Jim gasped awake. A heavy, liquid panic sucked at Jim’s lungs and weighed down his chest. He looked around in confusion. The sun sparked the eastern sky and illuminated the small, fortified encampment outside the Haunted Iron Mine. I’m back.
Langdon oversaw the wagons. Militiamen and hunters piled ore and stone from the ruined minecarts into the beds of two of the large wagons that they’d brought with them to the mine. Vanessa helped the refugees they had rescued settle into the remaining six wagons.
“Oi, Jim,” Martin called out to him. Martin, being the least sensible member of the militia had been relegated to menial labour. Seeing that Jim was now awake, Martin set down a load of metal ore and walked over. “Good morning, mate.”
“Morning, Martin,” Jim, still disoriented, returned the greeting. Surprisingly, he did feel pretty good. He hadn’t realised how much his emotions and ability to feel happiness, as well as sadness, had been crushed by System’s calming blue oppression. Now, everything appeared in a new light. He looked around at their camp and the people bustling around. The dusty bowl of the pit mine was unpleasant, but the happy little refugees that they’d saved brightened the world with their smiles. Every time a scruffily clad lizardman passed by one of the militia soldiers, he or she bowed their head in respect.
“We’re about ready to go, I reckon,” Martin said.
“Good. This place is awful.”
“Ha, yep. Sucks to be Burke.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh. He’s staying to defend the place with the hunters. ‘Nes says she saw some stray slavers out in the bush last night.”
“Can’t catch a break, can we?” Langdon walked over and joined the conversation. He’d obviously caught the tail end. “Hopefully Burke and the eight hunters can deter them. Vanessa said she only counted a half-dozen, but…”
Vanessa saw the grouping of the militia’s leaders and came to join them, Burke in tow.
“Stop worrying, there is only six of them. They must have been hunting when we attacked yesterday,” she said. Jim had obviously missed a lot by taking a night off, but he trusted Vanessa’s judgement.
“Come on, then,” Burke said. “You lot should get out of here. The sooner you’re gone, the sooner you can send someone else to look after this place.” Burke’s last statement set something off in Jim’s mind: They’d cleared a dungeon, yesterday. Hell, he’d basically killed the boss on his own. He smiled. System, having removed his mental block, allowed Jim to experience pride and joy with his progress in the game. The game. I’m even having a better time accepting that, eventually, I’ll be able to get out of here. Eventually, I’ll get to talk to Tori again.
Jim, Langdon, Martin, Vanessa and 40 refugees departed the pit mine via the long ramp. They made their way east, before being able to turn south and follow the dirt road back to the crossroads. The wagons trundled steadily, and no surprised interrupted the short few hours’ travels.
The newly-upgraded marketplace in front of the village hall bustled with activity. Dozens of refugees, interspersed with smaller groups of players, walked from stall to stall, buying and selling goods. Stacks of timber, stone, leather, and units of food were the order of business today. Furthermore, the town housing that Jim had arranged to be complete at the planning table was taking shape in what Jim assumed to be Lizardman architecture. Rather than individual houses like Jim had expected, the village’s craftsmen were constructing wide, squares of pavilions joined by covered walkways. Unable to miss the dramatic return of the militia and 40 refugees, Andrew and Samouel had come out to greet them.
“There’s Andrew, the camp leader,” one of the nearby players said.
“We should ask if there will be any more buildings planned. The quests to get the materials are worth tonnes of XP and rep.”
“I only need 50 more points for friendly rep. I’ve saved all four of my talent points for Earth Magic. I should be able to get to Advanced proficiency at level 5 and then heal dungeons.”
“Yeah. If we can find any. This starting zone sucks.”
Listening in on the conversations of the players he’d largely ignored until now, Jim had an idea. Before Andrew got close enough to talk, Jim called out to the players.
“Hey, Michael Williams,” Jim called out to the player that planned to be a dungeon healer. The man, actually a teenaged boy now that Jim could see his face, turned around. “I just came from a dungeon.”
“There’s an open-pit mine to the north-west of town. There’s a camp with a Haunted Iron Mine dungeon in it. Tell the guard there that Jim sent you and he’ll let you in.”
Andrew looked up at Jim, who had called out from atop a wagon that was loaded to the brim with the dungeon’s loot. He caught on quickly to Jim’s plan. He had essentially manipulated the players in The Grand Plateau into mining and guarding the dungeon. Rivers of ore and stone would soon flow into the camp. Andrew joined in the scheme.
“The village will gladly continue to reward people that bring building materials. I will even personally ask Elder Samouel to teach anyone the power of Earth Magic in exchange for the goods they receive from their first adventure into the dungeon.”
“Awesome!” Michael Williams jogged over to Jim’s wagon. “You got any tips on the dungeon? I’ll pay you 10 credits.”
Jim blinked in surprise. “Sure.” He told Michael about the layout of the dungeon, the various mineral nodes and the dangerous boss of the dungeon. By the time he’d finished the story, over a dozen players had gathered around to listen.
“1500 HP? Over 70 damage? Damn. How’d you kill the boss?”
“What’d he drop?”
Jim decided not to give out his secret to defeating the boss. Michael’s willingness to pay real money to Jim in exchange for information motivated him to be greedy. He had a bit of a new lease on life now that his emotions had stabilised, and now it was more important than ever that he was able to make the money to pay for his continued existence.
“I’ll sell my strategy for beating the boss for 10 credits,” Jim said, but he soon realised that perhaps his asking price had been a bit high. The facial expressions of the onlookers blanched at his price. Perhaps Michael Williams was a young tycoon? He decided to motivate the people with the loot that he got.
“As for the loot, I got 50 units of Stone and Iron that was just lying around. If I’d been a miner with Earth Magic, I’d have been able to use this pick I got to get hundreds more.” Jim spun his best salesman pitch and held up the Deathless Pickaxe.
The player that had assessed the dungeon’s boss as too difficult called up to Jim. “Hey, if you’re not a miner, can I buy that pickaxe from you?” Jim considered it for a moment, but then another player yelled out another offer.
“I’ll give you 50 credits.”
“50? That thing is worth way more. I’ll give you 200!”
The players argued about the price and how that, with the Deathless Pickaxe, they’d be able to mine more materials than anyone else. Then, in turn, they could sell those materials on the marketplace for coppers and then, finally, trade those coppers at a premium while in-game currency was at a premium.
Jim eventually agreed to sell the pickaxe to a man in his thirties, who offered 500 credits up-front, and another 1500 over the course of a month from his profits with the pickaxe, or he’d give the item back. Jim couldn’t refuse what amounted to a month-longer lifespan. He even sold his strategy of killing the last boss to nine groups, meaning that Jim had 600 credits in his newly-opened bank account.
The whole time, except for Andrew and the militia, all of the refugees just sort of looked on with glazed-over eyes. The conversations that made obvious that Platinum Online was a game had strange effects on the computer-generated people. Even then, none of his companions interrupted the negotiations and deferred to Jim’s actions as a player of the game. Once the discussions had ended and the players departed, many with tokens for Elder Samouel’s instruction, Andrew was finally able to speak to Jim.
“Well done, Mr. Cartwright. With the efforts of these immortal souls, the village will not lack for stone or iron… though we may shortly lack for coin. We ought to have the housing to become a true town, rather than just a refugee camp, within the day.”
Jim accepted the village elder’s praise and motioned at the strangely designed town housing in question. “I’ve never seen buildings like this before.”
Andrew explained the layout to Jim: The plan had been Samouel’s idea. He had based the architecture on what he remembered of the city ruins that used to exist where their camp had been established. The old city had constructed all buildings in this square series of pavilions so that they would never have to rebuild when the city had sprawled beyond its borders. Instead, the covered walkways that joined the four pavilions at each corner could be walled in and reinforced. When the town grew into a city, they would be able to hire talented architects to create elaborate tiers atop the first layer and so on. Jim visualised the buildings as smaller, squatter stepped pyramids; the nearest an ancient civilisation could come to modern skyscrapers. The buildings would also have military and religious significance. A square city with wide, walled, tiered structures and grids of boulevards would be naturally defensive. Moreover, like the Egyptians, Nubians or Mesoamericans, whose profile these structures would match, the Lizardmen race revered the sun and the sky.
Motivated by Andrew’s explanation of the building, Jim decided to dedicate the rest of the day to help finish the first layer. The materials he’d brought and that further trickled in from returning players would easily complete the basic level of the structure.
While Jim carted and hewed stone for the building, Langdon helped settle the rescued refugees and canvassed the group for likely recruits. Eager to help rescue the other captured refugees, Langdon was easily able to fill out Jim’s army to its maximum command limit to 35, not including Jim and Langdon as the leaders. One of the new militia members was added to Vanessa’s hunters ranks with the same talents, filling the hunting group to 10. Samouel, having finished teaching the players Earth Magic, came by to unlock the Earth Magic of that hunter, as well as 5 more recruits, who would become full earth mages, with the power to heal, build fortifications, and form a defensive line with their magically-enhanced physiques that were complemented by a single talent point in Shield Specialisation.
The culmination of Langdon’s efforts, however, was the recruitment of fourteen more militia spearmen, and a gruesome ritual. Samouel had offered Langdon something that would solve his pariah status as a human among those with the reptile bloodline. Langdon and Martin would drink the shaman’s blood. They would forsake the tyranny of humanity and become lizardmen in their own right. Samouel drew an ornate knife from a medicine pouch at his belt. The blade had been carved with serpentine lines and the wrapped handle had been covered in scaled leather. Samouel slid the blade across one palm then he switched hands. Dark blood soaked into the leather as he dragged the blade over his other palm. He dropped the knife into the dirt at his feet and instructed Langdon and Martin to kneel. Though the two men’s faces were pale and green, they bravely followed the shaman’s instructions to kneel and suckle at the wounds.
Players had stopped to gawk at the bloody scene of Martin and Langdon’s transformation, as well as the sudden power increase from the refugees’ change into guards. Some of the more enterprising players were even able to conscript a few refugees as non-player companions while the other players were distracted. Until now, no one in The Grand Plateau had access to computer-generated team members since Jim had snaffled them all up at the onset of Andrew’s camp. Now, a half dozen players could use the leadership talent and play independently, rather than joining the strict society of a guild.
Langdon surveyed his brother and the rest of his militia proudly, then accessed the Talent Wheel. Langdon specialised the entire spear-wielding portion of the militia the same as himself. He obtained the life-saving Reptile Bloodline talent, Scaled Skin, as well as the combat-strengthening Earth Magic talent Strength of the Earth. He chose to re-train himself and his men in the Piercing Weapons talents they already access to: Impale, Charge and Hold the Line! Langdon very nearly chose a Leadership talent, but his worry of inadequacy gnawed at him. He felt unsure of his ability as a leader. Even now, Burke had usurped a lot of the strategising that their leader relied on. For now, he would settle for his station as Jim’s Non-Commissioned-Officer.
Hold the Line!:
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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 :).