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The morning sun was just starting to peek through the trees when Thorn and Mina met up with the Wolfkin Dusk Walker that had spotted the advancing Crimson Snakes. Velin had deployed a number of Wolfkin volunteers to be on the lookout for the advancing army, and Mina had gotten the report as soon as she had logged in. Rushing to the hill where the Crimson Snake scout had been seen, Thorn and Mina were greeted by a Wolfkin dressed in leather armor and holding a bow.

“Greetings, my lord,” whispered the Wolfkin scout. “Hello, Lady Mina.”

“At ease,” Thorn replied, his eyebrow rising as he heard the way the scout addressed the Ice Witch. “Tell us the situation.”

“Yes, sir. The advancing scouts are moving at about half speed. They are holding a semi-circular pattern to increase the range of their search. The scout I spotted stopped on this hill about five hours ago and returned to the other world.”

“Hmmm. They probably logged out to sleep. That means we should have at least a few hours before they are back. Did all of the scouts log out?” Checking his clock, Thorn realized that it was about midnight in the real world.

“It appears so, sir. We have been able to find tracks, but no enemy scouts.”

“Excellent. Let’s rotate south. Might as well use this opportunity to delay them.” Bringing the Wolfkin Dusk Walker with them, the three rushed south, following the half circle path that the Crimson Snake scouts had occupied. Unsurprised by the Dusk Walker’s ability to keep up with him, Thorn was a little taken aback when Mina refused his offer to carry her.

Shaking her head resolutely, the Ice Witch had muttered something about being perfectly capable in her own right and then, in a flash of icy wind, teleported forward. Each teleportation could take her fifty meters forward, allowing her to outpace the two runners easily. Constantly casting the teleportation spell was obviously taxing, and Mina soon began to breathe heavily.

“Hey, Mina. Hold up,” Thorn called for her to wait in between two teleports.

“What? Hey, what are you doing? Put me down!” Lifted off the ground unexpectedly, Mina grabbed tightly onto Thorn’s head as he set her on his shoulder.

“There is no need for you to waste your magic here. I need you fresh when we ambush the scouts.”

“Hmph. Fine.” Turning her head away, Mina lapsed into silence. Thorn could tell that she was still angry at him. Ever since she had logged in she had been much quieter than normal.

The group of three ran through the forests, occasionally seeing a Wolfkin Dusk Walker who would rise from their hiding places to point the direction to the next location. Within half an hour, they had made it to the southern end of the Crimson Snake formation and met up with the Dusk Walker who was responsible for watching for the enemy.

“Let’s wait here.” After finding the spot where the scout had logged out, Thorn walked to a small copse of trees nearby. “Plan is simple: when the scout logs back in, we’ll attack. Once we take out the scout, we will retreat a bit and watch for more scouts.”

“How are we going to ambush them from here?” Mina asked, looking at the distance separating them from the tracks.

“Leave that to me.” Grinning, Thorn pulled out his giant siege crossbow from his inventory. Resting the arbalest on his shoulder, Thorn made a shooting motion at the spot where the scout had logged out. “As soon as they log in, bam! Though, I will need you to back me up if I miss.”

“Sure thing, I got it.” Mina patted her chest confidently. “You know, I think we need a cool symbol for our guild. Like, something really distinctive.”

Used to Mina’s abrupt subject changes, Thorn nodded, happy that she was getting back to her normal talkative self. He produced one of the silver tokens with the mark of Hati that he had gotten in Hati’s Ascent, handing it over to her.

“What do you think about this? I am thinking of adapting the symbol of Hati. We’re already really closely tied with the Moon Wolf and the Wolfkin, so using it shouldn’t be an issue.”

“I think it is a pretty cool symbol, though I think it’d be better to use the citadel instead of the wolf head. Same idea, but with the outline of the citadel. Or maybe the citadel with the wolf head on top of it.” The longer she spoke, the brighter Mina’s eyes got.

“Yeah, that is a pretty cool idea.” Thorn nodded, his eyes fixed on the empty field where their target would appear.

For the next five hours they waited for the scout to log back in. Thorn used much of that time to compose messages and plan for the impending war, all the while lending Mina’s unceasing conversation half an ear. About half-way through the wait, Thorn’s stomach began to rumble, interrupting Mina.

“Really? Didn’t you just eat on the way over here?” Mina rolled her eyes. “You are ridiculous.”

“Hey, there is a lot of me to maintain,” Thorn protested, spreading a small blanket on the ground next to him. “It is time for a snack.” He began to pull steaming hot dishes from his inventory, setting them on the blanket in preparation for his snack. After the sixth dish, the two Night Walkers’ jaws dropped open. However, their shock at the amount of food Thorn got out for his snack paled in comparison to the horror they felt as they watched him swallow whole plates of food in just a few bites.

Not wanting to be left out, Mina jumped in with gusto, desperately grabbing food to shove in her mouth before Thorn sent it down his throat into the bottomless pit that was his stomach. When she practically choked on the food, Thorn patted her on the back.

“Slow down. There is plenty.” Turning to the astounded Night Walkers, Thorn gestured with the large turkey leg he was holding. “Are you hungry? Please help yourself. Don’t stand on ceremony either, I am not really into that.”

After the four of them ate their fill, and Thorn had cleaned up the plates, he picked up his arbalest again and aimed it loosely at the field. He was not completely sure where the scout would be spawning, but he was confident that his giant bolt would be enough to take them out. After another forty minutes of waiting, one of the Night Walkers noticed a slight shimmer in the air and called it out in a low voice.

In the field a figure appeared as if they were stepping through a film of rolling mist. A young woman in the familiar crimson armor covered by a dark green cloak began to materialize. Looking around as she logged in, the female scout failed to notice Thorn and the others hiding in the nearby clump of trees. Just as her body broke through the last wisps of ether, a giant crossbow bolt as thick as her wrist smashed through her crimson chest plate, blasting her body into shattered lights. Just as quickly as the scout had arrived, she was sent out of the game.

“Alright, let’s retrieve the bolt and anything she dropped and retreat. We need one person to stay here and let us know if the army is moving this direction.”

“I’d be happy to do that, my lord.” One of the Dusk Walkers stepped forward, his fist thumping on his chest in a warrior’s salute.

“Make sure you keep your distance. Absolutely no engagement allowed. Hide somewhere nearby, and as soon as you spot the army, retreat to the Moon Wolf Citadel, and report to Velin. We’ll need every possible fighter back at the pass, so prioritize safety over everything else.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Mina, I am going to head off the scout west of here and then retreat, you deal with the scout to the northeast.” Thorn turned to the other Dusk Walker. “I am trusting you to keep her safe and back her up in case there is more than one enemy.”

“Of course, my lord!” Giving a warrior’s salute, the lanky Wolfkin gripped his bow tightly, his eyes shining with pride at Thorn’s trust.

“Bah, I don’t need help,” Mina grumbled. “I don’t lose one on one fights, ever.”

“Mina, don’t mess around. This is serious. We are trying to buy as much time as possible, but if you go and get yourself killed, we will have serious problems later.”

“Okay, okay. I get it. Man, you’re starting to nag like Velin.”

“Alright, let’s go.” Patting the short Ice Witch on the head, Thorn gave an encouraging smile to the two Wolfkin and the group split up, heading to their respective jobs.

Thirteen miles northwest, a large group of people wound their way slowly through the underbrush like a giant crimson serpent. At the head of the group, Telis and Korith, Angdrin’s two lieutenants, talked quietly together as they led the way.

“That’s what I’m saying. I feel like we’re grasping at straws,” Korith grumbled in a low voice.

“Hush!” His crimson armored companion looked around to see if anyone could hear. “You know it is not going to end well if anyone hears you, so stop talking about it.”

“Don’t pretend you feel any different about it.” The warrior spat on the ground. About to continue, he was stalled by Telis’ raised hand.

“Hold on. I just got a message from Jace.” Her eyes grew wide in excitement. “She was killed almost as soon as she logged in. Southeast of here, ten to fifteen miles away. Send the two nearest scouts to check what is going on. We’ll take a fifteen minute rest and then adjust our direction if needed.”

“Hold march!” Bellowed Korith, causing the winding column of players and natives to stop. “We’re taking a fifteen minute break, so eat your rations if you have them, but maintain march readiness!” Turning back to Telis, who was still reading the message she had received from the scout, he frowned. “What is going on? What did Jace find?”

“Chill out. I’m still trying to make sense of this. She said that she spawned but, as soon as she did, she got hit by a giant spear and was killed.”

“A giant spear?”

“Yeah, the shaft was at least the size of her wrist.”

“Whoa, that is big. Sounds like an ogre’s spear. I really hope it isn’t ogres,” Korith groaned, rubbing his bald head.

“We’ll find out soon. I’ve dispatched Ellie and Silverflare to that position, so we should have more information soon.” The more even of the two, Telis re-read the message while getting some rations from her inventory.

To the south, two scouts that had logged in nearby got a message and immediately changed their direction, heading toward the spot where their companion had been killed. Moving carefully, the male scout smoothed back his silver hair with both hands, revealing sharp, pointed ears. As an elf, he had a natural affinity for moving through nature and made good time getting to Jace’s last known position.

Studying the empty field from afar, a slight prickling along the back of his neck told him that there was something off. Thanks to his class, he could sense the danger in the air, though he could not pinpoint exactly where the danger was originating. Concerned, he was about to retreat when he heard a sound, and the temperature around him plummeted, reaching zero degrees in less than a second. Shocked, he tried to throw himself backwards, but his feet would not move. As an arrow cut a path through the back of his neck, his brain caught up to his ears.

“[Sub Zero].”

Watching as the elven scout vanished into sparkling lights, Mina stood up out of a bush and stomped her way to where the scout had fallen, grumbling under her breath the whole way. She was absolutely confident that she could have beaten the scout in a one on one fight, but Thorn obviously did not trust her, so he had sent a Wolfkin along to babysit. Kicking the grass aside, her mood brightened when she found a small hand crossbow that the dead scout had dropped. Hugging it to her chest, she waved to the Dusk Walker, and the two of them sped off.

Back at the Crimson Snake camp, Telis was just putting the last of her rations in her mouth when she received two messages at the same time. Reading the first line, she choked, sending crumbs of bread, cheese, and dried meat all over Korith.

“Ugh, gross. What was that for?” Wiping his face off, the large warrior stepped over to pat his partner on the back, only to have her dodge away and wave him off. Once she had gotten her coughing under control, she straightened, a dangerous look in her eyes that caused Korith to backup warily.

“On your feet, we move now!” Telis yelled, enraged, causing the army to burst into action. Rations were finished or put away, and within two minutes the army was lined up neatly, ready to go.

“Hey, what is happening? What’s wrong?” Korith asked as Telis began to lead the way to the south.

“Silverflare and Ellie both died. They just sent me messages. It looks like someone doesn’t want us going that direction.”

“Are you serious? Both of them? What happened.”

“Yes. Ellie said she died because she got hit by a tree? What? That is what the message says. A whole tree. As she was approaching the spot where Jace died, a tree suddenly jumped up in the air and smashed her.”

“Uh. What?”

“I have no idea. And frankly, from what the note says, neither does she.”

“Then what has you so steamed?”

“Before Silverflare died he was hit with [Sub Zero].”

“You mean that spell that Mina uses? No way. Why would she be attacking us? She got kicked out of Ragnarok by Ouroboros. If she was going to be attacking someone, shouldn’t it be the Blood Guard? Why would she be killing our scouts?”

“Maybe she was never really kicked out? I have no idea. The point is, that witch is killing our scouts, and I’m going to beat her into a pulp,” Telis fumed.

“Whoa, slow down. I know you don’t like her, but remember why we’re here.”

“I know, I know. I won’t let my personal issues with her get in the way. My main concern is that Ouroboros dispatched her and Velin to find the valley first. We’re going to have a lot of trouble if that is the case.”

Drawing in a quick breath when he heard the elven War Priestess’ name, Korith turned to the army behind him and bellowed, “Get a move on, we’re marching double time!”

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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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