A Hidden Master: Part 2
The martial path is long and fraught with danger. Having learned all that you can from Sword Trainer Hamm at the Berum Training Hall, you have been given the opportunity to further your training with a mysterious master who lives in the mountains to the north. Master Sun has a strange temperament and does not pass his skills along easily.
Reading the quest summary almost caused Thorn to spit out the mouthful of ale he had swigged. “He’s Master Sun?” thought Thorn, shaking his head, “Wow. Just goes to show that you never can tell.”
The dirty, middle-aged drunk who had gorged himself on food, and then fallen into a dead sleep in the hut, certainly did not fit Thorn’s mental picture of a martial arts master. Ms. Chen, his Taijiquan master, was what came to mind when he thought of a master. Still, if Hamm said that this Master Sun was able to help him, Thorn did not have any reason to assume otherwise. Either way, he would not know until Master Sun woke up.
The night passed, but when the morning came, the sun struggled to emerge from behind the heavy, dark clouds. Yawning and stretching, Thorn began his morning exercises. After running through his Taijiquan forms, he shadowboxed for a few minutes and then spent a bit practicing shooting his arbalest.
After he was finished, he looked around for something to do while he waited for Master Sun to get up. Almost two hours later, the middle-aged man wandered sleepily out of his shack and looked at Thorn, who was trying to do handstands in the yard. Seeing that Master Sun had come out, Thorn got to his feet, dusting himself off.
“Hello, Master Sun. My name is Thorn.” Introducing himself, Thorn bowed slightly. “Hamm sent me to see you to further my training.”
“Further training?” Master Sun scratched the back of his balding head. “What makes you think I can teach you anything?”
“Truthfully? I’m not sure,” admitted Thorn. “But I trust that Hamm would not lead me astray. He told me to come to find you after declaring that I was not suitable to wield a sword.”
“Wait, Hamm said that?” Master Sun walked a loop around Thorn, staring at him. “That guy is obsessed with swords. He has never once hesitated to force his junky beliefs on another person. And he told you that you are not suitable for using a sword?”
“Yes, master. Hamm said that my size was too limiting for swordplay and that I would not be able to cut properly because I have trouble using finesse when striking.”
Seeing Master Sun’s confused look, Thorn stepped over to a small tree that was growing out of the hillside. Pulling out his knife, he gave a casual swing, lopping the eight-inch tree right off its trunk. Grabbing the tree that started to fall toward the shed Master Sun had slept in, Thorn breathed a sigh of relief.
Master Sun stared at Thorn, with stars in his eyes. Running over to the newly shorn tree stump, he ran his fingers over the rough edge where the knife had impacted the wood. Once the knife had entered the tree, the break was clean, but right where Thorn had started the cut, the wood was smashed and splintered from the force of the blow.
“Haha, he wasn’t joking, was he? Kid, it’s your lucky day! Wait here,” Master Sun said over his shoulder, laughing in excitement as he ran into his shed. In a moment, he returned, carrying a massive metal club that came up to his chest.
A brutish, fearsome looking weapon, the small end of the club was as thick as his wrist, wrapped in leather and topped with a metal ring. The club’s head was three times the size of the grip and covered in large metal studs. The whole weapon glistened, its oiled metal sheen showing how well Master Sun cared for it. Carrying it over his shoulder, Master Sun did not even blink when, in his rush to get out of the shack, the club clipped the side of the doorframe, sending splinters flying.
A shiver ran through the shack, and Thorn watched in fascinated horror as the entire structure collapsed, one shaky wall at a time. Master Sun, on the other hand, did not seem to care at all. Instead, cradling his weapon gently, he presented it for Thorn to see.
“This, this is a weapon, kid. A weapon for strong men! None of that sissy cutting or slashing, good old-fashioned force. The enemy has a blade? Great. Crush them. The enemy has a shield? Even better. Crush them. Is the enemy playing with arrows? Awesome, knock them out of the air and then crush them. Need to move an object or negotiate a tense situation?”
“Crush it?” Thorn guessed, as Master Sun took a deep breath.
“Exactly! Crush it.” Master Sun beamed. “No matter the problem, brute force is the solution.”
Stepping back, Master Sun flipped the club up, and, with a twist of his wrist, he sent it humming through the air. Faster and faster he swung it around him, the weight of the club increasing its speed with every rotation. Within a minute, the club was moving so fast that Thorn could not even see it.
He could, however, hear it. The swinging club let out a thunderous drone as it smashed its way through the air. As the drone seemed to reach a crescendo, Master Sun stepped forward and flicked his arm toward a tree, which exploded in a shower of splinters. The club had swung over in a dark blur, too fast for Thorn to catch, obliterating the trunk. Grinning, Master Sun lifted his club up and brushed off a few splinters still sticking to it.
“This, young man, is a tetsubo! A real man’s weapon!”
Impressed, Thorn examined the tetsubo. He could see how it would be an effective weapon. Constructed of metal, swinging it would generate a tremendous force without the danger of breaking that a sword would face. The metal studs took the damage one step further, adding a ripping effect to the blow. Seeing how interested Thorn was, Master Sun’s grin grew bigger.
“How about it? Fancy learning how to use a real weapon?”
“I’d love to!” responded Thorn. He had used staves before, but this was a whole different sort of thing. A staff, in order to be the proper size, had to be massive, which made it prohibitive to use in most spaces. The tetsubo, on the other hand, was the same size as a large sword but wielded much like a staff.
“In that case, let’s begin. Have you ever done any martial arts training?” Seeing Thorn’s nod, Master Sun continued. “Excellent, then you should know what a horse stance looks like. Let's start there.”
Much like Thorn’s Taijiquan instructor, Master Sun first had Thorn drop into and hold a horse stance. Once Thorn was in the proper position, he rested his tetsubo across Thorn’s knees, telling him that if it fell off, the amount of time he had to stay in the horse stance would increase. Thorn, unable to feel the weight of the heavy weapon because of the mechanics of Nova Terra, stayed in his seated position.
Master Sun walked to the side and waited for Thorn to show the slightest sign that he was tired. And waited. And waited. After close to forty minutes, Master Sun finally got fed up with waiting and grabbed his tetsubo off of Thorn’s legs.
“Alright, stand up.” Staring at Thorn, who was not fatigued in the slightest, Master Sun narrowed his eyes. “I’m guessing it would do neither of us any good if I were to make you run for a while. Anyway, the long and short of it is that the key to using a tetsubo is your lower body. Much like a staff, the tetsubo requires a strong base from which to control the force of the weapon.
“Unlike bladed weapons, the tetsubo only has a single attacking function. Crushing. It can be used to block, as well, but at the end of the day, that is much less efficient than smashing someone. The key, of course, is being able to hit them. We achieve that through making use of the constant motion of the weapon to turn offense into defense.
“In short, if there is no time for your opponent to attack, there is no need for defense. And if you do need it, you should be able to divert the attack through a direct strike. You need to remember one thing. Push forward. Always push forward. The power of the tetsubo is in its constant, aggressive, dominating nature. No matter the obstacle, the tetsubo’s solution is to crush it under overwhelming force. Now, let me show you the basic moves that you will practice.”
Lending Thorn a tetsubo that he pulled out of his inventory, Master Sun began to show him how to spin the weapon using a combination of specialized grips and the ring on the back end of the handle. Each hand position maximized the weapon’s ability to rotate while gaining momentum. Due to his previous practice with a staff, Thorn picked it up rather quickly and, within a day, was able to keep the weapon moving well.
After a day of practice, Master Sun nodded in appreciation and took Thorn with him to get some practical experience. After walking for about two hours, they arrived at a rocky gorge in the mountains, near the kobold valley. Master Sun stopped at the edge of the gorge and pointed at the other end.
“Alright, kid, your task is pretty simple. Get to the other end of the gorge.”
“You mean all I have to do is walk through it?”
“Haha, yeah. All you have to do is walk through it.” Nodding, Master Sun chuckled to himself as he started to walk off. “I’ll wait for you at the other side.”
“O...okay.” Unsure about what was so difficult about walking through an empty gorge, Thorn scratched his head. Even after spending ten minutes staring at the large rocks in the gorge, Thorn could not see anything out of the ordinary, so, with a shrug, he started forward.
After getting almost one hundred feet into the gorge, Thorn paused. The sound had been slight, but Thorn had heard gravel crunching. Paused mid-stride, Thorn listened. After a few moments of complete silence, he could only shrug and continue on.
There it was again. It was like the sound of two pieces of stone grinding against each other. Still unable to spot where the sound was coming from, Thorn tightened his grip on his weapon and began to move forward. He had not taken more than three steps when the sound returned with a vengeance.
Rising up from all around him, Thorn saw large stone monsters pushing themselves to their feet. Immense boulders that had previously stood inert began to stretch and unfold as they became stone giants. Around seven feet tall at the shortest, these large stone humanoids were huge amalgamations of stone held together with eldritch force. As the first elemental finished forming, it turned its burning eyes on Thorn.
‘Earth elementals!’ thought Thorn in shock. Elementals were a rare race in Nova Terra, in part because of how strong they were. A single elemental was often more than the match of a normal party, due to their overwhelming strength and natural immunities. It would be rare to even find a single elemental, so seeing dozens beginning to stand up left Thorn flabbergasted.
‘How on earth does Master Sun expect me to cross a gorge like this!?’ Thorn shouted in his mind. Earth elementals were ranked as some of the most dangerous enemies to face, boasting a combination of complete immunity to bladed weapons and most magic, as well as uncanny strength.
The first elemental, fully formed now, stepped forward and threw a ponderous fist at Thorn, smashing him back! Thorn, stunned at the strength that the elemental displayed, was shaken. For the second time since he had begun to play Nova Terra, he was forced back!
Shaken by the blow that had sent him stumbling back, Thorn completely forgot to block the next strike, which caught him in the chest! Staggering backward, Thorn almost fell over. Putting down a hand to stabilize himself, he looked at the stone elemental that had punched him in amazement. Pleased by its success, the elemental was roaring in satisfaction, secure in its instinctive knowledge that it had crushed the puny invader.
After it finished announcing its victory to the sky, the elemental looked around, only to freeze. That large creature was still there? The elemental peered closer. Sure enough, Thorn was still standing there, rubbing his chest where the elemental’s massive fist had smashed into him.
‘That is going to bruise for sure,’ thought Thorn.
“Alright, big guy, let's try this again,” Thorn spat at the elemental, his eyes narrowing. Fixing his grip on the borrowed tetsubo, Thorn dashed forward, smashing toward the confused elemental with an overhead blow.
The elemental, unable to process how the creature had lived through its punch, saw Thorn rushing forward and roared in fury. Drawing back its ponderous fists, it struck out with full force, intent on fixing whatever mistake it had made previously. With a furious clash, the tetsubo fell onto the elemental’s shoulder before the elemental’s fists reached Thorn’s body.
Feeling the rebounding shock flowing through the tetsubo’s handle, Thorn nearly lost his grip on it. The force of the blow sent the elemental tumbling to the ground. However, Thorn had yet to recover from the counter-force of the attack when the elemental started to get back to its feet!
‘This isn’t good.’ Thorn paled, feeling as much shock as the elemental had. This was the first time that a full force blow had failed him since he started Nova Terra! Despite being knocked off of its feet, the elemental was not showing any sort of damage. And to top it off, the second and third elemental were already stomping their way over, more rising up behind them.
“How am I supposed to get through this gorge?” Thorn complained in his heart. Countless calculations and ideas flashed before him. Could he dodge his way through? Unlikely, since the elementals were strong enough to knock him back. What if he blocked as many of the blows as possible and pushed past the elementals? That would not work, either. There were too many of them. Was this an impossible task, then?
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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.