Sam picked up the sword and squinted at it as he held it up to the sun. The rays of sunlight reflected off the glossy blue-grey metal in starburst motes of light. The day was hot and Sam idly wiped away a few beads of sweat and leaned closer to the blade. He brought his eye right to the edge, scanning up and down the length of the weapon.
Grunting in annoyance, Sam took the sword from the crate that it had come in with his brothers and into his personal forge. Donny hurried after him.
“Well? How is it?” Donny asked anxiously.
Sam snorted. “Certainly pretty.”
It was a sword done in the Chinese style, likely the closest thing to a wo dao that Sam had ever seen in person. But the blade was made so that it continued above and below the handle, with a short dagger-like blade forming the bottom. Sam clucked his tongue helplessly at the idea of having a blade on the hilt; more than one idiot would cut off a finger reaching for their blade in the morning.
His forge was simple and austere. There was the firepit, the bellows, the anvil, the quenching tank, and then piles of raw materials and ores. All of it was surrounded by tall windows so light would filter in for Sam to forge under. Immediately, Sam went to the anvil.
He picked up a tiny copper hammer and rested the blade against the anvil. After releasing all of his breath, Sam brought the hammer against the blade.
The sound was clear and clean. Frowning slightly, Sam shifted his grip and hit the wo dao blade against with the hammer.
“Balance is a bit off. I’d have to check them all, but… it’s likely on purpose. These are a chopping weapon.” Sam offered the sword to Donny. The young man took it, frowning at the blade. “It will tire you out damn fast. But you’ll hit harder for your first three swings.”
“I’m just… surprised.” Donny finally said, turning the sword over in his hand. “You are taking this really well. This is clearly a challenge to Donnyton’s production.”
Sam glared at Donny. Helplessly, Donny raised his hands.
“Alright, alright, all I’m saying is that Zone Seven makes damn good swords. And they connected to New Earth a month ago. What are they gonna do after having their economy connected to ours for a year? They might move in on Donnyton’s weapon production monopoly.” Donny looked solemnly at Sam. “With growth slowing down now that there isn’t a constant flow of refugees anymore-”
“Bah, our swords are better,” Sam said, looking at the details of the Wo Dao in his hand.
Blade of the Republic Lvl 38: A mass produced sword made for the invincible Chinese Army. Proficient in cutting attacks. Folded Metal II. Uniformity I. Spirit of the People III. Strength +25.
Folded Metal II: The complex production process has created a beautiful kaleidoscope of color with its folded metal. Perception and Reaction +15.
Uniformity I: As one of many, will gain additional stats when it is used in a squad that fight will the same style sword. Agility +1 for each nearby weapon with Uniformity I, up to a max of 10.
Spirit of the People III: Each weapon is imbued with the unstoppable spirit of the People, enabling a warrior to continue fighting long after their body would usually run out of strength. Willpower and Endurance +25.
“This is a Level 38 weapon that could give the user 115 stats,” Donny said with a sigh. “We can obviously do better, but we would create higher Level weapons, with better materials to rival this. There isn’t even a material component to these bonuses. If they find themselves a solid supplier-”
“So we are to worry fret ourselves to death because we make higher Level weapons?” Sam shook his head. “Calm down. Do not fear competition. Besides, the Uniformity bonus is the material bonus; it is precisely because they use such lackluster metals that they are able to achieve this.”
Process, Materials, and Image. Those are the three bonuses weapons received, in order. They were the pieces of a larger story that each weapon told. And each of those notes was interconnected with the others on a very spiritual level. It was clear to Sam that these weapons were made to glorify the common good. Which was why the bonuses were able to be so impressive despite the relatively pedestrian workmanship.
“And what if they develop a higher end version of this?” Donny pressed. Sam didn’t even bother to answer. Instead, he walked over to an iron bar and tested the weapon’s edge, cutting brutally into the solid metal. Then he considered the sword.
Sharp, but the weapon would require regular sharpenings. For all of the glorification of the mundane, it could not transcend itself.
And the secret about a weapon transcending itself was exactly what Sam had spent the last two years of his life chasing. Which was why he was unimpressed by these weapons. The story they told was… uninspiring. It wasn’t a path he had taken, but neither was it a revelation.
“They sent us one thousand as a start,” Donny said through gritted teeth with Sam continued to simply tap at the weapon. He gestured to the crates waiting outside. “More will come. Even if they are inferior to our products, they can just flood the market!”
“Do you think most will be willing to switch to using such a style of sword? Skills are very specific.” Sam asked, very disinterested in the answer.
But Donny wasn’t done. “We have more monsters in the countryside than ever. Even though refugees have slowed down, now we have to deal with NCC bandits harassing our caravans. We have had losses in our squads to Raid Bosses, unheard of in the history of Donnyton! Tension is rising now that the Ogre front is-”
Sam reached over and placed his hand on Donny’s shoulder. Then he looked at the young man. Really looked at him.
Hells, Sam thought abruptly, looking at Donny’s red-rimmed eyes and tense shoulders. Even with Dungeon time, he’s probably not even twenty. And he’s been acting as figurehead and leader for a long time. I can hear the screws coming loose inside of him.
“Donny,” Sam said. “Would you like to come over to my house for dinner tonight? Mrs. Hamilton will be there.”
Donny opened his mouth, closed it, then nodded. His expression was still grim, but some of the tightness was gone from around his eyes. “...yea, alright.”
“Good,” Sam grunted. He walked back out to the crates of interchangeable swords, where two of Mrs. Hamilton’s aides were waiting.
“Take them to market, sell em cheap,” Sam said expansively, waving at the crates. “Keep ten back, offer to make an Interim Squad out of individuals who are proficient with the blades within a week- oh, and send one of the crates to Erickson Steel. They will want to look at the stuff. They like weird metals..”
The aides nodded, then loaded the crate onto the cart and headed back toward the market. Donny clearly wanted to say something about Sam’s decision, but Sam silenced the kid with a glare. Then the two began to walk South, heading toward Donnyton proper.
Donnyton was situated in a valley shaped like a stretched out 2. There was a high and curving range of mountains to the West, while the Eastern border of the valley was made up of low and rolling hills. The original Donnyton was built on a low hill at the center of the valley, which was where most of the general market stalls and the System Village buildings were currently located.
There, it was possible to get a Class, learn some basic Skills, buy a few Health potions and some basic equipment, and get everything you needed to start in the city. Even though Donny complained of the dwindling supply of refugees, that was largely because everyone who wanted to chase that dream was already here.
Donnyton was packed.
The System had been designed to allow seeds of settlements to develop, and then send increasing numbers of people from the previous world to those places. This was an easy way to fuel growth, although Sam often felt a strange mixture of pity and envy for the refugees that were frozen for almost two years before being released into the System.
After all, they didn’t have to ability to blaze a path forward under the influence of the System. The world was largely established by the time they joined. But they also did miss the worst of the System’s trials as well…
Sam shook his head and kept walking. No point in worrying.
Above the central hill, running north with the valley, were the barracks that housed the Squads of Donnyton, the pride and joy of the town. It was for those brave squads and their selfless patrols all across the different Zones that Donnyton was universally recognized and envied. It was those people who planted the seed of the dream of Donnyton.
A dream that would see Donnyton through these small troubles, Sam had no doubt.
Further North was a flooded quarry which was the location of Donnyton’s arena. And above that… well, that was where Donny and Sam currently were: the sprawling production district.
The two walked quickly, passing through columns of smoke, heated discussions about the relative importance of ingredients over process, and distributors haggling with artisans over material costs. The clang of metal filled the air, and around every corner was an individual in a leather apron carrying wood or ore or tools.
It was a sound and ambiance that Sam loved. Everyone had soot smudges on their face and clasped hands firmly after a successful deal.
Of all the places of Donnyton, this was Sam’s favorite. And it was his.
But apart from the Production District, there were three other “Districts” in Donnyton. These three were below the central hill that was Donnyton’s core and stretched into the grasslands beyond to the Southeast.
If you walked South from the central hill of Donnyton, you would arrive at the Materials District. Sam took some exception to this name, but he couldn’t deny that Mrs. Hamilton’s factories where she researched potions and mixtures and solutions were useful. It just seemed to him that materials was well and covered by the Production.
But this was an argument Sam had had with many a person.
And always lost.
To the East of the Materials District was the Farming District. This was by far the largest of the Districts and sprawled across a space that was about the size of the rest of Donnyton combined. For everyone that wanted to come to Donnyton to join a squad, there was usually a family that just wanted to pretend like the System’s arrival never happened.
Most of Donnyton’s NCC population was located here.
And nestled to the North of the Farming District was the Religious District. So-called for being the Headquarters of the growing Cults of Arbor, but it now also served as a place where all of the Orders had a headquarters in Donnyton. Even now, each of the Orders was struggling to finagle the way to rope in some of the more powerful squads of Donnyton to wear their symbol.
But none of these districts was the two’s destination; they headed west, up the mountain range. Due to one particular individual who possessed an extreme knack for digging, the mountains were covered in terraces, upon which rows of houses were built.
Upward they walked, past the relatively cheap houses, toward the most expensive real estate in Donnyton. The houses that were on the overlook above Donnyton.