James’s consciousness awoke before his eyes fluttered open. He was apt to keep it that way and stretched about in his fur pile, intent on enjoying his first morning without the Ingo scourge. So far, the game had been an enormous success, in his book. Moments like these promised an excellent escape for the average stressed out person. The nights by the fire were especially relaxing; allotting his hard-earned stat points, learning new things about the game, and bonding with Frey. This morning, however, beat out all the nights by the fire combined. James felt more at peace than he could ever remember, even in the real world. Looking back, even the bad parts of the game were fleeting. Sure, the pain was more realistic than James would have ever thought possible, but as long as you had some healing salve, it would go away pretty quickly. The bad parts of the game also contrasted the good perfectly. Without those painful and stressful moments would he be able to truly enjoy his nights by the fire and his mornings without the Ingos?
That train of thought led to two new tasks James decided he would accomplish. He imagined the military bosses that contracted him to test the game would want as many people as possible to play the game. He wasn’t exactly sure why the military was operating a game in the first place, but if they invested this many resources into it, they would definitely need to appeal to a wide range of players. Some of those players might not want to deal with the pain of adventuring, so James concluded there must be a game system to cater to these individuals. Something like crafting.
James decided he would spend some of his day asking around the village to see if there was a crafting profession he could learn. He had already got the Cooking skill on his own, but maybe he could find trainers for other skills.
James's second task would be to find a place to grind and level up. He cleared out all the nearby Ingo nests already, so he would have to travel farther out to hunt or wait for them to respawn - if they even did respawn. Besides, Ingo nests were usually spaced far apart and tough to find. What James wanted was a nice clear area full of many individual monsters he could easily and safely pick off. It would be even better if these monsters were easy to kill and granted tons of experience. He doubted he would ever be so lucky, but the gist of his thoughts was the same. He needed a better place to hunt and progress.
James finally opened his eyes and was about to start his day when he remembered something. He never got the chance to check out the Marks tab in his interface. He focused on his intent and the corresponding tab fizzled into existence over his vision.
Mark of the Martyr - Rank 1 - You have been gifted a mark by the Chieftain of the sole surviving Martyr clan. At the current rank, your mark gives you the ability to summon one Martyr to your location to assist you in battle. Cooldown, one month.
Nodding his head in appreciation, James decided this was a pretty useful gift. He wished his interface would tell him how he could level the rank of his mark, but at this point; he was well used to that frustration. He would get the information some other way or when he increased his Intelligence enough. No use stressing about it. With that finally done, he set out to find a new place to level up and get his grind on.
The adult Martyrs in his tent were all still sleeping when James left. They must have all been asleep in the other tents as well as the village was empty. James looked around, enjoying the calmness and clarity he felt this morning.
“Man, getting rid of those Ingo nests was a great idea,” James whispered to himself.
It was still early morning, but the sun was already wholly in the sky. James spoiled himself with one more stretch as he enjoyed the touch of warmth the sun provided. The Great Savanna is an awesome place, he thought. It never gets too hot or too cold. James recalled his home, where it was almost never the right temperature outside; summers where stifling, and the winters were deadly. So James made sure the beautiful weather was not wasted on him. He enjoyed it while he could - even if it was only in a game.
As he finally stepped off in search of new hunting grounds, Torunn ran up beside him. It was as if his game brother smelled that there were adventures to be had. James smiled at Torunn, who nodded back. Then the two set off.
Wading through the tall grass of the Great Savanna was still a chore, but James was starting to mind it less. He was adapting to it, and more importantly, adapting to the game. James took a moment to appreciate how much information he had already gathered, even though there was still much more to learn.
Torunn hopped up and down as he walked next to James, apparently looking for a better approach to navigating the tall grass. It seemed to be useful, but James could only imagine how tiresome it was. It was a maneuver only a Martyr cub would have enough energy to use. Deciding he would not attempt the same, James let his mind drift back to his real life. He wondered how long he had been in the game. He wondered how his was brother doing. James hoped they would let Michael into the game soon, as he was beginning to miss his brother. They were practically inseparable. Even as adults.
The tall grass was almost like a shelter for James and Torunn, ensuring they couldn’t be seen if they didn’t want to. The grass came up to their shoulders so they could easily duck and disappear if they spotted any danger. That is why they both jumped back in fright and hit the ground when something sprinted through the grass, eerily close to them. They stayed froze a moment as they opened their senses back up to their surroundings. Thoughts of James’s brother were yanked from his mind as he came back to his new reality. He chastised himself for letting his mind wander while he was in the savanna.
The thing that ran by didn’t entirely enter the small clearing in the grass James and Torunn created as they walked, but it came close. James assumed it must not have even known they were there since it didn’t come back to investigate. James slowly moved his head to his other side so he could check on Torunn. His game brother was in the same position as he was. When their eyes locked, Torunn nodded his head once, and they both rose. Peeking over the field of tall grass, they spotted a long trail where the thing must have traveled. At its end was a giant grey beast. It walked on four legs that ended well above the top of the grass. It was too large to be the creature that ran by them.
“Let’s go,” James said to Torunn. They followed the path at a sprint and slowed as they got closer to its end. James could see now that the beast had a rack of horns on its head and a patch of greyish brown fur that traveled down its back. A name tag appeared above the creature's head.
Giant Deer Rhino
The Rhino was thrashing around, seemingly trying to stomp on something. James could hear the screams of the soon to be pancake creature that ran by them.
Those are human screams, a familiar voice yelled from the forefront of James’s consciousness. It was the type of voice that could have been his and the type of command that could have been said with more words. In this case though, those extra words would have been unnecessary. They were human screams.
Instinctively, James moved to enter the clearing and help the human. Torunn reached out from behind him and placed a firm grip on James’s shoulder.
“Danger,” Torunn growled.
James shifted his body to release Torunn’s grip and entered the Rhino's clearing. He assessed the situation in an instant. The clear sky of the Great Savanna allowed the sun to beam at a perfect brightness, leaving no room for misunderstandings. An overweight boy, probably not even out of his teens, was doing his best to dodge the Rhino’s stomps. He was dinged up pretty bad. Bruises covered the parts of his skin that were visible through his starting clothes. He was distraught, and his best efforts to dodge the stomps weren’t going to protect him forever.
James was briefly disappointed that the human wasn't his brother. He thought that his brother was going to be the only other person that was allowed in the game. At least that is what he thought the military member briefing him had said. James couldn't be sure. The thought disappeared as fast as it came.
James activated Jump Strike, hoping that the game had an aggro system and he would be able to steal the Rhino’s attention from the boy. His body coiled like a compressed spring then he launched into the air. He pulled his Martyr Skinning Knife from his new sheath mid-air and poised it above his head. A determined grit showed on James's face when he realized his jump would land him right on the Rhino’s rack of horns. He altered his flight path to the best of his ability, and when he reached the Rhino, he slashed out. He impacted the Rhino’s side, and his vision went black. Another savage impact sent shock waves through his body, and he managed to open his eyes for a brief moment. Just in time to see the now half-horned Rhino’s foot descending on him.