Supervisor Hobson took Thorn and Oberlin’s advice and contacted the owner of the mine to inform them that they had broken into a ruin deep in the mine. At first, Thorn had a bit of interest in seeing what was in the ruin, but he quickly dismissed that idea when he looked at the size of the tunnels. So far, Thorn had been really lucky that all of the underground spaces he had gone into had been able to accommodate his size.
That was not the case at Embersplit mine. The tunnels were small to the point that even Oberlin had to squeeze through as he explored. Oberlin had gone down with Supervisor Hobson to look at the ruin, and when he came back and told Thorn that it looked like an old dwarven ruin, any motivation Thorn had felt went right out the window.
Within a day, the mine owner, who happened to be the local Count, sent soldiers, workers, and more miners to try and open up the path to the ruin. Just as Oberlin predicted, the count immediately had his men build a large number of buildings around the entrance to the mine, changing the signboard to read [Embersplit Ruin]. Annoyed by the constant banging and yelling, Thorn left the mine entrance and walked to the edge of the nearby forest to watch the frantic workers. He had not been sitting for more than two minutes when a young boy ran up to him.
“Sir traveler, the Lieutenant would like to see you.” The kid stared at Thorn in undisguised awe.
“Alright.” Thorn rose to his feet. “Can you show me the way?”
A makeshift canopy had been slung just inside the gate of the compound to provide shade for a table covered in papers and blueprints. Standing behind it, a harassed-looking military officer was barking orders at the various scribes, soldiers, and workers rushing past. Supervisor Hobson, as nervous as usual, hovered nearby. Seeing Thorn walk up, the Lieutenant threw down the paper in his hand.
“Hello, traveler. The supervisor tells me that you were instrumental in driving off the bandits that came to attack the mine compound. Do you think you could help me identify them? The Count is not pleased at the idea that someone was foolish enough to try and rob him.”
“Of course, Lieutenant.”
“Ah, sorry for my breach of manners. My name is Tormand Tyeful, First Lieutenant of the Third Corps. I’ve been assigned from the Imperial Army to help the Count.”
“Thorn.” Gently taking the offered hand, Thorn shook it as lightly as he could. “Identifying the culprits will be simple. They wore a very distinct red leather armor with the symbol of the guild Ragnarok. Their leader is named Angdrin, and his two main henchmen are Korith and Telis.”
“Oh, is that right?” Lieutenant Tyeful seemed to deflate, the aggression bleeding right out of him. “Well, maybe it is not so important, after all. Ragnarok is not a group to be taken lightly, and certainly not a group that the Count will be interested in pursuing. Anyway, why don’t we put that aside? Do you have any interest in helping us? We are still transporting material in and could use all the manpower available. The job is paid.”
Two days later, Thorn stood outside the gate of the mine compound. Taking a deep breath of the sweet night air, he looked at the notification that had just popped up a few moments ago.
Trouble at the Embersplit Mine: Completed
The miners at the Embersplit mine have been having trouble meeting their monthly production quotas. Figure out what is causing them to fall behind, and help them solve it. Successful completion of this quest will result in the termination of your sentence. Failure to complete this quest will result in the extension of your sentence.
Title Removed: Criminal
Finally free of the [Criminal] title, Thorn’s abilities were back to one hundred percent, and his titles were all active. Happy to be back to normal, Thorn pulled up his status.
Titles: [Battle Mad], [Wolfsbane], [Lord Greymane, the Moon Wolf], [Friend of the Earth]
Abilities: [Wolf Lord’s Howl], [Avatar of the Wolf], [Call the Pack], [Blessing of the Moon], [Presence of the Wolf Lord]
Still classless, Thorn was not in a hurry to pick one up. His recent fights had shown him that he was proficient enough in combat to at least hold his own. While he was not unbeatable, anyone who wanted a piece of him was definitely going to suffer. Not that he would turn down a good class if it came along, but finding a class was not his priority. After thinking for a moment, Thorn selected his [Lord Greymane, the Moon Wolf] title.
Title: Lord Greymane, the Moon Wolf
Chosen of Hati, the Moon Wolf, you have earned the title of Lord Greymane, rightful ruler of Greymane Keep and the Lord of the Wolfkin. To take the first step in being recognized as the rightful ruler of the Fang Forest, you must take Greymane Keep back from the corrupted wolfkin who inhabit it.
Avatar of Hati, Lord Greymane. While Thorn had not figured out the full significance of these titles, he had the feeling that his path in Nova Terra would revolve heavily around them. In order to fully unlock the combined title, he had to retake Greymane Keep. Which meant, first and foremost, he had to find the keep.
After getting the map of the region, Thorn had scoured it to try and locate Greymane Keep, but no luck. In frustration, he had almost called Velin, but had stopped, since their relationship was tenuous at the moment. Still, he had been slowly leaning toward contacting Mina, and this would be a good excuse.
One of the main reasons Thorn had hesitated to reply to Mina was the anticipated awkwardness. Truthfully, he did not have any idea what to say. Sighing to himself, Thorn bemoaned his lack of experience with relationships. Thorn had known a good number of people, though most of them were employees of his or his aunt. That left him woefully short of experience dealing with disagreements and conflict, particularly with regular people.
He had read some books on conflict as part of his education, but nothing had prepared him for the emotional and mental turmoil that interpersonal conflict actually caused. Should he just pretend that nothing had happened? That seemed disingenuous. After all, Mina and Velin had both participated in Ouroboros’ plan. In fact, Velin might have even helped plan it.
But what was the point of trying to get back at them? Mina was obviously trying to restore the relationship on some level, so responding angrily would undermine that effort, creating an ever bigger rift. Thorn sighed again. Relationships were so complicated. Opening up the message, Thorn read through it again, before hitting the button to reply.
Staring at the form for a long time, Thorn eventually just entered a couple simple sentences and hit the send button.
Let’s meet. I’ll be back in Berum in a week.
Rather than worrying about what was going to happen, or what could happen, or what the result would be, Thorn figured he could just take it slow and see where things ended up. Mentally, he had written off those relationships weeks ago, so if they never improved, it wouldn’t be too much of a bother. Still, there was part of him that longed for a better resolution to the situation.
“It is all so complicated.” Thorn mused to himself as he glanced back at the mine where Oberlin had just finished talking to the gate guard.
“So, what now?” Oberlin walked up to Thorn, his hand patting his belt pouch.
“Next thing on my agenda is to head back to Berum. From there I need to find a place called Greymane Keep.”
“Huh, I’ve never heard of it.” Oberlin looked around at the quiet forest. Thorn could tell from his fidgeting that the thief had something to ask but did not know how to broach the subject.
“If there is something you need, just spit it out, Oberlin.” Thorn’s tone was even.
“Look, I know you have turned me down a bunch of times, but I really need your help,” Oberlin pleaded, clenching his fists tightly and taking a deep breath. “A while ago I fell in with a really bad crowd, and they will not let me go. You are the only person I know who might be able to do something about them.”
“You want me to kill them?”
“What? No, no. Do I look like someone who would ask you to kill people?!”
“I mean, if you wanted to, I wouldn’t stop you.” Seeing Thorn’s frown, Oberlin waved his hands and changed tactics. “Look, that isn’t what I am asking for. I just need someone big and threatening who can help me have a reasonable conversation with them. You fit both the requirements, and most importantly, I know you are not going to sell me out.”
“Where are they?”
“They have contact points all over the place. The nearest is a small town called Vermin. It is southeast of here.”
“Vermin? Like, rats?”
“Yup. It is one of the red towns. Wait, don’t tell me you don’t know what a red town is?” Oberlin shook his head at Thorn’s blank stare. “Sometimes I wonder if you grew up under a rock. Players in old MMOs used to get red names if they killed other players. A red named player could be killed by other players without penalty, and it also meant that the guards would attack them on sight. Players with red names either had to wait for a certain amount of time so their name would fade or go to specially designated towns where criminals and player killers were welcome.
“Nova Terra is way more nuanced than that, so it does not use the whole red name thing. But the concept of towns specifically for criminals has carried over. Vermin is, as you can imagine from the name, one of those towns. No matter how bad your record, you can still get services in the town. People buy and sell stolen goods, set up bounties and gangs, and just generally do whatever they want.
“As you can imagine, it is not an environment conducive to one’s health. Especially for a thief like me. I’d feel a lot better about going if you came along. Plus, once I am out from under these guys, I can come with you and help you with your quest. You know, finding that castle and doing whatever you need.”
Oberlin’s hopeful face was almost enough to make Thorn agree on the spot but, taking a deep breath, he suppressed the feeling. The last time he helped out with a another person’s quest, it had ended poorly.
“What are you not telling me? There is no way it is as simple as walking in and telling them that you are no longer working for them. If it was, you would have done it already and would not need me.” Just as Oberlin was about to rush to explain himself, Thorn held up a hand. “Think this through. You only have one chance to explain.”
Lapsing into silence, Oberlin bit one of his fingers. It was quickly becoming obvious to him that Thorn was not as naive as he looked. Thorn did not rush the thief, just watched calmly as he paced back and forth.
“Okay, fine. I’ll spill the whole thing. I signed a contract with a specific secret society to provide intelligence. You know about Avalon, right? Just like them, except secret. I thought I was signing on to give them market prices and other economic information, but over the last year, the focus of the information they are asking me to gather has shifted into more serious stuff. Military intelligence and other things like that. I did not like the way the relationship was headed, so I decided to leave. Unfortunately, they did not take kindly to my intentions, and I’ve been hiding ever since.
“The situation is further complicated by the type of contract I signed. Instead of a paper contract, I had to drip some blood on a statue, and now I’m plagued every night with terrible nightmares that sap my willpower. I think they are trying to control me. My quest says that I need to break the statue in order to reclaim my soul. A bit melodramatic, I know, but that’s how quests work. I was in a really desperate place when I agreed to join them, and if I don’t find a way to break the statue, I’ll never be free. I have a plan for getting the statue away from them, but I don’t have the confidence to do it myself. With you there, my chances of success increase quite a bit.”
“So you want me to upset a powerful secret society so you can sleep well at night?” Thorn asked, his gaze heavy.
“No, look. I mean, yes. But it is more than that. You would also be doing a great service for the empire, since I am almost positive that the organization comes from the south. The far south.”
“Yes. From the research I’ve done, their methods are the same as the spirit magic that Demonkin use. I don’t have a direct confirmation of that, since my main point of contact is human, but I am 90% sure that the organization is based out of the Southern Continent. Most of the information they were after was pertaining to military matters along the border.”
“All the more reason for me to stay out of it, right?”
“No, you don’t get it. Your quest is to become the lord of some castle, right? Greymane Keep? That means that as soon as a war starts, you’ll be dragged in. The situation has been escalating by the day, and with the Demonkin side digging for military secrets, war is inevitable. One of the requirements of being a lord is supporting the Empire when wars start, so there is next to no chance that you will not be part of the conflict. Not only is this a great chance to strike a preemptive blow against your eventual enemies, but you will be helping me out.
“Look, not only am I willing to help you with your quests once I’m free, but I’ll give you the six chests we took from Ragnarok and help you open them. Each chest is worth a fortune. If that is not enough, just tell me, and I’ll think of a way to make it work.”
Watching Oberlin plead with him, Thorn’s heart was moved. It was obvious how much the thief valued freedom, a feeling that Thorn was in tune with. His main motivation for playing Nova Terra was freedom, so seeing Oberlin in this situation sparked Thorn’s sympathy. Plus, if what Oberlin was saying was true, it was highly likely that war was on his horizon. Even Thorn’s aunt had mentioned the increased activity near the capital during one of their casual conversations.
“The six chests, opening them, and everything you know about the organization,” Thorn stated his terms.
“Are you serious?!” Oberlin looked up, excitement plain on his face. “Of course. Thank you!”
“Let’s talk about your plan as we move. The sooner we get there, the sooner we are done.
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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.