Like mine, Tamie’s room had a bed, a table, and a wardrobe.
But unlike mine, it had several rows of shelves nailed to the wall, with strange pieces of equipment I couldn’t identify carefully put on them. Bigger machines that wouldn’t have fit there were simply placed in the corners.
There was an odd cube that had been taken apart on the desk. It had a stone-like exterior while its metallic insides were filled with unfamiliar mechanisms, crystals and strange markings.
I noticed that the furniture was designed with Tamie’s limited mobility in mind. The flat surfaces like the desk were lower than usual and there were metal bars along the higher shelves and the wardrobe to allow her to reach every spot without needing help.
The machines seemed to be organized following a certain logic, seeing how those that were close together shared the same general aesthetic.
“So? What do you think?” Tamie asked. She had been watching me, probably trying to anticipate my reaction.
“It’s impressive,” I said. “Where’d you get them all from? Do they work?”
“Really? Oh, well... One of the advantages of living in this shard is that there are old things everywhere... I’ve been here for a while, and sometimes people bring me things they’ve found since it’s a bit complicated for me to go to Bunker.”
My eye caught a shape leaning against the far wall and I couldn’t help but smile. A rifle. Finally.
“And sadly,” Tamie continued. “Most of the items here are damaged, but with my class, they are still very useful, since I can learn a lot from them.”
I picked up the riffle.
It wasn’t anything like the modern ones I was used to and reminded me of a Winchester rifle I had seen in a collection, despite its sleek finish and shining steel. It didn't have a lever though, and I couldn’t find any way in for ammo. But it had a glass compartment in the stock that became blue when I held it.
“You like it?” the girl asked. “It’s dwarven, and one of the few things here still working. They have always been good at making reliable things. They made these too.”
She waved at a shelve covered with other steel covered gadgets.
“Is it useful?”
She gave me a knowing smile.
“Against animals or other humans? Sure, provided you don’t lack mana. But the bullets it creates are just regular steel, so it can’t be used against beastkins who know the basics of aura.”
I put the rifle back where I found it and gave a closer look at the other machines.
“You can tell who made each of them?”
“Not who exactly, but different races have different styles...”
She pointed at a group of bulky machines that were made of rough dark steel, and what looked like exhaust pipes.
“These are from goblins. Their tech works by creating localized mana explosions. It’s noisy, creates a lot of smoke and isn’t at all efficient in its consumption of mana... but it’s easy to make and they have a lot of mana to spare anyway so they don’t mind... They might all have bad hearing too.”
She waved toward one of the highest shelves. The objects on it were similar to the rifle I had picked up.
“These have kobold origin but were actually made by humans. Kobolds like to use brass for everything, probably because it looks like gold. They use mana to create steam, which causes motion of the gears that are all over their machines... Not sure if you know by the way, but you can tell if something was made by humans if it simply couldn’t have been pieced together. No screws, bolts, soldering or anything. And these...”
She paused, realized how obvious her excitement was, and covered her reddening faced with her hands.
“Sorry! I always ramble when I speak about hextech... I need to learn to think and breathe before speaking.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said with a chuckle. “It’s very educative. I know so little of this world that any piece of information is welcome.”
She moved her fingers to reveal frowning eyes.
“That’s another weird turn of phrase,” she said. “You’re talking as if you were from a different world.”
“Oh, well, I might as well be, really... Since I was so isolated. I don’t know much.”
I mentally kicked myself for that blunder. I really was tired.
“Yeah... I know how it feels to not have much in common with those around...”
She seemed melancholic as she looked at her possessions. I now had a feeling that this room wasn’t really the lair of a mad scientist.
It was more of a museum, intended to make the viewer dream about the pieces in their prime and the people who made them.
Intended to take them anywhere but here.
“What about this one?” I asked, pointing at the work-in-progress on the desk. That had the merit to make her lighten up.
“That’s actually why I wanted you to come!”
She pushed her wheels and moved herself to the table. I pulled a wooden chair that had clearly seen little use and sat down.
“This,” Tamie said as she brought a candle closer to the stone cube, “is brahnan tech.”
She paused for effect, but I wasn’t sure what reaction she expected from me.
“That doesn’t really tell me much,” I said.
“Ah... really? Oh, it’s fine. After all, the brahnans are just the best hextech engineers of the Shattered Realm. Of course their name doesn’t say mu-”
She saw my smile and stopped herself once again.
“Anyway, they are the best at making enchantments and precision work. You see these?” she pointed at indentations covering the metal. “They are runes, and each one makes mana behave in a particular way. Their creations have layers upon layers of them in order to make even the simplest gadget perform exactly as intended and always give the same results under the same parameters. They are a race of geniuses. And this is a reconnaissance drone they made.”
That last part made me raise a brow.
“I never actually got the courage to open it, even though it was already badly damaged,” she continued. “I... was scared of messing it up even more. But seeing your drone gave me the courage to try. Well, after making me feel even worse about myself...”
She gave me an apologetic smile as she tucked rebellious strands of hair behind her ears.
“It wasn’t your fault, really... For the longest time, I have been made to believe that I was likely to never amount to anything... because I have a human trait. Then you come around, a full human with a warring class, and show me that it had nothing to do with my trait... It was just me all along.”
There wasn’t much I could say, so I just listened.
“It’s depressing, but in a way it also means that changing is up to me, right? So I started with finally taking apart this drone. I don’t understand much of it, to be honest, even just studying it raised my proficiencies... But it had programs that could be useful to you, I think?”
“You don’t know of them? They’re also called functions.”
Oh, those. This might actually be an opportunity to make the tin can useful.
“Yeah, Kirby told me about them.”
“Kirby? You said that word earlier, what does it mean?”
“It’s... my drone’s name.”
“Y-you name your tech too? I thought I was the only one who did that!”
I thought of mentioning that we probably did it for different reasons, but decided against it after seeing her cheerful expression.
“Can I see it?” she asked with eagerness.
“Sure. Hmm... Summon: drone.”
The silvery ball came into existence over the table, and Tamie almost lost all composure.
“It’s so beautiful, just like in the books! Look how it flies!”
“Hello, Ed,” Kirby said as unenthusiastically as ever.
“This is amazing, I have a ‘create’ skill and I’ve never seen anyone use ‘summon’. Can I open it?” she asked with a strange glint in her eyes.
“Hmm, I don’t think he would like that. Am I wrong, Kirby?”
“You are correct Ed, since I am predisposed to prefer outcomes guaranteeing my safety over those that do not. In any case, I would be dismissed once I am no longer able to function correctly.”
“Too bad! I like his voice, though,” Tamie said, a wide smile on her face as she put her hands in front of her. “Come here.”
Kirby didn’t move until I told him to do as she said, and once he landed on her palms, a notification appeared in my vision.
Hextech weaver <Tamie> requests access to drone /Kirby.
I gave my permission and the window was replaced by another one.
Mental Com. Link lvl. 1 (10 ether)
Allows mental communication between user and drone. Distance covered depends on function level.
Mana Echo lvl. 2 (40 ether)
Drone emits an expending mana sphere. After a delay, mana sphere retracts back to drone with information about surrounding life forms. Area covered and amount/quality of information depends on function level.
Scan lvl. 1 (10 ether)
Drone scans item for information. Amount/quality of information discovered depends on function level.
Free slots on device: 1/1
Tamie gasped, “Oh! Hmm... I didn’t know you’d have to offer ether for it. I didn’t decide the prices either. It makes sense but it’s my first time doing this...”
“It’s fine,” I said. It surely made sense but raised an obvious question.
Technology that can improve so easily shouldn’t be seen as weak.
In any case, the obvious choice here was to get the mental communication link, since I used Kirby for reconnaissance and it would drastically make it easier.
Not having to wait for him to come back to me would be great.
Mana Echo also seemed like a great option, but only as a second choice.
I picked the function using the ether I had left and it immediately appeared under Kirby’s name.
Kirby, can you hear me? I thought.
I can, Ed.
This was definitely a game changer.
“It’s the first time I ever gain ether this way,” Tamie muttered as she wiped her eyes. “Thank you.”
“How do you raise your level then?” I asked.
“Well... The common way for someone with a production class to gain ether is to have what they make be used by others, preferably people with warring classes. But I’m not good enough to make things for the delvers in Bunker who can afford mana crystals... So I just use them myself until I run out of mana.”
“You run out... of mana?”
“You really don’t even know... that humans do not usually have the wisdom attribute, do you?”
My eye widened and my mind raced as I thought of the implications.
Wisdom determined the speed of mana regeneration. Someone without that attribute wouldn’t be able to naturally regain mana they had spent, and considering mana was needed for everything machine related...
They are stuck?
It made the Technopath trait an ether sink. And considering humans couldn’t physically compete...
I see. So that’s why.
No magic meant no machines. No machines meant no ether.
No ether meant stagnation.
It was maddening to think that a single attribute was responsible for so much... It didn’t really matter that humans had the potential to reach the sky if their legs were chained to the ground.
But it didn’t make sense. Why would a race so dependent on magic be so harshly limited from using it? Who was responsible?
It’s too much of an obvious handicap.
“But then, how do you work?” I asked her. “How do you do anything?”
“It depends... The lucky ones work for people rich enough to give them mana crystals. We’re pretty good at what we do after all, and there are some pretty famous humans engineers. For the rest... well, they either have to tie themselves to a temple or live as forsaken... even if they actually have a class.”
“A temple? Like this one?”
“Exactly. Temples can heal wounds and give mana. That’s why the biggest religious cities are the ones with the biggest human populations. The only nexus left is in one of those.”
“How often do temples give mana?”
“Well... I don’t know about other temples, but this one does it every six months. Anyone can come too, Umion Ji doesn’t discriminate bet-”
She stopped talking, probably seeing the consternation on my face.
“I know it sounds bad but-... Well, it is bad, but the mistress found an empty mana crystal a few years ago, so I fill it up each time and make a lot of progress before I run out and have to wait.”
I closed my eye and held the bridge of my nose. I needed to think.
“You mentioned something... a nexus,” I said. “What is it for?”
“It’s... To be honest, I’m not sure. But you see how each race has a specialty, right? Well, ours is to share and blend foreign technology together. A nexus is like... a centralized library, I think? A library of functions and skills that the previous generations make available for the future ones. That way children don’t need to reinvent the wheel and have a foundation to build upon. Well, in theory. They have all been destroyed, and the one I talked about was made recently. We’re so obviously depending on their existence that many compare us to ants and their colonies.”
The Djin had mentioned the fact that there had been a loss of technology, which included the knowledge required to make the exoskeleton armors... but it now seemed like that loss had been a targeted one.
Too many things piling up. Too many for it to be a coincidence.
But did I have the luxury to worry about the fate of humanity?
No. I have my own fate to worry about.
I was in a prime position to know that there were powerful entities moving in the shadows of this world. I didn’t know why they kept humanity under their heel, but trying to mess with them didn’t sound like a good idea.
Yet. After all, my patron was a member of the Court. And he didn’t seem to be getting along with them.
“You know, seeing you so carefree about being a technopath made me wonder if that’s how humans used to be before things went wrong...,” I heard her say. “Able to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.” She sighed. “Must have been great.”
I opened my eye and faced her.
“You said that our specialty was to blend technology together. Do you think that with all of this,” I waved at the silent machines surrounding us, “you could make a weapon able to pierce aura?”
She was confused for a second, then frowned as she studied her equipment. Maybe seeing them as parts and components for the first time.
“Hmm, I... think it’s possible? It's been done and-”
“Then you’re hired,” I said. “You’re working for me from now on.”
“But... It’s going to take time, and I’ll have to make tests...”
“Then you’ll just have to make them.”
“But the mana-”
“Where’s that crystal?" I said as I stood up. "I can fill it up with mine, right?”
“Sure, but- And I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it small enough... Also what about-”
She paused, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then gave me a wide smile. Her hands were trembling.