[Re-establishing control of all units...]
[Success. 100% of all drones re-enslaved.]
“Hmph?!” Custodian shouted as soon as it woke up.
“Bad dream, Master Custodian?” a slightly slender drone which had two spider drones attached to their torso asked.
“I do not dream, Exarchi,” Custodian replied.
“Of course, of course. Should we reactivate the conveyor belts?” Exarchi asked.
Custodian was wary about what happened when it was accessing Memory 3, but there was nothing to gain by thinking more into it.
One thing was clear, though. Something was able to contact Custodian directly.
‘Ah, right. I received new blueprints,’ Custodian thought as it checked its notifications.
[Protocol 1D started. Collect 5000 units of anti-mana in weight. 50% completed.]
[2500 units of anti-mana in weight collected. Protocol 4D completed. Blueprints for Type 2 Peasant Mind and Type 2 Freeholder Mind imprinted into databank.]
[Protocol 4E started. Collect 3500 units of anti-mana in weight to unlock new production capabilities. 71.43% completed.]
[Type 2 Peasant Mind
Unlike its predecessor, the Type 2 Peasant Mind could use simple shock magic, but nothing more. Along with better cognition abilities, it could also take in up to three smaller non-magical processors (excluding Type 1 Peasant Minds).
Produced using 2 Type 1 Peasant Mind processors, 10 biomatter and mana matter each in weight.]
[Type 2 Freeholder Mind
Slightly stronger and more independent than its predecessor.
Produced using 2 Type 1 Freeholder Mind, 15 biomatter and 10 mana matter each in weight.]
‘Well. Nothing new here. Just as expected. Well, then. I suppose it’s time to upgrade my drones. I do have plenty of resources including…’
Custodian turned to one of the materials to be processed. It was a dead human with noticeably red hair. It was Osvart, the human that stayed behind in Varangia to look for his wife. Unfortunately, an ‘accident’ befell upon him while searching the city, given how ancient the city was.
Custodian had already planned it all. A building Osvart was looking in crumbled before the drones could even save him. As they transported it back to Varangia, creatures attacked the escort, and they were since then unable to recover his body.
Varangia, after all, was renowned for the number of monsters roaming around. Despite the fact that four nations neighboured the region, nobody laid claimed to the potentially rich area. The number of strange magical monsters that lurked the mountain and surrounding forests discouraged anyone from trying to permanently settle the area. Of course, there were still some claims here and there being made by local rulers just to bolster the size of their borders in their local maps.
Furthermore, there were rumors that the region was home to a large dungeon.
Dungeons - Areas with an abnormally high mana concentration which causes horrifying mutations to nearby beings - living or otherwise. Or at least that was what Custodian could obtain from Red and its own memories.
Custodian believed that in order to keep up production of anti-mana it would have to sought out these mana-rich areas which could host a large variety of monsters. But then again, humans would suffice, too, so finding other dungeons wasn’t high up in Custodian’s priority list for now.
As Osvart’s corpse was loaded into Custodian’s body, it underwent processing. As expected, Custodian’s material count jumped up tremendously, but not only that…
[Quintessence of Life obtained. Two sentients processed. Exterminator Path progressed. As a bonus, you get one <Forced Bypass Evolution>. This will give you a one-time use blueprint to make a brain which could take in as much chips it could connect to.]
After studying the blueprint given to it, Custodian concluded, ‘This is like a bigger, inferior version of the Daedelus drones.’
Custodian’s Daedelus, the original ten drones and Red, were considered to be irreplaceable, and more importantly, possibly unreproducible. Initially, the A.I. thought it would be much, much later until it could produce more Daedelus, but with the Forced Bypass Evolution, Custodian could possibly make some inferior versions of them for now.
Custodian began constructing a prototype for its own cheap knock-off Daedelus, but it would take more time than usual. It turned to Exarchi then asked, “You have something to report?”
“Prospector Niner had finally finished the initial stage of the mining operation thanks to the new miner drones,” Exarchi reported.
“Good. He can begin searching for a new mining spot once he’s done. But has he analyzed Princeps’ weapon?” Custodian asked.
During the battle to take over the ruined city under Mount Varangia, Custodian managed to acquire an ancient greatsword from an undead lich. It was stronger than anything the A.I. had made, so analyzing it could yield new insights.
Just before Exarchi could answer, Niner arrived at the core room, loudly announcing his arrival. “Hello, hello! Prospector here! I heard my name!”
“Have you analyzed Princeps’ weapon?” Custodian asked.
“Yes! It’s amazing! I couldn’t tell a thing from it!” Niner exclaimed proudly.
“That… is not helpful,” Custodian remarked.
“What I mean is that there’s possibly a stronger material than steel! We need to find those, Master Custodian!” Niner begged.
“What exactly are we looking for?” Custodian asked.
“I don’t know!” Niner replied.
Exarchi facepalmed for his master. As he was about to leave, Custodian asked him, “What is the progress on the defense of Mount Varangia?”
“Thanks to the freeholder drones, we were able to establish a gate around the cave entrance. The monsters roaming around in the surface are tough, but they have high yield,” Exarchi answered.
“Understandable. Continue expansion with Princeps,” Custodian instructed. “As for you, Niner, work with Smith in order to identify the material used in Princeps’ blade.”
“As you wish.” Both Niner and Exarchi replied at the same time, then left the core room.
‘Now then, Drone 11. Let’s get you a new body,’ Custodian thought to itself as it studied the <Forced Bypass Evolution> blueprints.
The Varangians at Vyssia were shown around by the Sea’axfeared family - from the local marketplace to the southern Sea’axfeared manor. There, a few men were spotted arguing.
“Ecgbert! I swear if you do not get me what I owe, I will use your own sword to trim down your puny beard!” A muscular man was shouting outside the manor gate. He was also accompanied by a group of armed men.
An aging man draped in a green coat followed by some armored men came out of the manor furious. “You have the nerve to ask me more after you stole one of my ancestral swords, Beowin!”
“Stole it? I won it because you and your Sea’axfeared whelps are weak!” the muscular man shouted back.
Just as things were about to go out of control, Gerard’s group arrived. “Ecgbert! What’s going on?”
“Who in the Purgatory are you?” Beowin shouted as he stepped in front of the newly arrivals.
Eoforwic spotted his sword slung around the muscular man’s waist and exclaimed, “That’s my sword!”
“Heh. It’s Old Man Wick’s sword, huh? Guess I got lucky picking a fight with the weaker southern family.” Beowin rubbed his stubble chin, then turned to his own men, and ordered, “We’re leaving for now. With the northern family here, we’re outmatched. I’ll get back at you, Ecgbert!”
“Your face, you will!” Ecgbert insulted as he waved his fist.
With Beowin and his men gone, Ecgbert finally opened his gates for his kinsmen to greet them. “Eoforwic! I’m so glad you came!”
“Just as I suspected. You went to pick a fight with Beowin and lost,” Eoforwic deduced.
“Cough cough… that is…”
“Well. I don’t mind. Our new friends got me a much better sword,” Eoforwic mentioned as he pointed behind himself.
“Who are they?” Ecgbert asked as he eyed the Varangians.
“They supposedly saved Aefelred, Gerard, and the others. As of now, they’re honorary Sea’axfeared,” Eoforwic explained.
“Are they? Well, I could tell Aefelred’s venture didn’t end in disaster, then. Let’s talk inside,” Ecgbert said as he fixed his green cape around his neck.
The southern manor was similar to the northern one, albeit it was noticeably older and more beat-up.
Inside, Aefelred and co. retold their story to Eoforwic and his fellow kinsmen. When they told of how the drones captured the city castle in Mount Varangia, Ecgbert eyes twinkled.
“You say they’re exceptionally good fighters?” Ecgbert asked as he ran his hand against his graying beard. “Even against a lich… that’s a story to be sung amongst the bards!”
“Haha, yeah…” Gerard laughed as he scratched the back of his head. Whenever their adventure was retold, they would omit most of the details, like how the Varangians had a literal pool of holy water, or how they also had some… domesticated metal spiders.
Ecgbert pointed at Slayer, then challenged him, “How about a friendly spar?”
‘What is a friendly spar?’ Slayer asked Red.
‘It is a practice fight, but since it’s practice, you do not kill each other,’ Red explained.
‘What is the point of that?’ Slayer.
‘That is… to deepen a friendship through hardship!’ Red clenched her fist then answered.
‘Friend…. ship? Why do I need to increase the depth of my ally’s aquatic transportation?’ Slayer asked.
Weaver felt as if this would continue if no one would intervene so he stepped in. ‘Never mind that. Just do what Red described.’
‘Very well.’ Slayer nodded.
“Why were they staring at each other?” Ecgbert whispered to Eoforwic.
“Aefelred claims that’s how they talk… or at least one of the ways…” Eoforwic replied, unconvinced of his own answer.
“We fight, now?” Slayer asked.
“Let’s go to the courtyard. It’s much more spacious there,” Ecgbert explained as he led the way.
The other members of the southern Sea’axfeared family gathered on the courtyard to watch the spectacle., and the crowd formed a circle around Slayer and Ecgbert to make a impromptu fighting circle.
Weaver was wondering how big the family of Sea’axefeared really was after looking at the number of red-headed people that gathered around. There were at least a dozen members here, and some were staying at the manor, disinterested at the fight.
Ecgbert threw a wooden sword at Slayer, which he promptly caught. He was confused at the bizarre attack but was told by Red that blunt blades were less likely to kill people, so he was given the sword to fight with.
‘Illogical. Why not use fists, then?’ Slayer asked.
‘It’s for practice!’ Red retorted.
Afterwards, the two duelists were given a wooden round shield which were able to cover their whole body. With both Slayer and Ecgbert ready, they began the duel.
‘Not even going into a stance?’ Ecgbert thought as he circled around Slayer who was still standing in place. To him, it looked like Slayer was an amateur. He had the shield raised, but it wasn’t even facing the front.
‘Is he coaxing me to attack? Very well! Here I go!’ Ecgbert launched the first strike. He swung his sword while covering it with his round shield. Slayer barely blocked it by bashing his shield towards the sword. The drone staggered backwards in order to keep a distance, but Ecgbert continued to assault him.
Ecgbert was starting to doubt whether Slayer knew how to fight or not. The drone’s fighting skills were worse than an untrained farmer, but his movements were fast and were able to stand up against the more experienced fighter. Still, these were all brute force. Simple, straightforward, and no thoughts put into it.
On the other hand, Slayer was learning fast. Extremely fast. Admittedly, the combat drones never learnt advanced combat skills since all they fought were unintelligent monsters or undead. Group formations were simply different and not very practical in one-on-one scenarios, plus they had mostly incomplete combat manuals from the ruined city in Mount Varangia.
Not only that, the combat drones never fought each other for practice since they would actually go find enemies to actually fight with, so they didn’t train any complex fighting technique or skill. Now that Custodian’s Varangians had finally reached the surface, inevitably, they would have to fight other intelligent beings living on the surface.
Every time Ecgbert struck Slayer, the drone adjusted his posture and stance. Not only that, he also optimized the fighting style Ecgbert was using against him. After all, while the human body was restrictive, a drone's body wasn't.
At last, Slayer stopped being on the defense, and began to turn things around. He twisted his sword hand as he used his shield to cover his entire side. Ecgbert angled his shield, and parried the sword away, but was knocked back when Slayer bashed his shield forward.
Slayer didn’t need to know combat tactics to know that pointy sticks weren’t the only things used to kill things. Shields, when used right, were also deadly weapons. Combined with his sword, Slayer began to push Ecgbert back.
The wooden swords collided with each other, blocking or parrying blow after blow. Unfortunately for Ecgbert, drones didn’t get tired, so after a few minutes of fighting, he finally fell on his knees.
“I give up! You win! You got me. I thought you were an amateur at first, but it was all ruse!” Ecgbert laughed as he used his sword to get himself up.
“What do you think?” Eoforwic asked as he gave Ecgbert a cloth to wipe the sweat off.
“He’s a good fighter. Are all you of Varangians as good as you?” Ecgbert gave his assessment as he eyed the bodyguard drones.
“Good is perspective. We are all equals,” Slayer replied.
“Ha! You are as humble as you are skillful! May I know your name?” Ecgbert asked.
“Slayer,” came the reply.
“What a powerful and straightforward name! What are you? Some sort of general in Varangia or something?” Ecgbert asked as he rested his sword against his shoulders.
“Perhaps,” Slayer answered.
“Not a man of many words, either.” Ecgbert laughed at Slayer’s answer. To the side, Eoforwic approached the aging man. The two old men quietly discussed with each other, then reached an agreement after a few minutes.
At last, the two men turned to Slayer and co. “Are you interested in becoming mercenaries?”