Noma’s small frame burst through the heavy doors of the Grey Keep two weeks later, followed by his Hedgemon Escorts, Salmaana, and Omero. James wasn’t sure when the Soul Merchant would arrive, but Alex had assured him that he would handle the arrival when the day came. The veteran had dubbed himself the City Captain, and recited some line about leading from the front, right before he moved into the Soldier’s quarters to be with his people. James didn’t mind, it meant that the entire castle was left to him and Michael, and besides, Alex was a great leader of the Hedgemon’s and was able to teach them an assortment of commands, including escorting esteemed guests directly through the Quarter of Commerce’s many roads and to the Grey Keep.
Torunn had returned to The Great Savanna to be with his sister during her birthing after The Outpost was fully reinforced. Afterward, he would return to Dreng’s Rest to debrief his Advisor. James had offered to build the Martyr’s their own area within the City, but he said his race would never be a fan of giant walls, and if he ever did need to sleep in the City, he would find a quiet spot on one of the farms. As far as reinforcements went, Birger had said the only other things they could do to improve their defenses would be to craft better weapons and get someone to carve statues. He did not think that the city walls would fall to Hedgemon’s again, mainly due to the Hardened feature granted by James’s Builder’s Interface, but also because we had mages. The humans that inhabited The Outpost didn’t like the company of anyone with a mastery, and hence, were sorely lacking in everything but the physical damage department. Coincidentally, the Hedgemons were the type of enemy you definitely didn’t want to fight hand to hand.
Between leveling his Leatherworking skill and commissioning another Advanced Training Area, James had constructed a Sculptor’s Hovel and even found someone to manage it. Alex wasn’t happy to let one of his human soldiers out of training early every day, but James was able to persuade him. The crafter/soldier was able to carve two very impressive statues that would be unveiled at the ceremony James was planning. Its purpose would be to mark the official success of re-taking The Outpost and also to show respect to those that fought to take it, and those that fought and failed, to defend it in the past.
James wasn’t sure how honoring the humans that locked Sorrell and other Perturbers away would make people feel, but it would be done regardless. Politics aside, the statue carver explained that his Hovel contained two gems. He said that the building would collect the essence of ‘great occasions,’ and that he would be able to socket said gems into the statue. The finished product was something many levels above what he could craft under normal circumstances. When James asked, the carver also said he believed Patrick must have had one of the same gems when he carved the statue of the Legendary Chieftain. So regardless of politics, James would allow such a statue to be crafted. He wanted his City to the strongest as possible, and he would honor those that lived here before him if it helped the cause.
“Welcome!” James said with his leather covered arms outstretched. He stepped away from the tanning racks he was positioning in one of the dwindling sunbeams and greeting everyone with a hug. He motioned to one of the many stone thrones and took a seat himself.
“Congratulations on finally unlocking the secrets of trade,” Noma began, “I am sorry I wasn’t able to show you the ropes sooner,” he gestured to Sorrell’s bone figure, “we have had other pressing concerns.”
“That is okay,” James said with a raised brow, “How is everything at Dreng’s Rest? Are these concerns anything I need to be aware of?”
“Yes-,” Sorrell began but was cut off when Noma held up a small greenish-brown hand. Her animated mandibles formed an angry scowl.
“They are, but I would prefer if you pointed me in the direction of my trade caravan. There is a long journey ahead of me, and I am eager to train one of your escorts in the art of the merchant, that way you don’t need to rely on me,” Noma stated as he stood.
“Uh, of course!” James said, hesitantly standing as well, “One thing before you go. How come the other merchants at Dreng’s Rest refused my quest?”
Noma nodded, “The quest reward was Town Standing points. They assumed that those points held no value, and they wouldn’t because you don’t have someone with the Aristocrat class.”
“Well, at least you didn’t,” Omero interjected with a bow, “I earned the class on the journey here. It will allow me to set up a system for your points. But,” he motioned to Noma, “we can discuss that later.”
James got the point and had a Hedgemon Soldier escort Noma to the Trade Caravan stationed in the Quarter of Commerce. After a rushed goodbye, Noma left as quickly as he came.
“Sorry about that,” Sorrell apologized, “he has been weird ever since he heard the news about Patrick. He respawned ya know!”
James's eyes darted to her sockets.
“Yup,” she explained in her uncomfortably upbeat tone, “He destroyed half the Chieftain's Hut as he did so. Attacked Frode’s apprentices too, before he ran away.”
“So he is a Golem then, for sure,” James mumbled. The resulting silence was the only answer he needed. “Any clue as to why he is a Golem, or how we can free him?”
Omero looked to Sorrell, who looked down that hallway Noma had just departed, “No.”
James took a moment to compose himself. It took longer than he would have liked, especially when you considered that the new information didn’t change his plan. The Martyrs would search the Savanna for Patrick, and when he could spare enough soldiers, they would search Thimber and the lands beyond for their friend. “So Frode has apprentices,” James finally asked.
“Yes!” Sorrell said, the jolly undertones in her voice returning, “It was a surprise to all of us I think. They train alongside him practically all day,” she leaned in closer, “its a terrible apprenticeship if you ask me.”
“Interesting,” James said, “I would very much like to see Frode and his apprentices again. I think I would have accepted the job if he offered it to me.”
Sorrell shrugged her shoulder sockets, and Omero gave a confused nod of agreement.
“So,” the Italian began, “how is everything going here?”
“Omero,” James gave a small smile, “we have a ton of work to do.”
Sorrell stood up, “Well, I will let you men get to your work,” she pointed upstairs to the internal balcony and all the rooms situated on the upper floors, “which room is yours?”
James had a hunch that the woman was up to no good, so he pointed to the room his brother had claimed. Then James directed her to the door that hid the stairs, and she was gone, her hard bones clinking against the grey marble as she walked.
The beams of light that once shown down upon James’s Leatherworking stands moved considerably as he and Omero discussed what they wanted the purpose of Town Standing points to be. By the time they finally settled on a solution, it was night. The Town Standing points were to be used as a type of currency. Citizens of The Outpost could get them from various quests. James would work with city leaders to set up quest boards in each quadrant of the city. The crafting quest board would be placed in the Quarter of Commerce, and Omero would manage it. The board that would offer fighting and bounty-related quests would be placed in the Soldier’s Quarter, and maintained by Alex. A high-level quest board would be set outside the gates of the Grey Keep, and would be overseen by all the town leaders. The final quest board would be found in the Farmer’s Quarter and would offer farming and Great Savanna related quests from Torunn.
Every shop, tavern, hall or food stand would accept Town Standing points as currency, and there would also be storage houses where citizens could rent or claim widespread items for cheap. These storehouses were where most of the crafted goods were held so far, as none of the humans that claimed a shop wanted to waste their time selling common items. The storage houses also contained raw materials for crafters and were stationed alongside main roads, that way they can be replenished easily when trade caravans arrived.
“Well,” James announced, “That is enough for today. I want to be well rested for the ceremony tomorrow.”
The two walked up the marble stairs together and parted with a goodnight as the reached the second floor. James entered his room. It was quaint and quite drafty, but that didn’t bother James when he was inside his pile of furs. Sleep took him quickly.
An hour later, James was awoken by the screams of his brother Michael.
“You’re not James!” Sorrel complained, her voice echoing across the balconies that overlooked the throne room and separated them.
Gotchya, James thought with a smile, before falling back asleep.
“FORM UP!” Torunn’s voice called from the marble courtyard outside the Grey Keep. Martyrs and human soldiers alike ran into position in front of the Chieftain and fell to a knee. Beside the Martyr Leader, where the human leaders: Alex, Michael, and James. James could see Alex’s face flash with a hint of jealousy over Torunn’s controller class abilities. The Chieftain merely had to give a command, and it had to be followed, regardless of what the person wanted. Alex, however, needed to rely on old-fashioned leadership qualities such as building rapport and being the strongest person with the best ideas.
Behind James were two statues, both covered in Ingo skins. Behind them, was the doors of the Grey Keep, and behind that, the impassable mountains and the marble quarry that ate into them. In front of James, the soldier knelt. Behind them were the various non-combatant citizens, all seated on sturdy wooden chairs. Past them, the entirety of The Outpost stretched before them, and then, The Great Savanna lead the way to the horizon. The city was quiet, as everyone that lived in it was currently present at the ceremony.
“Today we celebrate,” Torunn boomed for all to hear over the wind. “We celebrate our victory over the Hedgemon’s, and we celebrate the sacrifices of those that stood this city up, and protected it for many years afterward. Today we celebrate a new age! An age of peace and prosperity, and more importantly,” he raised his voice even louder, “an age were we have PLENTY OF SPACE!”
The Martyrs present exploded into hoots of agreement. Their unbridled joy at never having to be caged behind any walls other than the impassable mountains washed over the entire Savanna.
Torunn held a hand up, and the Martyrs quieted, but it was still another minute before the cacophony of echoes puttered out. “All of you here fought honorably. I am proud of the way our two races came together for a common cause. Each and everyone one of you had your part to play in that, no matter how small,” Torunn stepped forward and looked past the soldiers and into the small crowd of citizens, “and for that I am thankful. To show my appreciation, I will be doing something I should have done many moons ago…”
The Chieftain walked down the line of soldiers and stopped at one end, “I, Torunn, Chieftain of the Clan of Honor, Defender of the sole remaining members of the Martyr race, grant you, my mark,” he placed a finger on the chest of the first kneeling soldier. Then he repeated this process for all the humans in the line. When he was done, he returned to his position by James, “Marytrs!” he called out, “I encourage all of you to share your marks with the humans freely. Doing so will further cement our alliance and ensure our successful future.” Torunn stepped aside after a salute and gave a nod to James.
“Our prospects are growing,” James began, “we have fresh food, fresh water, and a safe home, but things are not all great.” He cleared his throat and let a somber silence bloom before he spoke again, “We have lost one of our own to something unknown. Our believed Patrick has been turned to a monster, and cannot be found.” James turned around and signaled the Sculptor. She pulled the skins from the statues, revealing a tall and lanky soldier. His face was gruff and hard, two attributes that carried across stone well. James had him modeled after the boisterous soldier he met in The Outpost, moments before he reached his final fate. The soldier carried a shield in one hand and a book in the other. As the ceremony inspected the statue, so did James.
Motivator of The Doomed - Falling below 20% health while in the city walls will supply you with a shield capable of blocking all damage from one attack. The shield prevents both magical and physical damage.
The next statue was a perfect replica of Patrick, in Golem form. It was modeled from extensive interviews with anyone that had caught sight of the red-head after he turned.
God of Stone - 10% of blunt damage taken is reflected back to the attacker. Only works for citizens of The Outpost.
“Let these statues serve to protect us in this world, and serve as a reminder for us Earth humans. Dangers do exist for us. Dangers that we cannot even begin to comprehend. We must remain watchful, and not grow cocky from our own immortality.”
After the ceremony, the majority of the city retired to Gill’s tavern. James took over his position at the bar and greeted everyone as family when they walked in. The tavern itself had been rebuilt to accommodate the larger size of adventurers and Martyrs, and it was even expanded enough to fit almost everyone inside at the same time. Multiple fireplaces crackled across the room, as did conversation. It was the first time everyone had been in the same area in a relaxed environment since Dreng’s Rest and the sound of everyone catch up was deafening.
“James!” a saucy voice rang out, causing him to turn.
“Oh,” he said as his eyes fell upon Sorrell, “Hi, need a drink?” James began to turn away so he could grab a mug, but a boney grasp gave him pause. The skeletal woman said something, but James could not hear it over the Tavern’s excited ambiance.
“It’s about Patrick!” she yelled. James's eyes widened, and he motioned for his brother to relieve him. He exited the bar and led Sorrell up the stairs and into one of the private rooms. He had expected the woman to have snarky remarks at the ready, but they never came, even when James closed the door behind them.
“What is it?” he asked as soon as the din from below was shut out. She didn’t reply. Instead, a tomb was thrust into his hands. He turned it over.
“Golems,” James said as he read the title out loud. Then he flipped to the front page.
Shunned by the other Gods, the Golem seeks strength. With an aptitude for the physical, he quickly finds that which he seeks. Once released upon this world, the Golem will…
The rest of the passage was marked with the same strange language Lorelai had attempted to translate before she went to train with Abaddon. “What is this?” James asked, the book held out accusingly, “This is about Patrick?”
Sorrell nodded again, all semblance of her uncomfortable flirtiness gone, “Yes, I think so.”
“Where did you get it?” James asked.
“The Ancient Library. When Lorelai arrived in the Undead Land, she brought it up at dinner. Her story about the library was intriguing enough for Abaddon to release us from our light magic research and grant us the quest to discover the purpose of the library. That was when we started the journey to Dreng’s Rest and discovered that The Outpost had fallen. Once everyone left to retake the city, I went through all the books. Every single one, bit by bit. The one in your hands is the only readable book out of the entire lot.”
James fell onto the bed, “We checked them all too, back when Lorelai was there.”
“That means its secrets were only revealed after Patrick transformed…” she said, “why?”
James let the silence between them grow, but inside his head, the noise was unbearable. Questions bounced around and off of statements. Emotions ran wild, attaching to possible answers in his head and fighting for dominance. None of them could win.
“I…” James muttered, shaking his head, “I don’t know.”
Later that night, James was awoken by his Hedgemon guards. They stood outside his door, the spikes on their backs scrapping against marble as they fidgeted under his gaze.
“What is it?” James asked, his tone a mixture of mental and physical exhaustion. As he spoke, they all turned as one and faced the stone archway that lead to the stairs. James ran back inside his room and grabbed his Abomminar skin. Wrapping it around his back, he allowed his guards to lead him into the night. They poured out of the Grey Keep and formed up just outside the door. James looked around. Where’s Alex? Then he saw it. The Statue of the Legendary Friend was gone.
Far across the Great Savanna and high up the Impassable Mountains, a Golem stirred. Weaker rocks were crushed under its feet as it climbed into its cave, carrying a replica of itself. The statue was set down with human levels of care. It gently rocked back and forth, until large hands steadied it. Those same hands fell upon the shoulders of the statue, then wrapped around its back. The statue crumbled under the inhumane pressure of the embrace, causing the Golem to stumble forward. It looked down to study the remnants still in his hands. Then, a howl of pain echoed from the cave and washed over The Great Savanna.