A foot nudged Michael awake. A foot that was attached to a very cranky voice.
“Get up. Sleeping out under the stars like a child. Be grateful it is still warm.” Nizhoni nudged him again. “Come on. Its nearly dawn. Get up!”
Michael groaned and rolled away from the offending foot. He sat up and shook his head, trying to clear it from the fog of sleep. He looked around and saw Nizhoni standing over him, barely visible in faint light from the stars.
‘Nearly dawn my ass! It’s pitch black out here.’
“Come. You must bathe, and you’ll want to get there before the rush. Here carry this.” She unceremoniously dumped a bundle of hide and sticks in his arms, that weighed a lot more than it looked. Then she abruptly turned on her heel and started walking towards the river.
‘Man, that is one cranky grandma’ Michael lamented to himself. But he was up now, so there was little else to do but follow her down to the river.
When they got there, Nizhoni directed him on how to string up what he found out was a modesty curtain. The males would bathe on one side and the women on the other. It barely stretched ten feet or so into the water, so it wasn’t exactly a perfect solution. More of a visual deterrent he guessed.
Of course to plant the curtain in the water he had to disrobe. In front of Nizhoni. When he pointed out the irony she simply retorted, “I’m too old to give a damn, and it’s not like I haven’t seen all you got to offer. Hell, everyone in the village has seen all you got to offer. Now quit yapping like a coyote and hang that damn curtain.”
These people were so strange. Last night a dozen couples had paired off and their enthusiasm could be heard by anyone listening while the elders just smiled. But here they demanded a completely ineffective privacy screen. Either these people had some sort of radical and weird culture, or Nizhoni was just messing with him.
He glanced over at the spirit guide, and could have sworn he saw a flicker of a smile in the predawn haze, but he couldn’t be sure.
With the screen up, and Michael already in the buff, he grabbed a handful of the grease they used as soap and went to town. His skin was barely recovered from the last bath he had, and after just a quick rub down had begun to redden even further. A promise of discomfort to come.
He quickly dressed and looked around for Nizhoni, but he saw her dress hanging from the curtain. He considered returning the peek, but quickly decided against it. Some things cannot be unseen.
She finished quickly and dressed before his thoughts could wander too far, and gathered him up and began marching him back towards the village. On the way back they passed the “rush” she had mentioned. Half a dozen yawning people rubbing sleep out of their eyes and stumbling their way to the river.
“What are your plans for today Michael?” Nizhoni asked as they trudged briskly back to the camp, far too awake for this ungodly hour.
“I thought, with the elders permission, I would ask some of the hunters to teach me their weapons. I left my stick back in the spiders forest.”
Nizhoni slowed and studied him with an obvious air of approval. “I’m sure there are several hunters who would be glad to teach you. It's good to know that you can seek wisdom from others when it suits your purpose. Now if we could just teach you to apply that lesson to all of your life.”
Michael rolled his eyes. He had really done nothing except ask for some clothes and get his ass kicked by some seriously juiced up spiders. It must be Nizhoni’s personality to treat everyone as if they were a petulant child. The fact that she was not far wrong, was just an extra jab in the side.
They walked together through the village and came to the campfire. There was a large bowl suspended above the coals already simmering away with more of the soup. It appeared to be whatever was left over from last night plus some water and herbs, but it was actually really good.
Michael was grateful that this was a video game instead of real life. The development team had obviously thought that the game mechanics were grueling enough, it was probably too much to ask that players put up with shitty food.
The camp around them slowly came to life. People crawling out of tents and wandering off towards the river to perform their morning routine. Several children ran straight for the soup and were chased off by Nizhoni and several other women elders until they had washed their hands.
The hunters were a little slower to rise than the women, which surprised Michael. He asked Nizhoni, and she explained that while the hunters were usually out before dawn tracking game, feast night was an exception and the alcohol had messed everyone’s schedule up.
Her speech was punctuated with a man barely old enough to hold a bow, releasing the contents of his stomach back into the wild. The elders near the campfire all chuckled at the poor boy, and nudged each other talking of times when they were that young.
“Michael, this is Chayton. He is one of our best hunters. He will be teaching you today.” Nizhoni said gesturing to the tall man she had called over.
“Well met. Happy to teach what I know, but your skill is obvious” Chayton said. His eyes wandered over to the speared spider queen’s head on display next to the campire. “Our hunters have been after that trophy for a decade.”
Michael grasped the mans arm in their version of a hand shake. It was like grabbing a piece of driftwood. The man was built like an olympic cross country runner, and it was intimidating as hell. “I was just motivated and got lucky. I freely admit I know nothing about weapons, and am eager to learn.”
Chayton’s face split into a wide grin. “Then let us learn from each other!” He hefted his spear, nodded his head to Nizhoni, and led Michael away from the village. He followed the hunter into the same field where just the previous day he had walked naked to his death.
It was a little surreal.
Chayton led him to a spot on the north side of the clearing where some logs had been arranged in a circle, and several hunters were chatting. “These are some of our best hunters” he said gesturing to the gathered men.
“Peyak is the best with the bow. Nebi is great tracker, and Doshan is going to teach you clubs.”
The men nodded in turn. Peyak and Nebi both shared Chayton’s lithe frame and complete lack of body fat, but Doshan was half again as wide as everyone else. The man was a veritable mountain, but his handshake was surprisingly gentle and his smile seemed genuine.
“We will begin with the spear” Chayton said, handing the the five foot pole to Michael. Unlike the spears he had seen before though, these weapons had been topped with sharpened stone forming a blade of sorts. Michael rolled the spear in his hands getting used to the feel of it.
It was heavier than he expected, and the stone weight on the end shifted the balance forward. Knots dotted the shaft and while the tip was straight, the base of the shaft was curved and thicker. Using the primitive tools of the locals, this was probably the pinnacle of weapons technology, but Michael could see some serious room for improvement. He was surprised when a prompt appeared as he inspected it.
A spear crudely built by the hunters of Dren. Off balance and brittle, it still better than no weapon at all. Remember, pointy end goes into the other guy.
Michael chuckled at the snarky description.
“The spear is the hunters greatest and most versatile weapon,” Chayton said holding his own reverently. Several snickers emanated from the other hunters seated and watching. Chayton glanced over at them, and pointedly ignored it. “Some may disagree, but I intend on showing you the truth of my words.”
“A hunters greatest advantage is his reach. Unlike the club or bow, the spear allows a hunter to adjust his reach.” He slid his hands down to the base of the spear. Spinning on his forward foot, Chayton thrust the spear, turning his body and extending the spear its full length from his body.
Pivoting again, he drew the spear back and grabbed it near the head. He jabbed the air in front of him as if fighting off a horde of enemies that were closing on him. His movements were smooth and graceful, as he spun the blade, whirling, stabbing, and slashing at speeds that pushed the limit of the human form. He ended the impressive demonstration with full mid range spinning block to shove back his imaginary foes and a final long range thrust; standing on one foot, arm and spear extended.
Michael was agape at the raw dexterity and agile grace of the hunter. He glanced over to the others and they just looked on passively, unimpressed by the recent display of athleticism. Either this was not the first time they had seen the demonstration, or they were simply not programmed for awe.
“With a spear in your hands, you will be a formidable hunter Michael. Come. Let us see how you wield the weapon,” Chayton said gesturing to the empty space.
Michael was grinning like an idiot. He gripped the spear tight and made several thrusts, both short and long range attempting to emulate some of Chayton’s moves. Chayton corrected his form a few times, making him choke up on his grip for some thrusts and adjusting the position of his feet for others.
He kept his form simple, relying on basic thrusts and defensive moves. He began to feel comfortable with the weapon, but something was off.
As Chayton corrected his grip on one of the short thrusts, Michael began to realize that he was not happy about the idea of fighting anything in such close proximity. The spear was indeed a mighty weapon, but he was not. There were many creatures in the world that could easily best him in reaction time and sheer speed. No. Using close or mid range weapons was not going to be his ideal scenario.
Of course he still paid very close attention to Chayton’s instructions. You never know when your only recourse would be a broken spear in the middle of a webbed forest.
When Chayton was satisfied that Michael was capable of holding the spear without stabbing himself in the eye, he nodded. “The spear is a weapon that must be mastered over a lifetime. You have begun your study, but still have much to learn. Practice hard, practice well.”
You have learned a new weapon: Spears.
A malleable mid range weapon for the graceful hunter.
Michael studied the prompt. He had gone from not having the skill at all, to being level two in just an hour. So there were trainers in the game, and it appeared that theory and practice could pay off dividends in spades. Michael dismissed the prompt with a blink, and filed the information away for later.
Chayton then turned on his heel and sat down near the other hunters. Doshan stood next. His towering frame and bulging muscles, standing out in comparison to the other hunters. His catcher's-mitt sized hands held a long handled hardwood club, that featured a smooth river stone head wedged into the top. It looked normal sized sized in his hands, but when he handed it to Michael it was much heavier than he anticipated.
Michael could barely get his hands around the wrist thick haft, and the head weighed as much as the entire handle of the club. The balance was terrible. It reminded him more of a sledgehammer than a weapon.
Crude War Club
A primitive club built by the hunters of Dren.
An inelegant weapon, from an uncivilised age.
“The club is a simple weapon that relies more on the speed and strength of the hunter, than technique,” Doshan rumbled. “There are no fancy dancing moves to study. Practice is king of the club. Defend.”
‘Defend?’ Michael thought briefly. His eyes widened as Doshan’s club sailed straight for his head.
Michael ducked, throwing himself backward in a panicked scramble to avoid the blow. Doshan followed the swing up with a kick to the ribs that sent Michael tumbling.
His breath blew from his lungs like a popped balloon, and black spots exploded across his vision. He stumbled to his feet, and glared through watering eyes at the mountain currently holding a club and waiting patiently.
“What the hell was that?!” Michael gasped.
“That was me attacking you. You must not have been ready. Prepare.” Doshan rumbled.
Michael barely had time to react, as the mountain blurred across the field, club screaming at his head. He was able to get the club up between his head and the swing, but the force behind the blow smashed his own club into the side of his face as if it was being held by a toddler.
Once again Michael went tumbling across the field, struggling to keep consciousness. This time Doshan chased him, winding up his club for a second blow.
Michael threw his momentum into the roll, taking himself out of range before his brains were relocated to outside its cage. His roll brought him up to his feet, and rather than retreat even further, he launched himself at Doshan.
Michael saw Doshan’s gait falter for half a second, as he wound up for a swing into his side. The mountain of a man shifted his weight and brought his step up short, allowing Michael’s swing to pass by harmlessly by.
Michael braced himself for the blow that landed in almost slow motion across his back. He felt several bones snap, and his body lost all control. The pain was excruciating. From his ribs and up, he was a mass of fire and shattered bones grinding against his nerves.
His body tried to black out and his mind screamed at him to just let go and embrace the darkness swimming around the edges of his vision. He sucked in a deep breath, trying to force himself to stay conscious. His chest rattled and he coughed in reflex, blood dribbling from his mouth. He glanced at his health bar.
Effects: Broken bones(-1/s), Internal bleeding(-1/s), Incapacitated(-1/s), Critical wound(-2/s)
You have suffered a critical hit and are suffering from multiple injuries. You have been incapacitated and are dying, losing -5hp/sec until stabilized or dead.
You are dying, and it’s gonna hurt the whole time. Better do something fast.
Michael blinked back the darkness, and scrambled to cast heal on himself. He was surrounded by a glowing nimbus, as his spirit power bar emptied. He held back on most of the crackling energy swirling in his chest, allowing only enough through to clear his negative effects.
He screamed as his bones ground through his lacerated organs and knit themselves back together. A million fire ants bit his lungs and several other unnamed organs, as they sealed shut and stopped bleeding. His lower body suddenly came back online, as his spine snapped back into place.
Suddenly his agony disappeared to be replaced by a dull whole body ache of the recently smashed and bruised. Michael drew a deep, mostly pain free, breath. He opened his eyes to a spear and arrow in his face. The weapons were wielded by Chayton and Peyak, who’s faces were twisted into snarls of rage. Michael glanced around and saw one of the hunters was sprinting full tilt back to the village.
Michael blinked and raised his hands slowly. “What the hell guys? Doshan nearly killed me, and you’re trying to finish me off?"
Chayton’s teeth bared as he pressed the flint headed spear deeper into Michael’s neck, drawing blood and cutting into his airway. Michael knew he couldn’t die permanently, but no one informed his amygdala as it spewed adrenaline and fear into his system like a firehose.
“Silence monster! The spirit guide will be here soon, and I will personally enjoy ripping your heart from your chest.”
‘Oh shit! Magic is bad, and they fucking saw me. Crapbaskets.’
He thought about trying to talk them down, but the spear was already about to separate his head from his shoulders; so he figured silence was the better part of valor.
He didn’t have to wait long. Nizhoni came jogging up huffing and puffing, followed by quickly by Nebi.
“Chayton! Remove your spear from the hero, immediately” she barked.
“Spirit guide, this monster used magic.”
Nizhoni slowed to a brisk walk and got right up in Chaytons face. It was quite a sight, with the elderly five foot woman glaring up at the ripped six foot hunter.
“I said remove. Your. Spear.” Nizhoni gritted.
Chayton shifted his glance to her and saw her rage. Tiny old woman or not, she commanded respect and Chayton blinked. The spear slowly withdrew from Michael’s throat.
“I am well aware of his... taint. He told me it was a gift granted by the goddess Sara. This was after I sent him to his death and he returned with the head of the spider queen. Did you forget that little tidbit? The man who avenged your father?”
Chayton stayed silent, glaring at Michael, but took a small step back. Nizhoni shifted her glare to Peyak, who immediately lowered his bow and stepped back as well.
Her eyes landed on Michael. “What did you do? I specifically warned you against showing your... gift.”
Michael rubbed at the bleeding scratch at his throat and checked his health, glad to see it was holding steady at seven. “Doshan and I were training with clubs. He hit me. Hard. He broke my spine, ribs and ruptured several of my organs. I needed to heal myself before I died.”
Nizhoni whirled on the man, who unconsciously took a step back as he grimaced.
“You tried to kill him? Where is your honor? You took a man, admittedly a novice, to train under you and you tried to kill him?!” Nizhoni shook with rage, and her voice ended in a scream. “Why would you… nevermind. It matters not. Doshan, you will be judged by the elders later. Go to the fire and wait there for me.”
Doshan opened his mouth to argue, but Nizhoni’s stare could freeze the sun. Instead he simply nodded and turned to walk back to the camp.
She turned to the rest of the hunters, “All of you. Go.”
“Spirit guide, it is not wise to leave you with such a man. He is tainted and could harm you” Peyak said. “I should stay here.”
“When I want your opinion, I’ll take out my teat and feed it to you. You will do as your told and you will do it now, or I shall be deciding on your honor tonight as well.” She growled at the man. “Leave your bow if that gives your ego rest.”
Peyak nodded and handed her the weapon and quiver, which she slung with a practiced ease. The trio of hunters then all turned and jogged back to the village, only Chayton glancing back over his shoulder.
Nizhoni turned to Michael. “I warned you, foolish boy. The forces you meddle with are beyond your ken, and the villagers are afraid. Rightfully so. Honestly, I’m shocked I got here before they gutted you like a deer.”
“I had to do something, I was dying. What else could I do?”
“I don’t know. Anything but that.” Nizhoni blew out a breath and eyed him from the corner of her gaze. “You cannot stay hero. My words carry weight, but soon the whole village will know of your gift and they will come seeking blood. I cannot protect you.”
Michael nodded sadly. He had hoped to learn more about the systems of magic and weapons of this world, but Sara had specifically told him to care for her people. Going to war with them seemed counterintuitive.
Nizhoni handed him the bow she had commanded from Peyak. “Twice my tribe has brought shame on itself. First with my folly, and then with Doshan. Twice you have proven yourself to us. There is no gift that I can give that will restore our honor, but the least I can do is give you this. It’s a good weapon and will serve you well. If I were you hero, I would follow the stream east of here upstream. It wanders north through the forest and joins a larger river at the plains where the tribes gather. Near the large tribe I spoke of earlier. I doubt they number in the thousands as the rumors say, but all rumors begin in truth, so there must be a tribe there.”
A crude bow of hardwood and animal tendon. Crafted by the Hunters of Dren and gifted to Michael from Nizhoni.
A gift from spirit guide Nizhoni, as apology for almost beating you to death. Perhaps long range is a good idea.
Bonus: Charisma +1
Show to other members of Nizhoni’s tribe and they will recognize it as friendly.
Michael nodded and accepted the bow and quiver full of arrows gracefully. “Thank you spirit guide.”
“A word of caution hero, our hunters are strong and we keep most predators at bay, but as you head north you will come across them. Be careful. Your strategy of blocking clubs with your body may not serve you well” she snickered.
He rolled his eyes. “Thanks. I’ll try to remember that.” Michael went to sling the bow over his shoulder, but it something pinched. He reached up and adjusted the necklace he had looted in the forest, then a thought struck him. He pulled it off.
“Spirit Guide, I found this on a corpse in the forest. It seemed like it was on a small girl. You should give it back to her family.”
Nizhoni took the necklace and inspected it. “I shall make sure it is returned. No one will thank you right now, so please accept my thanks in their stead. You honor our tribe, and we are in your debt. Fare you well Michael. I hope we meet again.” Nizhoni said, with some sadness in her voice. She promptly turned and walked back towards the village.
Michael watched her go for a minute and then studied the terrain. He needed to get to the river on the east side of the village, but was in the field to the west. Crossing the village was out of the question, so he put the sun on his left shoulder and studied the forest to the north.
The good news was that there was nothing obvious like spider’s webs or signs that read ‘Warning: bears’. The bad news was that absolutely anything could be out there. It’s not like he had much choice though, so he set off towards the tree line.
He had only walked a couple of yards when he noticed a faint blinking on the side of his vision. Strange, his prompts had never minimized before. He pulled it up with a thought.
You have increased your reputation with Nizhoni’s tribe.
You have allied yourself with Nizhoni’s tribe of hunters in Dren, but their fear and superstition have caused you to leave the village before you cause a problem. You should find other tribes in the area and see if they need any help.
Someone really needs to help these poor people. Superstitious and lacking in technology, someone with a creative mind could do a lot of good here.
Michael blinked the prompt away. He wondered why it didn’t pop up immediately.
‘Maybe it sensed I was in an important conversation and kept hidden. Or that was just a really immersive cutscene.’
He shrugged, resolving to keep an eye on his UI from now on. He didn’t want to miss anything. Walking to the tree line only took him a few minutes, and he turned back to look at the village with their grass huts. Sure they were a simple people, but they weren’t that bad. If nothing else, that was by far the most immersive and natural feeling starting area he had ever been in.
Michael turned and headed northeast into the forest. The sun was starting to get low and he wanted to find shelter before it got too dark.
‘Time to grind!’