It took James, Michael, and Alex the rest of the night to capture the Hedgemon Consort and drag it all the way to The Outpost, through it, and into the Perturber’s keep. It took them another two days to reinforce the building so the creature wouldn’t break out.
“Too bad we don't have one of those magical pendants that trapped Sorrell in there,” James chuckled from outside the thick walls of the Keep.
“Oh, why didn’t you say you needed one of those. I have one right here,” Michael said, reaching into his pants like they had a pocket. He pulled out an empty hand and laughed.
James kept his expression still, “That’s funny! I have one of those as well, but better.” He reached into his pants, searched around for a bit, then pulled out a middle finger and presented it to his brother.
The party shared a laugh. Then they all remembered how nice it was to have pockets and shared a sigh as well.
“Okay, Alex,” James began, “any idea how we get the Consort to make workers for us?”
The party’s proclaimed rogue-turned-blacksmith shook his head and gave his shoulders a shrug, “No. Sorry.”
James figured he would get that answer and had already pulled up his Builder’s Interface to search for answers. A bird’s eye view of the entire Outpost popped into view. The first thing James noticed was how much bigger his new city was, compared to Dreng’s Rest. There, he only had a dozen or so building plots. Here, he had hundreds, all of various sizes. The majority of the building plots were already taken up by human cabins of various quality, but there were still more empty lots than he knew what to do with.
“Hey man,” Alex said after what only seemed to James as a second, “we are going to go help Torunn put the finishing touches on the East walls.”
James nodded without minimizing his interface. He involuntarily checked on the walls in his interface and saw that they were almost complete. The only thing left was reinforcing them and the gate so it wouldn’t be as easy for the Hedgemon’s to take them down again. He had a feeling they would try, especially because he kidnapped their Consort, so he made sure all repairing efforts focused on that side of the city. Once the wall and its gate were impenetrable, he would find someone that could carve some statues for the city. That way they could all benefit from statistic buffs when they inevitably had to defend themselves.
Where the hell is Omero, James wondered when his thoughts turned to Patrick. If anyone had an explanation of what happened to him, it would be the Italian. He studied everyone’s character notes every night. If there was an explanation at all, he would have it, with him, at Dreng’s Rest. James sighed as he realized how far the village was from The Outpost. It would be a while before he got answers, as going back to Dreng’s Rest was not a priority at the moment. His builder’s interface and the unique building attributes it granted was just too valuable.
James put his attention back into his map overlay. The Outpost was broken down into four quadrants. The North West quadrant was were James was located. It held the Perterburs Keep, its excessively large lawn, and a couple of farms. He hadn’t got the chance to check on the farms yet, but he wasn’t really in a rush to do so, mostly because he could smell the manure from where he was.
James crinkled his nose, where do we even get manure from? Now that thought excited him. The Martyr’s are mostly hunters and gatherers, he thought, but they know way more about the growth possibilities in the Great Savanna than whoever farmed here previously.
Images of discovering better farming techniques, growing plants that could talk, and harvesting rare and colorful fruit flashed. James smiled at the possibilities. With the Martyr’s expertise in the natural, he could breath new life into those small farms, and maybe even his stagnant cooking skill. Maybe not talking plants, he reasoned with himself, but deep down he held out hope. Migrating blue plants were already a thing, why not talking ones too?
Before he moved on to studying the other quadrants of his new city, James wanted to do one thing. He navigated to the name that floated over the Perterber’s Keep from his bird’s eye view and changed it. To keep it simple, the Main Keep in the North East quadrant would retain its name, and this one will be called the…
Auxiliary Keep - A heavily enforced Keep capable of containing medium-sized creatures. Additional protections may be needed for larger, or smarter creatures.
Contained Within - One Hedgemon Consort
Abilities Granted - Exchange 100 food for one Hedgemon worker.
“Well now,” James said to himself as he looked to the direction Alex and Michael had run off to, “they are going to wish they saw this.” A prompt appeared.
Exchange 100 food for 1 Hedgemon Worker?
James smiled and nodded with much more enthusiasm than required. Then he noticed the number in the upper portion of his overlay that signified his food stores drop by 100 points. Luckily, the Hedgemons didn’t destroy the city’s reserves. He had more than enough food left, and with his relatively low population count, that food would last him at least a few months. James felt a pleasant feeling wash over him. It was followed by a soft glow of golden light that beamed out of the Auxiliary Keep’s windows. James ran forward and looked inside.
The spike-backed Hedgemon Consort was waving his short arms around, whirling the golden glow in the air and coercing it into a slimy egg at its feet. When the spell completed, the egg wiggled against the dry hay on the floor and cracked. A ball of golden scales rolled out, opened, and a small mouth protruded. It let out a soft whine as it gulped in the golden magic that still lingered. As it did so, it grew. Larger and larger. Stubs became limbs and a neck sprouted from behind the drinking maw. Then the larger Consort turned, walked to the back of the Keep and laid down, careful not to bend any of its thin spikes off.
Interesting, James thought, it doesn’t look particularly upset. He told himself that if the Consort showed any signs of intelligence, or awareness other than that of a beast, then he would release it. He told himself that the ability to essentially create life out of thin air, and food, wasn’t worth becoming a slave owner. Realistically, he was glad he didn’t have to make that decision. The Consort seemed content.
The newly grown Hedgemon Worker did not, however. Intelligence glinted behind its eyes as they combed the inside of the Keep. James detached his gaze from the window and walked over to the door. He unbarred it and swung it open. The worker immediately greeted him. James's heart beat a tad faster than it did a minute ago, but the worker never attacked. It didn’t even move. James quickly closed the door and barred it. Stepping in front of the Worker, who met his eyes, James asked if it could talk. The Worker didn’t answer, so James brought up his interface. He was greeted by a prompt.
Please assign a dedicated living area for your Hedgemon Worker. If you do not assign one in the next day, one will be designated for you.
James selected a small plot of land next to East walls, that way the workers will always be close to where he assumed the most work would need to be done on a consistent basis. Then the Hedgemon worker walked away.
“Bye,” James said with a wave. He spent the next hour creating nineteen more workers. He ended up having to expand their living area into the adjacent plot, but other than that, the process went off without a hitch. The Consort never complained or roared, and it didn’t even try to use any magic abilities and bait him into attacking. In the end, James exchanged 2,000 units of food and barely made a dent in his reserves. Even though it would be a while before they needed to worry about eating, James was excited to dig into the farming process. He wondered if it would be a class or just a skill that he could pick up and grow when he had the time.
Later, though, he told himself. Right now he had to get a handle on what to do with the rest of the city.
The North East quadrant held the main keep. It was visible from almost every part of the Outpost; its dark metal fences jutted from the grey stone in was built upon. James could tell from afar that it was much larger than the Auxiliary Keep, and could probably house all the Martyrs and humans in his care. Seeing it on the horizon filled James with excitement. He would finally get to see a real castle, and he didn’t even have to save for years to afford a plane ticket. And yet, he refused to move into it. At least, he refused for the moment. It still made much more sense to camp near the wall that separated them from Thimber. But, as soon as the Outpost was secure, him and all his officers, at the very least, would be moving in.
Do I want everyone to live there? James thought. His head began to swim with the politics behind pecking orders and authority, but at the end of the day, he knew he wanted no part in that side of city management. Let’s leave that to Omero, he decided. Realistically, they had enough stone houses, rooms in the keep, regular cabins, and makeshift tents hidden inside alleyways, that everyone could take three of each.
What I really need is more soldiers to patrol the streets, James thought. Then he brought his eyes to the South East quadrant, right under the Main Keep. That quadrant held another neighborhood, much like the one that greeted James when he first visited The Outpost and met Abaddon in that tavern. Except these houses weren’t built on top of, and in between each other. They also seemed to be constructed with either stone or metal, only using wood as decoration. James inspected the buildings and discovered they were the same Human Cabins that he could build, just of a much higher level. He made a mental note to touch them, that way he might unlock the secrets to creating them.
The South East quadrant also held the newly assigned Hedgemon Worker plot. James couldn’t see any construction there yet but figured they would build their races equivalent of Oana Camp Silent Contemplation. He selected the occupied lots, and another menu popped open. He poked around for a bit to familiarize himself with his options, then found what he was looking for.
Would you like to upgrade Hedgemon Worker to Hedgemon Soldier?
Abilities Gained - Throw net and Bludgeons.
Cost - 200 food, a blunt weapon, and a throwing net.
James gave a mental nod. Surprisingly, it was followed by a success message. Did the Hedgemons we push back, drop their weapons? James wondered. That didn’t add up with what he knew about drop mechanics though. He knew that slain monsters didn’t merely drop the weapons they were using. When something died, it waiting around until it could be skinned, if that was an option, or it just disappeared, leaving behind a portion of everything it was carrying based on item and bag rarity. James upgraded five more Hedgemon workers and discovered that that was his limit. He only had a handful of the bludgeons and nets needed. They must have just dropped normally, James thought as he explored his builder's interface.
The South West quadrant was were James first entered The Outpost. It held the many buildings that housed the racist and battle weary humans that first greeted them. It was also home to the only Tavern James was aware of, and many various shops. The only thing to do in this quadrant was to get people to man the stores and different crafting labs. Torunn would no doubt take over the vine-covered Alchemy lab when he had the time, but that was only one profession out of many.
James added, ‘People and Profession’ management to his growing to-do list and let out a sigh, this time, of happiness. For once, he was enjoying the various tasks and projects that piled up all around him. He would certainly need to gather up his party of leaders and make sure nothing was falling through the cracks. As his thoughts fell upon Torunn, Michael, and Alex, he began to worry of Patrick again. Wondering where Patrick had gone, and if he was doing okay was a constant concern of his. Even when he was busy with other things, a portion of him was always with Patrick, wherever he was.
Suddenly, something clicked. Two plus two equaled four and James jumped. He quickly exited his interface and turned South East. Martyrs would be busy reinforcing the East walls. His party would be running around, making sure there are no other weak points to defend, and he just released five Hedgemon Soldiers into his city. There was no way anyone could know they were friendly!
James sprinted away from the Auxillary keep and the Consort it held, through its once manicured lawn, and down a small hill. He hopped the rickety wooden fence that surrounded one of the farms and ran through it. Jumping the fence on the other side, James found himself sprinting down a dirt rope that sloped downward. The rode eventually changed and became a cobblestone one. Now the Main Keep was on his left, looming over the entire Outpost. He could take the cobblestone path up and to the Keep, or he could continue running down the slope and to the South East quadrant. He chose the latter option and began to pass by large cabins. Their A-frames practically touched the ground and rose to high peaks, where smokeless chimneys protruded. He stole a glance between the cabins and found the East wall he was looking for. Turning down a side road, the entirety of the castle's walls opened up before him. Before, he could simple climb their rubble to get atop them, but now he would need to climb makeshift stairs to get there and see the thorny land that lay beyond. Birger was overseeing the work of other Martyrs and even a few of the humans that fought to free the city. He waved as James ran by, but it was the same moment the Hedgemon Soldiers came into view.
“What the…” James started, “Whhaaat.”
He expected to find the Soldiers patrolling the city and causing panic at the very least. Instead, they were seated against the wall, while their smaller counterparts shaded them from the sun with large pieces of wooden debris. James slowed to a stop and watched the strange race for a moment. They generally milled about peacefully, starting fires and exploring their small lot. But every now and then, one of the Soldier’s would bark something, and the workers would come running to do whatever the Soldier’s commanded.
“Now that is a clear pecking order,” James laughed to himself.
Birger caught up to him, “Hello James, how is everything?” The Martyr foreman followed James’s gaze, “Oh, them. I got a notification that I had new workers available, and then they arrived shortly after. I figured it was your doing, so when a few of them disappeared and came back with weapons, I figured that was your doing as well.”
“You were right,” James said before turning to his foreman and grasping his hand. The gesture was still strange to the Martyr, but by this point, it wasn’t entirely foreign. Besides, it was nice to be able to grasp a Martyr's hand as equals, so James kept his Earth method of introduction alive. “How is construction going?”
“It is going well,” the foreman started, “I have already put some of the Hedgemon’s to work, but it won’t let me take all of them. I think they have some sort of cultural limitation. For every soldier we have, we need two workers to attend to their needs. From what I was able to tell from before you got here, it seems entirely unnecessary. The workers don’t do anything that the soldiers can’t do for themselves. It is completely for show or a respect thing, but regardless, we only have ten Hedgemon workers available.”
“Hmm,” James said, “is there any way around it?” As he spoke, the Hedgemon Soldiers stood, gathered their weapons, and formed up in front of him.
Birger shrugged his massive shoulders as he regarded the creatures from the corner of his eye.
“Patrol the city,” James commanded on a hunch, and the Soldier’s headed out, followed by two Hedgemon Workers each. James turned to his foreman, “That’s fine. It just means we will use more food than I had thought, but it still shouldn’t be a problem. How many more workers do you need?”
“Ten will do for now. I need to train another foreman before I can manage more workers anyway. Besides, the wall is nearly complete, and we don’t have any building quests after this one.”
“You probably will by the time you finish here.” James said, “Good job by the way. You finished this wall extremely fast. What will its boon be, by the way?”
“The reinforcements you have requested will add a hardened feature. The wall will now be more resistant to blunt attacks, which we think is how the Hedgemons got in - by repeatedly smashing up against the gate with large numbers.”
“Excellent, Birger, thanks again. By chance, have you seen Michael and Alex? They said they were heading this way.”
Birger shook his head, “Yes, they went to that castle up there not too long ago, along with Torunn.”
Damn, James thought as he shook Birger’s hand once again, just missed them.