“You did what?”
“Um.” Carefully watching the glaring elven War Priestess with one eye, while shooting a glare of his own at Mina who was still doubled over laughing, Thorn tried to choose his words carefully. “I picked up some books when we came through here the first time. You know how we split up? Well… I ended up at the library, so I thought I would take some books with me.”
“Well, I sorta just kept putting them in my inventory. And my inventory is pretty big, so…”
“Oh my goodness.” Velin put her hand on her face, defeated. “You have been carrying an entire library around with you this whole time? How are you still walking? Don’t you know that weight decreases your movement speed and reaction time?”
“Ah, no wonder I’ve been feeling so sluggish.” Realization dawned on Thorn’s large face. “That makes a lot of sense.”
“Forget it, let’s figure out how we are going to get out of here.”
“Right, we can go through the books later.” Picking up the stacks of books he had pulled from his inventory, Thorn put them away and opened up his messenger. “Oberlin, what is the situation?”
“You have been walking around with an entire library in your inventory? No wonder.”
“Back in prison, I tried to pickpocket you a bunch of times to see what you had, but I only ever got books. I thought I just had the worst luck ever. But it would make sense if you had thousands of books.”
“You tried to rob me?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry about it. We’re friends now. Anyway.” Oberlin coughed and changed the subject. “They’re about two minutes away from the city. I’m on a rooftop at the southern end of the city. If you make your way over here, we might be able to slip by. Wait, no, nevermind. They are leaving guards to watch the path back to the tunnel. We are not going to get out of this without a fight.”
“Okay, that is fine.”
“Fine? What do you mean fine?” Oberlin protested. “I can’t throw people through walls or shoot lasers like some people in this group.”
“Just let me know where they are going once they get into the city, and we’ll handle it from there.” Thorn turned to look at Velin and Mina. “You ladies up for a brawl?”
On the edge of the city twenty red-armored players moved forward in formation. In the center of the group, Angdrin looked around at the abandoned surroundings moodily. Ever since his encounter with that giant freak in Embersplit, his luck had been horrible. It had only been a couple of days, but nothing seemed to be going his way.
“Telis, have you figured out who is messing with us here?”
“No, sir,” Telis responded very carefully, trying not to anger her boss any further. “Our teams have been going down too fast. We are estimating that there is a team of at least seven assassins, if not more.”
“What is the last count of our losses?”
“Ten. Two at the canyon, three at the door, five in the city,” Korith reported gruffly, his eyes never stopping as he scanned the quiet surroundings.
“Ten?” Angdrin could feel his temples throbbing from the stress. He had enough to deal with ever since that upstart Ouroboros had gone back to the guild headquarters. The last thing he needed was his Crimson Snakes being picked off in his own backyard. “Find out who is doing this, and bring me their heads!”
“Yes, sir!” Shouting together, the group picked up speed, heading in toward the street where their dead members reported contact.
The long streets were silent apart from the well-ordered footsteps of the Crimson Snakes and the muted jingle of their equipment. The closer they got to the location of the reported fight the tenser the group got. A group of assassins could hurt anyone quite badly if they got the drop. With well-trained precision, the Crimson Snakes spread out, creating space for Angdrin and his lieutenants to examine the scene of the fight, along with the help of a ranger.
“What is wrong?” Angdrin, watching the ranger scouting the area like a hawk, caught the faint frown on his face.
“Sir, it doesn’t look like the work of assassins. It looks more like they got run over by a truck.”
“What do you mean?”
“The traces show none of the blood splatter that you would expect from assassination techniques. However, we can see where multiple people went flying as if they were hit by a charge.” The ranger knelt and pointed to some disturbed ground. “See, this is where someone in red armor struggled back to their feet. You can see the flecks of paint on these stones where they slid along the ground.”
“So we are dealing with two groups?”
Opening his mouth, the ranger hesitated for a moment, taking another look around. Before he could speak, a loud sound rang out, and a barrage of ice spikes shot from an alleyway, driving an unprepared Crimson Snake to the ground. Immediately shouts erupted from the rest of the groups, and they swiftly formed ranks facing the mouth of the alley.
“Shields up!” Korith bellowed, while beside him, Telis stepped in front of Angdrin. Within seconds the group had formed a defensive half ring in the street, their backs to a building. Angdrin stood in the middle, flanked by Telis and Korith, glaring at the alleyway. Thanks to the quick response by his men, no one else had gotten injured by the ice spikes that continued to fly toward them.
“Squad 2, advance!”
Their shields up, a group of four Crimson Snake warriors left the protection of the half circle, dashing forward to the mouth of the alley where they split, two going to each side.
Shouting a battle cry, the four warriors charged into the alleyway. After a moment, the ice spikes stopped, and everything went quiet. For a second, everyone froze, their eyes fixed on the mouth of the alley.
Without warning, the stillness was shattered by a tremendous sound as the wall behind the Crimson Snake formation exploded into pieces, chunks of brick and mortar flying through the air. Eyes wide at the sight, the leader of the Crimson Snakes stared at the debris flying past his shoulder. A sudden fear bloomed in his heart.
[Wolf Lord’s Howl]
Before he could react, an unearthly howl rang through the streets, stunning everyone who heard it. The long howl seemed to echo in Angdrin’s soul, shaking his confidence and causing him to lose control of the spell he had just started casting. A titanic hand, its sharp claws gleaming, gripped Angdrin’s shoulder as he stood, frozen, the last echos of the wolf howl reverberating in his ears. The sharp prick of the claws as they punched through his armor shook him from his stupor, and he tried to begin a chant.
“I told you we’d try this again,” Thorn’s deep voice sounded by his ear, making him choke on his words.
Under the horrified gazes of the Crimson Snakes, Thorn casually lifted Angdrin into the air and smashed him onto the stone street, instantly killing him. Picking up the odds and ends that dropped, Thorn looked at the rest of the Crimson Snakes who were staring at him in shock. Flexing his fingers, Thorn grinned.
“So, are we going to do this or what?”
With a roar of rage, Korith dashed toward Thorn, his shield up in front of him. Warding him away with a palm strike, Thorn drew his tetsubo with his other hand and charged forward, laying about himself with abandon. The commotion had drawn the whole group’s attention, a mistake that they paid dearly for when the furious barrage of ice spikes resumed.
No slouches in their own right, the Crimson Snakes sprang furiously into action. The melee fighters advanced, their swords swinging while the casters behind them began to pepper Thorn with all sorts of spells. Enraged by having lost their leader right off the bat, they threw themselves at Thorn with wild abandon.
Telis and Korith were particularly troublesome opponents. Both were highly skilled and coordinated their attacks well with the casters. Using their shields to protect themselves, they would dash towards him at the same time, creating openings for the casters to launch their spells at Thorn. Finally, annoyed by their pestering, Thorn abandoned his defenses and latched on to Telis’ shield, using his tetsubo to deliver a hard strike that sent her out of the game.
Feeling the bite of Korith’s blade, Thorn gritted his teeth and snapped a kick sideways, sending the warrior flying once again. This time though, Thorn drew his arbalest, finishing the job with a massive bolt that pinned the Crimson Snake lieutenant to a nearby building.
As the fight continued, Thorn could feel his health rapidly dropping. Though his pain tolerance was significantly higher than the average person’s and his endurance was monstrous, the game corrected for it to prevent him from being an unkillable monster. That did not stop him from being a regular monster, however, and in less than ten seconds he had already sent four Crimson Snakes out of the game.
A fiercely burning fireball impacted on his side, sharp pain lancing through his ribs. Gritting his teeth, Thorn tried to ignore it, but he could feel his control starting to slip away. There were simply too many stabbing blades and arcane attacks. Just as his vision started to darken around the edges, a warm light fell on him and strength surged through him! Roaring with glee, Thorn turned and jumped, landing directly in front of the mage who cast the fireball, smashing him into motes of light with his tetsubo.
“He’s got a healer!” Panicked cries rang out from the Crimson Snakes. “Find them! Take down the healer!”
Unfortunately for them, Velin was well hidden in a second story room, peeking from a crack in the shuttered windows. Since she was only casting healing spells on Thorn, who was rampaging below, it was nearly impossible for the Crimson Snakes to find her, and by the time they gave up, another six of them had fallen to Thorn’s tetsubo or the vicious ice spikes that continued to pour out of the alley.
Every time Thorn’s health got low, light would burst around him, healing his wounds and filling him with energy. Unable to find the healer or bring Thorn down, the Crimson Snakes soon fell into complete disarray. It took only a few more moments for Thorn to finish them off, and soon he stood, panting, in the middle of an empty street.
“Wow, that was crazy!” Mina came running out of the alley where she had hidden as she cast her ice spikes. “You took on all of them by yourself!”
“No, you helped. And Velin helped a lot too. I almost died twice.” Thorn sighed and patted his chest. “That was pretty scary for a second.”
“Still, you killed Angdrin like it was nothing. I bet he is super mad right now. Probably breaking everything in sight. Hahaha, serves him right.”
“You know Angdrin?”
“Yeah, he is a total jerk. The Crimson Snakes were our primary opponents in Ragnarok. He is slippery and deceitful, but the Crimson Snakes are considered one of the stronger groups. Seeing you smash him into the ground like that was really satisfying!”
Watching Mina chat happily as she busied herself with picking up the odds and ends that the Crimson Snakes had dropped, Thorn could not help but smile. The strangeness between them had started to fade, and he was relieved to see her going back to her old behavior around him. After a few moments, he saw Velin coming out of the building where she had been hiding.
“Thanks for the healing. That was really clutch.”
“Of course, that is what I’m here for.” Velin smiled, her eyes bright. “Once we’ve picked everything up, let's get back to Berum. Without a doubt Angdrin is calling for backup at this moment. He will try to trap us here until he can log back in.”
“Alright,” Thorn grinned widely as he flexed his fingers again. “I think Oberlin said there were some guards at the gate, so we might have to rush through.”
Thorn’s excitement at the prospect of getting to fight more Crimson Snakes was infectious, causing the girls to laugh as he swept them both up and took off running. As Thorn charged through the city, Oberlin sent him directions, guiding him to the spot where the thief was hiding. About to put the girls down, Thorn felt Mina smack his head in excitement.
“I just had the greatest idea! Why don’t you just run past the bad guys and I’ll shoot them with my spells? It will be like a tank!”
“Or a two headed Ogre!” Oberlin chimed in from a nearby balcony. With a jump, he landed lightly beside Thorn and skillfully scrambled up onto Thorn’s massive back.
“Who are you calling an ogre?”
“Thorn, of course,” Oberlin shifted smoothly, ignoring Mina’s pointed look. “The Crimson Snakes that were left to watch the entrance are in a straight line from here to the door. Mina’s idea is actually a good one, though. If you just run by, she can freeze them. We only need to delay them long enough to make it through the door.”
“Alright, let's give it a try.” Thorn nodded and crouched slightly as he got ready to charge. With a boom, he shot forward, his tree-trunk-sized legs carving divots in the ground as he launched himself forward. Each step sent him hurtling faster, his speed increasing quickly. The others held on tightly as he ran, afraid of being shaken off by his jarring steps.
As they approached the first of the watching Crimson Snakes, Mina cast her spell.
Instantly, the horrified face of the guard froze solid as he stopped in place. Thorn, unable to stop his momentum barreled right over the Crimson Snake warrior, smashing into him like a freight train. As the unfortunate warrior dispersed into twinkling lights, Thorn nearly tripped and fell on his face, barely catching himself with one of his hands.
“Oh wow. That was… uh…” Mina stared, wide eyed, at the spot where the warrior had stood.
“Yeah, maybe lets not do that again.” Oberlin’s voice was weak.
Agreeing on a slower approach, the four players made their way out of the hidden valley, soon emerging in the canyon. As they left the cave, they could see evidence of a massive fight littering the canyon floor.
“It looks like the kobolds came back and attacked whoever was guarding here. They must have cleared out the rest of the Crimson Snakes.”
“Well, let's get going. We don’t want to get caught up in any unnecessary fights. Besides,” Velin glared at Thorn, “we still have to go dig through a library.”
“Haha, yeah. Sorry about that.” Thorn avoided her gaze sheepishly. He really had forgotten that he had looted the library the first time he went to the hidden city. His inventory was so big that he honestly just threw things in and forgot about them. As the group made its way back to Berum, Thorn made a mental note to go through everything he had and organize it.
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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.