Chris sat on his collapsible chair, alchemical equipment and supplies spread out on the table before him. He hummed, and flicked through the pages of the alchemy book, as Philip slammed pieces of wood together as fast as he could. The construction of the bed was disappointingly similar to a human bed—although there were a few parts where it differed, such as requiring two screws to be fitted at once in several places.
The words coming from the man's mouth would make a sailor blush, so Chris guessed he was at one of those points. He continued reading through the alchemy book, it was actually quite interesting stuff.
Most materials, including body parts of races—monster and Enlightened—had various properties at various strengths. By adding or removing certain materials, you could exacerbate or diminish certain properties. What made it an art instead of a science was that each material had multiple properties, some beneficial, others uniquely and excruciatingly harmful.
At its most basic, alchemy was modifying reagents to increase the beneficial effects, while leaving the harmful ones unaltered—which made consumption of too many potions extremely dangerous, especially multiple types of potions, because mixing deleterious effects could have a multiplicative effect on the damage caused. At higher proficiencies, it was possible to decrease or remove harmful effects entirely, and at truly exceptional levels even reverse some of the harmful effects, turning them into something transcendental. Of course, if a reagent was particularly potent, it would be harder to mitigate its disadvantageous properties.
The reagents typically had to be suspended in an inert, magically receptive liquid, then treated in a particular way—whether that be boiled, frozen, distilled, imbued with mana, meditated over, or a thousand other combinations. Then, it had to be—
"There's some screws missing. I can't finish."
"Response found, escalation mitigated. Locally allocated resources catastrophically exceeded. Two minutes and twelve seconds until catastrophic meltdown. Providing response," Chris droned. "You should have all the tools you require inside that box, please select a house of your choosing to construct the bed inside." He let a few drips of Slime fall to the ground for good measure.
A wave of obscenity that would make the Devil cover his daughter's ears rushed out of Philip's mouth. There had to be sewers filled with goblin shit that were less filthy than some of the vileness that came out of the man's mouth. Chris' composure broke and he let out a snort; the noise was followed by a fake spasm as Philip's eyes snapped toward him. Chris ejected a generous helping of Slime onto the floor as he flailed. Philip apparently assumed that the smile on his face was some sort of symptom of NPC protocol failure, because he threw himself back into work, trying to find the missing screws. They were nowhere to be found.
"One minute thirty seconds until catastrophic meltdown."
Philip wasn't even swearing now. Desperately he cast his gaze around, then stared at the box that housed the bed. With his sword he cut splinters from it and began stuffing bundles of shaved lengths of wood into the remaining screw holes, propping the bed up as he did so.
"One minute until catastrophic meltdown."
Philip worked faster, at a truly blazing speed, huffing and puffing as he went.
"Thirty seconds until catastrophic meltdown."
Philip had one more piece to fit together. He wouldn't make it in time; not if he had to get more wood splinters. He looked around frantically, but there was nothing nearby. Chris hid his smirk behind his book, not even reading as he watched the greatest show on Earth. If Philip ever found out about his trolling, he would kill him—no doubt, no need for a quest. At least it seemed as if Philip hadn't received the "Defeat Christopher Hill" Area Guardian quest; it had to have been something similar to how he got the quest for Xys, only activating when the quester realized that the thing coiled around the tree was a monster.
Wait, it had been fifteen seconds, right?
"Fifteen seconds until catastrophic meltdown."
Philip whirled around, sword in hand, looking for one final screw, face pale, eyes wide.
"Ten seconds until catastrophic meltdown."
There was a wooden thunk, like an axe hitting wood. Then another. Philip seemed to have given up, taking to hacking at the bed he probably expected to be his downfall. Chris readied himself to intervene, just in case Philip couldn't finish in time.
"Five seconds until catastrophic meltdown. Four. Three. Two—"
Chris felt another thread of controlled mana enter him, ready to register the delivery of the rewards or exact consequences. He lowered his book slowly, forcing his facial muscles into rigid obedience. The bed was completed, standing unstably on its own four legs. Holding the last two pieces together was a sword, hacked deep into the wooden frame.
"Quest completion confirmed. Locally allocated resources exceeded. Rectifying. Increased processing power assigned to unit. Analyzing word: trolling. Response found." Chris stopped.
Philip looked at him expectantly, puffing and panting, hands braced against his knees as if he would keel over at any moment.
With slow solemnity, Chris spoke, "Good Sir Philip, I would never consider trolling you."
Not waiting to see the man's response, he dog-eared his alchemy book and closed it, set it down, stood from his chair, and walked out the door.
He returned five minutes later, after he'd gotten the laughter out of his system, and bought a mattress and blanket from the General Supplies Vendor for Philip's reward. He strolled in through the door as if he hadn't driven his guest to the verge of a breakdown only five minutes ago.
The guest in question was sitting on the chair, shaking, staring at his hands as they trembled.
"Congratulations, Sir Philip, you are hereby deemed worthy of staying the night in Kingscastle. Here is your reward." Chris pushed forward the mattress and blanket. Philip accepted them numbly.
Chris wondered how to send him System Coins, he needn't have worried. A mental push was all it took before 100 System Coins found themselves deposited in Philip's own account. Never had a reward been so well earned. He had stopped a nuclear-ish sort-of-apocalypse.
At that, Philip looked up, still pale. "You know, a metaphysical treasure like a bed wouldn't be so bad right now."
Chris shook his head. "I shall not hear of it. Your efforts have proven you the most gallant of knights. But all knights need armor. I must go retrieve a fine set for you. Never again will you strike an ungauntleted thumb when hammering nails."
He left, going to the System Armor Vendor, where he bought a suit of plate mail made of the same silvery gray metal as his own hammer. The suit cost 1,600 System Coins. It was an entirely unnecessary purchase, he was not obligated to give it to Philip, but he felt sort of bad about the prank. He also genuinely didn't want Philip to die.
He returned and delivered the armor to Philip, who accepted it with mumbled shell shocked thanks. He looked up. "The quest's not disappearing. It's not complete."
Chris grinned wide. "You have not received the true hidden treasure. Please, accept this. My hidden treasure, the Pouch of Memories." He pulled out a small trinket bag tied on a loop of twine.
"What does it do?"
"It's a pouch in which good memories are stored. Open it."
The quest completed as Philip grabbed the pouch and poured five screws from inside into his palm. His gaze darted between them and the bed; he blinked, then balled his hand into a fist, knuckles going white. "You have got to be fucking with me."