7. Greasing the Wheels — Part One
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Luckily for Max, his shirt, suit jacket, and spear had been dumped just off to the side. His tie wasn’t anywhere to be seen, so presumably the spider nymph still had it. He couldn’t help feeling annoyed at that. He’d liked that tie! He could just see himself wearing it again if he ever, ever finally got hold of some real trousers.

As he once again donned his make-shift, side-split skirt, a pair of welcome notifications filled his vision.

— Bong! —

For completing the epic-level dungeon, Lair of the Spider Nymph, you have received the following Deity-Engram:

Commander’s Residence — Level One

The commander’s residence is the foundation building of any settlement in Isolation. Control of the commander’s residence equates to control over the entire settlement. Do not allow your commander’s residence to fall into enemy hands, Master Builder, or all you have fought for could come to nothing.

When you are ready, access your civilisation menu to place your Commander’s Residence.

— Bong! —

For surviving an encounter with the spider nymph on terms that she stipulated, you will be granted the choice of one the following three items:

1. [Sareva’s Ring of Beneficial Trade]: Equipping this item will grant use of the Trade-Good Transformation spell. Transform up to 10 golds worth of trade good into 10 golds worth of another trade good. The caster must be in possession of both trade goods to cast the spell.

Range: touch

Cooldown: Twenty-four hours

2. [Epic Level Potion of Total Strength]: Drinking this potion will permanently add +2 to your strength (one use only).

3. [Andromeda’s Refilling Keg of Wonders]: Magically produce one full barrel’s worth of any liquid placed within per day (up to uncommon level). If no liquid is placed within, reverts to beer.

“OOoooooo.” Max rubbed his hands together. Now, this was an interesting choice.

He briefly looked over the strength potion before dismissing it as an option.

The fact that such potions existed was interesting, and they’d no doubt be helpful in dungeons, but he had no idea how long it was going to be until he explored another one of those and he already had his spear. On the other hand, he knew that he was about to start building a village, so having some economic power behind him felt like a much better choice.

The real question was, did he go for the ring, or the keg? The ring would give him incredible flexibility. All he’d need to do would be to get his hands on a tiny amount of any resource and he could make as much as he needed, given enough time. The problem was, he wasn’t sure how much 10 gold was worth. Was it a lot? How were prices determined in Isolation? It sounded like a lot, considering that he’d been receiving copper coins up until now.

On the other hand, there was the keg. The fact that this magical artefact would start producing beer right now and wouldn’t stop until he put something else inside (possibly something much more valuable), made his mouth water. Also, maybe it was because he’d just got laid, but Max felt like he could really go for a beer right now.

He snorted.

As silly a consideration as that sounded, it wasn’t entirely so. The spiders had eaten all his rook meat, so he didn’t have any food left. Beer would give him enough calories to keep going if nothing else. Depending on how strong or weak it was, it might also keep him hydrated as well.

Ultimately, the choice between the two artefacts was, did he want varied wealth? Or did he want more wealth?

Max decided he wanted more.

He pressed the button and instantly swore out loud as a huge oak barrel almost landed on him. It rolled away and came to rest against the nearest stone wall.

— Ding! —

You have acquired Andromeda’s Refilling Keg of Wonders.

During the eighth Trial by Conquest, Andromeda the gnome ruled over a kingdom specialising in the melding of magic and technology. Her people crafted countless artefacts for war and trade, but among them all, the Keg of Wonders was Andromeda’s favourite. You have truly been granted a wonder, Master Builder. Use it well.

“Great,” Max wheezed, shaken by the suddenness of his newest toy’s arrival. He tried to roll the barrel into his inventory, but then received another unpleasant surprise.

— Ping! —

Andromeda’s Refilling Keg of Wonders is too large to fit in your inventory.

“Son of a bitch!” Max yelled again. What the hell was he supposed to do with a keg that was almost as large as he was? Thank god it wasn’t full yet. But even as he stared, he could hear the faintest trickling sound coming from within. If he didn’t get this thing down the stairs of the pyramid sharpish, he’d have too...

Max shuddered.

Well, he’d have to pour out all the accumulated beer onto the stone steps and let it run down like a sacrifice to the Aztec god of wasted cheer.

There was also the worrying fact that despite the spider nymph’s assurances, there was no silk waiting for him. Max had now gone through all his prompts and it hadn’t even been mentioned.

Gripping the sides of the barrel, Max rolled it back up the corridor towards the light and the outside world. He then stood at the top of the endless uneven stairs, looked down, and eyed up his large, awkward, and heavy prize.

Yep, this was going to suck.

 


 

Carrying the barrel down the stairs burned his muscles like nothing else before. Max didn’t believe himself to be a slouch when it came to working out (you didn’t get abs like he had without work), but at the same time, he’d clearly never pushed himself like this before. A barrel was not a barbell, and he was working angles and muscle groups he didn’t even know he had.

None of this was helped by the faint trickling coming from inside the barrel. Every moment he dallied was a few extra grams added to his burden.

He actually had to stop once or twice to let the liquid out of the tap on the top.

And given the fact that he hadn’t had a drink in what felt like days, he hadn’t been able to help himself.

When he’d let some out into his hands though, he’d gotten a surprise.

— Ding! —

You have found Magically Enhanced Refreshing Beer.

Drawn from the Keg of Wonders, this beer is both moderately hydrating and alcoholic. Many are the soldiers that have marched to war, secure in the knowledge that at least one comfort of home marches with them.

Drinking this beverage before a battle will grant the following stats:

+ 2 to bravery

+ 2 to constitution

- 1 to dexterity

This is a Common Resource

If Max were a cartoon character, little dollar signs would have ka-chinged over his eyeballs. He didn’t even need to find a valuable liquid to start trading. That was important, but another thought did occur to him.

Quite apart from the incredible properties of the beer itself, this was the first time that Max had seen numbers used to denote combat abilities. Yes, the Trial seemed like it was based on old-style computer games, but the fights he’d been in so far had all felt incredibly real. And he certainly hadn’t seen prompts jumping up saying things like: ‘You have dealt 5 damage to Giant Rook.’

Was that just because the numbers weren’t there? Or were they just hidden? Or was there something else he wasn’t understanding? Yet more questions that needed answering.

Max got about two-thirds of the way down the stairs, muscles heaving, burning, forcing him to rest every twenty or so steps, and occasionally drink from the barrel, before another prompt popped up.

— Ping! —

You are no longer dehydrated.

— Ping! —

You are faintly buzzed.

While still under the legal driving limit on many worlds of the multi-verse, your mental and physical attributes are still not what they’d be were you 100% sober.

“You see,” Max grunted to himself, now standing only just above the tree-line down the pyramid’s stairs. That’s the kind of thing he meant. Why not tell him his ‘wisdom’ just went down by one? “Why say what it does on the bottle, but not when I drink it?”

He pressed his back to the barrel, to better balance it on the steps, and looked down at the open space surrounding the pyramid.

Then his gaze travelled further to where the thick tree-line started in every direction.

His mind started to wonder exactly how he was going to move on from here, given his massive barrel, but his thoughts ground to a halt. He’d noticed something in the shadow of one of the ruined pillars. Something huge.

Something huge, hairy, and many-legged.

Any relaxation caused by the beer fled as Max’s monkey brain realised there was a predator waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs.

That rush of adrenaline started to fade a few moments later as he got a better look at what he was seeing.

He let out a sigh of relief.

It was one of the massive spiders from the Spider Nymph’s city! And not just any spider. It looked to be the same gigantic arachnid that had first taken him from the cocoon pantry to the nymph’s bedroom! The spider was crouching in the shade of the pillars and was laden with bolt after bolt of Amber-Weave spider silk!

It took Max what felt like another painful age to finally make his way down to the bottom of the steps. But when he did, he wasted no time in putting his keg on its side and rolling it over.

“Thorax?!” he called out. “Is that you?!”

He’d never really had time to properly inspect the spider before. His body was the size of a hippo, but his legs made him even larger than that. His long hair was orange and black, and the two large hairy proboscides gave the appearance of a stripy, furry moustache.

The spider barely moved to acknowledge him. “Yes, it is I, Master Builder. Thorax, first son of the Spider Nymph and Major Domo of the Arachnymph Palace.” His voice had the rumbling cadence of an old-school English butler. “I have been commanded by our queen to accompany you to your settlement and act as ambassador to her interests. To that end, I have been instructed to provide you with raw materials, such advice and guidance as you may ask...” Now Thorax did move, turning his body to glare at the keg of wonders, even as his tone of voice didn’t change one jolt. “...and to carry your luggage,” he finished.

If there was a hint of resentment in the spider’s actions, Max chose to ignore it. This was awesome! Now he didn’t have to worry about the barrel!

He quickly used his new analyse skill on Thorax.

— Whoosh —

Amber-Weave Spider

Race Level: Uncommon

Alignment: Life

Amber-Weave spiders are a race unique in being birthed by the spider-nymph. While young, they are quick and nimble, but as they grow older and larger, they replace speed for strength. The oldest and largest of Amber-Weave spiders develop high-level sapience, capable of reason and judgement equal to any other intelligent being in Isolation.

Powers:

Beast of Burden: Able to carry up to five tonnes of cargo and maintain a brisk five-kilometre an hour pace.

Forest Creature: Can move through forest terrain with preternatural ability.

Dungeon Creature: Can move through urban terrain with preternatural ability.

Amber-Weave spinner: Can produce amber-weave silk strands from its spinnerets. The amount produced per day is a factor of age, diet, and need.

Max stepped back and grinned widely. “This is amazing! Thorax, thank you so much.”

“Do not thank me, Master Builder,” the spider intoned. “I am merely doing my duty to my queen and my mother. Where do you want to go now?”

“Ahh, I’m not sure.” Max was counting the rolls of Amber-Weave silk tied onto Thorax’s back with more silk ropes. “Where do you think is best?” eleven, twelve... “Come to think of it, is there any good reason why I can’t build my settlement here? We need to get a move on. Some other Master Builders are already way ahead! And it’s near a dungeon I’ve already conquered.”

The spider’s moustache twitched when he used the word ‘conquered.’ “I do not believe that would be a good idea, Master Builder.”

“Why not?” he asked easily. “And the name’s Max, by the way.” He smiled. If they were going to be working together, it would be best to start on good terms.

The spider did not smile back. Obviously. That would have been creepy as fuck. But nevertheless, Thorax’s tone of voice endeavoured to convey the impression that the attempt at greater familiarly was not appreciated.

“I’m sure that is your name, Master Builder,” he said. “As to why you should not build your settlement here, there are two reasons. Firstly, you do not have everything you need to start your settlement. My mother tells me that Master Builders require a commander in order to build a commander’s residence. We will need to travel to find one.”

“Couldn’t you be a commander?” Max asked.

twenty-two,  twenty-three....

The moustache twitched again. “No, Master Builder. For two reasons. Firstly, I am not your follower. I follow my queen, the Spider Nymph. And secondly, the purpose of commanders is to lead their kind into battle. While my mother may grant more of your people the services of my brothers and sisters in the future, they would be considered mounts, not individual fighters.”

Max considered that. The concept of commanders had come up before, but he hadn’t known what they were or their function. It sounded like they were leaders of their peoples. How would he find one of them?

“Okay,” he said. “And the second reason we should move somewhere else?”

“Resources,” the spider said, simply. “My mother said that successful Master Builders usually establish themselves near a concentrated resource as well as a dungeon. Dungeons are useful in many ways, but settlements can quickly outgrow them. There are no concentrated resources near here, that I know of.”

That was good enough for Max.

“So, how do we decide which direction to go in?” he asked, turning to face the forest.

The spider-moustache twitched again. “I do not know, Master Builder. That is your decision.”

Max groaned.

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