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in which Aestrix is a dungeon
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Kose walks over to join the conversation.

"I'm pretty sure the number of people will drop off once everyone's had a chance to see, but we still have more people here than there are puzzles; Aestrix, do you think you'd be up for adding another puzzle? And how are we on duplicating the materials library?"

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"Done, sorry, I just got distracted by adorable children. I'll see about making more puzzles, yeah, but I am certainly suffering from success, aren't I." Here is the slab! It is tidy and efficient and also probably kind of heavy. "Several substances of note that I know of but didn't include: lithium, because it reacts with water, and lead, because it's poisonous. .... You're aware lead is poisonous, right, that's not a surprise to you?"

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Kose glances at Rokat, who returns her look.

"... no, I don't think we knew that," she replies. "Non-alcoholic things stored in lead containers take longer to cause sickness, and people don't seem to get sick after drinking them? That said, we don't exactly have that much lead. Mostly we store things in wooden barrels."

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She was so smart to open with water purifiers! So smart!!! These people need it!!!!

"Ack! Okay! Lead is poisonous! Do not ingest! The trick of it, and the reason why you might not notice, is that it's poisonous in a long term and subtle way? Especially on children, it can screw up their brain development and growth and, uh, stuff. Please do not store any water in lead barrels, I will personally swap them for something less actually poisonous, for free, right now, just out of - absolutely not. And please use my little water filter on anything that has been so stored, because, um. Yeah. Also not recommended in paint or makeup."

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Kose nods seriously.

"I'll make sure to let people know. As I said, we don't have too much lead. I can ask Perkre what it gets put in; he'd have a good idea."

She hurries off to do just that.

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“All right, thank you. …. I’m going to make more water purifiers, glass isn’t the best material for holding magic, it was just the first one I could think of that wouldn’t taint the water with anything. Hmmmmm…. Copper pipes are a thing? I think? But I’m not sure, I’d need to test it properly. I’m going to need to set up some kind of science lair to test various metals in water, aren’t I. Nevermind, back with glass, if they break in ten minutes I’ll just fix them…” This muttering is out loud and vaguely in Rokat’s general direction, but is mostly to herself.

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Kose consults with Perkre, and organizes some people to check various sources of water for contamination using Aestrix's purifiers. Someone also brings up wooden sample cups of water for Aestrix to look at, just in case. People run back and forth to the village on various errands. When it starts getting late, Rokat herds the children back home. Most of the villagers trickle away once they've had a chance to see the Dungeon and there are no more items of work forthcoming.

Perkre and Tanth are among the last to leave. They say their goodbyes, and Kose makes her way to her bedroom.

"Well, that was ... eventful," she opines. "I'm going to take a nap, if that's alright?" she asks, sitting on her bed.

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She dutifully checks sample water, though she’s a bit handicapped on being able to definitively check for safety. Lead’s straightforward enough to find and remove, as are viruses and bacteria, but she doesn’t have a full list of the minerals that are bad to ingest. Still, lead and bacteria removal’s not bad. It’ll be better than it was, which is not to be discounted, even if it’s not perfect.

“Yeah, absolutely,” agrees Aestrix, also sounding tired. Being a dungeon has its benefits, but she’s still an introvert. Meeting an entire town has neatly flipped her directly to ‘emotional exhausted.’ “Have a good nap. Let me know if you need anything, all right?”

Pity she can’t literally curl up under the covers as a dungeon, because that’s really what she feels like doing. Fortunately, idly sorting through her pile of trash and stretching herself out to take up more space comes kind of close. She’d been purposefully staying small, which was fine, but sort of like sitting at a desk for an extended period of time. With all of the extra power an entire town feeding her got, well. She’s fine to just stretch out and relax a little, instead of being a carefully regimented jewel box dungeon.

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"I will," Kose promises, before curling up and going out like a light.

She sleeps for quite a while, giving Aestrix plenty of time to recover.

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If she could purr, she would be. Well, maybe she can purr, she hasn’t exactly tested her vocalization capabilities yet, but she doesn’t want to disturb Kose. Besides, the benefits of purring are also the snuggles and vibrations.

She always feels her best after accomplishing a lot of tasks that matter, and she’s certainly done that. The humans liiiiike heeeeer. They’re probably not going to murder her! She has effectively negotiated a truly mutually beneficial arrangement with them! Eeeee she is clever and charming and maybe actually threaded the needle of ‘actually being helpful’ and ‘not being too dangerous to let live.’ Was she a bit bad about lying and probably too impatient to leverage her bullshit powers to help immediately instead of playing the long game? Absolutely! Is she going to beat herself up over it? Hell no! Results are what count in the end, and her results are ~probably peaceful coexistence and friendship.~ She is the best dungeon that these people have ever met, and this is indisputable fact and makes her feel warm and fuzzy inside.

This cheerful mood buoys her into designing what someone might recognize as an arcade. It’s just the obvious thing to do, really. No need for complicated layouts or fancy dramatics, just little stations for people to poke at interesting challenges. She makes versions of Dance Dance Revolution, skee-ball, pinball, Space Invaders, a Generic Platformer(tm), and Pong. Then she decides that she should make something more practical for people that might literally need to defend themselves, and works out a reflex game of blocking (brightly colored, completely harmless) projectiles with a small, easily carried shield, followed by something like ‘Where’s Waldo’ for picking out specific things from a complicated background. That’ll be good for practicing spotting things from far away.

… you know what, she’s going to lean into the arcade aesthetic. She starts making actual tokens, to be awarded upon success or victory. They will be pretty, floral coins of her platinum-titanium alloy, because that seems to be her go-to for ‘I don’t know what else this should be made out of.’ To save on material costs, she sets a large, flat blue diamond in the middle, because sifting through the trash has gotten her so much carbon, and blue coloring is cheap enough. From there, she sets up a rewards table, marking how many tokens each of her magical rewards are worth; the more expensive the materials for her to make, the more tokens they cost. She can’t be perfectly sure of the proverbial profit margins without extensive testing, but she thinks they’ll end up lucrative.

This complete, she sets up a proper science room, where she starts up various water-in-different-container experiments, to check back on later. While she’s setting up stuff to be ignored, she uses the absurd amounts of dirt she’s gathered to make what will be a little farm. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem able to make seeds or living organic matter, but she can still set everything up for growing things anyway. That is, proper drainage, fertilizer in the soil (bat guano, to be specific), sun lamps, and little sprinklers from the ceiling.

She makes a designated trash pit and re-enchanting pedestal by the entrance, spends a little while making sure everything is properly decorated, and then promptly and gleefully flings herself to figuring out the most efficient way to make night vision glasses. She has a science room and she is going to do so much testing in it!!!

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Kose sleeps for about ten hours, before she rolls over and half falls off the bed. She jerks awake, and then looks all around herself, taking in the bedroom and making sure things haven't shifted in the night.

She stretches both her arms above her head, and lets out a large yawn. She pads over to the door of her bedroom, and looks out into the dungeon.

"Good morning," she says, looking over the new layout. "You look like you've had a productive night."

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“Good morning~!” singsongs Aestrix, still all happiness and light. “Yep! I made an arcade, complete with a token system.” Which will probably not make any sense to Kose, so she will gleefully get to explaining it. Immediately, like the nerd she is.

“… and from there I figured I should start making practical challenges that can help build reflexes and actual survival skills? I made one for reflexes against projectiles and picking notable things out of complicated backgrounds, but I could use some more ideas.” Then something occurs to her, and she quickly assures: “The projectile one is completely harmless, they just leave a glow for a couple minutes wherever they hit, not to worry.”

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"... huh. That's another really good idea," Kose remarks. "Once you have the system explained to the Adventurers, you probably don't really need to manage it."

She thinks for a moment.

"I'm not sure whether there's some downside I'm not seeing, though," she cautions. "I know a lot of techniques for managing the level of challenge in a dungeon, and balancing it with the rewards. But ... nearly none of those techniques apply to a setup like this. So you're in uncharted territory."

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“Wasn’t I already?” she wonders, wryly. “Thank you, though. I think it’ll work out once I get everything properly balanced, it’s just there might be some growing pains as I get a feel for how expensive things are, and how much each game or puzzle gives me compared to magic items I make. But a lot of these are just genuinely fun on their own merits, so. I might get some people who are just bored.”

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Kose nods. "That makes sense," she agrees.

She takes the example token which Aestrix showed her, and turns it over in her hand.

"What is this made of?" she asks. "It looks like the same metal as my glasses and ... blue glass?"

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"Same platinum-titanium alloy as your glasses, yeah. It's the best alloy I've figured out yet for holding magic, and it shouldn't corrode or patina or anything, so. It's a good option for now, and I can easily repurpose then to magical items. The middle's blue diamond. I've got a lot of carbon going spare, it was a tidy way to cheapen making them on my end."

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Kose looks up sharply. "Diamond? How is that cheap?" she questions. "I doubt anything like that has been thrown away — have we been sitting on a diamond mine this whole time, or something?"

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"... huh?" Her chemistry knowledge is clearly something these people have never seen before! At least now she can explain it like the nerd she is. "No, it's - diamond is carbon, just arranged in a crystalline structure. And carbon is super, super common, especially in organics. It needs a lot of pressure and heat to form into diamond naturally, but you have directly given me a ton of carbon through your trash. And because bullshit dungeon, I can turn it into diamonds."

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Kose closes her eyes for a moment.

"Right, okay. And that makes these coins cheaper to produce than gold ones would be," she concludes. "Do you need any help testing the challenges before people arrive?"

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She has blown poor Kose's mind. It's kind of hilarious. Sorry, Kose.

"Sure! They're all perfectly safe, but I don't have a feel for how difficult or fair they are yet? Or a good feeling for if my coin rewards are properly scaled. ... Hm. I should name them. Uh, hm. Blue coins..." She hums to herself. "...... I shall call one an eiko. And the plural can be eikos. That seems like an appropriate name for something blue."

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"... Sure," Kose agrees. "Alright, how about I start with this one? The idea is to just block the little projectiles as long as you can?" she asks, moving over to the shielding game and picking up the shield.

It turns out that she's really good at intercepting the projectiles, and can go for a while. If Aestrix is watching carefully, she might notice that Kose sometimes moves the shield to react to a projectile slightly before it's fired.

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"Yep!" confirms Aestrix. "Rewards allocated based on how many projectiles you successfully block."

She doesn't, actually, notice that part. A downside of her path of friendship is that she's chilled out about trying to study Kose obsessively for all potential weaknesses. Instead she's distracted setting up a shooting gallery equivalent, with moving targets and things that are not supposed to be hit, because that's an obvious skill that people will want to work on. She will provide a fake crossbow to shoot them with; what it actually shoots is a little laser projectile, like what Kose is blocking, so the crossbow bit is extraneous, but, well. It is probably for the best to not introduce these people to the magic of guns until she's actually verified that the world is like what they say it is. Therefore: fake crossbow.

Kose is free to go as long as she likes. The difficulty gets harder as she goes.

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The projectiles get faster and more numerous the longer she holds out, which means that she is still going by the time Rokat arrives with Timrat and a gaggle of children.

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"Good morning!" she calls, stepping into the dungeon. She holds up a basket full of carded wool. "I said that I would sit in here this morning to supervise and see what crafting does for you."

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Kose startles when Rokat speaks, slaps a volley of four lights into the ceiling with the shield, dodges two more, but can't stop the last one from hitting her in the sternum.

"F-airly difficult!" she exclaims. "That's certainly a workout."

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