Amir, like the rest, was from Earth—where the apocalypse was well and truly underway. His situation seemed somewhat different, though. For one, he was from Egypt—a far cry from the predominantly Western, Anglophone people Chris had encountered so far.
Unlike the other five who’d been teleported to Kingscastle, Amir had found a group of holdouts in the end of the world. A combination of luck and high-powered rifles had allowed them to score kills on several monsters, and even one or two lone invading Enlightened. Observation of those same Enlightened revealed the existence of Beast Soul Gems, and the group’s chance inclusion of a Taoist had led to an early discovery of mana—first thought of as “qi”, then later as “mana” when the group’s first member reached Level 10. From there, Amir’s group had snowballed, gathering survivors and ammunition in equal measure until they acquired the numbers and the courage to assault a small fortification of Enlightened with wood and green branches for bodies.
Those Enlightened, which Amir referred to as “Dryaas”, had enslaved a large group of humans. Amir and his group had gone in, guns blazing, Gems from defeated beasts warding off some of the damage they took. They had the numbers. Surprise was on their side. Until it wasn’t.
They’d taken casualties, they’d expected to. The Dryaas were strong, few as they were. Single shots to the head wouldn’t down them; it required their skulls or chests to be pulverized into splinters and wood pulp in order to put the alien Enlightened to rest.
That had been part of the plan.
Then the Dryaas had called to Amir’s group in Arabic—Amir was Egyptian—even as they rushed to retaliate. They offered indenture for survival, even while dashing forward to engage, or shooting thorns from a distance.
They hadn’t been making slaves, Chris realized. They’d been making Traitors.
The Dryaas were few and human rifles had reduced them to alien wood chippings. The real casualties had come when the Traitors had attacked. Fortunately, most had been without the benefit of guns of their own—being frowned on by the Dryaas, since powerful tools apparently limited one’s ability to progress. The Traitors had reaped a red reparation against the race they had abandoned.
Amir had reported insane feats of strength and power from them. However, they were still human for now, and a well-placed bullet or two was enough to bring them down.
And that had been that.
Amir’s group had raided the newly vacant Dryaas fortification and found a cache of Skill Gems and Beast Soul Gems inside which the Dryaas had probably been using to empower their Traitor army—Amir had gotten a Slash skill, the scimitar he wielded, and the [Language Comprehension] skill. That at least made up for the lack of Soul Gems from the Dryaas and bolstered the strength of Amir’s depleted group.
The retelling of the story at least brought up something of note to Chris. Enlightened didn’t have Soul Gems. The Undead hadn’t, and he’d never detected any in dead humans. The demons didn’t have them either, but he wasn’t sure whether they counted.
Amir’s group had continued after that. The group grew again, first in wariness, then in numbers. They’d progressed to taking down a small swarm of lizard creatures that spat jets of sand. Those monsters had yielded a handful of Soul Gem armors, one of which Amir now wore.
And that was all the stories Amir had. He’d drawn the short straw on a patrol and had been no more than a dozen steps out of sight of the rest of the group before he suddenly found himself in Kingscastle—no longer in his old clothes and lacking the advantages of a loaded rifle, but still with his Soul Gems and skills at his disposal.
Chris wasn’t sure whether to trust Amir fully, but he hadn’t told anything that was obviously a lie—and the stuff about Traitors definitely fit with what he knew.
He couldn’t live in fear of betrayal, and so he didn’t.
He made his exit as the sky darkened, doing a double take when he saw shadows on the walls. When his thrumming heart slowed, he realized that the System-generated guards from the Defender’s Barracks had finally spawned. It eased a knot of tension that he hadn’t even known was there; with at least some assurance of his settlement’s safety while he was away, he felt freer to roam farther.
There was still stuff to do.
He still had several thick slices of Xys just sitting in his storage area. The minor preservation effect of the building was keeping it fresh, but he was under no illusions that it would last forever. He offloaded a generous portion onto Bruce, then moved over to the Skill Vendor. Amir had clued him in to at least one useful skill: [Language Comprehension]. Likewise, the Carnivorous Pharmacopeia trait had given him a newfound respect for identification type skills like [Insightful Gaze].
He bought both the skills at rank F-1, for 4,000 System Coins each. It was a little bit of a hit on his finances, but he needed to know what he was seeing and understand what he was hearing—particularly if he was at risk of encountering new races in the future.
With everything sorted, he returned to the keep. With his new abilities, he wanted to see what the golden leaf could do.
He pushed open the door and paused as he saw what lay inside.
His mattress had been eviscerated by a golden sapling growing from its center. The tree gave off a palpable aura, mist curling around its young leaves.
Chris stared at it for a moment, then rushed over. His plans on moving the leaf somewhere else had all evaporated. He lifted the mattress and saw that the young tree’s roots had already broken through stone and entrenched themselves deep into the earth.
Tentatively he reached out and tried dissolving the tip of a leaf. Chris felt his Slime draining at a rapid pace, but he persisted. Finally, a small corner came free and dissolved within him. Carnivorous Pharmacopeia took effect, but the impression he got from it was hazy and indistinct—either because the amount of the plant absorbed was small, or because it was too strong for the trait to handle.
He didn’t obtain the name of the plant, but he did get the impression that it had thousands of potential uses. Only one was currently clear to him: a salve that would release healing mist, laced with a slow and subtle poison with addictive properties.
The last part threw him for a loop, until he remembered that the tree had been steeped on Xys’ venom for a long time before Chris arrived. It had been a miracle that the tree had even survived being used as a poison gas dispenser up until Xys had died.
Still, even then, Chris had known the tree was special. While it was irksome to see it sprouting from his mattress like some Alien chest-burster, the tree’s resiliency and ability to restored itself from a single blighted leaf spoke volumes of its potential.
At the back of his mind, Chris wondered if it was his luck stat’s probability of generating treasures nearby that had catalyzed its growth when left alone, but there were no answers to that to be had.
However, the prospect did excite him and reinforce his resolve to explore the Slime forest in the morning. He had no idea what treasures awaited him, but given the alien abundance of the area, he was excited to find out. It would be a good reason to head an expedition with the six citizens of Kingscastle, and Bruce.
He glanced back at the tree. The expedition would have to wait until morning. Despite the paucity of light inside, the golden tree was thriving—being unable to photosynthesize hadn’t yet impaired it in the slightest. He needed sleep. But first he needed a new mattress.