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I stood in front of the basement stairs. The door was closed and the three Adventurers were resting. I stared up (not really, I just cast my gaze upon my Domain) and it was mid-afternoon. What were these guys doing? I climbed down the stairs and the sound drew their attention. Then I had Bad Bet knock on the door thrice.

"Who is it?" Shieldbearer asked.

I knocked once, then thrice.

"Knock twice if you are a friend," DPS warrior suggested. I did. "See, it's a friend."

"That's exactly what an enemy would want us to think," the mage complained.

I wrote on the door. "If you guys want an escort out of this place, come now. You are getting in the way of my hunting."

Several scenarios ran through my mind. I could use them as bait. I could kill them and farm the Exp. But they were looking for my Core and I couldn't let them just die here or people would send stronger hunters. Better to send them with empty hands and two deaths to tell them they didn't find it. Perhaps people would look elsewhere. Perhaps not. But it would give me time to farm more Experience from the Infernali prowling in this ruined city.

The door opened.

"You seem taller," DPS warrior commented. "What are those boxes on your shoulders? Are these arrows poking out of them?"

These were the S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R launchers I added to Bad Bet. "SPring Loaded INteractive Turbo Ejectable Rack."

I nodded. Then I wrote on the wall with steel, "You should leave. Now. Come."

"Damn this job. I'd rather eat the penalty for failing than die here," Shieldbearer said.

I sensed the detection ping.

"But we are so close! The spell tells me we are less than a hundred feet from the artifact."

Said artifact's only reason to not turn your face into pincushion was the fact it was once human, asshole.

"Forget it. This spell must be suffering from interference. You said the same thing five blocks away and unless the artifact is moving, there's no way you can detect it here and there."

I had an idea. "What was this artifact?"

"That's classified," the mage snorted.

"A crystal in the shape of an apple," DPS warrior rolled his eyes.

"And why would it be in this ruined city?" I asked. With a sign. I didn't magically learn how to talk.

"The thief who stole it flew over this place when it fell," Shieldbearer explained.

"Is this thing valuable?" I insisted.

"Very valuable. Wait, did you find it?" Mage suddenly approached, eyes shining with greed. "You have it, don't you?"

"Drop it, Hector!" DPS warrior said. "We would be dead if not for the kid."

"You have property of the Marshal of Springfield. By law, you must surrender it!" He pressed.

"Hector, back off," Shieldbearer moved to stay between us.

"You don't understand! If you don't surrender the crystal apple, kid, the Marshal himself will come after you! You have no idea how precious that crystal is!"

Oh, I had.

"You made your choice," I wrote on the wall, then dissolved the signs and the door. I started walking up the stairs.

The adventurers started arguing. I felt bitter. I wasn't an item or an artifact. I was a Dungeon. Dungeons were made to devour and recycle. And that Hector guy had just become rotten in my view. Too bad for his companions. They would have to go.

When I noticed they hadn't followed me, I sprung my most efficient trap. I filled the stairs with stone, then reinforced the whole basement with more stone and filled every single crack and space with more stone.

Then I started sucking the oxygen out of the room, wherever it was far enough from them so their auras wouldn't affect my Domain.

"What is happening?"

"We're trapped!"

"It's your fault!"

"The kid! He has the artifact! We're going to be rich! Now get out of the way, I'm going to open this!"

No, you are not. I opened a hole in the ceiling right above their torch and filled it with water. Without light, I started installing SPLINTER launchers. Equipping the right Perks just as the first materialized, I fired all 144 bolts at the mage.

 

> For killing level 43 mage, you gained 7,933 Experience points. You gained 120 Dungeon Mana.

> You gained 5 levels in Computer Engineer. You gained +10 Intelligence, +10 Wisdom, and +5 Will.

> You learned the Algorithm Encyclopedia Trait. A new tab, Algorithms, was created. The most common algorithms used on old Earth are available. Algorithms you develop or discover are automatically added to this.

> You no longer suffer any Exp restrictions.

 

Hector didn't even scream or gasp. One moment he was about to cast a spell, the next he was falling on the floor with his back full of metal.

"What is going on?"

"Kid is a metal mage! He killed Hector!"

"Damn mage! Hey, let us go! We won't tell you got the artifact!"

Shieldbearer sat down. "We broke his trust. We deserve what is coming to us. We'll meet in hell tonight, brother."

The DPS warrior kept banging on the door. Or where the door was. Now it was ten feet of solid smooth stone. "I'm not dying here! Canyon Carving Sword!"

For some reason, the name of that technique was oddly familiar.

He slashed the stone and created a crack five feet deep as a jet of compressed water shot from his sword and ground the stone to sand. Panicking, I kept sucking the oxygen and created three launchers, aimed at him. Once the three were ready, I fired all at once. The sound of the coils going off gave him a split-second to react.

"Parry Arrows!" He shouted and then his sword basically vanished so fast it was going. He parried more than two hundred of the darts, about half of them. I shot so many at once that they struck each other instead of their target.

But Mad Volley proved its worth as five darts scored critical hits. Chink in Armor let them slide right through the gaps of his armor.

 

> Your training and knowledge improved your Implements of Demise to rank V.

> Rank V benefits: Hurtful things you create deal 10% more critical damage per rank.

 

He fell down, a dart lodged in his eye and another in his throat.

 

> For killing level 41 warrior, you gained 2,690 Experience points. You gained 28 Dungeon Mana.

 

I had a knot in my throat. Perhaps because he thought I was a child or a stunted teenager, perhaps because he was not in his best mindset because of the stress of the last few days, but could it have gone any other way? I didn't think so.

The shieldbearer didn't do a thing while I absorbed the corpse of his companions and my traps, netting me another hundred-fifty Dungeon Mana. I couldn't bring myself to attack him. He passed away from asphyxia inside the basement.

 

*

 

*

 

I hated myself. I had to kill them because I was weak and afraid. I had been kidnapped from my Dungeon, treated like an object, and put through horrors no person should. If I was confident enough in myself to face this Marshall guy and stand my ground, defend my personhood in the court of public opinion, then perhaps they could live.

But no. I was level 28 and they were in their forties. This Marshall, for all I knew, could be level two hundred.

I was not prepared. I needed to level up and fast. This was the perfect place. Not a single soul in sight, only the monsters and I. I cast a beacon and rotated it around my Domain, a full 360 turn. With the beacon, I could reach about a quarter mile now. I sensed where the Infernali nests were and marked them on my map. A metal replica of the ruined city street layout.

The nearest nest was a Spinehound kennel. I just moved into position, putting them well inside my Domain, then boxed them with SHREDDER walls. Standing Harrier Readily Expandable Death Dealing Emergency Rampart. The same I used to get the mutated rodents. With their vector of escape closed, it was a matter of time to kill all of them.

 

> For killing level 38 Spinehound, you gained 1,378 Experience points.

[...] 18 similar messages were suppressed.

> You gained a level! You gained +10 Intelligence, +6 Wisdom, +8 Will, +5 Clarity, and +7 Hardness. You have 10 Attribute Points.

> You gained a level! You gained +10 Intelligence, +6 Wisdom, +8 Will, +5 Clarity, and +7 Hardness. You have 10 Attribute Points.

> You learned the Shield Plants Perk. Friendly and neutral plants inside your Domain enjoy a quarter of your Armor rating.

> You learned the Spawn Explosives Perk. You Replicate some explosives without knowing the formula and learning to Replicate explosives take 50% less effort.

> You learned the Third Fork Perk. When you use your Daydreaming Perk and spend 5 minutes to "philosophize" about the insight, your sustenance needs for the day are lowered by 40%.

> You gained a level! You gained +10 Intelligence, +6 Wisdom, +8 Will, +5 Clarity, and +7 Hardness. You have 10 Attribute Points.

 

The secret to gaining levels fast was to commit mass murder, I realized. Kill lots of enemies at once, and you won't be hindered by the diminishing returns of earning levels as you kill. I suffered that with the buff rats as the Exp I gained from them plummeted from encounter to encounter.

I went to the next monster nest. It was those boars I saw running around. I did the same. Box them in, then start peppering them with darts all at once. However, I didn't account for their special power.

The boars had a thick layer of fat and skin, and my darts weren't doing much damage except on critical hits. I got lucky and killed the first one straight away but the others not so much. The boars stared at my steel walls and charged.

 

> For killing level 46 Newton's Third Boar, you gained 6,347 Experience points.

> You gained a level! You gained +10 Intelligence, +6 Wisdom, +8 Will, +5 Clarity, and +7 Hardness. You have 10 Attribute Points.

> You gained the Plant Shield Perk. When you are within sqrt(Wisdom) feet of a friendly or neutral plant, you take 25% less damage.

 

Why were they called that?

The boars slammed their thick tusks into the steel walls, earning some gashes from the spears. One of them even did the favor of pushing one through his eye. Before I could see the kill notification, all the walls hit by boars were flung away, breaking off their anchoring pillars as the boars bounced back from the impact, landing haphazardly but quickly regaining their feet. What the fuck? Kinetic manipulation? Elastic collisions.

Oh. Fuck. I got it.

 

> For killing level 45 Newton's Third Boar, you gained 4,063 Experience points.

 

Freaking diminishing returns. That was the one for the self-impaled boar. They went into a frenzy and started running up and down the streets. I was hidden on the fifth floor of a nearby building, one I blocked the access stairs with stone. I placed blade traps along the way of the boars, springing them as they passed at high speed. Some missed, and some struck and cut their bellies open. Mm, demon bacon. Pretty sure they weren't edible, though.

 

I gained another two levels from the mad boars running amok, then another level for clearing the pigpen.

 

> You gained a level! You gained +10 Intelligence, +6 Wisdom, +8 Will, +5 Clarity, and +7 Hardness. You have 10 Attribute Points.

> You gained a level! You gained +10 Intelligence, +6 Wisdom, +8 Will, +5 Clarity, and +7 Hardness. You have 10 Attribute Points.

> You learned the Pacifying Grass Perk. Creatures standing on grass inside your domain are pacified. This is a mental effect, based on your Wisdom, resisted by Willpower.

> You gained a level! You gained +10 Intelligence, +6 Wisdom, +8 Will, +5 Clarity, and +7 Hardness. You have 10 Attribute Points.

> You learned the Premeditated Murder Perk. If you spend at least 2 hours planning a creature's (or a group of similar) demise and then execute the plan, you deal 100% more damage so long you stick to the plan. Using this Perk on sentient creatures is an evil act.

> You learned the Coffee in, Code out Perk. So long you are well-fed and have access to stimulants when executing a Computer Engineering task, you can work up to 14 hours a day.

> You reached level 35 and gained a new Class Skill.

> You learned the Plant Sorcery Skill.

> Rank I benefit: You may design and cast spells that affect plants.

> You unlocked the Mana Pool Resource (MP). You have 100 base Mana, scaling with Clarity. You gain 5 base Mana per level from now on.

> A new entry named Grimoire has been created in your Status. You can learn two spells. Your caster level is 34 levels lower than your main Class level.

> You learned the Plant Growth spell. Channel MP into a young plant to accelerate its development. Each 100 MP used ages the plant by (Intelligence/100) days. You cannot age a plant past its prime.

 

Did I just become a kind of druid? Botanist? Damn, they really want me to start farming. The ordinary kind of farming. I spent my points, making sure to add enough to Hardness so I reached the next Armor threshold.

 

Name: Skip May Neming Species: Dungeon Core / Plant (Apple)
Level:  35 Exp/ Level: 1,247 / 8,000
Main Class: Electronic Apple Orchard (L)
Sub-Classes: Architect of Destruction (V) Computer Engineer (E)
Attributes Base Score   Efficiency Modified Score

Intelligence (In)

358 (200%) 716

Wisdom (Ws)

350 (200%) 700

Willpower (Wp)

310 (220%) 628

Clarity (Cl)

283 (220%) 622

Hardness (Hd)

357 (220%) 785
Resources Base Current   Maximum
MP (Cl) 100 10 722
DM (Cl) 450+23 3,214 3,415
SP (Wp) 450 3,157 3,276
Materialization (Ws) 185 --- 1,480
Armor sqrt(Hd):  28 --- (13 / 75%)
Traits Puzzle Dungeon Dungeon Automation Replicate Electronics
Sanctuary Orchard Dungeon Domain Rock Hard
Algorithm Encyclopedia
Skills Engineering V Implements of Demise IV Computer Sciences I
Plant Sorcery I
Grimoire Plant Growth Empty Spell Slot
Perks Minor Levitation (2ft) Telekinetic Button Pusher Domain Beacon
Sturdy Domain Extra Crystallization Tough Capacitor Hardened Device Casing
Speak Binary Green Thumb Rapid Growth Pesticide Aura
Orchard Mana Ambient Light Peace of the Forest Shield Plants
Plant Shield Pacifying Grass
Glistening Blades Chink in Armor Wind-Gliding Bullet "Oops, I was in range"
Mad Volley Spawn Explosives Premeditated Murder
Keyboard Basher Debug Console Insulated Circuits Silicon Sense
Third Fork Coffee in, Code out
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About the author

MDW

Bio: The author would like to reinforce for the umpteenth time that the characters' opinions are their own, may be intentionally wrong, do not reflect my (MDW's) personal viewpoints neither are included in this work to further any political agenda (I don't even live in the same hemisphere or country as you, whichever those are. I'm writing from the Earth-Sun L3 point for all I care). My works serve no purpose other than to tell stories with conflicting viewpoints. Use of the reader's critical sense is highly advised.

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