Thornbark’s Run

(This is a snippet from a stand-alone short story telling the story of Thornbark’s experience right after the Game World War.)

Thornbark galloped along the narrow forest trail at full speed. White lather sprayed from his hindquarters in thin sheets. He turned his human torso around once more and fired off an armor-piercing arrow, scoring a direct hit to the chest of the pursuing evil Orc paladin. An XP bubble rose above the kill, but he didn’t bother to read it. Instead, he turned around just in time to follow a sharp bend in the trail. Had he not turned, he’d have run slam into the trees and lost the rest of his hit points. He didn’t have many of those left.
The only thing Thornbark wanted to do was quest through the new dungeon instances under the Giant’s Toe Mountains and eventually reach the new circle. He didn’t really care about the new circle as much as being left alone to quest as he’d always done. Instead, his high reputation level meant every player loyal to the vanquished Lord Mylos wanted him dead.
“Next time, horse-boy,” said an incoming text from the dead Orc. The player’s name was FearTrucker, and sure enough, the bull-head icon of Mylos sat right there at the top of his name.
“Piss off!” Thornbark replied, and the virtual reality immersion harness translated his words complete with an exclamation point. “Player killers are lame. Do some real questing and leave me alone!”
“Listen to the diaper baby cry! Wah, diaper baby, wah!” Came another voice over chat.
“No time for assholes,” Thornbark replied, rounding another bend in the path that led uphill. There were at least five more pursuers behind that Orc, each one with the Mylos tag and each hoping to kill him to advance their reputation scores up the evil side of the spectrum.
Well, Thornbark thought as his endurance bar slid into oblivion, at least my own reputation will rise up the “good” scale. That would allow him more favorable interactions with the neutral and good-aligned creatures and NPCs of the new circle. That is if he ever saw the new circle. He only had two more resurrection credits left. He’d almost died twice in as many days, and the attackers just kept coming. Things were getting ridiculous.
Thornbark guessed his extended sprint bought him enough distance but was surprised to find yet another evil Orc paladin gaining on him.Thornbark threw a firebomb trap down on the trail, ran a few paces, then whirled with dual-wield fireballs in his hands.
The trap went off, sending the orc flying forward with his momentum added to the force of the blast. Thornbark hit him again with two fireballs that used half his mana and scored a double critical. Then, the centaur drew his longbow and waited. It was no surprise that the orc got to his feet again. His plate mail armor was obviously epic class. Thornbark’s attack revealed this new orc to be a level forty.
But the orc’s armor was no match for the archery skills of a level thirty-nine centaur. The narrow gap in rank didn’t mean much to a skilled player. The first hit from Thornbark’s longbow stunned the orc with an armor piercing arrowhead. In a flash, the centaur switched to a bow enchanted with poison and used another armor-piercing arrow for a second critical.
“Gah!” shouted the dying orc over voice chat. “Poison! You pussy!” The centaur managed to read the large purple XP bubble floating over the kill that read 400XP. The big, smile-inducing number was due to the criticals and level difference.
But the taunt of a dying player killer almost made Thornbark pause to shout back. Instead, he galloped on and calmly replied, “No worse than coming after a single character with a party of six. Don’t come after me or you will regret it.”
Thornbark continued his retreat, setting snares and traps on the path along the way. His goal was the Sixth Circle, and he aimed to get there. He didn’t care how many Mylos groupies he had to kill.