The Elemental Arena



Chapter Seventeen - Base Building?


Harrison opened his wristband interface and read his new Buildings skill aloud to the group of fifteen players.

[Buildings I: Requirements - Earth 4 (Prime). (Activated skill - begin construction of a tier 1 building – cost: 30 EPs.) (Gain +2 Mental.)]

[Upgrade requirements for level II: 100 NPs, Mental 130, Earth 6 (Prime).]

Excited conversations sprang up all around. Nathan quickly confirmed the former construction foreman had unlocked the new ability last night while erecting the shoddy looking shelter by the trail.

But an Earth 4 Prime requirement? The only other level one skill with such a high requirement was Emma’s Advanced Healing skill which required a Water 4 Prime. Interesting that both high affinity skills unlocked through specific actions, instead of being randomly selected rewards. It suggested other higher tier skills awaited discovery.

He walked over to Lilly, who as an Earth Prime seemed to be as excited by the skill as anyone. “You know we’re going to have to build one of those crappy shelters now?”

“Oh yes,” she said with a cheerful smile. “I’m the only other Earth 4 Prime player in our group.”

“Well, there is Johanna too,” Nathan said, glancing at the Swedish immigrant. He noted the pleasant expression she’d worn since her full healing. He desperately hoped the recovery also improved the woman’s attitude.

“Does she have a 3 or 4 in Earth affinity?”

“Dunno,” he said, frowning. “Even though we did the prelims together, we haven’t exactly gotten along. Though I imagine Maya will find out if she hasn’t already. She can be... enthusiastic... when it comes to gathering game information.” He chuckled inwardly as he envisioned Maya wrestling Johanna’s interface open.

Harrison’s voice boomed out over the noisy crowd, regaining everyone’s attention. “Looks like eight different buildings in my new Buildings tab. It says ‘once the player selects a building, other players can contribute NPs to its construction.’” The tall man then read the list of buildings and their costs.

*[Simple Tent: sleeps two (does not count as a building) - 50 NPs.]

*[Medical Tent: houses two patients - 150 NPs.]

*[Weapons Vendor: Tier 1 - 200 NPs.]

*[Armor Vendor: Tier 1 - 200 NPs.]

*[Gear Vendor: Tier 1 - 200 NPs.]

*[Food Vendor: Tier 1 - 200 NPs.]

*[Simple Outhouse - 75 NPs.]

*[Wooden Fence: 5 meters length (does not count as a building) - 20 NPs.]

Nathan was excited for the wealth of options listed, while simultaneously disappointed by the lack of defensive buildings. At the skill’s first level, the fence was the only available fortification. Without a description of its height and the fact it was wooden, he wasn’t optimistic about its effectiveness, dashing his brief fantasies of constructing a fort to hold against the inevitable boss attack.

Otherwise, the four different vendors greatly interested him. They could be game changers for their survival.

“Food vendor first!” Iliana cried out dramatically. “Please, I’m starving.”

“Let’s consider it,” Maya said, her expression thoughtful. Most players cut off their chatter to listen to the Indian woman. “While more food would be nice, would it really give us a better chance of survival than say, the weapons vendor? We have crawfish, yams, nuts, and possibly those melons Alexander’s team found on the North trail to get us by for now, but our weapon situation is dire. These spears are rubbish and many are already broken. Not to mention some players need access to other types of weapons since they have negative Wood affinity and can’t learn the Pole Weapons skill. Like me, I’m a Fire Prime, and I don’t even know what my associated weapon skill is yet.”

Nodding along approvingly, Alexander added, “Tier 2 monsters like the antlered bear have strong defenses. Our comrade would still be alive if we had more effective weapons.”

Remembering the bear Nathan’s own team encountered, he wouldn’t have minded a better quality spear himself. But if he was being honest, having enough food to eat sounded amazing. Each time his stats increased, so did his hunger. The food they’d gathered just wasn’t enough and he constantly suffered from a dull headache thanks to the lack of calories. Surely they would collectively fight better if they were properly fed.

Harrison spoke as if the answer were obvious, “We buy both. The buildings are cheap when the cost is spread out between the fifteen of us.”

It was true the buildings were less expensive than expected, but two vendors still totaled 400 NPs, a mind boggling sum. Nathan spent a moment calculating. That was… more than twenty-five-ish NPs per player? He only had 23.5 NPs himself. Not to mention he still wanted to upgrade his Pole Weapons skill to level two which cost an even steeper 40. Raising his voice to be heard, he asked, “How many NPs does everyone have?”

The players each called out their point totals. Many of the figures were surprisingly high, due to some players being stuck in their progression. They needed either more stats or elemental affinity levels to be able to upgrade any of their current skills, so their NPs had accumulated unused. Nathan had to wonder if the Buildings mechanic was designed as a point sink for players in this situation.

“That makes 284 NPs,” Maya said, having totaled the figures of everyone present. “Of course Zhang and Matias likely have some too.”

Harrison uttered a curse. “Not enough points. So I say one vendor, and 50 more points for a simple tent. It will sleep two and make our time here so much better.” The big man flashed a suggestive smile at Emma, who for some unfathomable reason returned it. Seriously? Hadn’t he been making out with Iliana last night?

Nathan shared a glance with Maya who made a show of rolling her eyes. She sighed, “Harrison, ugh, you know the tent needs to be shared by everyone. There is no way we’ll let you use it for anything but sleeping.”

Harrison's pleased expression contorted, his annoyance evident. “It’s my skill, so I say what it's used for.”

She appeared exasperated. “Buy your own tent with your own points then.”

“I don’t have 50.”

“Exactly,” Maya smirked, causing a few laughs from the other players.

Harrison cursed loudly, his face deepening through several shades of red as the veins on his forehead became visible. He took a forceful step forward, causing Maya to flinch back in surprise. Nathan tensed in alarm.

Emma placed a hand on Harrison’s arm, and the blond man halted, looking back at her. The pale woman soothingly said, “What about the medical tent? My skill only heals ‘moderate’ injuries instantly. What of the more serious conditions? What about these poison… debuffs? There will be many more injuries in the coming days, yes?”

Harrison began nodding, the red receding from his face. “Ya, good point. That’s a better pick.”

Nathan shared a concerned glance with Maya, who seemed somewhat flustered by Harrison’s aggression. The bigger man carried an air of casual violence that worried Nathan at times.

Taking a deep breath, Nathan brought his mind back to the conversation. He agreed the medical tent was certainly a valid choice.

Asahi spoke up, “For the medical tent, we can always wait for if and when we need it. My Injury Stabilize skill can keep anyone alive long enough for us to buy and assemble the tent.” Nathan only now noticed the soldier had casually positioned himself next to Harrison. When had he gotten over there?

Maya shook her head. She seemed more subdued than before, but had recovered enough to speak confidently. “That’s too risky since Harrison needs 30 EPs to start the building process, meaning he could never use his combat skills. Besides that, think about how tenuous our abilities actually are. If you were to die, Asahi, then we have no more Injury Stabilize. If Emma dies, no more Advanced Healing. And if Harrison, no more new buildings. So we need to purchase each building with the assumption we may not ever build another later. Not that I want anyone to die, but we need to consider the possibility. The casualty rate of the arena is atrociously high, another point to consider in the medical tent’s favor.”

Maya’s speech was grim, but made sense. Nathan found himself nodding along.

Lilly spoke up, her tall figure towering over all the players save Harrison. “I’ll try learning the Buildings skill as soon as possible too.”

Maya nodded. “Redundancy is good, but my point still stands. Both you and Harrison could be wiped out at the same time, then we have no new buildings once again.”

Asahi seemed contemplative. “We must consider the logistical strategy for these buildings. What are we hoping to accomplish long term? Are we building a temporary camp that will be abandoned in a few days, or will this be a permanent base of operations, lasting the full duration of the three phases of the arena trials?”

Nathan appreciated the older man’s comments. He had a way of asking questions that forced the group to consider elements of their decisions beyond the immediately obvious. “Asahi’s right, we need to determine our goals before we invest a huge chunk of NPs for a short term benefit. The dungeon is a half day’s hike away from here. Once we finish phase one and more zones open up, we might need to abandon this area entirely since it’s too far from everything else. If these buildings are permanent, they may end up being wasted NPs that would’ve been better spent on improving our skills.”

Maya was frowning, but nodding along.

Harrison was just frowning. The man said, “Phase two is a bloody long time from now. We’re not even a third of the way done with phase one. If we die because we wanted to save our NPs, then we bloody well deserve to die.”

Nathan had to admit it was a valid point. Saved NPs were useless if they perished before they could spend them.

Maya said, “It seems we need to strike a balance. We need to invest a little for the benefits we can gain, but an all-in building strategy would be too much, at least until we know more.”

Nathan considered the different choices again. There were two tent options, four different vendors, one random luxury building in the form of an outhouse, and one defensive fence. All of the options were likely permanent structures except for the tents. That thought gave him an idea, and he smiled. “What we need is the ability to take our base with us when we move. Only two of these buildings can do that.”

Maya perked up at his words, her usual enthusiasm returning. “The tents... that’s brilliant. So our investment will never be wasted since they can travel with us.”

Asahi nodded. “If we are deciding between the simple tents and the medical tent, there is no reason the medical tent cannot serve as a sleeping tent as well. While the description states the number of patients housed is two, it will likely sleep more bodies if we consider the rest of the floor space. To perform medical procedures, the tent would need to be at least a certain size for its intended purpose to be feasible. If it can sleep at least six, then for its 150 NP cost it would be an equivalent NP value to three simple tents, not even considering the bonus medical benefits it potentially offers.”

Many of the players muttered agreement. Becoming injured in the arena was terrifying. Nathan looked around at the others, seeing a spark of hope on several faces as the medical tent was being discussed. He glanced back at Asahi. Hadn’t the man said he’d been in a field tent when brought to the arena? While Nathan had recreational experience from his camping trips, the military officer likely had large scale experience mobilizing entire temporary bases.

Nathan continued to consider the merits of the medical tent. Zhang had been on the verge of death yet they had him sleeping on the trail for half a day. That was unacceptable. And what of those with psychological injuries like Matias? Perhaps the tent could help return a non-combatant back to fighting shape?

“Everyone good with the medical tent first then?” Maya asked. Murmurs of support went around.

“Thank you, everyone,” Emma said. The genuine gratitude in her voice hinted at how deeply her emotional investment with the medical tent actually went.

Harrison whispered to the French woman and she giggled, whispering something back. Nathan shot a glance at his teammate Iliana, who had been awfully friendly with Harrison the night before. The woman seemed to be stifling tears from her eyes while simultaneously scowling at the two players. Apparently, Emma seemed to have the tall man’s favor currently, whether because the two spent the morning foraging together or due to Iliana’s burnt hair, he didn’t know. Or it could just be Harrison being… Harrison. He shook his head in irritation. A high school level love triangle was a disaster waiting to happen. They were in the middle of a death game people!

He then stopped and actually considered the young age of the three players. He’d found out from Maya that Emma was still a teenager at eighteen, and Iliana and Harrison were only a couple years older. Nathan was more than a decade older than the three’s average age, which he supposed was why it was hard to relate to any of them.

He could only imagine how the fifty year old widower, Asahi, must view the strange behavior of the younger players around him. The fact that most of their active players were from Western cultures totally foreign to him probably didn’t help either. He supposed it was why Asahi got along better with Johanna since she was closest to his age.

“Harrison, you want to start the building?” Maya asked.

“Hell ya,” he said.

Harrison activated the building on his interface, spending 30 energy points in the process. A projection from his bracelet expanded, creating a full sized blue holographic version of the medical tent on the ground in front of him. The tent had a wide rectangular shape with a peaked roof, the front featuring two door flaps and an awning. Nathan had shopped for quite a few tents in his day, so could tell it was roughly an eight by twelve footprint, reaching nine feet tall at its highest point. Asahi had been right about the size, they could probably sleep six to eight in the tent if they crowded in.

As Harrison moved his wrist, the projection adjusted. The tent auto-aligned itself to the ground allowing for differences in the terrain wherever he aimed the projection.

Nathan said, “You’ll want to put it on a level flat surface. Sleeping on a hillside sucks.”

“Top of the hill then?” Maya suggested.

Nathan nodded and Harrison began walking up the North trail. Once he reached flat ground, he pointed the projection into the underbrush to the left of the forested trail.

Before Nathan could suggest a spot a few feet further back, Harrison confirmed the build option. Nathan sighed, but didn’t say anything since it wasn’t a big deal. It was a tent after all, it could still be moved.

The connecting light between Harrison’s wrist and the hologram disappeared, but the blue hologram remained in place. It was now independent of the man’s wristband. Harrison turned to his audience, grinning like a possum, obviously enjoying the attention.

Nathan barely noticed, he was too busy geeking out over the tent’s detail. He stepped around Harrison, reaching out towards the blue light. When he made contact, his wristband screen popped open.

[Do you wish to contribute 1 NP to the construction of the medical tent? 0 / 150 NPs.]

Nathan blinked as he processed the prompt. He focused for two seconds to confirm and then received a new message.

[You have contributed 1 NP to the building’s construction.]

[Due to your first contribution towards a building, you have been awarded 5 NPs.]

“Yes!” he cheered, to the surprise of the watching players. He effectively net gained 4 NPs. He repeated his actions and contributed 1 more NP bringing the building’s completion to 2 out of 150. He didn’t receive any bonus NPs the second time, but hadn’t expected he would.

“I just contributed 2 NPs,” he told the group. “Just touch the hologram and it will ask you to contribute 1 NP at a time. You get 5 NPs as a reward for your first contribution so we’re basically going to build the medical tent for a heavy discount.”

Maya nodded. “That’s great, with fifteen players that’s 75 free NPs, assuming even Matias and Zhang contribute. We should be able to build something else too.”

Several of the players, especially Iliana, cheered at the news. He knew the Bulgarian woman was still hoping for the food vendor.

Maya raised her voice, announcing, “We need everyone to contribute 10 NPs each. With the rebate that means only 5 net loss per player.”

“Don’t we need our points for skill upgrades though?” Angelo huffed. “I almost have enough for one.”

Maya nodded. “That’s the question, really. Buildings are clearly designed to be a collaborative effort. But if everyone contributes a little, it won’t set back any one person too much.”

“Well, I’m saving for my skill,” Angelo said.

“I guess that’s your choice,” she shrugged. “But what happens when you’re injured?” She glanced around, “What does everyone think? Should the healing tent be prioritized for players who contribute?”

“Damn straight,” Harrison said, giving the balding man his own dangerous glare. “If ya don’t contribute, then no crying to use the medical tent when you have a spear in your gut.”

Angelo glanced around at the mostly unfriendly looks. “Fine, take my points, you thieves.”

Nathan frowned at the bullying, noting the lack of democracy in their group’s decision making. But then again, did they really need every player doing their own thing without thought for the group? For their immediate survival, they required cohesion and decisiveness. Maya, and he supposed Harrison in his own obnoxious way, were giving the group that leadership. At least they were being fair, making every player contribute equal amounts.

Each of the players, including Nathan, took turns contributing their NPs to the medical tent. Nathan donated 8 more, dropping his NPs to 18.5.

After everyone donated, Nathan checked the hologram, seeing they were still 22 NPs short. Zhang, who was still asleep, accounted for 10 of the 22. Matias, who was staring at the creek by himself, was another 10. Someone still owed 2 points.

“Who donated less than 10?” Nathan asked the group.

After a few awkward moments of everyone looking at each other, Johanna finally spoke up. “I did.”

Nathan frowned, not surprised it was the disagreeable woman. “Everyone has to do their part.”

Asahi cleared his throat and said, “If you remember, Johanna-san only had 3 NPs so could only contribute 8 after receiving the 5 NP reward. She spent most of her NPs on an upgrade shortly after she was injured and has been unwell since yesterday, missing all opportunities to earn more. She has given everything she has.”

Oh. Nathan nodded, finding the explanation plausible. Apparently, he’d jumped to conclusions. “Ah, I see. That makes sense.” He looked back at Johanna to see her silently glaring at him. He winced, feeling particularly dumb at antogonizing her for nothing, thus furthering their rift.

During this exchange, Emma had walked over to Matias and begun speaking softly to him. The man nodded and she helped guide him to the hologram.

Nathan wondered how the Peruvian teenager had managed to complete the preliminaries if a single battle broke his psyche. Granted the traumization was fairly understandable considering the nine deaths to his group. Perhaps Alexander and the others were actually the strange ones, able to move on and keep fighting afterward? It boggled Nathan’s mind how many players probably died in the preliminaries because they weren’t able to adapt to survival quickly enough.

Emma gently explained to Matias how to contribute points and the player silently nodded, holding out his hand to the blue image. After Matias removed his hand, Emma led the man back to the creek. Nathan checked the total on the hologram. They needed 18 more.

He said, “For the twelve of us with NPs leftover, we need to add one or two more each.” To prove he was willing to share the burden, he added two more himself dropping his total to 16.5.

When the last NP was added by a loudly complaining Angelo, the tent’s hologram immediately brightened in intensity. A drone suddenly appeared from the sky, noiselessly hovering above the displayed structure. It happened so fast Nathan hadn’t even seen it fly down from wherever it originated. The drone was identical in appearance to the one that greeted Nathan yesterday morning.

The drone shined an intense blue light, several shades darker than even the hologram’s blue, at the base of the tent’s image. The thick tangle of plants growing inside the tent’s hologram instantly pixelated and disappeared. Starting at the bottom, the projected light split horizontally encompassing the entire base of the hologram. The intense light steadily rose and where it met the tent’s image, leather materialized. Nathan had never seen a leather tent before, especially one dyed the color white, but knew that leather used to be popular for tents in older times before affordable synthetic waterproofing materials were invented.

The whole building creation experience was surreal, like something that could only be imagined in a science fiction movie. It was a stark contrast in theme to the antiquated spears and fantasy monsters they were forced to fight. As the blue light reached the top of the tent and finished adding the peaked ceiling, Nathan closed his mouth which had been hanging open. The drone ceased its blue projection, and then zoomed up, disappearing quickly into the sky behind some low hanging clouds.

There now stood a white leather tent pitched to the side of the trail. The underbrush had been vaporized away in all directions around its perimeter by about a yard, allowing Nathan to walk a lap around the tent, impeded only by guylines staked into the ground to hold the tent in place.

Emma was the first to pull the door flap back to check out the interior. Nathan guessed the design of the tent must’ve predated both velcro and zippers because the flaps had leather straps to tie them back. Emma dropped the door flap behind her, disappearing inside. Nathan stepped forward and tied the flap open.

The interior was dim except for some ambient light filtering through the leather material. The open door also let in some light, but for a medical tent it honestly wasn’t enough. He quickly found two additional flaps on the walls that could be pitched outward with accompanying thin wooden poles, allowing additional light and ventilation. There was no flooring material, but the building process had removed the weeds and compacted the earth to make it smooth. Not exactly a luxury tent like he was used to, but it would still beat sleeping on the trail while exposed to the elements.

The tent contained two basic cots with a blanket made of rough fabric folded on top of each. He presumed these were for the two designated patients. There was one empty wooden table between the cots. Nothing else was provided with the tent.

He glanced at their best healer. Emma’s disappointment was clearly visible on her face. He shared the emotion. He’d also expected there to be an assortment of medical equipment, bandages, and supplies. He reflected sourly that they’d likely have to get those from one of the vendors at additional expense.

“Bring Zhang inside and put him on a bed,” Emma instructed Nathan. Regarding medical matters, he noticed the woman tended to be a lot more assertive.

“Will do.”

Nathan stepped out as the press of curious players went in. Lilly was standing off to the side so Nathan conscripted her to help him carry the sleeping man inside. The man still had the white plus sign symbol of the First Aid buff on his collar, but its duration would likely be running out soon.

Players parted for them as they carried him inside, some even stepping out of the tent to make room. Emma grabbed the folded blanket on one of the cots and set it on the table out of the way. They set Zhang down gently on the bed and stepped back.

“So what now?” Harrison snapped. “There’s nothing here. What a waste of NPs.”

Nathan shrugged, having similar thoughts. “Maybe we need to build the gear vendor? You know, to get the medical equipment and supplies?”

The gear vendor would actually be pretty nice to have anyway. Nathan wouldn’t mind having a real bag to carry the food they gathered. For that matter, a change of clothes would go a long way to making him feel like a civilized person too. He frowned when he considered that clothes might instead be associated with the armor vendor. He sighed. They would need to build all four vendors just to cover the bare essentials. There just wasn’t enough NPs to go around.

Nathan’s train of thought was interrupted by a bright light shining from the ceiling of the tent. The blue light was similar in appearance to the one used by the drone and it began shining back and forth over Zhang’s body sleeping on the cot. The players waited in anticipation for something more to happen but the light only continued to sweep back and forth over the man. Nathan stepped closer. There was a new symbol on Zhang’s collar; a purple plus sign.

“Hey, check out his collar,” Nathan said. “He has two recovery symbols now. The white one is from the First Aid skill so the purple must be from the medical tent.”

Emma nodded. “It’s a shame he is asleep and can’t read us the current status effect description in his interface screen.”

“We can test it,” Nathan said. He hopped onto the second cot and laid back. A few moments later, a similar blue light shone down from the ceiling and began scanning his body. A purple plus sign symbol appeared on Nathan’s wristband next to his white First Aid symbol. He opened his character screen and checked out his buffs.

[Current Status Effects: First Aid I, Medical Tent.]

*[First Aid I - improve natural recovery rates by 3x for six hours.]

*[Medical Tent - stabilizing effects have 2x duration and natural recovery rate improves by 4x while designated as a patient.]

“Thank God the recovery effects stack,” Maya said. “Together that makes 12x the recovery speed!”

“Add in my 1.5x from Rapid Recovery...” Nathan spent a moment calculating.

“18x recovery,” Maya said before he even got started. “With 6x from Advanced Healing instead of First Aid’s 3x… Nathan, you’re looking at 25.5x recovery speed with all of our best buffs. You could recover from something that should normally take a month in little over a day. Even quicker assuming you First Aid it away once it passes over into the ‘minor’ injury classification.”

“Whoa,” Nathan said as he took in the numbers. “The Injury Stabilize skill time is doubled too, meaning it will now last 40 minutes after Asahi uses it.”

Nathan was pleased, and greatly relieved. The tent had been a good investment after all. And that was without even taking into account they could sleep here too. The morale boost provided by having a shelter couldn’t be understated.

The Indian player spoke loudly for everyone to hear. “These two beds should always be filled, day and night. Even if someone only has minor hurts or soreness, someone should be benefiting from the tent or it's a waste. The EPs needed for First Aid can’t always be spared and everyone should be in top shape at all times. Death can be minutes away at any moment.”

Murmurs of agreement and head bobbing answered her.

“Who is currently most injured?” Asahi said.

“Matias,” Emma said.

Asahi frowned. “The quiet one? Where is he hurt? I have seen no wounds on him.”

“He has an injury of the mind,” Emma explained patiently. “I don’t know if it can be helped, but we should try. I’ll bring him here.”

Nathan jumped off the bed and the scanning light turned off. The purple plus sign disappeared from his wristband too. He noticed his wristband was glowing for some reason and was about to open it when he was interrupted by Jackson awkwardly trying to get his attention.

“What’s up, Jackson?” he prompted their youngest player.

“Um, we gathered some extra yellow flower roots while we were out harvesting yams,” Jackson said. “It’s why it took us so long to get back. Emma insisted we go all the way there.” He held out eight of the roots.

“That’s great! Put them on the table for now. At least the medical tent will have some actual medical supplies. Antiseptic and pain numbing paste will still be needed even with all these skills and effects. It doesn’t matter how much natural recovery someone has if their infection isn’t treated in the first place.”

Jackson nodded and placed the roots on the table before running out. Nathan turned as he heard Maya calling everyone’s attention again.

“Listen up. Everyone just got a message. I’ve already read it and will say you should sit down because there is a reward attached.” Her gleeful smile made him assume the reward was pretty good. She continued speaking, “Hurry up and do so because the next attack is in five minutes. I want everyone outside the tent and ready well before then. We can discuss the message and continue our building plans, if any, after the battle.”

Nathan followed instructions by sitting down and opening his interface.

[Congratulations! You have assisted in successfully purchasing your first building. For the achievement of establishing the first building in zone 14, all contributing players gain +1 affinity to their Prime element.]

Nathan had a moment of pleasant surprise before his heart began frantically palpating. He breathed deeply and evenly as he waited for about a minute for the sensations to pass. The affinity gains tended to hurt way less than skill and stat gains, but they were still unpleasant.

He smiled at his new Wood 5 affinity, meaning he also gained an additional 2 to his max EPs. That put him at 39 max without his gloves. He also became eligible to upgrade his Snare skill as soon as he saved up to 20 NPs. Snare was quickly becoming his favorite skill, so it was going to make spending his hoard of NPs on buildings that much more difficult of a decision.

He glanced around, seeing other players either clutching their chests as they were going through the affinity process, or else already having finished and smiling at their reward. Many of the players who were stuck in their skill progress would now be eligible to level up a few skills, thus increasing the collective strength of their entire group.

Then he remembered Zhang who hadn’t contributed. He felt bad for the recovering man. Had they known of the reward, they would’ve waited for him to be healed so he could have benefited too. But then again, had they waited, someone else might’ve built a building first and none of them would’ve gotten anything.

He supposed if certain species were fast and gained zone first achievements for the extra rewards, there would be a snowball effect. Those players would keep getting stronger and thus able to claim more first rewards, which in turn would make them even stronger to claim more. Nathan just needed to make sure his group were the ones pushing the snowball.

He re-opened his interface and began reading the remainder of his pending message.

[The building’s current owner is set to the player whose skill initiated the purchase. Settlements can be founded when the owners of at least three buildings within a fifty meter range designate their buildings to allow settlement joining. Once a settlement is founded, a settlement tab will be opened for all of the contributing building owners and beneficial settlement effects can be chosen. Whenever a settlement has less than three buildings, it will be disbanded.]

He gaped, both at the revelation of settlement mechanics, and also the shocking fact the nanites actually bothered to explain something for once. He considered the possibilities. Depending on how good the beneficial settlement effects were, this mechanic could be extremely important.

For some reason, the fact Harrison officially owned the medical tent was the strangest thing to him. Why was only a single player designated as owner? It was a counter-intuitive mechanic given the collaborative nature of purchasing the buildings. Most other mechanics reinforced the fact the arena was a team game. Perhaps there were ways an enemy player could screw over settlements if they had access? Or there were methods to capture buildings or other mechanics they didn’t know yet?

Regardless of the reasons, he was going to make sure Lilly and even Johanna, if she could keep from pissing him off every single time he talked with her, learned the Buildings skill as soon as possible. Having Harrison be the sole owner of everything in their potential settlement seemed like a bad idea for two reasons. For one, they didn’t know how the mechanics worked. If Harrison were to die, what happened to the buildings? Could ownership be transferred? Having all their eggs in one basket just wasn’t wise. And secondly, he assumed being ‘owner’ of all the buildings would go straight to the man’s head. Harrison didn’t need anything else to add to his already massive ego.

With a grimace, Nathan gripped his spear and strolled out of the tent to join the players forming up outside.

“We’ll need to protect the tent,” Maya said to the players. “Form up in two groups facing both directions on the trail. We don’t know how the tent might alter the monster spawn mechanics so be ready for anything. Asahi, Angelo, as soon as the battle starts, I want both of you to circle to the back of the tent to make sure nothing spawns there just in case. From what we’ve seen, only the position of players at the start of the battle determines where the monsters appear. After it begins, it doesn’t matter where you move to.”

“Watch out for the guylines around the tent,” Nathan called out to them. He’d tripped over enough of them while camping to know a warning was needed. He then turned to address the bigger group. “If they’re beavers in the fight, I’m going to try capturing one with my Snare skill, so please don’t kill it. We need to see if we can remove their horns.”

Alexander stepped up beside Nathan, holding a guthark steel knife. “I borrowed Gabriel’s blade since I said I would help you.”

“I’ll help too,” Lilly said, test swinging her mace as she joined them.

“Thanks, not sure I could do it on my own,” Nathan admitted.

They stood on the trail facing South towards the creek while the other group faced North. His stomach twisted thinking about the gory operation he was potentially about to perform. He was glad he’d have help. A glance at his EP counter informed him he had 21 EPs. He knew that shortly after it ticked to 22, the battle would begin.

Iliana joined his side, most likely to be with her foraging teammates. He nodded to her. She clutched her new sword in trembling hands, but otherwise looked determined. He noticed her dress had been pinned up with needles at the bottom so that it no longer dragged on the ground, improving her mobility.

Johanna was standing between the two groups, obviously unsure where to go. There were less people on Nathan’s side, so she reluctantly walked towards them. He figured she would’ve rather been with the other group away from him.

As Johanna took a place next to Lilly, she was shaking so hard he worried she’d hyperventilate before the battle even began. She leaned on the shoddy staff Maya had fashioned the day before, the support the only thing keeping her legs from buckling underneath her. She made Iliana look confident and battle hardened in comparison.

Nathan would’ve thought their camp had enough spare spears that she needn’t use the staff, but the other players had apparently broken several of the crude weapons already and they were running out. Nathan had even broken two himself in the fight with the mini-boss. He decided right then his vote would be going towards the weapons vendor for their next building choice.

As Nathan studied the terrified player, he realized it was Johanna’s first battle since she’d been injured the day before. At that time, three beavers had nearly wiped out their entire team. He smiled wryly. So much has changed since then. Despite their personal differences, he couldn’t help but pity the woman since she’d fallen so far behind him and the others in progression.

He decided he would at least try to offer some encouragement, “Johanna, I know it's scary but make sure you participate. You need the NPs and skills.”

Her eyes narrowed at him. “Don’t talk down to me…” she began. Her voice choked off as a yipping noise coming from the North side of the trail.

He immediately recognized it as the sound of the regular spear wielding goblins. The noise was quickly followed by a screech from the South trail meaning they were to be treated with beavers too. So it was to be a hybrid goblin and beaver raid from two directions as had happened a couple of times the day before.

“Well, I wasn’t,” Nathan snapped back at Johanna. While he probably could’ve worded his advice less patronizingly, the fact she outright rejected his help wasn’t doing herself any favors. He could lead a horse to water, but he couldn’t make her drink.

Besides his annoyance at his surly ally, Nathan became excited by the perfect conditions for unlocking weapon skills for Iliana. These were similar conditions to how Harrison had unlocked Blunt Weapons the day before from only killing beavers thanks to Maya and Nathan also killing a tier 1 goblin in the same raid.

“Iliana, there are tier 1 monsters in the fight and as long as you participate with your sword you should unlock the weapon skill, assuming swords are Metal affinity. If you want, the first beaver is yours, I’ll support your side.”

“Okay,” the tanned woman replied agreeably, her voice wavering slightly. Sounds of battle with the goblins commenced behind them as a beaver hopped out of the underbrush in front.

They had fought enough beavers already that Iliana knew what to do despite her trepidation. She ran forward, slashing downward with her scimitar before the creature had a chance to leap with its horn attack. Nathan moved forward as well, spear poised just in case. Despite her high Physical stats and strength, Iliana’s form with the sword was terrible. She’d never used the weapon before and the glaring lack of a weapon skill was evident. The sword was also likely more difficult for untrained players to use than the spear. This was demonstrated when she completely missed the beaver, hitting the ground instead.

Nathan quickly stepped forward and speared the beaver before it had a chance to skewer her. Iliana looked over at him, her eyes wide. “Oh my God! Thank you. This sword is so hard.” Then she giggled. “I much prefer holding a big strong pole.”

Alexander began coughing awkwardly. Iliana flashed the Russian man a knowing smile, laughing to herself.

Nathan shook his head slightly at the woman’s particular brand of humor, suppressing his own smile. At least he wasn’t the only one thrown off by her comments.

Nathan shook his head slightly at the woman’s particular brand of humor, suppressing his own smile. “No problem. Try the sword again on the next one. Not sure if you actually have to hit one of them or not to get the skill, so let’s make sure either way.” He glanced back at the others, hesitating a moment before saying, “Johanna, after Iliana kills this next one, you’re up. You can learn a new weapon skill too.”

The Swedish woman’s face went even paler than usual. “No…” she whispered.

Nathan shrugged, unsure how else to convince her. If she wanted to survive for long, she had to participate.

Lilly said, “Trust me, you should get a weapon skill, it makes fighting so much easier.”

Alexander nodded, “Yes, now is the best time, the battles won’t get any easier than beavers.”

A second beaver leapt onto the trail, landing in the same place as the previous one. With Iliana already prepared, she slashed horizontally with her curved blade instead of straight down like before. Her enhanced strength powered the swing, easily decapitating the little monster. Unfortunately, Nathan happened to be in the splatter zone of her slashing angle and was coated in blood. The warm liquid dripping down his face nearly caused him to gag.

“Ugh,” he stammered. Why did combat have to be so disgusting?

“Oh my God, sorry,” Iliana said, holding her bloody sword behind her in a sheepish pose.

He found her remorse somewhat endearing. He wiped the blood off his face with his hand. “No worries,” he said casually, despite his internal horror at the gory mess. He honestly just couldn’t get mad at her while she was being so sincere. “My own fault standing in the way. Anyway, good job, Iliana. Johanna, your turn.”

Johanna blanched as the rest of the players looked at her expectantly. “You can’t make me do this, I don’t deserve to be here!” She took a step back, her eyes wild. “My children need me, I can’t leave them!”

Nathan took a deep breath, taking a moment to consider. Was he the bad guy here? After all, he was basically forcing a middle-aged mother to participate in a death fight. But on second thought, he decided that no, no he wasn’t. He hadn’t created this cursed arena. He could only do his best to make sure as many of them survived as possible, even if they didn’t like it. “It’s up to you I guess, but you need these skills to survive.”

Lilly spoke up, her voice reassuring, “You can do it, Johanna. You must fight for your children’s sake. That is the only way you will return to them. Here, follow me.” Lilly gently took her arm and guided the reluctant woman forward. Surprisingly, Johanna allowed herself to be led by the taller woman. Nathan nodded to Lilly, appreciating her success where he had failed.

He wasn’t exactly sure how many beavers there would be for this round. There’d only been three in the earlier fight with the wolves. He supposed there could be one more, or there might be none. He’d need to capture this one in case it was the last, ideally after Johanna whacked it so she’d get Blunt Weapons credit.

“Bash it once, Johanna, then I’ll capture it with Snare. Lilly, kill any others that might show up.”

He quickly glanced back to the fighting on the other side of the trail, checking to make sure there wasn’t an emergency with the goblins they’d need to help with. At that moment, Asahi and Angelo both emerged from the underbrush, surprising the enemy goblins’ flank. A flash of multiple skill activations from the various players informed him they had it well under control.

He focused back on their side. Johanna shrieked when the beaver landed in front of her.

“Strike it now!” Nathan shouted.

Tears were streaming down her face as she slammed her staff down, impacting the monster. Nathan readied a small rock in his hand to cast Snare. But before he could throw it, he blinked in surprise when Johanna swung her staff again… and again… and again. The beaver pixelated after the fifth blow.

He was stunned by her violent display. It reminded him of her crazed state when he and Asahi had first met up with her after the prelims. He was honestly glad to see her embracing the fight, but she’d also unfortunately screwed up his plans to capture one. While disappointed at the missed opportunity, he was also somewhat relieved he could procrastinate on having to mutilate a living creature for a while longer.

A fourth shriek resounded and Lilly shoved Johanna out of the way, the action hard enough to knock the woman to the ground. The Kenyan player readied her mace to squash the new beaver as it landed.

“Lilly, wait!” he called out. “Snare!” he shouted as he threw the rock he’d imbued with energy. The green glowing rock flew forward… and struck the ground beside the creature. Stupid freaking beaver rats… at times they were just way too small of targets.

He was surprised when a mild flash of green light released from the impacted ground. Vines rapidly grew from the soil and wrapped around one of the beaver’s legs right as it leapt. The beaver flew through the air towards Lilly before the vine went taut, arresting its momentum and dragging it back to the ground. Only one foot was snared, but it was better than nothing.

“Alright, go time!” Nathan said, running forward. “Johanna, Iliana, watch out for any other monsters.”

Alexander, who’d been waiting patiently for this moment, moved forward with the knife. “Nathan, if you hold, I’ll cut.”

The beaver began biting at the vine wrapped around its foot. With its oversized incisors, it would make short work of it.

“I’ll stun it so you can grab it,” Lilly said. She held a small rock up. Nathan smiled as he realized she was about to emulate his magic casting technique. She said, “Ready? Three… two… one!”

She spoke a foreign word as she pegged the beaver with the rock. A bright yellow flash nearly blinded him but he knew the stun would only last one second. It proved long enough as he jumped on top of the beaver and grabbed its neck. He squeezed hard enough to hold it firmly in place, but not too hard. He didn’t want the beaver’s neck to pop like he’d done the day before when he used his Attack Up skill. He placed his knees to pin its body as best he could, finding its flat paddle tail a good place to press down on. As the beaver scratched his hands as it squirmed under him, he regretted loaning his gloves to Emma.

Alexander knelt in front of the restrained monster, his knife glinting in the sunlight. Nathan gulped, knowing they were about to do something unspeakable to the creature. He averted his eyes, concentrating on holding the struggling creature still. Alexander began a series of cutting, sawing, and twisting. The shirtless man grunted as he worked, the horns proving difficult to remove with only a knife. It didn’t help that he had to be careful not to kill the creature. Blood began to drip down to Nathan’s hands and once again he wished for his gloves.

With a sudden hard yank, Nathan heard the sound of bones snapping. A moment later, he glanced up to see Alexander holding a bloody horn in his hand. The man cried out in pain and dropped the horn, grasping at his hand with his other. He’d accidentally cut himself on the horn.

The beaver in Nathan’s grip gurgled in pain, and then began to glow. Nathan let go of it and watched as it pixelated along with the remaining horn still attached to its head. The removed horn lying on the ground remained where it was.

“Yes, it worked!” he cheered. “Thank you everyone!” He tried not to celebrate too much though. He had an injured player crying out next to him.

Nathan checked his EP counter. He only had 7 EPs so couldn’t First Aid the man yet. Emma would likely have 20 by now though. A glance at the other group informed him they’d already finished their battle too. He counted the players and blew out a sigh of relief. Everyone was accounted for and looked well. A flash of cascading colored energy drew his eyes to Emma as she activated First Aid on Maya. A flash of concern for the Indian player coursed through him, but he needn’t have worried. As soon as the healing skill finished on her, she nimbly stood up, smile plastered across her face.

“Well there goes the only First Aid,” Nathan told the Russian man. “Mine won’t be available for twenty minutes.”

“No problem,” Alexander grunted. “I used a knife in battle for the first time. Since I’m a Metal Prime, let’s see if I learned a weapon skill and can heal myself with a Physical stat gain.”

Nathan nodded as the man opened his interface. A moment later, the player fell to his back and writhed in agony. Nathan chuckled. It looked like it worked.

Maya called out for everyone’s attention. “Good job everyone. We’ll take a ten minute break, then finish our building and settlement discussion. After that, teams will go back to foraging for the afternoon.”

Nathan turned back to the players standing around him. “Iliana, Johanna, you likely learned new skills too so should go ahead and get it over with. Good work.”

“What terrible thing have you made me do? You made me murder it,” Johanna accused, before opening her interface screen and passing out from learning her new skill.

He sighed, so done with her. He supposed the fact she’d already murdered one beaver yesterday, before she even met back up with Nathan, didn’t register. Besides, he hadn’t made her do anything. Tygerion was the one responsible for all this, turning them into killers.

Despite her objections, Nathan suspected the Swedish player might get two skills. She would likely unlock Blunt Weapons for bashing the beaver and she’d also earn the first time reward for defeating a tier 1 monster since the goblins had been part of the attack. If he remembered correctly, her reward should be a randomly chosen Earth skill.

Iliana watched the woman twitch on the ground. “I have to be honest with you. I don’t want to learn another skill,” she whined. “It hurts me so much.”

He liked Iliana well enough, but at times he wished she was more self-sufficient like Lilly, Asahi, or Maya. He took a deep breath and thought of the best way to tailor his coaching for her. “Don’t think about the pain. Just focus on how awesome the nanites are at sculpting your body.”

“I guess so,” she pouted. Despite her tone, she appeared significantly less upset. She sat down and opened her screen, soon joining the others in learning new skills.

Nathan turned his attention to the bloody horn lying where Alexander dropped it. He examined it without touching. The horn had a subtle curve but was straighter than Iliana’s scimitar sword. While the tip was filed to a deadly point, there was also a sharp edge running down to its base. Asahi’s leg injury the day before was likely caused from being slashed by the curved edge, rather than being pierced by the tip.

He considered the uses for it. He imagined it would be difficult to wield the horn in battle without slashing one’s own hand, as Alexander had just demonstrated. His gloves might make the feat safer so he’d need to experiment with them. At least the horn would be useful around camp as a mundane cutting tool if nothing else. If they built a vendor, they might be able to sell them too.

Being careful to pick the horn up without hurting himself, he found it was lighter than he expected. It was obviously hollow inside. He turned it point down, and discovered a wide hollow opening at its base. He didn’t know if horns being hollow was the norm for animals back on Earth or not. As much as he loved the outdoors, he’d never gone hunting once in his life. In fact, hunting was completely prohibited at the national parks he tended to frequent. Not that he even wanted to since he didn’t have the stomach for it.

He scratched his head as he contemplated how he could use it safely. With sudden inspiration, he grabbed his goblin spear and inserted the spear tip into the horn’s opening. And it fit.

He couldn’t believe it… it slid in snugly. Jamming the spear in further, he wedged it so it would hold in place. He held it out, examining his work.

Holy crap, he just upgraded his spear.

He cheered out, startling many of the players who were still catching their breath from the battle. He swung the spear around, excited to note his Pole Weapons skill instinctively knew how to adjust his form to compensate for the weapon modification. The two loot items worked together perfectly… in fact, a little too perfectly. This had to be an intentional design feature of Tygerion’s. He now knew they needed to be on the lookout for other seemingly random items that could potentially synergize or work together.

Lilly, who’d been watching his actions with rapt interest, spoke up. “That’s truly amazing you made that.”

“I can't take all the credit, I think it was designed this way,” he replied. He began to study the weapon more critically. His main worry was the horn falling off in the middle of battle. “Hmm, I need something to secure it properly.”

“I think I have something that might help.” She walked to a random tree down the trail, grabbing something from beside it. He began to wonder what it was. She returned to him, holding out the leather strap she scavenged from the mini-bosses’ broken shield.

“Thanks,” he said, surprised by her generous offer. “But I thought you were going to use it when you made your own shield?”

“Once I started thinking about it, I realized I needed real tools. An axe or a saw comes to mind. I have no idea how I could fashion a solid piece of wood otherwise. If we buy one of these vendor buildings, then I might have some options. Tools are likely cheaper than buying a shield outright.”

He nodded, accepting the strap. He wrapped it around the horn’s base and the top of the spear. He subconsciously drew on his Wilderness Survival II skill knowledge to implement the best wrapping and knot tying methods. He tested the finished product, greatly pleased with the result.

Once finished, he checked his new messages.

[Your (13) participating group members have been awarded 1 NP each for the defeat of four tier 0 monsters and four tier 1 monsters.]

[Due to your efforts in harvesting a monster part for the first time, you’ve been awarded 2 NPs.]

[Due to your first time action of combining a monster part with an existing weapon and binding them together, you’ve been awarded 2 NPs and learned the Equipment Fusion I skill.]

[Equipment Fusion tab unlocked.]

[The recipe Beaver Horn Spear has been added to the Equipment Fusion tab.]

He had a moment of shocked glee before the horrific electrical storm arrived in his brain. But even the torture couldn’t completely wipe the smile off his face.

A note from Gilgilad7
Spoiler: Nathan's Character Sheet


About the author


  • United States
  • Aspiring Author

Bio: I love games in all forms.

Small sample of my favorites:
Boardgames - 7 Wonders, Agricola, Ticket to Ride, Dominion.
CRPGs: Wizardry VIII, Bard's Tale III, Final Fantasy VII, TES III Morrowind.
MMOs: World of Warcraft, Eve Online.
Shooters: Goldeneye, Halo, PUBG.
CCGs: Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, Pokemon TCG.
RTS: Dune II, Red Alert, Warcraft II, Starcraft II.
4x Strategy: Alpha Centauri, Civilization III, Endless Legend, Age of Wonders III.
MOBAs: Vainglory.

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