An armored guard leaning casually against the wall of the temple nearly jumped out of his skin when Thorn’s massive figure appeared right in front of him. After a few hours of practice against the two mages from the Society of Roses, Thorn felt like he had a much better idea of how to fight against a magic user. In fact, that knowledge was carved deep into his skin. He had been burned, frozen, shocked, and impaled over the course of the fight, each spell giving him a painful reminder of what he should have done.
The fight had evened out slightly when, in a moment of frustration at his inability to close the distance, he had pulled out his large arbalest and dispatched one of his opponents with a massive bolt. He had still lost that fight, quite brutally in fact, but he felt as if he was on the edge of figuring out how to deal with casters.
The repeated losses had taught him quickly that his body was largely impervious to damage due to its density and overwhelming strength and stamina, a trait that only increased as he added armor. However, direct blows to his head or neck were just as deadly to him as they were to other players. While he could certainly take more damage than the average player, he still had the same weak points.
This explained why he had fallen so fast at the mine. The female swordswoman had targeted the back of his neck, paralyzing him before finishing him off. Thorn had been so engrossed with crushing the red magical shield that he hadn’t bothered to protect his neck. While armor could help with some of that, Thorn had no desire to cover himself completely in metal, since that would further reduce his already low mobility.
Additionally, while his blunt force damage was high, excessive even, the repeated fights against the ladies from the Society of Roses demonstrated the value of piercing force over and over again. Every time he died, it was because of some magical damage that ripped straight through his defenses. Thorn did have his immense strength on his side, often allowing him to trigger a [Crushing Blow], but that did not help against magical defense that negated all the force, or at least, cut it down significantly.
Bluefire’s magical blades had been especially eye-opening. She used them for both defense and offense simultaneously, combining blunt force with sharp, piercing damage to great effect. The more Thorn thought about it, the more he realized that this was what Master Sun had been trying to get him to achieve. Combined offense and defense that flowed into each other without warning.
In hand-to-hand combat, Thorn was arguably unbeatable. His excellent taijiquan training, combined with his inhuman strength and weight, made it almost impossible for him to lose. At melee weapon range, his training with Master Sun and his impressive force was enough to give most fighters fits. Even his long range combat abilities were higher than average due to the raw damage his City Defender arbalest granted him. However, once magic entered the equation, all of this went out the window.
No matter how tough he was, he couldn’t block a chaos bolt, or avoid the slowing effect of an ice arrow. No matter how strong he was, he couldn’t punch his way through an invulnerability bubble. Just like the fight against the spirits in Hati's Ascent, magic needed to be fought with magic. Rather than discouragement, Thorn felt renewed energy after losing to the Society of Roses mages. After all, it gave him something to work toward.
Nodding casually and tossing two silver to the gaping guard, Thorn sauntered off toward the inn where he was going to meet Oberlin. He had re-spawned in Embersplit since it was the last town he had been through before his run-in with the players at the mine had gotten him killed. He had just stepped out of the temple courtyard when he saw three familiar red-armored players standing in the middle of the street.
“There he is, Boss. I told you he would log in.” The female warrior who had killed Thorn pointed a well-manicured finger at him.
“I can see that, Telis.” The handsome man in red armor narrowed his eyes as he glared at Thorn’s massive figure. Planting himself in Thorn’s way, he rested his hand on his sword. Having started a fight in a town before and paid the significant cost, the gesture almost caused Thorn to laugh out loud. Thankfully for the red-armored man’s blood pressure, Thorn was able to stifle the chuckle, turning it into a cough.
“Hello, nice to see you again.” Thorn smiled down at the three players blocking him. Seeing that they were not about to move, he stopped. “What can I do for you?”
“What did you do with our boxes?” The red-armored warrior Thorn had nearly killed in the fight at the mine stepped in front of his boss and pointed at Thorn’s chest.
“Sorry? I’m not sure what you are talking about.” Thorn raised his eyebrows as he stared at the finger.
“Korith, stand down,” the handsome man called the warrior back. “I think we might have started off on the wrong foot. My name is Angdrin, Ragnarok’s fourth seat. I lost something during our scuffle last night that is important to me, and I want it back.”
“Nice to meet you, Angdrin. My name is Thorn, and believe it or not, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Hmph. I hope, for your sake, that is actually the case. If I find out otherwise, you will suffer for it.”
“Oh yeah?” Annoyed at the threat, Thorn stepped forward until he was almost on top of Korith, his eyes hard. Reaching out a huge hand, Thorn picked Korith up and put him to the side without any visible effort. Staring down at Angdrin, Thorn smiled. “It has yet to be decided who is going to suffer. We still have to settle our fight from before.”
Shocked by Thorn’s aggressive move, Angdrin stepped back quickly before he could stop himself. Realizing that he had just backed down, he flushed slightly, the anger in his eyes growing.
“Hmph. Watch yourself,” Angdrin spat before turning and leaving, Korith and Telis trailing behind him. He could not start a fight in the center of town, and from the look in Thorn’s eyes, he really had no idea what this exchange was about. Frustrated, Angdrin could only lead his followers away.
Watching them go, Thorn had a contemplative look on his face. Oberlin had not mentioned anything regarding this, only telling Thorn to meet him at the Green Goblin when he logged back in. Despite his silence, Thorn was pretty positive that Oberlin had something to do with the missing items.
The Green Goblin was just as small and rickety as it had been the first time Thorn had visited, so he did not dare squeeze in. Waiting for Oberlin to come out of the inn, Thorn thought about the encounter he had just had with Angdrin. He had mentioned something about being one of Ragnarok’s seats, but Thorn did not know what that meant. Was it some sort of leadership position? Like a council? Resolving to ask Oberlin, Thorn’s thoughts drifted to Mina’s message.
According to what she wrote, the party had broken up after Ouroboros got the Exalted Devil Blood Berserker class due to the mixed feelings over their actions. Thorn still did not know how he felt about trying to restore his relationship with Mina and Velin. Part of him was revolted by the idea, but another part of him longed to go back to those fun, hopeful days before he was tossed aside.
As he was musing on these things, a commotion in the inn caught his attention. Shouts, the sound of things breaking, and a flurry of voices drifted out of the inn’s doors. Concerned, Thorn crouched down and stuck his head inside the door gingerly. The inside of the inn was just as sketchy looking as the outside, and Thorn’s gaze quickly settled on a large group of players surrounding Oberlin’s thin figure.
At first, no one noticed Thorn, but he coughed loudly, catching a few of the players’ eyes. Shocked, they nudged their neighbors, and soon silence fell as the patrons stared at the giant head poking through the doorway.
“Oberlin, are you coming?”
“Yes.” Like a slippery fish, Oberlin wiggled his way through the crowd and made it to Thorn’s side. “Let’s go.” At first, Oberlin tried to squeeze out before Thorn pulled his head out of the doorway. Getting halfway out, he realized that Thorn’s body was completely blocking the door. After some awkward shuffling, Thorn managed to back out and stand up without knocking against the inn. Seeing Oberlin’s curious gaze, Thorn explained that he was worried about knocking the building over.
“Haha, you have to worry about the weirdest things. Still, it would serve them right,” Oberlin remarked. “They tried to scam me out of three gold! Can you imagine? The nerve of some people!” As he spoke, he hurried Thorn along.
“Oh yeah? And how much did you swipe on your way through the crowd just now?”
“Hmm? 6 gold, 54 Silver, and 19 copper,” Oberlin said proudly, patting his belt pouch. “You make a great distraction. I’m telling you, we should work together. We could be the best heist duo Nova Terra has ever seen.”
“Speaking of swiping things, I met that red-armored man again today. Angdrin was his name. He mentioned that he was missing something. Do you happen to know anything about that?” After arriving at the edge of town, Thorn led the way toward Embersplit Mine.
“Yeah, while you were being your normal, distracting self, I swiped a couple crates that had fallen out of the carriage you threw.”
“What do they hold?” Thorn asked, looking intently at Oberlin.
Looking around to make sure there was no one nearby, Oberlin pulled out a crate and set it on the ground. Opening it slightly, Thorn could see an ornate box inside the crate. Magical runes, etched along the top and sides, pulsed weakly. His brow furrowed, Thorn looked at Oberlin, who shook his head.
“I haven’t had time to open them. It will probably take me a couple hours to crack the magic lock, and maybe half that for the mechanical lock on the box. I need an absolutely quiet environment. There are six boxes, so we are talking at least a day.”
“They look expensive.”
“Expensive? They are potentially priceless. I don’t recognize the runes at all, which means they are not from the second or third era. If they are from the first era, then we’ve got a huge time bomb on our hands.”
“Let's leave that for later.” The thief’s face turned serious. “What are your plans after this?”
Thorn stared at Oberlin quietly for a moment. The thief was rarely so serious, so Thorn knew that the content of the boxes was a big deal. After a little consideration, Thorn nodded and continued toward the mine.
“I want to wrap up this quest and then head back to Berum. I need to find a place called Greymane Castle, so I was planning on doing some research there. I’ve already gotten a map of this region, and it doesn’t look like the castle is nearby.”
“What are the chances you want to help me with something?” Oberlin looked at Thorn hopefully.
“I told you, I don’t want to get involved in anything illegal. I’ve had enough of prison.”
“And I’m telling you, it is not illegal! I just need backup when I’m talking to a couple of people.”
“Tell me about it later, and we’ll see. For now, I’m going to deal with Supervisor Hobson.” Having arrived at the gate to the mine compound, Thorn strode in. For a brief moment, the gate guard considered stopping him, but that idea was quickly shelved when the guard saw Thorn’s determined face.
“Where is the Supervisor?”
“Uh...Super...Supervisor Hobson is...he is in his of...office.”
“Thanks.” As Thorn walked toward the mine office, his eye caught a flicker of movement in one of the windows. Smiling grimly to himself, Thorn did not bother knocking. Two steps brought him to the desk where he stared down at the cowering supervisor.
“Wh...What do you want?” Supervisor Hobson stammered nervously, his hands clenching his armrests.
“I was sent here to fix a problem, and it is time to do exactly that. Your mine is not producing the required amount of Ember Iron ore, I need to know that you plan on fixing that within the next two weeks, or I will have to take drastic action.”
“No buts. There are only two options. First, you increase your production of Ember Iron. Or, second, you inform your superiors that you found an ancient ruin at the bottom of the mine. Those are the only two paths you can take. Well, there is a third one where I get involved, but I don’t think you would like how that ends up.”
“Huh? How did you know?” Horrified, Supervisor Hobson recoiled further in his seat.
“It doesn’t matter how I knew. What matters is what you are going to do about it?”
“But if I tell anyone, those red-armored players are going to kill me!”
“You don’t need to worry about them,” Oberlin cut in, sitting on Supervisor Hobson’s desk. “A mine supervisor will be the last of their worries. Look, you don’t even have to tell your boss that you pulled a bunch of chests out of the ruin.”
At Oberlin’s words, Hobson’s face drained, and he slumped down in his chair, defeated.
“Alright, what do you want me to do?”
“Simple, just tell the mine owners that you found the ruin. Chances are they will be way too busy with that to worry about you. In fact, if you play it right, you may be able to keep your position here. Chances are, this will be turned into a dungeon launch point. Who knows, you might even end up running the dungeon.”
Listening to Oberlin convincing the supervisor, Thorn’s brow furrowed. Somehow, this ending did not sit well with him. After a moment of thought, he interrupted the other two, asking, “What happened to Margo Talern?”
“Ah, poor Margo.” Supervisor Hobson shook his head. “He was actually the one who found the ruin. He had discovered it about a week before he died. He sold the information to that guild, Ragnarok, who dispatched that group to explore the mine. Margo got greedy and tried to extort their leader, who killed him off without batting an eye. After that, we could only cooperate. We pulled a bunch of stuff out of the ruin, hiding it under the Ember Iron ore. At night we would load it up into a carriage and send it along with a couple guards.”
“You should not have any trouble reporting this to the mine owners.” Thorn fixed Supervisor Hobson with an intense gaze. “Now tell me about the chests you loaded last night.”
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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.