People forgot how important relaxing could be, Jim realised. Platinum Online had filled the last two days with more action and adventure than he’d had in his entire life. Sure, his real life had schoolyard brawls, drug busts, active shooters, bomb threats and other no-this-isn’t-a-drill moments every blue moon. But... over twenty-odd years of teaching, those fleeting moments of excitement only totalled a few hours when he stitched them together.
Now, Jim enjoyed the seemingly best time of his life... sort of… crippled body notwithstanding. He weighed in his mind the instant gratification for figuring out how to hunt rabbits against the slow burn that had been married life and fatherhood. As great a time he’d had so far in Platinum Online, it couldn’t really compare. Jim longed for the settled life and the loved ones he’d had in the real world. He longed to be with his daughter and to help her succeed. He longed for the impossible.
“Maybe I just need to give it time?” he asked himself. The two mercenary cousins that Jim had spent a single day with yesterday had given him a moment of friendship that Jim had lacked in his previous, busy life. It was all so depressing... or, it would have been if System hadn’t clamped his brain shut to overly negative feelings. Jim thought he should be thinking more about Tori. Evidently, most thoughts about her were too painful to make it through the filters the computer had imposed on him.
These thoughts, a mix of mild regret – for he could feel nothing stronger – and hope for where things would go, swirled, mixed and muddied Jim's mind until daybreak. The soft lightening of the sky slowly brought Jim out of his malaise. Jim vowed never to spend a night doing nothing again. It hurt too much, even with his stunted version of pain.
He stood but rose slowly. The extra point of strength from the boar hunt yesterday helped, but not much. Jim leaned on his staff and stretched out a little before going for a short walk. At the edge of the camp, Jim looked out along the path the caravan had travelled yesterday while he’d been engrossed in skinning and butchering the boar.
Jim hadn’t realised how far and how high they’d travelled. Stretched languorously out before him was a kilometres-long, gently-sloping, but treacherously narrow, valley that sprouted greener and greener as the trail climbed. The dirt path the mercenaries had escorted the caravan through snaked between hills in loops and curls. The feet of the mountain ranges that bracketed either side stuck out, tripped up the road and caused it to veer clumsily north and south at erratic intervals. Jim no longer wondered why Captain Jonathon wanted to traverse this place in full daylight. An ambush would have slain them to the last man, woman, and child.
Jim circled the outside of the camp, nodding to the unfamiliar sentries as he passed. The caravan had come to a stop immediately after the path levelled out. The path they travelled continued east, all the way to the horizon and the plateau was mostly meadows and plains for his entire field of vision. Only two directions deviated from the pattern: To the north-west, the plateau abruptly ended. Jim could see the ocean beyond and thought that the edge likely dropped off into rocks and waves. To the south, the mountains that had bracketed that side of the valley continued to rise, soaring above the clouds, their peaks capped with snow.
|You have discovered The Grand Plateau.|
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Alderman Andrew joined Jim. The elder lizardman made no noise; Jim would have to ask how he managed to move without creaking liked a wizened staircase.
“It’s ours, now. Not even the tyrant King could take this land from us.”
Jim looked down at the fertile ground beneath his feet.
“I can’t believe he would give up on such a productive area so easily.”
“He has no choice. This is ancestral Saurian land and, though few remain, the ancient protectors of our land will consume any who do not share their blood. Any more than a few hundred men will attract their wrath.”
The alderman clearly knew a lot about the lizardman lands. Jim tried out his conversation skill. He still felt that his attempts to extract information more closely resembled pulling teeth than skilful finesse.
“What do you know about The Grand Plateau?”
“Much that most do not.” The alderman paused for several seconds and Jim thought that his skill had failed, but the solemn tone that the alderman replied with showed Jim that he had just needed a moment to collect his thoughts.
“I was born here. I lived in a village to the north of the crossroads that we will pass later in the day. My father owned the sawmill. A great city lay to the east, though it was ruins populated by vagrants even then.”
“How did you come to be the leader of a refugee caravan?”
“The king’s grandfather. He came and took us as slaves. He burned much of the town and completely razed the city ruins. He took everything from me. From my people.”
“That must have been hard.”
“It was. As a young man, I dreamed of vengeance, of taking his family from him. By the time I was an adult with adult responsibilities, I dreamed only of owning my own sawmill, as my father had. I still dream of revenge, mind you, but the tyrant King is the only one left... I think I'll settle for my sawmill.”
Jim did not know what to say. The conversation skill was effective, but if he learned of such heart-rending stories every time, he’d never recover his state of mind.
“We’d best head back,” the Alderman said. “Captain Jonathon will want to move quickly. The end of our journey awaits.”
Jim joined Andrew and Captain Jonathon in the back of the lead wagon as the caravan got underway. Alderman Andrew retrieved a map from under his seat and rolled it out on the bed of the wagon. Jim hunched over, painfully, to look.
The yellowed, but clearly well-preserved, map matched both what Jim had observed and had been told. The plateau occupied the entire bottom half of the map and continued for perhaps thirty kilometres to the east and ten kilometres to each the north and the south of the path. Looking at the map, the southern mountains that Jim had seen earlier formed the border of The Grand Plateau zone and wound gradually to the east-south-east before veering to the north-west in the lower right corner. A smaller mountain range jutted out of the centre of the Eastern border of the zone, roughly in-line with the path they travelled along now, and extended almost as far as the crossroads the alderman had mentioned in the middle of the map. A river flowed from a high-point in the South-East section of the plateau and clung to the mountains, following the decreasing elevation to the North, off the plateau into the northern half of this zone, and out into the adjoining zone.
Alderman Andrew’s village appeared to be North of the plateau; the path he spoke of passed near the smaller mountain range before heading downhill to the North, then the West to avoid a steep decline. Alderman Andrew’s village was marked on the map at the end of the trail, not far from the ocean.
|You have obtained a map of The Grand Plateau. This map is old, and you will need to update it through exploration.|
“Once you escort us to these crossroads, we will be able to make the rest of the way on our own,” Alderman Andrew said.
“Do you intend to shelter in that city, there?” Captain Jonathon pointed at a city marker on the map. The city was located just East of the crossroads and just South of the small mountain range.
“Nothing of the city remains, but we do intend to build there.”
The two men spoke at length about securing the zone and Jim tried to enter their discussion with the conversation skill several times. He was unsuccessful and only learned things he had already learned from looking at the map.
After four hours of conversation and travel, the wagon stopped. A corporal came into the back of their wagon. They’d reached the crossroads. The three of them clambered down from the wagon.
“This is where we part ways, Alderman, but I have some surprising news. The men have agreed to your request.”
“And which request might that be?” A smile grew on the lizardman’s face.
“The men have had a change of heart, thanks to Mr Cartwright here. It seems that they would be willing to continue escorting refugee caravans out to The Grand Plateau. Corporal Langdon tells me that the fresh food did the trick.” Captain Jonathon smiled at Jim. “Furthermore, Corporal Langdon and his brother have told me they’d like to leave my service, provided you’ll have them.”
“Wonderful! That’s wonderful news, Captain.” The Alderman grasped Jonathon’s hand and shook it, vigourously. The captain appeared slightly taken aback but returned the shake with genuine friendship. “I realise how dangerous this must be for you and your men. You defy the King’s will, if not his law. Should you ever need to flee and seek refuge yourself, you are all welcome here.”
“I fear that these events will come to pass as you predict, but I do not think you are as safe here as you believe. The tyrant King will come. He always does.” The captain shook his head and turned away.
Jim aided the mercenaries and the refugees in separating and distributing supplies among their respective wagons. Jim and Alderman Andrew waved Captain Jonathon off and then, themselves, headed to separate wagons for the trip east into the meadow where an ancient lizard city once stood.
Jim returned to his wagon, where he greeted Vanessa. They spoke aimlessly of the trip and what the alderman may have planned for their village.
“Hello there, old man!” Jim looked up from his pleasant conversation to see Martin and Langdon jogging to keep pace with their wagon. The two men vaulted over the side and settled across from Jim and Vanessa.
“Hello there, miss,” Martin said courteously to Vanessa, “I’m Martin. I’m a friend of your father’s.”
Vanessa looked confused. Langdon looked between Jim and the girl and then at Martin.
“Haha! Martin!” Langdon clutched his sides and laughed deeply. “Are ya DAFT, mate? They’s not related.”
Jim fell into laughter, too, and started explaining. Vanessa hadn’t cared, as he’d suspected, but Martin pretended to be hurt at Jim’s earlier deception.
“How could ya, Jim?”
“You don’t need me, Martin! Try just having a conversation.”
Vanessa took a while to make up her mind about Martin’s unorthodox approach to courting, but, Jim thought, eventually came down on the side of polite, but genuine, interest in the young man.
While the two young idiots spoke with each other, Jim and Langdon spoke of more serious matters.
“Seems like we’ll be the only folk capable of defending a new town ‘round here, Jim. We’d best get some men together. I taught ya tactics yesterday, so ya ought to be able to lead ten men, that right?”
“Well, I’m the same. I’m only level 5, and I’ve put all my talent points into soldiering skills: Bladed Weapons and Medium Armor. If ya help me go up a level, I’ll put me next talent point into Leadership, then I’ll be able to lead 25 men, 50 if I pick up The Armies of Man.”
“I’m sorry, Langdon. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Langdon squinted at Jim.
“Oh! Right, you’re only level 2. Well, you’ll find out next level. Guess we better do something about that.”
When the wagon stopped, not far from the river shown on the map, Langdon helped Jim down and guided him over to Alderman Andrew.
“Alderman, do ya have a minute? Jim and I want to get some men together to scout the area.” Langdon asked. Jim wasn’t sure why they had to scout the area, but he was sure it was part of Langdon’s master plan.
“Corporal Langdon, James. Give me some time to position the wagons and unload the tools. We need to break ground for farms and homes as our first priority. Everyone is restless after being cooped up in these wagons for half the month.”
After the wagons had been arranged in a defensive semi-circle, anchored by the river to their north, Jim and Langdon helped unload wagons and direct the peasant refugees to the plots of land that Alderman Andrew had allotted them to farm. The time passed quickly and Jim’s slight efforts in hauling tools and rations improved his base strength to 6. Once everything was sorted, he and Langdon returned to the alderman and again broached the topic of forming a small fighting force.
“It seems that you have earned the respect of these fighting men, Mr Cartwright. I think you would make a fine leader of the village’s militia.”
“Me? I thought Langdon would be in charge.” Jim was shocked by the alderman’s statement, but Langdon seemed to agree with it.
“I’m just a Corporal, Jim. I can lead a few men, but I’m not the best thinker.”
“It is also best that youth be tempered with wisdom,” the alderman said. Langdon and Andrew had Jim outvoted.
“I don’t feel that wise, Alderman Andrew.” He smiled.
“None of us do. Recognising the limits of your wisdom proves to me that you’re the wisest man I know.”
|You are now the leader of The Grand Plateau’s militia forces. You may recruit 10 men due to your Tactics skill. Corporal Langdon is your subordinate and may recruit 10 men due to his Tactics skill.|
Jim had to agree with some of Andrew’s statement, considering he gained 1 point in his base wisdom, raising it to 33. If I’m so wise, maybe I should stay here and complain about all of the people trampling my lawn, Jim thought.
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My name's Tim and I'm writing Forgotten Man Online, a game-literature light novel web-series that I plan to release here, on Royal Road, and eventually hopefully through Amazon's Kindle platform.
I studied writing at university for three years and then became a high-school English teacher in Australia (6 years in). Hopefully, that means you will find my content to be of a high standard and that you will enjoy it, provided you can stand the British spelling of words :).