James threw the weight of the dead Oana soldiers from his body and frantically tried to staunch the blood flowing from his neck. The Oana that had just attempted to cut his head off was vicious, and James was sure the cut was deep. However, there was no pain when he touched his neck, and when James removed his hand, he saw there wasn’t any blood either. He wondered if it was all just a figment of his imagination. He checked his crushed body and let out a sigh of relief when he noticed that his ribs were no longer broken. He looked around at his surroundings and realized there were no dead Oana soldiers, only the blanket he had thrown, and a worried Alex.
“Hey, hey, relax there, killer,” the veteran said from across the room. James took another look around. He was in a room framed with poorly processed logs. Two makeshift mattresses were the only other things in the place. James sat on one and Alex on the other.
“Where are we?” James asked, letting himself calm down a bit. He knew that respawning was nice and all, but he could do without reliving the memories of dying.
“Back at the undead village,” Alex replied. A momentary sense of panic returned to James.
“How did we get back here?”
“You and I respawned here,” Alex said as he stood and helped James get to his feet before motioning to the door. “Everyone else was brought here by the Martyrs.”
Scenes of the gruesome battle flashed through James’s mind. “Torunn! Is he okay?”
Alex gave a soft chuckle, “Against all the odds, yes. Somehow he managed to survive - even though Patrick and I were sent to respawn almost immediately. When you figure out how he did it be sure to let me know.”
Alex led James down a flight of stairs. They opened up into an unfurnished room. The two exited the double story cabin and stood before a cliff that overlooked the same undead village they were trapped in before the Oana attacked. James could see a handful of Martyrs exploring the village. Some attempted to enter the abandoned cabins, only to get stuck or end up destroying the cabin outright. Others were already setting up their tents.
“Only twelve survived the attack,” Alex whispered.
“Damn…” James also whispered. Sadness crept through his body. The Martyr race once again was reduced to practically nothing compared to their former glory. “Do you know happened after we died?”
“No. We survived to live another day, though.”
“So we won?” James asked with a sigh, “It doesn’t feel like we did.”
“Yea, there are no real winners in war. Only survivors..." Alex solemnly said as he stared off into the distance. The comment took James by surprise and made him realize that Alex never really went into much detail about his military service. Alex cleared his throat and came back to the present time. “Let's get down from here and find out what is going on.”
James and Alex entered the tall building that had been on fire during the undead attack. Parts of it were burned, but the primary structure remained intact. When James first saw it, he had thought it was a church. It was much taller than the cabins and stood at the end of the long dirt main road that led to the edge of the Great Savanna. After entering the village, he realized it was so tall because it was used to access the cabin he had respawned in farther up the mountain. The cabin itself didn’t seem to be accessible any other way. He mentally marked the cabin as a defensible area if he should ever need one and descended the stairs in silence with Alex.
Torunn ran up to meet James. He stopped a few paces ahead and paused there, looking uncomfortable.
“I am glad you made it out okay, Torunn,” James said and hugged his Martyr brother. “I am also glad you didn’t tackle me just then. How did you survive the attack?”
Torunn tapped a small skin sack on his belt, “Potion” he answered, “makes me strong.”
James raised his eyebrows in surprise. Torunn was getting good at alchemy. He would have to find out how good later. “Where is everyone else?” James asked the Martyr.
Torunn pointed to a location off in the distance, parallel to the mountain but just past the village.
The rest of the party, including Dreng, Frode, and Freydis, stood around an object James couldn’t see. The ground all around them was torn up like a No-No had been rooting around the area. Lilly spotted James first and waved. When James got closer, he could see the object of everyone's attention. It was a sizeable ornate crystal bottle.
“What is-” James’s stopped talking as everyone shushed him. He glanced around and saw they were all gravely serious, so he stayed quiet. As his ears adapted to the lack of noise, James began to hear a haunting melody. It was an embodiment of melancholy that soothed the left-over aggression he didn’t know he still carried. When it brought chills up his body, he learned why everyone was so severe.
“There is a spirit in there. It is what caused the undead attack on this village,” Frode said, breaking the silence and forcing everyone from their reverie.
“Thanks to Frode here we managed to banish it back into the bottle, though!” Patrick commented and gave a smiling nod to the large Martyr advisor. “I wasn’t able to help much, but when Frode banished it I gained a ton of experience!”
James purposely looked the redhead over. He was now about a foot and a half taller than James, about half the height of an adult Martyr with the muscle to match.
“Jesus, man! You got huge!” Alex exclaimed.
“That’s enough!” Dreng commanded. “We have a lot to discuss and even more to do. This is where we live now. We must rebuild the town and our clan. James, I task you with protecting this spirit vessel. If it gets out again we are all in trouble,” Dreng said, picking up the vessel and handing it to James before dispersing the group.
James walked away feeling chastised. He was happy to see that all of the people he was close to survived and, though seeing them all again would be pleasant, it was apparent Dreng didn’t feel the same. All the people the chieftain was close to hadn’t survived.
The party all sat on skins inside the cabin on the cliff. The sole window in the cabin let in a draft from the fresh night air, and James added 'invent glass' to his mental to-do list. He wasn't sure it was possible, but he needed to find something to cover the window.
Torunn was below the cliff with the remnants of his clan. James assumed he wanted to be there to help the Martyrs rebuild and didn't blame him for wanting to spend time with his devastated race. Still, James wished he was there with him in the cabin. He wished Torunn could hold a conversation with him as he could tell he was distraught over the battle. James had a moment of realization that this was all a game, but quickly brushed the thought from his mind. It wasn’t a game anymore. The NPCs were as real as he was.
Noticing a fireplace on the wall opposite the window, he wondered if he could start a fire from afar by using his fire-bolt ability. The buff that he received from Frode had long since worn out, so he figured the bolt wouldn’t be as powerful. Still, if this was going to be his new home, he didn’t want to start off by destroying it.
“This is where my town would hold events and parties,” Lilly commented to no one in particular.
James had almost forgotten that this was her hometown. A glance at Alex and Patrick confirmed that they suspected she might be having a tough time being here as well.
“It is a beautiful cabin,” James commented as he stood to head over to the fireplace. He wasn't sure what else to say, but he could tell she was hurting and knew he should say something.
Lilly continued to sit on her pile of furs and stare off into the distance. Everyone else snuggled into their furs to find shelter from the night air and their memories of the battle.
“I have to rebuild... “Lilly murmured. “We have to rebuild this town!” Her comment grew to an excited holler as she snapped out of her depression.
“That is the plan,” Patrick commented un-empathetically.
“No, we need to rebuild it better than before! Make my family proud and achieve the dream they died trying to accomplish. They wanted this town to be a hub of creativity and happiness. We need to complete that,” Lilly said with a nod.
James was a little worried about her jumping from extreme ends of emotions like that, but he decided not to bring her down anymore. If she needed positivity, he would give it to her.
“Let’s do it. Alex, do you know anything about building?”
“Not really. I know that there are skills related to crafting but not much else,” Alex said, seeming to catch on to James’s goal. “I am sure we can all learn those skills pretty easily, though.”
“I want a bar!” Patrick chimed in excitedly. Alex and James exchanged a glance and chuckled at the redhead's sudden outburst. It was clear to them that Patrick wasn’t in on the game of being positive for Lilly’s sake - he just was genuinely excited.
“We can turn this room into a bar!” Lilly said, adding to the building excitement. “We can even section off rooms upstairs for people to stay in!”
“I would love my own room,” James chuckled.
Everyone gave exaggerated nods in agreement.
“James, you could even be our chef! You are the best cook out of all of us!” Patrick said.
Not wanted to dampen the mood, James just shook his head. He didn’t mind cooking every once in a while, but he had no urge to be tied down to running a kitchen.
“We would need a basement. Or we would need to expand the cabin for a proper kitchen,” James decided to say.
Lilly clapped and hopped to her feet, “Oh, there is already a basement!”
“Really? Then let’s go explore!” Patrick said as he also hopped from his fur pile with an 'Onward!' signal.
James needed to find a place to store the spirit vessel, so he agreed to explore, even though he was mentally only ready for one thing, which was sleep.
Lilly led the party out of the cabin and around to the rear where she opened up a wooden hatch that lead down a set of earthen stairs. James realized that if they did ever expand the cabin, they would have to build a third floor on top of the second, as the cabin was nestled pretty close to the mountain slope and had no room to expand outward.
As the party descended, it was soon apparent that the basement was too dark to see, so Patrick ran back into the cabin to grab a wooden log that James had fashioned into a torch earlier in the day. The light slowly grew and spread across the earthen cavity, revealing stone walls and sacks filled to varying degrees.
“These sacks are filled with grain!” Patrick called out from the darkness.
The party decided to inventory their newfound grain supply, so they gathered the sacks into a neat pile in the center of the basement.
“That’s odd,” Lilly quietly stated. The party turned their attention to Lilly for an explanation. She continued, “There is a door here that I have never noticed before. It’s locked”.
Like everyone's hopes and dreams were behind it, they all rushed to inspect the door.
“Alex, do you have a lockpicking skill?” Patrick asked. James thought it was a good question since he did have a high sneak skill.
“What do I look like, a rogue?” Alex replied, indignant.
Everyone gave him a blank stare until he scoffed, “No, I don’t have a lockpicking skill…”
“Well, it’s getting late. We can figure this door out at a later time. We have a lot of other things to figure out tomorrow,” James said, causing a collective groan to emanate from the party. “I am curious too!” he parried, “but I am more worried about the Martyrs.”
The party reluctantly filed out of the basement and back to their fur piles. Before James left, he placed the crystal spirit vessel on the basement floor. He knew it wouldn’t do for a permanent home, but it was the most hidden location he had at the moment.
James thought it was odd that the party woke up well before sunrise. By his estimation, they went to bed very late and should have slept until noon. He asked the yawning and stretching group how they felt, and everyone confirmed they were more rested than they have ever been lately. James took that to mean that the humans from Earth got the best rest they ever had in the game. What was strange was that Lilly echoed their sentiment, even though she was an NPC and used to sleeping in the game.
“I feel like I slept for an entire day,” yawned Patrick.
Odd, James thought before starting breakfast. Patrick, Lilly, and Alex began various tasks around the cottage while waiting for breakfast. James took a moment to check out his interface.
James – Level 13 (4 levels gained since last open)
Constitution, Level 6 – Controls how much health you have
Strength, Level 5 – Affects your ability to use weapons, lift objects, and your size
Endurance, Level 5 – Controls how much energy you have
Agility, Level 5 – 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 how much mana you have
Wisdom, Level 13 – Controls the rate at which you gain all types of experience, and more
8 statistic points ready to distribute. (8 gained recently)
James silently gasped at having eight points as he added the Tucca to his recipe. It was more stat points than he had ever received at once, not counting when he found the uncommon Necklace of Lucidity, which raised his intelligence by 10 points. He knew he should invest it all into Wisdom, but watching Patrick and Alex grow to a size that almost dwarfed James; it was hard to do so. He gritted his teeth and put seven points into Wisdom to bring it to 20. Then he rewarded his hard work by spending the last point on Strength. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be as small compared to Patrick and Alex now. At the very least, the rate at which they grew taller than James wouldn’t be so severe.
He also noticed how the Intelligence description changed. The 'and more' text that drove him crazy for so long had been replaced with 'controls how much mana you have.' Now the only stats he didn’t have full descriptions of where Will and Wisdom.
Congratulations! You have surpassed Level 20 in Wisdom! You now have access to a party leader interface.
“What?” James said aloud as his jaw dropped to the floor, causing everyone to look at him. Alex was fastening makeshift sconces to the walls, so they had light, and Lilly had managed to find a broom from somewhere and was slowly bringing the cabin back to its former glory. Patrick sat on his pile of furs and was lovingly sharpening his great sword. James ignored his party’s comments and glanced at their player icons, which were now visible in the upper left of his peripherals.
Patrick - Level 10 Warrior
Health - 180 of 180
Energy - 90 of 90
Alex - Level 7
Health - 120 of 120
Energy - 140 of 140
Lilly - Level 6
Health - 50 of 50
Energy - 60 of 60
Mana - 120 of 120
James's mind whirled. He succumbed to a flurry of emotions while he looked over his party’s statistics. He was disappointed everyone was better than he was. Patrick had triple the health he did, and everyone had more energy. He was frustrated that Patrick didn’t let anyone know he picked a class, and worse yet, he didn't give anyone a heads-up that the game had classes. If he did let them know, everyone could have strategized!
“Patrick! When did you pick a class?” James said, whirling around angrily.
“After we banished that spirit thing back into its vessel,” Patrick answered as he briefly looked up from his sword.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Well, I told you I got a ton of experience after we did it. I didn’t have time to elaborate. Dreng interrupted us, remember?”
“You could have told us when we all settled down for bed.”
“Yeah probably, but that damn spirit and its wailing song knocked me right out. I fell asleep like a giant sword-wielding baby!” Patrick replied, hefting his sword into the air and striking a pose.
James recalled that the haunting melody of the spirit was indeed audible last night, even while it was in the basement. Then he maliciously wondered if it was possible that Patrick’s Intelligence statistic might have been low. He wasn’t sure if it worked like that, but by looking at the redhead's Health and Energy levels, it was apparent that he hadn’t put a single point in the statistic. James tried to open Patrick's stats through the party interface, but no more information would surface.
Alex joined the conversation to ask about classes, but James was too distracted by all the new information. He couldn’t see his party member’s individual stats, but there was a window for party leader attributes. He opened it up.
Party Leader 1 - Damage taken reduced by 1%
He gave the mental command to move this notification to his skills tab. That way he could easily track it with the rest of his skills. James let his frustrations leave his body through his breath and continued to look through his notifications as the party talked about classes behind him.
Congratulations! You have surpassed Level 10! You can now choose to pick a class.
Class 1 - Mage, unlocks mana regen skills and increases damage done by spells.
Class 2 - Warrior, unlocks energy regen skills and increases damage done by weapons.
Delay Choosing - Choosing to delay your class will award you 10 stat points at the risk of permanently losing the option to choose the above two classes. Upon reaching Level 20, you will be given another opportunity to choose between two classes or subclasses depending on your actions and skills.
“Here we go…” James whispered.
“Did you get yours? What did you choose?” Patrick called over.
James ignored him. Both his mana and energy regen rates were dreadfully slow, so he would benefit from either. He did decent damage with his short sword and figured his fire-bolt spell could be even stronger, but he didn’t really feel like a warrior or a mage.
“I didn’t choose,” James said, as he saw a new notification that he had ten stat points to spend, “I delayed the choice and took the stat points."
“What do you mean took the stat points?” Patrick asked, twisting his face in confusion.
“I had a third option to delay the choice. It awarded me ten stat points at the risk of losing my 2 class choices of mage and warrior.”
“I didn’t get that option!” Patrick harrumphed and held out his sword again. “Probably doesn’t matter; I would have chosen warrior anyway.”
“Well, wait, I want to know why you got the option and he didn’t,” Alex interjected.
Everyone fell silent for a moment, then Lilly spoke up.
“James probably has very high intelligence,” she added nonchalantly. “You guys didn’t know it gives you more interface options?”
The human players stood there in silence and exchanged glances.
“We did… I guess we didn’t know it would affect something like that,” James finally answered for the group. He wondered if people that grew up in this world were taught about their interface before they reached adulthood. Almost like how he learned how to drive and file his taxes. His exchanged glances with Patrick and Alex told him that they were probably thinking something along the same lines. Or maybe Patrick was just genuinely confused. James couldn’t be sure.
James served everyone a serving of Roasted Ingo & Charred Tucca like he did every morning, and then he dived back into his interface, ignoring his Well-fed buff.
James – Level 13
Constitution, Level 6 – Controls how much health you have
Strength, Level 6 – Affects your ability to use weapons, lift objects, and your size
Endurance, Level 5 – Controls how much energy you have
Agility, Level 5 – 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 how much mana you have.
Wisdom, Level 20 – Controls the rate at which you gain all types of experience, and more.
10 statistic points ready to distribute.
Once again James was tempted to spend some of his points on Constitution, Strength, Endurance, or anything that seemed to have a more tangible benefit. But thanks to Lilly’s comment, the temptation passed faster than ever before. She confirmed that investing in Intelligence gave you rare and exciting opportunities. If he was going to spend points on something other than Wisdom, it should be Intelligence. Still though, what would happen when he reached Level 20 and got another option to pick a class? If he didn’t invest in some physical stats now would he lose out on the warrior class forever?
James had enough points to bring at least two stats past the Level 10 interval. He hoped that bringing a stat past ten would unlock more of its description and possibly get rid of the 'and more' text. Then James realized he could ask Patrick or Alex if they had different stat descriptions than he did.
“I just get notifications like, ‘grats, you got way bigger’ or ‘your way stronger now,’” Patrick said with a mocking tone added to the voice he gave to his interface prompts. He even explained how sometimes his interface had spelling errors, which he found incredibly frustrating.
Lilly sighed as she wiped down the long table in the cabin. “It’s because you don’t invest anything in Intelligence, Patrick. If you did you would get more helpful notifications.”
When James asked Alex the same question, he said he got the same information as James. Unlike Patrick though, Alex resolved to start putting some stats in Intelligence. When James asked Alex specifically if he had more information on the stats from his time developing the game, he was met with the same apologetic shrug.
“Sorry, it wasn’t my department. I really only know a small section of lore, basically just creature names. I would usually stare at unintelligible code all day and drink coffee,” Alex would always say. It was frustrating that he didn’t have more information. At the very least James would expect Alex to offer more helpful information on lore, but the prior military member said he didn’t have any and that he suspected the stuff he worked on was all elsewhere, in another region.
Lilly didn't have more information on stat descriptions or uses either as she was similar to James in stat allocation. She said her parents taught her the basics of the system but said she would have to figure out everything else on her own as it was only a path she could walk. James got lost in thought for a few moments as he contemplated how having an interface for personal growth would affect things back on Earth. He had been left to figure things out on his own when his parents died. Although the reason he was left uninformed wasn’t by choice, he could understand the reasoning of why a parent would do that. Since James had to figure everything out himself back on Earth, or at least with his little brother, he was often put in stressful situations. Those situations would be easier for someone smarter than him to get out of, but if James had someone holding his hand all the time, he wouldn’t be the person he was today. He had a knack for figuring things out now and was more resilient because of it. That was probably the same reason Lilly’s parents only taught her the basics of her interface and left her to find her own way after – they didn’t want to spoil her.
James shook his head. He needed to spend these points and go hash out a plan to move forward with Dreng. He still didn’t know how Dreng would feel about living together with a bunch of humans. He wanted to find out before he and his party found themselves getting eaten. James spent 5 points in Intelligence, bringing it up to 20, and the other five points on Wisdom, bringing that stat up to 25.
Congratulations! You have surpassed Level 20 in Intelligence! You now have access to a Town Builder interface.
A town builder interface? James thought as he munched on his remaining Ingo meat. He accessed the interface, and an overlay covered his entire vision. Once he adjusted to the strange view, he realized it was a bird’s eye view of the undead village. It had visible lines that encircled it, showing the town's borders and his zone of control. He could see the lower portion and the half-burnt church-like building that lead to the upper portion on the cliff with the cabin. Mentally motioning over the two rows of cabins that made up the majority of the village, he could see that most of the cabins had very low durability. James wasn’t sure if they would collapse because of this, but he was confident they wouldn’t provide any defense, which is what they needed at the moment. The Oana were probably still out there, looking for them. With that thought, he decided to explore the town building interface later. He felt guilty for not taking the Oana threat seriously before. If he had taken it more seriously, he could have grown more or found a way to defeat the Oana without as many Martyr losses. Maybe he could have even convinced Dreng to migrate. Something. He could have done something other than just react. No, he wouldn’t make that mistake again. James brushed the Tucca crumbs from his lap, tossed them into the fire, and went to find the Martyr chieftain.
“I am glad you came to me so early,” Dreng said as he sat alone in a large Martyr tent. The tent was positioned at the edge of the village, closest to the Great Savanna. This gave James the opportunity to access the cabins on his walk down the main dirt road. They were all destroyed by either the undead attack or the distraught Martyrs. “We have much to discuss.”
“I agree. There is something I need to tell you. I do know how I got here,” James admitted.
Dreng waived off the comment, “It is of no consequence now, the-”
James interrupted, “It is important, my world-” James let out a gasp as he found himself unable to complete his sentence.
Attention: You have been frozen in fear.
Dreng stood and bellowed, “It is of no consequence, human cub!”
After a long moment, the chieftain sat back down and took a deep breath which made the Martyr seem to double in size from James's cowered view.
The debuff faded, and Dreng spoke back up, “Now, listen to me, as what I have to say is difficult for me.”
James wasn’t sure what the chieftain was going to say, and it caused him to feel both worry and relief all at once. Worry, because he had never seen nor expected the chieftain to show weakness before. Relief, because the chieftain gave James a reason not to explain his home world. He felt sorry for lying to the chieftain, and he wanted to come clean, but maybe it would be better if the NPCs didn’t know about Earth. It would bring up way to many existential questions that James wasn't prepared to answer. Regardless, now was the wrong time to clear his conscience.
“I have been doing a lot of thinking. It comes easier with my old age. Solutions are easier to come by now, yet they are no easier to implement,” Dreng began, a far-off look in his eyes, “My wise, intelligent, and fearsome race has faced extinction for the second time. It is obvious we need to change something, or we risk continuing down this dangerous path.”
James hoped that the change meant that his party wasn't in danger of becoming dinner for the Martyrs. He began to talk to confirm his hope but was interrupted by a finger as large as his arm.
Dreng continued, “I believe you are that change. I don’t care where you came from, and I don’t care about Frode’s prophecy. If you and your human companions weren't at the battle yesterday, the Oana would have wiped my race from this world.” Dreng took a forced breath of air. “What I am trying to say, is you are the solution. We need you and your party of tiny humans.”
James had figured that was where this speech was going and honestly didn’t think much of it. He had already figured as such and was surprised it was such a big deal to the chieftain.
“Our fates are tied. I am dedicated to the survival of the Martyr race as much as someone could be. What do you need from me?” James said confidently.
“That is the part that needs changing. It is not what I need of you, but what you need of me,” Dreng replied. “I am getting old, James, and will not be around forever. In the event of my death, the leadership of the clan will be granted to Torunn. I want you to advise him when that happens and advise me until then.” Dreng let out a long sigh, like the fate of an entire race was slowly lifted from his shoulders.
James wasn’t sure how to reply. Was he essentially the leader of the clan now? Would Dreng let James give him orders? He doubted it and honestly didn’t want that anyway.
“I have had some thoughts. We need to build a defensible location to live in, grow, and be ready for the Oana. Maybe even we will go out and hunt them,” James started and studied Dreng’s face for any signs of anger. When he saw none he continued, “I unlocked a town builder interface that I think would help,” James said, pausing as he noticed Dreng’s facial features begin to contort.
Is that what a smiling adult Martyr looks like? Terrifying, James thought as he stared at the awkwardly smiling lion guy.
Dreng broke the awkward silence, “That is good. We have not had a proper builder since before the Oana pushed us from our homeland.”
James and Dreng continued to hammer out the details of their new situation until lunch time. The Martyrs were to dismantle all of the cabins except one on each side of the road, the two closest to the Great Savanna. These two cabins would be repaired and refashioned into whatever the village needed. The important part was they would have a flat roof to station lookouts or guards. They would recycle the scavenged wood of the destroyed cabins and use them for the guard towers. The leftovers would be used for a wall if they couldn’t find a better way to build one before then. The Martyr’s would move their tents closer to the mountains, and the humans would continue to stay in the cabin on the cliff. While the Martyrs worked on dismantling the cabins, the humans would work on acquiring crafting skills and tools.
After it was all ironed out, James returned to the cabin on the cliff and was astounded by all the work completed inside.
“Wow, it looks like you guys did a whole two days of work in here!” James exclaimed as he closed the door behind him.
Most notably, every wooden surface in the place gleamed in the sunlight. He had never seen the cabin so well-lit before now, and it was stunning. The single window that annoyed him earlier because it had no glass was perfectly positioned to allow sunlight into the cabin. The party even finished the long table, and in addition to that; there was now a separate, circular table, complete with chairs.
James raised his arms in confusion, “How did you guys do all of this?”
“Lilly found me some nails and a hammer, and then it kind of just all came together,” Alex said as he popped his head up from behind the long table, which now resembled more of a bar. The table had been fastened to the floor a few paces from the rear wall. An addition came off it at a 90-degree angle and trapped Alex in the little area. The other side of the long table was connected to the side wall, right where their stairs began. James began to wonder how Alex was going to escape his work of art when he stepped up to a portion of the table that didn’t have shelves below it and swung it up. The action created a pathway for him to exit the bar but didn’t detract from the counter space. “I got the wood by taking down the walls upstairs. We all figured we could sleep anywhere until we got the supplies to build smaller rooms for each of us. Besides, this long table could serve as a bar if we are ever able to make beer in the future. Oh, and I gained the woodworking skill today, too!”
“Nice!” James congratulated the now-carpenter with a pat on the back. “That is exactly what I came here to talk about.”
James gathered the party and invited them all to sit down at the circle table. The party had wanted to sit at the long table, but they didn’t have chairs that were tall enough yet to sit there comfortably. Alex explained he only had so much wood, so he prioritized it in a way that allowed him to grow his woodworking skill the most with the least amount of wood.
James went over his conversation with Dreng and how he unlocked the town builder interface. They all eventually agreed they would be happy to take general direction from James, since he could see town and party stats and was the only one with party leader buffs.
Patrick fought the issue momentarily and made an earnest argument that the strongest should be the leader. Lilly stepped in and respectfully recapped the dire position the Martyrs were in right now, despite having one of the strongest creatures any of them had ever seen as their leader. She reminded him that James unlocked the party leader skill, and if he could level that skill, they would all receive helpful buffs.
“We need to play to our strengths,” she said, “and if you are thinking about investing a bunch of points into Intelligence so you can get the party leader interface, then you really are a big dumb idiot.”
Patrick smiled broadly at the insult which caused Lilly’s calm demeanor to crack momentarily. James knew Patrick was smiling because he had never been big, not in real life. He knew that the redhead was bullied back on Earth by people that probably were big dumb idiots. James knew Patrick was smiling because he had finally overcome the way people saw him, and he could begin a new life. One that he was in control of.
“Okay, now that we are all in agreement,” James began. “Alex, since you have the woodworking skill, I need you to repair the structures of two of the cabins in the lower part of the village and build a landing on each roof so we can station guards there. If you have leftover wood after that, save it.” James turned his head to Patrick. “I need you to find a way to get us some stone. I saw in my interface that we could make a wall out of wood, but stone would be stronger. Plus I don’t want to waste our limited supply of wood to build an ineffective wall.”
Patrick huffed at the dullness of the task, but James interrupted him before he could argue. “Wait, there's more. When I leveled up my skinning ability, I got the option to improve it further or permanently increase my agility by one point. I imagine if you get a mining or stone working type of skill you will have another way to increase your strength!” James finished and waited for the applause. All he got was a nod from the redhead, letting him know he was speaking his language.
“Lilly, I need you to…” James paused for a moment to consider his request. “Um, let me know if this would be uncomfortable for you to do… would you be able to go through the houses and gather anything we could use before the Martyrs tear them down?”
She agreed but also requested that they talk privately. James immediately agreed, happy that Lilly seemed open to sifting through the wreckage of her past life for anything valuable. The rest of the party looked confused at Lilly's request to speak privately. They hadn’t all know each other for that long, but they also didn’t keep any secrets.
“What’s going on, Lilly?” James asked as they rounded the corner to the back of the cabin.
“It’s the spirit. It worries me.” The blonde woman gulped. “I can’t put my finger on it, but I think it is affecting us in some way. When you got back from talking with the big Martyr, you said yourself it looked like we had accomplished two days of work. That’s when it hit me. It did feel like we were working for an awfully long time. And this morning when we all woke up refreshed after only a few hours of sleep…”
“You’re right,” James said in response to her pleading gaze. “Something is definitely up. I don’t feel threatened though, at least not from the spirit vessel. Still, it is creepy in the way that it seems to call to you.” James remembered the feeling he got when he first heard the haunting song of the spirit vessel. The way it seemed to pull you into nothingness, the way you were aware of its pull, but still welcomed it. He shook his head. “I will have Frode come and check it out. Maybe he will be able to tell if it has any hidden properties."
Later that night Frode finally answered James’s request and met him at the bottom of the burnt stairway building that led to the cliff.
“Nice to see you, James. You have grown quite strong lately, I can sense it,” Frode sniffed in the night air, which seemed to James like Frode was trying to sense more of him. Whatever he was doing, James was not a fan. Frode finished sniffing and made eye contact with James. “Sorry, I couldn’t make it earlier.”
“It’s okay,” James said with a dismissing wave of his hand, “I was wondering if you had more information on the spirit vessel. We think it might be affecting us in a way that is hard to describe.”
“It is slowing your perception of time?” Frode asked.
Appalled, James asked, “How did you know?”
“My father had one when I was growing up. It wailed much like this one. A hauntingly pleasant song. My father used to say it was his inspiration. I suspect it made him consider questions no one had answers too, which is why he invested so heavily in Intelligence,” Frode replied.
“But what is it? I mean, I know it was a spirit that you banished back into the vessel. But why was it in there in the first place, how did it raise the dead, and why does it sing?” James rattled off everything that was bothering him to the unwavering face of Frode.
“My father sought to answer the same questions, young cub. I do not want to stifle your curiosity, but I suggest you find a safe place for the vessel and forget about it.”
James argued for a few more moments, but the Martyr didn’t budge. James got the point, but he had a hard time completely turning his back on the spirit vessel. Still, Frode assured him that the time slowing effects were not harmful.
James ascended the burnt tower of stairs, deep in thought. If the vessel did slow time in its vicinity, he would have to take advantage of it. The benefit it would give his party would be indispensable - if he could find a way to leverage it. Before he opened the door to the cabin on the cliff, he decided they would have to build a training ground next to it. Better yet, they could create some sort of crafting area too.
“Back already?” Patrick asked as James entered the cabin. James couldn’t help but burst out laughing. When the fits worked themselves out of his body, he explained to everyone the effects of the spirit vessel, and why Patrick's question was so funny. They took the news much better than he did. Patrick was even excited about the possibility of the spirit escaping again and looked forward to the experience boost that came with recapturing it.
“Let’s dump the thing out!” Patrick excitedly announced as his excitement finally burst from his body.
The party let out a collective groan, “No, Patrick."