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“And you did not think that it might be a distraction?” Furious, Angdrin glared at his two lieutenants. “You lost two scouts, so you redirected the whole army? Are you kidding?”

Abashed, Korith and Telis stood in front of their raging commander, avoiding his burning gaze. Korith started to speak up, to point out that they had actually lost three scouts, but Telis tugged on his arm, silencing him. The motion did not escape Angdrin’s gaze, causing him to break out into another string of curses.

Angdrin had caught up with the army a few hours ago and immediately made them pitch camp. They had chased Mina for hours, but failed to find her or the valley. By the time the leader of the Crimson Snakes had arrived, they had wasted the whole day, causing him to fall into a towering rage.

“I told you where the valley is! What in Gaia’s name made you think it was a good idea to change directions? Now we won’t get to the valley until tomorrow, putting us behind. And worse, you make me look like an idiot.” Just as he was about to start cursing again, the sound of footsteps approaching the tent made him swallow his words.

The tent flap was pushed back, and a heavily armored player entered, removing his helmet to reveal his handsome face. His well formed features held a pleasant expression, naturally drawing in those who saw him and immediately defusing much of the tension in the room. Yet the perfect picture was somehow ruined by the trace of ruthlessness lurking in his eyes.

“It looks like you are having some trouble.”

“My trouble is none of your concern, Ouroboros!” Angdrin spat, turning his attention away from his disappointing underlings.

“This concerns the future of the guild, Angdrin. Of course I am concerned.” Ouroboros smiled at the two disgraced lieutenants, indicating for them to leave with a slight tilt of his head. Thankful for the chance to escape, Telis and Korith left the tent as quickly as possible, their gratitude evident in their faces.

“I have it under control.” Doing his best to control his fury, Angdrin sat down on a chair, and poured himself a glass of wine. Tossing back the full cup, he filled it again, not bothering to offer any to his competitor.

“I’m glad to hear that. Look, I’m not here to fight with you over this achievement. I know you probably don’t believe me, but I really do want you to succeed. Sylith is too strong for either of us to fight, so our only chance is to support each other.” Walking over to the table, Ouroboros took the jug of wine and filled up Angdrin’s now empty cup. “We gain nothing by constantly being at each other’s throats. I heard you encountered some of my old companions, so I thought it would be appropriate for me to come and help you deal with them. And maybe mend a few bridges along the way.”

Staring into Ouroboros’ handsome face, Angdrin could not help but begin to waver. There was a certain magnetism to Ouroboros’ words and actions that made him want to go along with what Ouroboros said. Just as the words of agreement were about to escape his lips, he growled, slamming his cup down on the table, sending wine splashing everywhere.

“Ha, don’t try tricks on me! I’m warning you. They will not work.”

“Hmm?” Ouroboros appeared taken aback by the outburst, his brow furrowing. “Oh, right. I’m sorry. I’m still having trouble controlling my aura. It wasn’t intentional.”

“I’m sure.” Angdrin stared at Ouroboros through narrowed eyes. Ever since the former Holy Guardian had gained a quad category class, his influence in Ragnarok had exploded. In part, it was due to the potential that his new class afforded him, attracting the attention of the elders who truly ran the guild. However, even more dangerous to Angdrin was the alluring aura that Ouroboros now carried.

A devilish air hovered around the Exalted Devil Blood Berserker now, lending a coercive strength to his every word. Ideas that used to be easy to ignore now wormed their way into the listener’s mind, slithering past defenses and common sense. The effect was subtle, hard to spot, and even harder to resist. It was only when Angdrin received a message from Velin, Ouroboros’ old advisor, that he was able to understand his competitor’s swift rise to power.

“Look, Angdrin, let’s put our cards on the table. I see you as a valuable ally, and I don’t think there is any good reason for us to be in competition.” Ouroboros smiled disarmingly at the leader of the Crimson Snakes. “Let’s talk this through. And, if you’re not happy with it by the end of our conversation, we can go our separate ways.”

“Fine. You have five minutes.” Knowing that he could not escape the conversation, Angdrin drained his cup again and placed it on the table, fixing his stormy eyes on Ouroboros’ handsome face.

“That is fair. Look, you are in a bit of a bind. From what I understand of the situation, you lost some pretty important items to a thief. We’re all familiar with Mr. Oberlin Danihoff, the Third, but what was out of my estimation was that he somehow connected with Thorn, one of my old party.”

“A companion that you betrayed,” spat Angdrin.

“A foolish player who was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Ouroboros corrected. “Now, to top it off, it seems that some of my old companions have rejoined with Thorn and Oberlin and are competing with you for control of a valley with quite a few natural resources and a respawn point for a new race. To make matters worse, they seem to have found the valley before you.”

“Thanks for the summary. If you’re here just to rub this in my face, then you can leave. Now.”

“No, I am here to help. To help you, to help myself, and to help Ragnarok. Look, I don’t care about the valley. It is in your region, so if I gain control of it, I’d have nothing but trouble. I came here because I can help you deal with Mina, Velin, and even Thorn.”

“You can deal with them? Are you kidding me? Have you ever seen that guy?” Angdrin scoffed, pouring himself more wine.

“Yes, I have. I’m confident that I can take him down. Size is not everything, and I’ve spent enough time with him to know his weaknesses.”

“Haha, I don’t know if you are cocky or just an idiot.”

“Why are you so cautious about him? He’s just a giant noob. You should be much more concerned about Velin and Mina.”

“Oh, sure. Both of those girls are quite dangerous. Mostly thanks to you, might I add?” Angdrin shot Ouroboros a pointed look. “But they are nothing compared to the walking tank. I watched him throw a wagon at five of my men, crushing them. A wagon. Did I mention that he popped my bubble with his bare hands? If Telis had not burned a finishing blow, he would have popped me with it!

“That ‘giant noob’ killed almost thirty of us without breaking a sweat. I don’t know what you did to him, but whatever it was created a monster. An absolute monster. He is literally a walking boss. And I mean that in every sense of the word. He has crowd control, a rage ability, ranged and close combat attacks, and insane defense. If I didn't know better, I would have assumed that he was a native. You can fight him all you want, but I don’t want a single piece of him.”

“You make him sound much scarier than he actually is. Believe me, I spent quite a while with him.”

“Whatever you say.” Since Ouroboros did not want to listen, Angdrin abandoned his attempts to communicate how dangerous Thorn was. “What do you get out of this? If you are not here for the valley, what are you after? I don’t believe you’d help me for free.”

“Of course not.” Ouroboros ran a hand through his hair, flashing a smile. “I want your trust. I want you to see that we don’t have to be enemies. That we can work together.”

“And?”

“And, I want you to work with me against Sylith and the Silver Guard.” Holding up a hand to stop Angdrin from interrupting him, Ouroboros continued. “I know, we are both trying to become the guild leader of Ragnarok. But hear me out.” As the sun set, painting the tops of the trees in pink light, the two commanders continued to talk, negotiating the details of their cooperation.

The same pink light shrouded Moon Wolf Citadel in its soft glow, reminding Thorn of the massive cakes that his aunt would buy him for his birthday when he was younger. Currently, he was sitting on the balcony of the great room of the fortress, looking out at the last vestiges of light disappearing behind the mountains at the end of the valley. Sitting next to him on the wide balcony, Mina was feeding bits of pastry to Akira, who seemed determined to eat every last pastry in the game. Joining them, Velin shook her head when Thorn looked at her. Sitting on the blanket on the other side of Mina, the elven War Priestess frowned.

“We still have not seen them. I almost suspect your diversionary tactic worked.”

“You say that as if it may not have.”

“I mean no disrespect, but it was honestly a foolish idea.” Velin rolled her eyes. “Any intelligent player would have ignored the distraction and continued on their route.”

“But was it? It worked, didn’t it?”

“Sure, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

“Haha, that is true. Hey, it was worth a shot, and it paid off. We only need to hold on for two more days.”

“Why two days? What happens after two days?” Mina asked, looking between Velin and Thorn. Seeing the elf shrug, she turned her attention to Thorn.

“We’ve got friends on the way.”

“Friends? What friends?”

Towering over her, even sitting, Thorn just smiled and patted Mina’s head. Ignoring her grumbles, he asked Velin how the preparations were going. According to Velin’s report, most of their forces were now relaxing as they waited for the Crimson Snake army to arrive. After finishing his meal, Thorn called Akira, who climbed up his large frame to sit on his shoulder. Together, Mina, Velin, and Thorn toured the citadel, looking over the defenses.

Large wooden shields had been constructed and hauled up onto the wall, raised to defend against arrows. Each shield was supported by two poles and contained a few angled openings to allow for firing arrows at anyone who attacked the wall. Velin had been astounded to see a small groove built into the inside of the wall designed to take the weight of the shields off of the soldiers.

Similarly, special grooves were cut into the top of the wall to allow for the long poles to be secured, making it difficult to lean a ladder up against the wall or to place a siege tower right up against it. When designing the citadel, Thorn had poured countless hours into making it as easy to defend as possible, not sparing a thought for how long it would take to complete such an intricate set of instructions.

Ultimately, the system simply did not care how intricate the design was. So long as the money and resources were there, the system would build it. On top of the wall, Freemen and hunters from Greymane Village sat between bundles of arrows, eating and laughing together. Scouts stood every fifty feet along the one thousand foot long wall, watching the dark forest at the entrance to the pass for any sign of the approaching enemy.

Seeing that the forest was quiet, Thorn instructed them to come wake him up if the enemy army arrived and went to bed. He had ordered a custom built bed through a carpentry shop in Fantasia and collapsed on it with a contented sigh.

The next morning, after a big breakfast and checking on the wall, Thorn decided to spend what time he had following up with the class he had gotten from Elder Havva back in the village. Figuring he should start with finding the other Dawn Court disciples to ask them, Thorn headed for the Temple district of the citadel.

Most of the disciples were either practicing their forms in front of the statue of Hati in the Temple district or chanting together to complete the morning lessons. The chanting caught Thorn’s attention, so he walked over to see what was going on. Despite the fact that Thorn had joined the temple as a disciple and even chosen to study under the Dawn Court, he had yet to attend any lessons or find out what his responsibilities were. The Temple Elder was leading the chanting class, so Thorn stood nearby, waiting until the chanting had finished.

“Disciple pays his respects to Temple Elder.”

“There is no need for you to greet me that way.” Elder Havva shook his head. “Simply calling me elder will suffice.”

“Elder Havva, I am a disciple of the temple now. I should follow the protocol.”

“Forget the protocol. Unless of course, you want me to call you Lord Greymane, the Moon Wolf, Avatar of the Great Night Wolf, every time I speak to you,” chuckled the elderly Wolfkin, clasping his hands behind his back. “Of course, I also need to get on one knee when I say it.”

“Please, please don’t.” Thorn recoiled in mock horror, waving his hands.

“Then call me elder. Now, what did you need from me?”

“Certainly, elder.” Thorn walked beside the elder as they made their way toward the fortress. “I was hoping that you could help me to understand the courts a bit better and that you could tell me more about how I am supposed to advance my class.”

“You chose the Court of the Dawn, hm?”

“Yes, I thought their abilities would come in handy in my other roles.”

“It was a good choice. You have natural presence which helps immensely with things like oration. The courts are relatively simple, though not all of their rules apply to you. You may study under any Dawn Walker who is interested in teaching you. Normally, a disciple would need to seek out a teacher and convince them to take them on as a student. As you are the current Greymane and the avatar of the Great Wolf, I imagine you will have the opposite problem.

“Thankfully, the Dawn Court fights more with their words than their weapons, so there shouldn’t be too much bloodshed when the teachers are determining who will take you on as a student. Once this situation with the valley is resolved, take some time to familiarize yourself with the various teachers, and they will let you know what you need to know regarding advancing your class.”

“Thank you, elder. Hopefully we can resolve this fight quickly.” Thorn smiled calmly.

“I’m sure you will. Just remember, your enemies are not only those you see in front of you. Karrandras, the Betrayer, has long sought to dominate and enslave the Wolfkin race, and your defeat of him in the trial should not make you complacent. In fact, it should make you even more wary of his attack. He excels at twisting desire to achieve his purpose and will not rest simply because you beat one of his minions.”

As Elder Havva finished speaking Akira rushed over.

“Master, master, the enemies are here. They just arrived!”

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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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