexperience, the werewolf stalked closer, his fierce eyes boring into Thorn’s armored form. The pressure of the aura rolling off of him seemed to solidify for a moment, causing Thorn to flinch backward as if he were stung!
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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.