James burst out the cabin door, ran up to the edge of the cliff and searched his village for the cause of the horn. He could see people and Martyrs scrambling around and gathering at the front gate. Guards were running along rope bridges and manning the walls. A large cloud of dull blue could be seen growing just after the gate, low in the Great Savanna. Behind that, a sunset.
He turned and scampered down the Tower of Stairs two or three at a time and sprinted down the cobblestone main road. He could hear screaming. He unsheathed his short swords and scanned the crowd for an enemy to jump strike to.
Pushing through the crowd, James yelled, “What's going on here?”
No one answered, or everyone did, but either way, James still didn’t get a clear answer. The crowd was awash with growls, terrified screams, and gossip. He stepped through the open gate and into the Great Savanna and found a place next to Torunn, Michael, and some guards. Underneath the dull cloud of pollen, he could see a cart full of equipment being pulled by…
“Bisonbogs?” James asked.
Next to the cart, a skeleton walked. A humorous bone rose and flanges waved. The skeleton blew a kiss. More than a few villagers behind James screamed.
“Hi handsome!” the skeleton said with an excited feminine voice, “Did you miss m-”
A spear flew from somewhere above and behind James and landed in the dirt just a few paces in front of the skeleton. James turned and signaled for the guards on the wall to stand down.
“HEY! That is no way to greet a lady!” the skeleton said.
“Do you know…” Torunn growled and pointed to the skeleton, “that?”
James laughed, “Unfortunately yes. And I wouldn’t call her ‘that’ in person. Her name is Sorrell. She is Abaddon’s daughter.”
Suddenly the ground shook, causing James’s knees to nearly buckle. He looked around and found Patrick dusting himself off at the bottom of the stone wall.
“NOMAA!” the redhead yelled as he ran out of his crater.
James raised an eyebrow and turned his gaze back to the cart. There were a few humans walking with it. Slowly, a greenish brown figure rose from the equipment filled cart on elongated legs.
“Let them in,” James said, turning to Torunn, “They are friendly. Make sure the gates get closed at night for now on though. I will find everyone lodging an update you in the morning meeting.”
Torunn nodded and began barking orders with his controller class. The crowd cleared in seconds and made way for the Bisonbogs and their towed luggage. James welcomed Sorrell and Noma into Dreng’s Rest with a warm wave and received a skeletal wink in return.
An hour later, Sorrell and Noma sat with the party in the cabin. James was busy watching his ale flow down through Sorrell’s mandibles, bounce around in her rib cage, and mysteriously disappear with a frothy fizzle.
“It is rude to stare love,” Sorrel said as she put her mug down on the table with a thunk.
James cleared his throat, “Hmg, what did you say we owe this visit to?”
“I didn’t,” Sorrel said with another wink, “but if you must know, I discovered a merchant cart that was fleeing The Outpost.”
James pointed upstairs to the rooms he gave to the exhausted humans Sorrell was traveling with, “They were merchants?”
“Not good ones,” She replied, “but yes. Apparently, they were on their way here.”
“The merchant’s shop we built?” Michael asked, confirming James’s suspicions in the process. He knew for a fact that no one from Dreng’s Rest requested a merchant cart. He would have loved to know how to do it and would have if he knew, but he didn’t. That only left the merchant shop. It must have opened his village up for trade in some sort of game interface.
James nodded, “and they were attacked? By what?”
Sorrel leaned closer on her ulnas and whispered, “You didn’t hear? The Outpost has fallen,” she leaned back into her chair and took another pull of ale, “Good riddance if you ask me, but apparently, there are some survivors. They attacked the merchant cart and stole everything that could be eaten.”
“The Hedgemon’s finally took the city?” Alex confirmed. Sorrell and Noma both nodded, the soul-merchant a little more gravely than the skeleton.
“They will probably try and spread their domain into the Great Savanna, James,” said Noma, “We came as soon as we found out to warn you and Dren… uh, the Chieftain, Torunn.”
“We need to fight!” Patrick bellowed from the floor, as he was too large to sit comfortably in any of the chairs.
“You and I cannot. Neither can Alex,” James said making firm eye contact with his only party members with protected souls. “This will have to be Torunn’s battle until we can free the prisoners from the dungeon. I will go talk to him now.” James stood up from the table without finished his ale.
“Can I come with you?” Sorrell purred as James swing open the Cabin’s door.
“No,” he said, “I am pretty sure you would give Frode a heart attack. Stay here and get some rest. It is already late and we will be having an early morning tomorrow.”
Tomorrow came as early as James feared that it would. He rolled out of his skin pile and quietly woke up his party members. Although it was much earlier than they usually woke up for their morning meetings, everyone went about their business without complaint. Patrick hefted the large stone pot of cider onto his shoulders, only after James filled up his own cup, and left the cabin. The only noise made was the sound of him softly grunting as he tried to fit his body through the large door. Alex silently gathered up all the stone cups and set out as well. Michael was already gone, no doubt waking up the rest of the village’s management team. James stepped over the dead pile of bones that was Sorrell and tip toed out of the cabin himself.
He paused at the top of the cliff and looked out over his village, groggily. Holding his warm cider cup to his chest, he let out a tired sigh. Usually, this was his moment of peace. Usually, he watched the sunrise for a moment or two before heading down to his meeting. Usually, he had a better handle on what was going on in his life. Today, he felt like he was being pulled in all sort of directions, none of them leading anywhere close to Earth. Today, the sun was still an hour or two from rising.
Torunn will handle it, he told himself, He was confident the Martyrs would be able to hold The Outpost last night, so all I need to worry about is Ogrim. Torunn will handle it.
James let out another sigh, this time he felt his stress go away with it. He wasn’t sure why he was so worried about the Great Savanna. Sure, it had been his home for what seemed like an eternity, but he knew Torunn was strong and capable, as were all members of the clan.
James morning thoughts were interrupted when a movement from the village below caught his attention. Michael was waving to him. Everyone that was usually present at the morning meetings was ready, cups of cider in hand. James nodded and headed down.
“Alright, today is going to be a little different. I will go first and then you guys can report,” said James.
“Don’t we want to wait for Torunn?” grumbled Birger.
“No,” James said tiredly, “Torunn has left the village. The Great Savanna has a new line of defense, and it isn’t our village. A city that protects the savanna from a race of bristle back creatures called Hedgemons has fallen. Torunn has set out to retake the city and defend it from attacks.”
Birger was taken aback, but James continued on, “We must all focus on sending Torunn aid. All but a few of our soldiers and guards must be prepared to head after Torunn and the rest of the Martyrs by noon. Everyone that cannot fight needs to be focused on crafting armor, weapons, and anything else that will help our soldiers defend The Outpost.”
He turned to Omero, who was furiously scribbling notes into his book, “Omero, do you think you can work out all the details?”
The Italian man looked up from his notes just long enough to make eye contact and show that he was listening, “Glady. I will gather our soldiers immediately after this and have them ready to head out by noon, if not earlier. I will task everyone else with providing aid to the front lines. How many fighters do you want to stay?”
“Just five humans. Three of them will escort the merchant's cart when we have enough supplies to send out and two of them will remain to guard the village. Our gates will be closed from here on out. The two remaining guards on duty will be to sound the horn if they see any danger. They will be pulling long shift, so make sure to check on them often. Hopefully, Patrick, Alex, and I won’t be in the dungeon if the horn sounds, but I don’t think it will at all. Besides, Frode is still here to look after the freed prisoners as they recover. I am sure he can handle anything that would attack us from the savanna.”
“You want me to go with the soldiers?” Michael asked.
“Yes,” James answered, “You will have to put your culture initiative on hold for now, sorry.”
“That’s okay with me,” said Michael, with a shrug of his broad shoulders.
James turned to the only able-bodied Martyr left in the village, “Birger, I will need you to head out with our soldiers. You have experience leading men. Once you meet up with Torunn and the rest of the Martyrs I need you to build up defenses. They won’t have any builder’s bonuses until I can make it over there, but it will be better than nothing.”
Birger nodded, eyes wide.
“Okay,” James said, taking a brief moment to enjoy his first sip of cider. Through heavy brows, he asked, “Anyone have anything important to add?”
“Sorrel said Lilly is doing well,” Alex added, “but it will still be a while before she is strong enough with light to learn the Seal Soul spell.”
James nodded and gave a soft smile, “We all look forward to her return. For more than a few reasons.”
Suddenly a voice broke the serenity of the early morning, “I DID IT!” the voice echoed, “I DID IT!”.
James looked around and found that the only other people that were awake so early, who also happened to not really be people per say, but Oana villagers, were also confused and slightly upset about all the yelling.
Alex sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, “That is my apprentice, Smith.”
“You mean Guard?” James inquired quickly.
“No, I mean Smith. I don’t know what his real name was, but he asked me to call him Smith. And you should too because I think he was up all night working to try and impress you.”
“Well then…” said James hesitantly, “Let’s go find out what... Smith… has... smithed? Reeadddy BREAK!”