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James’s consciousness awoke before his eyes fluttered open. He was apt to keep it that way and stretched about in his fur pile, intent on enjoying his first morning without the Ingo scourge. So far, the game had been an enormous success. Moments like these promised an excellent escape for the average stressed-out person. The nights by the fire, spent allotting his hard-earned stat points, learning new things about the game, and bonding with Frey, were especially relaxing.
This morning, however, beat all the nights by the fire combined. James felt more at peace than he could remember feeling even in the real world. Looking back, even the bad parts of the game were fleeting. Sure, the pain was more realistic than James would have ever thought possible, but as long as you had some healing salve, it would go away pretty quickly. The bad parts of the game also perfectly contrasted the good. Without those painful and stressful moments, could James truly enjoy his nights by the fire and his mornings without the Ingos?
James’s thoughts led him to decide on two new tasks that he would accomplish. He imagined that the military bosses who had contracted him to test the game would want as many people as possible to play it. He wasn’t exactly sure why the military was operating a game in the first place, but if they were investing so many resources in it, they would definitely need to appeal to a wide range of players. Some of those players might not want to deal with the pain of adventuring, so James concluded that there must be a game system to cater to these individuals. Something like crafting.
So, James decided he would spend some of his day asking around the village to see if there was a crafting profession he could learn. He had already acquired the Cooking skill on his own, but maybe he could find trainers for other skills.
James’s second task would be to find a place to grind and level up. He had cleared out all the nearby Ingo nests already, so he would have to either travel farther today to hunt or wait for them to respawn – if they even did respawn. Besides, Ingo nests were usually spaced far apart and tough to find. What James wanted was a nice clear area full of individual monsters that he could easily and safely pick off one at a time. It would be even better if these monsters were easy to kill and granted tons of experience. He doubted he would ever be so lucky, but the gist of each of his thoughts was the same: He needed a better place to hunt.
James finally opened his eyes and was about to start his day when he remembered something. He hadn’t yet gotten the chance to check out the marks tab in his interface. When he focused, the corresponding tab fizzled into existence in his vision.
Mark of the Martyr - Rank 1 – You have been gifted a mark by the Chieftain of the sole surviving Martyr clan. At the current rank, your mark gives you the ability to summon one Martyr to your location to assist you in battle. Cooldown: one month.
Nodding his head in appreciation, James decided this was a pretty useful gift. He wished his interface would tell him how he could level the rank of his mark, but at this point, he was well used to that frustration. He would get the information some other way or would wait until he increased his Intelligence enough. No use stressing about it. With that finally done, he set out to find a new place to get his grind on.
The adult Martyrs in his tent were still sleeping when James left. They must have been asleep in the other tents as well, as the village was empty. James looked around, enjoying the calmness and clarity he felt this morning. “Man, getting rid of those Ingo nests was a great idea,” James whispered to himself.
It was still early morning, but the sun was already wholly in the sky. James spoiled himself with one more stretch as he enjoyed the sun’s warmth. The Great Savanna is an awesome place, he thought. It never gets too hot or too cold. James recalled his home, where it was almost never the right temperature outside; the summers where stifling, and the winters were deadly. So, James made sure the beautiful weather was not wasted on him. He enjoyed it while he could, even if it was only in a game.
As James finally walked off in search of new hunting grounds, Torunn ran up beside him. It was as if his game brother smelled that there were adventures to be had. James smiled at Torunn, who nodded back. They set off together.
Wading through the tall grass of the Great Savanna was still a chore, but James was starting to mind it less. He was adapting to it, and more importantly, he was adapting to the game. James took a moment to appreciate how much information he had already gathered, though there was still much more to learn.
Torunn hopped up and down as he walked next to James, apparently looking for a better approach to navigating through the tall grass. It seemed to be useful, but James could only imagine how tiresome it was. It was a maneuver only a Martyr cub would have enough energy to use.
Deciding he would not attempt the same, James let his mind drift back to his real life. He wondered how long he had been in the game. He wondered how his real-life brother was doing. James hoped they would let Michael into the game soon, as he was beginning to miss him. They were practically inseparable. Even as adults.
The tall grass was almost like a shelter for James and Torunn. It ensured they couldn’t be seen if they didn’t want to be. The grass came up to their shoulders, so they could easily duck and disappear if they spotted any danger. That is why they both jumped back in fright and hit the ground when something sprinted through the grass, eerily close to them. They froze for a moment as they opened their senses back up to their surroundings. Thoughts of James’s brother were yanked from his mind as he came back to his new reality. He chastised himself for letting his mind wander while he was in the Savanna.