“No, there has to be a way to do this,” thought Thorn. Master Sun would not have assigned it if there was no way to complete it. Running through all of the instruction that Master Sun had given him as he backed up, Thorn’s eyes brightened. “That's it!”
What was a tetsubo for? Attacking! Offense as defense! After all, in his exchange now, he had been able to prevent the elemental from hitting him by striking first! He needed to use speed and force to create a perfect defense by crushing any attack before it arrived!
Emboldened, Thorn looked at the two charging elementals. Trying to remember the way Master Sun had begun his spinning pattern, Thorn did not wait for the elementals to attack, but swung out at the larger of the two with a full force sweep, like he was trying for a home run.
The tetsubo impacted the larger elemental’s side, causing it to stagger sideways, into the smaller elemental, with a loud crunch. Despite buying himself a couple seconds, Thorn frowned. Neither of his strikes had been enough to hurt the elementals, which highlighted a major problem. Every second he spent here, more and more earth elementals were waking up and rushing toward him. Soon they would overwhelm him with sheer numbers.
The world slowed to a crawl, as his brain began to work furiously. His goal was to cross the gorge without dying. But his normal approach had no way of working because his strikes were not powerful enough to kill the creatures attacking him. If he couldn’t remove the elementals from the equation, their attacks would compound until he could not block them.
“Wait. Why am I trying to block them? What was it that Master Sun said? Attacking is a more effective block.” Awareness dawning, Thorn finally understood why Master Sun would have thrown him into this hopeless situation. If his goal was only to cross the gorge, there was no reason that he had to kill the elementals.
The forms that Master Sun had demonstrated immediately sprang to mind, and his hands began to turn, the tetsubo gaining momentum as it spun around him. Driving forward again, Thorn intercepted the first elemental with a slashing strike, causing it to stumble. Stepping past, Thorn used the counter-force to send a whirling strike at the legs of another earth elemental stepping forward, sweeping it off its feet.
Step by step, blow by twirling blow, Thorn carved his way forward. However, he was able to achieve only a few steps at a time before a furious blow sent him reeling back. Scrambling to regain his balance, he pushed forward with a wild strike, trying to gain some space. Warding off another punch with a deflection, he started his tetsubo spinning again, using it to throw the incoming attacks to the side.
This time, he managed four steps before being beaten back. Again, he struggled to regain his stance, pushing forward with all the force he could muster. Time after time, he smashed his way through the roaring elementals, only to be pushed back every few steps. Yet, each time he was forced back, he forged ahead again, his weapon flashing, beating back the surging elementals.
As the seconds ticked by, Thorn found himself falling into a strange sort of frenetic rhythm, each of his attacks with his tetsubo becoming smoother and faster. A whirling strike to one side began to flow into a whirling strike to the other side. Blocks began to flow into attacks and attacks into warding strikes. Where he was getting pushed back before, Thorn was soon able to hold his ground.
This increased mastery came at a cost, as blow after a massive blow slammed into his body. Groaning in pain after each strike, Thorn felt his bruised body shaking with the strain of pushing through the flurry of stone fists flying at him. Little by little, bit by bit, his arms began to lose strength, as bruises piled up on his shoulders and chest.
Gritting his teeth, Thorn knew that he was not going to make it through at this rate. With a roar of unwillingness, he turned and ran, outpacing the ponderous earth elementals. Simple creatures, the earth elementals lost interest in Thorn as soon as he escaped, out of sight. After wandering around in the gorge for a few moments, the earth elementals began to revert to their stone forms, and soon the gorge was silent again.
Panting, Thorn could only throw himself down on the ground, groaning in pain. His arms and chest were bruised, and even his head was starting to swell from where a flying fist had clipped him. Yet, even as he lay there beaten, his spirit started to grow. He had learned some very difficult lessons in his first encounter with the earth elementals, and he was confident that his next encounter would be different.
“Well, that was pathetic,” a voice said. Thorn didn’t even need to open his eyes to know that Master Sun was standing over him.
“Seriously, what were you doing flailing about like that? Didn’t I teach you the forms? How come I didn’t see any of them while you were fighting there?”
“Sorry, Master Sun.” Not bothering to argue, Thorn instinctively replied as he would have to his own sifu, Ms. Chen. He had learned long ago that the sharp criticism was part of what came with having a martial arts teacher.
“You shouldn’t be apologizing to me. You should be apologizing to those poor earth elementals, whose time you wasted.” Master Sun worked hard to keep the shock out of his voice, covering up his lack of confidence with scathing words.
Thorn was not the first person he had sent into the elemental-filled gorge, but none of the others had made it past the initial elemental the first time they went in. In fact, most had been sent right out of the gorge with that earth elemental’s first strike. Master Sun had been dumbfounded when, after taking the strike, Thorn had continued on like nothing happened and pushed almost into the center of the gorge!
Master Sun scratched his balding head in puzzlement. He had matched blows with the elementals countless times before, but this was the first time he had ever encountered someone who could shrug off their blows like they were nothing. Shaking his head, he thought to himself, ‘What a freak.’
“Alright, kid, there will be other chances to try again. Let's go back and eat. I’m hungry.”
Dragging his protesting body up, Thorn followed after Master Sun, limping back to the camp. Bruises had begun to appear on his hips and sides, making walking difficult. Master Sun didn’t move too fast, and Thorn was able to follow him back to the camp. The shack seemed to have restored itself, at some point, and was standing, as tenuous as ever.
After resting for a night, Nova Terra’s mechanics kicked in, and Thorn woke up feeling much better. Getting up, he ran through his morning exercise again before he began to practice the hand positions that Master Sun had taught him the day before. He thought over his experience fighting against the mass of earth elementals. Breaking down each of the moments that he remembered, he tried to determine what the best strike would have been in that situation.
As he became more and more familiar with the different hand positions, the general flow of his tetsubo’s swings got smoother and smoother. But there was a real problem that Thorn had no way of solving, so he waited for Master Sun to get up, continuing to practice. After a couple more hours, Master Sun walked out of his shed, bleary-eyed.
“Good morning, Master Sun,” Thorn greeted, ever polite.
“Hm,” grunted Master Sun with a yawn.
Waiting until Master Sun was sitting in his normal spot by the fire pit, Thorn bowed to the middle-aged man.
“Thank you very much for your instruction yesterday, master. Would you be able to help me clear up an issue I have been wondering about?”
“Hey, kid, it is way too early in the morning to be doing the whole ‘master and apprentice’ thing, so cool it. It’s like what, seven?”
“Umm. It is 11:43.”
“See, it's still morning. Definitely too early. Anyway, what was your question?”
“Ah, right.” Seeing that Master Sun was changing the subject in embarrassment, Thorn moved on to his question. “Yesterday, when I was fighting against the earth elementals, I could not even hurt them. With a weapon that is supposed to rely on pure force, what do I do when my force is not enough?”
“Eh, that’s your question? Get stronger, of course. Listen, kid, the tetsubo is a man’s weapon,” said Master Sun, pointing to one of his massive arms. “If you can’t crush someone or something, you practice until you can. Now, part of your problem is that the weapon you are wielding isn’t heavy enough for you, but, where direct strength fails, use a force multiplier.”
Standing up, he walked over to a tree and put one of his hands on it.
“Look, if I push this tree from a stationary position, the amount of strength I can convert into force is minimal at best. But what if I use a force multiplier, like speed?” Stepping back, Master Sun threw a lightning fast punch, sending splinters flying.
“See, by multiplying my force, my destructive potential goes up exponentially! If you are having trouble crushing something, you first try crushing it harder. But, if that doesn’t work, find a force multiplier.”
“Ah, so speed is actually the key,” mused Thorn.
“Exactly. Anyone who uses a tetsubo is someone who is confident in their strength. But what sets apart the masters from the scrubs is how quickly they can swing their weapon and how smoothly they can transition between forms and grips to make use of their force and counterforce.”
“Thank you, Master Sun.” Thorn bowed again.
“I thought I told you that it is too early for that sort of stuff? Whatever. When you think you are ready, head over to the gorge. You still need to get across it.”
Bowing again, Thorn picked up his tetsubo, and, beginning to practice his spins and hand positions, he left for the gorge. Having been there before, the way was still marked on his map, so it did not take him long to get there. Like the day before, the gorge was quiet and peaceful, but Thorn knew firsthand that appearances were deceiving. Taking a deep breath, Thorn mentally prepared himself and then stepped forward, throwing himself at the awakening elementals.
That evening, Thorn dragged his bruised and aching body back to camp, collapsing in a heap by the fire pit. He had actually made less progress through the gorge than he had yesterday, but he was not discouraged. He could feel his swings getting smoother and his transitions getting quicker.
Over the next four days, a strange sort of mania set in. Rising early, Thorn would practice the various tetsubo moves at the camp before running over to the gorge to smash himself against the earth elementals, then hobbling back to camp to recover from his wounds. Each day, he pushed further into the gorge than the day before, if only a little. Slowly, he was refining his practical understanding of the whirling tetsubo forms.
On the fifth day, he arrived at the gorge and dove in, unaware that two figures watched him from a ridge.
“Crazy, huh?” muttered Hamm, staring down at Thorn, who was deflecting massive stone fists as he pushed forward.
“Crazy doesn't even begin to cover it,” responded Master Sun. “That kid is a monster. A certified monster. I mean, look at him. He can take a full force blow from an earth elemental without falling over. That, in and of itself, is enough to make him an absurd warrior. But, when you add decent comprehension and unreal strength to the mix..” He trailed off, his eyes fixed on Thorn, who was struggling with three earth elementals which had come at him together.
Hamm smirked, saying nothing.
“He might have a chance,” said Master Sun abruptly, earning himself an incredulous look from the sword trainer. “Listen. That kid is new to this whole fighting thing. In fact, based on his movements, it’s pretty obvious that he is holding back for some reason. Look at his awkward attacks. For some reason, he is subconsciously afraid of using his strength. If he ever learns to let it out and gets his hands on a decent weapon, woe be upon anything that is in his way.”
“There’s no way. No one can fight that thing. All of us working together couldn’t beat it. He might be big, but there’s no way.” Hamm shook his head.
“Hmph. Wait and watch.”
In the gorge, Thorn had fallen into a strange rhythm. Each step he took, each spin of his weapon, seemed to fit into a violent dance. His partners, the earth elementals, still roared their challenge at him, but there was a joy underneath the gravely sound. Together they danced back and forth, this way and that.
That evening, when Thorn got back to the camp, Master Sun was waiting for him, a massive pack sitting next to him.
“Hey, kid, I’ve got to get going. I’ve taught you what you need to know, so now it is a matter of practicing it, alright?” Master Sun took a swig from his bottle of wine.
Despite his exhaustion and bruised body, Thorn stood in front of Master Sun and bowed.
“Thank you, sir,” he said.
“Haha, don’t worry about it.” Standing, Master Sun finished off the wine and tossed the bottle to the side. Picking up the huge pack, he adjusted it on his shoulder and smiled at his enormous student. “Oh, one other thing. My classes cost 10 gold a day. We’ve been at it for six days, so that’s 60 gold. You can pay Hamm.”
Thorn’s mouth dropped open in shock.
“Haha, or,” said Master Sun, dragging it out, “you can get to the end of the gorge. I’ll waive the fee if you can pass all the way through by sunset tomorrow. Anyway, see you later, kid.”
With a wave, Master Sun disappeared from the camp, leaving Thorn in stunned silence. Sixty gold? It would take forever to work that off! Even killing Gargish, a unique boss monster, had only given him 10 gold! Resolving once again to get through the gorge, Thorn lay down. Tomorrow his body would be healed, and his motivation was stronger than ever.
Unlike the previous days, the early morning sun found Thorn standing outside the elemental’s gorge. If he was going to get through it in a day, he needed as much time as he could get.
‘Alright, let's do this.’ Psyching himself up, Thorn gripped his tetsubo and rushed forward, not waiting for the first elementals to form. Getting as far into the gorge as he could before the elementals were together was a dangerous bet, but it was the only thing Thorn could think of to give himself an advantage.
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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.