584 The Great Working pt 2
The crafters of the Colony were an interesting and formidable bunch, to be sure. The first time I worked with them was when I had heard they were willing to provide certain materials, namely processed mana infused woods, at near cost. Being an engraver and enchanter, such a ridiculous drop in price was far too tempting to give up, even if it meant dealing with an occupying force of monsters. If my competitors were to take advantage of this new supplier and I didn't, they could price me out of the market instantly! In many respects, I didn't have a choice, and, I'm a little ashamed to say, I wasn't pleased at being forced to deal with the 'monsters' at the time. I saw this move on their part as a way of forcing the city to become reliant on their help. Since the gates were closed and Dungeon delving banned, we didn't have anywhere else to go but to rely on an ever dwindling stockpile anyway.
So, steaming on the inside I swallowed my pride and took part in a trade mission. The ants and their human associates were extremely accommodating, which did little to dull my distrust, and led the group of similarly disgruntled merchants and crafters to the closest nest. Our safety was impeccably managed. Not once in my life had I experienced such a peaceful journey through the Dungeon. What was more surprising, was that the ants and their associates were more than happy to speak on the nature of this trade agreement, and their honesty was almost disturbing to a long-time businessman such as myself.
They were open about the reason for the low price they demanded for their goods. They simply had little need of money and were harvesting the materials at a rate faster than they could consume them. When I pointed out that they were processing the raw materials themselves, couldn't they then go ahead and complete the final product, they admitted that the number of ants in the Colony dedicated to creating such things was limited. They didn't see a need for wands, couldn't operate bows in the classical sense, were insulted by the idea of a stave and used stone for almost all their furniture.
(The idea of insect furniture was quite startling to me at the time.)
From the description I was given, I began to think of the crafters in the ant community as short sighted, lacking in appreciation for their craft and quite possibly stupid. How wrong I was. The crafters of the Colony were INSANELY dedicated. Their attention to detail was inhuman, their work ethic, unparalleled. When they showed us the chambers where the raw woods were cut and shaped, the workers were industrious to the point of obsession. A single poor cut was intolerable to them and every one of them was fanatical in their pursuit of efficiency. When next they showed us the area in which the mana grains were examined and refined, I almost couldn't believe my eyes. Row after row of ants sifted and organised the cuts of wood before meticulously examining each one. Not a single one faltered in their concentration for even a second in the hour I was there.
I was beyond impressed. Refining the grains is mind-numbing, headache inducing, incredibly detailed work. Highly qualified workers that could perform this task were almost impossible to find and worth their weight in gold, simply because almost no sane person could endure the job and its exacting standards. I came away sure in the knowledge that Colony, for as long as it existed, would become the centre of industry in the area. Who could hope to match that level of production?
As I worked with them more, I came to see that the only real weakness of the ant crafters was their lack of imagination. They could grind through tedious tasks like no sapient creature ever could, but when it came to making bold leaps of creativity. They were the definition of 'by the book'. I was certain that this would come to be a lasting advantage that we held over them. How disappointed I was to learn that it simply wasn't true for all of them. Even within an ant Colony, remarkable individuals could emerge that completely upset their dynamic.
-Excerpt from the journal of an unknown bowyer of Rylleh.
The crafter laboured tirelessly, firing and shaping the metal without pause or rest. It consumed all of her attention, to the point the ant who delivered her Biomass was forced to physically drag her to the food before she would eat it. She made fine rings and riveted them together, she made solid plates that overlapped with cunning joints, she made fine scales and layered them, she made and made and made. Small test pieces, larger scale prototypes. She burnt through all of the knowledge the System had granted her on the working and shaping of metal, desperate to find a solution that would meld what she knew about armour with the reality of Formica Sapiens biology.
She didn't stop for three days, until she was dragged unceremoniously from her chamber, still trying to work the bellows and fire another ingot.
"No! I'm so close to the next level!" she cried out, straining against the firm pull of the three ants tearing her from her work.
"You've already skipped one mandatory rest period," one of them scolded, "any more and we'll be forced to block you from entering the workshop for three days."
Three days?! She couldn't bear it! Filled with indignation against the Eldest for their regulations, the crafter allowed herself to unceremoniously dragged through the tunnels and deposited back in her rest chamber. She resisted the urge to try and sneak back in, that hadn't gone well for her the last time she'd tried. They'd be on the lookout for a repeat offender like her anyway. There was little choice but for her to accede and get some rest. But first…
She moved through the chamber, careful not to disturb the torpor of the others in the room as she made her way to the back corner. Once there, she used her mandibles to lift a strategically placed stone to reveal a small steel container buried in the dirt. Slowly, so as not to make any unnecessary noise, she lifted the box up with her mandibles and opened it to reveal a small collection of materials and cores. The rainy day supplies!
She couldn't possibly rest yet, her vision hadn't even begun to fade! So instead, she continued to grind away in secret at her second passion: enchanting. She'd only recently reached the third rank in her enchanting Skill, quite a ways behind her blacksmithing, but with the limited time and resources she had, she considered it quite the achievement. She felt that she would never be satisfied handing her work off to another crafter to complete. Imagine, when she finally managed to complete the first, perfect ant armour, only to give it to someone else to stuff up the enchanting work?! The very thought was enough to make her grind her mandibles.
To prevent such a travesty, she spent the next five hours tinkering with the cores and metals, testing different combinations until her mind felt dull and fuzzy. Only then did she pack away the box, conceal it once more and allow herself to fall into torpor.
It wasn't long into her next shift that the magical milestone came to pass.
[Expert Blacksmithing (III) has reached level 20, upgrade available.]
Elated, she raced into the menu to confirm the selection.
[Expert Blacksmithing (III) -\u003e Basic Metalsmithing (IV). Cost 1 sp. Imbues the Skill user with more detailed knowledge of metalworking, guiding them to more accurate and finer shaping. Also grants advanced knowledge of metalworking patterns.]
Yes, yes, yes, YES!
She mentally smashed the confirm button and almost swooned as she felt the knowledge begin to trickle into her mind. New ideas, new methods, new instincts all blossomed in her thoughts as the System poured the knowledge into her head like a cup being filled with life giving water. When it was done, she remained perfectly still, digesting, thinking, feeling out exactly what it was that she had learned. She remained that way for an hour, before she realised she had yet more to do with her menu.
Once more she opened the interface and mentally tabbed through it, this time checking for new Skills. Had her advancement unlocked anything new? A speciality? A more specific, in-depth Skill? Almost in a frenzy, she ripped through the menu until she found something.
[Armour Smithing (I)]
Finally! Weapon smithing was also there, but she ignored it completely. Here finally was the Skill she'd been hoping for! Maybe with this, she'd have the knowledge necessary to make her vision a reality! Just before she confirmed the Skill purchase, yet another caught her eye.
[Enchantment forging optimization (I)]
What was that?