Rumbling to their feet, the earth elementals roared out their gleeful greeting and rushed toward him, fists swinging. The first elemental to reach Thorn was tossed aside with a deflecting blow, as were the second, third, and fourth. But, as the fifth set of fists came in, Thorn found himself unable to fully deflect it in time.
Accepting the blow, Thorn angled his tetsubo to throw it off course and jumped back, using the momentum as it glanced off his weapon, trying to minimize the damage as much as possible. Escaping the crush of bodies, Thorn tried to dart around the group, but by this time, there were too many earth elementals around him.
The gorge was not that long, only half a mile in length. Yet, somehow, those 2600 feet seemed to stretch on forever. The earth elementals had large bodies and created a natural stone barrier as they crowded around to try and get a blow on Thorn.
Finally, after a few hours of struggling, Thorn backed out of the gorge. Reaching the other end by rushing through was not going to work, so Thorn sat down and ate a bit as he thought about his experiences. For some reason, the last few days had been harder than the first couple of times he attempted to get through.
It was almost as if there were more elementals now. A quick count revealed that there were the same number as always, so why did it feel like there were more elementals in the gorge than before? Laying down and gazing at the cloud-dotted sky, Thorn tried to remember his first fights. When he had first entered the gorge, he had taken a lot of punches straight on, since he had not mastered the constant momentum that Master Sun taught.
Over time, he had gotten much better, but, at the same time, the punches seemed to come faster and thicker. What was going on? Despite thinking on it for twenty minutes, Thorn made no progress in figuring it out, so he shrugged, got up and headed back into the gorge. Still distracted as he faced the first earth elemental, Thorn missed his deflecting blow with his tetsubo!
The earth elemental’s stone fist caught Thorn in the chest, causing him to stagger back a couple steps. Frustrated and angry, Thorn growled, letting loose with a furious swing. As he began to pour power into the strike, he did not think about his form or his follow up, smashing out with all his strength.
With a sharp roar, the elemental crumbled to the ground, pieces of its stone body bouncing off the valley floor, leaving Thorn staring at his tetsubo in shock. As he had let go of his form, a strength that he had never felt before surged through his arms into his weapon, completely crushing through the earth elemental, leaving it in pieces on the ground. However, as he watched, the elemental’s head continued to tremble, and the bouncing pieces of its broken body began to reform.
Seeing the yellow glow in its eyes, Thorn realized that he would have to crush its head to kill it. For a moment, he hesitated, his tetsubo raised. Lowering it again, Thorn could not bring himself to take the swing. The elementals had been his sparring partners for almost a week, and something in him loathed the thought of actually hurting them.
That moment of hesitation cost him, as the second earth elemental came roaring in, fists swinging. Jumping backward, Thorn instinctively deflected the blows, whirling around and unleashing another wild strike.
The second earth elemental shared the same fate as the first. Instead of backing up, Thorn, feeling like he was on the edge of grasping something vital, threw himself forward into the oncoming wave. Striking out with wild abandon, Thorn found at least half of his strikes either missing or glancing off the elemental’s stone bodies. However, for every strike that missed, another laid an earth elemental low.
Soon the familiar back and forth dance turned into a slow slaughter. Thorn pushed forward again and again into the waves of elementals, crashing through them with swing after swing, only to be pushed back as the stone fists pummeled him.
In the midst of one such exchange, Thorn felt something click for him, and he instinctively switched between the whirling defensive forms he had been learning from Master Sun, swinging out with a formless strike, smashing through an elemental’s body. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a massive fist coming toward him and, with a neat turn, spun back into his defensive form.
‘This is what Master Sun was talking about!’ Thorn thought as he warded off the elemental’s strikes. ‘Defense turning into offense!’
Excited by his discovery, Thorn tried to replicate the process, only to miss a block and take a punch right to his face, sending him reeling back. Swearing to himself, he squared up again and smashed the offending elemental into pieces. Working out the balance was a slow, laborious, and above all, painful process of trading blows, yet little by little, Thorn began to find his equilibrium.
The sun was starting to sink in the sky, the tall pines casting long shadows across the gorge when Thorn finally pushed past the last elemental. About halfway through the gorge, the first elementals he had fought had finished reforming and roared in to attack him from behind, forcing him to defend for a couple desperate moments. He quickly regained his balance and continued smashing his way through the elementals until he reached this point.
The dust finally began to settled, as Thorn found himself at the other end of the gorge, on a slight slope leading out from between the hills and into the trees. Taking a moment to breathe, Thorn looked back over the field of pulverized stone and glowing elemental eyes. Though sore, he felt good. Very good. However, as he began to turn around, a subtle vibration sent the settled dust hopping into the air. His brow furrowed as he saw the yellow eyes of the elementals he had put down blur and begin to gather.
The unnatural vibration seemed to draw the elemental eyes in, yellow glowing dots leaving streaks through the air, all gathering together into a ball. As the hundreds of eyes piled into each other, they began to compress, growing brighter as they did so. Faster and faster, they collapsed into each other, until they formed a bright glowing dot that floated off the ground. The yellow glow had gotten so bright it was almost too bright to look at.
Putting up a hand to protect his eyes from the glaring light, Thorn tightened his grip on his tetsubo. After a moment, the brightness faded, and Thorn was able to look at the elemental light, which now resembled a polished piece of amber. As he watched, the gem floated toward him, pulsing with light.
Watching the approaching gem, Thorn considered trying to knock it down with his tetsubo, but, just as he tightened up his grip for a swing, the floating amber pulsed, and a deep, gravelly voice rumbled in his mind.
“Greetings, great warrior!” the voice boomed. “You have shown strength and ferocity but, also, compassion! For that, I thank you!”
“Uh, yeah. No problem,” said Thorn, still holding his tetsubo ready.
“Hah, no need to be concerned, young warrior. I bring you no danger! I am Terberus, the Earth King! As great Terra commands, I must reward those who defeat my daughters!” Here Thorn could almost see a barrel-chested old man waving his hand at the piles of rubble Thorn’s rampage through the gorge had left. Thorn lowered his weapon and scratched his head.
“Ah, sorry about that. I hope it is not too much trouble for them to put themselves back together.”
“Do not worry, young warrior. It is their honor to be challenged and your honor to have triumphed! For the mercy of sparing their lives, you have my thanks!” rumbled the voice, like two boulders being ground against each other. “As the victor, you have every right to collect their cores as spoils, but, by showing mercy, you have earned yourself a great favor! Behold, I grant unto you a boon! Your path will be long and treacherous, but the powerful embrace of the earth will be your shield, Friend of the Earth!”
Before Thorn could react, the floating piece of amber spun and drilled its way into the center of Thorn’s brow! Horrified, he tried to block it, but the stone slipped through his hand and seeped into his skull! Feeling no blood, Thorn looked around, but the light was gone, leaving only the echoes of the rumbling voice as evidence that it had ever been there.
For a moment, Thorn had no idea what to do, but everything in the gorge had gone back to normal, and the voice was gone. Seeing a blinking icon indicating an update to his status page, Thorn opened it up to take a look.
Titles: [Battle Mad], [Wolfsbane], [Lord Greymane (locked)], [Friend of the Earth]
Abilities: [Wolf Lord’s Howl(locked)]
Seeing a new title, Thorn opened it up to examine it.
Title: Friend of the Earth
You have earned a boon from the Earth King, Terberus. As one of the four elemental kings, Terberus has granted you the favor of the earth. This may come in handy in the future.
Grumbling about Nova Terra’s useless explanations, Thorn waved the windows away and sat under a tree. It was getting dark, and he was exhausted. He had spent the afternoon smashing through almost a hundred earth elementals, and his body was aching. The hits from the elementals had not been too bad, once he got used to them, and, frankly, most of the blows had been deflected away, as it was.
Rather, the pain in his body was from overusing his muscles for almost eight hours of straight swinging. While the game mechanics made the weight of the tetsubo negligible, he couldn’t get around the fact that he had been swinging it as hard as he could over and over again. His shoulders ached, and he could feel a burning pain in his arms.
As was his habit, Thorn thought back over the last few days. Master Sun had opened up an astounding path for him, providing a practical style that used his mighty strength and endurance to stunning effect. The martial arts training that he had gone through over the years had been useful for killing corrupted wolves and gave Thorn a strong foundation from which to build, but his size became a hindrance to him in using a sword to maximum effect.
On the other hand, Master Sun’s unique style was better suited to his size and strength. Frowning, Thorn realized that he didn’t actually know what the style was called. Musing for a couple minutes, Thorn tried to come up with a good name that was not too cheesy, but, after rejecting ‘Raging Storm Strikes,’ he quit trying. Coming up with names was not his strong suit.
His combat against the elemental had been a growing experience. Their blows, though powerful, had not been too dangerous. Thorn shuddered as he imagined what would have happened to him if they had been swinging sharp claws, instead of blunt, rocky fists. Gargish, while not as strong as the earth elementals, had brought him much closer to death because of the piercing nature of his attacks.
If each of them had been like Gargish, Thorn would have been shredded before he even started to fight back! Not all the creatures in this world were as scary as Gargish. While he had come out alive from his encounter with Gargish, it had been much closer than he had liked.
On the other hand, after making it through the earth elemental’s gorge, Thorn felt much more confident. He felt that, if he encountered Gargish now, not only would he be able to put up a good fight, but he even had a decent chance of winning!
A low tone alerted Thorn to the fact that he had a video message request from Mina. Smiling, he opened the window and greeted her.
“Hey, Mina! What’s going on?”
“Heya! How are you? We’re almost back from our guild mission! Finally! This mission has been a total pain, and I’m so glad to be done. It has taken forever, and it was su-u-uper boring. Plus, Jorge is a total pain and has been, like, grumpy this whole time.”
As the familiar torrent of words flowed out of the short girl’s mouth, Thorn could not help but smile. It had been a bit more than a week since they had interacted, and he had missed her rapid-fire conversation. Used to being alone, Thorn had not anticipated how much he would come to enjoy engaging with others, but hearing Mina prattle on made his heart warm.
“So, anyway, Ouroboros asked me to tell you that we are heading back to Berum to complete the next part in our quest, and, if you are free, we would like to bring you along. Plus, there’s a chance that there’s a class change, which would be perfect for you, since you don’t have a class yet, unless you got a class since we last met, but you shouldn’t have because Ouroboros said that he told you to hold off.” Her face red from saying all of that in one breath, Mina paused to breathe in, allowing Thorn to jump into the conversation for the first time since it started.
“Yeah, that sounds great. I have not…”
“Oh, wonderful! You’re so big and strong that you can carry waaaay more than the other porters we used,” Mina interrupted when she had finished breathing. “The porters on our last job were terrible. I mean they couldn’t hold even a quarter of the stuff you could hold, and they were all so boring to talk to, it was pathetic.”
Sending a chat message to Ouroboros, Thorn left the call with Mina open and began making his way back to Berum. It took him a couple hours to get back to the city, and it wasn’t until he could see the stone walls surrounding Berum that Mina finally stopped chattering and said goodbye. They had agreed to meet at the same tavern as they had eaten at previously, but Thorn still had a day to kill, so he first stopped by the armorer who had made his custom armor.
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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.