Jim wiped his hands on his trousers. Even though he hadn’t dug furrows through real earth, his fingernails still itched with dust and grit. Intuitively, the interface consolidated his planned walls into the Border Fortification project. Happy with what he’d done, Jim used the propose option in the interface.
Jamestown Border Fortification Proposal.
Requires majority approval from Jamestown council: Currently 40% approval (James Cartwright x2)
James read the prompt and felt disappointed, but not surprised. In the past, everything he’d done had been approved or tacitly preapproved by Andrew or his quests. Now that things were getting serious, Jim had to actually consult with the council rather than just dictate his commands.
Jim left the planning room and entered into the middle room of the town hall. Grey, pre-dawn light seeped into the communal area and, even at this early hour, visitors to the town hall read or talked quietly. Through the west-facing windows, Jim saw dozens of players swarm around the workshop. Players returning from the Haunted Iron Mines didn’t even make it to the markets before being crash-tackled by blacksmiths hungry for materials and resources.
Jim watched an exchange for several moments. A dungeoneer player withdrew heaps of glinting iron ore from his inventory, but the crafter player that had approached him shook his head. Then, the dungeoneer shook his head. Jim watched the crafter player, obviously a blacksmith with his soot-stained and singed apron, approach another player. This time, the approached player withdrew two pieces of glowing white ore and the blacksmith threw a handful of coins at the player before snatching the ore and running back into the workshop.
“James, have you had quite enough of watching sweaty young men run around to offer their services?”
Anne, the unpleasant councillor that Jim had purposefully had little to do with, had cornered him by the window. Her wrinkled face held an unusually pleasant expression: She smiled up at him with a gap-toothed grin.
“Good morning, Anne,” Jim tried to reply smoothly. She laughed at him.
“I jest, you old coot. Why are you in the town hall this morning? Shouldn’t you be out brooding?”
Caught off-guard by her friendly manner, Jim replied with a joke of his own. “No, I think that, between the two of us, the town has met its brooding quota.” She laughed at him again.
“I saw you come out of the planning room. Come on, let me see what you’ve done. The last time I didn’t pay any attention to your half-baked plans, I went for a midday nap and woke up with two of those lads outside dragging my sleeping pallet into a new room.”
She walked away, toward the planning room. Jim stumbled when he tried to keep up.
“I’m, uh… Sorry about that.”
“No, no… I should thank you. Now I have two broom cupboards all to myself! I haven’t had my own room since before we left Shipton.”
“—Don’t expect an apology, mind you! Just because you aren’t a helpless wretch that looks like an empty waterskin now, doesn’t mean that you weren’t when we first picked you up. We would have been right to leave you to die by the roadside.”
Jim didn’t know how to reply to that remark. Anne was still the town’s grumpy hag, it seemed; she just directed her haggish ways at other people, now.
Anne tottered over to the planning table and sat at the chair that Jim hadn’t pushed back in when he’d left. Jim ran up to stand beside Anne, just as she thumped the tabletop and caused the interface to shimmer into being before them.
“Mmm. You’ve done all the walls, then. Smart to build that honking great fortress on the west. The bloody humans won’t leave us alone for long. Seems a bit of a waste to have two walls to the north though… Those bumpkins couldn’t… Oh, never mind. They’re just ditches.”
Anne dug her hands into the ditch Jim had indicated for the northern-most ditch and made it twice the size and quadrupling the required effort to make the berm fortifications. Jim just watched on as she made change after change to his planned fortifications.
“Shush. Let me finish this off.”
Anne worked with smooth, practiced motions. As Jim watched, a soft golden light enveloped Anne. The light repeated several times more. When the last light faded, Anne’s hands had hardened over with scales and webbing. Jim stepped back to analyse her.
Anne, level 8 Saurian Councillor
Anne had metamorphosed. Rather than a withered woman whose reptilian scaling had disappeared in the folds of her skin, a much taller, armour-skinned Saurian stood before Jim. Judging by the prompt, Anne had reached the advanced stage of both Governance and the Reptile Bloodline.
“Alright, there. Done,” she said, making no note of her physical change. She beckoned Jim over to the three-dimensional map of the grand plateau. “Approve this, would you. I can never get Samouel and Andrew to agree to anything without nagging them for days.”
Jim leaned over to check what she’d done.
“No, you dolt,” Anne whacked his shoulder with her hand. She hit with a force that belied her age. “Just approve it. Trust me. I know what I’m doing. There’s a reason I’m on the council, you know?” She punctuated each sentence with a strike, but she eased off after the surprisingly painful first hit.
Jim ignored her brusque insistence and inspected what Anne had done. In a few short minutes, she’d completely altered the map.
“Oh, fine. See here,” she said, gesturing at the western approach to the plateau. “All the ditches and irrigation in the farmland will slow down any humans. And up here…” Anne dragged Jim’s attention away from the intricate grid of agriculture and up to the north of the map. “We can rebuild Andrew’s family logging town. There’s good, seasoned timbers up there, though it’ll be a pain to dig a new canal for the water wheel.”
Anne explained every detail she’d planned and her reasons for each detail. Whenever Jim’s attention lapsed, Anne would whack him over the shoulder again and reprimand him. He’d given up halfway through, believed that she’d been more thorough than he could ever be, and hit approve. Still, she didn’t let him off.
“Pay attention! If you’re going to govern here, you need to know what you’re doing.”
Anne’s blueprints for the entire borough phase of Jamestown and beyond unfolded before Jim. He had to admit, the woman he’d previously disregarded had to be one of the key powers behind the entire refugee process.
Anne had placed the Administrative district of the future borough around an enormous city square. On the north side, nearest the industry and commerce would be the town hall. She placed the Adventurer’s Hall plot on the south side, facing the southern wilderness. Anne also carefully laid out the western side of the town with a half-dozen to-be-decided military building plots so that they would form an inner fortification with their western walls.
“You’re the militiaman. You can decide all that guff,” she’d said when Jim asked what she wanted to build in the designated plots.
North, across the river from the town itself, Anne had arranged for a cultural district. She planned gardens and more to-be-designated plots. On the eastern side of the town, Anne had planned out even more stepped-pyramid residences that curved in a fortress-arc until they met with the Adventurer’s hall on the south side of town.
As for Commercial industries, Anne had planned a half dozen more than the two required to upgrade to a borough. Almost every inch of The Grand Plateau had some purpose in one industrial chain or other. Long canals split away from the river to irrigate a variety of agriculture in the west and north-west. The waterways also served as moats for the closer fortifications. The irrigation ditches she’d planned also cunningly doubled as traps to stop cavalry swarming the zone.
Roads had been planned to streamline the path from the Haunted Iron Mine to a much-expanded metalworking and merchant district. Shop and factory plots had been designated in a neat grid. In the distant north, past the mine, Andrew’s family town had been completely re-planned to, again, provide a moat in the form of a canal and also feed more wood into the town.
The part of the river that ran through town had been widened beside the town sawmill to facilitate shipyards and docks in the future. The mysterious, foggy area across the river in the north-east had been earmarked for yet another sawmill. Mine sites had also been indicated at various points on the southern and eastern border.
A massive, planned construction in the south-east had surprised Jim the most, however. Beyond the forest where Jim had encountered the Avians and the river beasts, Anne had planned a stone fortress quadruple the size of what Jim had planned to face the humans.
“That piddly little ditch you planned there won’t be enough. I was only a young woman when the city still stood, but I know that thousands of men fought and died in the eastern pass. The demons, giants, orcs, beastmen, you name it. If it’s bad, it lives on the other side of the Jagged mountains.”
Jim’s jaw slackened as he looked at everything she had planned.
“This is what the plateau used to be, James. This was what the Saurian empire used to be. Those swamp-dwelling bumpkins to the north are just the peasants that escaped the empire’s destruction. This… This is what should be.”
She gestured at the enormous, intricate plan she’d wrought of the great plateau. Her eyes were open so that the whites were visible all the way around. She looked like a madwoman. “Help me build this, Jim.” He nodded. Anne nodded back. They left the planning room together, but Anne abandoned him in the central room to go back to her… whatever she was doing with the maps and books.
Jim walked out of the town hall and out into the empty town square area. Phantasmal grids of blue and green that indicated building sites littered the entire town. As players logged in for the morning, a section of Jim’s interface, one that he hadn’t noticed before, flashed frenetically
[The Grand Plateau] Chad Stasson: “What the hell happened? There’s building sites everywhere,”
[The Grand Plateau] Frank Simmons: “your telling me. theres a fort here that needs 270000 stone”
[The Grand Plateau] Brett Johnson: “What? Where? I’ve got 4k stone back at town.”
[The Grand Plateau] Grace Johannson: “I just put all of my stone into building a bridge in town. Got a tonne of rep and XP.”
[The Grand Plateau] Michael Williams: “I wonder if Jim did this. Remember when he built the Sawmill?”
[The Grand Plateau] Brett Johnson: “I’ll message him & ask.”
In addition to the chat window of his newfound social interface, an inbox tab flashed once.
System [4 hours ago]: <No Subject.>
Brett Johnson [8 seconds ago]: <Hey>
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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 :).