Oblivious to the conversation behind him, Thorn combed through the canyon, looking for any sign of a hidden entrance. According to the information Velin had brought back, the canyon had most likely been blocked by a powerful spell that moved the earth from the canyon walls. New to the game, Thorn found all the lore quite interesting and had listened raptly as Ouroboros and Velin explained what they had discovered about the area.
Some time back at the end of the God's Era, Davyos, the Devil Blood Berserker, had led what remained of his forces back into this canyon to flee from one of his enemies. Despite his class, Davyos was considered a cold, calculating general who never engaged in a fight he could not win. Faced with overwhelming odds, the Devil Blood Berserker had chosen to retreat to the temple, where he had been granted his power in the hopes that the Archdevil who had granted them would assist him.
Like most avatars in the first era, Davyos had a mysterious history, shrouded by the fog of time. Little was known about his background, and it was only through paying Avalon for the information that Velin had been able to find out anything about the ancient figure. According to the report that she had received, Davyos had been a Wolfkin hunter who stumbled upon a temple deep in this canyon.
After receiving the blessings of the Archdevil, Davyos had used his power to create a powerful mercenary group that completed tasks for the local warlords. A warlord more greedy than wise attempted to pay Davyos less than he owed, and Davyos led his men to slaughter the warlord and everyone around him. Claiming the warlord's territory for his own, Davyos began to consolidate power, his personal prowess paving the way for his territory's rapid expansion.
All good things come to an end, and after almost twenty years of tyrannical rule, Davyos was attacked by an alliance of humans and elves. While he fought and inflicted serious casualties on his opponents, they were determined to rid the land of his influence and nibbled away at his territory until he was forced to flee back to the corrupted temple from which his powers had originated.
According to the information that Velin had purchased, as the army was retreating, one of Davyos’ most powerful followers called the land to collapse and, casting a prodigious spell at the cost of his own life, caused the canyon walls to be pinched shut, completely sealing the temple away. Over the years, a shift in the earth caused a path to be opened, once again revealing the temple to the world.
Or so the team now hoped. Mina, Jorge, and Thorn were still looking everywhere for an entrance to the canyon as Ouroboros and Velin held off the continuous waves of kobolds. Despite examining every stretch of ground, the three of them had not found even a hint of a passageway. Over at the canyon mouth, the groups of kobolds were getting larger and larger, as more and more kobolds realized that there were intruders. Soon a howling mob had formed in front of Ouroboros.
"Any time now, guys!" yelled Ouroboros over his shoulder.
"There is nothing here!" Mina shouted in frustration, kicking a rock. "We've looked all over this stupid canyon, and there isn't a blasted hole in sight!"
"Well, look harder!" Ouroboros snapped.
Outside the canyon, the crowd of kobolds was starting to swell as the noise from the fight attracted them. At first, it was only ten or so kobolds rushing forth in each wave, but the waves got bigger and closer together. "After a few minutes, the waves will merge into a constant stream of enemies," thought Ouroboros, cold sweat running down his back.
"Mina! Leave the searching to the others and come to support us!"
"What? Why can't Jorge help you?" Mina whined, only to be silenced by a glare from Velin. "Fine." Rolling her eyes, she huffed her way over to the mouth of the canyon and raised her wand. A chill pervaded the air as countless snowflakes appeared. Muttering under her breath, Mina waved her wand again, pointing to a couple of the drifting flakes.
Every snowflake Mina pointed to glowed a bright, icy blue and expanded before hurtling forth like an icy ninja star, cutting into a kobold! Deep gashes began appearing on the kobolds rushing to get around Ouroboros, the icy power freezing them and slowing them down even as the sharp ice blades cut their skin.
While the number of kobolds had grown, the entrance to the canyon was so small that only ten kobolds could fit into it at a time. This narrow choke allowed Ouroboros to keep most of the kobolds back while Velin buffed him and dealt with the kobolds on his right. To his left, Mina's icy shurikens carved their way through any kobold that managed to slip past.
Again and again, the kobolds surged forward. Despite their lack of armor, poor weapons, and weak strength, their sheer numbers began to take a toll on the three defenders. Beads of sweat began to appear on Mina's forehead as she sent icy blade after icy blade forward. Ouroboros had been breathing hard for a while, despite Velin's energizing spells. Even the elven War Priestess was beginning to drag.
A quick look back showed that the two girls were approaching their limit, and Ouroboros knew he needed to make a decision. If Jorge and Thorn were not able to find the entrance to the hidden part of the canyon soon, they would have to call off the search and try to break out; otherwise, they would all be buried here. Slicing through the neck of another kobold, Ouroboros steeled his heart and opened his mouth to say something, only to leave it open in shock as a huge stone, almost twice his size, came hurtling over his head!
Flying through the air, the massive boulder spun before crushing the rushing kobolds, sending them flying. With a sonic boom, it slammed into the ground, skidding a bit before stopping, raising a huge cloud of dust. Mina, Ouroboros, Velin, and Jorge all stared in shock at the huge stone that had seemed to appear out of nowhere. They didn't snap out of it until they heard a satisfied voice behind them.
"I found the entrance, but it is a bit small, so I'm widening it."
Behind the group, Thorn had been searching through the rocks when he tripped over a log sticking out of the piled stones. When he stood back up, he noticed that the shifted log revealed a small space behind it. Digging out the surrounding rocks, Thorn realized that the entrance to the cave had been covered over with a pile of boulders, with an especially large one plugging up the opening.
Especially large to anyone but Thorn, of course. Seeing that the pressure from the kobolds at the mouth of the canyon was growing, Thorn flexed his fingers and grabbed the boulder, pulling it out of its hole. Raising it over his head, Thorn tossed it over Ouroboros, smashing into the kobolds and narrowing the canyon entrance even further.
The kobolds, terrified that it was now raining massive rocks, fled back out of the canyon, screaming, allowing some breathing room for the tired Holy Guardian and the two ladies. Wiping the sweat off her forehead, Mina ran over to examine the cave entrance.
"Do you think this is the one?" she asked, peering inside.
"Only one way to find out, eh?" replied Jorge, slipping past her into the cave. "I'll check it out, boss."
"Ha, don’t you dare," retorted Mina, dashing after him.
Giving Thorn an appraising look, Velin walked after them. Embarrassed by Velin's attention, Thorn rubbed the back of his head and then followed Ouroboros into the cave. The ceilings of the tunnel were pretty high, so Thorn didn't have to duck. Much.
The tunnel wove around for a bit before opening up into the rest of the canyon. From what Thorn could tell, the tunnel had been bored out by hand, over a long period of time, by the kobolds. This brightened up the party's spirits, as it meant that it was less likely that the dragons had discovered this ancient inheritance during the Second Era.
Of course, the dragons had enslaved many of the lesser races, so it was possible that the tunnel had been dug on their orders, but, according to Velin, the dragons were strong enough to rip through the blockage in the canyon, so it was unnecessary for them to have their minions dig.
Before they reached the entrance into the hidden canyon, Jorge made his way back to the group, carrying a body. Despite his short stature, his thick frame possessed significant strength, surprising Thorn. Careful to make as little noise as possible, Jorge put the body down on the ground and gestured to it.
"Hey, boss, check this out. This is one of the two guards that were hanging out ahead. After I took them down, I peeked around the corner and saw a big metal door. There were fifteen or so more of these wolf guys hanging out in front of it. There were two casters working on opening it up."
"Nah, they are not kobolds, or at least, they aren’t any of the kobolds I've seen. Their armor and weapons are all high quality, and they stand a lot straighter than kobolds. Their faces are also different."
"Could they be a different type of kobold?" asked Mina.
"Hmm, interesting. Look. Their fingers are clawed, but they have hands like humans, rather than paws, like kobolds." Poking the dead creature's hands with his sword, Ouroboros pointed them out.
"Wolfkin!" blurted out Thorn.
"Wolfkin?" the other four asked together.
"Yeah, I ran into another person like this," said Thorn, his brow furrowing as he remembered Gargish, the Blood Hunter. Like this body, Gargish was a mix between a wolf and human, having a generally human form with the head of a wolf.
"Hmm, tell us about it. Were they a mob?" asked Ouroboros.
"Mob?" asked Thorn, unfamiliar with the term.
"What a noob," Jorge muttered under his breath, as Mina rolled her eyes and chuckled.
"Ah, mobs are NPCs that don't have the same intelligence as the NPCs you interact with in town," explained Ouroboros with a wry smile.
In Nova Terra, NPCs were categorized into two different classifications. Some NPCs, the monsters, were there to act as fodder for the players and friendly NPC factions. These NPCs had very basic AI and generally only existed in the game to be farmed for quests and loot. The kobolds were a good example of this. While a few of the kobolds with classes (like the Chieftains, Shaman, and Greater Shamans) were more advanced, the average kobold had very limited AI. The players referred to them as ‘mobs’ since they were mindless, and it was generally understood that interacting with them was pointless unless it was with a sharp object.
On the other side of the coin were the natives, NPCs that had advanced AI and could reason, think, and scheme like the players. Natives were often no different than players, and it was generally very difficult to tell them apart. For the most part, players interacted with natives to get quests, advance their skills and progress in the game. While there was no proof of it, rumors had it that Eve, the AI that controlled Nova Terra, had the ability to transition mobs to natives, whenever it was convenient, in order to achieve the game's ends.
"No, he was definitely a native. A hostile native. Like, super hostile," said Thorn, remembering the mad struggle he had had with Gargish. "He was a human who turned into a half wolf, half man, like these guys. Sort of a werewolf type of thing."
"Okay, so that means they are a new faction. Almost all native races can be played as characters, though some require unlocking, so this information is pretty valuable. Jorge, how tough were they?"
"They were strong. I had to use both my clone and a mass silence to keep them from hitting the gong."
"I could have killed them faster," muttered Mina under her breath.
"Definitely a native faction, then. We'll have to hope there are not too many of them in here." Ouroboros ignored Mina and stood up, dusting off his hands. "Let's keep going."
Advancing farther down the tunnel, Jorge stayed ahead of the group while the rest moved in their normal formation. Ouroboros led the way, his shield held in front of him, with Mina a step behind, to his right. Spaced to the other side, Velin was a step behind Mina while Thorn brought up the rear, three steps back.
Despite his assurances that he was okay fighting, the other four still treated him like he was a new player and positioned him at the back. At least, they didn't protest when he pulled out his arbalest and loaded in one of the massive bolts. In fact, Mina had doubled over in laughter at the sight of the massive weapon, and Jorge had made a couple sly comments.
At least, Ouroboros hadn't laughed and had assigned Thorn to protect Velin. Excited by the thought of getting to participate, Thorn mentally vowed to fulfill his role well, despite the fact that Velin had the most survivable class out of the whole group.
Turning a corner, they caught sight of Jorge, who was stopped up ahead. Slipping back to where the group was waiting, Jorge held up two fingers.
"Two casters, three heavy armor, the rest look like rangers of some sort. Long daggers and bows. At least ten. Heavies are carrying axes and shields. Casters are spouting some nonsense at a bronze door. Looks like a rune lock that they are trying to open," he whispered, drawing out the enemy's position on the ground.
"Let's go with formation six," Ouroboros ordered after a moment of thought. "Jorge, you are on the casters. I'll hold down the heavies while the girls clear chaff."
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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.