The soldier on Jim’s other side fell, a broken sword buried in his gut. A blackened 3 gasped from his mouth. Another skeleton barged into Jim’s formation. Surrounded, three sword slashes felled Jim. The cuts each bled a crimson 2, leaving Jim with a single point of health. The wounds did not pain or ache, instead, the weakness that each previous injury imposed multiplied and forced him to the ground. Jim raged at himself. His health pool was drained, but his mana pool practically overflowed. Why can't I DO anything?
|You are unconscious: Seeing their leader fall, soldiers under your command have their fighting strength halved. Your army will shatter when their losses exceed 50%, or when the other officers are slain. If your forces are victorious, you will be revived. If your forces are defeated, you will die.|
Langdon, Burke and Martin fought the spectral captain in an easy rhythm and if they’d had ten more seconds, they probably would have finished him off. Langdon, spotting the unsuppressed undead, was forced to break off and deal with the new threat. He parried a final blow from the captain with the tip of his spear then ducked around Burke.
The expected black unconsciousness did not descend. Instead, the world became muted, in sound and colour, and Jim’s spirit was able to survey the battlefield. Things were not well on his side. The last militiaman on the right wing, pinned against the large tree, was slain only moments after Jim. The four skeletons that could still fight turned the flank.
They should never have fought this fight. They should have run, or used better terrain or fought dirty... There's nothing I can do. We're all going to die. Sure, they hadn't had much time but Jim should have said something. He shouldn't have left his fate to a straight fight against overwhelming odds with a strategy made by a character who hadn't even been born yesterday.
Thankfully, the others were able to act and to improvise where Jim had not.
The skeleton that stood over Jim’s body thrust at Martin’s exposed back as Langdon approached. The blade struck at the worst, possible time, throwing Martin forward into the captain’s strike. Rusted metal collided with leather helmet, and a critical, lifeblood-red 50 halved Martin’s remaining life. Langdon, enraged, thrust his spear into the eye-socket of the skeleton that had attacked his cousin.
Vanessa had also evidently seen the brutal strike that nearly killed Martin. Her cry of anguish accompanied a blur of arrows. She had leaped from her vantage on the right wagon and fired arrows as she sprinted toward the line. She reached Langdon’s side and, point blank, fired the final deathblow into the chest of the fourth, loose skeleton warrior.
To their side, the spectral captain reached 10% HP, and loosed a berserk scream. The elite booted Burke away and turned his fury on Martin. Martin’s HP read 25: He would not survive a direct strike. The ghost captain gripped the hilt of his sword in both hands and swung. The blade’s horizontal strike trailed white energy and aimed to split Martin in half. Martin stepped back and pivoted, presenting the haft of his spear as a target. The force of the strike cleaved the wood in two. Martin sprawled on the ground.
23 (2 blocked). He was alive but unconscious like Jim.
Vanessa stepped up to cover Martin’s body. The flexible wood of her bow whipped into the sword hand of the captain just as he reversed his sword for the back stroke. The extra shove from Vanessa twisted the sword at the crucial instant when the captain had adjusted his grip. Rather than swinging back to dissect Vanessa, the sword sailed out of his hand and above her head. Vanessa pounced.
Using her bow as a garotte, Vanessa slipped behind the spectral captain as he overreached and began to strangle him. Although the captain could not suffocate, Vanessa actions held him in place while Langdon prepared a two-handed strike of his own. Taking careful aim so as not to hit Vanessa, Langdon thrust into and through the undead leader.
Green liquid gushed from the ghost’s mortal wound, bright and vibrant in Jim’s muted vision, and the battle was won. On the left flank, three of the four militiamen stood, badly injured, but still alive. A pile of bones littered the berm between the road and the tree line. Jim’s vision lurched as his consciousness was pulled back to his body.
You have received the following from the battle:
This item begins a quest.
|Metal Scrap 
“Did we win?” Martin coughed. “Or is the afterlife just this bloody awful?”
“I told you we’d win,” Burke said, limping over from the cratered earth he’d landed in.
“Barely,” Jim whispered. “Four of us didn’t.” Jim vowed to himself, Next time I'll do better. I'll learn. It's what I should have been doing since I got here.
“We’d best see to the dead,” Burke said. “We ought to bury them quickly and deeply, before their bones can be brought back.”
“Aye. Look here.” Burke leaned down and pulled a glowing green object from the chest of the spectral captain and threw it to Langdon who then handed the jagged crystal fragment to Jim.
|Quest discovered: A brush with death.
After your encounter with a small, undead force, you discovered a fragment of a necromantic crystal.
“There are always more undead.” – Burke.
Find and destroy the source of the undead.
Rewards: 5000 experience points; unknown.
The shard of green gem was only a tiny piece of a much larger crystal. According to the quest, there would be more… many more, judging by the reward offered by the game: Jim was 8– 8! – experience away from level 3, but the 5000 exp reward would likely take him all the way to level 4. He accepted the quest and not just for the experience. Those undead monsters had killed four of his men. They might not have been his friends yet, like Martin, Langdon, and Vanessa, but they mattered. He would destroy these undead. There was only one problem. I need to get stronger and I need to get smarter. He fished the spellbook out of his inventory and held the necromantic crystal against the page.
|You have failed to learn the spell Raise Skeleton.
Prerequisites: Dark Magic Affinity; 10 Wisdom
Rather than sitting by the fire, helping prepare what remained of the food from yesterday’s hunt with the other wounded, Jim decided to help dig the graves. He tore at the earth with a shovel – one of the tools the alderman thought they may have needed in recovering the sawmill blade – and pushed himself through the exhaustion. When a militiaman or hunter tried to relieve him, Jim shrugged them off. They eventually gave up and worked in shifts to dig the mass-grave for the slain undead. With ragged breath, Jim panted as he dug a grave for each of the soldiers that had died for him.
|Your base strength has increased. You now have a base strength of 10.
Milestone reached: 10 strength.
You now have 10 strength and possess the strength of an average adult human. You have learned the ‘brutal strike’ skill.
|Brutal Strike: Brutal Strike is the basic ‘strength’ skill. Brutal Strike allows you to deal additional damage equal to your strength damage bonus (currently 10) at the cost of your stamina.|
|Your base constitution has increased. You now have a base constitution of 10.
Milestone reached: 10 constitution.
You now have 10 constitution and possess the constitution of an average adult human. You have learned the ‘endure’ skill.
|Endure: Endure is the basic ‘constitution’ skill. Endure allows you to withstand damage equal to your constitution at the cost of your stamina.|
|Your base dexterity has increased. You now have a base dexterity of 10.
Milestone reached: 10 dexterity.
You now have 10 dexterity and possess the dexterity of an average adult human. You have learned the ‘critical strike’ skill.
|Critical Strike: Critical Strike is the basic ‘dexterity’ skill. Critical Strike allows you to force a critical strike for double damage cost of your stamina. Critical Strike may critically strike based on your base chance.|
Upon finishing the three soldiers’ graves, Jim moved onto the unfinished mass grave. His militia had dropped from exhaustion before having had the chance to collect and bury the skeletons. Jim performed the grim task in silence that was only broken by the rattle of bones. As he tossed body after body into the pit, Jim took the rusted swords and armour of each undead and loaded them into the wagon, collecting the 34 pieces of Scrap Metal he’d been rewarded for their earlier, pyrrhic victory.
Jim did not gain any more strength, constitution or dexterity by the time he’d finished the mass grave: improving his attributes further than the 10-stat-milestone would require much greater effort. He did, however, gain a sense of desolate peace. Heaping shovelful upon shovelful of dirt upon the corpses of his enemies did not provoke any heroic emotion in Jim’s mind, but burying them allowed Jim to bury his pain.
Purple tinged the eastern sky and Jim finally allowed himself a moment of rest. The leftover food and drink from the night’s meal pushed away the weakness from the wounds and the gravedigging. Vanessa woke first.
“Honoured elder,” she greeted him, “couldn’t you sleep?” She gestured at the mounds of earth.
“Morning, Vanessa,” he whispered back. “No, I couldn’t sleep.” He looked at her and offered a weak almost-smile. She nodded and returned the gesture. Jim winced at the twisted expression. It wasn’t pretty on the young woman and must have looked much worse on him.
Martin, whose sleeping bag had crept increasingly nearer Vanessa’s every night, woke next.
“Gods, Jim. Is that you? What happened to ya?” Martin asked.
Jim looked down. He was filthy, almost black, with dirt. Jim gestured at the graves and shrugged. Martin walked close.
“Not that.” He grabbed Jim by the arm. “This!” Jim’s arm had filled out and, where Martin’s fingers wiped away the dirt, his skin looked much healthier. Jim pulled his arm away and shook his head. He wasn’t in the mood to improve his mood. Martin, who possessed the resilience of youth and had been barely fazed by the ordeal, poked Jim in the ribs. “Oh, c’mon old man. Lighten up.” Vanessa glared at Martin and he stopped.
Jim already knew that he’d become stronger. Not only was it impossible to miss the notifications that had popped up during the night, but he also no longer required his spear or walking staff to prop him up. He’d thrown both badly damaged weapons into the grave with the skeletons and now wielded a spear that he’d taken from his dead comrade. He also knew that the changes to his body were almost futile. He was an old man that knew nothing of fighting; he would try, but would he succeed? He needed to get this damned spellbook to do something.
Two-Handed Weapon Spear.
3—5 piercing damage.
“We should go,” Jim said. Langdon looked at the churned dirt where the graves had been dug, then back at Jim.
Jim walked away from Martin and Vanessa and approached Langdon, who was sitting up in his sleeping bag.
“Yep,” he replied, then set to rousing the rest of their forces. When every member of both squads had eaten and relieved themselves, the wagons set off.
Wounded militiamen occupied every available spare space in the wagons, while the rest marched to the slow pace of the wagons. Jim didn’t care. He wouldn’t sit and mope like he had yesterday; he would get stronger; he would march with his men and women.
“Burke.” Jim jogged over to pace alongside Burke and waved his new spear awkwardly. “Could you show me how to use this thing?”
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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 :).