Despite the overcast sky, work in the quarry was dangerously hot. Wiping the trickling sweat from his face for the umpteenth time, Thorn felt the rough scrape of stubble on his cheek. Dirt, caked on his hands and covering his rough shirt, left streaks on his large face. Adjusting his grip on the sledgehammer, Thorn rechecked the large stone he had picked to crack open next. Hot to the touch, the stone he was splitting had a good chance of containing Fire Iron, the primary product of this quarry.
Infused with fire energy from the magma flows underneath the quarry, Fire Iron was a bright orange ore found encased in sedimentary rocks. Highly sought after for its higher than average melting point, Fire Iron was used to create armor and weapons and make tools for trades involving high temperatures like forging and smithing.
Because of the fire energy contained in the Fire Iron, mining it was a hot, arduous process and the only option was to set up open-air quarries to extract the ore. Still, very few miners had any interest in frying while working, so most of Angoril’s Fire Iron came from mines that used convict labor.
He had been here for four weeks already, smashing rocks for days on end, and still had three grueling weeks to go before his [Criminal] title would be removed. Splitting stones was a hard, tedious business that required a surprising amount of precision and patience. First, the stone had to be dug from the hillside and cleaned off to determine if it contained Fire Iron ore. The process for guessing if a stone had any was rough, at best, since most of the stones radiated heat after being pulled from the ground.
Resting his hand on the stone for a minute, Thorn tried to judge if it was still as hot as it had been when he first pulled it out of the hole he had been digging in the side of the hill. By pulling the stone from the earth and letting it sit for a couple of minutes in the open air, Thorn had a rough idea whether it contained Fire Iron ore based on how hot it was. If it contained no ore, the stone would cool to the point that he could leave his hand on it indefinitely. On the other hand, if the stone started to burn his skin, then there was a good chance it contained the precious ore.
Looking around covertly, Thorn did not see anyone paying attention to him so, holding the hammer like he was hitting the stone, he grabbed the stone with his other hand and squeezed it into gravel. For the first week he had been stuck in the quarry, he had used the hammer and chisel to carefully peel back layers of sedimentary rock one chip at a time, revealing the Fire Iron ore underneath. However, he soon learned that the sedimentary rock was not nearly as tough as the Fire Iron ore and that, with the correct amount of pressure, he could separate them much more quickly with a little squeeze from his massive hands.
Of course, not everyone had the luxury of being an eight-foot-nine-inch giant with nearly endless strength, evidenced by the fact that the other prisoners gave him an extra wide berth. A bit of rubbing took the excess stone off of the Fire Iron ore, revealing a nice piece about the size of a fist. A normal fist of course, not one of Thorn’s.
Thorn tossed it into the basket where the rest of his spoils were and started digging for another stone. Within seconds, sweat was once again dripping from his face. Ignoring the droplets, Thorn settled into the rhythm of the work. This was the first time he had ever done any sort of heavy manual labor and, to his surprise, he found himself enjoying it immensely. There was something wonderful in the repetitive motion of digging through the earth, hunting for ore.
Despite the fact that none of the features of Nova Terra that were designed to keep players comfortable were working, Thorn was having the time of his life. After his incredibly emotionally-intense interaction with Ouroboros and the rest of the group, the hard work was cathartic, washing away much of the stress and mental turmoil he felt.
The days spent cracking open stones had largely blunted the edge of Thorn’s anger. It was fairly monotonous work, which gave Thorn plenty of time to sort through his emotions regarding being forced into spending his Awakening points on someone else by people he thought were his friends. Combined with the silence brought about by his disabled messaging feature and the guards who discouraged interaction among the inmates, Thorn was starting to decompress.
While his initial reaction was to be furious with the group, continued thought on the matter had left Thorn unable to maintain his anger. Truthfully, if Ouroboros had explained the situation, there was a good chance that Thorn would have helped him anyway, giving his Awakening points to help Ouroboros acquire the Exalted Devil Blood Berserker class. Plus, because the game did not enforce a specific morality, it was quite difficult to say that what they did to him was “against the rules”. Obviously, it had happened, so on some level the game was vetting it.
Truthfully, by the time two weeks had passed, Thorn had lost any desire to get back at them, helped a bit by the fact that he had taken out some of his anger on Jorge. They had done what they wanted to do, and he was going to do what he wanted to do. Freedom lay in accepting reality and making courageous choices despite the actions of others.
Giving in to his anger and trying to hunt Ouroboros and the group down was admitting that they were able to control him and to dictate his actions. Frankly, Thorn had had quite enough of his actions being restricted by others and wasn’t about to give himself over to the desire for revenge. Without question, what they had done had hurt Thorn deeply, but he could choose to bear that pain with dignity, not losing sight of the way his aunt Julia had raised him.
Thorn had been raised to be a hero, but so far, he had not been doing a very good job of it. After entering this new world, he had gotten lost in the freedom of it, forgetting that the only thing that happened when one lost their boundaries was getting lost. It had taken a very painful experience to wake him up, but now that he had awoken, it was time to find his way back to his path.
Plus, the loss of Awakening points was nothing compared to what he had gained.
Titles: [Battle Mad], [Wolfsbane], [Lord Greymane, the Moon Wolf], [Friend of the Earth], [Criminal]
Abilities: [Wolf Lord’s Howl], [Avatar of the Wolf], [Call the Pack], [Blessing of the Moon], [Presence of the Wolf Lord]
Despite the fact that his Criminal title had locked all of his abilities, Thorn still had five of them, even without a class. From what he understood, that was five more than most people. Having his Awakening points taken from him was terrible, but as a result, he had met Hati, the Moon Wolf, the god of the night, and become Hati’s avatar. Frankly, the trade-off was enough to make even the best players terribly jealous.
Looking at his status, Thorn struggled to resist the smug smile that tried to sneak onto his face. While he had to be very careful what kind of class he took since he would never be able to change it, he was starting way ahead of almost everyone else. Having faced a potentially fatal medical condition his whole life before entering Nova Terra, his experience in the game thus far had been beyond anything he had ever dreamed. While he did not know what the future held, Thorn was confident in facing it. And even if his status as the Avatar of the Moon Wolf could not solve the problem, he always had his strength to fall back on.
The conversation with the Moon Wolf had broadened his vision of the game significantly, but Thorn was still unsure what he actually wanted to do. So far, he had been meeting his goal of living freely, but he was starting to wonder what the point was. His goal had been to continue adventuring with Ouroboros’ party and eventually join the super guild Ragnarok, but that path was shot down after they decided to dump him for a class upgrade.
Thankfully, his encounter with Jorge after he got back to Berum had given him plenty of time to think about what his new goals were. Over the last four weeks, a rough plan had emerged. The first order of business was to get out of prison, after which, Thorn decided he would pick up a class. Once he had a class, he was going to go complete the requirements tied to his [Lord Greymane, the Moon Wolf] title. According to the description of the title, he needed to clear a castle or something. It had been a while since he had been able to access the description since almost all of his player features were locked while he was in jail.
He could still think about classes, however, and after a couple of weeks of thinking it over, Thorn had settled on the sort of class he wanted. Of the five classes, Combat, Support, and Production were off the table while Utility classes were still too combat focused for Thorn’s taste. He had excessive amounts of strength and no need for abilities to augment his already formidable martial arts. He had decided on a Leadership category class. With the title [Lord Greymane, the Moon Wolf], Thorn was pretty confident he could find a Leadership class that would fit with the direction his life seemed to be moving in Nova Terra.
His [Presence of the Wolf Lord] ability was ideal for interacting with wolfkin, and from what Hati had said, there were still groups of wolfkin that were not corrupted. The rough shape of an idea had started to form in Thorn’s head. While it still lacked definition, getting a Leadership category class was a must. As he was thinking about this, a loud bell pealed, signaling the end of the workday.
With a satisfied sigh, Thorn shook the packed dirt off his shovel and picked up his hammer and chisels. At the end of the day each of the tools needed to be checked along with all the ore he had collected. Nearby, other prisoners were groaning under the weight of their ore bags as they slowly made their way toward the checkpoint at the end of the quarry. Running his eye over them, Thorn smiled.
When he first arrived, the sound of the quitting bell was a difficult and dangerous time, as those who had not made their quota for the day would rush to take ore from those who had. Needless to say, Thorn had quickly put a stop to that. Now, each prisoner spent their day working hard to make their quota since there would be no chance to take someone else’s hard work with Thorn around.
Lining up to have their ore weighed, the convicts chatted quietly, looking forward to the evening meal and resting. At the back of the line, Thorn stood casually holding a sack four times the size of any of the others. The rate at which he unearthed ore was monstrous, so the guards had found him a larger sack to prevent him from having to make multiple trips each day.
Seeing him towering over everyone else, one of the guards pointed him out to the guard beside him.
“That is the prisoner I was telling you about, the giant. Ever since he came, things have been really quiet. Practically don’t need us anymore.”
“He is huge.” His companion could not stop staring.
“You think? Nice guy, though. Pretty quiet and really calm. Which is good, since we probably couldn’t stop him if he wanted to walk out of here.”
“Why is that?”
“Haha, when he got here, a couple of the other prisoners thought that they would put him in his place, so they cornered him and tried to intimidate him. He just laughed and kicked them into a pile. Then he flipped one of the ore carts upside down and trapped them under it.”
“One of those things?” The guard pointed to the massive metal and wood carts perched on a rail line into which the convicts were emptying their bags.
“Yeah. It took ten guards to get it off of them when we finally found them the next morning. But other than that, he hasn’t caused a stitch of trouble. Actually, he has been keeping everyone in line for us. Someone tried to pull one of the usual stunts that first night and swipe another person’s ore, and the big guy smacked him so hard he couldn’t walk right for two days.”
“That is really awesome. What is the big guy in for?”
“Umm, I’m not totally sure. I think he is in for assault.”
“Assault? I thought you said he was really calm?”
“Apparently he killed some traveler in a town north of here. You know how travelers are. Everyone expected him to be a terror when the transfer came in, but it turns out he volunteered to come work instead of sitting in a cell. And I’m glad he did. He’s made things much easier on us. But he only has three weeks left, so the warden is starting to get worried. I’m sure the bad bunch will be right back to their tricks when he leaves. After all, they’re going to be in here for a long time.”
“What about sticky fingers the third?” asked the guard, nodding toward a slight figure who had approached Thorn.
“Hah, he’s got a week left. Seems he knew the big guy before he got sent in. Not friends or anything. He tried to lift something from the big guy’s room and got thrown out a second story window. Cook over at the cafeteria was telling me he has been trying to butter up the big guy ever since he arrived. Probably needs help lifting something that is nailed down after they get out.”
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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.