Blibl had already begun developing a minor cult, so Chris sort of guessed she was safe, but he decided to leave quickly, before things got truly out of hand. The other reward from his levelling quest, the Tower Seed, turned out to be a crystal. It sank into his hand without any problems. He’d deal with it later. This didn't seem like the place to use it, if it was some sort of building, as he suspected.
On his way out, he intercepted Dylan, asking him to spread around the news that he—Christopher Hill—was not an NPC, and in fact from Earth.
Everyone seemed confident that they could handle the remaining Gnolls, so Chris jumped from the walls onto a pile of gathering Gnoll corpses. He reflected that he should have probably replaced his plate mail, but it was only damaged in a single area. As long as he kept moving, the expected damage would be minimal.
His new hammer bashed its way easily through the Gnolls that tried to swarm him. Maybe it hit a little stronger, he wasn’t entirely sure. His previous weapon had been overkill against the Gnolls already. Getting a hammer that bashed skulls fifty percent better when it already bashed ninety-nine point nine percent of skulls was just pissing around with decimals for no good reason.
The hammer hit. It worked. That it was made of a metal called Nuctite made little difference. It was like cutting warm butter with a metal knife instead of a wooden one. It cut butter either way.
It did remind him, however, to go search for his lost gauntlet and shield. He found them both, planted in a strange field of mud as if they were metal fruit ripe for harvest.
A quick wipe with his right arm, and they were gleaming, polished, and ready for reuse. He slipped on the gauntlet, and strapped the shield loosely to his arm—able to be detached with a hearty flick. Then he set off toward his settlement.
He ran, even though he had at least five hours until Kingscastle was taken. It was almost midnight, and, despite his endurance, he still felt sleepy.
He’d skirted around the edge of the forest when he’d carried Philip toward the Beast Horde that had gathered around Hartshire. He’d been worried about running into a monster with the forest changing. Now, he ran straight through.
Deeper within, the forest had changed drastically. Puddles of seething Slime reached out to grab him as he passed, and seemingly solid rocks suddenly sprouted limbs and lumbered toward him.
Chris leapt over chasms, seeing rivers of churning green liquid roiling away below.
The trees looked near death, yet they sprouted strange and vibrant blooms that dripped phosphorescent color onto the ground around their roots.
Chris slowed, reaching out to pluck one of the fantastical flowers, but it fluttered away as soon as his fingers brushed it, alighting on another tree farther away.
He chuckled, then continued toward Kingscastle as monsters slunk through shadow around him. Too slow, idle, or tired to pursue the intruder in their midst. One time, he ventured too close and felt unseen claws rake across his armor—then fade before he could identify their source. At least it confirmed that monsters weren’t intimidated by Area Guardians outside of Beast Hordes. If anything, they were opportunistic aggressors.
The Slime Forest just felt dangerous. The bright colors in the darkness drew the eye away from other threats that lurked and leapt between shadow and tree. The Slime chasms growled like insatiable stomachs, and every now and then a geyser of green goop would shoot up from between the finger-like branches of the Slime-blasted trees.
At the bottom of the chasms, perilously close to the Slime a few feet deeper, were bright, luminescent gems embedded in the walls. Small caves shotgunned the entire height of the sheer canyons, making it look like a cross section of a cheese wheel.
Then he was past the area, breaking out into a thin veil of trees and more vegetative greenery. Kingscastle lay before him.
The field of mud was just starting to be broken by the first shoots of green grass poking their heads out from under, like the periscopes of submarines.
The gates yawned wide as he approached, and he saw…
It was a new start, a new choice.
“Hi there! I’m Christopher Hill. A human, from Earth, like you. There are complications with that, of course. As there are in everything. But that is a talk for a later time, and I hope, before then, you will come to trust me.”
Chris’ eyebrow twitched as he counted them all. Five in total. His gaze turned speculative. “Of course, before we get into the real fun, I have a quest for you all. A chance for you to earn armor and arms and lodging. Have any of you, by chance, constructed furniture before?”
Chris had regained control of his fledgling settlement, instructed his new guests on mana, and after a few minutes grudgingly handed over the screws required to finish the beds.
He hadn’t even threatened a nuclear apocalypse if they failed to deliver. He was proud of himself. He’d turned over a new leaf, to find that it looked much the same as the previous one—except without the imminent threat of mutually unassured destruction.
The grumbling only lasted until he’d given them weapons, armor, and clear instructions not to hit each other too hard—of course they were going to test out their new gear on each other. Then Chris went back to the keep.
The snake scales, meat, and charcoal from the tree still sat near the entrance, so he humped it over to the Storage Area, where it hopefully wouldn’t spoil.
And then everything was good—except for the golden leaf, which he still had on him, but had forgotten about because the damn thing was thin and easy to not notice.
His arm was still disinterested in it, and he didn’t want to carry it around where it might get damaged, so he hid it beneath his mattress. It should be safe there. Especially when the Defenders spawned, sometime tomorrow.
He crashed down onto his mattress, one last thing left to do before he went to sleep.
Class: Slime Battle Alchemist – Rare
Constitution +10, +5%
Wisdom +3, +1%
Perception +3, +1%
+5 Constitution, +1 Perception and Wisdom per level
None (5 Slots)
As soon as he read the final line, a new screen appeared.
(Optional – Class) Enter the Tower of the Manifold Adept (0/1)
(Optional – Class) Ascend the Tower of the Manifold Adept and gain  Class Skills (0/5)
He blinked and sat back up. That was bullshit. Why did he have to climb some dumb tower to gain skills for his class?
Then a sly grin slid over his face. The System had made a point of trying to kill its users. First the dumbass transportation situation. Then omitting to the humans that the Starter Protections barriers would suddenly allow the Beast Horde through. Incentivizing Traitors, and empowering them. And finally, putting a great big damn marker above every settlement that lacked Starter Protections. He didn’t even know how to disable the marker above Kingscastle. Hopefully he’d be able to soon.
Either way. The System had made something very clear. It wanted Chris, and every other human dead. The Tower of the Manifold Adept seemed like the latest iteration in a long and insalubrious display of sheer fuckery.
Chris was going to do his utmost to disappoint the damn System. The tutorial was clearly designed to brutalize new races in what amounted to a lethal System-sanctioned hazing ritual.
Chris’ smile widened. He’d start with the Tower, use it to get stronger, then he’d get to work turning the entire tutorial into a burning wasteland.