Kicking and screaming, James was carried to the Chieftain’s hut and thrown inside. He was a little scared at the power of the creature that so easily lifted and carried his thrashing body, but mostly, he was just angry.
“What the hell, man!” James exclaimed as he brushed the creases from his dirty cloth shirt. He felt awkward for a moment speaking to the wizened old beast that way, but the anger he felt soon made the moment pass. Frode motioned for James to take a seat on a pile of furs. James reluctantly did so, realizing the furs were much softer and thicker than the furs in his tent.
“My name is Frode; I am the advisor of Chieftain,” Frode started.
“Why did you grab me?” James interrupted, “I would have happily followed you if you would have just asked."
Frode thought on that for a second, letting the anger from being interrupted pass through and out of him with a series of breaths.
“My race used to live in a sprawling camp. It is what humans would call a city. A few years ago we were hunted down and slaughtered by the Oana. They destroyed our Great City in the process. They killed many of our woman, our elders, and even our children that day. Except for us, though. The people you see in this camp. Our leader, led us to safety and allowed us to rebuild here," Frode explained.
James screwed up his face as if to say, What’s the fucking point?
“What I am trying to say is that I apologize, Man-cub. Your culture is different from ours. Some of these differences were born from a violent past, and might not be necessary these days. I would do well to remember that,” Frode finished with a slight bow of his head.
Taken aback by the old brute’s self-awareness, James could only swallow his anger and nod.
“I brought you here because I noticed you were poking around in your status tabs. I am sure you are aware, but only adults have access to their interface. It is a gift from the gods that children all around the world do not receive, except you.”
James was surprised that this game character, this NPC, had access to the interface at all. Regardless of the reason that the programmers gave NPCs this access, James still thought it was smart to make them think it was a gift from the gods.
James honestly wasn’t sure how to respond. He did have a feeling that if he called the game what it was, that he would be labeled crazy and probably smashed to a pulp. The pain James felt from just minor wounds was so real it made him shudder at the thought of a major one. He wondered what would happen if he put all his stat points into Will. Would he be able to stay conscious through major wounds? He decided he did not want to know the answer to that question and would rather pass out. Even if he was in a life or death situation and he would lose his items.
“What does that mean?” James asked, deciding to fish out what the non-player character knew about the game.
“I was hoping you could tell me. Where did you come from before you found Torunn being attacked by an Oana scout in the Great Savanna?”
Crap, James thought. Some new highly advanced artificial intelligence must power this NPC. Mulling over his options, James said the only thing he could think of that wouldn’t break the game and get him fired.
“Uh, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Frode asked, sounding a lot like James’s mother.
“I have no memory from before that day. I am not even sure if James is my real name. In fact, I doubt it is. I simply woke up in the savanna and set out in a random direction to find answers. That is when I ran into Torunn,” James lied.
Frode sat back and stared at James for a long time before leaning forward and speaking softly, “I will help you get answers.” The Chieftain's Advisor paused again. “If you will help me with something.”
“Sure thing; anything to get answers about who I am,” James said, wondering if he was laying it on a little too thick now.
“It is getting dark out, and I am the only one in the village that can start fires. Freydis mentioned you have the ability to start them as well. If you can take over my fire duties, I will spend the time researching your situation and looking for answers.”
“Deal,” James answered, as a notification popped up in his field of view.
Quest Accepted – Take over Frode’s duties of starting fires for the village.
Frode continued to stare at James and eventually motioned to the door. James got the feeling Frode had dismissed him moments ago, so he left the hut in a hurry. The Chieftain was on his way into it, and James smashed into his leg. James stared up at the massive chieftain, who let out a low growl which spurred James to his feet and far away from the hut.
The villagers finished with their feast, so James set off to start all the fires. He stopped by his tent first to stoke his, which still had lit embers from before his nap. Another pop-up appeared, and James sighed.
Quest Updated – First day, 1 of 25 fires lit.
“This is going to be a long night.”
For one of the few times in his life, James woke up from his peaceful slumber wholly enraged. His hands were still sore from breaking up enough kindling to feed 25 fires. The effort unlocked his XP bar, which was now 50% toward his next level. James thought that was pretty exciting, but it wasn’t compelling enough to calm his anger.
James untangled his body from his furs and resolved to either upgrade the furs he currently slept on or find a way to make an actual bed. His furs were quite comfortable, but the situation he just awoke to put him in a terrible mood. James learned the hard way that when he was in a bad mood because of the way life was going, the only way to improve that mood was to work to improve life. Even if he couldn't adjust the thing that caused him to be in a lousy mood, improving other things, like his sleeping arrangement, should still help.
Still, James desperately wanted to 'Improve' those damn Ingos that kept waking him up. James briskly walked to his partner in crime’s pile of furs.
“Wake up, Torunn; we are going hunting again.”
Torunn stretched around in his pile as his ears perked up at the word hunt. The two set out to exit the tent, but an adult Martyr reached out a massive hand and blocked their path.
“James,” Frey groggily began. “Can you do me a favor?”
“Sure,” James replied, his sour mood temporarily soothed by Frey’s voice. He was growing fond of the woman that had welcomed him to the village. She somehow managed to exude the love and care of a mother while remaining a monstrous creature. Although he would probably never admit it, James had a weak spot for mother figures. He had been very close to his mother before she had died entirely too young.
“Kill all the damn Ingos around the village,” Frey finished as her heavy hand slumped to the floor, and she fell back asleep. With that, James knew he was indeed a fan of the woman.
Quest Accepted - Hunt down and clear out 5 of the closest Ingo nests.
The duo departed the tent and paused at the edge of the village to get their bearing. James glanced at Torunn and swore he had grown overnight. His muscles were slightly more pronounced. His skin even seemed tighter around them, like he lost a thin layer of baby fat. Either Martyr cubs grew rather quickly, or Torunn leveled up the other day from the boss Ingo fight, James assumed. From what Frode told him the night prior, the level up option made more sense. He nodded in approval at his game brother’s growth and patted the portion of his waistband where he kept his Martyr Skinning Knife. Then the two cubs set out into the Great Savanna.
James wasn’t sure where the closest Ingo nests were, so he led Torunn in a tight spiral around the village until they found their first. Walking in the Great Savanna was always tricky since the grass was so tall. That’s why it was surprising when they stumbled upon the nest. One moment they were wading through the grass and another moment they were in a clearing with a small lake in the middle. From what James could gather, Ingos were not usually hostile towards people in the wild, but that was NOT the case when you wandered into their nests.
Seven Ingos went from milling about on the edge of their lake, to staring at James, and then to running full speed in his direction in what seemed like an instant. James pulled out his Martyr Skinning Knife with his right hand as Torunn instinctively rolled around to James’s left, bearing his claws and teeth. At the last moment, the partners stepped forward to meet the charging horde of annoying cock a doodle doers.
The first few seconds of the battle were a blur as James stood locked in batted with four of the Ingos. Between making wild slashes of his blade and doing his best to dodge Ingo beaks, he could barely keep track of Torunn, who fought only ten paces away. Torunn was objectively stronger than James but had fewer Ingos attacking him. Consequently, James’s health bar started to trend downward. He knew that if it got below a certain point, he would pass out and be finished off by inquisitive Ingo beaks.
James landed a slash to one of the beasts’ neck. He hoped it would lop its head right off, but it only left a minor scrape. Apparently, he didn’t do enough damage to cut through the Ingo's thin neck. Dodging a beak, James simultaneously spun and slashed out with his blade. He cut the third Ingo, and then whirled to finish off the one with the neck of steel. James glanced in Torunn’s direction and noticed he was gone, along with the Ingos that were attacking him. Panic overwhelmed James before he realized that Torunn probably baited the Ingos into the grass where he would have the advantage.
When James’s health bar reached 40 out of 60, he was down to the last Ingo, who was much less aggressive without his friends to back him up. James squared up, ground his feet into the dirt, and then poured all of his strength into his next swing. A grunt escaped James's body as it struggled to accelerate the short sword to the speed that James's mind envisioned it going. The disconnect between what James’s mind wanted to do and what James’s body was capable of doing was apparent when James’s would-be devastating strike hit the Ingo’s head. James’s stood there slightly stunned as vibrations traveled from his sword arm, through his body, and into the ground like a spark of electricity. James was sure he would finally lop of an Ingo head with that strike and when that didn’t happen his body was out of place. He thought he would be following through the attack and his momentum would continue to propel him forward. Instead, his strike hit the Ingo with the flat of the blade and James reeled back, off balance and slightly stunned.
James was disappointed in his strength once again, but the Ingo didn’t seem to be doing much better. It stood there wobbling on its skinny legs, clearly dazed as well. A prompt appeared in James’s vision.
Congratulations! Your short sword skill has surpassed Level 10. You can now choose from the below two abilities.
Ability 1 - Jump Strike. Chance to stun 25%
Ability 2 - Lunge. Chance to pierce armor 50%
James remembered the first massively multiplayer online RPGs that he played. His favorite class was the warrior. It could select an enemy and charge it, closing the distance in an instant and stunning the enemy upon arrival. If that sentimental value wasn’t enough to make this decision, the fact that the Ingo was regaining its mental faculties had to be enough, he figured. James chose the Jump Strike ability and the window closed.
His body instinctively knew what to do next. He squared up again, slowly backed up, and mentally activated his new ability. He felt his body lower to ground as his legs depressed underneath his body. An instant later he was soaring through the air, much like when he revenge tackled Torunn the other day. His feet were kicking as he fought to control his flight path. James began to panic as his thoughts turned on him. He was entirely too high!
No human could ever and should ever jump this freaking high. Oh… My… God… I am still going up, he thought. Then he finally began to descend and calmed down a little. James briefly admitted to himself that he might have a small fear of heights. Maybe he didn’t jump as high as his panicked brain thought. Then James wondered if he jumped higher because he was relatively close to his enemy. If he was further away when using his ability would his jump be longer, instead of higher?
All these thoughts raced through James’s head in an instant. When he got close to landing, James's body instinctively poised his blade above his head, ready to slam it down with the momentum of his fall. The Ingo got closer and closer. James was ready. The time was now! The Ingo attempted to dodge, but James altered the path of his blade and chopped downward and to the left as his feet slammed into the ground. His legs effortlessly absorbed the fall. James stood there in awe of himself. A small dust cloud slowly settled in his wake. He noticed his Endurance went down a fraction when he used his new Jump Strike ability. Before this, the only other thing that drained his Endurance was running long distances. When the dust cloud finally cleared he could see the Ingo laying on the ground, its head completely severed.
"YES!" James exclaimed.
Ecstatic, James brought his right hand to his head, flexed his bicep, and pointed his left arm to the heavens as he gazed in the same direction. He held his bodybuilder pose for a long while - and probably would have for longer if he didn’t hear a noise coming from his backside.
James whipped his body around and readied himself to Jump Strike again. A solid wall of fur meandered at the edge of the clearing and eventually stepped into view. James was mostly confused at the sight. Torunn nonchalantly backed out of the grass, dragging something along with him. It turned out that he had killed all three of his Ingos and even had time to tie their legs together.
“Torunn! Why didn’t you come back for me, man? I was struggling over here!” James exclaimed, indignant.
Torunn looked at him, shrugged his shoulders, and for the first time, he spoke.
“Brother, good,” he said, patting James on the shoulder and giving him a confident smile. Dumbfounded by the sudden speech and the vote of confidence, James stayed silent.
When he could finally think enough to reply, he valiantly responded with an, “Uhh… thanks.”
Torunn scouted around to look for herbs while James began to skin the Ingos. James wondered why a boss didn’t spawn and realized he could ask Torunn now since, apparently, he could talk.
“Hey, Torunn. How come a big Ingo didn’t come out of the lake like last time?”
Torunn just looked up at James, held his eye contact long enough to make it evident he wasn’t going to respond, and then when back to picking herbs.
“Alrighty then, back to quiet Torunn that randomly tackles people,” James said to himself. Torunn clearly understood and smirked at the quip.
James figured the boss would probably only spawn a percentage of every time they cleared out an Ingo nest. He wanted to test the hypothesis by going back to the first Ingo nest where they found the boss to see if it spawns again. It was possible that monster spawning wasn't a probability thing like in other games and in this game bosses just lived where they wanted to and didn’t actually ‘spawn’ anywhere. He could probably figure that out by going back to the place he found the first Ingo boss but didn’t have the time.
Quest Updated – 1 of 5 Ingo nests cleared.
James and Torunn spent the next four hours clearing out the remaining nests. They managed to get a system down that made the process reasonably efficient. Once they found a nest, they would split the monsters up; making sure Torunn had one additional Ingo to fight if there was an odd number. Torunn would kite his monsters into the grass where he would attack, retreat and hide, and attack again from stealth before they lost interest. James would hack and slash with his sword, use Jump Strike when he had the Endurance, and generally try not to die.
At one camp there were 11 Ingos, and 6 of them followed him instead of Torunn. James found that using his jump attack only in dire situations would conserve his limited Endurance and often temporarily turn the tides of his battles. It was in this fight that James learned the health level that he could fall to that would cause him to go into shock. James had been losing this battle. Just before Torunn saved him, he received a debuff.
Danger! You have gone into shock. Movement and attacks are now 30% slower. If you receive additional damage while in shock you will pass out.
It was enough of a lead that James could investigate further. He got the debuff when he was dropped down to 36 out of 60 health. With some simple math, he calculated that 36 health points were 60% of his total health. Coincidentally his Will was at Level 4, so James decided he could only take 40% of his max Health in damage before he went into shock. This assumption coincided with the Level 10 theme James thought the game had. At a Will of Level 10, theoretically, he would be able to take 100% of his max Health in damage before he passed out. He suspected though, that if that ever happened, he would just die.
That train of thought led him to wonder what would happen to him if he died in the game. Would he respawn, have to start over, or be ejected? It seemed to James that the more information about the game he discovered the more questions he had.
It was well past sundown when James and Torunn got back to the village. Torunn quickly ate at the feast then promptly fell into his fur pile and went to sleep. During the feast, Frode discussed the future strategy to build their defenses against the Oana. James ate and listened to Frode’s impassioned speech before he once again began his task of starting all the village fires.
Quest Updated – Second day, 24 of 25 fires lit.
James slumped onto his pile of furs and sighed. “What a day, what a day,” he chanted as he started his fire.
Quest Completed – Second day, 25 of 25 fires lit.
James decided to level up his cooking, since he had the extra meat, while he checked his stats. Noticing that his notification log contained a bunch of skill, ability, and character level ups along with all the damage he received and dealt, he decided to clean up his interface. He focused on removing level ups from his log and adding them to his status pages. He wanted to be able to look at his stats at the end of the day and see what progress he made, instead of sifting through his log. Frustrated at the interfaces lack of responsiveness, James focused harder.
Attention: Further interface customizations are not available until Intelligence Level 15.
Sighing, he spent two of the stat points he earned from the day on Intelligence. Then he focused on adding all level ups and items gained throughout the day into his status page unless it was of particular interest to him. He focused on the thought that if a notification would help him in a fight, it would be okay to flash in the notification sections. That way it wasn’t too distracting, but still noticeable. He focused on the fact that he wanted item drops for the day to be listed on his status page under the inventory tab or equipped item tabs unless they were uncommon or above. Then it would be okay if he received a notification. He figured that he would want to be distracted by the blinking notifications icon only if the notification would help him in battle. With his infinite storage space, he was reasonably sure that he was going to pick up everything he found and toss it into his satchel. He could always sort through it at a later point. Still, he wanted to get notifications about uncommon items or above since he would probably benefit from equipping those right away. James had a feeling his interface changes were accepted and pulled up his status page to double check.
James – Level 5 (3 levels gained since last open)
Constitution, Level 6 – Controls how much health you have
Strength, Level 4 – Affects your ability to use weapons, lift objects, and your size
Endurance, Level 5 – Controls how much endurance you have
Agility, Level 4 – Controls your movement abilities in battle, dodge & critical strikes, and unarmed combat damage
Will, Level 4 – Controls how low your HP can drop before you go into shock, and more
Intelligence, Level 15 – Controls the data you can gather from your interface, the world, and more. (2 points added recently)
Wisdom, Level 4 - Controls the rate at which you gain character experience, and more.
4 statistic points ready to distribute. (6 gained recently, 2 already spent)
James smiled as he munched on his cooked Ingo meat. “This is much better!”
James leaned back into his furs and spent 3 of his points on Wisdom, bringing it up to Level 7. His final free point was spent on Will, bringing it up to Level 5. If his calculations were correct, this would allow him to get as low as 50% of his max Health before he received a shock debuff. That one point granted him access to 10% more health, or so he hoped. His stat strategy was mostly the same as before. Dump everything into Wisdom so he could level faster until it was too hard to survive. Then he would focus on Intelligence so he could learn more about his stats and re-strategize. It was a good plan, but he got a little too close to dying today so he figured spending one point on Will wouldn’t derail his plan.
Sneak, Level 2 – Visibility & sound decreased by 2% while sneaking
Skinning, Level 8 (2 levels gained today) – Time to skin & error rate decreased by 8% while skinning
Cooking, Level 6 (3 levels gained today) – Food is 6% more delicious. Stat buffs from meals that award them increased by 6%
Fire, Level 5 (3 levels gained today) – Your mastery of fire is increased by 5%
Short Swords, Level 10 (6 levels gained today) – Damage done with short swords increased by 10%
Short Sword Ability “Jump Strike,” Level 2 (2 levels gained today) Chance to stun 30%
James nodded in approval. He was progressing nicely. He tossed on his new items and started to feel like an adventurer.
Left Hand – Bent Copper Buckler (Widespread) (Acquired today)
Right Hand - Martyr Skinning Knife (Widespread)
Feet - Cracked Leather Boots (Widespread)
Legs - Dirty Cloth Pants (Widespread)
Chest - Dirty Cloth Shirt (Widespread)
Shoulder – Cracked Leather Shoulder Pads (Widespread) (Acquired today)
Wrist – Empty
Back – Empty
Head – Empty
Neck - Necklace of Lucidity (Uncommon)
Ring 1-5 - Empty
Sheath 1 – Clunky Short Sword Sheath (Widespread) (Acquired today)
Sheath 2 - Empty
Bag - Adventurer's Satchel (Common)
The buckler James got from the Ingo boss supplied a whopping 2 Armor points. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but it was double what his other items provided, so he was excited nonetheless. The shoulder armor he got offered the standard 1 Armor point, but it made James feel so safe he felt like it offered 10. The final item James received was an ordinary sheath. It was adequately convenient but didn’t offer any apparent boosts to anything. Either way, he was happy he wouldn’t have to awkwardly run around with a hard metal sword in his pants. There was certainly a joke there, but sleep took James before he could find it.