Eyfrae had a paranoid itch she couldn’t scratch. A fear that was growing in the corners of her mind.
It was the lean time of night, when the hope of sleep had been abandoned and the dark hours stretch on endlessly. She had moved to her study and lit the crystal lamp that stood over her desk.
This time last week she had Morghul and Olin, if not on her side, then on the side of the city. All of them were in a rough alliance born of a shared satisfaction in Caltern’s present order. Now, there was blood in the waters, and Eyfrae was beginning to suspect it was hers.
She still had her plans. Her hopes of playing out the conflict between the other three contenders until the Dungeon drew enough attention to make her role as Guildmaster mean something.
And as for the fact she didn’t believe the other three could defeat the Dungeon - the Dungeon that had killed two powerful mages, one in his own home - well, Olin’s last gift would see that matter.
No, she had her plans. But you couldn’t hold a plan, couldn’t feel its solidity, couldn’t clutch it like a blanket. When fear set on Eyfrae her many plans did nothing at all to calm her nerves. Instead she found herself picking at them like a scab, examining every fault.
They’d never found the rogue Morghul had hired on. Some nobody acting under the name ‘Lady Grey’ who’d vanished as soon as things went wrong. The priestess had refused to speak, and even Eyfrae didn’t have the nerve to touch one of the gods’ chosen oracles. Nobody remained who would tell her what was down there, lurking in the dark.
After losing her only two allies to the Dungeon, Eyfrae didn’t have the guts to face it head on.
And that was fine.
The gods gave men fear to keep them alive. And some nights, to keep them awake.
A knock at the door. “Enter.” She called, surprised by how her own voice sounded in the silence of the study.
Her personal guard brought in a young man, named Malvet, who fussed excessively at his brocaded vest and the ruffled sleeves of his silk shirt. He was the closest Olin had to a favorite among his three apprentices. His nervous, sunken eyes darted around the room, but always slid back to Eyfrae’s bare legs, exposed under the short hem of her nightrobe.
“I, ah-” His grin was greasy and too hopeful, reminding her somehow of a rat trying to smile. “You sent for me?”
“Olin left you a task. How far did you get before this…” She flicked her hand in annoyance, sitting back atop her desk. “Disruption.”
In answer, Malvet simply donned thick leather gloves and reached into a satchel, bringing out a pitch black stone. Grey energy wept from a crack along the smooth midnight face of the stone, making the air turn wriggling, waxy.
“I made a dozen of them before I was driven out of my workshops. I can make more. I still have-” Eyfrae held up a hand, silencing him before he could finish his sales pitch.
“Let me be honest. You’re on your last legs. The favored child, but not the smartest, not the strongest. Every hope you have of living to see the end of the month lies in that bag.” She held out her hand. “So give it over.”
He hesitated. But everything she said was true, and the stones were worthless to buy favor with anyone but Eyfrae now. It was doubtful Malvet even understood why Olin had commissioned him to create so many warped Mana stones. He had simply done as ordered.
Trying to suppress a tremble in his hands, Malvet handed over the satchel.
He was very surprised when she shoved it back into his arms.
“Good. I like the obedience. Tomorrow you’ll go back to the Institute and begin manufacturing potions with these. Any kind of potion an adventurer might need. Hire only people you can trust. We can’t have news of this getting out. If anyone bothers you, make it clear you have my support.”
“And do I?” The little toad hadn’t even batted an eye at the instruction to produce a massive supply of poisoned goods. She could see why Olin had liked him.
“That depends on whether you can keep this quiet. People will figure out what we’ve done eventually, but I need eventually to not mean tomorrow...” Her gaze slid past him, contemplating the portraits of past guildmasters on the walls. If this went wrong, if it was discovered, she wouldn’t be given a place on that wall. She’d be given a stump and a swing of the executioner’s axe.
“Yes. As a matter of fact I’ll go with you, and make sure this is all done properly.” She said, snapping back to reality. There was no point worrying. She would make things go right.
“So… should I go?” It took her a second to parse the naked greed in his smile, to follow his gaze lingering on her legs, and realize what he meant. She snorted with open contempt. Usually she’d break a limb for that kind of impertinence.
But it was late, and she had paranoid thoughts rattling around in her head, needing to be silenced.
“No. You may stay.” He would have to do.
It had been a while since I’d examined my core. Its center, my beating heart, was a hair-thin rift through which Mana poured constantly, creating a fiery aura as the magic condensed into a bright green flame. This fire was restrained and harnessed by five rings of rune-inscribed gold, revolving slowly around the burning rift like planets orbiting a sun.
The fifth and outermost ring was brightest, carved with runes that constantly shifted, splitting and merging as if at any moment I was only seeing a kaleidoscopic fragment of the whole. This was my Legendary attunement. The other three were somewhat easier to examine. The movement of their inner runes was slow, allowing me to begin the work of memorizing them.
My goal was to create new, powerful Shards. I had turned down the promise of Naming but I could still improve my spellcraft through hard work.
Unfortunately, my attempts to concentrate were somewhat hampered by an enormous rhinoceros crashing through the door to the Everforest.
Just a little bit.
It was a hulking beast, its rocky grey hide criss-crossed with scars, and rather than one horn atop its muzzle it had a row of long, yellow teeth. Tiny bright-bodied birds followed it through the portal, flitting in all directions and harassing my Dungeon’s creatures with stabs from their long beaks. In the middle of the storm of wings, the grey beast swept its head from side to side, searching for challenges. Its eyes settled on the lion golem.
With a nostril-flaring snort, the beast lowered its toothy head and charged. The lion responded in kind, and I winced as the clash ended in a flick of the rhinoceros’ head and a brutal, soaring flight that crashed back down to the ground.
It was then that the glass golem arrived, stabbing its lance into the rhinoceros’ side. It danced away as the beast swept its toothy head sideways, and now the lion was on its feet again, limping heavily with one forepaw all but crippled. Together they struck at the beast from both flanks, steadily wearing it down.
The few times it managed to catch them in a frontal battle, the beast won easily, but they were too clever to give him that. The little birds would have made things significantly harder against living creatures, but the golems were immune as the nasty little things tried to peck out their eyes.
In the end the rhino lost its backlegs, and the lion’s poisons began to work, creeping tendrils of mushroom-spore crawling out of the numerous wounds across its hide. A final stab from the glass faun’s spear into its neck, and the beast collapsed.
I needed more golems.
The incursion was ended quickly, but it showed me that the Marquis was a dedicated man. There’d be more attempts like these to bloody my nose. What they didn’t know was that they were feeding me, granting me Mana and new designs to work with.
I could work with this. Devouring the corpse and the few casualties of battle left me plenty of Mana to work from. With a few hours of energy stockpiled I had enough to begin filling the gems my rats had brought back, piling up in a little gleaming hoard that they scampered around wrestling with one another, preening and proud of their exploits. I promised I’d find some way to reward them soon enough.
The total Mana capacity was somewhere just over a hundred, and if I hadn’t just gotten a massive expansion to my Mana flow, I would have been ecstatic at the small amount of income they gave me. As it was, I would call it a nice bonus to the real advantage- crafting new Shards.
If I gave one to the glass golem, I could begin scouting the Everforest properly. One for the fungi golem to let me command the lazy thing. And last but not least, one to control the ant queen I had planted underneath my gardens.
This time, I wouldn’t settle for crude or clumsily formed Shards. I would work until I had taken at least a step forward in quality, and use the rejects to deputize a few more scouts out of the rodents and birds of my Dungeon. Anything left over would be left as Mana batteries.
But there was one last matter to take care of. Argent hadn’t returned with her pack. She was coming back now, bloody and battered by the detour she’d taken, but victorious. She hauled with her the hulking corpse of the owl-raccoon chimera, dragging it slowly through the sewer tunnels, her whole body stained with blood.
I dissolved it into Mana as she entered my domain, and she got her share- enough to push her into evolution.
She was the last of my three children to reach this stage, but I wasn’t one bit disappointed with the results.
Your creation is undergoing Evolution
During this time, Mana you gift them will be more effective, and they will be easier to shape.
Choose a path-
Rat Queen (Common) - With an outsized wit, this ruler among rodents commands the lesser vermin to do her bidding.
White Mongoose (Common) - Foe of serpents, the mongoose is a fierce fighter despite its size, and white ones are said to be immune to poison.
Shadow Raccoon (Rare) - Surprisingly intelligent, these creatures shapeshift into humans by stealing their shadows. Have a small chance of learning Shadow magic when evolving.
Moonlight Rat (Rare) - Born only from albino specimens, the Moonlight Rat commands magic and stealth to slip unseen through the world.
Owl-Chimera (Mutant) - Absorbs traits from the last foe defeated. Gains improved eyesight and flight.