Thorn left the bar, his wallet four gold lighter. The map had wiped out his savings, but Thorn did not mind. His long discussions with Oberlin in the quarry had made him realize just how important exploration was in Nova Terra. While it would be possible to stay in one place doing the same thing, in-game character growth largely relied on learning more about the world. Thorn had caught glimpses of this through his interactions with Ouroboros and his group, but it was not until Oberlin began to describe his adventures that it really clicked.
Ouroboros had been right about one thing: knowledge really did equal power in Nova Terra. The more one knew, the more one could do in here. After all, Nova Terra was just as complex as the real world. The system rewarded players who could creatively apply what they knew about the world and adapted itself to those who treated it seriously.
While the map shop in the city could sell maps of the local terrain, the real prize was the map that Thorn had purchased from the pathfinder. Her personal experiences with the region would be invaluable as he began to explore. The day was drawing to a close by the time Thorn left the city, the wall casting a long shadow that met up with the forest.
A few minutes after he departed, a small group of strange figures left the city, looking in the direction he had walked. The leader scratched his red beard as he watched the group’s ranger looking around for signs of Thorn’s passing.
“You sure he’s got money?”
“I’m sure, boss.” A nervous looking warrior rubbed his hands together as he reassured his boss. “He paid in gold coins. I saw Emilia spending one, and I know that she didn’t have any before.”
“And you said he is big?”
“Yeah, probably the biggest guy I’ve ever seen.” The nervous warrior shrank slightly as he remembered Thorn’s imposing figure.
“That’s alright.” The red bearded warrior spat on the ground, resting his hand on the large axe at his waist. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
Oblivious to the danger trailing him, Thorn walked to the south west. According to the map that he had purchased, his destination was almost a day’s travel south of Narthil, tucked away in the same mountain chain as the quarry where he had spent the last month. Much like the area surrounding Berum, the countryside was forested with gently rolling hills.
After night fell, Thorn set up his camp and rested. Truthfully, he was not tired, and he had been eating on the move, so he was only slightly hungry. Instead, Thorn wanted to take a moment to deal with the messages that had piled up during his jail time. Opening up his messaging function, the first thing he saw was the message from Mina. Ignoring it, Thorn answered his other messages one by one. Once he had cleared most of his inbox, Thorn dialed up his aunt Julia. The call connected almost instantly, a video chat opening up in front of Thorn’s face.
“Xavier! Finally! Where have you been? Why haven’t you been answering my calls? I’ve been going nuts over here thinking something happened to you! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Thorn rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “I’ve just been out of touch for a while.”
“Seriously, what's up with that? What has you so preoccupied you can’t even respond to a message? Wait, why is your tag red? You’re a criminal? You are a criminal!?”
“Uh, yeah. I might have attacked someone in a town accidentally.”
“What do you mean accidentally?” Julia’s eye narrowed as she glared at her nephew. “You have been incommunicado for a full month. Fighting in town is a max seven days.”
“Umm, maybe more on purpose than accidentally.” Thorn scratched his cheek, embarrassed. “And I might have killed him. I’m actually out on parole right now.”
“Wow, I let you start Nova Terra, and you go straight for the criminal behavior, huh?”
“Well, a lot of stuff happened.”
Seeing the mixed expression on Thorn’s face, Julia’s gaze softened.
“Yeah? Why don’t you tell me about it?”
For the next twenty minutes, Thorn recounted his adventures since arriving in Nova Terra. He told his aunt about how had he fumbled around the game at the beginning, and how the trainers at the Training Hall had taken him under their wings. About Mina and Ouroboros, Velin and Jorge. About his encounter with the Blood Hunter, Gargish, and battling the elementals in the Elemental Gorge.
Finally, his mood heavy, he spoke about the group’s encounter in Hati’s Ascent, how they had battled through the dungeon, arriving at the final boss. And how, after beating Karrandras himself, the others turned on him, stripping him of his Awakening points and leaving him for dead.
Julia fell silent as he finished telling her his story. From Thorn’s tone and downcast expression, she could tell how very deeply wounded he was. And no wonder. It made Julia’s heart ache just hearing about his first friends throwing him aside for benefits like that, so she could only imagine what Thorn must have been feeling.
“Do you want me to find them for you?” While her tone was even and her face calm, Thorn could tell from the cold look in Julia’s eyes that she was truly furious at what he had experienced. With the fifth strongest guild in the game at her back, finding Ouroboros and exacting revenge on Thorn’s behalf was not out of the question.
“No, thanks, though.”
“It wouldn’t be hard, Xavier. The Society of Roses has a great network, and it would not take much to find them.”
“I appreciate the intent, but I think I want to handle this on my own.” Thorn shook his head firmly.
“Alright.” Julia fell silent. Despite the heaviness on his face, she could see the quiet resolve underneath it. “Listen, kid. I am so sorry for what you went through, but remember, suffering sucks, but...”
“Suffering is the foundation of success,” Thorn finished the statement she often told him. “You are right.” With a big sigh, Thorn felt the last of the pent up emotions leaving his chest. The remaining anger, frustration, bitterness, and pain disappeared with the cool night breeze.
“Thanks for listening.” Smiling at his aunt, Thorn felt much better. “Besides, it isn’t all bad. I’m stuck with a single class, but I got a pretty sweet title out of it.”
“That’s right.” Happy to see her nephew perk up, Julia changed the subject. “You never told me what happened after they left you. How did you make it back to the city?”
“Well, I thought I was dead, but it turned out there was a bit of a glitch. I pseudo-died, but there was an issue with the pod that they are fixing. So I actually did not respawn in the city. Instead, I woke up in the dungeon. Anyway, I met Hati, the Moon Wolf.”
“Wait, the god? The god of night?” Seeing Thorn’s nod, Julia flipped out. “Are you serious!? Gods exist? This changes everything! We assumed they had all been killed! If Hati is still around, then I bet there are other gods hiding as well! What was it like?”
“Pretty intense. Hati is a giant wolf, obviously, but by giant, I mean like as big as the world. Anyway, more importantly, Hati gave me a title, which combined with another title I have, so now I am [Lord Greymane, the Moon Wolf]. I’m the Avatar of the Moon Wolf and the leader of the Wolfkin, though I think I still have a lot to do before I can actually assume that position.”
For a moment, silence reigned as Thorn’s normally unflappable aunt stared at him in undisguised shock, her mouth hanging open. Taken aback by her reaction, Thorn could barely resist poking the screen, wondering if it had frozen.
Startled by Julia’s scream, Thorn jumped slightly.
“You are the avatar of the Moon Wolf? And what is with that five word title?! Titles like that are insanely rare. As in, I only know of two other players in the entire game who have a five word title.”
“Yeah, Hati said something about sending me down a different path, since I could no longer take multi-category classes. After thinking about it, I think they meant that I could use a title to make up for it. The title comes with four different abilities, all of which can grow and get more powerful. As I’ve been considering their application, it seems like the title is a mini-version of a quad category class. The abilities fit under Combat, Support, Utility, and Leadership.”
“Hold on, it is a title? Not a class? This is starting to make sense. Old legends talk about the god’s avatars, but all this time people have been searching for them as if they were classes. To no avail, I might add. It has been assumed that you could become an avatar if you found the correct class combination, but from what you experienced, that is obviously not the case. You said Hati picked you?”
“Mmhmm. Hati was watching me and liked my character or something like that.”
“You keep saying they. You don’t know if Hati is male or female?” Julia looked at Thorn skeptically.
“Haha, no,” Thorn chuckled sheepishly. “I only saw the top of their nose and eyes. Bit hard to tell, and I don’t want to get struck by lightning.”
Julia smiled, happy that her nephew was able to be in high spirits despite his situation. A few minutes later, she waved goodbye, after making Thorn promise to contact her more frequently. They were almost halfway through Thorn’s one year free range wandering agreement, and she was starting to think about how he would fit into her guild.
Thorn, on the other hand, was not thinking about the future at all. While he had been stuck in prison, he had spent almost all of his time thinking about the future, but right now he was just taking a break and enjoying the soft crackle of his fire and the cool night air.
The faint sound of a cracking tree branch woke Thorn from his daze. Someone was coming. Ever since his encounter with Hati, the Moon Wolf, Thorn had found his senses sharpening considerably, allowing him to instinctively judge how far away the broken branch was and in roughly what direction.
Staying seated, Thorn flipped over his hand, pulling his tetsubo out of his inventory and placing it across his knees. Running his fingers over the metal protrusions on its end, Thorn couldn’t help but wonder where Master Sun was.
Slowly, the sounds grew louder as the oncoming group got closer to his camp, eventually coming to a stop about fifty feet away from the fire. Thorn had chosen to settle in a natural clearing where the ground dipped slightly, providing a bit of protection for his fire. Since Thorn carried ready-made food in his inventory, the fire was not used for cooking, so Thorn let it blaze merrily.
After a slight pause, the group made their way forward, soon stepping into the light of the fire. Thorn counted four people, making a mental note that there was probably an assassin of some sort sneaking around. Watching Ouroboros’ team operate had been quite the education for Thorn, and after personally experiencing Jorge’s backstab, Thorn had vowed in his heart never to forget about assassins.
The most eye-catching of the group was a large man with a full, red beard and scars across his right eye. Almost 6’ 5”, the bearded man was covered in chain mail and carried a large bladed axe at his belt with a buckler on his left forearm. Next to him stood two yellow robed, bald-headed figures, one holding a four ringed khakkhara staff while the other held a golden vajra. Both monks held their weapons in front of them solemnly, staring at Thorn as if he was a great demon. Peeking out from behind the rest of the group, a brown haired warrior watched Thorn nervously, his hands rubbing together.
“Good evening.” Since they remained silent, Thorn decided to open up the conversation. “Welcome to my camp. I’m happy to have you join me.”
Having looked around the camp and seen that Thorn was alone, the red bearded man chuckled to himself and rested his hand on his axe. Waving his other hand, he signaled for the two monks to spread out, surrounding Thorn from three sides. The nervous warrior stayed behind Red Beard, his eyes flicking to the forest behind Thorn.
“Let's make this short and sweet. Hand over all your gold and credits, and you won’t get hurt,” said Red Beard, his eyes narrowed.
“You are robbing me?” Thorn was slightly stunned.
“Yeah, and if you don’t play along, I don’t mind sending you back to spawn,” Red Beard spat.
“Oh, wow. Well. This is a novel experience.” Thorn, seeming unperturbed, wrapped his hand around the tetsubo’s handle and stood up. And up.
As he stood, the two monks on either side of him tightened their grip on their weapons, each taking a small step back. One began to chant to himself in a low voice, the other just gawked. The red bearded robber in front of Thorn looked up at him before whispering ferociously to the cowering warrior behind him.
“I thought you said he was big?”
“He is big.”
“That’s not big; that is giant! Forget it.” Turning his glare back on Thorn, Red Beard pulled out his axe. “I guess you want to play the hard way, huh?”
“Whoa, wait. Hold up.”
Seeing Thorn’s hand go up, Red Beard paused.
“I don’t even know who you are. Don’t you think you should introduce yourself?”
“Actually, he’s right,” nodded the monk with the mace. “I’m Mali, the Enlightened Buddha, and that is my brother, Jamir, the Evil Monk, over there.” He motioned with his mace, pointing at the other monk who was still chanting.
“Hi.” Jamir paused his chant long enough to nod his head.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Thorn.”
“Enough!” For some reason, seeing their friendly exchange made Red Beard furious. “My name is Pulen Blood Beard, and it’ll be the last thing you’ll hear!” Roaring this out, he raised his axe and was about to jump forward when Mali, the Enlightened Buddha yelled out, “Wait!”
“Oh, for crying out loud, what is it now?” Pulen turned his glare on the yellow robed monk.
“If you say it that way, the last thing he will hear is you saying, ‘it’ll be the last thing you’ll hear’. Shouldn’t you say it the other way around? Like, ‘the last thing you hear will be the sound of my name, Pulen Blood Beard!’ Then, whoosh! Slice him with your axe.”
“But then he will hear the axe, right?” Taking interest in the conversation, Jamir stopped his chanting to chime in. “So the actual last thing he will hear will be the whoosh of the axe.”
“Ah, that is true.” Mali nodded sagely.
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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.