"What about the big guy?" asked Mina, glancing up at Thorn's excited face.
"Yeah, what can I do?"
"Protect the girls, of course," said Ouroboros.
"Alright, sounds good."
After affirming that everyone understood their role, Jorge moved behind Ouroboros while Mina and Velin pulled Thorn to stand between them, a few steps behind Jorge, who had taken out a purple salve to spread on his daggers. As quietly as they could, the group moved up the tunnel. Thorn tried to be quiet, but they had not even gotten halfway up when they heard voices, and a group consisting of an armored wolfkin and four of the rangers walked around the corner to see what was going on.
As the groups caught sight of each other, the wolfkin yelled out in surprise, and Thorn pulled the trigger on his massive crossbow. With a piercing whistle, the bolt flew down the tunnel, stabbing into the armored wolfkin. A loud screech rang out as the metal tip of the bolt buried itself into his chest, punching straight through his metal breastplate and sending him tumbling head over heels.
With incredible force, the armored wolfkin bowled the rangers over, knocking them all to the ground. For a moment everyone froze in utter shock. It was only when they heard the groan of the arbalest, as Thorn pulled back the string to load another bolt, that they snapped back to reality.
"Go!" roared Ouroboros charging forward, his shield up. Like a shadow, Jorge dashed right after him, tucked behind his back. Mina continued to stare at Thorn, her mouth open, until Velin poked her in the shoulder with her staff. Shaking her head as they ran forward behind the charging Holy Guardian, Mina waved her wand, sending ice spikes into the heads of the rangers, who were still struggling to rise.
Charging right past the struggling wolfkin, Ouroboros caught sight of the rest of the wolfkin, who were getting into formation. The two armored wolfkin stood out front, while the rest of the rangers stood in a rough half-circle behind them, their bows out. At the very back, the two casters had stopped working on opening the door and were readying spells.
With another roar, Ouroboros accelerated, crossing the remaining distance in a flash. His shield up, he smashed into the two armored wolfkin, causing them to stumble back. As he impacted them, a shadow shot over his head, using his back and his shoulder to launch itself forward. Jorge, who had stuck close to Ouroboros, flew over the heads of the rangers toward the wolfkin mages in the back.
The mage on the left abandoned his chant as he saw the dwarven rogue flying through the air toward him. Pulling a wand from inside his thick robe, he took aim at Jorge, muttering the triggering incantation. Bloody red lights formed at the tip before shooting toward Jorge. With a smirk, the dwarf pulled his cloak around him, disappearing from the air in a silent explosion of shadow, only to appear behind the other mage, who was still chanting.
Two daggers thrust out at the mage who was still oblivious to the danger. As Jorge attacked, a thin barrier sprang up around the mage, blocking the oncoming daggers. Rather than panicking, Jorge smoothly slid his left-handed dagger forward. Shorter than his right-hand dagger, his left-hand dagger had a thicker blade with a jagged edge. Impacting the magical shield, it flashed a deep red, sending cracks shooting through the shield.
His other dagger followed right behind, slipping through one of the many cracks that had appeared in the shield before cutting through the mage's heavy robe and into his ribs. The mage had barely registered the attack when his throat spasmed, cutting off his chant as the Throat Sealing poison that Jorge had spread on his daggers took effect.
Occupied with the two armored wolfkin, Ouroboros had no time to worry about Jorge. While his initial charge was enough to knock both of them back, they recovered their footing and attacked. Lifting his shield, Ouroboros shifted to the left with a twist that allowed him to catch both attacks. Rather than going for the kill, he settled into a defensive stance and prepared to weather the storm.
Before the rangers could choose which target to attack, a wave of magical energy washed over them. Ice spikes and golden feathers began to bombard them, sending them scrambling for cover. A few of the braver ones pulled out their daggers and dashed forward, trying to get close to the two girls who were casting spells, only to be driven back by Thorn's heavy swings.
It took less than a moment for the battlefield to devolve into chaos, but, even to Thorn's untrained eye, it was obvious that the chaos was being skillfully controlled. Jorge's blitz had taken down one of the mages, and he was occupying the other with a relentless barrage of attacks while Ouroboros held the middle of the field, where the two armored wolfkin were stuck to him. Despite trying to retreat to help the mages, the armored wolfkin could not seem to break away from the Holy Guardian.
Every time they would try to step back, he would shift his position and strike with his sword, forcing them to defend. Even when they attacked, trying to drive him back, he shifted his position. Soon they found themselves with their backs to Thorn and the girls, with Ouroboros in between them and the casters.
The rangers milling about found themselves in an impossible situation. Every ranger that tried to approach Jorge had ice spikes shooting toward their heads. Those that tried to get involved with the melee in the middle were assaulted by golden blades shaped like feathers. Their only option seemed to be to try and attack the girls casting the spells, but that proved to be even more futile because of the giant swatting them away.
It only took a few moments for Mina and Velin to wipe out the rangers. Once the last one fell, skewered by both an icicle and a golden feather, Velin cast a buff on Ouroboros while Mina threw a blizzard at Jorge and the struggling mage. With a soft hiss, the whole area around the dwarf surged with a deep chill. Jorge teleported away as the remaining mage froze solid, appearing behind one of the armored wolfkin and thrusting both of his daggers through gaps in its armor. With a gasp, the armored wolfkin stiffened and collapsed.
Throwing a glare at Mina, Jorge was about to attack the other wolfkin, when Thorn stepped forward and grabbed the armored NPC from behind, lifting him completely off the ground and tossing him aside. The armored wolfkin hit the wall with a loud crack, his neck breaking. Once again silence descended, as Thorn stared at the now dead NPC. He had been excited to contribute but had not actually intended to kill the wolfkin.
"Holy…" staring at Thorn's massive figure, Jorge backed up a couple steps as his words trailed off.
Ouroboros, startled to see his opponent disappear, took a long look at Thorn, his mind working. After a moment of quiet, he stepped back and sheathed his sword.
"Alright, let's get all this cleaned up."
After picking up the loot that had dropped, the five of them gathered around the door that the two mages had been working on opening. The door was a massive bronze affair covered in reliefs of battle scenes. Most of the door showed armies of wolfkin battling against fierce monsters and enemy armies. At the top of the door, however, a series of images showed a massive wolfkin, at least three times the size of all the others.
Tracing the images from the edge of the door, different scenes showed the large wolfkin struggling through many trials before arriving at an altar. The image at the top of the door was of the bloodthirsty wolfkin accepting some sort of blessing from a powerful figure floating above the altar.
"Could that be Davyos?" Thorn asked, looking at Velin, who was studying the carvings.
"Hmm. Possibly," Velin replied, tracing her fingers over the figure of the large wolfkin. "We have no record of his race, so it has always been assumed that he was human. But it could be that he was one of these wolfkin. Many of these images do line up with the myths we have about him.
"See here? We have the young hero who leaves his village to go out into the world. Next, he joins an army and learns the cruelty of the world. Here we see him breaking out of a desperate situation and turning it around. This matches the story that he once led an army of a couple hundred to defeat an army of 10,000. Hmm. Ah, here he rises up in the ranks but is betrayed by his own people and is forced to flee with his supporters.
"That brings us to the center image, up at the top, where he is granted power. If this is Davyos in the images, then that is when he gets his triple category class and becomes a Devil Blood Berserker. Then, using that strength, he raises an army and returns to conquer those who betrayed him and drove him out of his home."
"Does that mean that there is a chance we will find that altar here?" asked Jorge, his eyes lighting up as he gazed at the door. "I mean, the one that Davyos used to gain his power."
"Unlikely," frowned Velin, dumping cold water on the group's excitement. "If we look farther down the door, it looks like Davyos was forced to retreat again after he ruled for a while. See, this is him having to flee and dying while trying to escape."
"Are these a picture of the doors?" Mina furrowed her brow as she pointed to one of the pictures on the bottom of the door.
"That is what it looks like. Who knows if this is a tomb or something like that. Regardless, we won't know what is behind the doors until we open them up," answered Ouroboros.
Thorn sat down about ten feet from the door and began tossing apples in his mouth while Mina helped Velin examine the magical restrictions on the door. Inventory in Nova Terra was based on a player's strength, which meant that every player's inventory was different. However, strength was limited, and the more a player added to their inventory, the slower they moved. All of this culminated in Thorn having deep pockets, which allowed him to stock an enormous amount of food.
As realistic as Nova Terra was, there was much about the game that Thorn still found astounding, and magic was at the top of that list. He had been in the game for a couple of months, at this point, and almost all of his time had been spent getting adjusted to the game. His unique situation had made the adjustment more difficult than that of the average person. Thorn's whole life had been an exercise in control. Controlling his strength, controlling his desires, his every activity was focused on making sure that his body did not collapse.
This made his transition to the game rather time-consuming. After all, sixteen years of habits, intentionally cultivated habits, were hard to break. Despite his martial arts training, it took Thorn a long time to understand how to move. In fact, he was still figuring out how to apply his strength. All of this adjustment had left little time for exploring the fantasy aspect of this new world.
Watching Mina and Velin examine the door was fascinating for Thorn. Velin would point, and Mina would draw a glowing rune with her wand. Every once in a while, they would huddle together and discuss things in hushed voices before going back to draw more runes. Seeing Thorn watching the girls, Jorge wandered over and plopped down next to him. Taking an apple, he gnawed on it for a bit before gesturing to the increasing number of runes on the door.
"Is this your first time seeing a magic lock? Pretty cool, huh?"
"Yeah, it looks cool, even though I have no idea what is happening."
"Haha, don't worry. You’re not the only one." Jorge took another bite. "Magic is a whole different beast. It takes way more effort than it’s worth, though, as you can see, it is quite powerful if you are able to handle it."
"I saw you use a pretty cool ability in the fight. Was that magic?"
"Oh, you mean the shadow jump? I guess it is technically magic. But it’s different from a mage or something like that. Mages use spells by working with runes and chants, while my ability is attached to my class. As a Shadow Assassin, I have some different abilities tied to the two classes. Some of them are innate magical spells, like my shadow jump."
"That sounds strong."
"It is. There is definitely an advantage to abilities that are based on magic, since they can bypass a lot of the laws of physics. However, it is important to remember that the game is balanced. While most people don't believe it, Eve does balance all the classes and adds restrictions to anything that is too strong."
"What about on people?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, does Eve balance people?" asked Thorn, flexing his fingers. "Wouldn't there be too many differences between people, if they were not restricted to a standard?"
"Only insofar as the same rules apply to everyone. However, the advantages a person has in the real world carry over. Actually, there were tons of people complaining about it when Nova Terra first came out. Normal video games use the same baseline for everyone, right? Well, Nova Terra isn't a video game." Jorge smirked. "Nova Terra is an alternate reality. Like people have advantages and disadvantages in real life, Nova Terra doesn't pretend that those differences don't exist.
"You and I are a great example of that. You must be huge in real life. I'm not this short, but I'm still way shorter than you. I'm so short that I got to choose between a bunch of different races that you didn't qualify for. Those races have advantages that you won’t get and, actually, can't get. At the same time, being short has disadvantages that I can't naturally overcome. Like not being able to grab people by the head and throw them around."
Remembering how he had killed the armored wolfkin, Thorn felt his face flush. He had not intended to kill him, but he had not quite gotten used to how his strength fluctuated. When the game judged his target to be friendly, it restricted his application of strength when he interacted with NPCs to make sure he did not injure them. However, when the system judged an NPC to be an enemy, it removed that restriction. Still puzzling over this, Thorn turned his attention back the magic users at the door.
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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.