“I would like to request that I never be made to go back to that place,” Omero requested of James, quite seriously.
“Request granted,” James laughed as he looked to the sky. The sun already rose, and was quite further in the sky than James would have liked, “Damn, we did wake up late.”
Patrick ran ahead, twisted through boulders as large as he was, and disappeared into the Great Savanna. His voice echoed back to James, “Forget the sun, come look at the Savanna!”
James navigated the same boulders and sloping land that hid the entrance to the Underworld and stepped out into the Great Savanna. What he saw almost brought tears to his eyes. Any traces of snow that still plagued the savanna were gone. New grass grew and swayed in the wind. The grass was much shorter than what James’s was used to, but what it lacked in height in made up for in color. A sea of green stretched before James. Floating on the top of that sea, where strange and beautiful flowers. James spotted a particularly foreign blue flower and bent over to pluck it. Its long stalk was so smooth that James had trouble gripping it. James doubled down with grunt, and pulled the flower out. A loud scream was heard. James fell backward. Something chittered down his chest. Patrick bellowed in laughter.
“What was that?” James asked confused as he climbed back to his feet.
Patrick laughed harder, “I have no idea, but you should have seen your face! Little thing scared the crap out of you!”
James looked around curiously and watched the blue flower skitter across the Great Savanna, leaving a cloud of dull blue pollen in its wake. As the pollen came into contact with the buds of other blue flowers, they pulled themselves from the ground and skittered away.
“I think you scared them!” Alex commented as he watched the flowers follow the first one to safety. James didn’t know how to react but promised himself not to pluck any more flowers without first consulting a Martyr.
“C’mon, let’s go home,” James said, relieved at the thought of being back in his village. When Omero was finished jotting down notes about the blue flower, the party set off.
“Check that out,” Alex said as he pointed somewhere to the East.
James realized he had been smiling as he walked. He figured it was probably because the Great Savanna was back to the state it was when he originally fell in love with it, but he let his smile die nonetheless. It wouldn’t do him any good to tire out his smile muscles before he got back to the village. Following Alex’s finger, James spotted a large cloud of the dull blue pollen in the distance. The cloud had a tail that covered a large distance, like a heavy creature was walking the Great Savanna and disturbing every blue flower as it went.
“Think it is a No-No?” Alex asked.
“What’s a No-No?” Omero inquired as he pulled out his book of maps.
Alex raised his hands up above his head and gave himself horns, “It is a large Rhino-like creature with the horns of a deer. Apparently one of them almost smashed Patrick to death when he first entered the game.”
Patrick glared at James accusingly. James shrugged, “I didn’t tell him that,” James deflected. He was ninety percent sure he never told anyone the embarrassing story of Patrick’s first few days in the game, but then again, alcohol flowed quite freely during some nights in the cabin, so he couldn’t be completely sure,
Patrick grunted, “Well, I am a lot bigger now - let’s go say hi to the beast.”
James looked Patrick up and down for the first time in a long time. The red-head had grown a lot since he first entered the game. James guessed that he was almost two feet taller than he used to be, but couldn’t be sure. Without an accurate thing to measure the redhead against, James would never be certain either. He couldn’t use himself to measure either, as James had been investing in strength lately and had grown quite considerably himself.
The party entered into the outskirt of the dull blue cloud they realized two things. One, they learned that pollen was quite refreshing to breathe in. If James’s lungs had taste buds he would describe the pollen as sweet and chilled. Two, the party learned that it wasn’t a No-No that was roaming the Great Savanna and causing all the blue flowers to send out danger signals. It was a small pack of Ingos.
James squinted his eyes, They’re back, he thought as his body shuddered with rage.
“C’mon,” James said, turning around, “As much as I want to kill them, the Martyr’s probably need them to live for some stupid reason…”
“No wait,” Alex said, holding his fist into the air in a militaristic signal that encouraged everyone to halt, “I think there is a human with them.”
James turned back around and reluctantly focused his sight on the creatures that loved to wake him up in the morning with their annoying calls. James saw that the human was walking with the Ingos for some reason. James had no idea why anyone would want to walk with such vile creatures and decided that the human wasn’t anyone he wanted anything to do with. He didn’t need that kind of energy in his life. A friend of an Ingo was no friend of his. Immediately after James decided to ignore the Ingo lover, he realized that it was his own brother.
Traitor, James thought before reluctantly calling out to his brother.
Michael turned to the sound of James’s voice and walked to meet him. The Ingos followed.
“What are you doing here man?” Patrick asked as he waited to greet the only man in the Great Savanna that was bigger than him.
“Oh man, am I happy to see you guys. I thought I would get lost in this blue cloud for the rest of my life.” Michael said as he released James from a hug. “Patrick! I got your mounts!”
“Awesome!” Patrick said enthusiastically, jumping up and down like an eight-year-old girl that happened to have a beard, “where are they?”
James looked around as well, curious as to where the mounts were. The blue cloud was slowly dying down now that they weren’t walking anymore. James figured the mounts were either hidden in the cloud somewhere or Michael would give them a harness or a horn or an ocarina or some other device used to summon the mounts.
“They are right here!” Michael said.
James looked around more furiously, deciding that the mounts did not have an item needed to summon them and were instead hidden in the full blue cloud.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” one of the Ingo’s announced annoyingly.
James turned completely around, utterly confused at where the mounts could be hiding. Then he had the exciting thought that they were flying mounts. That would certainly explain why he couldn’t find them. James looked up but was only greeted by the bright sun doing its best to blaze its way into the blue haze.
“Dude,” Patrick said.
James gave up searching the sky and looked at Patrick. For some reason, the red-head was sitting on top of one of the Ingo’s back. Patrick face and the Ingo’s stupid beaked face where staring back at him blankly.
“I don’t see them,” James said with a frustrated shrug, “and why are you sitting on that Ingo? Why are you all sitting on Ingos”
Then the only Ingo that wasn’t mounted by one of James party members walked up to him and James came face to face with one of his worst nightmares.
No… Anything but that...
James sulked as his Ingo mount trotted along. The rest of the party was busy catching up and exchanging stories, but James was too busy thinking about how much he hated his mount. Everything about it was annoying: its long stupid neck, its long skinny legs that shouldn’t be strong enough to even hold anyone, the way James bounced as he rode on top of its annoyingly brown back, all of it.
“The Outpost was full of racist people man, they all hated everyone. Or at least we thought they hated everyone until the city was attacked. It turned out that everyone there slept during the day and was awake at night since that was when they got attacked.” James overheard Patrick say.
“Oh, they were attacked by the monsters I helped write lore for! Don’t forget that part!” Alex added, just before James tuned them out again.
James looked around and couldn’t help the feeling that his mount was purposefully bouncing more than the others. He studying his companions for a bit and confirmed his suspicion - his mount was purposely bouncing more than the others! He gave his mount a sharp kick with his boot, “You better walk normal or I will eat you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner...” James threatened, “...for a whole month. Trust me, I have done it before and I would happily do it again. My cooking skill is getting quite high. I can make even your stringy meat taste good.”
“Oh! Then Sorrell threw one of her foot bones into Alex’s mouth!” Patrick continued his story cheerfully.
James looked at his hands, not sure where to put them. His mount’s neck didn’t really have any fur to hang onto, and besides, it was too skinny to support any of his weight anyway. James just let his arms droop sadly by his side. He looked to his party, who didn’t seem to have the same problem since they were using their hands to expressively tell stories. Alex was pretending to choke as he spat out an invisible bone.
“Well, at least I can take you into battle then,” James said as unsheathed his short swords and gave them a few practice swings. His mount came to an abrupt halt, causing James to lose his balance and almost fall off. James gave his Ingo a prodding with his boots, “Onward. Go! Start. Proceed,” James commanded his deaf mount. Alex, Michael, Patrick, and Omero continued on in the direction of the village. James called out to them to wait, but they didn’t hear him over their laughs.
James sighed. “Okay, okay, I won’t take you into battle.” the mount walked forward, trotting slightly faster to catch up to the party. “If you don’t want to fight, what are good are ya for then,” James whispered under his breath. Immediately after, the ground came up to punch him in the face.
By the time the moon rose over the Great Savanna, James thought that the mood should have risen over the Great Savanna at least twice. The day went by so slowly that James seriously thought there might be a spirit vessel nearby that was slowing down his perception of time. There were no mystical causes for his misery though, just a simple, well-meaning Ingo mount. James plopped his fur pile out of his satchel and fell into it, not even bothering to rearrange the individual furs into his normal configuration. The resulting pile of Ingo furs was uncomfortable and caused his body to bend in odd ways. James didn’t even know where his Abominar skin was within the pile and had no desire to fish it out. His uncomfortableness was counterbalanced by one simple fact that made everything okay - he was laying in a pile of furs made from the ancestors of his annoying mount.
The party had to make camp by an Ingo pond, much to James’s dismay, so their mounts could drink. It meant that he would once again be woken up by their annoying calls. James idly wondered if the party thought it would be inappropriate to clear out Ingo nests now that they were supposedly allies with the creatures. James couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt at the thought of clearing out an Ingo nest in front of his mount. He shook the unwanted weakness away and pulled up his interface and checked his battle skills, hopeful that he would have new abilities to test out on the wild Ingo’s sleeping engagingly close to him.
Sneak, Level 9 – Visibility & sound decreased by 9% while sneaking.
Fire, Level 36 (3 levels gained recently) – Your mastery of fire is increased by 36%.
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 41 (4 levels gained recently) – Damage done with short swords increased by 41%.
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 17 (4 levels gained recently) - Damage penalty from dual wielding decreased by 17%. Current damage penalty when dual wielding equals 43% for both weapons.
Party Leader, Level 15 (3 levels gained recently) - Damage taken by party members reduced by 15%
Moral Defender Sub-Skill, Level 1 - Those under your command gain an additional armor point.
Ingo Mastery, Level 2 (2 levels gained recently) - Friendliness with your favorite Ingo has increased by 2%. Friendliness from all other Ingos increased by half that amount.
James opened his notification to see what new skills or augments he would be offered for his Short Sword skill.
Congratulations! Your Short Sword skill has surpassed level 10. You can now choose from the below 2 sub-skills or augments.
Sub-Skill 1 - Challenge, send a challenge to battle your opponent. The loser will be left with 1 health point, and the winner will gain 1 level with their weapon of choice. 1-week cooldown.
Dual Wield Augment 1 - Flame Whirlwind, Your blades gain a mind of their own for a short time and whirl around your body. They move so fast they ignite the air, encasing your body in a tornado of flame. 30-second duration. 1-day cooldown.
“Interesting…” James whispered from within his fur pile. The ability to win duels and gain a level in his short sword skill could come in handy at later levels. He was relatively certain that he gained more than one level every week, so the skill wouldn’t do him any good now, but definitely an interesting skill nonetheless. James had actually been waiting for an augment for his dual wield skill. He wished that his augment would be fire based, and that wish came true. James selected the Flame Whirlwind augment. It was just what he needed to cheer himself up.
James went back to his Battle Skill screen and paused at the Moral Defender augment to his Party Leader skill. By his calculations, the skill should have risen by at least two levels. His party had found an entire swath of skeletal creatures and structures on their way out of the Underworld.
Surely, that would be enough experience to improve a level one augment, James thought curiously as he racked his brain for an explanation.
“Hey man… can we get a fire or what?” Patrick grumbled as he dropped a small armful of dead twigs, grass, and one large log in the center of the camp. James let his arm protrude from his pile and cast a Firebolt. The bolt impacted the ground and showered Alex in dirt.
The veteran simple ruffled the dirt from his hair and said, “Your gonna have to get a new spell soon, one that is designed for starting fires and not blasting your enemies to smithereens…”
“Sorry,” James said as he climbed a little bit out of his fur pile, “Hey, did you guys get unlock Ingo Mastery in your interface?”
Alex and Patrick’s eyes glossed over as Michael nodded, “Yea, I meant to mention that earlier. I am at level seven you?”
“I am at level two…” James replied.
“Oh yeah, I got it,” Alex said as his eyes came back to life, “I’m at level four!”
Patrick snarled, “I can’t find the damn thing…”
Alex laughed, “What do you mean you can’t find the thing? Do you even use your interface, Patrick?”
“Not usually,” the redhead admitted, “I usually only pay attention to my notifications, and even those aren't that helpful. Oh! Here it is. I am also at level four.”
Alex and Michael both turned to James. James turned to his mount and shook his head, defeated.
“Maybe if you were just nicer to him…” Alex suggested warily.
“Yea… yea… I guess I could be,” James finally admitted.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” James heard echo through the finished Chieftain’s hut. His village was having a feast. He had invited everyone, including the Martyrs and their growing cubs, his villagers, Salmaana, and surprisingly, even Noma managed to make it. The Soul Merchant had stayed with Abaddon to help him in his research but gladly came over for the special occasion. James happily took a piece of meat from Salmaana’s spectral hand. The meat was crispy and flavored with a blend of 13 herbs and spices, or at least that was what his new chef had told him. James stood up from his chair and gave Torunn a hi-five before walking over to the window. His crafters had finally figured out a way to make glass. It was every bit of the improvement to his quality of life as he thought it would be. In the mornings he never had to tear down animal skins to see the sunbeam through his cabin and at nights he never had to put up animal skins to keep the cold air out. James spotted Dreng walking through the town and knocked on the window to grab his attention. The Chieftain was too large to fit in his own hut, but he was happy guarding the entire village while everyone relaxed and had fun. Dreng waved back with a terrifying smile, dropped his massive hand to his side, and returned to his eternal duty of protecting the Martyr race. James turned from the window and set out to rejoin the feast. That was when he heard the sound again.
James looked around confused. He had invited everyone to the feast, but he knew for certain, that he didn’t invite any damn Ingos. James watched Michael stand up from his chair at the long table and walk towards him. James’s brother seemed to have something stuck in his cheeks. They were bulging like a starving chipmunk that was just let loose in a peanut factory. James was about to tell him brother so, as his brother would definitely appreciate his silly example, but Michael spat in his face before he could. James was taken aback and when he thought the liquid being spat at him from his brother’s mouth was running low, it kept on going. Finally, James was able to catch his breath.
James wiped his face and desperately searched the room for the Ingo. Alex stood up from his chair. Finally, James thought, Alex always comes up with solutions. He will help me find the Ingo. James thoughts were proven wrong when Alex turned and could see that Alex’s cheeks were filled up much in the same fashion that his brothers were. James watched in horror and confusion as Alex walked over to him. Water streamed from Alex’s mouth, and James’s face was once again, soaked. The same process repeated over and over until it got to Salmaana. The spirit stood up and floated over to James, she spat out her ghostly water just as everyone else before her, but she took it a step further. She finished James off with a punch to the stomach.
“Ahhh!” James cried as he doubled up in pain. He blinked the confusion from his eyes and what he saw made him even angrier. His mount was standing, with one leg on James's stomach.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” the Ingo said as it bent over to lick James.
"No. no. no. Absolutely not,” James said as he did his best to squirm away from the beast. His squirming failed, and the Ingo once again licked James in the face.
“Why is your tongue green?” James asked, equally disturbed and confused.
Then the Ingo raised his foot off of James’s chest. James did his best to guard his precious bits against another stomp by the beast, but the Ingo’s foot never came back down. James watched as it just sort of hovered and wiggled there, just above his chest. Then James spotted a ring on one of the beast’s long and knobby toes. The Ingo waved his feet again.
“Am I supposed to take that?” James whispered, subconsciously aware of the tossing and turning of his nearby companions. James slid the ring off of his mount’s toes and the Ingo walked off into the night.
Is that it, you woke me up to give me a gift? James thought. He figured it could have waited until the morning, but when James read the stats on the ring, his frustration magically melted away.
Congratulations! You have received Brutus’s Ring (Extraordinary) +10 Strength