This time Eric was able to observe as his vision turned white, solidifying moments later into a lush grassy floor which was currently making intimate contact with his face. Sitting up, he looked around, taking in the surroundings. He was on a grassy plain, standing at the top of a small hill overlooking the rest of the plains. There were a number of small houses below, as well as a stone tower and a long wooden hall. In front of him stood a wooden house with a small pond next to it. Lining the pond were a number of willow trees whose long boughs nearly touched the still waters of the pond. A bubbling brook created a silvery serpentine form that ran from the rear edge of the pond down the side of the hill, disappearing off into the distance, but not into the horizon, Eric noted with interest.
As he watched, several other figures began to materialize near him. Other players, Eric thought to himself as he watched them pick themselves up from the grass and look around with interest. There were people of all races and sizes, from a pair of tiny halflings to an enormous half-orc with a pair of short tusks jutting from his lower lip.
By far the most common race choice seemed to be human, with pure elves as a close second. Half-elf was decently represented with two other half-elves that Eric could see, while halflings and half-orcs were the least played race among this group of players.
As the last player, a cute blond haired elf chick that looked to be about college-aged, materialized, the door to the wooden hut exploded outwards and a sharp voice could be heard.
“Attention! Anyone who would like to learn how to survive in Nasvencia had better be standing in front of this door in the next five seconds or learn to fly! Because those are the only two ways you are leaving this island!” As the voice spoke, the owner of the voice came into view.
Standing roughly six and a half feet tall, with enormous bulging muscles and a greatsword slung across his back that looked like it had been made by attaching the side of an iron door to a handle, the man was extremely intimidating. Moving quickly, Eric and the rest of the players sprinted over to the entryway, staring up at the enormous man.
“Good,” he said. “My name is Firin Greatstrike and I will be your temporary instructor. Welcome to the continent of Nasvencia. This place is a hellhole for the weak. If you want to survive, you will listen to what I have to say. The Gods have seen fit to arrange for myself and some of my comrades to teach you what we know. Well the Gods aren’t here right now. Right now, I am your god. So if you prissy little otherworlders want to learn, you’re going to listen up!”
Glaring at the group, Firin’s gaze looked at them as if challenging each and every one of them to speak up. Seeing that none dared, he gave a satisfied nod, “I’m glad to see you understand the situation. My job is to teach you whelps how to fight. However! The art of combat is not something you can learn in a brief afternoon session! So what I am going to teach you is simply the basics.”
Whirling around, Firin suddenly pointed at a player, a middle aged man with the signs of a visible beer gut starting to form beneath his tunic, “You! Tell me, what is the most important thing to remember when fighting?”
Nervously the player fidgeted, “Uhhhhh… Winning?” He responded timidly.
“WRONG!” Firin roared, “The answer is to survive! You cannot fight if you are dead; you cannot do anything if you are dead. The winner of a war isn’t the one who won the most fights. It is the one who won the last fight!”
Turning again, Firin pointed at another player, a slightly heavy set brunette, “To survive, what is the most important rule?”
“Don’t get hit?” The player asked, straightening out as she tried her best to sound confident.
“WRONG AGAIN!” Firin yelled, “The answer is not to take a fight you can’t win. If you’re up against an opponent you stand no chance against, do your utmost to flee. Those who survive can grow stronger and return to take revenge, or stand between monsters and those they love. The dead get no such considerations. Even for you otherworlders, death is not something to be taken lightly.”
Eric raised his hand. Firin’s eyebrow twitched as he saw this, “Yes recruit? Is there a reason you’re standing around with your hand in the air like you’re a goddamn scarecrow?”
“Well sir, I was just wondering what we should do if we’re forced into a fight against a stronger opponent but we can’t run? Say we’re protecting someone, or we’re trapped with our backs against the wall? What do we do then?” He asked, attempting not to cringe backwards as Firin continued to glower in his direction.
“Do I look like a goddamned philosophy professor?” Firin shouted, spittle flying everywhere as he did so. “If you’re up against a strong opponent and you stand no chance and can’t run away, simply do your goddamned best to win! If you win, you’ll survive! Now I hope to all that is holy that there are no other dumb questions!” Glaring fiercely at the rest of the players, Firin nodded, satisfied by their silence.
“Alright, I’m going to outfit each of you with a spear. You will be learning the basics of spearmanship for the next half hour before moving on to the next lesson. Understood?”
Cowed into submission, the players all nodded. Returning inside the house, Firin returned with a barrel full of wooden spears; tipped with a bronze spearhead, the spears were clearly beginner gear, with slightly crooked shafts and shoddy workmanship. Distributing a spear to each player, Firin began to explain the basics of spearmanship which mostly seemed to consist of using the pointy end to hit the enemy, and keeping the opponent at a distance where their pointy end couldn’t hit you. Fairly simple, Eric thought as he stabbed at one of the training dummies that Firin had set up in front of the house. Each time he thrust the spear forward, he could feel his posture adjusting slightly, the spear growing more accurate, and the feeling of the shaft in his hands more natural.
“Good! Now turn your hips a bit more, put your whole body into your stab. Then when you retreat, grab the spear and swing it to deter the opponent,” Firin advised him as he walked by, observing each of the recruits and giving small tips to fix their form.
After half an hour of this, each of the players was soaked in sweat, but surprisingly Eric found that he could still go on. Despite the sweat and exertion, it seemed that players had much more stamina in game than they did in real life.
As he grew accustomed to the motion of stabbing the dummy, Eric took the opportunity to sneak a look at how his fellow players were faring. For the most part, they all seemed rather clumsy, launching weak, inaccurate strikes towards the dummies that littered the hilltop.
“Kyaaap!” Of all the players, one certainly stood out. The only half-orc in the group, a tall half-orc in his early thirties with a crew cut was stabbing the dummy like a man possessed, each of his strikes landing accurately on one of the vital points highlighted on the dummies’ body. With each thrust, the man would let out a yell as the spear whistled in, embedding its point firmly into the dummy before he retracted it and stabbed forth again.
Firin looked on with an admiring look in his eyes. Unlike with the other trainees, Firin did not offer much advice to the man, only briefly standing behind him to observe his form before moving on to the next trainee with a satisfied nod.
Looks like I’m not going to be the best in this activity, Eric thought ruefully to himself as he launched his spear at the dummy again. Just as his spear pierced the dummy, it suddenly began to fade from view dematerializing just before Eric’s spear could penetrate its chest.
“Half hour is up!” came Firin’s booming voice. “Some of you clearly have talent, others should keep working hard! No matter which walk of life you choose to follow in Nasvencia, having some martial skill will help keep you safe! With that in mind I shall be teaching you all the basics of one other weapon!”
Having said this, Firin disappeared back into the house. A minute later he re-emerged, this time with a barrel perched atop his enormous shoulder. Heaving the barrel down, it made a satisfying clinking sound as whatever was inside was jostled around upon being unceremoniously thrown to the ground.
“The other skill I shall be teaching all of you is swordsmanship. But we don’t have time to learn anything even resembling true swordsmanship, so all you will be learning are the basics!” Firin roared, beckoning each of them to come and exchange their spear for one of what appeared to be a slightly rusty iron sword. With a blade roughly the size of his arm, the swords looked marginally more impressive than the spears had, which was to say not at all, mused Eric as he observed the sword Firin had handed him in return for the crooked spear.
As the last sword was handed out, Firin once again had them return to their positions in front of the target dummies.
“Alright, the first strike you’ll be learning is the overhead slash!” shouted Firin to the recruits. As they stared at him dumbly, he grabbed his own sword and lifted it over his head, the massive blade giving shade to a good three recruits standing nearby.
“Now, you’ll want to grip your sword firmly by the handle. Raise the blade above your head using both hands. Relax your grip in the hand closer to the blade, then bring the sword down directly upon your opponent.” Firin demonstrated, showing them all the proper form for performing the overhead slash. Despite the man’s bluster and general lack of volume control, he was certainly an effective teacher, Eric thought as the recruits began to practice the move.
After the overhead slash, Firin also taught them how to perform a basic thrust, a diagonal slash, and finally he paired them off to learn how to perform a guard. Eric found himself paired with the blond elf who’d materialized last.
Flashing him a quick smile, she extended her hand, “I go by Astrid," she introduced herself.
“Kyp," he responded, shaking the offered hand.
“Were you able to choose a username yet, Kyp? I’ve used Astrid for years and don’t really want to lose the name.” Astrid asked, making small talk as Firin finished pairing up the trainees.
Eric shook his head, “Nope, there was no option to choose a name during character creation.”
“Yeah I-” But at this moment Firin’s voice once again shook the hilltop.
“Alright recruits! This is the most important skill to learn as this will keep you alive! Simply hold the blade in front of you - no not like that, like this.” He showed the trainees, discarding his enormous blade for a training sword like the ones they were using.
“Now I want one partner to attack with an overhead slash, and for the other to guard against it. Take turns practicing the guard. After fifty strikes, switch to the straight thrust, then after fifty strikes switch to the diagonal slash. If you finish before the rest, then start over. Now begin!”
With that, the recruits began to hack at each other with the swords, the ringing of metal on metal filling the hilltop. Eric looked at Astrid, who returned the gaze with a grin.
“You want to attack first or should I?” She asked playfully, letting the sword dangle idly from her hand.
“You can swing first," Eric responded. With a nod she gripped her blade, bringing it up in the stance for an overhead slash. Raising his own blade, Eric prepared to guard against her strike.
With a small shout, Astrid let the blade fall, the iron sword descending like the reaper’s scythe towards Eric’s head. Gritting his teeth, he brought his blade upwards and blocked the sword, feeling his hand go slightly numb at the effort. Holding the guard for a second, Eric felt Astrid relax and allow her blade to slide off powerlessly. Raising his blade, he prepared an overhead slash as Astrid held her sword in the guard position.
As they practiced, Astrid began to chat, much to Eric’s amusement, as she ignored the fact that a single mistake meant that one of them would be struck head on by a chunk of sharpened iron.
“So what do you think of Fate so far? I’m not sure I’m into the whole drill instructor tutorial thing we’re doing here, but I’m absolutely in love with how realistic the game feels.” She said, blocking his strike with her sword before returning the favour, clanging her blade off his own.
“I’m definitely even more hyped than before to get into the actual game now," Eric grunted as he blocked her strike. He glared at her, that one had definitely had more force in it than usual. In response, she stuck out her tongue.
“Any idea what type of player you’re going to be? You going to aim for the championships?” Eric asked, switching to the diagonal slash as he attacked.
“I’m definitely going for the grand prize, not sure what type of playstyle I’ll be using yet though. I wanna try all of them out before committing to something.”
“Makes sense, if melee combat is this fun I really want to try magic and archery next," Eric said as he switched from a diagonal slash to an overhead strike, forcing her to switch her guard at the last second. This time it was her turn to glare at him.
“What? We’d hit fifty strikes. It was time to switch," Eric said innocently, sticking his tongue out.
Astrid rolled her eyes at this. “Dick," she muttered as she swung her own sword, switching from a slash to a thrust which Eric was forced to awkwardly slap aside with his blade.
“What? He never said we had to repeat them all in order," she said innocently as he glared back at her.
Eric sighed, “Alright truce, let’s just go back to the way we were supposed to do it," he said, raising his hands in defeat.
“I knew you’d see it my way," she replied with a smile as they resumed the practice.