"Get the buckets!" A dwarf cried at the top of his lungs, frantic eyes darting around the burning forge. Several dwarfs ran back and forth, trying to put out raging fires that sprung up around the forge. Mini explosions sent dwarfs scampering for cover and even more running for the anti-flame solutions. A shout drew the dwarf's attention to a bucket with a dark-blue liquid in it. The dwarf screamed his thanks as he grabbed the bucket, then proceeded to toss its contents onto the mountain of pelts.
Several dwarfs picked up buckets filled with the solution and began dousing the flames. Thankfully, the solution proved to be very effective as the fires soon began to quickly die down, leaving a rotten stench and thick smoke in the air. Strangely though, aside from a few wry grins, the dwarfs' eyes shone with excitement through their soot-covered faces as they collectively gathered around a part of the forge with the most damage.
It was into this environment that Kashi, Otto, and Larsial rushed. Kashi and Larsial's brows knotted in confusion as their nostrils were assaulted by the pungent stench. Otto briefly explained the smell's source before he pulled over a dwarf to explain what the hell just happened. Strangely, upon hearing the report, Otto's eyes lit up with similar excitement. He would have left Kashi and Larsial behind if the daebens hadn't grabbed both shoulders.
"Otto-san, care to share what with the rest of us?" Kashi questioned with a teasing grin.
Otto, whose body shook with the impatience of a child at a playground, returned the teasing grin with one of his own, "This, This you should see for yourself." With those words, he shrugged off the daebens' grips and darted toward the enclosure with the fervor of an explorer at the sight of gold.
Kashi and Larsial shared a look. Kashi let out a sly grin then rushed after Otto, leaving an exasperated Larsial to chase after his back. Upon reaching the throng of dwarfs, Otto and Kashi abused their statuses to squeeze through the packed dwarfs. With a bit of hesitation, Larsial tugged at the hood of the jacket Kashi gave her so it covered her face, then followed Kashi's lead.
The trio exited the dwarven cluster to the sight of Absalon dressed in a casual set of red robes and a couple of his liutenants surrounding a large pile of ash and two individuals on their knees. Absalon's eyes were drawn in a tight frown as he glared at the culprits of the fiasco. However, a small smile at the corner of his lips revealed traces of amusement at the situation.
Absalon looked up, a relieved sigh escaping his lips as Kashi and co. came to his side. His brow rose as he spotted Larsial, but in the end, he chose to ignore her presence for now. "It is good to see you Kashi," Absalon greeted with a formal salute before taking Kashi's hand in a firm handshake. "I can't begin to express how glad I am to see you here."
"The feeling's mutual Absalon-san," Kashi returned with a smile. He looked at the kneeling culprits and with a teasing smile, questioned, "What have we here?"
Absalon let out an exasperated sigh. "These two were apparently conducting some sort of experiment. Things got out of hand, and here we are." Absalon shrugged. "They've been kneeling in apology since." Faced with Kashi's mocking, accusatory glance, Absalon quickly defended himself. "Hey, they're not soldiers under my jurisdiction. I did not make them do this. They chose this of their own volition."
"Hm, is that right?" Kashi light-heartedly said. "Well, accidents are an integral part of innovation," said Kashi as he in front the culprits with amicable smile. "So, Jerxas-san, Jade, want to tell me what you two were working on?"
Jade, understanding she had already gotten the pardon, instantly raised her head, the brightest, animated smile on her face. If there was even the slightest bit of remorse at the repercussions of their previous failure, it was long gone. "So, remember how I and Suzuki created a frost array in the other world?"
Meanwhile, Absalon retreated so he stood next to Larsial. He regarded the daeben rogue with a threatening half-smile as he whispered, "I see you got yourself out of the cell."
"Your leader has better foresight than he looks," Larsial returned with a cold glare.
"Hmph," Absalon snorted as he turned to look at Kashi. "You have no idea."
Kashi could see the excitement in Jade's eyes and wisely chose not to give her the ethics lesson at that particular moment. "Mm-hmm. Were you able to replicate it? Was that what caused the explosion?"
"Well, yes and no," Jade muttered in embarrassment as she flicked strands of hair over her ear. "I could simulate some higher rune mastery in the real world but I couldn't do that here."
"That's where I fucking came in!" Jerxas yelled with a loud shout as he took a seat on the ground and slapped it hard. "Haha! Kashi-kun! I knew you were different kinda breed from the rest of these bloody bores, but I had no idea! The ingenuity! The sheer audacity! HA! I can confidently state these arrays of yours will leap our technological advancements at least thirty years into the future!"
"The honor's all Jade's," Kashi corrected. "She's the brains; I'm only the wallet."
"Modesty's shit!" Jerxas spat with a cynical chuckle. "She already spilled kid. She got the runes from ya, didn't she?"
Kashi sent Jade an accusatory glance which elicited an embarrassed chuckle and nervous head-scratching from the little halben.
"Hehe, Kashi, I swear it was the only way to get this stubborn old coot to cooperate," Jade quickly defended with a vengeful glare at her accomplice. "He swore he wouldn't help if I didn't tell him where I got the runes."
"It's fine," Kashi absolved their guilt with a wave of his hand. "We're not here to point fingers and lay blame." The daeben turned his attention to Jerxas. "So, tell me. What makes you so important?"
Jerxas chortled as he took out brush from a pouch fastened to his belt. "The Chaos Order are a right bag of shitheads, but if there's one place they've left us all in the dust, it's in runecrafting." Jerxas picked up a bowl containing a mixture Kashi did not recognize from the floor and dipped the brush in it. "During their time here, my research into soul energy motivated the buggers to teach me a couple tricks." Jerxas' brush danced across the ground, creating a perfect circle. With a flick of his fingers, a second circle formed within the first. "Now, look, I'll admit I've never thought of creating these so-called arrays, but I do have more than enough experience merging runes to achieve new, unseen effects." The brush slithered within the confines of the inner circle forming the familiar shape of a six-sided snowflake. " Jade here's got the ideas and the brain, but lacks the required level to try out her thoughts in reality. I, on the other hand, am just a few runes shy of Runecraft Mastery. That's why she needed my help."
"I understand," Kashi acknowledged with an appreciative nod. "So, what went wrong the first attempt?"
"We were too ambitious," Jade admitted with a wry grin. "We used top grade materials to prepare the ink. As a result, the energy in the array was far too powerful for the tiny metal board we inked it on. With nowhere to escape, the excess, concentrated energy surged out of the board, destroying it in the process."
"Thus the explosion," Jerxas said as he drew a collection of runes between the concentric circles. "If we use the earth as our board however, this is the result." Jerxas' brush drew its final stroke then he sharply got to his feet and shuffled backward. "I suggest you do the same."
Kashi, intrigued, rose and took a couple of steps back with Jade doing the same across from him. When the trio stood ten meters away from the array, Jerxas nodded at Jade who sent out a steady stream of mana to the array.
The array lit up, its runes turning obscure as the light brightened. The snowflake diagram greedily absorbed the pure mana, then altered its nature to a colder attribute before distributing it to the runes within the concentric circles. The runes, in turn, absorbed the cold-attributed mana and began transforming the mana according to their respective laws.
The spectators gasped as a cool breeze escaped the array. The chilly wind, however, did nothing to cool the hot blood flowing through the dwarven veins as they witnessed a thick sheet of ice form on the ground. The radius of the ice expanded as it crept along the ground, stopping just shy of eight meters.
Kashi stared at the thick sheet of ice. He looked across the frozen landscape and spotted Jade's eyes wide with excitement. Clearly, even she had not imagined it would work so well. In stark contrast, Jerxas chest was puffed out with a confident, snarky grin on his lips. He could not have looked anymore arrogant at that moment, but Kashi could easily spot the relief in Jerxas' eyes, and the excitement in the dwarf's rapidly rising and falling chest.
Kashi pretended not to notice Jerxas' flaws. He shook his head, and with a small smile, walked onto the sheet of ice. Kashi's smile widened to a toothy grin as his skin prickled from the intense cold. "Is there any way to regulate the temperature?" Kashi asked as he walked to the center of the ice-land where the array was located.
"Easy," Jade replied. "Nothing a little rune manipulation can't handle."
"Good," Kashi acknowledged. The daeben took a deep breath then approached Jade, his unbending, strong gaze locking her in place. "Effective immediately, I'm instating you as the head of our Rune-Research Department. You now have full control over any and all projects and funds related to rune research." Kashi stepped out of the icy radius and stopped in front of Jade. Kashi smiled, the warmth offsetting the cool air escaping the frost array. "Think you can handle it?"
Jade was momentarily frozen, dazzled by the warmth in the daeben's eyes. She had not known Kashi long, but even in that short period, she had never known him to exude such warmth. Jade snappily shook out of it and lightly punched Kashi's left arm. "Naturally. Leave it up to me. You won't regret it."
"I know I won't." Kashi affirmed. "The daeben prisoners under our guild's supervision will be turned over to you," Kashi stated with a cursory glance sent Larsial's way. Kashi then turned to Jerxas who had begun to fidget in place, unsure of his future role. "Feel free to collaborate with Jade on any projects or research you wish to undertake. If it's all the same to you, I would prefer you remain with the dwarfs. The way I see it, Jade's team will be in charge of researching innovative methods of array and rune manipulation, while we will contract the dwarfs with constructing new machines using the developed arrays." Kashi looked over his shoulder at the sheet of ice, then over to Knutsen with a wide grin. "For starters, modify this rune a bit and we have a new cooling system." He turned back to Jerxas. "How long until the mana inside runs out?"
"Tiny arrays like this can self-replenish with nature's mana," Jerxas revealed with a proud grin. "Technically, unless stopped, it could last forever after the initial input of mana."
"It's not the same for larger arrays then?"
"Nah," Jade replied this time. "Larger arrays require massive amounts of mana to even be activated. Also, they cannot absorb energy from the surroundings without massive repercussions."
"Putting it in layman's terms, it's like comparing your breathing to that of an ancient dragon," Jerxas explained. "Your breath is tiny. No one notices the disturbance, but I heard when ancient dragons breath, hurricanes can be felt for miles."
"I understand," Kashi said with a nod. "In that case if we use arrays rather than gemstones in the flyboat, we will cut down on a lot of expenses pre and post-launch. Also, if we combine just convert the gemstones into storage containers for mana, we can still use them in conjuction with those larger arrays that can't sustain themselves." Kashi once again turned to Knutsen with a thoughtful gaze. "Is it possible?"
"It is certainly possible, no doubt," Knutsen firmly replied. However, he then added with a troubled look, "However, it will cause some delays to the schedule. How fast we can finish up the prototype after that will largely depend on how quickly Jerxas and Jade-kun can get us those arrays."
Kashi nodded and turned back to Jade. "You heard the man. Your current assignment is to get a list of all the functions of the current gemstones and runes in the flyboat right now, and design arrays to replace them. I expect results within a month. Can you handle it?"
Jade placed her hands on her hips and exposed a wide grin. "Do you know who you're talking to? When my pops hacked the CIA for fun, I developed not one, not two, but three different programming languages from scratch!" Jade boasted with a haughty grin. "Don't worry, I got this!"
Kashi nodded. "Please, I'll leave it you." He patted Jade on the shoulder, then walked over to Knutsen. With a grateful smile, he said, "I'll be depending on you."
"Hmph, at this point, we're the ones depending on you," Knutsen disagreed with a teasing grunt. The dwarf's lips spread into a wide, toothy grin. "Go do what you've got to do kid. I'll ensure the flyboat's completed within a month."
"You have my gratitude, Knustsen-san," Kashi said with a humble bow. "All right, I'm off Knutsen-san. I will be back soon." He straightened his back, signaling Absalon and Larsial with his eye, then walked toward the exit.
Absalon kept pace with Kashi, leaving Larsial a few steps behind the duo.
Kashi caught Absalon's gaze repeatedly travelling to Larsial. With an amused sigh, he suggested, "If you've got something to say, you should just say it."
Absalon nodded. He sent a wary glance Larsial's way then voiced his discomfort. "Is it a wise choice? Freeing her?"
"Maybe, Maybe not," Kashi replied with a shrug. "I am no clairvoyant. I can't tell if this will come to bite us in the ass or not." Kashi briefly glanced over his shoulder at the silent Larsial then continued, "One thing we do know is we need the daeben's skill set. For that, we need her on our side. She might choose to betray us later, but that'll only be after she has dug up as many secrets about our guild as possible." Kashi revealed a confident grin, his gaze steadfast and bold, with a little hint of crazed madness. "Don't you think it's an interesting gamble? Will she betray us, or will we be able to convince her to fully work with us?" Kashi once again turned to Larsial, but this time, there was a significant threat in his hard gaze. "What do you think it'll be?"
To her credit, Larsial refused to crumble under the pressure. "Well, we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?" She replied with the sweetest of smiles.
Kashi, as if expecting the answer, chuckled as he turned to Absalon. "Hear that? We'll just have to wait and see."
Absalon let out an exasperated sigh. Man, what kind of guild leader was this. Many times, it seemed like he was just winging it, but... Come to think of it, his situation back then was quite similar. When most had expected Kashi to execute or imprison him, the daeben instead gave him a high position in the guild. It had been a huge gamble, one that had clearly paid off. Right now, wasn't Absalon only asking these questions because he was genuinely worried about the guild he had once considered betraying? Absalon glanced at the oblivious Larsial with pity in his eyes. Poor woman. She has no idea she's already fallen into his trap. There's no way out for you now.
Kashi and Absalon engaged in idle chatter until they reached ground level. Kashi whistled as they stepped into the blistering afternoon sun, his gaze locked on the serious constructions taking place. Dwarfs, beastmen and other humes rushed about in a strangely orderly fashion, carrying wood, stone and tools from one location to another. At the moment, the majority of the construction work was focused on developing a network of 'main roads' which should run throughout the entire city. Alongside these 'roads', train tracks were also being built.
The dwarfs had begun to build with the future in mind.
Kashi, Absalon and Larsial made their way through the dense work crowd, weaving through the chaos to get to the stables. On their way, Kashi spotted a building that did not belong in the game.
An apartment complex. Ah no, it was more like an entire block of apartment complexes the size of a district. Other than that, he also noticed several long bungalows which formed a district of their own. The difference between the two districts were the large number of dwarven guards posted to the bungalow district.
Noticing Kashi's gaze, Absalon promptly explained it was his idea. Since he noticed Kashi was avoiding the stick approach, he decided it would not be a good idea to throw the prisoners who had agreed to work into the dwarven dungeons. Keep in mind these dungeons mimicked those of medieval times. There weren't any human rights laws governing the construction of dungeons so the conditions in the dungeons could turn a good person mad if kept there for too long.
Absalon thus proposed the hall-like bungalow building which had several bunk beds within. This was to be the prisoners' quarters during their stay. The prisoners were delighted because it meant they would not be kept underground and away from the sun. Plus, there was something heartening about seeing a roof over your head. If it were not for the dwarven guards, this would have felt like a camp rather than a prison.
Absalon's thought process was as such. Following Kashi's wishes, he did not want the prisoners to only form a negative impression of Aygorzi. Rather, he wanted them to view the construction work as something akin to a job, after which they would return home at night with their friends. There was no guarantee it would work, and there was an increased chance of rebellion as a result of the prisoners' closeness to each other, but regular patrols and bedchecks ensured the prisoners did not sneak off at night to hold secret meetings.
At the moment, things seemed peaceful and the treatment looked successful. Only time would tell if there would be any changes.
For the meantime, Absalon also introduced the apartment complexes for those dwarfs who wanted to have homes above ground. Currently, they were using two-storey apartment complexes, which Absalon explained was to economize space. Of course, he did not add the other reason. No matter how realistic L.N.E was, in the end it was still a game. And games had certain mechanics that assisted the players.
One of these mechanics was the population density mechanic.
The population of any given city or village in L.N.E depended on certain factors like economy, food source, security and in some cases, entertainment. But the most important factor at the end of the day was always space. The more space there was, the more civilians you would recruit. Likewise the more industries you had in your village or city, they greater the chance a specialist would immigrate to your city.
Right now, with all the industries the Hopeful Maggots were pioneering, the one thing Rosendun needed was citizens. Hence, the reason Absalon brought in apartment complexes. His aim was to increase the amount of 'space'. Where normally, they would get in one family, with an apartment complex, they could get up to five families.
L.N.E's artificial intelligence would then create brand new families to try and fill up the space, if all quotas are met. The process of how this new, generated individuals would integrate into the world with complete backstories and histories dating back several generations was not the concern of the players.
Absalon was well aware they could not continue to rely on prisoners as labor force, hence the unusual recruitment method. Of course, contracts had also been given out to those willing to work in construction, with one of the perks being free housing for a year.
"That's brilliant!" Kashi freely praised. He'd had a similar idea, but there was nothing better for a leader than having subordinates that saw six steps ahead and implemented his vision before he even spoke. It was a sign they understood what he wanted on a deeper level.
Meanwhile, Larsial went absolutely silent throughout the exchange. She peered through her cowl at the humes going about their daily work. Although, there were quite a number with discontent on their faces, there was no sign of the outright hatred she was used to seeing from the prisoners daeben had taken in the past.
Larsial noticed something else as she examined the prisoners' eyes. Perhaps it was because of the work, but the light in their eyes were still alive, even if slightly dimmed. She could tell that the threat of rebellion still existed in these humes' minds, but the fact that they had not attempted it yet meant one of two things. There was no opportunity to, or not enough of them were interested.
Why would they?
The reasons slaves were quick to rebellion was because they always felt they had nothing left to lose. But these people did have something to lose. Aside from work, they were together with their friends, they had good food and a nice roof over their heads. At night they were allowed to look at the stars, and aside from a couple of places, their movements were not overly restricted.
This was a simple, easy life. If they attempted a rebellion and lost, they would lose even that. Perhaps they would be sent to the dungeons instead. Very few were willing to risk their comfortable present for a hypothetical future.
Such was the nature of humes.
"Perhaps we had it wrong," Larsial muttered under her breath.
"There he is." A smile spread on Kashi's face as he approached the stable to see a familiar black-furred stallion standing imposingly at its entrance. "I'm back, Drixlia," Kashi greeted with a warm smile and a gently pat on the stallion's neck. Drixlia responded with a haughty harrumph a harsh breath that left Kashi's hair dancing in the wind.
Kashi chuckled as he jumped onto Drixlia's back with one smooth motion. He turned to Absalon as a nearby stableman brought a free vespa for Larsial. "One last thing. From now on, I want you to focus our military efforts internally. Root out all traces of rebellion and set up security agents in each village. Call them police or whatever."
Absalon raised a brow. "We're not going to war? Monoch is currently at war with Imperium. It's a good chance to launch a sneak attack on either region. At worst we can increase our territory by a little."
"No can do," Kashi refused with a shake of his head. He fixed Absalon with a searching gaze, "Do you know why we go to war?"
"To unite the continent," Absalon easily replied.
"Unite huh?" Kashi murmured. "If it were only that, we would not be going through as much trouble as we have." Kashi turned his gaze to the scorching sun, the brilliant light contrasting against his skin as if in denying his existence. "We are uniting the lands yes. But the purpose is not to unite the lands."
"Huh?" Absalon stared at Kashi with questioning eyes.
"The unification of the continent only serves one purpose," Kashi revealed. "The end of all wars." A small smile spread on the daeben's face. "To achieve this, we cannot use only force to unite the continent. If we do this, the message will be, 'Might makes Right.' It won't take a few years before rebellions spring up all over the place and we are back to square one."
"Then, what do you plan on doing?" Absalon questioned. "It's not like the other countries will just hand over themselves. Serisis was a major fluke which will never repeat itself."
"Haha, of course not," Kashi laughed. "That would be boring." The daeben revealed a sly grin as he matched the general's gaze. "Although the country will not hand over itself, who says we can't make the citizens think, 'hey, it won't be so bad if they conquer us.'"
Absalon's brow rose. "And how do you plan on doing that?"
"Technology and Education," Kashi explained. "Think about it. If the citizens of the country next to your are living a life of absolute luxury while you're stuck in the mud, won't you want to move over to that country?"
"If you were the ruler of such a country, would you allow your citizens to ceaselessly migrate to another country?"
Absalon's eyes brightened as the picture began to form. "Of course not!"
"Those citizens who can't have the good life, yet are forced to remain within their country, how do you think they would react to an invasion?"
"They..." Absalon shivered as realization dawned. As he gazed at the daeben, he no longer saw the amiable little guild leader, but a terrifying, heartless demon cloaked in the skin of a daeben. Absalon gulped as he muttered, "They might feel conflicted or even not care. Worst case scenario, they might even support the invaders."
"Exactly," Kashi stated with a grin. "So for now, we will solely focus on development within our regions. All the industries we've envisioned must be up and running within six months." Absalon could have sworn he saw the silhouette of a high-class demon behind the daeben's devious grin as he said, "We'll make our citizens so comfortable, they'll never want to go anywhere else. All those other nations will die slow deaths of jealousy. Eventually, they'll have no choice but to attack us first if they want to prevent their citizens from rebelling." Torrents of bloodlust burst out of the daeben, drowning every living thing in a fifty meter radius. "That will be our chance."
"Or something like that." Kashi reverted to a loose smile, only to see Absalon's pale face, eyes wide in abject horror. Kashi laughed as he leaned down and patted Absalon's shoulder. "Don't worry. All that's still a ways off. For now, just focus on quelling rebellions and training the noobs on warfare strategies. Your time to shine will come soon. Right now, let Jade and the others steal the spotlight for a bit."
"As you command," Absalon acquiesced with a polite bow. "If I may ask, where are you headed now?"
Kashi looked to the south. "Meilfour. I've got a meeting with our resident cat."
"Thanks. See you soon," Kashi said as he spurred Drixlia into a light jog. Once he had cleared the construction zone, Drixlia sped up, leaving a large cloud of dust in his wake.
Barely keeping up with him (because Drixlia allowed it), Larsial stared at the back of the daeben with equal parts trepidation and excitement. From the short hour or so she had spent with him, he had already opened her eyes to so many incredible things.
More, More... Reveal all that you are!