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In a cold hovel, two cubes gleamed fluorescent gray tones at the opposite ends of Rowan’s Enchanter Table. He sat hunched over etched runestones each in the shape of a flattened sphere, a standard shape about the size of a healthy egg yolk, perhaps larger. Twelve piles dimly glowed shades of lapis blue.

In glass containers—beakers, flasks, and tubes—reagents waited for enchantment.

In a small tube, corrupted grass reacted with the Table’s magic, giving off mostly soothing vibes mixed with much malice and some traces of grit, indicative of nature and earth and darkness, corresponding with the runes NAT and ETH and DRK. Simple enough. A decent reagent for plant enchantments, better for dark plant enchantments.

In a vial swirled some of Rowan’s blood, his wrist moving in slow circles. A whirlpool of highly malicious and euphoric vibes overshadowed a mellow air and fleeting traces of others that he could not fully grasp. No rune corresponded with anything Demon-related in his vocabulary, and none on the forums had anything to report regarding Demonic enchantments. Best to not mess with this one even if it was an excellent source of darkness.

However, the beaker of seawater was nothing less than a cauldron of feelings. It aligned with either nine or ten runes—not a good reagent at all unlike he had assumed.

Superimposed over a technicolor glittering icon, an hour glass blinked and disappeared. Cooldown finished. About time. Fifteen seconds of damned torture.

Rowan spoke the single word incantation for Enchant. A projected intention selected the runes for fire and mana. Three yolks lifted from their respective piles. And with a tendril of flames as the only reagent fed from his index finger, and a stream of grayish-white mana from his other palm, the trio stacked together.

Gradually, over thirty seconds, the stack fused together into a cylinder, shrinking slightly. Magic reverberated in the Table. A tiny chip of the left runestone cube evaporated at the edge of Rowan’s sight.

The enchantment stone thumped onto the wood. A jagged crack ran down the length, and those three carved runic symbols were not neat and aesthetic like the ones for the frost enchantment had been.

Unstable Enchantment Stone (FRE, FRE, MNA)
Item Quality: 241

Unstable—meaning it would explode a few seconds after activation. But as Rowan, and countless other players, had noticed, this made for the perfect throw-able bomb usable by anyone including NPCs. They stacked in adventurer inventories too, fifty per slot, which was grossly overpowered… in his opinion. Why did NPCs not have the same luxury?

Simply unfair.

Rowan dropped the grenade into the leather pouch at his hip. Hungry, it gobbled it up with fatty chomps of that wrinkled lip. Nice animation. Someone at Synaptic was surely smoking plant matter of the stronger variety. Or perhaps the AI controller had a sense of humor.

The next fifteen seconds lapsed while Rowan thoughtlessly crafted a few fire runes, incantations mumbled, and browsed a thread detailing room enchantments and. The first could be done at level fifteen with a vocabulary expansion. Lame.

He repeated the process for the fire grenade, nothing special, skimming through the pages of discussion. Some guy obsessed with the profession was already level twenty-six, but his character level had suffered, still level two. How was he going to find high quality reagents?

The answer smacked Rowan’s skull: from other players in that guild Light’s Justice. Of course, with thousands of members world-wide, they could afford to have players specializing to such an extent. Sour envy pulled down his lips.

But he crafted on and soaked up as much knowledge as Demonly possible. Another grenade was eaten. The remaining three percent of the experience bar filled. Ding. Level two Enchanter.

Woosh, an expected game window flew into view.

New Crafting Recipe: Solo Dungeon Keystone
Cost (in standard units): 0.01 runestone, 0.01 metal
Optional: 0.005 gem (up to 10X)

*tip: A Solo Dungeon Keystone will transport you to a pocket world dungeon appropriate for your level. You may, however, specify a lower level upon activation.

*tip 2: Rare gems will increase the effective Luck of all party members inside the pocket world, stacking with diminishing returns.

Good tips, but a few crucial points were missing. One, higher quality runestone and metals would increase the time limit. And two, rarer metals could lead to… interesting pocket worlds. A girl had reported her high-quality gold keystone whisked her away to a treasure room filled with mithril coins and jade carvings. Lucky her.

Fun stuff!

Grabbing some blacksteel, Rowan was a second away from invoking the recipe when someone knocked the door. “Come in,” he called, annoyance seeping into his tone.

Afternoon sunlight poured into the hovel, freezing wind blowing in. Freezing wind laced with the aroma of chocolate. Gabrielle sang, “Row-row, I have a present... Draesear Hellfire Mudcake!”
.
His eyes latched onto a triangle slice of dark brown cake frosted with orange and yellow icing. His stomach took control of his brain. “Give me.” His hands moved by themselves, seizing the glossy white plate and steel spoon.

But the first mouthful was…

Wincing, he swallowed. Sickly sweet chocolate slithered down his throat. “How much sugar did you put into this? And I think I swallowed a lump of batter.”

Her cheerful expression flipped upside-down. “Just two and a half cups… maybe three… and a bit.”

“Three and a bit.” He scooped a smaller bite, swallowed. “And yet, it’s also pretty bitter.”

“It’s dark chocolate, dummy.” Her lips twisted into a knot. “Hmph. I like it. Skylar liked it. We put in so much work too.”

A jolt of electricity arced up his back. “He helped you cook? Are you sure he’s not trying to—”

Her expression flipped again. “Hehehe. I’m sure. He was extra careful about that too.”

Good. Some fear was had!

Rowan let his body relax, going for a third scoop. The lemon-orange icing was nicer, balanced out the dark chocolate but only worsened the sweetness overload. He swore his tongue was now partly made of sugar. Nevertheless, he downed a forth. The combination was strangely addicting. “We did offer to find him a girl, didn’t we?”

Gabrielle’s head tilted by a few degrees. “We did?” She blinked cutely. “Oh, we did. Maybe one of those fifty can be his special someone.”

Another adventurer-NPC pairing. Something about that chaffed Rowan in the wrong way. “Whatever. He just better not cause a scene if she takes an arrow to the brain. And we can save on Bedroom space if people start pairing up. Tasha and Ayla will have to sleep at an inn for now.”

“They know.” Gabrielle sneaked a bite with her mithril dagger. Something flashed across her eyes. “Oh, check our Plopbox.”

“What is it?”

“Just do it. Hehehe.”

“Fine.” He yanked open the web browser and mentally tapped the bookmark with a open cardboard box icon. He didn’t need to log in, and the latest file was…

Gabbys_Sortis_Yummies_Episode_One

The preview was her standing behind a bench filled with bowls of cooking ingredients. He didn’t need to open it to know what was happening. “A cooking show.” His tone was a mix of surprise and approval.

“Yuppers.” She gave two thumbs-ups. “I turned the cuteness up to an eleven. I have a giddy feeling about this!”

“Naturally.” He swallowed another scoop. The cake was getting better.

“Naturally,” she mimicked, stealing another chunk.

“You didn’t say or show anything that could give away—”

“How dumb do ya think I am. Of course, I didn’t.” Her crimson cat eyes rolled.

“Good. When are you posting?”

“Uploading right now. Almost done.”

He choked, “Right now?”

“Right now.” She grinned devilishly. “And… done. And… already one viewer. Two.”

Well, he saw no reason not to, thinking it over as he downed the rest of the cake. Delicious. “Alright. Tell me if you need anything for the show.” A sudden frown pinched his brow as a chillier gust stormed inside. He said through chattering teeth, “Wait, how did you get all those ingredients?”

“Tasha bought it the other day, silly.”

“Where?”

“Misty Highlands.”

Swishing chocolate saliva, he mulled it over. “Nah, it’s too loose of a connection. We’re safe.”

She looked at him sheepishly. “Row. Ya overthink way too much.”

“That’s not a bad thing.” He shrugged, then pointed by her leg. “Anyway, those boxes are full of fire grenades. If you see a spider, light it up.”

“Row,” she giggled. “I’m not a pyro like you.”

He passed her the empty plate and grasped her shoulders. “I will set that whole damned forest on fire if I need to in order to keep this base going.”

Her mouth made an O shape. “Ah… ya know that doesn’t work, right? The forest’s magic will just put it out if it gets out of control. It was like the first thing players tried on day one.”

Embarrassment cooked his cheeks. “I know. It’s just an expression.”

“Kay, if ya say so.”

“I do, and I do think you should keep at least a dozen of them on your character. Seriously. Please.”

She exhaled loudly. “Okay.” She knelt and shoveled more than dozen into her own hungry pouch. “Happy?”

“Happy. I made them specifically for my absence.”

Her face deadened. “Huh? Your absence? You’re leaving? Why are ya leaving? We need you here. I need you here.”

His chuckles shook his chest. “Just got level two Enchanter. You know what that means.”

Her face remained blank.

Okay, maybe she didn’t.

Instead of explaining, he snagged up pieces of runestone and low-quality blacksteel. He wordlessly invoked the crafting recipe. Mana surged from his heart, down his arms, and into his fingers. In a slow flash of white light, without giving off heat, the two pieces merged into a flat disk with the blacksteel bordering the runestone. A numerical one was engraved at the middle.

Solo Dungeon Keystone (Gemless Blacksteel)
Item Quality: 378
Time Limit: 350 minutes
Bonus Luck: 5

Nice. That was much quicker than the Table. He weighed the palm-sized hexagon, which was lighter than the combined input materials, and flashed an excited grin that fell off his face when his eyes hitched onto Gabrielle.

She was not happy. “Row.”

He snatched Moonfyre before she could. The deer-leather scabbard was softer than he liked. Better than nothing. “Yeah?”

“If ya die, Tasha will have to fetch ya from the Orc prison.”

“I know.” He stepped backward.

Another ridiculously chilly gust blew in. Her eyes narrowed. “Why dontcha wait for Saeya and Luthias to make ya some armor?”

“Oh, come on. That’s going to take the rest of today and tomorrow morning.”

“Ya can work on Enchanting until then.”

His hand waved dismissively. “Enchanting’s boring. I need some levels—and loot. I want to test out my Swordsman skills in combat.” And seeing she was about to lunge at his right hand, he kissed her on the forehead and commanded the Keystone to activate.

Typeless magic flooded into his body as the room faded to black.

“Row!”

“Love you too. You have control of the slaves,” he managed to say before she was gone from view.

And this was just a low-level solo dungeon. Why the worry?

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