James entered the dome tent and found the chubby redheaded boy curled up in a ball, sobbing uncontrollably. He realized he never really had a chance to look at the boy. He guessed he must have felt it inappropriate to stare at someone while they were passed out. The boy's red hair was matted and dirty, and streams of tears were flowing freely from his freckled face. He was certainly out of shape, and James could tell he wasn’t comfortable in his starting gear. His cloth pants were ripped too high up his knee, so they resembled short shorts, and it was the same with his cloth shirt, revealing his bruised stomach and sizeable muffin tops. The poor boy struggled to cover his body and comfort himself at the same time. James pulled his last Ingo skin from his Adventurer's satchel and approached the boy.
“Hey, man, my name is James. I am from the real world as well,” James comforted the boy. James figured the boy was from Earth because they wore the same starting clothes, and he figured establishing that commonality would be best to start the conversation.
Torunn entered the tent but quickly backed away due to an enthusiastically rude wave from James. The boy didn’t make a move to respond, so James covered him with the Ingo skin and sat next to him for a while. James gave the boy a dreary few minutes to recover before he spoke again.
“When I entered the game, I had a pretty rough time too,” he started, attempting to empathize with the boy, “Some giant lizard thing called an Oana attacked me. I was lucky enough to pass out before the pain was too bad though. What I did feel was insane. It was so real. Everything was. It was pretty traumatic.”
The red-headed boy quieted to listen but didn’t turn toward James or signal that he wanted to talk in any way, so James continued talking.
“When I passed out, Torunn, the lion man, carried me to his village and eventually they welcomed me as one of their own. He is our ally and won’t harm you. Anyway, I was lucky, and it looks like you had a much rougher time entering the game.”
James waited for a moment for the boy to respond. He finally turned around, and James saw his whole face up close for the first time. James could see he was undoubtedly a young man in his early twenties, but his face wore the same pain as the old veterans James used to visit on Memorial Day. Startled by the pain so obviously visible on the boy's facial features, James couldn’t speak, but finally, the rescued boy did.
“This isn’t a game,” he said simply before turning his back on James once again.
James contemplated the boy’s words as he cleared another Ingo nest to gather sleeping skins for everyone. The sun was inches away from falling below the horizon. With its final attempt at staying in this world, the ball of fire sent out streams of light that lit up the tips of every blade of grass in the Great Savanna. They gleamed against the encroaching shades of violet and purple.
“What does that even mean? This isn’t a game? What else could it be?” James asked the empty air as he slashed the neck of an Ingo. Blood splattered against his face. “I am surrounded by lion people who are being hunted by lizard people. How could this not be a game?”
A different Ingo flanked James and landed a peck on the back of his shoulder. James winced at the pain and bashed the Ingo with his buckler.
“I am fighting giant flamingos for Christ’s sake,” he muttered as he back peddled and activated Jump Strike. Empowered by his skill activation, James came to the conclusion this was, indeed a game. He figured he must be just getting a little stir crazy from being immersed in the game for so long. It was no doubt something he was probably hired to test for. James made a mental note to mention the situation to the military members when he got out. Hopefully, they would be able to fix the problem.
When James arrived at his new clearing, the boy still pressed himself against the wall of the dome tent. This time he was snoring. His body shook intermittently with the remains of whatever sent him into his fit of sobs just hours before. Torunn was outside sniffing around for even newer ‘urbs’ as James reached into his satchel and gathered his skins into a nice pile below him. He made another pile a few paces to his right for Torunn and tossed the remaining skins at the boy to his left. Then James reached to the wood pile and scooped up a handful of sticks. He fed half the sticks to the fire and used the other half to feed himself, making kabobs from the fresh Ingo meat he had just harvested. Then James let out a sigh and mentally navigated to his menu.
Congratulations! Your Skinning skill has surpassed level 10. You can now choose from the below 2 abilities.
Ability 1 - Error rate when skinning tough-skinned creatures permanently reduced by 50%.
Ability 2 - Permanently increase Agility by 2 points.
James’s interest piqued at the option to increase one of his stats permanently. He felt he severely lacked in the attributes department because of his plan to focus on Wisdom. If he recalled correctly, the error rate of skinning decreased by 1% by every level increase in the skill. At that rate, he would have to gain 50 levels in the skinning skill to match benefits from his first option. James figured that would take a seriously long time. On the other hand, he wasn’t even sure what tough-skinned animals were, and he was pretty sure he hadn't come across any yet. Then James recalled the time when he skinned the boss Ingo. That skin did seem more robust, and he ruined quite a few of the pelts. It was possible the boss Ingo was a tough-skinned animal, but James never got notified as such, so he couldn't be sure.
James thought for a while and realized the decision was more complicated and important than it seemed at first glance. He mostly needed to decide if he was going to consider himself a skinner or not. Taking the stat points would set him back tremendously in the skinning skill. Sure, he could still skin, but he would be drastically less successful at it for the time being.
James’s thought process was interrupted by a loud bang off in the distance. A small pitter patter followed.
“Rain,” he whispered.
The pitter-patter quickly escalated to a level that drowned out the crackling of the fire. Moments later, Torunn rushed into the tent, wide-eyed and frantic. He ran around on all fours inside the dome tent - a feat that James had only seen when Torunn was hunting. The drenched lion-guy scrambled up to James and stood up, panic evident on his face.
“Skyfall! Skyfall!” he exclaimed, waving his hands around in the air.
James stood up and clenched Torunn’s shoulder to calm him, “Relax, buddy, it is just rain."
“What rain?” Torunn asked, skeptical and still clearly worried.
“Rain is just water that falls from the sky. It is not a problem. The sky isn’t falling,” James laughed and sat down, blowing on one of his Ingo kabobs.
Torunn sat down and was quiet for a long while before quietly growling, “First rain.”
“This is your first rain?” James repeated confused.
Torunn nodded, causing James to wonder how old Torunn was. It was entirely possible Torunn could be less than a year old and never had the chance to see rain before. James wasn't sure how it was possible, but it was definitely odd.
“Well, it isn’t going to hurt you. Eat some Ingo and let’s settle in for the night," James said softly, doing his best to set a calming mood.
Torunn complied and was quickly asleep after fussing around in his skins for a moment. James glanced over at Torunn’s contorted body and realized he must have passed out before he could gather his skin pile to his liking. A smile etched itself across James’s face before dying as his gaze fell upon the sleeping boy. James cleared his throat and navigated back to his menu. He decided he would choose option A to decrease his error rate while skinning tougher animals since the skins he had now were so useful. More robust skinned animals must yield better skins that could be even more useful, or they would offer more skins, like the Ingo boss. James knew an extra two agility points would be excellent, but he wasn't ready to give up on the skinning skill yet.
James – Level 7 (2 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 5 – 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.
Wisdom, Level 7 - Controls the rate at which you gain character experience, and more.
4 statistic points ready to distribute. (4 gained recently)
“Not bad, James; not bad at all,” he congratulated himself.
James thought he would have only got one level up since the last time he opened his menu, but instead, he had leveled up twice. His strategy of investing all his stat points into Wisdom was finally paying off, but he still couldn’t be sure without someone to compare to. With his Wisdom currently at Level 7, he could spend three points on it and even have one left over for something else. He was curious to see what surpassing Level 10 in the attribute would offer. The first attribute he got higher than Level 10 was Intelligence, and it allowed him to get more information from his interface, which was extremely useful.
Congratulations! Your Wisdom has surpassed Level 10. Your skills and abilities now benefit from the increase in experience gained from the Wisdom attribute.
Wow, this attribute is an absolute necessity, James thought.
James resolved to strongly advise the new guy to invest in Wisdom whenever he regained his composure. He took a moment to glance over at the pile of furs the boy now lay under. The boy was still snoring but tossed and turned rather frequently.
James shook his head. “Why would he think this wasn’t a game?”
He pondered it for a moment and still couldn’t come to a conclusion. The mystery would have to be solved when the boy woke up. Then they would carry on a conversation. James began to wonder what the boy's intentions would be, and if he would turn out to be an enemy. From the other games James had played on Earth, he knew players didn’t always get along. James shook the thought from his head. It wasn’t his style to think that way. If the boy turned out to be an enemy, he would only treat him as such when he revealed himself to be so. In the meantime, he would take care of the boy and eventually let him know it was a good idea to invest in Wisdom.
James sank deeper into his furs, hoping to find some new ones soon. He daydreamed of the high-quality furs of the Chieftain’s hut as he contemplated his day. It turned out to be a somber one, but the sound of the rain against his makeshift shelter was quite relaxing. James glanced at his game brother and was happy to have him at his side, especially out in the middle of the Great Savanna at night. Torunn had turned around in his furs but still didn’t look comfortable. His large head was hanging off his pile and drool followed his tongue out of his mouth. One of his paws was too close to the fire, so James sent out a leg to kick it away.
James navigated back to his interface and spent his remaining attribute point on Strength, hoping it would make the fights with Ingos a little bit easier. He then navigated to his skills tab to see how he had improved.
Sneak, Level 2 – Visibility & sound decreased by 2% while sneaking
Skinning, Level 11 (3 levels gained recently) – Time to skin & error rate decreased by 11% while skinning. Error rate when skinning tougher skinned creatures reduced by an additional 50%.
Cooking, Level 8 (2 levels gained recently) – Food is 8% more delicious. Stat buffs from meals that award them increased by 8%
Fire, Level 8 (3 levels gained recently) – Your mastery of fire is increased by 8%
Short Swords, Level 13 (3 levels gained recently) – Damage done with short swords increased by 13%
Short Sword Ability “Jump Strike,” Level 4 (2 levels gained recently) Chance to stun 40%
Small Shields, Level 3 (3 levels gained recently) Chance to fully deflect or block an attack increased by 13%
James was happy to see that his shield skill was progressing nicely. He felt he had been getting better with it, and it was comforting to see the improvement in number form. He was also excited that his fire and cooking skills were both approaching Level 10. He wondered what type of boons they would bring, before navigating to his equipped items tab.
Left Hand – Bent Copper Buckler (Widespread)
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)
Wrist – Cracked Leather Bracers (Widespread)
Back – Empty
Head – Empty
Neck – Necklace of Lucidity (Uncommon)
Ring 1-5 – Empty
Sheath 1 – Clunky Short Sword Sheath (Widespread)
Sheath 2 – Empty
Bag - Adventurer's Satchel (Common)
James nodded respectfully at his equipped items. It wasn’t bad, but he could use a new shirt and pants. He would also need to help outfit the new boy as soon as possible. James then pulled up his marks tab and wondered how he would activate his Summon Martyr ability if he ever needed it. The interface didn't offer up any clues, so James decided he would have to ask Torunn in the morning. If he ever did have to summon help, James hoped Frey would be the one that heeded his call. James let his thoughts drift to the safety of the Martyr village and Frey’s welcoming smile.