Jim stopped lugging stones to watch Langdon and Martin’s ritual. The sight fascinated him, but once the men stood to the congratulations of the new militia recruits, Jim set back to work. Langdon was good enough to put their new soldiers to work and by the mid-afternoon, the Town Housing stood complete. On the east side of the town, five lots of housing were arrayed from north-east, beside the river, to south-east, adjoining the forest. Each housing structure was comprised of four, blocky cubic structures made of stone at each corner with covered terraces made of wood and canvas connecting the outside to form a courtyard in the centre.
The inside of each housing structure had been partitioned into four by wooden walls, with a central column of stone supporting load-bearing timbers that, in turn, supported a flat, stone roof. The solid construction made the elders’ future plan for the housing clear. For now, a family of four or five could squeeze into each partition, so long as they dedicated the 25-ish square metres to the bare necessities and did most of their living in the courtyard. As the courtyard filled in, either more families could move in, or the existing families could be assigned more partitions. When the courtyard filled, the housing could expand upward.
Construction complete: Town Housing (I)
The Town Housing (I) is complete and can now house a maximum of 500 people.
Even now, refugees claimed partitions and parts of the inner courtyards for themselves. They hung lines for drying clothes, dug small family firepits, and dragged stumps and lumps of wood for furniture. Andrew, who seemed to haunt Jim like a ghost every time he returned to town, appeared behind Jim as he admired the structure.
“We owe you thanks again, Jim.” Andrew smiled and waved magnanimously at the people buzzing around the town housing. “We need only complete three more buildings before we can call ourselves a proper town.”
Quest received: Town Planned.
0/1 Upgrade the Village Hall into a Town Hall.
Rewards: 3000 experience points; 2000 reputation with Andrew’s Refugee Camp.
Jim inspected the quest prompt that he received from Andrew.
“What do you think we should build next?” Jim asked.
“Hmm. That is a tough decision. With a Town Hall, we would be able to levy taxes from the townspeople, while a Workshop would allow us to refine and craft from the ores and hides the town has gathered. As for the Recruitment’s Office… we ought to complete that last as I believe Langdon has recruited every able and willing soldier the camp has to offer.”
“I think people will be happier if the taxes never arrive.” Jim laughed and Andrew smiled and nodded. Together, they walked to the crude, wooden village hall and arranged the construction of the three buildings.
All three buildings required a tremendous amount of materials to make. The least complex of the three, the recruitment office, required only a bit less than the Sawmill, with 500 stone. The Townhall required over 2000 units! Fortunately, the deal that Andrew had established with Samouel and the players meant that the town would acquire the stone for free, while these particular buildings used a smaller ratio of wood than of stone. Jim was pleasantly surprised to learn that he would be given credit for the building materials the players provided because he discovered the Haunted Iron Mine and manipulated the situation to the village’s favour. He would be guaranteed to acquire the bonus reward from the Town Planned quest.
All Jim needed to do was wait. Wait, and find something to fill his time.
At dinner-time that night, Burke returned with the hunters that had stayed to garrison the dungeon’s defences. The players had relieved them, as expected, but Burke had only felt comfortable leaving once well over 50 adventurers had gathered at the mine. With that many people defending the mine, any slavers that tried to return would be little more than bonus experience points.
The entire militia forces gathered around the town’s central cookfire. The area had been deserted by many of the village residents who had moved into their new housing, but that made it easier to hold a strategy meeting.
“I reckon we should take on the slaver leaders. They’ve got the most hostages and we don’t know what’ll happen if we don’t act fast,” Burke said.
“Nah, that’ll be suicide,” Martin said. “We should find the escapees before they bugger off and we lose ‘em for good.”
“Honoured elder, the village hunters have noticed some tracks in the eastern forest while we were gone. Any prints had been covered by the time they were discovered, but broken branches and the like clearly lead to the north.”
Langdon decided to take some initiative and supported Martin and Vanessa’s plan. Jim didn’t notice the subtle change in Langdon, who usually preferred to remain quiet, but Martin did. He winked and nudged his older cousin.
“The forest it is. We’ll leave at first light.”
The planning over, the conversation and meal dissolved into good-natured discussion. The new forces fit in nicely with the semi-military order of the militia, even though they’d only joined today. Jim exchanged simple words here and there with everyone but mostly troubled Vanessa with a plan for travelling through the dense eastern woods.
“…No wagons this time, honoured elder. No horses either.”
“I thought we’d have to go on foot. We should bring stretchers and extra rations in case any refugees we find are injured.”
“That seems like a good plan. Langdon would know more about caring for the wounded, you shou—” Martin interrupted their conversation, and for the rest of the night, Jim was unable to find anyone else to talk to. While Martin and Vanessa flirted, Burke and Langdon were competing over the attention of the new recruits. In previous evenings, Langdon had been forced to the outside as a Human, but as a Lizardman and the saviour of these recruits, he steadily edged out Burke in popularity. A bit of competition was good, Jim remarked, but perhaps this amount moved into the territory of the inappropriate. He’d have to separate the two. Perhaps he could promote Burke as his next Non-Commissioned Officer and split the forces evenly.
Once the militia had taken to bed and left the defence of the village to the few night-owl players, Jim left the cookfire. He surveyed the town’s layout and began to decide where to establish the different buildings that would begin construction starting tomorrow. The Town Hall would, logically, remain in the centre of the flat field where the ruined city used to stand. The Workshop would, also logically, be built near the Sawmill and market, to the north and west of the Town Hall. That way, the Workshop would have the best access to the materials that came from the Sawmill and the Iron Mine, while the farmers who had claimed the land near the river to the north wouldn’t have to travel too far into the city to buy equipment.
The only hard decision was placing the recruitment office. With the housing to the east, Jim decided to build none of the new buildings in that area. Instead, it would be devoted to servicing the population. Some narrow stretches of land lay across the river, but the village lacked a bridge and as yet did not have any industry other than the sawmill that required water access. No hunters or soldiers had yet charted the land to the south, nor had Andrew indicated that anything lay in that direction but wilderness. Uncertainty made Jim avoid constructions in that area. The western quarter of the town became the only reasonable location remaining. The adversarial human kingdom threatened The Grand Plateau zone from that direction, so Jim would convince the town elders to allocate that section to a military district.
Jim spent his night gathering and moving the stones that players hauled into the marketplace. He first placed the 1200 stones and 240 iron ore for the workshop. The dozen parties that Jim intercepted as they returned their goods via wagons and encumbered inventory were grateful to have a location to simply dump their goods, rather than waiting for the market stall to open. He didn’t even have to pay them. All twelve groups, each with around a hundred stones each, owed the village half their resources gathered from the Haunted Iron Mine. They gladly parted with the stones rather than the more valuable iron ore, though the better-equipped groups had gathered so much iron and stone from the veins on the first few levels of the dungeon that they also willingly turned over the 240 iron required for the Workshop’s anvils and starting tools.
Jim also began to have stone delivered for the Town Hall upgrade, but the number of resources did not fill out the building’s 2000 stone quota. At daybreak, Langdon led the militia to collect Jim. They departed on foot after having eaten breakfast and having gathered the extra supplies Jim requested for the refugees they intended to rescue.
The forest that the hunters had found tracks in could not be missed. The trees formed a solid barrier to the village’s east, a half dozen kilometres from the town housing. The densely-packed woods stretched from the riverbank in the north, to as far south as Jim could see.
The village hunter that guided their party led the militia forces to the northern section of the forest. This area had clearly been the most exploited. Early bird lumberjacks already felled the large trees closest to the river or rolled the fresh-cut trees into the river where they would drift downstream to the sawmill. Their guide walked them through the easiest path: where tree stumps had been burned away, but saplings had not yet been planted.
After a half hour of threading their way through the forest, the hunter indicated the tracks that Vanessa had mentioned in the planning the night before. With the reference point, Vanessa thanked the hunter for his help and took over leading the group.
They followed the tracks through the forest for the entire morning. At around noon, Vanessa discovered a firepit that the refugees had left behind them. They stopped to eat lunch and Jim beat Martin to Vanessa’s attention.
“Vanessa, do you think that we’re following the refugees? To get here they must have passed nearby the village.”
“Hmm. They may have stayed by the river bank, or perhaps they avoided us thinking that the village was a slaver camp. However, you are correct. We must remain alert in case that we are tracking slavers and not refugees. I am reassured by this firepit, though. Slavers would surely have the presence of mind to break camp.”
Jim agreed with Vanessa but decided to get a second opinion. The most dissenting voice in the group had been Burke, so Jim sought him out.
“Nah. Vanessa’s right. Any experienced bandits know to cover their tracks.”
Jim also consulted with Langdon. He had the best experience with a human military, and Jim couldn’t be seen speaking with Burke and not Langdon. He gave the same opinion as the others, though.
With their leader reassured, the militia continued through the woods. The tracks that they followed became more distinct as they travelled. They moved much faster than whoever they tracked; another sign that they trailed refugees and not slavers.
Their quiet stalking ended abruptly when the militia reached a clearing that could not have been more gruesome if it were staged. A half dozen dead lizardmen had been butchered. The severed head of an old man lay at Jim’s feet. Puddles of muddied blood tainted the roots and shrubs. Bony appendages had been carved off and tossed aside. Worse, huge birds of prey ripped at the flesh and entrails.
Wait. Not birds.
Carrioneater, level 6 Avian 
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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 :).