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The interior of the bar was bustling, filled with players and natives drinking and talking. In contrast to the rowdy atmosphere, the table where Mina and Velin sat was quiet. Velin was as expressionless as ever, though there was a tension beneath her calm exterior. Mina, on the other hand, could not stop fidgeting nervously.

“Do you think he will come?” Mina clenched her cup.

“Probably.”

“But what if he is still mad?”

“We’ll have to see.”

“I want to apologize, but I don’t know how I am supposed to face him.”

“Mina, I’m sure it will be fine.” The two lapsed into momentary silence.

“But what if he doesn’t forgive us?”

Not bothering to respond, Velin closed her eyes. Mina had been a bundle of nerves ever since she got Thorn’s short response. And Mina was not the only one. While it might not show on the outside, Velin could feel the tension in her shoulders. They had done something terrible and she could feel the weight of it. And who knew if Thorn was going to forgive them.

Her eyes still closed, Velin could feel the moment Thorn walked into the room. The general hubbub died down as people glanced over at the sound of the door, their voices pausing at the sight of the giant. Taking a deep breath, Velin opened her eyes, looking first at Mina, who was so nervous she had forgotten to breathe.

Thorn crossed the room, his big strides putting him in front of the table within a few steps. Moving the extra chair out of the way, he gestured to the table.

“Mind if I squat here?” Despite his initial butterflies, Thorn found it as easy to interact with the girls as before.

“P... Please do.” Mina obviously did not.

“Thanks.” Thorn pulled a large rock from his inventory and sat down on it. As he did, so Velin pulled out a small pyramid and activated it, creating a bubble around the group. For a moment the three of them sat in silence, looking at each other.

“Thorn…” Mina’s courage evaporated as Thorn’s eye’s turned to her, and her voice died out. Panicking, she looked at Velin, who took a deep breath.

“Thorn, what we did was terrible and unkind and cruel. They say that there is no medicine for regret, but both Mina and I deeply regret our actions, and we hope that you will someday forgive us. If there is anything we can do to make it up to you, please do not hesitate to say.”

Time seemed to pause for Thorn as his mind and emotions raced. His chest was a giant ball of conflicting feelings, and it took him a moment to gather his thoughts. He had rehearsed this conversation so many times in his head, but he was still not prepared. Now that he was faced with his betrayers, his mind was a jumbled mess.

Velin and Mina had both abused and abandoned him once; what guarantee did he have that they would not do it again? They had tossed him aside for profit, yet here they were asking for forgiveness. All the raw emotion that Thorn had worked so hard to get under control during his time in the mine threatened to bubble up, and it took a few moments before he was able to get it under control.

Thorn’s head grew clear and his emotions calmed. They did not deserve his forgiveness, but that did not mean he couldn’t forgive them anyway. As Thorn examined his heart, he found a desire for reconciliation. His goal in playing Nova Terra was to be free, and if he allowed himself to be bound by what they had done, he would never reach it. Others might see his choice as weakness, but he thought differently.

“Let’s make one thing clear.”

Hearing his solemn tone, Mina paled.

“I forgive you.”

“What?” Both Mina and Velin exclaimed at the same time, unable to believe their ears.

“I forgive you,” Thorn breathed out, his chest feeling much lighter. “I’ve thought a lot about this, and I am going to make the choice to forgive you. What you did sucked, and it hurt me and don’t you dare do something like that again, but I am not going to let it define who I am and what I do. If we can, I would love to restore our relationship. I’m sure there was more to the situation than I realized and, on some level, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“You did not do me any permanent harm, so let’s move passed it. I’m not saying that everything will magically go back to normal, because it won’t. But I think we can work on it. I would enjoy questing with you, and I think that, with time and effort, we can repair what has been broken.”

“But we stole your destiny points!”

“Sure, I understand.” Thorn nodded at Mina, who was almost hyperventilating. “But destiny points are not necessary for playing the game. And I still think you are my friends, otherwise you would not have sent me that message last week.”

“Thorn, I’m sorry. I was the one who came up with the plan.” Velin, who had been quiet, suddenly spoke.

“It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not. It is kind and generous of you to extend forgiveness, but I need to take responsibility for my part. I am sorry for hurting you, and I will try my best to see that it doesn’t happen again.”

“Yeah, me too,” agreed Mina, nodding her head. “I’m sorry that I killed you like that.”

“Thank you for your apology; you are forgiven. And Mina, I didn’t die.”

“What do you mean, you didn’t die?”

“You only knocked me out. Due to a technical issue, the game did not recognize me as dead, so once you left, and combat ended, my body healed, and I woke up.”

“Oh, wow. I thought since you met Jorge on the stairs to the temple that you had respawned. He was going there to check if you logged back in.”

“Ah, yeah. I was there to be healed. We had some words.”

“I don’t think ‘had some words’ covers it. He has barely logged in since then. What did you do?” Velin asked, her eyes narrowed.

“Um. Well, I got a bit angry and might have thrown him at the wall.”

“You threw a player at the wall so hard you had to go to jail for multiple weeks? So that means he died? How did you get passed the damage reduction?”

“Damage reduction?”

“In towns, all players have pretty severe damage reduction applied to them. This is to prevent accidents and make it hard to assassinate other people. The most that should have happened is that his health would have dropped, and you would be fined by the guards.”

“Ah, I did not know about that.” Thorn smiled. “No wonder everyone looked at me like I was a monster while I was in jail. As for how it happened?” Thorn reached over and picked up Mina’s metal mug, tossing it in his hand a couple of times. Then, without any effort, he crushed it into a little ball and dropped it on the table. “I’m pretty strong.”

“Well, no wonder he has not logged back in. I imagine that was quite a traumatizing death. Plus, I imagine that he is worried he might meet you again.”

“If you talk to him, you can tell him I don’t hold it against him. Oh, and I’m sorry for killing him. If he is willing to call it even, I can let it go.”

For a moment, the table lapsed into silence.

“What happened with Ouroboros? Where is he?”

“I don’t know.” Mina looked upset thinking about the former party leader. “Ever since he got his new class, he has been totally different. I don’t like him anymore. We are not speaking!”

“Our group broke up.” Velin looked down at the table, her voice low. “Something about his class, Exalted Devil Blood Berserker, has brought out the coldness in him. I’m not sure what it is, but he has become much more ruthless than he was in the past. Even with us. He has returned to Ragnarok to fight for a position in the leadership. I’m afraid I had a part to play in goading him into it.” Velin looked down.

“Maybe, but you are not responsible for his actions. We all have to make our own decisions, and it sounds like he is making poor ones.”

“Yes,” Velin sighed, “but I understand why he is making those choices. He is under a lot of pressure from his family to succeed, and the person who controls Ragnarok will have incredible power, authority, and wealth. The temptation to run over everyone or everything that gets in your way is strong when so much is on the line. Still, we did not come here to talk about Ouroboros. We are here to find out how we can make up for our own poor decisions.”

“I told you, I forgive you. There isn’t anything you need to do.” Thorn waved dismissively. “I do have a quest that I would love help with, but I won’t have any hard feelings if you don’t join me.”

“No, we’ll do it!” Mina slapped the table and declared before Velin could say anything.

“Of course we will.” Velin nodded. “What do you need?”

“Okay. In that case, let me call our other team member. Once he gets here, we’ll set up our plan of attack.”

Oberlin must have been hanging out right outside the bar, because almost as soon as Thorn sent him a message, he popped up next to the table.

“Velin, Mina, this is Oberlin. I met him before I got to know you, and we got re-acquainted over the last couple weeks. Oberlin, Velin and Mina.” Thorn made the introductions.

After a round of hellos, the group got down to business. Thorn explained that he had to find Greymane Keep for his quest but that it did not appear on any map that he had seen. The information that he obtained from the Pathfinder in Narthil had not contained any hints either.

“Hmmm. It is rare that a quest would not give any supplementary details. Can you describe the process through which you obtained the quest?” Velin asked.

“I actually got it after I woke up in Hati’s Ascent. I have to free the castle from werewolves.”

“Ah, that helps quite a bit.” Seeing the others’ confused looks, Velin pulled out her notebook and flipped open to a blank page. Writing as she spoke, she began to explain. “One of the basic rules of Nova Terra is that everything is connected. In fact, it is speculated that, if an individual makes a connection that is false, the game might create the connection so as to give players a heightened sense of achievement. Eve is smart enough to make this impossible to abuse, but it means that there are connections everywhere.

“What that means for us is that everything surrounding a quest is a clue. Take, for example, the place where the quest was activated. Hati’s Ascent was a temple to the god of the night, Hati, the Moon Wolf. Hati was worshiped by those corrupted wolfkin that we fought in the dungeon. We also ran into regular wolfkin before we got to the dungeon. They were trying to gain access, just like us.

“Based on the composition of their group and the fact that we had never encountered that sort of creature, we can tell that they came from a good distance away. They did not have any pack animals though, and none of them were players, so they could not have come from too far away. This puts them between two and five days away.”

“Wait, why do pack animals matter?” Mina cut in, confused.

“No inventories,” Oberlin and Thorn said at the same time.

“Exactly. Since they were natives, they did not have inventories, which means that they had to carry everything in packs. They had no tents, which means that all their pack space was probably food and other vital supplies. That means that they probably traveled for less than a week. Which would also make sense considering the shape their clothing was in. They would have been much rattier looking if they had been traveling for a long time.

“So, that gives us two pieces of information. First, the wolfkin at the temple that fell became werewolves, and the castle is in the hands of werewolves. Second, wolfkin that had not fallen were trying to get to the temple. This means that it is unlikely that the wolfkin came from the area around Greymane Keep. They may know where it is, however, so let’s keep that in the back of our minds. Next, we know that the temple was situated in a wolfkin city. So it is likely that there is information in the city regarding the location of Greymane Keep.”

“Oh no.” Mina put her head in her hands.

“What is wrong?”

“That whole area is under Ragnarok’s control right now. One of the leaders has taken over that area to loot. Getting in and finding the right information will be difficult, if not impossible,” Velin spoke calmly.

“Aren’t you part of Ragnarok?” Oberlin asked.

“We were. Suffice it to say, we are no longer part of the guild. So we may have some trouble. Angdrin, the officer in charge of this area, is not known for being helpful.”

“Angdrin? Is he..?” Thorn looked at Oberlin, who was nodding his head.

“Yeah. That is the guy from the mine. Haha, small world. Thorn fought him and his red-armored goons two days ago. And we swiped a bunch of stuff from them. So, I’m pretty sure that they will be even less helpful if they see us.”

“Granted, that makes the situation easier, right? We can bust in and not worry about it. Since we’re already enemies, I mean.” Thorn smiled.

“I don’t think that is a good idea.” Mina frowned. “The Crimson Snakes are really tough.”

“Haha, they did not look that tough. Thorn killed six or seven of them in their last fight. He probably would have killed all of them if he hadn’t tried to break a magic bubble with his bare hands.”

“You what?” Flabbergasted, Mina stared at Thorn. Angdrin’s personal guard, while not being the absolute best of Ragnarok’s fighters, were elite players. It was inconceivable that someone could wipe out so many of them, especially fighting all of them at once.

“Did I say that he tried to break a magic bubble? That’s wrong. He did break a magic bubble with his bare hands. Cracked it open like an egg. You should have seen Angdrin’s face, Haha! Anyway, he also crushed five of them with a large carriage full of ore,” Oberlin bragged.

“Alright, I get the picture.” Mina shook her head. “To hear you brag, I almost thought that you were the one to fight them.”

“Nah, I don’t do that direct confrontation stuff. But I did pick up six boxes that looked pretty important while everyone was distracted.” Oberlin smiled smugly.

“Alright, let’s focus. Avoiding conflict is a smarter bet, since there are more of them than there are of us. What other avenues do we have for getting information, Velin?” Thorn waved for Mina and Oberlin to be quiet.

“We have the library here in town. We may be able to find a reference somewhere if we look through ancient legends. Because the quest is tied to the era of the gods, our chances are best if we find a story about the wolfkin specifically. We could also look for old maps and compare them to our current world map. That is how we found the entrance to Davyos’ Fall, the city where Hati’s Ascent was. That is time-consuming, though. We could also go talk to Avalon. Are you familiar with how they work?”

“Yes, Oberlin introduced me.”

“Really, if we can’t access the library from the city where we found the temple, our best option is to go find the wolfkin and see if they have any information. Unfortunately, they were hostile the last time we encountered them.”

“Okay, then it looks like we’re going to have to contend with Angdrin and the Crimson Snakes.” Thorn picked up the balled-up cup.

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If you've enjoyed what you read and are interested in reading more, please consider supporting me on Patreon where you can read Book #1 and Book #2 and advanced chapters from Book #3. Come explore the world of Nova Terra and help me determine where the story goes.

You can find out more about me at sethring.com


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WildCard

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.

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