Grimacing at the pain, Thorn had never been more thankful for the game-like elements of Nova Terra. As the large teeth of the corrupted wolf leader sank into his back, Thorn twisted around, throwing an elbow behind him to try and dislodge the beast. Holding on with its massive jaws, the corrupted wolf leader ripped at his back and legs with its four paws, cutting deeply into his skin!
After two blows, he finally managed to get a hand around one of its legs and, summoning his strength, Thorn ripped it from his back, throwing it away. Blood gushing from his body, Thorn fell to one knee, trying to prop himself up as his strength flagged. He could feel his health draining from his body, and the familiar darkness began to creep into the edge of his vision.
Struggling to its feet, its eyes radiating madness and corruption, the wolf growled menacingly. Its left shoulder was smashed almost beyond recognition, a dark, jagged bone visible through the gash Thorn’s tetsubo had left in its matted black fur. Yet it forced itself to stand and limped toward Thorn again, blood dripping from its slavering jaws. A deep red aura surrounded the monster, reminding him of Amis’ enraged form. No wonder the first blow had not killed it.
“Whew, these guys are tougher than I thought.” Not used to having an enemy survive a hit, Thorn had been complacent, forgetting about the threat of the corrupted wolf leader after he knocked it aside. As the corrupted wolf circled, Thorn could not help but notice that its footsteps were completely silent, explaining how it had gotten so close.
A quick glance showed Thorn that his health was at less than 50%, and it was dropping fast. Understandable, considering the amount of blood he was leaving on the ground. Still, he estimated that he had at least six seconds before his health bottomed out. But that meant he had to figure out a way to muster up the strength to stand. The corrupted wolf, despite its drive for blood, had an uncanny awareness of his weakness and was staying just out of range, pacing slowly back and forth.
“Master, master! Are you okay?” Akira’s worried voice rang in Thorn’s head.
“Not really. My health is dropping fast, so get ready to be unsummoned,” Thorn responded keeping his eyes locked on the corrupted wolf leader.
“I should use my abilities to help you fight, master! Royal Grace!” Akira squeaked.
Startled, Thorn saw a royal purple light wrap around him as Akira finished activating her skill. Miraculously, his health stopped going down and even began to slowly fill back up as his wounds instantly ceased bleeding, his skin knitting itself back together.
“Akira, you can heal?”
“Of course I can, master. Didn’t I tell you that I am the best?”
“Then why didn’t you heal me earlier?”
“Um, I didn’t think you needed it. Plus you told me to stay out of the fight, master,” Akira pouted.
“Ah, that is true. Next time you have my permission to heal me.” Thorn flexed his fingers as strength rushed back into them.
The corrupted wolf leader saw Thorn’s expression perk up and immediately noticed that he was healing under his battle pet’s spell. Furious, it howled with rage, lunging forward. Thorn met it head on, one hand clamping down on its throat, the other slamming into the side of its head, crushing its skull with an audible crack. Seeing that it was still twitching, Thorn threw the corpse down and stomped on the back of its spine, making sure that even if it was still alive, it would not be getting up again.
The sudden reversal of fortune was welcome, but the fight had exhausted Thorn mentally. Still, it was not quite time to rest. After looting the corrupted wolves’ bodies, Thorn made his way to the cave where the wolves made their den. While the cave entrance was more than big enough for even the corrupted wolf leader to walk in and out, there was no way Thorn was going to fit, so instead he sat down to rest while he sent Akira into the cave to scout around.
A few moments later, she bounced out of the cave, a handful of colorful flowers clutched in her paws and perched on Thorn’s knee.
“Master, the smelly wolves had a lot of flowers! Look, there was this shiny one and this purple one. There was this yellow and green one and an ugly brown whiskery thing that I didn’t bring because it was gross! There was also this glowing rock thing that was very warm. It is stuck in the wall, and I couldn’t get it out.”
Carefully examining the flowers, Thorn’s eyes lit up. The shiny flower that Akira had brought out looked like the flower that grew on Silverleaf. The others were not the plants that he was looking for, but he was not about to turn down more herbs. Still, since there was no way he would be able to go in and get the flowers himself, Thorn marked the cave’s location on his map and decided to wait for Mina to arrive.
Finding some large logs, he blocked the entrance of the cave and continued his search for the plants he needed for the potions. Thorn had been thinking a lot about potions and their potential uses for him. He had noticed that fights in Nova Terra were much like fights in real life. Dangerous, painful, and above all, brief. There did not seem to be many dragged out fights. Still, his race and larger size did give him a better chance of staying up while wounded, so maybe carrying some health potions would be a good idea. Plus, Thorn had found [The Complete Alchemist], so he was confident that he could develop his own potions, if given time to practice.
By the time night had fallen, Thorn had picked up his last deer heart, a couple more Zimph roots, and three Wolfsbane. According to Akira, there were way more than 25 Silverleaf in the cave, so Thorn only needed to find a spot with Blue Bells. Deciding to ask around Greymane, Thorn made his way back to town and curled up on his bed at the inn.
The next morning, Thorn ate a big breakfast and resumed his search. He had asked various townsfolk if they knew a good place to find Blue Bells, and after encouraging a couple of people with a few silver, they marked some spots on his map. According to Akira, the corrupted wolves that he had killed were the only ones in the valley, so Thorn was able to relax his guard as he walked around.
The day passed quietly as Thorn slowly wandered around the forest, collecting the Blue Bells he needed. Thankful for his map, Thorn added as many details as he could while he walked. After all, if he was really going to be assuming the role of Lord Greymane, it made sense to know his territory.
A bit after dinner time, Thorn was sitting quietly on a hill outside of town, watching as smoke rose from the various homes and buildings, when he got a call from Oberlin. Accepting it, he saw Oberlin’s face pop up. Other than a few streaks of dirt, the Infinite Key Master looked as dapper as ever.
“Hey, Thorn.” Oberlin’s eyes lit up with excitement when he saw Thorn’s broad face. “You guessed right. Everything is going according to plan so far. I will need to stay down here for at least another week or two but, after that, I should be able to rejoin you.”
“Awesome. Let me know if you have any trouble or need any backup.”
“Thanks. So far, it has been pretty smooth, but I will let you know.”
After chatting for a few more minutes, Thorn ended the call and leaned back in the grass. Slowly, ever so slowly, a vision for his future was starting to come into focus. Much of the specific detail would depend on the outcome of his quest, but the general shape of his future was becoming clear.
Mina and Velin met Thorn the next day at the edge of town, both looking as neat as a pin, despite their two day journey. The lack of fast travel in Nova Terra had been a point of confusion to Thorn until he remembered the 1:7 time dilation ratio the game employed. After all, that made three full days of travel in game a few hours of real time. Of course, that did not stop Mina from complaining about it.
“Why is your quest so far out in the boonies, Thorn? We had to walk forever! It took us so long! We need to get mounts. I can’t believe this stupid game has not made mounts for everyone yet. It isn’t fair that you can only get them in the South. We need mounts, too.”
“Go buy a battle pet.” It was obvious from Velin’s tone that she felt no sympathy.
“But they are so expensive!” Mina’s eyes lit up. “Oh, that's right! Thorn, you just got a battle pet, right? An ailuridae, I think? Can you show us?”
“Sure, hold on a second. She should be somewhere around here.”
Calling Akira back from wherever she was exploring, Thorn explained how he had found her by accidently knocking over the tree that she called home. After a few moments, Akira jumped out of a tree, landing on Thorn’s shoulder. Shy, she half hid behind his head while peeking out at the girls.
“Try giving her some food.” Thorn pulled out a few of Akira’s favorite pastries and handed them to Mina, who was practically drooling at the sight of the furry little creature.
“Master, who are these people?”
“These are friends, make sure you treat them well, okay? No stealing stuff from them.”
“Come on, little cute furry creature, come to Mina.” Holding out one of the pastries that Thorn had handed her, Mina tried to entice Akira off of Thorn’s shoulder.
“You are so awkward that I am embarrassed for you.” Velin covered her eyes with her hand. “Let me show you how to do this.”
Watching the two girls play around as they competed for Akira’s attention, Thorn couldn’t help but smile. He could tell that the last bits of awkwardness in their relationship were disappearing, and the girls were starting to feel more comfortable around him, which was a big relief. Mina was back to her chatty self and even Velin was starting to relax a bit.
After she had successfully coaxed Akira down from her perch, Velin left her playing with Mina and turned to Thorn, her expression becoming serious.
“I know we talked about it briefly before, but we need to do some digging before we take up any quests here. Because of the way Nova Terra is built, each quest you do has the potential to lock off other paths that could have been taken.”
“Every choice has a consequence, right?”
“Exactly. And if there are quests related to ownership of the valley, than we need to prioritize them.”
“Okay, say that you are right and there are quests related to controlling the valley. How do we go about finding them? So far, all the quests I’ve gotten have been a bit random.”
“Not random, focused. Every quest in the game is unique. Two quests could have the same overall goal, but how you get it, and the specifics of it, will always be tailored to the player or group that gets it. Take this situation, for example. You have a quest for clearing the keep and recovering the statue of Hati for the temple in Greymane, but even if I go and talk to the village leader, I will not be able to get the same quest. I could get a quest for finding the statue, but the reward might not be the same, and I will not be able to get it the same way.
“Where this gets complicated, is that any quest chain of significant value will generate contested quest lines. That means that, if what I suspect is true, there are probably multiple quest lines that lead to this area, and their ultimate prize has something to do with taking over the valley. Big guilds are always on the lookout for these sorts of quests lines. This means that, if you have the quest, we can pretty much guarantee that there are other people here or on the way.”
“So you are saying that we are on a time limit?” Thorn scratched his head.
“Yes. We need to find the proper quest line before anyone else does, and complete it before anyone else can progress in their competing quest line. And, to do that, we need to find out the true history of this area. What we have now is just pieced together from a few stories. I think we should start with Greymane and see if we can find anyone who knows the history of the valley. Hopefully, that will lead us to the right quest.”
As Velin spoke, Thorn’s mind was working furiously. While he had forgiven her and Mina and even hired them to his team, there was still some hesitancy in his heart about sharing information with them. But, if he was really serious about repairing their relationship, then hiding things from them was counterproductive. Taking a deep breath, Thorn strengthened his resolve and crushed the vestiges of resistance in his chest.
“Do you mean a quest like this?” Thorn opened his status window and shared 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 Valley, you must take Greymane Keep back from the corrupted wolfkin who inhabit it.
Her jaw dropping open as she read the title’s description, Velin stared at Thorn in undisguised astonishment.
“How…” the War Priestess’ eyes grew even wider as she read it again. “Wait, Chosen of Hati? You are an avatar?”
Nodding, Thorn sat down.
“Yeah, after I was stripped of my potential, I ended up fighting off Karandaras, the Betrayer, cleansing Hati’s altar, meeting Hati, the Moon Wolf, and becoming an avatar.”
“That sounds intense. But how did you end up with the Lord Greymane title?”
“Ah, earlier I killed a native named Gargish, the Blood Hunter. He dropped a ring that gave me the title.” Thorn held up his right hand, showing the silver ring. “I mentioned it the first time we saw the wolfkin in the cave. He was part of a quest line called ‘The Blood Moon’ or something. This is the continuation of that.”
“So you came here to try and claim the title? That makes more sense.” Velin pondered for a moment. “You said you also got a quest for retrieving the statue of Hati to revive the temple, right? And the keep you have to take back from the werewolves is potentially related to Hati, as well. We need more information, but I would say that there is high potential that finishing these quest lines will result in controlling this valley.”
“Which means we need to expect to face some of the major guilds, right?”
“Correct. I know for certain that Ragnarok is looking for the valley. One of my friends in the guild dropped a hint when I talked to her yesterday. I’m not sure if there are any other guilds involved. This quest puts us quite a ways ahead, as does the fact that you cleaned out the library at Davyos’ Fall. Regardless, we should plan for a fight.”
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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. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.