James and Patrick woke up the next morning alone and disappointed that Alex and Omero hadn’t returned to the camp yet. When James checked his map to see where his companions were, he found that their icons were gone. Omero’s icon had been gone for awhile, and James suspected that the Italian man must have removed himself from the party, probably due to shame. Alex wouldn’t do that though, and that meant that he was too far away for his location to register on James’s map.
“What’s the plan stan?” Patrick asked from within in his fur pile. The redhead was snuggled deep in his furs. Only Patrick's head was visible and when he talked the air from his voice froze.
“We hang out for a bit. If Alex doesn’t show up then we will come up with a new plan,” James said as he snuggled deeper into his own pile of furs. He no longer needed the skins to stay warm, but instead, just wanted to be as comfortable as Patrick looked.
The good thing about using piles of fur to sleep and sit on was that you never outgrow them, James thought to himself. He had indeed grown larger over the past few weeks, but every time he did so he just added more furs to his pile. James wrapped the white Abominar’s skin around his face so that it was only touching the fluffy white fur and gave a satisfying smile.
I am even MORE comfortable than Patrick now. Mwuahahaha!
With nothing else to do other than wait, James pulled up his interface.
Statistics - No Changes
James was slightly disappointed that he didn’t level up from killing the Abominar, but he did just level up the other day so he shrugged off his complaint.
Sneak, Level 9 – Visibility & sound decreased by 9% while sneaking.
Fire, Level 33 (2 levels gained recently) – Your mastery of fire is increased by 33%.
Fire Bolt Spell - Damage is equal to 2.5x Intelligence.
Curse of Fire Augment - Cast a curse on your target, attracting all Fire Bolts in the immediate vicinity.
Short Swords, Level 37 (2 levels gained recently) – Damage done with short swords increased by 37%.
Jump Strike Sub-Skill, level 15 - Chance to stun 100% (25% + 5%/lvl).
Meteor Augment - Land with such force the ground trembles beneath you. Surrounding enemies are slowed for 1 second.
Dual Wield Sub-Skill, Level 13 (3 levels gained recently) - Damage penalty from dual wielding decreased by 13%. Current damage penalty when dual wielding equals 47% for both weapons.
Party Leader. Level 12 (4 levels gained recently) - Damage taken by party members reduced by 12%
James furrowed his brow and studied his battle skills curiously. He definitely still wanted to remove his spells into their own interface tab. When he attempted to do so he was met with the same prompt that told him it wasn’t possible until he had 40 points invested in intelligence. Although it certainly frustrated James, he found some relief in the fact that he could clearly tell how his skills should be organized, even if they weren't organized that way at the moment.
Another thing that peaked James’s curiosity was that his Jump Strike skill had stalled at level 15 and didn’t level up anymore. He was positive that the skill should have gained some levels since the last time he checked, especially since he used it a lot in the battle with the Oana villagers, the Oana Mystic, and both times he used it to tackle the giant Abominar mid-air.
Is it because the chance to stun hit effect has already reached one-hundred percent?
It was entirely possible that James had merely maxed out the skill. He was left hoping that his Dual Wield Sub Skill wouldn’t max out at level 15 and would instead max out when the damage penalty was decreased to zero. If the sub-skill did indeed max out at level 15, James decided that he would seriously consider replacing it with another skill, especially since it seemed that he could only have two sub-skills for every main skill at a time.
James silently remarked that he only had three more levels to gain in his Short Sword main skill before it hit level 40 and he would be offered two more sub-skill or augments. He was pretty happy with his class-based meteor argument so he hoped that he would be offered a class-based augment for his Dual Wield skill as well. James fell into a daydream, imagining what a fire-based to his dual wield skill would look like.
“Hey! Did you fall asleep?” an angered Patrick yelled from across the fire.
James blinked his confusion away and glanced at the sun. It had moved slightly in the sky, letting him know that he definitely did fall asleep, but not for too long.
“Yea, I guess I did,” James said with a yawn.
“Don’t you think we should be doing something? There are people from Earth trapped in a dungeon right now, probably being tortured or worse, and you are taking a leisurely nap?”
“Relax man,” James warned the red-head, “I am concerned about the mission too, but there is nothing we can do right now. If we leave right now and continue the mission we risk losing Alex and Omero. We need them for when we find the village. If we split up and one of us goes to scout, we risk being killed by another Abominar and being sent to respawn at the village. I really think waiting for a bit longer is the right move.”
Patrick stared at James for a few long seconds, “Okay, but we can at least come up with a plan for if they don’t show up.”
James sighed. Patrick was right, James just didn’t want to think about that option. He was counting on Alex and Omero returning. “Okay, we can wait an hour or two more. Then if they don’t come back we will start looking for the village again. When we leave we can leave a few maps printed out and mark them with the direction we are going to travel. That way if Alex comes back after we leave, he will know where to go.”
Patrick nodded with a smile, “See, there is the leader I know. I agree that should be the plan.”
James roughly laid his head back down on his soft Abominar fur and navigated back to his interface. He couldn’t help but feel that Frey made a way better companion when relaxing by the fire than Patrick did. It was a rogue thought, and one that James knew wasn’t fair, but he had been away from his village and the Martyrs for the longest that he ever had since joining the game, so he wasn’t too hard on himself. Patrick wasn’t bad, he was actually quite likable and he was totally right about coming up with a plan, James just missed the Martyr’s.
What was I doing again? James thought before he remembered. He pulled up his interface and navigated to the Miscellaneous Skills tab.
Cooking, Level 33 (4 levels gained recently) – Food is 33% more delicious. Stat buffs from meals that award them increased by 33%.
Spiced Cider Recipe - Increases moral by 10 for 30 minutes.
Roasted Ingo & Spiced Tucca - Increases Constitution by 1 for 12 hours.
“Yes!” James exclaimed suddenly, causing Patrick to jump from within his fur cocoon, “My cooking skill has past a 10 level increment! We might get a new recipe!”
James deftly navigated to his Notifications, his stomach rumbling with anticipation.
Congratulations! Your Cooking skill has surpassed level 30. You can now choose from the below 2 recipes.
Bountiful Feast - Increases Strength and Intelligence by 5 for 12 hours.
Abominar Fat Stew - Increases Constitution by 10 for 12 hours.
“Damn,” James said as he finished reading the prompts, “ another hard decision... Patrick, which sounds better; a bountiful feast or Abominar Fat Stew?
Patrick scrunched up his face, “Abominar Fat Stew sounds gross.”
James smiled mischievously… and selected Abominar Fat Stew from his interface.
He was immediately flooded with knowledge. James now knew the best ways to carve up the Abominar, he knew the best cuts of meat that its body held, and more importantly, he knew that the Abominar Fat Stew would be anything but gross. James set upon the Abominar corpse with his short sword, much in the same fashion as he did when the beast was alive.
A half-hour later, James sat on his fur pile and watched his stew cook in a kettle that Patrick was able to fashion out of stone. A side-benefit of butchering the Abominar was that he now had more meat than he could ever want.
When the stew was finished, Patrick commented on its deliciousness and James let him know that he was eating the Abominar Fat Stew.
Patrick blanched, but quickly shrugged and began eating again. James laughed and thanked Patrick for his ability to work with stone, and in doing so create the kettle and bowls that they were using.
“Is that a new recipe I smell!” A voice called out from the west.
James and Patrick both whipped their heads to the voice in an effort to identify it.
“Alex!” James happily called out as he set his bowl down and stood up to greet his companion.
The veteran closed the distance with long strides and greeted James and Patrick in turn.
“Where is Omero?” James and Patrick asked in almost perfect unison.
Alex threw a hand over his shoulder and pointed behind himself, “He is just right over there. He swears that you are going to kill him for running away and he wanted me to come talk to you to make sure you wouldn't.”
James was taken aback, “Why would I kill him?”
“I don’t know. He said his Inveigler class showed him that you hated him or something.”
“Hmmm,” James thought out loud, “It might have been when I was in a Martyr’s Rage, but I am out now and don’t hate him. The Abominar was freaking scary, I almost ran myself!”
“You should go over and tell him that,” Alex said, leaning in closer to James and Patrick, “He is in rough shape guys. I know it might sound crazy, but I think he has post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve seen it in my military brothers back on Earth.”
James and Patrick looked at each other. Patrick replied first, “That actually doesn’t surprise me. And it doesn’t sound crazy. The violence here is real violence, I am more surprised that we three aren’t more affected by it.”
Alex turned to James and waited to hear what he thought about the situation. James only shrugged, “Yea, what he said. Patrick took the words right out of my mouth. Where is he? I will go talk to him, let him know its okay.”
James moved to walk past Alex and find Omero but Alex reach out with a hand to block him, “Why don’t you uh… go clean yourself up first. You have blood splattered all over your body and clothes. Your hands a literally died pink right now.”
James looked down at his hands and chuckled, “Oh, yea your right. That probably would make Omero feel too comfortable…”
I should probably wash the skins I sleep in.., James thought as he rolled around in the snow.
James found Omero laying against a snow drift and emptily staring into the sky. James stepped in front of Omero’s gaze, but the Italian just stared through James, like he was focusing on something behind James’s body. James quickly grasped the severity of the situation and laid down next to Omero.
After a long silence, James finally spoke, “I don’t hate you ya know. I think it was the Martyr’s Rage that your class was picking up on.”
Omero cleared his throat, “Do you hate yourself?”
James was stunned by the question and didn’t respond, because he didn’t know how.
“Because I hate myself,” Omero said with a swallow, “I’m not made for this. This fighting and this killing and these monsters.”
James nodded, “That’s okay. I am sorry that I made you come out here with us.”
Omero shook his head and looked at James for the first time, “I wanted to come out here. I wanted to help the village and I wanted to heroically slay dragons. I just… It just didn’t happen the way I thought it would.”
James met the Italian's intense gaze, figuring that it was best to only listen at that moment.
Omero continued, “When I saw you heroically jump up to meet that giant white monster in the air I was already running away. I realized that I would never be capable of doing something like that.”
James wanted to tell Omero that it was okay, that not everyone was meant to be a fighter, but he stayed quiet instead. He knew that Omero was a smart man, much smarter than himself, and Omero would come to that conclusion on his own.
“I don’t know. I just feel terrible about myself,” Omero said while trying to stifle a sob, “I wanted to be the person that helped save the Earth humans in the dungeon, and I thought I could be. When we were all actually in the dungeon... I was one of the only ones that kept my sanity. I think now though, that I didn’t keep it all. I was just insane in a different way. I tricked myself into thinking that I was in a fantasy world and I could role-play my way out of it. Everyone else was already processing the fact that they were in the real world, but I wasn’t.”
James swallowed, “Yea, I will admit that whenever I think that this is the real world it all gets a little tough. I honestly think that the only reason I am able to do the things that I do is that I was put into the game with the understanding that it was, in fact, a game. Everyone from the dungeon didn’t have that luxury. I think, deep down, that I still sort of believe that I am in a game. Deep down I haven't accepted it yet.” James threw a hand into the air and gave a pitiful laugh, “Hell, I even try to figure out and improve my interface like I am still a fucking beta tester. It's ridiculous.”
Omero gave a soft chuckle at the comment before becoming silent again. James let the silence grow and contemplated his feelings for once. He had intended to come over here and help Omero with his problems but instead came face to face with his own.
Is this why I was in a crappy mood the other night when I gave Alex a hard time? Are the villagers having a harder time adapting to the game than I thought? They must be if I am still having trouble adapting to it myself.
James cleared his throat, “When we get back to the village, I have another job for you. If you will take it.”
“I know you already talk to the villagers on a regular basis to keep track of their statistics and stuff, but I want you to organize a nightly therapy session. We don’t have to actually call it a therapy session, but you get the idea. Our morning training sessions are good for helping the people that are fighters adapt to the game, but they do nothing for the others people, the people that don't want o fight. I want you to lead this therapy session because, well, who better to lead it than someone that has seen the horrors of fighting first hand. Be careful not to purposefully split up the villagers though. I don’t want them to form fighter and non-fighter cliques, so make sure everyone knows they are welcome to attend the nightly sessions. I know from your human resource background that you can probably do something like this. Your not a therapist, but you are the closest we have to one. So the question becomes; do you even want to do it?”