Darkness dominated the edges of the room, allowing even Thorn to hide. Torchlight cast long shadows against the walls of the underground temple. The stone floor was cold to the touch, and the pillar at his back was hard. Despite the chill, Thorn was happy to have solid stone between him and Josephine's poison arrows.
The arrows themselves were not that dangerous. Thorn’s massive body was much too dense for serious damage from them, despite their sting. The purple poison coating her arrows was an entirely different matter. Thorn could feel the poison numbing him and slowly draining his health. He did not know if it would fade over time or if his health would continue to drain until he died, and he was not about to risk his life experimenting with them now.
About to peek out from behind the pillar, instinct made him jerk his head back just in time to avoid another arrow. That same instinct prompted him to dive away from the pillar as Josephine’s massive snake tail smashed through it, showering him with fragments of stone.
Scrambling behind another pillar, arrows clipping at his heels, Thorn thought frantically, “I need to close the distance, but those poison arrows are no joke.”
“Ha, not so tough now, are you?” Near the altar, Josephine’s Naga form swayed from side to side as she released arrows at Thorn’s hiding place. “That’s right. Keep hiding! Just like that craven god of yours!”
At Josephine’s words, something in Thorn’s chest began to burn, sending hot adrenaline straight up into his brain. Without thinking about the consequences, Thorn grabbed a large chunk of stone from one of the pillars that Josephine had smashed and stepped out from behind his cover. His eyes burning intently, Thorn glared at the Naga, his teeth clenched in visible rage.
Wolf’s Rage Unlocked
A wise wolf chooses when to fight and when to run. But when they choose to fight, they do so with unmatched fury. Due to meeting the conditions for [Wolf’s Rage] in advance, you have unlocked the ability out of order. Unlocking the [Wolf Hide] ability will require increased favor from Hati.
[Wolf’s Rage] may now be used three times a day to grant increased Stamina, Strength, and Speed for 1 minute per [Avatar of the Wolf] ability unlocked. While in this state, the player will have a strong desire to confront problems aggressively, even if it would be to their detriment.
Dismissing the notification without reading it, Thorn’s gaze was firmly fixed on Salliish’s Avatar. Gone was the gentle, unassuming aura that Thorn normally projected. Under the effect of [Wolf’s Rage] Thorn resembled a smoking volcano more than a peaceful mountain. His tightened muscles seemed to stretch his chainmail to the edge of breaking, as if it were containing a monstrous pressure just waiting to rip free.
Something about the titan’s gaze pierced Josephine’s soul, unnerving her. Sneering to hide her discomfort, she pointed an arrow directly at his heart.
“You think you are the only one with powerful abilities? My poison won’t take long to bring you down, so no matter what you do, you are toast. Why don’t you just give up this pointless struggle? Salliish crushed Hati in the past, and no matter how you struggle, you cannot escape the coils of the god of Shadow.”
“Coil around this.” Taking a sudden step forward, Thorn wound up and threw the large chunk of pillar that he had picked up with as much force as he could muster. With a tremendous ripping sound, the stone cut through the air toward Josephine. Horrified by the force and speed of the rock, Josephine froze, forgetting to release the arrow she was pointing at Thorn.
Blurring through the air, the stone passed Josephine’s head, the force of its passing ripping out a few strands of her waving hair as it went. Cursing his lack of practice throwing things, Thorn stormed forward, protecting his head with one arm while getting ready to smash out with his tetsubo.
It took Josephine half a second to snap out of her shock, and when she did, Thorn had already crossed half of the distance between them. With a hiss of fury, she slid back on her giant snake tail, shooting a poisoned arrow at the advancing titan. Not even bothering to dodge, Thorn took the shot directly in his chest. Feeling the sting as the arrow sunk into his chest, Thorn ignored it and continued pushing forward, focusing exclusively on getting into melee range.
Continuing to kite backwards, Josephine was able to release one more arrow before her back hit a pillar. In her haste, the arrow cut past Thorn’s shoulder, disappearing into the darkness behind him. Seeing that Thorn was only a few steps away, she turned and curled her body around the pillar, slithering up it as she readied another arrow. Undeterred by her escape, Thorn drew back his tetsubo and, with a tremendous bellow, smashed at the pillar.
Massive chunks of stone rained down, pelting the floor and walls as the pillar exploded. With a terrified shriek, Josephine lost her grip, falling down to the rubble-littered floor. Having lost her concentration, the bow she had summoned disintegrated into purple mist. Reaching through the scattering mist, Thorn grabbed Josephine and lifted her into the air.
“Concede, or I’ll crush you,” Thorn growled through clenched teeth.
“Hah.” Regaining some of her wits, Josephine wrapped her giant tail around Thorn, squeezing for all she was worth.
His eyes narrowing, Thorn stood unmoving as the coils tried in vain to crush him. The fury in his chest built, and it was all Thorn could do to not smash Josephine into the floor. Controlling himself with effort, he wrapped a large hand around her tail and pulled, separating himself from her coils.
“Enough, lets be done with this, or so help me, I will end it.”
For a moment, Josephine was silent. Finally, she sighed and her body shrank, separating from the giant snake who faded into the shadows.
“Yes, we are done. I concede.”
You have successfully beaten the Avatar of Salliish, the Shadow Serpent, in their own temple; Hati is pleased. It is about time someone put that slimy snake in their place.
Reward: Hati’s Favor
Looking at the quest popup, Thorn confirmed that his quest had completed. His rage still had not faded, but keeping it tightly under control, he put Josephine down.
“Do you have an antidote for this poison?”
“Yes.” Sullenly she pulled a vial out of her inventory and handed it to him.
“Thank you.” Gulping down the antidote, Thorn felt the burning sensation fade from his wounds. Josephine stared, completely dumbfounded as he, without flinching, pulled the two arrows that were stuck in his chest out, ignoring the spurt of blood that accompanied each one.
The red hot fury in his chest was starting to fade, leaving behind an empty, tired feeling. Looking around at the utter ruin around him, Thorn could not help but wince. He had always been a careful, controlled person who tried his best not to break or hurt anything, but that seemed to have flown out the window after coming into Nova Terra. He was not the only one looking about the room in dismay.
“You are like a human wrecking ball!” The Avatar of Salliish was ready to pull her hair out over the state of the underground temple. Rubble from the broken statues and demolished pillars littered the room, and only a few torches had survived the frenzied struggle.
With a smile, Thorn turned to Oberlin, who was still cautiously waiting to the side, and gestured him over.
“You can go ahead and get your statue.”
“Uh, that’s okay. I might stay over here.” Oberlin shook his head while he nervously patted his belt pouch, not wanting to get anywhere near Josephine, who had resumed her High Priestess look, cloak and all.
“No problem. I can get it for you.” Thorn looked back at the altar. “Which one is it?”
“I think it is one of the ones on the front corner.”
“You mean one of these?” Thorn walked forward toward the altar while pointing.
“Wait a second, would you consider taking a different prize?” Josephine stepped in front of Thorn, blocking him from the table.
“What are you trying to do?” Thorn’s eyes narrowed.
“I can provide you with all manner of things that are better than a silly statue. After all, the statue is of no use to you. It is only useful to the cowardly thief over there. Salliish has informed me that he thinks highly of you and is willing to give you magic items or wealth, even a high position in our organization if you are willing to give up on the statue.”
“The Order of Snakes, or something, right?”
“Right, that. I wouldn’t have to pledge myself to Salliish, would I?”
“No, serving Salliish is not required. Though, the Shadow Serpent is a gracious Lord and would surely bless you greatly if you wished to submit to him.”
“Nah, not interested.” Thorn waved his hand dismissively.
“Don’t be so quick to turn me down, Thorn. Even if you do not want to serve Salliish, there is room for you in the Ordo Serpentes. The benefits are fantastic and the pay is generous. Especially for someone with talents like yours.”
“Isn’t the whole point of the Snake Order to sneak around? You know, shadows and stuff?”
“It’s the Ordo Serpentes!” Struggling to put a lid on her temper, Josephine’s eyes narrowed. “The Order does have covert operations, but that is only a small part of the greater Order. While we have an intelligence organization that rivals even that of Avalon, our force can be compared to the largest of guilds.”
“Hmm. Then why haven’t I heard about you before?”
“For one, the majority of our forces are focused in the southern continent. While we gather intelligence in the north, we are short staffed among the human lands. If you were willing to join us, it isn’t impossible that you could grow to control an entire army here in the northern continent. Imagine, a full army of players who would jump to obey your every word!”
“Players?” Thorn’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “The Ordo Serpentes is a player organization?”
“Like most of the larger organizations in the game, it is mixed. We have countless natives that support us, but players make up the majority of the foot soldiers in the Order.”
“This all sounds interesting, but really restrictive. Plus, I don’t think Hati likes your god so much.”
“Please, what does that matter? They don’t have to like each other for us to work together.” Josephine rolled her eyes. “What is important is what you can get out of it.”
“So far, you have not actually told me what I can get out of joining you. And don’t give me that talk about becoming a leader in the north. There is no way that you would just hand me an army.”
“As I said earlier, it is nice talking to intelligent people,” Josephine giggled. “Of course, like any title or class, you would have to work for authority. But the Order does have a number of classes and titles available. There are even triple category classes that you can trade merit for. In the shorter term, you would gain access to the information network, supply points all over the northern and southern continent, access to specially crafted gear, and much more.”
“And what would I have to do for all of these things?”
“You would be assigned a quest every two months. The rest of your time is yours to do what you want. Additionally, if a war were to break out, you would have to participate. Oh, did I mention that you would get paid?”
“Of course. It is a fairly standard non-disclosure, employment contract. You would be hired as a professional player, and we provide a generous compensation package based on your level in the organization. With your raw power, it would not surprise me if you were making six figures soon.”
“That is a very kind offer, but I think I’m good. I’ll take the statue now.” Thorn shook his head.
“You really are dense. The statue is useless. Why not take the…”
In the middle of Josephine’s question, Thorn’s eyes flickered and, without waiting for her to finish, he took a large step forward, his massive hand shooting out and pushing her to the side. With a short scream, the High Priestess flew through the air, tumbling to the ground when she landed. Two long steps brought Thorn to the altar where he saw some of the statutes had lost their glow. More and more of the glowing orbs held by the statues were fading out by the second, leaving dim, lifeless orbs behind.
Gritting his teeth angrily, Thorn pulled his tetsubo and swung hard, smashing straight through the still glowing statues. The blow crushed the statues into pieces, sending shards of stone flying through the air. As each statue broke, the glowing orb in its hand dissipated, a sigh rising up into the air.
The first blow cleared three quarters of the table, and the reverse swing cleared the rest. Many of the statues along the edge of the table had already gone dark when Thorn attacked, the orbs simply shattering along with the statues. The statue that Oberlin had pointed out fractured and broke, the pieces scattering across the floor. Furious, Thorn turned to glare at Josephine, who was staggering to her feet, white faced. The now broken statues lay scattered across the floor.
“That was not part of the deal.” Her voice trembling slightly, Josephine faced Thorn.
“Neither was whatever you were doing,” Thorn growled. “Pulling the souls out of the statues before we retrieve his is not playing fair.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any control over what Salliish does.” Josephine couldn’t help but take a step back under Thorn’s glare.
“But you do have control over what you do.” Thorn’s anger burned hot in his chest, and he forcefully restrained it. “The thing I hate most is people lying to me or trying to trick me.”
Furious, Thorn turned back to glare at the altar. Reliefs along its sides showed a giant serpent that seemed to be moving in the flickering light. The shadows danced, growing larger and larger. Behind Thorn, Josephine gasped.
With a whoosh the few flickering torches flared brighter, the rising flames causing the shadows in the room to jump. Streaming together, the shadows intertwined, forming dark, twisted cords, meeting over the altar. As Thorn looked closely, he could see glittering scales forming as the pillar of shadows grew.
“Um, Thorn, something is happening, and I don’t think that it’s good.” Oberlin pointed nervously at the shadows gathering on top of the altar.
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.