“Son of an Ingo bird,” James swore.
His fingers trailed a shadow across his face as they moved to pinch the bridge of his nose. He felt the veins on either side of his it pulse and throb as he pushed on them. For the briefest measures of time, James was able to stifle the blood that surged into his head and forgot to come back out again.
“Ah,” he sighed.
Then the damn broke. Blood flowed freely once again and he couldn’t find the right position to stop it. He tried squeezing his head, every pressure point he knew, and even cracking his neck, but nothing would stop it. The only way to prevent such a pain in the future was to not to drink so much, but James knew that probably wouldn’t happen. He had no desire to limit the only vice he had in his new strange life and celebrating the life of Dreng was always worth it. Besides, James knew of a special someone with the ability to cure hangovers.
“Torunn!” James yelled as softly as he could as he rolled out of his makeshift bed on the second floor of the cabin. Light pooled into the room like golden syrup, but it was lost on James. So too a night’s rest on a normal bed was lost on him, but for another reason. James had learned to prefer sleeping in a pile of Ingo skins. There was just something about it that James, and the Martyrs, loved. Maybe it was because a bunch of furs piled together allowed for a wider array of sleeping positions, or perhaps it was just because mattresses were terrible and only made out of dried grass in this world. Whatever the reason was, it didn’t matter, James would make sure someone else got his mattress. Hopefully, one of the ex-prisoners that he and his party rescued from the Lich’s dungeon would be able to appreciate it more. After who knows how long they slept in a cage, James figured an semi-soft straw mattress would be like sleeping on a cloud for them.
James stepped over his brother Michael, who must have passed out on the floor the night prior, and gripped his head due to the pain that walking brought. James wanted to curl up and die, but he knew that the quickest way to stop the pain was to find Torunn and get a potion that would remove his hangover debuff. He settled for leaning against the wall. After gathering up all his determination, organizing it into a neat formation, and giving it pep talk, James moved his body. It was a modest movement to some, but to James it was monumental.
Every step James took caused his heart to beat harder, pushing more and more blood to his head. James was confident his head was going to explode. He had felt this way many times before, but now he was trapped in a game world where anything was possible. For all James knew, his head actually could explode in this world. Before he could find out for sure though, James found Torunn sitting at the bar with a mortar and pestle.
“Ahhg,” James grunted at the Martyr from a few steps up the stairs.
That grunt was all the information Torunn needed to understand that his game-brother was hungover and needed a remedy. Torunn walked up, and James carefully grabbed a pouch from his hand and lifted it to his mouth. The bag wasn’t as good at holding the liquid as a glass bottle would be, but it was much better than drinking the substance out of Torunn’s furry hands like James had to do the last time he was hungover.
“Ahhh, thanks man,” James said with a long exhale. With his newfound health, James hoped down the remaining stairs andstepped over a few sleeping bodies to join Torunn at the bar. By the looks of the alchemy equipment strew all over the bar, James could tell the Martyr had already known people would be hungover from the night prior and prepared a huge pot of his debuff removing potion for the occasion.
“You are the first person to wake up,” Torunn said.
James just nodded in reply as he looked over the sea of people passed out on the floor of the cabin, “We are gonna have to finish the Chieftain’s hut so all these people can be a little more comfortable.”
Torunn nodded, “Yes, they will have more room in there, but it won’t be as good as actual human housing. Do you think we should pause construction on the Chieftain’s hut and start on the housing instead?”
James ran his hand through his growing beard in thought. The action didn’t help him think through Torunn’s question and instead served as a distraction. James needed to find a way to shave. Almost all the humans were now sporting facial hair, including some of the woman. As James contemplated the subtle effects that being trapped in a fantasy world would have on the well-being of the Earth humans under his care, he pulled up his builder's interface.
Chieftain’s Hut (Under Construction) – Increases movement speed by 5% and decreases damage taken by 5% for all Martyrs within the zone of control.
James nodded as he read the information from his interface. He knew the Chieftain’s Hut came with buffs that would help his town if they were ever attacked but admittedly wasn’t sure what human housing offered. James navigated to an empty lot and selected it.
Empty Lot - Available Buildings
Human Cabin – Increases the constitution and moral of humans within the cabin by 1.
Human Store House – Storage facility that can hold an unlimited amount of supplies.
Martyr Tent – Increases the strength and moral of Martyrs within the tent by 1.
James soaked up the information and explained to the new Martyr Chieftain the situation. The Chieftain’s hut would provide a defense bonus for the entire town, whereas the human cabins would only give buffs to humans inside the cabins. A moral boost was important, especially for the newly rescued villagers, but having a safe village was even more critical. So James recommended completing the Chieftain’s Hut before they start construction on anything else. Torunn was slightly concerned about how the new humans would feel about them building a large hut for him when they all didn’t even have proper houses to sleep in, but James said he would take care of it. James knew there would be subtle consequences to even the most basic decisions he made as a leader. In this case, the result of building the Chieftain’s hut might be angry villagers. Even though the villagers would be sleeping in the Chieftain’s hut until their housing was finished they still might not understand why James and Torunn just didn’t have the shelter built first. It had the genuine possibility of coming across as selfish or power hungry. The humans couldn’t see James builder interface either, and therefore they would have no way of verifying that it was smarter to build the Chieftain’s hut, considering the Oana threat. That meant it would come down to trust. James had to make sure his followers trusted him and so did Torunn.
James sighed as the complexity of leading an entire settlement weighed on him. He hadn’t been as good of a leader as he wanted to be up to this point, but James was determined to do better. Even though he was aware of his downfalls, the majority of his party didn’t seem to fixate on them as much as he did. They still looked up to him since he had been in the game the longest. James didn’t think that made him a better leader than anyone else. Alex, for instance, was a natural leader. Still, though, James did have the builder and party leader interfaces. Even James couldn’t argue that those were good assets for a leader to have.
A sigh from Torunn let James know his adopted game-brother-turned-Chieftain was probably having the same internal dialogue.
“How are you doing man?” James asked the new Martyr Chieftain.
Torunn met James’s eyes briefly before returning them to the herb he was working with and answered, “Many before me have faced situations much worse than this, and endured.”
James nodded and waited for his adopted game brother to continue, but he never did. James wanted to know how Torunn was coping with the death of his father but could tell from Torunn’s response that the Martyr didn’t see the point in discussing it.
“You are right. We are doing okay right now. The best thing we can do is continue to move forward.” James said before tapping the table to an indistinguishable tune, “Whelp, are you hungry?”
Torunn nodded, so James launched a firebolt into the fire pit and pulled out some Ingo Tucca. When James looked inside the massive stone pot that was supposed to hold cider for everyone, he found it empty. Deciding that a morale boost was precisely what he needed at the moment, James headed for the basement to grab the ingredients he needed to make a new batch of cider. He stepped over sleeping villagers on his way to the door, including Patrick and little Patrick, who both seemed to be battling over cuddling rights of Patrick's True Iron Maul. As James's regarded the duo, Little Patrick turned over in his sleep and pulled the weapon from Patrick, who immediately noticed and pulled it back. James chuckled as he reached for the door.
Blinding light. James shielded his eyes and let them adapt. When he could see again, he stepped completely free of the cabin. The once colorful Great Savanna now resembled a vast mirror. It reflected every speckle of sunlight, seemingly right into James's eyes. He stepped closer to the edge of his cliff, brows more furrowed than a fox. He was half expecting to find people sleeping all over the place, but everyone must have found shelter in the cold night. Even though it didn’t look like winter inside the village walls, James knew the temperatures were wintry and he was thankful that everyone found a fire to keep them warm.
The Statue of the Legendary Chieftain stood in the center of the village. From this angle, James could see new details on the statue that he didn’t notice from before. The skin on Dreng’s back was parted and torn, just as Frey’s had been when she fought Dreng over James's right to stay in the Martyr clan. James recalled the pain he felt when he activated his own Martyr’s Rage ability and wondered if his back split the same way. The Martyr’s Rage ability cost health to use, so James knew that was what caused the skin to part, but what James didn’t understand was how Patrick knew that. For all James knew, Patrick didn’t know Dreng that well, but still managed to sculpt an exact replica of him, even down to the parted skin of the semi-secret Martyr ability. It was indeed a work of art.
Defiance - Statue of the Legendary Martyr Chieftain Dreng – Imbues friendly personnel within the zone of control with Dreng's ferocity and defiance of death. +5 Strength
“Wow,” James said out loud, still in awe of Patrick’s work. He would have to congratulate the red-head again and figure out how he did it. Patrick didn’t come off as the artistic type, so James figured his interface must have helped him. That thought didn’t settle his curiosity though, because this was Patrick’s first sculpture. Either something extraordinary happened, or sculpting was an overpowered craft and could bring the village a ton of perks. Either way, James would have to figure out what happened so he can try to replicate it for the benefit of the town.
James navigated to his interface and confirmed the strength boost given by the statue. He didn’t feel stronger at the moment but figured it was because he got the boost yesterday and was just used to it already. Thinking back, James did feel all sorts of weird when Patrick unveiled the statue. Underneath the awe he felt at the time, James did feel inspired and invincible. At that moment he felt like he could take on an army.
“That must have just been a fraction of how Dreng felt all the time…” James whispered to himself moments before a ruckus from the cabin broke him from his reverie. James could hear someone groaning in pain. Questions followed the groans and then finally sighs of relief. People must have been slowly waking up and given potions to remove their hangovers.
James couldn’t help but laugh as he continued his mission to the basement. The new villagers would take a liking to Torunn’s leadership, seeing how he has the power to cure hangovers.
James cleared the snow that blocked the door to the basement and stepped inside. He raised an unlit torch in front of him with one hand and cast a firebolt with his other. The firebolt left his hand, lit the torch, and continued until it smashed into the wall and fizzled out.
“Wait a minute…” James said as he followed the path of his Firebolt.
He took a few steps forward and saw a door in front of him. He saw the door before, but it was so long ago he must have forgotten about it. James looked around for something to break the lock on the door, but only found sacks of supplies. On an instinct, James pulled out his Martyr Skinning Knife and struck the lock. Sparks exploded from the lock, but it was otherwise in the same condition. With a sigh, James turned away and mentally bumped up unlocking the door on his to-do list. A few minutes later, James had located the sack filled with the Horned Moya fruit he needed to make a new batch of cider and exited the basement.
James briskly walked through the training ground, excited to finally have some more cider when his eyes glanced over the training dummy he had destroyed a few days ago. He skidded to a halt.
You idiot, James thought.
If he were able to destroy the dummy with his Legion Commander’s Short Sword then maybe he would be able to destroy the lock on the mysterious door in the basement with it. James dropped his sack of spikey fruit and immediately did a 180.
Pulling up his inventory tab, James mentally pulled his soul weapon from it. As the short sword materialized in his hand, pleasantness pulsed through his body.
“Hmm, I must only get the stat increase from the sword when it is equipped. That must be why I felt like crap when I put it in my inventory last night,“ James thought out loud as he prepared to slash the lock on the mysterious basement door. He gave a few practice swings before stepping up to the door and raising the sword above his head with one hand. With a grunt, James slashed at the lock. James regained his balance and leaned into the lock to get a better look. It didn’t come free, but this time it was certainly damaged. A gash was visible in the metal. It was clear that James could keep attacking the lock, and it would eventually break, but he had a better idea. He currently held his Martyr skinning knife in his other hand, so he suspected he was under the damage penalty of the dual wielding skill. James relinquished his weaker short sword to his inventory and gripped the glowing orange one with one hand. With one practiced motion, James swung his blade down with both hands, and the lock fell to the floor with a violent shower of sparks.
“Yasss, “James said excitedly. Purposefully keeping his soul weapon in front of him, James swung the door open and cautiously peered through the entryway. The same stone foundation of the cellar formed a barely used stairwell that lead deep into darkness. Overcome with curiosity, James stepped into the entryway and descended the stairs, using his torch to burn away spider webs and light the way. The stairwell was rather long, but as far as James could tell it looped in such a manner that placed him right below the basement of the Cabin, just much deeper underground.
James paused at the bottom of the stairwell and opened up his senses to the darkness. The light from his torch illuminated just enough of the room for James to tell the floor was made of cobblestone. It was odd, considering that the basement above him had a dirt floor. A moldy aroma filled the room, letting James know that it probably wasn’t cared for. Besides the occasional crackle of James’s torch, everything was silent.
Suddenly, a new smell wafted through James’s nose. It was familiar, and yet James couldn’t place it. James considered casting a firebolt into the darkness to get a feel for the vastness of the room but decided it was unnecessary. For some reason, he already knew the room was much greater than the cabin and its basement combined, and casting a firebolt came with the very real chance of burning up whatever treasures may be hidden away in the darkness.
James cautiously strode forward until the stairwell was out of the reach of his torch, placing him in a bubble of light, surrounded by nothing but darkness. Loneliness overcame James at that moment, but he decided to press on. He figured there was no way the room could be empty, and he was determined to find out what lived below his cabin. It occurred to James that he should have checked the other side of the locked door for signs of something living down here and trying to escape, but it was unnecessary now. If something did live here, James’s bright presence would have been discovered, immediately.
James walked forward again, constantly studying the ends of his torchlight. Looking up, James couldn’t even find a ceiling above him. He felt like the darkness was crushing him, squeezing him, and considered turning back more than once. His ability to cast firebolts if his torch was suddenly snuffed out was the only reason he didn’t.
Finally, something materialized at the uttermost reach of James’s torchlight. The object came into view all at once, threatening James with a heart attack. When James realized the object was stationary, and he must have just picked up a brisk walking pace due to his nervousness, which was the reason the object appeared so suddenly, he inspected it again. It reached into the air, as high as James’s was able to see with his limited light. As James stepped closer, he discovered the object had shelves.
“A bookcase?” James asked the darkness as he followed the edge of the object, looking for an end. A few seconds later the bookcase ended, and James could see another one right next to it. James moved his torch into the space separating the bookshelves and realized there were many more. Rows and rows of them stretched high into the air..
“A library,” James gasped in awe. His mind whirled with the all the questions he had gathered since entering the game, questions that he might be able to find answers to here. Maybe he would even be able to discover what happened on Earth. Utter happiness and relief overcame James as he walked the aisle in wonder. James unconsciously swept his hand across the edge of each bookshelf as he passed.
Suddenly, a loud ding sound echoed inside James’s head, causing him to fall against a bookshelf in fright. The familiar noise was accompanied by an interface prompt.
Quest Completed - Travel due east until you find a small village. Grow stronger & smarter then return to Dreng. Experience gained.
James reluctantly read the prompt, his face twisted from confusion to sadness as he did. The loss James felt at the passing of the Legendary Chieftain was renewed from the words of his interface. James slumped against a bookshelf and slid to the ground. How was the quest even completed if he couldn’t return to Dreng? James figured the game must have registered that that portion of the quest was no long complete-able. Still, though, why was the quest just completed now? James recalled the moment when Dreng gave him the quest. Back when he and Dreng had been barely on speaking terms, the Chieftain had been interrogating him on how he got into the game. Frode was there and spoke about a prophecy about human cubs that could command the elements and spend statistic points, even though they were too young to do so. Dreng had told James to travel east and grow stronger to help defend the Martyrs against the Oana. Dreng also mentioned that James would find information in the small village. Was he supposed to have gotten access to this library when he first discovered the village? It was entirely possible that, according to Dreng’s quest, James would grow stronger on his travels East and then get access to the library and grow smarter as well. Instead, though, James found the village destroyed and under attack by the Undead.
Either way, James was pretty sure he failed the quest. If he was supposed to discover the library to grow smarter to fight off the Oana attack, then he certainly failed. Still, James knew there was no use feeling sorry for himself. What was done was done and he would do his best to learn as much as he could so he would be better prepared to defend his friends in the future. With the library, he finally had an excellent opportunity to learn.
James stood up, grabbed the first book he could find, and headed back to the surface of his village.