Frustrated, Thorn could only glare at his aunt. With the amount of power available at her fingertips, it was silly to expect that she would not leverage it to get what she wanted. It was even sillier for Thorn to pretend that he was not tempted to do the same. While he had ambitions of crafting his destiny with his own hands, he was not foolish enough to ignore the advantage that Atlas afforded to him.
Still, he was uncomfortable using the weight of the company to squash those that displeased him.
“I thought I told you that I would deal with it.” Thorn sighed, rubbing the back of his head.
“How could you deal with it?” Even thinking about what had happened to Thorn got Julia steamed. “What they did was unacceptable, and there is no way I can let them off scott-free. No one is allowed to hurt you like that.”
Seeing that Julia was in full mom mode, Thorn held his tongue and let her vent for a few minutes. After it sounded like she had gotten most of the venom out of her system, Thorn smiled.
“Aunt, I understand what you are saying, but I would like it if you could let me handle this. Actually, I’ve been questing with two of them recently, and I was thinking of recruiting them to my team.”
“The girls, right?” Julia’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Yes. Mina and Velin are their names. Look, I feel loved knowing you have my back, but I don’t want to make a big deal about what happened. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think it would be best to just get it behind me. At least, as much as I can.”
“You are just forgiving them? That’s it? I don’t know that I can support that. Just because they are girls, it doesn’t mean you have to let them get away with murder. They tried to kill you and stole from you. I say you should make them pay.”
“Honestly, I would have agreed with you a couple weeks ago.” Thorn sighed, rubbing his nose. “But then I started thinking about what I actually want from life, and being consumed by anger isn’t it. I know it sounds crazy, but when I started planning my revenge, that is all I could think about. It took over my thoughts and made me angry all of the time. That is not the type of person you raised me to be.
“Look, it isn’t like I am happy that they threw me under the bus, but I can’t deny that it helped me grow up. At least a little bit. My first foray into having friends of my own ended terribly, but I don’t have to let that define me, right? I am more than my pain, I am more than my body. You taught me that. My body bends to my will, not I to it.” Pausing to gather his thoughts, Thorn stared down at his hands as Julia waited quietly, watching him from other side of the call.
“At the end of the day, my feelings are like my pain. They are like my body. Sometimes terrible things happen. And sometimes I’m an idiot and don’t see them coming. Or maybe I willfully ignore them because I really want friends. But I don’t have to let my feelings pick my path. I don’t know. I guess I’m saying that I want to try it again, but on my own terms. Believe me,” he said, lifting his head and looking his aunt squarely in the eyes, his voice taking on a hint of steel. “I will not let something like that happen again.”
“Alright, alright. I understand. I will take the pressure off.” Julia waved her hand, smiling fondly at Thorn. “Oh, wait. What about that Ouroboros guy. He got a four-category class at your expense. He is well protected by his family, but I was about to start putting the screw to them.”
“I’ll deal with Ouroboros myself.” Thorn shook his head. “I owe him at least a punch, but after that, I’m going to play it by ear. Besides, you can’t afford to be involved in this sort of stuff, Aunt. Atlas doesn’t need bad press.”
“Haha. You are cute. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for years, kid. I know what I can and can’t do.”
“I’ll send you the contracts Mina and Velin signed. Can I trouble you with registering my team?”
“One sec.” Julia scrolled through her contacts and sent one over to Thorn. “This is your lawyer’s Fantasia avatar. Just send them to him with a note, and he can do everything you need. Have you decided on a name?”
“I’m thinking Titan or something like that.”
“Titan is already taken. Honestly, most of the good names are taken.” Julia looked at her nephew fondly. “You know, kid? I just want to tell you how much I love you and how proud I am of you.”
“Thanks, Aunt Julia. I love you, too.”
After the call ended, and Thorn had sent Oberlin, Velin, and Mina’s contracts to his lawyer with a note, he sat for a couple moments in silence. Meeting Josephine, the Avatar of Salliish, and butting heads with Angdrin of Ragnarok’s Crimson Snakes had started an idea brewing in Thorn’s head. Seeing other players treating Nova Terra as a world to be explored and conquered, he could not help but feel the bite of adventure.
If others could take over areas, why shouldn’t he? If others could set up massive, far-reaching, secret societies, why couldn’t Thorn? He was not one hundred percent clear on what it was that he wanted to build, but the more he learned about the quest he was on, the clearer his path became.
“One thing at a time,” Thorn reminded himself before standing and heading back upstairs.
In the room, Mina was chatting away, a glimmer of hope shining in her eyes. The recent events in the real world had dampened her natural enthusiasm, but she was bouncing back quickly. Velin, on the other hand, remained somber as she racked her brain for a solution to the issues that were plaguing her and Mina in the real world. Despite the fact that she had signed the contract, she did not want to involve Thorn if she did not have to.
Mina froze, her face turning white as she looked at Velin. Seeing a message in her inbox from the bank, she opened it, the slight trembling in her hands betraying her nervousness. The longer she read, the wider her eyes became as color came rushing back into her face.
“Ahhhhh! Velin, look at this! Look at this! The bank unfroze my account?! And they deposited the signing bonus! That means we don’t have to stay at the cafe anymore!”
“Wait, here is another message. It’s from the city inspection office! Our apartment has been unsealed! We can go home! Or buy a new home!” Mina was so excited she was nearly panting. “Can you believe how quickly things turned around? I mean, we just signed the contract, like, twenty minutes ago! What a crazy coincidence for the inspection to be over too.”
“Yeah,” Velin could not suppress a sigh of relief. “Quite the coincidence. Mina, we will need to do our best in our new jobs, okay? No messing around.”
“Ha, when do I ever mess around?” Mina spun around as the door opened. Seeing Thorn’s large figure, she pounced forward and hugged his waist as best she could.
Taken aback, Thorn looked to the Elven War Priestess, who just smiled and shrugged.
“Thorn! You wouldn’t believe what happened! I’m so happy. Our accounts were unfrozen and our apartment building opened back up! We don’t have to stay in the cafe anymore! Ahhh!” Letting go of him, Mina danced around the room in excitement before collapsing on the bed that had been pushed against the wall.
“Thorn, thank you.” Once Mina had calmed down, Velin stood up and bowed slightly.
“No problem.” Thorn waved his hand. “Not a big deal. I’m happy to help.”
“We have both discussed it, and we are going to take up the offer of relocation, so we’ll be out of the game for a while. It should only take a day or so to move with a moving company, but we will not be able to log in during that time.”
“Yeah, it will be good to move to a new place.” Mina chimed in.
“Since you’ll be out of the game for a week or so, I thought I could go ahead and scout the valley out. Oberlin will be meeting us there, as he has a couple things to do in the south.” Thorn scratched his head. The whole time dilation thing made it awkward for him since he was permanently logged in.
“Alright.” Velin closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Why don’t we talk about the quest.”
“What did you find out?”
“As I mentioned before, the area is about three days from here to the east. From the few records I could find, it seems that there is some sort of corruption that has established itself in the valley, making it relatively inhospitable. My recommendation is that you proceed with caution. Your quest aside, I think there is a high possibility that if we search the valley, we might be able to find an inheritance quest. In fact, I would not be surprised if your quest is the introduction to a chain inheritance quest. I found six reported quests that match this schema.”
“Yes, since all the quests in Nova Terra are unique, it is impossible to find an exact match. However, over time, players have noticed patterns in the way quests are given, structured, and completed. This fits the bill for an inheritance quest, but it is distinct in that it is not a class quest but a title quest. Most inheritance quests revolve around inheriting a class or a treasure associated with a quest. The six specific quests I found in Ragnarok’s database that matched this were also based on a title, and every one of them had to do with inheriting a place rather than a thing.”
“You mean, like a castle?” Mina asked, sitting up on the bed.
“Yes. Though none of them gained anything bigger than a shop in the capital.”
“How do you have access to Ragnarok’s database?” Thorn asked. “I thought you left the guild?”
“I built the database.” Velin flashed a sly smile. “Even without being in the guild, they have no chance of keeping me out without rebuilding the whole thing. Plus, I have my own backups, just in case they do rebuild it.”
“Ah. Gotcha. Sorry for interrupting.”
“No problem. As I was saying, the largest gain from the quests was a sizable shop in the capital, and renting it out has made the player who completed the quest a millionaire in real life. In fact, all six of the players or groups who finished these quests have gained substantial wealth from their quest rewards. Owning property in Nova Terra is rare, and even rarer if we ignore the guild halls that cities make available to the guilds.”
“We’re going to get a castle!” Mina cheered.
“Well, we don’t know if this quest will actually lead to owning property, so we need to make sure that we find the quest that does when we are in the valley. Additionally, we have to find it before anyone else does.”
“Do you think there are other players in the valley?”
“Probably not at this point. The area is pretty rural, but I’m worried about the Crimson Snakes. Angdrin is one of the three major power players in Ragnarok and is in control of this whole region. The top three forces in Ragnarok are currently fighting over the guild master’s seat. Angdrin controls the Crimson Snakes while Sylith, a Heavenly Silver Dragon Knight, leads a faction called the Silver Guard.
“Ouroboros has joined the fight recently by establishing the Blood Guard using the class change stones that he gained from Karrandras. All three of the groups are competing for the guild leader’s seat by comparing their gains in the game. All that to say, Angdrin is going to be on the lookout for any new area opening up. If he can add it to his territory, he will gain a huge advantage over the other two.
“This means that he has scouts checking out every possible new area that they can find. I’m guessing that he already has a hint about it, which would explain why he was locking down Davyos’ Fall. He should be looking for the quest that will grant ownership of land in the valley, and, if he gets it, we’ll have a serious fight on our hands.”
“You keep talking about how controlling an area is really good. Can you talk me through the benefits?” Thorn felt like he was still struggling to grasp the whole picture.
“Of course. Let’s say that we’ve formed a guild, and we are going to set up shop here in Berum. Our first option is to rent a space from the city. That costs us money, and while we can recoup those losses and even turn a profit if we are smart, we will always have the cost of rent to worry about. However, if we owned some land in the city, we would be able to build whatever we wanted, zoning permitting. Without having to worry about the rent payment, or having a landlord, we would have a lot more control and profit.
“Now, imagine that we owned the city of Berum. Not only could we turn it into anything we wanted, but we could also rent out the land to other guilds or groups who wanted to develop businesses in the city. When you start to factor in things like respawn fees, taxes on the citizens, tariffs on goods being brought into the city, and licenses for hunting or gathering material it can pile up quickly.”
“Ouroboros used to say that if you controlled the castle, you controlled the people.” Mina got off the bed and walked to the window.
“He was right.” Velin nodded. “The biggest advantage of ownership in Nova Terra is the relationship it gives you with the natives. For whatever reason, natives pay a lot more attention to players who have a stake in their community or authority granted by the game.”
“So, owning property sort of legitimizes your existence to the natives?” Thorn mused.
“That is exactly right. And if we can get ownership in the valley, we will have a large advantage over other teams and can maybe look at setting up a guild.”
“What is the difference? I thought guilds were just large teams?”
“Not really. There are a number of different official organizations that the game recognizes. Each has a different function. Teams allow players to jointly accept any non-solo quest. Normal guilds are technically collections of teams that own a piece of property. Mercenary Corps are specialized guilds that takes part in player generated requests as well as native requests. Armies are a guild that works for a native who holds power. Finally, there are Merchant Groups, which are guilds based around trading, and Orders, which are guilds that focus on a particular set of rules. They could be religiously based or just social. With just four of us, we’d be considered a team. We’ll need to add more players or natives to our organization to make a guild.”
“Natives can join guilds?”
“Yup. That is how Velin got her class.” Mina nodded. “It was passed down from the Holy Crimson Cardinal that Ragnarok recruited. He is a native that teaches players related classes. He lives at the headquarters.”
“Interesting. So what about an organization like the Order Serpentes?”
“Secret societies could be a native organization, or they could be a player guild. The game does a good job of blending them, so it can be hard to tell if a guild is owned by players or has been generated by the game.”
“Huh.” Thorn looked up at the ceiling for a moment, occupied with his thoughts. “If we want to build a guild, then we’ll need more people.”
“Not just that.” Velin sent Thorn a file. “Guilds need three things. People, Purpose, and Prosperity.”
“She means money. But money doesn’t start with a ‘P’.” Mina chuckled.
“Prosperity is more than money,” Velin protested, giving Mina a reproving glance. “Guilds need success in what they do. They have to motivate their members, or they will fall apart. People and purpose are self-explanatory, but prosperity is probably the most important piece of the puzzle. Prosperity attracts new members while purpose will come as those players take on tasks in Nova Terra and begin to shape the world around them.”
“Hmm. I’ll have to think about this.”
“There is no rush. As our group grows, I’m sure these things will become clear.” Velin closed her notebook with a snap as she stood. “Now, we should log out and start our move. The sooner we move to our new place, the sooner we can be back to help clear the keep.”
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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.