I cannot speak, I can barely even think. The yellow native grasses littering the plain brush against my legs as I hustle away from that awful dragon lady’s town. I intend on making it to Bonesy’s cave but really I just want to smash that angry imperious smirk from Francine’s face.
How dare she! I barely said a word and she snapped for no reason. I’m not a standard tank but what’s good about standard anyway? So I didn’t introduce myself what does that even matter? And what was Dan thinking? Why would he bring me to meet a lady that is such a monster after I told him about how terrible my real life boss was? I hope whoever has that God Quest completes it, right in Francine’s face.
I almost lose all my righteous dignity when my left foot drops into some animal’s burrow, but much to my surprise, I easily compensate and keep on walking. I guess those points in Dexterity are paying off in more ways than one. I definitely would have fallen on my face in real life.
Thinking of Dexterity, I remember the notifications I ignored after the fight with Archibold. I pull them up as I weave between the pine trees, moving quickly to get as far as I can from Brighthollow, enjoying the shade the needle-covered branches provide.
Congratulations! You completed Undead Friend or Foe Part 1.
6,000 Experience Points
Unlocked Undead Friend or Foe Part 2
You Have Reached Level 6!
+5 attributes points.
You Have Reached Level 7!
+5 attributes points.
You Have Reached Level 8!
+5 Attribute Points
Congratulations! You have invented a new skill: Melon Crusher (Level 1)
Putting all of your might into a single blow to your enemy’s skull can crush it like a melon, or miss and leave you exposed to retaliation.
Wait, inventor’s bonus? Awesome! Dan had mentioned that a skill could be invented but I didn’t think it would be that likely for me to invent one. What do I know about staffs? Probably a lot less than some of the other people playing this game. If David was right, millions of people will be exploring Incrementum. The odds of me inventing a staff fighting skill before those people seem low.
Actually, maybe not. Nothing says the skill has to be good, or even that it has to be one out of a finite amount of system approved fighting moves. If the artificial intelligence in this game is as good as it seems, and given Bonesy, Archibold and the gods I have met so far, it seems to be; then there could be a million different fighting skills, only limited by human ingenuity.
From my three levels, I have another 15 attribute points to allocate. I consider my current attributes.
Samantha (Level 8) Attributes
Available Points: 15
The additional Dexterity and Strength has definitely come in handy. But after getting hit by Archibold, I’m rethinking my initial plan of ignoring Constitution. There is always going to be someone or something that is faster than me and I can’t possibly block every attack, so having a decent amount of hit points to handle the fast blows I fail to block seems prudent. I invest 10 points in Constitution.
My new skill, Melon Crusher, has a big weakness of being easy to miss, but Dexterity decreases my chance of missing, and since I invented the skill, I have less of a chance to miss than any other player ever will. Since I am already trying to be quick and nimble, this lines up perfectly. I invest another five points in Dexterity.
I review my attributes again after the changes.
Samantha (Level 8) Attributes
Available Points: 0
Wow, that is a big increase in hit points.
Dismissing the window, I look behind me and see nothing but squat leafy green bushes and pine trees. I wonder how long I’ve been in the forest now. In front of me on my left, there’s a narrow creek running over grey and brown-red river stones. The two-meter deep banks expose gnarled brown roots and crumbling forest dirt. The creek runs directly away from me, deeper into the forest. I decide to follow it farther north. If it meanders away from the location Bonesy had marked on my map, I’ll stop following it.
I only take a few more steps before I sense a deep rumbling. I can feel the bass vibration in the bottoms of my feet and diaphragm. The rumbling turns into an audible growl and I freeze. The hair on my arms stand on end and I can feel my heartbeat speed up. It seems like the forest comes into sharper focus and my eyes open wider. I look all around me but see nothing out of the ordinary.
As the growling sound gets louder, I think I know what direction it is coming from. I hunch my shoulders and mutter to myself, “Just back away slowly...” Stepping one foot behind me, I tilt my head back slightly and look up with my eyes.
In the first branch of a massive pine tree, four meters off the ground and directly in front of me crouches a jet black cat. The cat pulls back its lips exposing the yellow plaque covering its sharp white teeth. The flecked gold pupils of the giant cat’s eyes are pointed straight at me, and I can see the muscles in its meter wide shoulders bunching. I focus on the cat and see lettering above its head in red writing.
Northern Forest Jaguar
Red lettering...David said something about that...Right, it means the monster is higher level than me. Not good, I remember the beating Archie put on me vividly and do not want to feel that again.
I try to step back again to avoid a fight I probably cannot win. The cat leaps out of the tree onto the forest floor and stops growling. It slinks towards me, keeping eye contact and making sure I can always see its teeth. Stopping five meters from me, the great cat crouches, perfectly silent.
A quiet voice, with a slight southern drawl, coming from behind me and to the left says “, Just back away youngin’. If that cat wanted you dead you would have been struck before you heard it. My guess is there are kits in or behind that tree. Just spread your arms and keep backin’ up real slow like.”
I don’t dare look towards the voice. Putting one foot behind the other, I back away slowly while staring at the saliva dripping from the jaguar’s mouth. I just hope my unseen companion is right and the cat will leave me be once I’m far enough away from the tree.
Once I retreat nearly ten meters, my back foot hits a fallen log before my weight settles, and I fall backward, planting my arms behind me. I hear the cat chuff at me. When I look up, I see it turn in half on itself before bunching its hind legs and jumping back into its tree.
Pine needles stir to the left of me and a huge man steps out from behind another tree. He’s wearing a stained leather vest and leather pants, and a huge smile.
“Looks like you dodged a cat muscle bullet there girl. Doc’ Weatherby’s my name, pleased to meet you.” He walks up to me and sticks out his hand as I scramble to my feet.
“So that’s the polite way to introduce yourself? Good to know, apparently it’s a crime to do it poorly.” I stick out my hand too, noticing that I was looking Doc in the eye without having to look up. It is going to take me awhile to get used to being so tall. “Samantha.”
He keeps grinning. “I heard about your little run in with the boss. Thought I might come out here and see if I could smooth over some ruffled feathers. I’ve been watching Francine for awhile now and that woman does not rest. I don’t know the last time she slept, in game or out. From what I hear, she doesn’t really have no place to go back to out there. Now, I heard from a friend what she said to you and believe you me that was just wrong. But sometimes good people say and do wrong things. I was hoping I could convince you to come back to town sometime, talk this thing through. You see, my friend Leonard and I, he’s behind you by the way.”
I turn around and see a tiny man, picking at his teeth with a razor sharp dagger sitting cross-legged. He waves with his other hand then places both hands together, daggers and all, making a praying motion at me and stuck his lower lip out. it would have been cute without the daggers.
“See, Leonard and I, we need a tank. I light things on fire, Leonard stabs, and we go back home at night to drink whiskey, play music and charm the fairer sex. Dan, your friend who is currently fighting with his boss, at least he was when I left, can heal, but none of us are built to stand near the bad guys. I might be a man of considerable size but if the bad guys get close enough to hit me with a weapon I’m a goner. I’d like to say all this bulk is pure muscle but lord knows I like my whiskey and brisket too much for that to be the truth.” Doc pats his belly and gives me another disarming smile.
He says, “I know you’re mighty ticked right now, and I can respect that. I just wanted you to know that we want you on the team. The boss isn’t thinking right at the moment, and we’re working on that too, but please, don’t ride off into the sunset. We need you on the team and the people of that town require a defense force.”
Doc stops speaking for the first time in what feels like an hour. I can’t help but like him. He seems genuine. Why is a man like him helping such a terrible woman? I don’t buy the whole she’s under a lot of stress boo-hoo story. I’ve been under stress for a year and I’m not lashing out at complete strangers. If nothing else, speaking with Doc and getting scared right out of my skirt by the jaguar has cooled me down slightly.
“Please to meet you Doc. I’ll think about what you’ve said and maybe I’ll head back to Athens but I have no reason to help that woman. I’m pretty angry at Dan too. What was he thinking bringing me there? He’s been working with her for years right? He should have known she would react that way.”
Doc kicks the ground a bit, thinking about what to say next I imagine.
“Well, Francine isn’t her normal self, hasn’t been for some time...but that’s not my story to tell. Just think about what I said, we need you and want you on the team. Dan told us some of what you’ve done and it’s not traditional but we’re impressed. Do keep in mind that your friend there threatened to eat people.”
He points at Bonesy. I cover the skull’s jaw before he mouths off and gets me in more trouble.
“Fair enough, Doc.”
He smiles again.
“You need help on your way to Chronos’s cave?”
He sees the frown on my face and says, “Dan let me in on your mission so I could have an idea of where to find you. Sorry if that was supposed to be a secret. But we can help if you’d permit it, we’re out here trying to level up anyway...”
I shake my head.
“No thank you Doc. I need to be on my own for a bit. But I appreciate you and Leonard, ” I look behind me to make eye contact with Leonard but he’s gone. I turn a little bit and look around more but I don’t see him anywhere. I look back at Doc with raised eyebrows and Doc just shrugs his shoulders.
“That’s Leonard for you. Don’t you worry, if something needs stabbin’ he’ll be there. Keep that in mind on your little walkabout, if it’s taking awhile for something to get to dying. We’ll be on our way. I appreciate the time Miss Samantha.”
I shake Doc’s offered hand and then he walks past me, towards the south and Brighthollow. My hand shakes and I realize it is still covering Bonesy’s mouth. I take my hand off.
“Well that man’s a bit of a dullard now, isn’t he? Good decision on heading for Chronos’ cave, we must bring the light of knowledge to these animals. If I might suggest...”
I cut Bonesy off.
“Bonesy, that man probably knows more about physics than you, just like me. In fact, you should probably get used to the fact that all us visitors know a lot more than you. Why don’t you just shut your mouth for one minute and think about your situation? In fact, into the bag with you.”
I throw Bonesy into the bag at my waist and shake my head. I’m not sure if the promise of incarnating Bonesy’s god is worth all the trouble.
I look around me and notice it’s getting hard to see. It wasn’t an issue in the tutorial zone. That area stayed gloomy and I hadn’t seen the sun once, but now, in the already shaded forest, the light is disappearing fast. I look up and manage to see some of the night sky through the overhanging branches and realize two things.
The first is that either the developers of this game came up with a fantastical version of the night sky, or the environment scrubbers back home are right and if we cleaned up the air and light pollution, we could get amazing views of the solar system from earth. I’ve seen the pictures from the space telescope and Mars colony, so I know views like this exist, but I have never in my life seen so many stars standing on earth.
The second realization is that I can either keep walking in the dark, attempt to sleep on the floor of the forest or just log out of the game for a couple hours until enough time has passed for it to be morning.
I remember the dangers of ant debuffs and the giant jaguar I just narrowly escaped and decide it’s probably best if I take a break.