Burke trained Jim and Martin in the pouring rain. The morning after the battle with the undead had brought not breaking dawn, but rather breaking clouds. The already slow pace of the wagons ground to a muddy crawl as the wooden wagon wheels carved ruts into the dirt road. Rather than drag their feet alongside the horses, Langdon had opted to split the group up.
While Langdon and the remaining militiamen had stayed to defend the caravan, Vanessa’s hunters had been sent to forage food as they’d depleted their supply of everything but hardtack. Jim and Martin had the worst job and had been sent to learn to fight with a spear from Burke. They would forward step, thrust, backstep, thrust, sidestep, thrust on repeat until the wagons passed out of sight down the road. Then, Burke would have them close on their enemy, in this case falling raindrops, for ten steps, and alternate between ducking down to thrust up; spin-pivoting to thrust sideways; and leaping to thrust downward, until they caught up with Langdon.
The gruelling conditioning improved in one hour what burying 34 skeletons over an entire night had not and helped Jim break through the stagnation in his stats. Throughout the “day,” his constitution and dexterity both climbed, reaching 11, then 12, then 13. While Jim maintained his desire to grow stronger throughout the constant drills, he had lost the anger that had stoked his endless energy. Whether Burke’s monotonous instructions were to blame, or the endless rain that blew from the ocean to the north-west, Jim did not know or care. He just wanted to sleep, even though he knew he could not. They didn’t even stop to eat. Instead, they scoffed chunks of meat or biscuit whenever Burke let them have a free hand.
Eventually the road beneath their feet became rockier and the wagons made better time. This did not make things easier for Jim and Martin, they just had to train at a faster pace, but it did allow their exhausted force to make better time. They trundled into town at nightfall and all collapsed, even Burke, by the cookfire. They left the wagons fully laden: Even if they had the energy to unload the goods, they had nowhere to do so.
Jim gratefully accepted a bowl of stew from Martin and looked around at the changes the Alderman had wrought on the camp. Rather than a pell-mell, hodgepodge mess of wagons that would have shamed a travelling circus, the refugee camp now resembled something more of a village. Canvas tents had been pitched in family clusters and a single building constructed of unhewn stone, uneven logs and salvaged wagon timber had been erected in the middle of it all.
From the village hall emerged Alderman Andrew. He walked directly over to the group and sat among them.
“James, I’m pleased to see that you’ve returned. You look well.” James didn’t feel well, but he grunted an agreement. The alderman gave an understanding nod. “The drivers told me that you were successful in retrieving my family heirloom, as well as what it cost. Their families will be the first to receive a bed in the new village hall.”
“What now?” Jim asked, absently.
“Now we build a sawmill. Thanks to you, in a few short days, we will have a small village. I realise that you do not feel well and that you’re not like us, James… but I’d like you to stay with us.”
|Quest complete: Family Heirloom. You have delivered the Enchanted Sawmill Blade to the alderman.
Reward: 200 experience points; 200 reputation with Alderman Andrew’s Refugees (200/500 friendly).
|Congratulations, you have reached level 3 and completed the tutorial. Your attributes have increased. You have unlocked the Talent system. You have 3 talent points to spend.|
Jim flicked the notification away with his eyes and focussed on Andrew.
“What do you mean ‘stay with you?’ Where would I go?”
“Well, we regular folk prefer not to bring it up, but we do recognise that those of you with immortal souls tend to be free-spirited. The others that have been to our small encampment have been happy to cut a few trees, gather a few logs, hunt a few deer, but none of them have done for us what you have, James. We’re very grateful to you.”
Immortal souls… were there other players here?
“Okay. You’re welcome.” Jim didn’t know where this was going until he had a sudden thought. Jim tried out his conversation skill. “Why do you want me to stay and what are you offering me?” Jim asked. The skill worked.
“I would like you to stay and help us rebuild the city that once stood on this site. In return, I would like to invite you to join as the third, and last, member of our council of elders.
|Unique quest discovered: Council of elders.
Prerequisite: 30 Wisdom; ‘Elder’ trait; friendly reputation with a newly built town.
Reward: 300 reputation with Alderman Andrew’s Refugees; 33% control over Alderman Andrew’s Refugees; 1000 experience points.
Jim took a while to read and digest the meaning behind the quest. The game had torn him between going out into the world, reintegrating with other people from real life, and settling down to rebuild his sense of worth.
He eventually chose to settle.
“I would like to join the council,” Jim said. Andrew nodded, and Jim received the promised rewards. His reputation rose the remaining 300 points to honoured, and his experience rose to about the half-way mark to level 4, at 1292/2500. A thought struck Jim.
“Who is the third council member?” Jim asked.
“Oh, just one of the wise women that came with the refugee caravan. Her name is Anne. I’m sure you’ll get to meet her soon.” Jim groaned internally. Not that hag again. She gives old people a bad name.
“I look forward to it,” Jim said. The alderman –councillor now– raised a scaled eyebrow but shrugged and turned to walk away when Jim said nothing further.
“Good night, councillor,” Andrew said as he left. Jim waved his now-equal away and focussed on his food.
After eating, Jim sought out Martin, who had promised to teach Jim about talent points when he reached level 3. He found the young man sitting with Vanessa.
“Martin, sorry to interrupt. Do you have a minute to tell me about talent points?” Jim asked. Martin looked up but didn’t look bothered by Jim butting in on his and Vanessa’s conversation.
“Yeah, no worries,” Martin replied. “First, bring up your information. Your talent options should appear in a wheel on the left.” Jim did so, and, sure enough, the previously blank left third of his user interface had filled in with a rounded, 10-spoked wheel.
“Alright, so the wheel is divided into different categories of skills, right? There’s the big four, magic, combat, social and personal. There’s also two little bits: One’s a wildcard, but ya won’t have to worry ‘bout that, only special people get those, and the other is ya race talents. Rather than gettin’ bogged in the details, why don’t ya tell me what ya have unlocked the prerequisites for.”
Jim started at the top and worked his way around to the right:
“Okay. I have no magical talents; I have one Reptile talent available; one personal talent called Scholar; I have a Piercing Weapons combat talent available; I, uh, do actually have a wildcard talent called Governance available; and lastly, I have two social talents to choose from: Leadership, and Guilds.”
“Governance, ey? Looks like ya might be a bit special after all. Ya better take that. ‘s not every day that I get to be mates with one of them fancy fellas.” Martin winked at Jim. “Ya should definitely grab Leadership as well. Langdon’s always been saying that if he ever gets to be a leader he’d be strong enough to form his own mercenary group. He’s never had the gift of the gab, for it, though. As for the last one, that’s up to you. I reckon ya should try to get a bit tougher, though.”
Jim nodded at Martin’s words. He was a young and impulsive man, but he could also be quite thoughtful. "Is there any way that you know of that I could unlock a magical talent? I don't know if I'll ever be real front-line material."
"Yeah. Ya need to find a mage. Pretty hard to find, though. Even back in Soltolan ya would need connections or money to learn anything. Dunno where you'd find someone in this backwater."
Jim walked away disappointed, letting Martin and Vanessa get back to their conversation. He headed to a quiet place on the outskirts of the firepit and browsed through his options, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of his choices for several minutes. He was disappointed that he could not take what seemed like the simplest path to power. Ultimately, he ended up following Martin’s advice and selected a Leadership talent and a Governance talent. For his third pick, Jim chose a Racial talent: It had been a close call between Scaled Skin and Spear Mastery, but what had nearly cost them the last battle was how physically tough Jim had been, not how much damage he personally had dealt. He also hadn't given up on the spellbook that had been nothing, so far, but dead weight in his bag. Finally, Jim also allotted the 4 bonus attribute points he received to constitution for the same reason he'd chosen Scaled Skin; that attribute also wouldn't be wasted if he ever managed to pivot into a magical specialisation.
|Leadership Talent Tree selected.
For unlocking the basic tier of Leadership, your command limit has increased to 25.
Available talents: Non-Commissioned-Officers.
You may add Non-Commissioned-Officers to your army to increase your command limit by 10 for each NCO. You may employ a number of NCOs equal to the number of talent points invested in the Leadership Talent Tree.
|Governance Talent Tree selected.
For unlocking the basic tier of Governance, the effectiveness of your Charisma has doubled when interacting with your faction members.
Available talents: Town Planning.
|Town Planning selected.
You may employ Architects, Carpenters, Builders, etc, to construct town buildings out of materials that you have gathered.
|Reptile Bloodline Talent Tree selected.
For unlocking the basic tier of Reptile Bloodline, your race has been changed from Human (Reptile bloodline) to Lizardman.
Available talents: Scaled Skin.
|Scaled Skin selected.
The damage you receive is reduced by X%, where X is equal to the number of talent points invested in the Reptile Bloodline Talent Tree.
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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 :).