As soon as Ouroboros' words reached him, Thorn felt a sharp pain in his spine, and his world turned a frozen white. Jorge had appeared behind him in an explosion of shadow, thrusting a dagger into Thorn's back. Because of his height, Jorge had to drop to the ground after his strike, leaving the dagger stuck in Thorn's back. At the same moment, Mina raised her trembling wand and chanted, causing a deluge of white to wrap around Thorn, freezing his movement.
Caught by surprise, Thorn couldn't react at all, experiencing a stunned state for the first time. Unlike most games, where a stunned state meant that a player could see what was happening but could not take any actions, being stunned in Nova Terra actually changed the player's perception of time, speeding up how time passed for them.
Velin, giving Ouroboros a long look, shook her head and walked to Thorn, who was standing stock still in his stunned state. Using the end of her staff, she began to draw arcane runes on the ground around Thorn, pausing to consult her book every so often.
Off to the side stood Mina, clutching her wand, her eyes revealing her conflicted emotions. Beside her stood Jorge, not bickering with her for once. Seeing how torn she looked, he opened his mouth to say something but paused. After a moment of hesitation, he sighed and patted her on the shoulder, shaking his head.
"Mina, I need your help," Velin said, tucking a wisp of hair behind her ear. "We need to do this quickly."
"But..." Mina trailed off.
"Mina, we all agreed. I need you to stay focused, okay?" The elf walked over and pulled her into a hug. "I know you like him, I do too, but you need to stay focused on our goal, okay?" While Velin was occupied with Mina, Ouroboros approached the spirit floating above the altar, who was watching with glee.
[AND WHAT MAKESS YOU THINK THAT I WILL ALLOW THISS?!] Karrandaras asked Ouroboros, a wide grin on its face. [WHY SSHOULD I LET YOU PASSS THE COSST OFF?!]
"The manner in which he has been delivered. And the fact that he is classless." Ouroboros listed the reasons without a change in expression.
[VERY WELL, MORTAL! YOU HAVE MADE ME QUITE PLEASED BY SUBMITTING A WORTHY SACRIFICE. I SSHALL GRANT YOU THE TRANSFER OF DESSTINY! LET USS HARVESST IT!] crowed the spirit in glee, watching Thorn's face for the pain it knew was coming.
Still stunned from the dwarven rogue's stab, Thorn was unable to process what was happening until an unbelievable, stinging pain in his forehead jerked him from his thoughts. With a gasp, Thorn fell to his knees, unable to move from that position as torrents of pain poured into him from the mark that Mina had left on his head.
The magical symbols that Velin had drawn around Thorn began to glow as she started a chant. Purple and black chains shot out of the symbols, anchoring themselves to Thorn's body, causing his blood to splatter. As Velin's chant continued, the chains began to pulse with arcane energy. Thorn could feel the chains drawing something from him but, no matter how he struggled, he could not move. Little by little, the feeling of loss grew in Thorn's chest.
Collecting some of Thorn's blood that had splashed to the ground, Mina brought it over to Ouroboros and drew another rune on his forehead. Once she finished, she touched the symbol with her wand, and a gloomy aura poured out of the rune, connecting Thorn and Ouroboros. A twisting black energy shot from Thorn's forehead to Ouroboros'.
As soon as the energy connected, the feeling of loss in Thorn's chest grew even stronger. Desperately struggling, nothing Thorn did helped him, and he began to feel empty, drained of energy.
With a flash, the spirit disappeared from over the altar and appeared above Thorn, who was now writhing in agony as the chains pulsed with energy. Looking at the strange symbols lighting up on the floor and the arcane stream connecting Thorn and Ouroboros' heads, it began to cackle.
[WHAT DEVIOUSS MINDS YOU HAVE!] the archdevil spit at Ouroboros, grinning. [YOUR WISH SSHALL BE GRANTED, CRUEL ONE! FOR THIS ISS A WORTHY SSACRIFICE! TO SSTRIP YOUR COMPANION OF ALL OF HISS POTENTIAL PLEASSESS ME! AHAHAHA! YOU HAVE DONE WELL!] And, with a flash, it split into four crimson lights that shot into the four adventurers in the middle of the room.
The largest portion of light headed toward Ouroboros, who opened his arms and accepted it. As Thorn struggled on the floor, Ouroboros glowed with crimson light, his armor taking on a blood-red hue. Bloody symbols crawled their way up his chest and onto his neck, causing him to grit his teeth in pain. Once the symbols had burned their way into his skin, the glow faded, and he opened his eyes, revealing bloody pupils.
[YOU HAVE PLEASSED ME, OUROBOROSS!] said Karrandaras, grinning at the former Holy Guardian. [NO LONGER ARE YOU A KNIGHT OF ORDER! YOU NOW SSERVE A HIGHER CALLING AND WILL LIVE FOR A GREATER PERPOSSE! RISSE, MY CHAMPION! RISSE, EXALTED DEVIL BLOOD BERSSERKER!]
Thorn tried to gather his wits as the pain rushed through his body. Struggling barely to his knees, a sharp stabbing pain in his back put him right back on stomach and, looking up with horror, he took in Ouroboros' callous disregard, Jorge's cold eyes, Mina's nervous smile, and Velin's inscrutable expression. The four other players had gathered around him as he lay on the ground.
"It's no use, Thorn; you won't be able to get up until the knife comes out," said Jorge. "So you might as well stop struggling."
Eyes heavy with fury and pain, Thorn glared up at his betrayers, but, despite his efforts to move, his limbs would not respond. The pain would have been manageable if it were not for the incredible heartache that came with it. Why would they do this? How could they do this?
"I'm sure you are wondering why we would stab you in the back. I'm sure you feel betrayed," said Ouroboros, his soft baritone at odds with the utter coldness with which he spoke. "But chalk it up as a lesson about Nova Terra. Everyone in this world has an agenda, a goal, and they will only befriend you if you help them to reach that goal." Stepping closer to Thorn, he squatted down and looked straight into his eyes. "This is not a nice world."
"Knowledge in this game is power, and power is everything. Absolutely everything. Everyone is fighting for that power and will take the first opportunity they can to rip it from your corpse. Especially when you are weak and helpless. Understand that we have nothing personal against you. In fact, I can speak for all of us in saying that we have even enjoyed your company and the convenience you bring as a porter.
"However, it is not often that we come across someone with your combination of ignorance about the game and trust of others. Add that to your lack of class and you become an irresistible opportunity. I can see from your expression that you don't understand what is going on here." Ouroboros sighed and patted Thorn's shoulder, the sensation sending new waves of pain through Thorn's body.
"I am trading your Destiny points for a better class for myself. Every player comes into the game with the potential to change their future by choosing a new class. Each time you choose a new class, you use up some of that potential. The runes that you see around you are part of a specialized spell that uses your Destiny points to grant someone else the chance to change their fate through a class change. In this case, me.
"See, I have a dual category Ancient Inheritance class already that I spent two Destiny points to acquire. This means that, if I want a quad category Ancient Inheritance class, I am right out of luck. Even starting a fresh character will not help since this ridiculous game is based on your actual identity, and Destiny points do not refresh. Once a Destiny point is used to change your class, that’s it, there is no going back. Besides, acquiring a quad category Ancient Inheritance class is a pipe dream because it requires four Destiny points, and everyone starts with three.
"The only way around that is if someone else is kind enough to use their potential up in your place and spend their Destiny points on your behalf. Sort of like what you are doing now. This way I can switch from my current class to being a Exalted Devil Blood Berserker despite the fact that I have no more personal potential for change.
"You are doing us a huge favor. While you will lose your chance to master a class, I will become one of the rare few quad class holders in the game. This will help me grow to be one of the strongest players in the world. Be glad that you can be part of creating the strongest player in Nova Terra. We are going to leave you here and will never see you again, so consider all of this a terrible, terrible dream. This is a lesson in the harshness of the world and the nature of people."
Staring into Ouroboros' eyes, Thorn had no doubt that he meant every word he said. There wasn't a shred of mercy or compassion in those eyes, only the ruthlessness to trample on anything in his way. It made Thorn wonder if this is what it felt like to be one of the monsters the players killed.
Why on earth would the game allow players to treat each other this way? His heart shaking with a mix of shock, pain, and adrenaline, Thorn could only rage at his impotence. There was nothing he could do to stop the group as they stood around talking about what they had gained.
"Oi, you were not joking about this archdevil being a strong backer, were you?" said Jorge, looking over his status. "Gained a title and everything. This is pretty powerful."
Still looking at Thorn as if he was nothing more than an ant to be squashed, Ouroboros nodded. "I told you. Plus, the title can be activated to increase damage after your blood has been spilled. I got the class, plus I can appoint twenty Blood Berserker guards. It's a dual category class that is the base for the Devil Blood Berserker. We earned a lot. Plus, there should be the possibility of growth."
"We can use the dual category classes to establish a faction," said Jorge. "And with your quad category class, you will finally be able to compete with Sylith."
"Yeah. It will take me some time to get used to it, but this class is strong. The others will not be able to ignore us anymore. Well, we've got a ways to go, so let's get moving. Mina, we are counting on you."
Mina walked up to Thorn, a strained smile on her face, and put her hands on either side of Thorn's head. "It’s nothing personal, Thorn. I'm sorry." Murmuring under her breath, freezing energy began to seep from her hands, and Thorn soon found it almost impossible to breathe as his thoughts got slower and slower.
An almost warm feeling burst through Thorn's brain, and an immense sense of fatigue came over him, helping to dull the intense pain he was feeling. Somewhere in the back of his brain, Thorn realized that the warm feeling was the onset of hypothermia. Gritting his teeth and trying to fight off the fatigue, Thorn was helpless to stop his brain from getting colder and colder.
"Don't fight it, big guy, it will all be over in a moment," said Jorge, from the side, as Mina increased the amount of energy pouring out of her hands. Ice began to form around Thorn's head as he glared at her and, within another minute, he had faded into darkness.
After Thorn had fallen unconscious, Mina, still smiling her silly smile, looked down at her trembling hands. The smile faded from her face as she fell to her knees, gasping for breath. Furrowing his brow, Ouroboros stepped closer to check on her, but she waved him away.
"I over-drew my mana. I'll be fine in a moment. The big guy was harder to take down than expected." Before he had died, Mina had seen a change in Thorn's eyes, so subtle that she had almost missed it. His shock had given way, and a different emotion had replaced it. Mina had seen rage before, but this was different, deep burning hurt that made shivers crawl down her spine, for some reason, causing her to stumble.
"How much health did that guy have? Wasn't the pain from the transfer supposed to knock him out? Not only did it not knock him out, but I half expected him to jump up and attack us," Jorge wondered aloud as he stared at Thorn's body, shocked. "Plus, that backstab should have cut his health in half, at the very least, even before he got hit with the transfer. Sheesh." Shaking his head, he began to search Thorn's body.
"It doesn't matter. We're moving on and will never see him again anyway," replied Ouroboros, helping Mina to her feet. "And if we do, we'll kill him again. Can you grab that ring?"
"Nah, quest item," grunted Jorge as he stopped pulling on the ring that refused to come off of the corpse. "Why didn't he drop anything? Where is his crossbow?"
"I'm not sure, maybe he dropped it during the fight with the devil?"
"Huh, doesn't seem to be over there. What kind of luck does he have to not drop a single thing? The odds of that are tiny. Anyway, what about all the loot on him? He is holding onto everything we have gotten today. We picked up a ton of loot from this dungeon, but he was carrying it."
"Leave him be," Ouroboros commanded. "I had to kick him from the party so that you could stun him, which means he is no longer our porter. I can't withdraw the loot from his inventory. Karrandaras gave us the quad category class for sacrificing him and the dual category class change stones, we can leave everything else for him. Since we took something valuable from him, leaving the loot with him is the least we can do. The situation in the guild is far from stable, and we can finally do something about it. Our plan can be decided after we get on the road. There is a lot of catching up to do before we can compete with the top teams."
"These classes will give us a big boost," Velin said, a small frown creasing her face as she looked down at Thorn. "But I feel like we made the wrong choice."
"Haha, what does it matter?" replied Jorge, his voice cracking. "We needed a noob as a fifth, and he was unlucky enough to be the one. And, as Ouroboros says, we're likely never going to see him again and, even if we do, what could he do to us? Haha, I bet he will quit the game after this, anyway."
"That’s enough, Jorge," Ouroboros shushed the laughing dwarf. "Velin, you know that, in this world, the weak are at the mercy of the strong. If he didn't want to be taken advantage of, he should have protected himself better. Anyone else in our position would have made the same choice. What is one person in the face of the greatest achievement this game has ever seen?"
"And should I take that same perspective, Ouroboros?" said Velin, eyebrows raised. "Do I need to protect myself against you? Should I prepare myself to be sacrificed?"
Watching her take a small step away from him nettled the usually calm Ouroboros.
"Come on, Velin, you know I wouldn't do anything that could hurt you," the new Exalted Devil Blood Berserker said, stepping after the elf and grasping one of her hands. "I know it was mean of us, but we all agreed to go down this path to the end, no matter how cruel."
Silent, Velin pulled her hand away and walked out without looking at him. Walking after her, Mina couldn't help but wonder why her hands would not stop trembling.
Support "Nova Terra: Titan"
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.