Drone 1 walked past the core entrance sentry turrets and through the opened door. Since the increase in traffic, the entrance was left open, only to be closed in emergencies. The automaton announced its entrance by knocking on the door, catching the busy A.I.’s attention.
“Good, you’ve returned. Just in time, too. I finished business with Slayer and the other two drones, so we could move on to discuss our plans,” Custodian said.
“What is your findings regarding the area close to the core room?” Custodian began its line of inquiry.
“Report. The cavern walls could be dug with the mining drones, and plating the area will not be too costly. Stability is good,” Drone 1 answered.
Custodian’s core room was starting to become crowded with conveyors, machines, and anti-mana littered across the floor. It then realized that not everything has to be in the core room. By digging into the walls and creating rooms out of the cavern, Custodian could start fully expanding its territory.
Though, it still had to care not to expand too much lest the slime hunting grounds would shrink to the point of being rendered useless. After all, the slimes needed a rock wall or floor to spawn from.
Its focus wasn’t only on the initial expansion, it also wanted to secure the route from the core room to the iron mine. Any gap between the journey could mean a rat coming in to disrupt the supply of iron. While Exarchi had been made the temporary route guard, Custodian would rather put him to work somewhere else.
Mining drones were dispatched to begin work around the core room. After a long work, construction drones led by Drone 1 started working on the first non-core room. Custodian couldn’t create more entrances to its room, since the core room walls seemed nearly impenetrable for now. But, what it could do was to divert traffic to somewhere else.
The first room was a material dumping area. Conveyor belts were built across the room so they would lead to the core room, and into Custodian’s body for processing. More sentry turrets had to be built, cavern walls paved with metal, and traffic pushed into the right direction, but expansion was going very well.
As it began its construction of the second room, the A.I. quickly checked on the rats. The other reason why Custodian felt confident enough to expand was because the rat population was currently low. That meant that the rats wouldn’t be able to muster a large enough force to threaten the automatons. If Custodian could set up a fortified home base by the time the rats tried to do anything funny, it would be too late for the beasts.
But still, Custodian had one clear problem: It was the only way to process materials. It wanted something else to process materials as well, or at least some of the materials. The A.I. knew that iron ore could be melted down to turn it into iron ingot, but would it be possible to have something else take over?
[Protocol 5 initiated. Development of magic now available. Using your original ten drones, produce a system of magic which uses anti-mana.]
‘Interesting!’ Custodian initially thought, then realized, ‘But how am I supposed to do it?’
As Custodian mused about that, a drone entered the core room. It strided across the room, then stopped in front of its master.
“Drone 2, reporting.”
“What is it?” Custodian asked.
“Idle time reached too high. Must find work,” Drone 2 replied.
“Good timing. You shall be my Protocol 5 researcher. Begin using magic, and somehow find something new from it. I will reserve a room for you to concentrate in.”
“Instructions vague, but better than doing nothing.” Drone 2 shrugged.
It didn’t take long for a small room next to the core room was constructed for Drone 2. It was empty, and devoid of life, except for the occasional construction drone that got lost.
‘It’s dark. Light needed,’ Drone 2 thought, but then realized that giving light to the room could be its first task, instead of relying on anti-mana torches.
Drone 2 first circulated mana in the air, then drained it into their body. Feeling a burst of energy inside their body, Drone 2 released the excess magical energy in the form of a bolt of lightning from their arm. The lightning enveloped the room with bright light, being much more effective than anti-mana torches.
However, it didn’t last long. The shock magic ran out, leaving a drone in a dark room once again. Drone 2 made a loud audible click, then started using shock magic once more. The drone repeated the process once again, producing the same result. Then, its brain’s gears started to move.
'Time to experiment.’
At the spider hunting ground, Drone 6 was accompanied by Slayer. They were both carrying corpses of rats to lure spiders and hopefully tame them as well. Slimes were hard to carry around, so they decided to use rat meat for now.
“I cannot simply agree to letting the eight-legged arachnids steal precious biomatter from us,” Slayer grumbled.
“You will get used to it, brother,” Drone 6 assured.
“I hope not,” Slayer said, then raised his sword to stop Drone 6. Pointing ahead, Slayer’s companion immediately knew that there was a spider ahead. Its behind faced the two drones, so they weren’t spotted yet. They switched to the more congested hivespeak, but it was still a better alternative than to alerting the spider by talking loudly to each other.
They both crept up to the spider, but still kept distance. They weren’t planning on killing it, rather they were trying to not intimidate it. Drone 6 grabbed a piece of torn rat, then dropped it onto the ground gently.
The spider turned around upon hearing the noise, then raised its two front legs in alarm. Drone 6 opened their palm toward the spider to show that it didn’t want to hurt it, though it was failing to do that. The drone then kicked the rat meat towards the spider, agitating it slightly.
The spider eyed the two humanoids for a moment, then crawled towards the torn piece of rat. It quickly grabbed the chunk of meat, then backed off, with its front legs still raised. After a long stand-off, the spider made the first move… by scuttling away.
“We lost biomatter for no gain, brother,” Slayer remarked.
“Do not be so hasty in your conclusions, you bio-iron for brain,” Drone 6 retorted.
“Have you been talking to Exarchi lately?” Slayer huffed.
“Maybe yes, maybe no. Only Master Custodian knows.” Drone 6 shrugged.
The two drones wandered around the spider hunting ground, not only to find spiders, but also to explore the uncharted passages of the cavern. Everytime they encountered a spider, they would throw chunks of meat at it until they scurry off.
Of course, if they get attacked, the drones simply fought back. They weren’t interested in risking their lives for things that obviously wanted to kill them. Though, they couldn’t bring the spider corpses with them as it would scare off other spiders.
After a few hours of wandering around, the two drones were nearly out of meat. Drone 6 tugged his meat bag, only to find one slab of rat meat was left. They were largely unsuccessful, with no spiders being willing to be friendly with them. With that, they decided to return to the core room.
“At the very least, brother, we managed to chart many of the pathways,” Slayer commented.
“I would’ve thought you would reprimand me for wasting biomatter,” Drone 6 replied.
“I’m out of meat, what about you?” Slayer asked.
“I only have this one,” Drone 6 answered as they pulled the slab out. The drone waved it around like a fan in front of Slayer.
“Please don’t ruin my coat with blood. I had just recently washed it, and you know how hard it is to get water from the rat’s nest,” Slayer growled as he tried to swat the piece of meat away.
“It’s fine, once I get silk production up, you won’t have to worry about your fur armor,” Drone 6 replied.
“I repeat. Cease your actions,” Slayer shook his hand in front of his face, then realized Drone 6 had stopped. He was about to thank Drone 6 for shutting up, then realized his companion was frozen.
“Drone 6?” Slayer asked.
‘Slayer, do not make any sudden moves,’ Drone 6’s voice resounded from the hivespeak.
Drone 6’s anti-mana torch faced Slayer, which illuminated him and what was behind him. The drone could barely make out shapes hiding in the shadows, but it knew what they were.
‘Get behind me, slowly,’ Drone 6 ordered Slayer.
With careful steps, Slayer tiptoed next to Drone 6 and faced the direction his brethren was facing. He slowly reached for his sword sheathed against his hips, but was stopped by Drone 6’s hand.
‘What are you doing?’ Slayer asked.
‘Watch this,’ came the reply.
When Drone 6 slowly waved the slab of meat onto one side, the shadowy figures turned their gaze as well. The drone crouched, then extended his arm, offering the piece of meat towards the shadow.
Out of the dark, several spiders emerged. They had their body low against the ground meaning they were cautious, but none of them had their front legs raised up against the air. A spider led the group of oversized arachnids, slowly moving towards the drone.
Slayer used sheer will to keep himself from drawing the sword, but he trusted his brother.
At last, the lead spider nibbled onto the slab of meat, then grabbed it from Drone 6’s grasp. As soon as the meat was stolen, the spiders retreated into the dark.
“That was… something,” Drone 6 said after a long silence.
“Next time, get someone else to escort you. I’d rather train other drones if I can’t hunt spiders or rats for a while,” Slayer grumbled.
Prospector Niner had been diligent, checking every nook and cranny of the mine. At the same time, he identified potential deposits for the mining drones. Exarchi taught Niner a few key basics to commanding drones in order to boost the productivity of the mining operation. While not as proficient as Exarchi, Niner managed to grasp the basics of commanding a horde of mining drones.
It was simple, anyway. Niner just had to point at a specific wall, then adjust how the drones moved, and he was finished.
Whenever he found an iron golem, he would steer clear of the monster which would wander off into the distance for some unknown reason.
Niner patted a wall, then ran his hand against the iron ore stuck in the rock wall. He sighed in relief then made a mental note that this section was clear to be mined.
“You ever wonder where those iron golems go?” Exarchi appeared behind the prospect and asked. Whenever he wasn’t patrolling, he would hang around Niner.
“No. Not really. We can’t exactly send someone down there, can we?” Niner replied.
“I’m sure there’s a free brother somewhere.” Exarchi shrugged.
“Name one,” Niner challenged.
Niner tapped his chin for a moment, then snapped his finger. “The one that was researching the acid obtained from the spiders?”
“Yes, him.” Exarchi nodded.
Niner scratched his chin, pondering, while Exarchi leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. The prospector then said, “He’s not good at combat, though. And I’m pretty sure Slayer is not free right now.”
“It’s not his combat skills that I’m interested in. It’s those acid he’s been lugging around. He and Drone 1 have been doing experiments,” Exarchi explained.
“And? Why should I care?”
“They’ve been corroding iron ores with acid.”
“THEY’VE BEEN WHAT?” Niner shouted, and punched the rocky wall with a fist.
“Master Custodian had been planning on how to handle the iron golems, and now, he’s gotten his answer,” Exarchi continued.
“B-but, they’re corroding the iron, right? Rendering it useless?” Niner whimpered as he slumped his body against the wall.
“I’m sure you were too busy to notice, but Master Custodian could recycle iron with high efficiency. Sure, they lose some mass, but he could do it,” Exarchi assured.
“What are they going to do? Corrode the entire iron golem?”
“They will first try brute force. If that doesn’t work, we will have no choice but to corrode the golem to death.” Exarchi shrugged.
“Brute force? Isn’t that basically trying to kill a wall? How would they do it?” Niner stood up straight and was curious.
“Response. With this.” Out of nowhere, Drone 1 appeared, and raised a large weapon he was carrying. At first Niner thought that Drone 1 wanted to kill the iron golem with his great axe, but then quickly realized the axe head was replaced with a pick head.
“You’ll… mine it to death?” Niner nervously asked as he raised a finger in question.
“Reply. There is no other way.” Drone 1 nodded.
“But I told you not now…” Niner shook his hand, trying to dissuade Drone 1 from doing anything.
Someone leaned from Drone 1’s back, and waved. It was the drone both Exarchi and Niner were talking about earlier, Drone 7. “Unfortunately, brother, we were ordered to do this,” said Drone 7.
“Who else is doing this?” Niner asked, then looked at Exarchi.
“Sorry, I got called by Drone 6 to escort him to get an organic pet… or pets.” Exarchi waved his brethrens goodbye then left.
“What about you, Prospector? What will you do?” Drone 7 asked.
“I need to stay here and manage the mining operation. I can only wish you luck,” Niner sighed.
As Drone 1 and Drone 7 made their way into the passage, Drone 7 patted Niner’s back. “Don’t worry. I’ll try not to… heh heh heh… melt too much. Heheheh….”
Niner stood in the same spot, watching his brothers disappear into the darkness in confusion. He waved his hand, then said, “Right.”