A pile of rocks was slowly growing. A long one was added to the top. It split in half as it came in contact with the peak of the pile and the two pieces clanked their way down until gravity could no longer pull them. By the time the new rock settled, another one was soaring through the air. This rock didn’t stay on top of the pile either. Instead, it rolled right down and into the foot of one of Little Patrick’s sisters.
“What are you doing Patrick?” Lorelai asked, picking up the satisfyingly round rock and tossing it from one hand to the other.
“Digging for Tucca,” Patrick said from inside the hole he had created.
“Gathering food for the camp was yesterday’s quest. Did the human soldiers require more that we thought?”
“No,” Little Patrick rumbled.
“Did the Hedgemon’s manage to sneak in and destroy our stockpile?”
“Then what is it?” Lorelai asked.
Little Patrick grunted, tossed a large boulder into the air and whirled on his sister, “Patrick is gone!”
The boulder crashed into the rock pile, crushing the smaller rocks below it and pressing the larger ones into the ground so thoroughly that they could no longer be seen.
Lorelai stepped back, “What? What are you talking about?”
“No one has seen him,” Little Patrick said, leaning against the wall of his hole and sliding down it.
“What do you mean? We have been all over The Great Savanna since before this whole Hedgemonic threat. We would have seen him. He must be in Dreng’s Rest still.”
“No,” Little Patrick growled, “he isn’t. James said he disappeared after a dungeon run.”
Lorelai didn’t speak up. Instead, she pointed behind Little Patrick. He stood up and climbed out of his hole, idly tossed the Tucca in his hands, and looked. Three hunched creatures fell from the far end of The Outpost’s walls and were busy sneaking off into the mountains. They were rather large for intelligent creatures, Patrick thought. They didn’t scare him though, as he still had more size than they did. A normal sized Martyr or Human fighter might have a problem dealing with them, but Patrick wouldn’t. It was one of the reasons he was upset, other than the fact that his favorite brother Patrick was missing. The same brother he shared a name with. His other brother, the eldest of them that also happened to hold the title of Chieftain, had forbidden Little Patrick from attacking the Hedgemon’s inside the ruined city. He didn’t say anything about attacking them from inside the Great Savanna though.
Without saying a word, Little Patrick hefted the nearest boulder. He squeezed it like a bear, then began to spin around. He built up some momentum and released, sending the stone high into the air in the direction of the flanking Hedgemon’s.
“Is that suppose to hit them?” Lorelai asked.
“That WILL hit them,” Patrick said, dusting his hands off, “I guarantee it. Tossing things high into the air runs in my blood.”
“Well then it runs in mine as well,” Lorelai said, grasping a boulder of her own. She didn’t have to look too long to find it. Rocks became more and more frequent the closer you got to the impassable mountains that surrounded the Savanna. Lorelei spun, then released. Moments later, Patrick’s rock crashed down, crushing one of the Hedgemons completely. The only evidence that it was ever there to begin with was its confused and panicking friends and the handful of long needles that fell from its back on impact.
“Dang,” Lorelai said. It was a word that not many of her brothers and sisters used, but she did. Lilly had taught it to her, and Lorelai liked the way it sounded. It was much better than some of the other words that the male humans used in its stead. “I missed, but at least I learned a new skill!”
“Put away your interface,” Patrick seethed, “let’s go finish them off before they get to wherever they are trying to sneak off to.”
Lorelai quickly added two of her available stat points to agility then looked at her brother. They exchanged a glance then dropped to all fours and charged.
“Check that out,” James said, pointing over to Little Patrick and Lorelai.
“It looks like they spotted a few enemy scouts,” Torunn reported from his chair by the fire.
Michael straightened up on the wooden crate he was resting against and quickly dismissed whatever he was browsing in his interface. Everyone else did the same, eager to see an encounter with the strange bristle backed beasts, even from afar. James held his breath, waiting for the Martyrs and Hedgemon’s to meet. Little Patrick was moving extremely fast for someone of his size. It was like seeing a young Dreng, in the best shape and years of his life. Finally, the two parties collided. A roar could be heard, even from James location, then a pink mist rose in the air, and everything went calm.
“He is not taking the news about Patrick well,” Torunn commented.
“Yea,” James sighed, “I don’t blame him. They were close.”
“They were,” Torunn confirmed, “Little Patrick is ran by his emotions, just like big Patrick. I am worried he will do something extreme.”
“Why? Has he done so before?” Alex inquired with a raised eyebrow.
Torunn tilted his head, “He once challenged me to back up one of my commands with blood, which is something I usually encourage the clan to do, but it was over something small. Usually, us Martyrs do not challenge each other unless it is something we feel passionately. I think you know by now that we do not usually feel passionate about anything. But Little Patrick feels passionate about many things.” Torunn cleared his throat, “So no, he hasn’t done anything extreme yet, but if anyone of us is going to, it would be him.”
James recalled the moment he first saw Martyrs challenge each other. It was Dreng that challenged Freydis over her decision to adopt James as a cub. Torunn was a cub himself back then. He probably didn’t even know that the challenge even happened.
About a year, James realized. That was how long he figured it took a Martyr to reach adulthood. One crazy, whirlwind of a year.
Alex inquired something about Martyr’s Rage, and Torunn went silent, lost in thought. James was lost in his thoughts as well and didn’t catch what Alex said that sent Torunn into a fit of contemplation, but he used the quiet moment to check his interface. The sun was setting in the direction of Dreng’s Rest. It would be night, and time to storm the fallen city soon.
James – Level 31 Embrant LeatherWorker (1 level gained since last open)
Constitution, Level 20 – Controls how much health you have and the rate at which you regain health.
Strength, Level 30 – Affects your ability to use weapons, lift objects, and your size.
Endurance, Level 11 - Controls how much energy you have and the rate your endurance regains.
Agility, Level 11 - Controls your movement abilities in battle, dodge, critical strikes, and unarmed combat damage and your ability to resist character controlling abilities.
Will, Level 12 – Affects your ability to tap into health, endurance, and mana reserves.
Intelligence, Level 36 – Controls the data you can gather from your interface, the world, and how much mana you have.
Wisdom, Level 35 – Controls the rate at which you gain all types of experience, your crafting speed, and more.
2 statistic points ready to distribute.
Like usual, James put his two free stat points into Intelligence. He needed one more level before his intelligence would hit 40 and he would be able to customize his interface layout further. He checked his miscellaneous skills tab and his gathering skills tab as well, but there was nothing new that would help him in the upcoming battle. His skinning ability was progressing nicely, but since it was a gathering skill, it had no sub-skill, only augments - and he was happy with his current augment setup. It allowed him access to tougher skinned animals, like Abominars, No-Nos, and Bisonbogs.
Suddenly, a sense of excitement filled James. After this, he thought, I can finally craft something with tough leather.
He set down his bowl of Abominar Fat Stew and made a, ‘Come here’ motion in the air, just to quickly double check his interface. His crafting skill was already level 30. He figured it must have reached that level right around the time he started getting crafting ideas that utilize the thicker, tougher leather. It also meant that he gained thirty entire crafting levels in the same amount of time he went from personal level 30 to 31, and all that extra time dedicated was about to pay off. Or so he hoped.
He would have to find out later. The sun was down. Conversations went from unimportant and a way to distract your nerves as the battle loomed closer; to non-existent. Everyone was silent. Everyone was looking at James, the War Leader. He was who they looked to accomplish the hard tasks. The tasks that weren’t worth completing when you only had but one life to spare.
It was in that moment that time slowed, and James realized he would endure many deaths. He would die for honorable reasons, and he would die for dumb reasons because he would live forever. That is why the fearsome Martyrs were looking up to him. It wasn’t because he was as big as all of them other than Little Patrick, it wasn’t the fact that he could shoot fire from his hands, and it wasn’t any unique talents or skills. It was the fact that he was immortal, and more importantly, he wore that attribute as if it was a simple hat: instead of the crushing cloak of infinite time and boundless pain that it was. He kept pushing on, just like he had when he was younger. He didn’t question why his parents died and left him nothing then, and he didn’t question why he was uploaded into a game world, and his best friend was turned to stone now. He just kept moving on, or at least that is what they saw. In reality, James did question all of that, and it did weigh him down. The thing he realized about himself was that he never let it slow him down. He DID keep moving, carrying the increasingly heavy weight, but never slowing. He held a steady pace. He was a steady leader, stuck inside an increasingly complicated and changing world.
James sat there in silence for longer than he intended to, but when he looked up again, his soldiers were still waiting, looking for his signal. The humans that marched here where calm. Every trace of the twitching and fidgeting that once diseased their collective pride before they set off to march The Great Savanna for the first time was gone.
They finally realized they can’t die, James thought. He felt terrible for them. They endured the torture of being imprisoned in a dungeon, but even that wouldn’t prepare them for the suffocating grip of immortality. He wanted to say something. To warn them or something. But he didn’t. They would all realize in their own time and who knew, maybe if he said something now, it would ruin their brief phase of joy and celebration from besting the grim reaper. As far as James was concerned, they would have to discover on their own that the Grim Reaper was a friend, not a foe. It wasn’t the sort of thing you could learn from someone else.
Alex, Michael, and Torunn were looking at him as well. James stood. The sound of his dual short swords sliding out of their sheathes was followed by a dozen other weapons being readied. James gave one final glance to the walls of the city he was about to emancipate, then saluted, the metal studs in his bracers clapping against the studs in his cuirass. More metal claps followed. James pressed on through them, and once he was past his men, he activated sneak mode and disappeared to the average onlooker.
Let’s do this, he thought.