James awoke the next morning and reluctantly put some Ingo meat by the fire to roast. Even though he was getting better at cooking, and his food tasted better as well, he was still growing tired of eating the same meals every day. James mentally added the task of finding something new to eat on his to-do list and went over his priorities for the day. First, he would need to check on the boy and see if he could get more information out of him. James looked over at the boy’s side of the tent and realized he was gone.
James exited the tent and found the boy standing at the edge of their clearing wrapped in a pile of furs and watching Torunn hop around to pick herbs. The boy seemed to be calmed by the sight of the lion-guy bouncing around like an energetic dog. James could tell Torunn was aware of that fact. Torunn knew the boy was enjoying the show, at least for a moment, and made sure to exaggerate his movements.
“I guess I slept in, huh?” James asked, walking up to his two companions.
Torunn’s movements immediately changed to his usual behavior at the sound of James’s voice. James could tell the Martyr seemed a touch embarrassed but didn't mention it. If Torunn wanted to act a little silly to cheer up the redhead and make him feel safer, James was all about it.
“I would say I slept in actually. How long have I been out?” the boy asked.
“About a whole day,” James replied. “What is your name?”
“Nice to officially meet you, Patrick. My name is James. I know you have met Torunn quite a few times already,” James added with a smirk.
Patrick gave a brief chuckle. “How long have you been here?”
“Um, I am not sure. I didn’t get to bring my phone in with me.” James gave a smile. It wasn't returned. Figuring he had overplayed his humor card, James continued with a more serious tone, “If I had to guess, I have been here for a little less than a week.”
“So, you don’t know?”
“Know what?” James asked hesitantly.
Patrick stared at James for a moment with pity in his eyes. “Everyone is gone in the real world. The real world... is gone.”
“What?” James spat out. He decided last night that Patrick was just having a tough time adapting to the game and was probably going to spout the same nonsense today, but it was still frustrating to hear.
“Yeah. Why do you think I have been so upset?”
“What do you mean the real world is gone?”
Patrick motioned to somewhere above James's head. “Check your interface. Do you see a logout button?”
James checked his menu and couldn’t find one, causing a small sliver of panic to start to build in his chest. “That doesn’t mean anything. The military members that hired me said it would be fine, and I will be automatically logged out in a few months. Once the beta test is complete.”
Patrick shook his head in confusion, “You had a choice to come in here?”
“Yeah, they paid me quite well actually.”
“Well, they didn’t give the rest of the world a chance.”
“The rest of the world?” James asked with a sigh, "What are you talking about?"
“The entire population of Earth. Everyone was put in the game.”
James rolled his eyes, but still didn't shut down the conversation, “Why? What happened?”
“I’m not sure. Alarms sounded in the middle of the night, and then soldiers started rounding everyone up against their will. Some people fought back, and I overheard soldiers saying it was for their own good because the world was ending.”
“What?” James said. He wasn’t sure he believed Patrick, but the news was insane, nonetheless. Even if Patrick was outright lying, it was still rare to come across such a crazy person in real life. “Everything was fine when I entered the game.”
“Everything was fine before I did too, up until we were all rounded up like cattle. There was nothing on the news, nothing from the President, nothing at all. I don’t know what is going on exactly, but I don’t think our military would kidnap us all without cause.”
“Yeah…” James replied solemnly. This boy, no, this young adult, James corrected himself, didn’t seem like the crazy type. Who would spend a whole day crying and looking pitiful just to set up this sort of prank? James steeled his nerves and decided that Patrick didn’t need another person to sit next to him crying, “Well, even if you are right, and this isn't a game, it is still our home, at least for now.”
The boy nodded, tears welling in his eyes once again. Torunn was sitting down in the mud a few paces away from the two humans with a confused look on his face.
“Did you understand any of that?” James asked him. The Martyr cub just tilted his head with a grunt. James then faced Patrick and asked, “If the whole world was transported into the game then where is everyone?”
“I don’t know…” the boy replied, “I only saw my neighborhood being rounded up. We were put in trucks for about an hour. When I was finally able to climb out, we were at a huge military base – the kind you would only see in movies. There must have been thousands of people there. Everyone was screaming and yelling.” Patrick’s eyes looked past the ground, and he trailed off.
“Okay. Well, we will get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, we need to get stronger and find more humans,” James said.
Patrick looked up and nodded. James had to give the boy some credit - he seemed like he really believed his story and was still trying to be strong. If James thought everyone he knew was dead, he probably would have uncontrollably cried for weeks. Patrick only cried for a day. In fact, it was a good thing James didn't believe the story. The people that hired him would surely be upset if he spent a week in the same spot, not testing the game. James was undoubtedly concerned due to Patrick's story, but there was just too much he didn’t know to let himself believe the boy's story.
James suddenly remembered the Ingo meat he had roasting by the fire and told Patrick to eat it. The boy was probably starving. James let out a big sigh once Patrick was out of sight and gave a concerned look to Torunn.
James spent the next few hours deep in thought while he kept himself busy. Torunn had learned that he could dig into the soil much deeper than usual after the rain loosened it all up. The duo found quite a few root vegetables deep underground, and James answered Patrick's periodic game questions while he dug. Since Patrick’s character had low intelligence, James informed him of what all his stats did and made sure to stress the importance of investing in Wisdom. The boy didn’t seem too interested in his advice but visually perked up when they discussed Strength and Endurance. James hoped Patrick would heed his advice and invest in Wisdom, but he figured the boy would invest in the attributes he lacked in the real world. He couldn’t blame him. If James were a little younger, he would probably go for the immediate gratification as well. Also, if James did happen to believe he was trapped in the game forever, he might be a little more tempted to invest in something like Strength. Although now that he knew that he could die and respawn without much of a penalty, he was even less concerned about his Strength stat. Sure it would be nice to kill Ingo's faster, but what he needed was information. He needed to level quickly to learn how to best leverage the game mechanics. Sure, killing Ingo's faster would help him level faster, but there was no way for him to know if killing things was the only way to gain experience. Investing in Wisdom was still the smartest strategy. James felt a little bit better at that realization and put a bit more energy into his menial labor. He was still in a crappy mood, but having some semblance of a path ahead was comforting. Patrick's announcement made him feel unsure about a lot of things, but at least he wouldn't question his strategy to invest in Wisdom anymore.
James, Torunn, and Patrick spent the remainder of day gathering resources. No one felt like doing much, but they knew it was better to keep themselves busy. Torunn seemed content to work with his herbs - a fact that James thought was odd since adult Martyrs were such fearsome warriors. Torunn was the only Martyr crafter that James was aware of.
The rain had started to fall again at the same time the sun went down. James stood in it for a while to wash his clothes and body before following the rest of the party into the shelter. James and Patrick sat in silence and stared off into the fire while Torunn hung various herbs out to dry.
The Martyr handed a few of his herbs to James, interrupting his thoughts.
“Cook,” Torunn grunted.
James understood his intent but didn’t feel like cooking anything at the moment. He hadn’t eaten all day and wasn’t even planning to. He wanted to be lazy and mope for a bit while he processed his thoughts, so James ignored his game brother.
Torunn repeated his grunt, giving James a slight shove in the shoulder.
“Okay, okay,” replied James. He snatched the herbs out of Torunn’s hand, grabbed some Ingo meat from his satchel, and began to cook unenthusiastically.
The final product of the herbs and meat was practically inedible.
“See, I don’t know how to cook with this,” James chastised the Martyr cub. He didn’t know how to cook with the herbs, but his terrible mood was the actual reason he gave his companion attitude. Torunn grunted and ate the meat anyway. James felt guilty and decided to attempt to cook the root vegetables they had gathered throughout the day. He collected a few and held them outside to wash in the rain before chopping them up with his skinning knife and cooking them.
Congratulations, you have cooked charred Tucca.
The party gathered around the new food, and James hesitantly took a bite. The charred Tucca had a smoky crust and a buttery yellow inside. Patrick also tasted the new food.
“It’s pretty good, actually,” Patrick said as he handed a piece to Torunn, who popped the bit into his mouth and promptly spat it back out into the fire.
This was more than the party spoke the entire day, besides the morning conversation between James and Patrick. They had a semi-productive day, but James knew it was a cop-out. They had wasted the day. They didn’t speak at all for the rest of the night either. James let himself believe there was a possibility that something devastating happened on Earth and he may have lost some loved ones. After all, for all he knew there was a possibility. He let the sorrow in the air envelope him and course through his body like a paralyzing shock wave. He would mourn now so if anyone ever needed his support he would be strong enough to give it.
James remembered those in his life that he may have lost. He recalled the memories he had with them all individually and let the small smile on his face be consumed by sorrow. He remembered his real brother and desperately hoped he would find him, and hopefully, soon.
The next morning, the rain had stopped. Patrick and Torunn slept in, both tangled in their piles of Ingo furs. A loud crack echoed through the clearing and woke the pair with a start.
“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bacey!” James cried out from within the clearing as he banged two rocks together. Torunn gathered himself together first and came sprinting out of the tent on all fours. The Martyr cub frantically ran a few panicked laps around the tent before his back paws slipped in the mud and his frenzy came to a sliding halt. James burst out laughing at Torunn’s confused over-reaction. “Sorry, buddy! I have an important announcement to make. Didn’t mean to scare ya!” James said in between his fits of laughter, “Well, I at least didn’t mean to scare you that bad!”
To Torunn's annoyance, James continued to bang the rocks together until Patrick came out of the tent.
“What in the world is going on?” Patrick asked, rubbing his eyes.
“Good, you guys are up. Gather 'round. We have a new mission,” James said, pausing to let the sleepwalking zombies wake up. When he saw the alertness return to their eyes, he continued, “Patrick, you gave me some grave news yesterday. I have spent much of the night processing it. I have concluded that I don’t believe we will do anyone any good by moping around in the middle of the Great Savanna,” James said before turning to Torunn, “Torunn, I am not sure what you know about me, but I am from another world. Patrick suspects that that world has been destroyed. Also, I have hidden the fact that I am from another world from your father.”
The Martyr cub took on a grave expression, a fact that proved to James that he understood what he was talking about. James had a feeling Torunn would follow, and knew deep down that Torunn was listening to the conversation Patrick and James had the previous morning, but it was still nice to be sure.
James continued, “I will fill Dreng in once I have more information on what is going on.” He then turned his gaze back to Patrick who was fighting against his sleepy body to pay attention. “Patrick, Torunn is part of the race called Martyrs. They have a small village. You might have seen it the night that Frey, Torunn’s mother, carried us all here. Dreng is Torunn’s father and the Chieftain of that village. Any questions on what I said so far?”
Patrick cleared his throat and replied, “Yes. Why are we staying out here when there is a perfectly good village not far from here?”
“Good question. That brings me to my next point. When I arrived here, I saved Torunn from a fight with a lizard-man race called the Oana. Because of this, I was adopted by Torunn’s small tribe. Martyrs settle decisions by fighting or drawing blood to determine how set someone is on their point of view or something...” James paused as he recalled the brutal fight between Frey and Dreng. “Anyways, adopting me was a big deal to the tribe. I think I am officially a relative to Torunn now. I am not sure exactly how it works, but they gave me a mark that allows me to summon a Martyr if we ever need some help in a fight. My point is if you would have entered the village they probably would have killed you. Now, we can't die in this world, but I can tell you from experience that getting so injured that you lose all your hit points is not fun. I didn't think it would have been a good idea to subject you to that - especially considering the condition you were in just a few days ago.”
Patrick nodded his head in agreement before asking a follow-up question, “If Martyrs don’t like humans then wouldn’t they just kill me if you used your mark?”
James considered the question for a moment before Torunn spoke up with a simple answer.
“No,” the Martyr cub grunter grunted.
Patrick and James stared at the Martyr cub for a few moments waiting for him to elaborate. The Martyr cub didn't offer up any more of an explanation, so the two humans just shrugged, deciding to trust the Martyr and drop the subject.
“Why do you think we can’t permanently die in this world?” Patrick asked.
“Well, one reason is that this is a game. Or a world based on a game. The second reason is I died the day that we saved you from the No-No.”
“Umm, that giant rhino thing that was trying to stomp you into a pancake.”
Patrick grimaced. “Got it.”
“Okay, now that we are all caught up here is what we are going to do next,” James said, pausing to make sure Torunn was still paying attention. He wasn’t, so James cleared his throat loudly before he began again. “Dreng gave me a quest to go east to grow stronger. His main goal was to help me grow so I could help in the eventual battle with the Oana. However, he mentioned I would get information there as well.” James took a moment and locked eyes with Patrick. “I don’t want to sit around moping. We have a quest that offers information. I don’t know if it will be the information about our families or Earth, but it is better than nothing.”
Patrick nodded solemnly. “Let's go east and get some information then.”
An hour later, the small party was ready to head out. James and Patrick both stood in the clearing looking at the sky with their hands on their hips. They both turned in random directions while glancing between the sun and the horizon.
“Well... Which way is east?” Patrick finally asked.
Torunn looked at the two human cubs, and a small smirk snaked its way onto his face.
Sensing the Martyr cub would be making fun of them right now if he knew how to talk better, James spoke up, “It’s not like we could be sure your east is the same east as ours. You sun could rise in the north and set in the south for all we know!”
Torunn grunted and bounded off into what everyone decided was going to be east. James made a mental note to look at the sun in an hour to see if the directions were the same in this world. When that hour passed, James's didn’t bother mentioning to Torunn that the directions were indeed the same in both worlds. He knew his game brother would find a way to make fun of him silently, and he didn’t need that negativity in his life at the moment.
Torunn led the party since he was able to traverse the Great Savanna much quieter than the humans. Patrick took the middle position, and James brought up the rear. James didn’t think they would get attacked by anything dangerous, but he wanted to stay on the safe side and protect the soft redhead.
“We need to get you some gear, man,” James commented to Patrick.
“Yeah, I feel a bit naked…”
James laughed. “Yeah, I can imagine.”
The two humans continued their chat and James took the opportunity to bring Patrick up to speed on everything else he knew about the game world. Patrick asked the appropriate questions when something wasn’t clear, and James remarked to himself that Patrick’s first impression might be a poor representation of the young man.
Suddenly Torunn stopped, and James shushed Patrick, who was about to explain who he was in the real world.
“Ingos,” James whispered. Once again, James was happy to hear the beasts. Waking up to their calls was annoying, but he couldn’t argue that they were a valuable resource in the Great Savanna. “Let’s go get you some of that gear you need!”
The party snuck up to the Ingo clearing. James locked eyes with Torunn. He was ready. Then James locked eyes with Patrick. He was terrified. Before activating Jump Strike, James briefly wondered if he should have told Patrick to stay out of the fight. He was glad he didn’t though. This was a harsh world, and James felt like they had had it easy so far.
James hacked and slashed at Ingos while Torunn tackled, bit, and clawed them. James noticed that his Martyr brother didn’t need to take the sneaky route of baiting the Ingos into the grass anymore. He stood face to face with them and took them on directly now.
Patrick entered the fight exceptionally late, even once you allowed for the fact that he was slower than the other two. James could see him reluctantly pace closer to the rear of the Ingo’s he was looking at. He didn’t have a weapon, but James was happy to see him still attempting to contribute to the battle. The fight would be good for him, even if he couldn’t do much. Surprisingly, the redhead snuck up close enough to touch the Ingo that James was fighting. To James's surprise, when Patrick got close enough, he did indeed touch the Ingo. From what James could see, he punched the Ingo with his fist, lightly enough to do one damage. Unfortunately, it was just enough to get the Ingo's attention. The Ingo whipped his head around and hesitated at the sight of the unarmored and un-armed redhead. Then the Ingos head shot forward, drove its beak into Patrick's shoulder, and followed up with a swipe with one of its long legs. Patrick’s terrified eyes immediately glossed over before his head tilted back and led the rest of his body to the ground.
James took the Ingo’s small distraction to channel all his strength into his next strike and cleanly decapitated the Ingo. The Ingo head fell to the ground as James appreciated the effects of his additional point in strength.
“Yes!” James exclaimed in excitement at the decapitation as he used his Bent Copper Buckler to deflect a different Ingo’s attack. James evaluated the battlefield and got another glimpse of Torunn’s new battle style after confirming Patrick was still alive. The Martyr almost seemed to be wrestling with his opponents. He pounced, tackled, rolled away, swiped and pounced again. His game brother quickly dispatched all of the remaining Ingos and then the ground began to shake.
“Crap! A boss is coming. When will he wake up?” James asked, pointing to Patrick. Torunn shrugged before running over and helping drag the redhead into the protection of the grass. The water in the Ingo pond began to vibrate and bubble. A second later a giant Ingo exploded from the water and bellowed in rage.
“Alright, buddy. I am going to Jump Strike in and try and do as much damage as possible. When I get overwhelmed, do that wrestling thing you have been doing, and I will Jump Strike again,” James instructed.
Torunn nodded in understanding.
You have received Adventurer’s Satchel.
James tossed the satchel across his back and began skinning the Ingos. He did not need the bag himself since it was the same rarity as the one he already had, so he would give it to Patrick. He figured some loot would do the boy good and raise his spirits, especially after just getting wrecked like he did.
“Patrick,” James sang as he prodded the redheaded boy with his foot. Torunn detached a healing salve from his belt before reconsidering. Instead, the Martyr quickly grabbed some nearby herbs and applied them to the boy. “How are you doing, bud?”
After a few more minutes of prodding, Torunn's healing salve began to set in, and Patrick regained consciousness. Patrick pulled himself into a sitting position and stared off into the distance.
“Are you reading your notifications?” James asked.
“Yeah, I leveled up twice,” Patrick replied with a weak smile, “Uh, what happened by the way?”
“Ha, it was interesting to watch, but I am glad you are okay. You snuck up on an Ingo and then punched it. It turned around and attacked, which sent you into shock I imagine. Then it hit you again causing you to pass out completely. Torunn and I finished the rest off. A boss popped up, and we killed that too.”
“I will be honest… I was pretty terrified. Getting hurt here is just like getting hurt in the real world.”
“It sucks, but I think it hurts less when you get some Armor and increase your Health. Or lower your shock threshold. I am not sure what causes the pain to decrease, but I noticed getting injured doesn’t hurt nearly as bad for me now. By the way, take this loot. We figured you needed it the most.”
“Thanks! Is this the same bag you were telling me about earlier?”
“Yup, It looks like the same one I have too. I got mine from a boss Ingo as well,” James said, recalling his previous fight. It wasn’t a tough boss, to begin with, but he was disappointed this battle wasn’t much easier than the last one. Then James remembered how he got a necklace from his satchel, “Oh! Equip the bag! When I got mine, there was something in it!”
Patrick did as James asked and reached his hand into the bag, pulling out a giant sword. James's eyes bulged with envy. They hadn't seen much loot so far, so even though James liked his short sword and shield combo, he was still a little jealous.
“It’s a Shoddy Greatsword,” Patrick mumbled in awe. “It says it is two-handed.”
“Nice! It looks like you will be our big weapon guy! It's a shame; I thought you were going to use your fisticuffs for the remainder of the game.” James laughed as he mimicked punch slapping an Ingo before dramatically falling to the ground.
Patrick didn’t reply at first and instead opted for giving his new pride and joy a few swings. “It's heavy!" Patrick said with a grunt.
“Oh, did you spend your stat points from the level up yet?” inquired James.
“No, I will check them out now.”
James watched as Patrick’s eyes took on a far-out gaze. Then suddenly, Patrick grew right before James’s eyes.
“What the hell!” James exclaimed before the realization dawned on him, “You invested your stat points into Strength didn’t you…”
Patrick stood up taller and just gave James a broad smile. James had to admit, the boy did look more prepared for a life in this world now, even if only slightly.
“Well, I am not your parent. I advised you on what all the stats did, and you made your decision,” James said with a resigned disappointment.
“Look. People called me a nerd in the real world,” Patrick began. “That means two things. One is that I understand your strategy of investing in Wisdom - because I am a nerd. It is a good strategy and one that I would follow if this were actually a game. The second thing is that I refuse to be weak in this world. I mean look at that Ingo fight. I basically walked into the fight and passed right out. If the Ingo didn’t attack me, I think I would have passed out anyway, just from the fear alone!”
James nodded, beginning to understand where Patrick was coming from, “I get it, man, I get it. You are right. We will probably need you to be a productive member of the team soon anyway. Who knows what awaits us in the east. Anyways, we should probably set up camp here. It is a little early, but I don’t know when we will find another clearing.”
After the camp was set up, James pulled out everyone’s fur piles from his satchel.
“You can carry this now. Oh, and these too,” James said as he reached back into his bag and pulled out six healing salves and handed them to Patrick.
“What are they?” asked the redhead.
“Healing salves from Torunn, just in case you need them.”
“Thanks,” Patrick said, grabbing the small fur pouches and dropped them into his satchel.
James collapsed down onto his fur pile and poked the fire.
“Do you think we will be safe out here?” Patrick asked.
“I am not sure…” James replied. “Maybe we should set a night watch schedule?”
“That's probably a good idea. Now it doesn’t feel like a such a waste that we stopped so early. I can probably fall asleep now if you want to wake me up for my watch.”
“Sounds like a plan, Stan. I’ll figure out a schedule and make sure one of us wakes you up.”
“Cool, g’night,” the redhead said before settling into a pile of furs and turning away.
James thought of a night watch schedule and told Torunn not to stay awake too late, even though James doubted the Martyr cub could stay awake longer than his body wanted to.
Statistics - No Changes
Sneak, Level 4 – (1 level gained recently) – Visibility & sound decreased by 4% while sneaking
Skinning, Level 12 (1 level gained recently) – Time to skin & error rate decreased by 12% while skinning. Error rate when skinning tougher skinned creatures reduced by an additional 50%
Cooking, Level 10 (2 levels gained recently) – Food is 10% more delicious. Stat buffs from meals that award them increased by 10%
Fire, Level 9 (1 level gained recently) – Your mastery of fire is increased by 9%
Short Swords, Level 14 (1 level gained recently) – Damage done with short swords increased by 14%
Short Sword Ability “Jump Strike,” level 4 – Chance to stun 40%
Small Shields, Level 5 (2 levels gained recently) – Chance to fully deflect or block an attack increased by 15%
Congratulations! Your cooking skill has surpassed level 10. You can now choose from the below 2 recipes.
Recipe 1 - Roasted Ingo & Spiced Tucca, Increases Constitution by 1 for 12 hours.
Recipe 2 - Savory Ingo Delight, Increases Constitution by 3 for 1 hour.
James lifted an eyebrow and let out a soft, “Hmm."
Both recipes looked like they used ingredients that he had access to, and they both raised the same attribute - Constitution. The only difference between the two options was the amounts that the stat increased and the duration that it increased. From a strict math perspective, the 12-hour buff was the most valuable. From a strategic perspective, the 1-hour buff would give a considerable boon if the party could eat it before a fight.
James let out another, “Hmm…” and wondered if theoretically, he could have two food buffs at the same time. If he ended up getting more recipes would he be able to stack food buffs? Would he benefit from only a predetermined number of buffs or only the most recent one? James shrugged and decided to choose the first recipe with the long-term buff. The bigger buff would have been useful, but James had a feeling he wouldn't always remember, or have the opportunity to stuff food down his face before a fight.
Next, James checked his inventory tab which also said, “No Changes,” so he didn’t dig in any further. Hearing a splash in the small Ingo lake, James leaped to his feet and whipped his head around. Torunn was gone so he figured the Martyr cub must be in the water. James ran over just in case to make sure an Ingo Boss wasn’t respawning or something. The last stretches of daylight allowed James to see deep enough into the water to see Torunn's body swim deeper and deeper. Eventually, the Martyr swam so deep that James couldn't see him anymore.
“What in the world are you doing?” James asked the empty air. He stood there looking down into the small pond for what seemed like minutes. Torunn still wasn’t surfacing.
“Damn,” James said as he took off all his clothing besides his Dirty Cloth shirt and Dirty Cloth Pants. He took a few steps back and jogged to the lake. Just as he was about to dive in, Torunn resurfaced.
“Oh, Jesus,” James said, trying to slow down and cancel his running dive. He failed and ended up slipping and uncontrollably sliding into the lake, next to Torunn.
“Where Big Ingo come? Water is deep,” Torunn growled as he trod water.
James was adept at understanding his game brother’s broken speech by now but was still impressed. That was the longest sentence James had heard him put together so far. Essentially, Torunn was saying he was curious where the Boss Ingos come from so he dove into the lake to investigate.
James shrugged, “I am going to check it out. Keep an eye on sleeping beauty over there.”
James dove underneath the water. It was a crisp blue, and he had no trouble seeing as far as the light allowed.
I guess there are some hidden perks to living in a game world, James thought. The Ingo lake was only about 10 meters across. From below the surface, he could tell it was shaped almost like a funnel. Someone walking into the lake would walk down a slowly descending slope until they reached the center of the lake, which consisted of a 6-foot-wide tunnel that stretched on indefinitely. The tunnel was big enough for him not to have a full-blown panic attack when he entered it, but it still got his heart pumping faster. James began to run out of light, and when he couldn’t see more than a foot or two in front of him, he turned around and started swimming back to the surface. He got much deeper than he would have thought possible and estimated he was underwater for a good minute and a half. James idly wondered if a stat controlled how long he could hold his breath.
“That water is deep. Think we should move our camp?” James asked, worried about a possible attack originating from the lake. Torunn didn't answer. “Well, we already have a guard schedule so we should be fine. A little creepy though."
James mentally tied the mystery of the lake together with the magic of monsters respawning. It was possible that the two things were related. James couldn't be sure if monsters didn't actually respawn in the conventional sense of the word, but actually just lived deep underneath the lakes and periodically swam up. It was also possible that they did respawn, and if he tried to swim deeper into the lake, he would go on forever, stuck in a programming loop designed to hide a monster respawn point. Either way, if James discovered information on either mystery, it was bound to shed light on the other.
You have received a Well-fed buff! Constitution increased by 1 for the next 12 hours. You cannot receive a Well-fed buff for the next 24 hours.
Well that answers that question, James thought to himself. It was now clear that he couldn’t stack buffs from eating food. The notification made him happy that he chose the recipe that he did. If he could only get one Well-fed buff a day he would rather have a weaker, but long lasting one than a stronger, short-term buff.
“That’s pretty good!” Patrick said with a mouthful of the Roasted Ingo & Spiced Tucca, “Oh, I got a buff…”
James answered the question he knew Patrick was going to ask, “I got a new recipe last night by increasing my cooking skill to Level 10.”
“Awesomesauce, literally,” Patrick said in between bites, without even looking up.
“You guys ready to head out when you're done eating? Nothing attacked us from the Ingo lake last night, so I don’t want to press our luck much longer.”
“Why not?” Patrick asked, “I got this huge sword I am dying to use.”
James laughed. “I am sure you will have plenty of chances to use it today.”
Patrick’s chance to use his greatsword came soon after lunch. James was a bit relieved when the moment finally came since walking in the Great Savanna for hours on end was getting quite dull. But when the party saw their prey, Patrick was the only one not smart enough to be scared.
“An Oana Scout!” James shouted. He could tell the scout already spotted their location, so James didn’t see any point in being quiet. “Quick, everyone roll around and flatten the grass around us.”
“What?” Patrick questioned, causing Torunn to tackle him to the ground in response and use the boy's extra weight to make his rolls more effective at flattening the grass.
“Alright, he’s almost here; get ready,” James said as he left their makeshift clearing and disappeared into the wall of grass.
“Where are you-” a confused Patrick began to ask but was cut off by Torunn’s giant paw.
“Shut up,” the Martyr cub growled with a calm tone that still managed to threaten Patrick.
Moments later the scout barreled into the clearing at breakneck speed, tackling the duo and scattering them into the tall grass. James watched from afar with sneak activated. He hoped Torunn would know to lead the scout back into the clearing so that James could enable Jump Strike. If he couldn't see the scout, he wouldn't be able to activate the ability. Once again he watched the tall grass of the Great Savanna thrash as Torunn fought for his life against an Oana Scout. After what seemed like an eternity, Torunn broke into the clearing and was quickly pounced on by the Scout. The Martyr struggled to fend off the bombardment of strikes raining down upon him.
“Get ready, Patrick!” James yelled and activated Jump Strike. He flew up into the air and spotted a bloodied Patrick struggling to stand and pick up his great sword. James raised his sword above his head with both hands and landed with a thud, his short sword successfully connecting with the unsuspecting Oana and stunning it.
“Now, Patrick!” James yelled again. The boy burst from the wall of tall grass with his sword poised above his head and tears streaming down his face. His pants were bloodied, but he only allowed his injury to be seen by the pain, terror, and determination in his face.
“AAAAAAhhhhhhhhhhhh!” The redhead screamed as he closed the distance to the Oana just before it shook off the stun debuff. Patrick’s greatsword fell in a heavy arch and embedded itself into the Scout’s trapezius muscle. The redhead lost his grip and fell to the ground, shortly after followed by the Scout.
You have received Oana Scout’s Belt (common), +1 to Agility.
You have received Minor Energy Potion (common) x3 - Restores 1 energy/second for 30 seconds.
You have received Potion of the Swimmer (uncommon) - Increases swim speed by 20% for 10 minutes.
“Loot! My precious,” James whispered with his best impression of Gollum.
So far most of James’s equipment was all widespread, which was even lower than common. So seeing the white and green text of each item caused his heart to flutter in anticipation. James was disappointed when he read the descriptions though. The belt was for the sheath slot, and he already had a short sword sheath. Besides, the belt didn’t look like it had an area to attach a weapon too. Rather, it had potions attached. The belt would certainly be best utilized by Torunn.
James tossed the belt to the Martyr who was already putting some healing salve on the unconscious Patrick.
“Wake up, buddy! You did pretty well!” James said as he reached down to give Patrick a hand up.
“That sucked. No wonder the Martyrs don’t like these things. They are vicious,” an exhausted Patrick said as he rubbed his head and checked on his slowly healing injuries.
“Yea, and apparently the Scouts are the weakest of the Oana race,” James said, handing Patrick an energy potion.
“That is terrifying,” Patrick commented as he took a step to test his leg. It buckled, and James caught him before he could fall. Patrick grunted and reluctantly asked James if they could call it a night.
James studied the area before answering, “We might as well. We already have a little clearing made."
Two days later, the party approached a mountain range with a stream of smoke billowing from the base of it. The party didn’t get attacked by any more Oana on their way, but they did manage to clear a handful of Ingo nests. The time spent walking and setting up camps gave James plenty of time to think. He wondered where his real brother was. He wondered how he could find him. He wondered how he was fairing in this new world. When Patrick noticed that James was lost in thought, James would reply that they needed to get information on what had happened in the real world. Patrick understood as the worry was always in the back of his mind as well. The two knew they were stuck in this world, possibly forever, and they needed to make contact with more humans.
“Whoa,” Torunn whispered as he swept his vision from left to right, following the ridge of mountains. James looked at his game brother with more interest than he gave the mountain range.
“Did you just say whoa?” James asked Torunn. “That is probably an appropriate response. Especially considering you have only ever seen endless fields of grass your whole life.”
“Where is the smoke coming from?” Patrick asked.
“No clue, but I bet you that is precisely where Dreng intended us to go,” answered James. “Let me climb onto your shoulders so I can get a better look."
Patrick and Torunn had grown significantly since they embarked on their mission to cross the Great Savanna. It looked to James like they were competing on who could become the strongest of the party, but he knew from Frode that the Martyr’s stat points got allocated automatically, so Patrick would probably pull ahead. They both were at least a head taller than James now, sturdier, and with muscles to match, so James knew that getting onto Patrick's shoulders wouldn't be a problem.
Patrick took a knee and allowed James to climb up and sit on his shoulders. The redhead was undoubtedly stronger now, but he didn’t lose any of the fat he was carrying around when he first entered the game. With a grunt, Patrick stood up.
“Wow. I can’t see an end to the mountain range in either direction. It looks like there are snow caps on the highest peaks… I wonder what is past the mountains…” James cupped his hands to shield the glare from his eyes. “There is a village! That is where the smoke is…”
“Arrgghh,” Patrick grunted, and they both tumbled to the ground. One second James was blocking the rest of the world out with his make-shift binoculars, and the next second, he was on the ground, confused and wondering why his head hurt.
“Torunn! You little…” James growled as he stood up and charged the Martyr. Torunn caught his game brother’s tackle with a smile and James backed up frustrated. The Martyr cub had finally surpassed James in strength. A certain dread filled James. Suddenly, Patrick’s body shot through a wall of grass and his shoulder slammed into Torunn’s side. The Martyr’s smile-squinted eyes widened in surprise as the rest of his body whipped to the ground.
“Alright, alright! Patrick, he was just playing around. He can’t help it. Really!” James said as he struggled to separate the two.
“Why?” Patrick shouted when James was finally able to pull him off the happy Martyr.
“Sorry, he does that. Tackling people is his thing. Well, it hasn't been in a while so I thought he might have grown out of it. I think it is our fault really. We presented him with an opportunity he couldn’t resist by me climbing on your shoulders like that. We probably looked like the most satisfying tackling dummy Torunn has ever seen.”
“Jesus,” Patrick replied, still frustrated.
James laughed it off but figured he should say something to his game-brother regardless of how he felt about it.
“Not a good time, Torunn,” James chastised the Martyr. “Now, let’s focus on our mission. There is a village down there that is probably in trouble.”