By the time James reached the dark iron gates of the Main Keep, every breathe came heavily. It was now clear to James that the Keep loomed over the rest of the city not only because its various towers reached into the sky, but because it was built at the highest altitude. In fact, only two sides of the square courtyard were fenced. The remaining two sides faced a sheer rock wall, a portion of the impassable mountains.
James swung a gate open with a screech that echoed and bounced off the grey marble below his feet. Half mined blocks of the resource could be seen peeking behind the castle’s walls, just waiting to be fully removed from the mountain.
“A marble quarry?” James asked himself as he walked toward the Keep’s heavy stone doors. When he pushed them open, a long hallway greeted him. Doors littered the side walls and wide columns held up what James guessed to be, at least three more floors of rooms. Ahead, he could see Torunn, Alex, and Michael all seated at the end of the hall, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to inspect the building. He bent a knee then placed one hand on the cold marble. His eyes closed to block out the light, but he could still feel its warmth cascading down from various domed windows and washing over his exposed skin. In contrast, the skin beneath his studded leather armor was cool, and a bit clammy. The feeling the marble gave his hand was the direct opposite. It was smooth, hard and warm in places where the sun reached it. It also held a fine layer of dust, but not the type that came from abandonment. This dust was a part of the stone, and it dried the dampness between James’s fingers as he touched it. And although the dust was present wherever there was marble, it did not linger in the air or have a noticeable smell. In fact, the air in the entire North East quadrant smelled crisper than the air below it. A prompt appeared, causing James to open his eyes. Michael was waving him over from further down the hall, but James ignored him for the moment.
You are not skilled enough in the Undead building style to learn this building.
“Damnit,” James said as he stood, and although he mouthed a curse, the information filled him with even more excitement than farming did. Sure, he couldn’t build a castle yet. But eventually he would be able to, and just maybe, he would be able to create something even better. He had a hard time imagining what that would be, but it was fun to do all the same.
“I thought you guys were going to help Birger?” James said as he joined his party. The long hallway ended with a throne of sorts. Tall, and somewhat uncomfortable looking stone chairs made up a half circle that faced the open hall to the Keep’s only entrance. They chairs touched the floor and were carved directly from a large block of marble, much like the majority of the Keep seemed to be.
“Eh,” Michael began to answer, “Birger said he didn’t need any help, so we followed Torunn up here. We figured you would either be too curious to stay away from this place, or Birger would point you in our direction anyway.”
James nodded. His brother was right. “Gotchya,” James said before looking to Torunn, “How are the Martyrs doing?”
Torunn’s lips parted, and his sharp teeth flashed. His lips continued to part until his smile reached his ears. Alex chuckled at the sight.
“What is it?” James asked.
“Lorelai and Helga are both having a litter!” Torunn practically howled.
James looked around blankly until the meaning of his game-brothers words hit him. They are pregnant?
“Wait what?” James said, “Isn’t Lorelai one of Freydis’s cubs and your sister? How is she old enough to-” James cut himself off. He had managed to ignore the finer points to Marytr reproduction ceremonies completely and had no desire to discover them now. ‘Never mind,” he said, “Just… congratulations, man.” James smiled, stood up from his stone throne, and embraced Torunn.
“Thank you, brother,” Torunn replied, “It is a great blessing. And now that the Savanna is safe and we control its only entrance, they will both be able to give birth the natural way.”
“Ha,” James said, “you mean by destroying everything around them in a fit of rage and pain?”
Torunn nodded, his smile refusing to fall.
“Well, good. That makes me happy,” James replied, matching Torunn’s smile.
Alex cleared his throat, “Well fellas, what's next? What the hell are we going to do with an entire city?”
Everyone laughed at the sheer enormity of possibilities laid out before them. Then all got quiet, and James felt questioning gazes fall upon him.
“Easy,” James said while making eye contact in turns, “We are going , and we are going to carve out a place in this world where others can do the same.”
Michael nodded, then asked, “How are these other people going to find us?”
James didn’t have an answer to that question, but luckily, Torunn did.
“Trade,” he growled, “We need to build up trade routes. They will connect us with the rest of the world.”
“How?” asked Alex. He fidgeted uncomfortably in his stone chair, before settling in an awaiting an answer.
James was already in his Builder’s Interface searching for answers. With an aerial view of the city, he located one of the small general stores in the South West quadrant and inspected it. A trading window appeared.
“I think I found it,” James said, “One second.”
He read over all the options and discovered that he could trade various goods from his shops and storage buildings to Dreng’s Rest. He was even able to see what the cozy village was capable of producing.
“Whoa,” James said, the words slipping from his mouth, “Apparently, everyone still at Dreng’s Rest have been busy. It makes sense I guess, as they were all elderly or non-combatants. They have been crafting a ton, and we can trade with them.” Admittedly, most of the items available for trade were only of uncommon quality and below, but it was a start. Left alone, Dreng’s Rest would be outputting high-quality gear in no time. Well, as long as they had the raw materials, James figured. He took a moment to compare the goods each settlement had available for trade, what they could produce, and then he attempted to set up a trade mission based on what each city needed. His interface split into two inventory lists, with an empty section in between that he could drag various items into. He took crafted goods and metal from Dreng’s Keep since that is what The Outpost was short on. In return, he took Marble and everyday essential items, like pots and pans, from The Outpost.
Would you like to make this Trade with Dreng’s Rest?
James nodded his head but was met with an error message.
Attention! You do not have a Merchant’s Caravan capable of transporting these goods.
James frowned, and experimented with the number of goods selected. It turned out that he initially put too much marble into the trade window. It would be impossible for the only merchant cart they had to carry so much weight, so he took it out. This time, a different error message appeared.
Attention! No merchants are available to oversee this transaction. Would you like to issue a quest to the closest merchant?
Quest Objective - Travel to The Outpost and oversee a trade with Dreng’s Rest.
Quest Reward - 50 Town Standing Points (The Outpost)
Well, well, James thought, these things again. He turned to Torunn and asked what he knew about town standing points.
“Traditionally, the clan used them to decide who gets the first pick of the meat from hunting trips, but I suspect they could be used for more. Dreng was not able to teach me that portion of leadership before he activated his Last Seed ability. At the time, there were more pressing concerns. Frode may have more information.”
James did his best to inspect every iteration of the words, “Town Standing Points” that he could find in his interface, but if there was more information, he didn’t have access to it. He set his questions aside and focused on trading once again. Before he released the quest to the nearest merchant, which was likely still in Dreng’s Rest, James searched for other places to trade with. The map in his builder’s interface wouldn’t expand beyond the walls of the city, but he did find a drop-down list under trade options. He probably wouldn’t have noticed it if he didn’t know that the merchants must have come from somewhere outside The Great Savanna. James wasn’t able to see what the new city option had available for trade, so he just put some of his items into the empty window and figured it would be up to the merchant to exchange the goods the best he could. He was relatively confident there would be an entire class dedicated to getting the best deal possible.
Would you like to make this Trade with Grelstead?
James had no idea what Grelstead was, but he was unconsciously aware of another human city that laid beyond the land he now knew as Thimber. It was where the previous inhabitants of The Outpost migrated from so long ago, and it was probably where the merchants at Dreng’s Keep started from. James nodded and was met with yet another error message.
Attention! This trip is dangerous. Assign guards to the trade caravan or risk your merchant's lives and the goods they carry. Would you like to assign guards?
James assigned all of his Hedgemon soldiers to the caravan, figuring he could always create more and watched as the percentage next to the words, “Trade Success Chance” change to ninety-five. He then released the quests to the merchants.
Vario has declined your mission.
Duston has declined your mission.
Congratulations! Noma has accepted your mission.
O f course Noma would be a merchant, James mused before clapping his hands and exiting his interface, “Good news everyone! Noma is on his way here!”
James could tell everyone’s thoughts immediately fell to Patrick, who was easily the Soul Merchants closest friend. They were all rather close, but the red-head held special connections with Noma and Little Patrick. James figured it was because he identified in some way with each of them. The “goblin” as Patrick once made the mistake of calling him, probably reminded the red-head of the difficulty he had growing up and who he was back on Earth. Little Patrick was as close to who Patrick was in the game, as their names were.
“Good,” Alex said, “it will be nice to see that little guy… but what does that have to do with trade?”
“Oh,” James said before apologizing and reciting everything he accomplished in his builder's interface. When he explained that the merchant cart had weight and other limits, Alex offered to try and forge a metal cart.
“That way,” he reasoned, “we will have one cart to make the long journey to Dreng’s Rest, and another, sturdier and larger cart, to brave the journey through Thimber.”
Everyone agreed that that was the second smartest thing Alex had ever said, right after his suggestion to capture the Hedgemon Consort.
“Oh, I meant to ask you,” Michael started as he turned to James. His brother was still slightly larger than him, but now that they were all finally around the same size as adult Martyrs, the size difference seemed normal. The only time the size difference was noticeable, was when walking into small cabins or when interacting with other humans that decided never to pick up a weapon. James always had to look down when talking to them. He always wondered if he should take a knee so he could look them in the eye, but couldn’t decide if they would get offended or not. The entire ordeal was awkward. Michael continued, “can you print out a bunch of maps to the city? I still haven’t been able to explore everything.”
“Yes,” James said leaning forward and poking the air, “Good call!” He opened the map of the city but paused before he printed anything. “I just had an idea. I think we should rename all the quadrants to something more helpful than their directions.” He printed out a copy for everyone to work from, and decided he would print out much more after the names were officially chosen.
“The North West quadrant holds the Auxillary Keep and the majority of our farms, along with a decent amount of trees we could harvest if we need,” Michael commented, “Why don’t we name it the Farmer’s Quarter?”
No objections rang, so James made the change.
“There are a lot of shops and houses only befitting your human cubs in the South West quadrant,” Torunn stated. James butted it to make sure Torunn understood that some of their elderly were very small, but that didn’t mean they were cubs. Torunn nodded, but everyone could tell from his face that he didn’t understand. It was Alex who figured out when Martyr’s say ‘cubs’ they just mean ‘small’ and not necessarily, ‘a baby.’ A few minutes were lost when everyone realized in wonder that the Martyrs didn’t even have a word for baby. “So, the South West quadrant,” Torunn started again, “Our small humans will live and craft there, so we should name it the Quarter of Commerce.”
No objections rang again, so James made the change.
They decided that the North East quadrant would be referred to as just, ‘The Grey Keep’ since it took up the majority of the quadrant anyway, and the South East quadrant would be named the ‘Soldier’s Quarter’ since it made sense for soldiers to live close to the wall they would have to defend and the houses there were larger to account for a soldiers stature. James printed out more than enough copies of the updated map for anyone that wanted one, whipped up a quick stew to eat, then concluded the meeting.