Jim felt totally exhausted and empty after the day’s events. Every soldier and hunter walked in desolate quiet along the road away from the sawmill. Jim sat in the back, alone, of the second wagon. His back ached after being crammed into the small space between their cargo, and he hung his head, watching the ground churn under the wagon’s heavy load. For a long time, he could barely think; the visage of a lifeless girl rained misery in a steady drizzle and broke a dam somewhere in his mind. No specific thoughts rippled his consciousness, they all lurked beneath the surface. Instead, an omnipresent cloud of negativity gathered in his brow, just above his eyes that felt laden with unexpressed feelings.
After an hour, the time he would normally get up and allow someone else to ride in the wagon, Jim didn’t move. His gaze drifted, in microscopic increments, upwards. Jim could not bear to talk, so he instead rested his sight on the horizon. Lush grassland, garish in its vibrant green, clashed with Jim’s feelings until the sun began to set and the orange and purple twilight washed the grass and trees to grey. Melancholy and brooding were not new to Jim. He’d felt this way before, after his divorce. He’d have liked to listen to music as he did back then. It didn’t help him feel better, but the noise made him feel less distant from the good times. The game world listened to Jim’s thoughts, and soft, ambient music played as if heard from a musician just out of sight. A low rich horn, or similar instrument, played counterpart to a softer, higher woodwind. The music deepened Jim’s sorrow but helped him cope. A drum began to beat, and the wagons slowed and pulled off the dirt road.
Something was wrong. Jim crawled down at the sound of hushed voices.
“There, behind those trees. Hurry.” A woman’s voice.
Martin rounded the wagon with two of the soldiers in tow and pulled Jim along.
“C’mon, Jim. Something’s wrong.”
The small group of men that had come to get Jim hurried ahead of the wagons. Vanessa gestured for everyone to get off the road and hide, waving frantically, windmilling her arms as she was reluctant to raise her voice. Martin dragged Jim behind a large tree and Langdon and Vanessa joined them. The wagons pulled into a copse and were hidden, poorly, from sight.
“What is it, Vanessa?” Langdon asked.
“An army. There’s an army coming along the road ahead of us. There were soldiers with swords, and officers on horseback,” she whispered.
“An army? There shouldn’t be anything here. The alderman said The Grand Plateau was safe,” one of Langdon’s soldiers spoke in quiet confusion.
“How many were there? What’d they look like? Are they bandits?” Langdon asked.
“I… I don’t know. I saw four horsemen at the front, but I couldn’t count the foot soldiers. There’s more of them than they are of us. And… they glowed green.”
“The dead,” the older soldier that had come with Martin said. Langdon nodded. “We can’t hide,” the soldier said. “They’ll sense us when they get close.”
“You’ve fought them before?” Langdon asked.
“Aye. I’ll need to get a better look, though.”
“Mr Burke. Take Martin and go have a look.” Martin looked a bit panicked at his cousin’s word. The living dead obviously did not sit well with the young man. He looked at Vanessa and they shared weak smiles.
Burke, level 5 Human (Reptile bloodline) militia veteran.
Jim looked at Burke as he lead Martin away. Something had just happened, but Jim didn’t know what. Some event or some interaction had transformed a generic militiaman into a war veteran and made him stronger and more capable as a soldier. Jim looked around at the hunters and soldiers cowering in the bushes. They all had different builds, different faces, different defining features, but they were all missing… something… that Burke had. Could they all be like Burke? Could I be like Burke? Jim pulled out the blank spellbook he'd received the previous day. The pages of empty vellum fluttered in the breeze. The small tome did nothing
Langdon tried to calm Vanessa while they waited for Burke and Martin to return.
Minutes later, Burke silently lead Martin back to Jim’s tree.
“’s not an army,” Burke admonished Vanessa in a low tone. He turned to Langdon. “Only three squads, their squad leaders and an officer. If we fight smart, most of us will live.”
"Most of us?" Jim asked, the death of the girl weighed on his mind. "Should we run?"
"Can't run from the dead. Can't hide from the dead. Can't fool the dead. They're mindless, hungering things."
"Then we fight. How do we do this?” Langdon asked Burke.
“’s the same as any other fight against monsters.” Burke shrugged. He didn’t have a high opinion of the undead, and his blasé manner rubbed off on Martin, who relaxed his white-knuckled grip on his spear.
“Okay. Get let’s the hunters up on the wagons,” Langdon said. Jim nodded for Vanessa to follow the order. After giving Vanessa and her hunters time to perch wherever they could fit on the wagons, Langdon walked out from behind the tree. He took a position in line with the trees and faced the road.
“Militia! Form up!” He yelled, piercing the deathly silence of the late evening. Burke and Martin stood to Langdon’s left and right, and the other militiamen spread themselves, shoulder to shoulder, between the closely-packed trees they’d hid behind a moment earlier on their right, and a dense clump of bushes on their left. Jim stood beside Martin. He would try and protect the boy, even if he only had a blunt spear and 71 HP.
The dead, a stone’s throw down the road, saw the militia’s display and mindlessly charged the line. Guttural roars cracked tattered vocal chords and the orderly formation shattered. Undead in various stages of decay variously sprinted, walked, hobbled, and limped towards them piecemeal, the mounted officers in the lead. The militia yelled back. The shouts helped keep the militia a united wall. Burke’s war cry noticeably rallied the younger men.
“Come on, ya filth! Try and take me!”
The skeletal horses smashed their hooves against the ground. The officers guided them straight at Burke and, by extension, straight at Jim. He stared, at what he thought would be his death.
|Spectral Captain, level 2 Undead (Elite).
|Spectral horsemen, level 2 Undead. 
|Skeleton horse, level 1 Undead. 
|Skeleton warrior, level 2 Undead. 
The lead undead, the spectral captain, had attributes that made Jim’s heart sink, but then he lowered his eyes.
“Vanessa,” he called out, “shoot the horses!”
A volley of arrows arced overhead. Red 2s and 3s ricocheted from the undead mounts, bringing the first two down. The fall of the leading horses threw one spectral horseman to the ground, the impact nearly killing the weak level 2. The captain was also tossed from his mount, but fared much better, losing only a minuscule 14 points from his health total.
The two horsemen behind leaped their fallen comrades and continued their charge at Burke. Burke only lowered his stance and grit his teeth. The undead riders reared their horses and slashed down at Burke with their swords. He accepted the blows in twin instances of 9 damage, then struck back. The level 5 powerhouse launched off his back foot and thrust his spear at the left horse as its front legs came down. The weight behind the dead beast only served to drive Burke’s spear further in. Two, enormous red 22s burst from the horse’s back. The rider and his mount both fell to the ground, dead. Burke had run them both through!
Martin, Langdon, and Jim joined in fighting off the other horsemen and had nearly brought him and his horse down with their more modest damage output before the captain joined the fray. The captain lay about himself, slashing at the four men. Every hit deprived one of them of 25 health. Jim received two hits in quick succession and had to step back. The cuts across his chest and arm stung only like papercuts, the game dampening his pain dramatically, but he felt incredibly weak.
From behind the line, Jim could clearly watch the battle. Langdon, Martin and, Burke, with Vanessa and the hunters’ help, raced against the captain’s enormous health pool. It would be a close call, but Jim estimated that the enemy elite’s health would reach 0 before any of the three men.
However, at the periphery of their forces, the regular militia had begun to engage the skeleton warriors. The numbers popping up because of their battle reassured Jim at first. Each man did 6 or 7 damage with every spear strike, while the undead only managed a paltry 2 or 3. As he watched, however, Jim realised that the overwhelming number of the skeletons meant that his forces were losing.
The four militiamen to the left seemed to be coping. They each only faced four opponents and had Burke striking in moments of opportunity to help whittle away the undead. The three militiamen on the right were doomed, though. As soon as the limping skeletons joined their more able brethren, there would be five undead combatants for every living one. Martin was also far less help to their right flank, his inexperience meant that he was both harder pressed to defend himself and less able to make use of openings to strike the warriors.
Even though he only had 21 HP left, Jim had to act. He limped into battle at the same time as the slowest undead. With his reduced health and limited strength, he was roughly on-par with the unnamed members of the militia. Jim thrust his walking staff into the ribcage of a warrior that pressed him, dealing 8 damage. He blocked a few slashes but received twice as many. A soldier fell beside him and an undead filled the hole in the living line. Jim only had 7 health left. With his side vulnerable, he would soon die.
Support "The Forgotten Man -- Platinum Online"
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 :).