The magnitude of the situation was slowly taking root in Rowan’s mind while Zaine’s writhing agony continued for minutes, horrid screams muffled in his Bedroom. Viola and Liluth attempted to calm him, that pot of honey coming to use again, but it was for naught. The acid for sure, Rowan noted, carried some form of torture chemical since NPCs did benefit from pain reductions.
God damn, he thought with malice. I’d exterminate all the spiders here if they weren’t useful for the ecosystem; however… as for these mutant spiders…
"What are ya thinkin’?" Gabrielle asked, poking his arm.
"We’re going to need some gear," he said loud enough for a certain Elf to hear. "If only we had a high level Metalworker."
Luthias’ eyes slid to Rowan, ever stoic. He entered the damaged Workshop with slow strides. "My scar is beyond your power to heal, for you only wield the power of destruction."
Winning over their loyalty and trust was growing oh so tiresome. "I assume neither Priests nor Shamans can heal you, so I only ask what can."
"Come on, we’re not that bad," Gabrielle said.
Faenin said from outside, "He needs a vial of condensed light. Only that can purge the darkness from his body."
Gabrielle’s hands clapped together. "And where do we got one of those?"
"It is only found as loot in high-level dungeons. The risk of death is high; many fine warriors have been lost through the decades."
"Then it shouldn’t be a problem for us." Rowan sniffed a whiff of spider musk coming from outside. "We’ll organize a party once we’re high level."
That didn’t change Luthias’ demeanor. "Even then, even if you cure my scars, I would not follow you."
"Jeeeeeez." Gabrielle’s posture dropped. "What did Demons and adventurers do to you?"
Sudden anger wrinkled unblemished skin. "Who do you think delivered these wounds?! Decades ago, adventurers waged wars on my home village. I will not forget! I will not capitulate to your kind!"
Sharing a quizzical look, Rowan and Gabrielle exchanged a quick series of private messages.
Rowan LeMort: Do you think that’s AI-generated memories?
Gabby LeMort: Dunno. Maybe he’s crazy? He does have dark magic wounds.
Rowan LeMort: What about alpha and beta testers?
Her ear twitched.
Gabby LeMort: Could be!
Rowan breathed through a yawn, his eyelids drooping. "Alright man, I hear you. Who did you lose? A wife? Children? Friends? Are they frozen—"
"It matters to you not," he spat. "Nothing will bring them back now. Nothing!"
"You’d never know what magic could do."
Luthias’ chin lifted arrogantly. "You are very ignorant. Seventh law of magic: a dead soul will never return to this plane without its body intact."
"Huh?" Gabrielle mumbled. "We’d come back even if we were burned to ash."
"Thirteenth law! Adventurers are divine beings that cannot be killed. They experience no death, only temporary disembodiment."
"Oh." Gabrielle yawned. "Well…" She shrugged. "I’m gonna get some sleep. Someone else take over lookout. Goodnight, Row. Ya better win him over by morning." She waved goodbye.
"Goodnight." He patted the small of her back, then sighed. There was only one way to give this Elf some hope; he was too valuable. A high-level Metalworker! "Luthias. Do you want to know the truth about this reality? This world?"
"How is that relevant? It is not."
"Oh, it is." Rowan’s lips slightly puckered. "This world, everything in it, solely exists as our creation for our entertainment. You see, magic doesn’t exist in our world. Neither do monsters and pocket dimension dungeons. We have to do everything by hand, with technology and inventions much more advanced than what you have. It is a lot of work, boring grueling work. We find slaying monsters and playing with magic very fun."
Pure hatred burned on those Elven features. "Our suffering… is your entertainment?" Luthias choked on the last work.
"Oh, yes. Some of us are very cruel. Not all, but some." Rowan smirked. "But that’s not why I tell you this. The creators of this world, a group of people called Synaptic Entertainment, often make changes where they see fit. They made multiple changes the other morning."
A fist balled. "What changes?! What did you bastards do?!"
"Well, for one, Mutant Wheat Seeds now exists. They’re legendary though."
"By the gods," he breathed.
A hardy laugh came from Rowan’s belly. "They don’t do anything bad, unless you plant too many. They’re simply easier to grow and have greater yields. I think it’s because the influx of adventurers will cause food shortages, but I digress. The point is: the creators, the real gods of this world, may decide to allow magic to bring back your loved ones."
The light of hope flickered in those tormented eyes. "Are you certain? Are you absolutely certain?!"
Rowan donned a confident face. "I am. And in fact, I can talk to the creators for you. Would you like me to?"
"Yes. I beg of you. Yes!"
"Well, then." Rowan smiled. "In exchange for your unwavering loyalty and cooperation, I will do everything in my power to… persuade the creators of this world to bring back your deceased family and friends. Do we have a deal?"
Hesitance held back Luthias’ tongue. "This is— Is this a trick, Demon?!"
"It could be, but you’re a slave anyway. What do you have to lose? All I ask is some cooperation. I don’t wish to give you orders for every last thing. That would be very unentertaining. I’m glad you volunteered to smoke the bear meat, however."
"I…" Luthias looked at the floor, scowling with every last muscle in his face. A dozen ticks of the system clock passed, then he kneeled, chin down. "We have a deal. I pledge my fealty. You have my shield, and you have my forge."
Right, he was a Knight. "Thank you." Rowan double-checked his level.
Luthias : Sun Elf Slave (Level 20)
Disappointing. "Are you really just a level twenty? How old are you? You can stand, by the way."
A head shake. "I am two-hundred and thirty-three years of age. I spent the majority of my life as a Knight for the Queen. The dark magic in my internal scars renders my effective level to a third."
Max level tank. Nice. "What about your Metalworker level?"
"That as well. Faenin was honest."
"Level… fifty-seven, correct? That makes level nineteen."
He nodded. "I can forge everyone either swords and shields or chainmails with the scrap iron we have."
Instantly in business. Good Elf. "Can you make the iron into steel?"
"Level twenty-five for basic steel-working."
"Damn." Rowan evaluated both avenues and saw a third. "What about iron-tipped arrows? How many? Assuming we have the feathers and wood."
"At least two hundred by my estimate, but I highly recommend chainmail. I speak from experience.”
Tongue rolling, Rowan thought it over. “Versus acid spitting spiders?”
“It would make for a slight buffer against the skin, and there are many other dangers out there other than spiders.”
Decent reasoning, but a nagging feeling was urging Rowan to stick with arrows. "No. Make arrow-tips for Skylar and Viola. They’re the only ones with classes. How long will it take? I want half of our scrap iron smelted into arrow tips."
An expression halfway between irritation and disappointment glowered on Luthias’ face. He exhaled a long breath. "Very well. Arrows it is. A little over a day for normal quality."
"What about good quality?"
"At least four to five."
Exponential cost for marginal gains. Lame. "Then stick to good quality. Understand?"
"Yes, Lord LeMort."
"Good. Get on it. You’re on lookout duty for the rest of the night."
Slight irritation wrinkled that sharp nose. "I must insist I need sleep. The dark magic—"
"My bad. You go sleep." Rowan’s heard jerked toward the Bedroom block, which was now silent.
"My appreciation for understanding." Luthias walked out with his usual slow steps.
And that was six—six Sun Elf slaves working without need of constant micromanagement. And honestly, it felt pretty good to know everyone here wasn’t plotting a coup or assassination, but there was always a chance. Rowan shook his head and stowed away his worries.
Outside, Skylar and Faenin were processing the spider corpses—best to not risk an abomination spawning. Naturally, Skylar was butchering the lot one by one while Faenin hauled, careful to not step on corroded soil, his feet bare. Rowan made note to have Liluth make sandals as he approached the makeshift butchering table consisting of three upside-down crates. Ingenious.
Skylar, motioning with his hands, orchestrated those cutting ribbons by guiding them where to place the butchered parts. Chitin went into one crate, meat into another, and everything else went into a third. The acid sacks, however, were emptied into glass containers that Rowan had ordered Luthias to make with extra care. The acid was most valuable.
Faenin dumped a decapitated Drone by the crates, then abruptly, his gaze snapped to the third crate. His eyes widened.
"Hmmm?" Rowan stood closer.
"Those are Frigid Fiber Seeds."
Skylar nodded as he conducted. "Yeah, a Drone was carrying them. What about it?"
"These are very rare in the wild, bordering legendary." Faenin plucked them from a bunch of eyes. "Frigid Fibers are highly resilient against both physical and magical cold."
Rowan stopped from slapping Skylar behind the head. "And this is why you pay attention in school." He squinted at the muddy-sapphire colored ovals the size of grapes.
Frigid Fiber Seed (31)
Item Type: Magical Plant Seed
Yield: 4 units of Frigid Fibers on average
Seed Yield: 0.5 Seeds
Growing Time: 14 weeks
Temperature Range: -39 to 12 degrees Celsius
"Half a seed yield? What? Does that mean a fifty percent chance?"
Faenin’s head shook. "For magical seeds, halves will combine into a whole."
How creative of the game designers and the AI. "Is it good against anything else other than cold? Is it edible?"
"Most types of damage, but heat and darkness are its major weaknesses. Not edible, like cotton."
Rowan yawned. "Skylar, how long will these take with Enhanced Growth?"
"Just under two weeks," he answered, moving onto the next corpse.
"Can all thirty be buffed with it?"
"Yeah. Plants only reserve a fifth of what trees do."
Rowan blinked as his tired mind calculated. "A crop of one hundred per Farmer. Is the reservation percentage-based."
Faenin answered, "All profession reservation is."
That was logical answer, unfortunately. "Alright, take buffs off enough apple trees to plant all these. Has viola planted hers yet?"
"No, she was… helping Gabrielle cook, I think. Either that or she forgot."
Yes, they could forget orders if they had too much to do—another reason why they needed more autonomy. Having to ask about their skills was growing old. Rowan made an annoyed grunt, beckoning for the seeds. "I’ll give them to her. Skylar, you’re on lookout for the rest of the night."
Another yawn ballooned in Rowan’s mouth as Faenin passed a tiny wooden crate. "Goodnight." He turned on his heel toward the Bedrooms, that owl once more hooting in sync with his heartbeat, strangely sedative in the darkness, thick clouds blotting out the twin moons. His vision blurred as he almost stumbled into Viola.
"Rowan, I was looking for you. I’ve tended to Zaine’s wounds. He’ll live, but his ego is wounded." A hint of a smirk lingered on her cheeks.
"My ego is strong as ever," Zaine said in a quiet voice from behind. His face was paler than usual, his eyes haunted. Thick bandages wrapped his stump of a left arm. "Can I work in the mines for the night?"
A filing cabinet of forum threads in Rowan’s mind opened. A professor’s voice read a few lines: Priests could restore missing body parts, assuming no dark magic involvement. "No. First thing in the morning."
"Fine." He scowled and went back into his room. The door slammed.
Rowan let the teen be and passed the seeds. "Plant a crop of these. Good bloody night."
She accepted without hesitance. A seed rolled between her thumb and index finger. "Hmm? Frigid Fiber Seed?"
"Honor student right here." Rowan patted her head, then strode off toward his Bedroom.