Somewhat surprisingly, Jack awoke feeling refreshed and, eat your heart out Wolverine, he was completely healed! Healing in hours what would take weeks back on Earth was absolutely amazing! The fire had long since died out. Still, he thanked whatever this world offered as gods that the night had passed uneventfully. He couldn’t wait to get more of his friends through the portal; this was more than a one-man job. After a quick breakfast of dried steak, he packed up his gear. Taking the lodestone out of his backpack, he let it dangle from his finger. Was it his imagination, or did he see it twitch a little to the west? Since he didn’t have a specific destination, he decided to head in that direction.

Before doing that, he scaled the cliff behind his camp, which was silly with handholds, and looked around. The forest surrounded him in every direction. To the west, the trees eventually gave way to mountaintops peaked with snow. To the east, he thought he could just make out the portal, only a few miles away by his best guess. It felt like it should have been farther away, but he realized that most of the time while traveling he’d crept very slowly in his ninja stealth mode—well, Chris Farley in Beverly Hills Ninja stealth mode at least. To the north and south were more trees and forest, but he glimpsed water far off to the south, sparkling blue glinting off the rays of the morning sun.

Climbing back down to the ground gave him another notification.

You have learned the Climbing skill, improving your ability to climb up and down various surfaces and objects.

Nope, no bonuses to this skill. Climbing had never really been his thing, given his beer gut and overall poor fitness.

He started walking toward what he considered west, assuming the sun rose in the east on this planet. The forest continued to be littered with trees, most of which he recognized: pine, oak, cottonwood, ash, and birch. It was zany how much this felt like being back in Wisconsin. His grandpa had been stationed in Hawaii while in the army, and he would tell stories of how many of the trees on the islands were not indigenous but were imported from the Philippines or other countries, including pineapple trees. Jack wondered if at some point in the past trees from here had seeded Earth, or vice versa.

A couple of hours later, when the sun was high in the sky, Jack stopped to take a quick break and saw a notification in the corner of his vision.

You learned the Hiking skill, improving your carrying ability as well as walking speed over difficult terrain. You gain a +8 bonus to this skill based on prior experience.

“Hiking is hard work,” Jack said, using his sleeve to wipe away sweat and sitting down with his back to a nearby birch tree. Being overweight and out of shape truly sucked, and he promised himself that if he ever got out of here, taking better care of himself would be on the agenda. He had a buddy on the other side named Joey, but in the mountains of Guatemala he was simply known as the “cabra blanca” or “white goat.” He hiked longer and faster than anyone Jack had ever met, including guides, Sherpas, and other porters. If he had an ounce of what made Joey go, he would be fine. In fact, hiking with Joey probably had parlayed into the meager eight-point bonus he’d received for the skill. He wondered what skill rank Joey would have in Hiking. Heck, he wasn’t even sure what the ranks of skill were beyond untrained, beginner, and journeyman.

Suddenly, he heard Alexa’s voice in his head.

“There are ten skill ranks. Starting at beginner rank, each rank provides perks that you can choose to enhance your skill. The ten ranks are:


Skill Points






















“Some of the ranks have requirements; for instance, you cannot achieve higher than expert in the Stealth skill without having access to the Rogue class. Certain skills require training from someone with a rank above you before you can progress. Other skills have attribute requirements before moving to certain ranks. Your perk ‘Knows No Shame’ allows you to bypass these requirements.”

“Ask and you shall receive,” Jack murmured, a grin appearing on his face as he reviewed the chart that appeared in his mind. It was daunting. For a guy that never stuck with something for more than a few months, he wondered how well he would fare on Rigara. Of course, the fate of the world didn’t depend on him keeping a bartending job at the bowling alley, only the blood alcohol level of the bowling teams would depend on that. Let’s just say he had been known to give away free drinks occasionally – if he was being honest with himself, perhaps more than occasionally. Was bowling a skill on this world?

While he rested, he noticed a slight purplish tinge to some moss a few feet away; moss that he didn’t recognize. He used Analyze.

Name: Spongy Turf Moss. Effect: When ingested, spongy turf moss will heal 2 points of damage over 10 minutes. Other properties: Weak pain relief.

You have gained a skill point in the Analyze and Gathering Plants skills. You are now apprentice rank in Gathering Plants and may choose one of the following perks:

Seek and You Shall Find 2: Increase the chance to find plants by an additional 50% (total 75%) and increase the range of spotting plants by an additional 50% (total 75%).

Faster Gathering 1: Speed of the gathering process is improved by 10%.

Jack chose Seek and You Shall Find 2, already seeing the benefit of identifying plants more easily.

“Alexa, what do my skill points in Gathering Plants do for me, beyond the perks?”

Alexa’s cool voice responded, “Each skill point in Gathering Plants grants you a one percent increased chance of finding and identifying plants. Higher ranks in this skill also allow you to discern multiple effects from a plant when it is identified.” Interesting. The apprentice rank in Gathering Plants allowed him to identify a secondary property of the Spongy Turf Moss: mild pain relief. “Riganol!” he exclaimed as he chuckled at his own joke. Sadly, Alexa remained quiet. Tough room.

He knew pain was in the forecast, as sure as January snow in Northern Wisconsin. Just like Jack’s grandpa could tell when a storm was rolling in, Jack knew a fight was coming.

After gathering all the moss he could find, Jack stood up and pulled out his lodestone, letting it dangle on the line once more. After the errant movement from releasing the stone subsided, he saw a clear pull to the west. Excited, he moved in that direction, referring to the lodestone every thirty minutes or so to make sure was hiking in the right direction and, if he was honest with himself, to take rest breaks.

Jack focused on being stealthy and alert, still a little on edge from the battle with Cooter. The world rewarded him with skill bumps to both Hiking and Stealth, moving him to the beginner rank for both.

Notification icons appeared in the lower right of his vision and he reviewed them as he rechecked the stone, totally not taking advantage of a notification just to take another breather.

and may choose one of the following perks:

Armored Stealth 1: Decreases Stealth penalty for wearing armor by 25%. Normal penalties: Light Armor 25%, Medium Armor 50%, Heavy Armor 100%.

Fast Stealth 1: Increases speed of Stealth by 10%. Normal: Stealth reduces speed by 50%.

“Alexa, can you explain what each skill point in Stealth does for me?”

“Of course, Jack,” the cool female voice responded. “Each skill point in Stealth decreases the chance to be noticed by one percent. The Stealth skill is opposed by the Perception skill of the person from which you are hiding.” Since he was sure he would be trying to sneak past creatures and people with high Perception, he chose Armored Stealth 1 to offset the light armor penalty. He noticed there were multiple skill trees branching off both perks that would most likely come into play as he leveled up his Stealth.

Opening the other notification, he was told he’d hit beginner rank in Hiking and given the following perk options.

Fast Hiking 1: Increase speed of Hiking by 25%.

Difficult Terrain 1: Increase ability to hike effectively on difficult terrain, such as ice, by 25%.

Carrying Capacity 1: Increase carrying capacity by 50 pounds. Normal: Your carrying capacity is equal to your strength score x 5. You can currently carry 55 pounds with no stamina drain.

Jack reviewed the list, weighing the benefits of each perk. His amazing backpack allowed him to worry less about carrying capacity, although he was fairly weak and the ability to carry more would probably benefit him. In the day or so he had been on Rigara, speed had taken a back seat to stealth, so he chose Difficult Terrain 1, hoping the skill would give him better footing on uneven or slippery ground and help him in battles where he would likely be fighting on surfaces coated with blood—much of it his own, if the first fight was any indication.

Jack continued his hike, finding a small path made of grass and loose gravel. After about an hour of hiking, the lodestone nearly pulled the string out of his hand as it yearned to go north and off the trail. And of course, north led uphill. Not finding a path, Jack wound his way through trees, bushes, and other plant life. Grunting with exertion, he trudged onward, and before too long spied a cave entrance carved into the side of a hill. From his current distance, it surprised him that he could make out the deep shadow that signaled the cave entrance.

He was less surprised when a notification icon appeared and he mentally opened it, bringing a dialogue box into view.

You have learned the Perception skill. You gain a +17 bonus to this skill based on prior experience.

You have attained beginner rank in the Perception skill and may choose one of the following perks:

See What is Hidden 1: Your ability to spot secret doors, traps, and hidden caches is improved by 25%.

Improved Senses 1: Choose one of your five senses and improve that sense. Each time you choose this perk, you can pick a different sense.

Many of his jobs over the years required Jack to be observant, not to mention the weekly poker games at the Northway Bar, where his well-developed observation skills played a significant role in getting him kicked out of the poker group. He had also spent a lot of time hunting with his grandpa, which required keen eyesight and focus. All this combined was apparently enough to bring him to the upper range of beginner rank.

Jack thought both options seemed remarkable. He remembered watching a television show called The Sentinel in the ’90s that featured a detective that was somehow gifted with supernatural senses, using them to solve crimes. It certainly wasn’t the best show, but what the main character could do was awesome. On the other hand, finding secret doors and hidden caches could lead to booty. Deciding to find out more, he asked Alexa how Perception worked.

“Perception is used in many ways, but primarily to detect hidden things, including traps, secret doors, or creatures using Stealth. Your Perception skill will be opposed by the Stealth value of the creature, item, or object you are trying to find.”

Jack knew some of this from the description of his Stealth skill, but this clarified it a bit more. While See What is Hidden helped all the time, Improved Senses would be more situational. He chose See What is Hidden 1 and began moving toward the cave entrance.



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