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"Long before humankind arose in the city of Xur, before the planet itself birthed the witchfolk, another species strode upon the surface of Mirth. A race of giants, sired by the gods themselves, called the Colossi. Magic ran through their veins like blood, and their mastery of this wild energy was such to rival their creators. These titans took to their home with zeal, creating and destroying as they saw fit. But the gods, wary of their creations' immense strength, put limits on the Colossi to keep them in check, lest they rise up against the holy pantheon. Until one of their own divine number, The Chained God whose name we do not speak, went among the giants. He planted seeds of discontent in their minds, raising them to war against his siblings. So the Colossi went forth, lances of fire in hand, and the heavens shook from the battles they unleashed!"

"Thrynn, is this entirely necessary?" asked Durbin.

He and Tivany had followed her up to her study, expecting a quick explanation of the mysterious box's origin and its strange symbols. Instead, the unkempt researcher had climbed atop her desk and began acting out her findings with enthusiasm. She had hefted an imaginary lance overhead when Durbin interrupted her.

"Yes. Now snap your claptrap shut Entwhistle. I'm trying to set a mood."

"All I'm saying is the quick version would suffice just as well."

"Well then, let's ask your Guild stooge what she thinks."

"Oh, me?" said Tivany, not expecting to be called upon. Having been raised in more reserved, and less magical, environs, she was quite out of her depth. Manners dictated politeness.

"Um... I'm afraid I have to agree with Dr. Entwhistle. A more to the point explanation may be more... helpful." She offered the other woman a nervous smile.

Thrynn scowled at her in turn. Hopping down, she retrieved a thick, frayed book. "Fine. We'll go with the boring version."

Slamming the heavy tome down, she flipped to a marked page. Durbin and Tivany leaned in closer to see ancient cuneiform written in fading red ink on the aging yellow pages. Neither could read the script, but the illustrations were easy enough to understand. They showed a scene of a massive giant sowing seeds in the open earth. It wore a bird skull for a face.

Thrynn continued, "Needless to say, the Colossi lost their war against the gods. All that remains of them now is the decaying husks of their armored forms, and their legends. Most of these giants are now anonymous, but a few managed to make their names last in old and forgotten tongues. One of them was Jon-Ap-Saad, the Sower."

She pointed to the engraving on the lid. "This is his symbol."

"And what kind of seeds did he sow?" asked Durbin.

"Seeds of life."

Thrynn handed him a flask of orange liquid.

"When I tell you, pour no more than three drops of this on the lock."

"Why? What is it?"

"A powerful acid."

On instinct, the doctor moved the bottle away to arm's length. Tivany backed away too. Keeping the box parallel to her body, Thrynn held it out lockside facing up.

"Now."

All three seemed to hold their breath. With steady hands befitting his stated profession, Durbin ever so gently tipped the beaker over. The acid crested the glass' lip and a single drop fell on the keyhole, sizzling slightly. Another adjustment of his hand and two more followed. They bubbled upon splashing down. Careful as though she were handling a porcelain vase, Thrynn placed their prize back on her desk. After a moment, the lid snapped open a fraction.

None of them wanted to lift it all the way.

"It's your box Durbin," said the researcher, "You do the honors."

"On the other hand, Miss Zenboor has asserted the Guild's ownership over it. That being the case, she ought to be the one."

"Oh no Entwhistle. You held on to the bloody thing. You're going to open it," said Tivany

He grumbled, but acquiesced. "Fine."

As though something might jump out at any moment, he inched toward the box, extended his arm fully, and put one finger under the popped lid. Without looking, he flicked it open in one sweep and immediately turned his back, anticipating an explosion or worse.

Nothing happened.

The trio relaxed and all peered in at the box's contents. What lay within left them speechless.

Inside, nestled in the velvet lining, they discovered a blackened skeletal fetus encased in a slab of amber. Almost snakelike, the specimen didn't resemble anything human. A segmented tail curled up beneath it. Spikes jutted out of its spine. A cluster of six eyes, all lidless, had formed at the front of its skull. Across its body, thin lines of indecipherable color traced alien patterns.

"Please tell me that isn't what I think it is," said Tivany.

"Oh, it's exactly what it appears to be," answered Thrynn. "A Colossi embryo."

"By the Templin. We realized the Calamity Mages were trying to acquire Colossi relics, but this... No wonder they went to such trouble to obtain this box."

"Excuse me, I'm confused. Why would Karna and her cronies want an embryo? Aren't the fully grown Colossi the ones with the massive magical power?" said Durbin, his mind already turning to the potential profit. An artifact like this was far beyond what he anticipated finding in his ill-won box. A collector would pay a small fortune for a surviving Colossi specimen. Heck, he could sell it to the Guild if they were so worried about it. Even after Thrynn's share, Durbin would earn himself a king's ransom. He tried to disguise his glee as he plotted some way of getting the amber slab out of the tower.

Tivany's reaction to his question dampened his enthusiasm somewhat. "Entwhistle, don't you know how Colossi are born?"

"I'm a doctor, not a historian. Why would I know that?"

She pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. "Thrynn, please explain it to him."

"Well, embryos like this one were believed to have been submerged deep within the molten heart of volcanoes. They would feed off the heat and form a shell out of the lava. Inside, the fetal giant grew, and its internal magic began burning like a furnace. Upon reaching adulthood, the Colossus birthed itself out of the ground in a massive eruption, the shattered earth becoming armor around its body."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning," interrupted Tivany, "That all the Calamity Mages need to do to birth a fully grown one is to drop that piece of amber into a volcano and wait."

She shoved a loose bit of paper into his hands. Unfolding it, Durbin realized she handed him one of those hot springs pamphlets he'd been seeing all over town. It made him recall the scent of sulfur on Karna's robe, a smell that would seep into your clothes around a volcanic spring. Suddenly, everything clicked in his head.

He could picture how the whole scenario would play out. Those masked maniacs taking the box back to their quaint inn & spa of a lair, dumping the embryo into the volcano's mouth, the Colossus slowly growing deep in its heart. And finally, the giant bursting free in a torrent of smoke, flying rocks, and flowing lava. In the blasted landscape afterwards, Karna and her cult genuflected before their titanic new messiah.

Such an eruption so close to Lancester would annihilate the city. The enormity of what he had stepped in fell on Durbin like a comet crashing to earth. He'd had broken one of the con man's cardinal rules. He'd waited too long to cash out.

"Are you getting the picture now, Dr Entwhistle?"

"Oh dear Galos above," he said.

Yet, he still sensed the opportunity for profit in this whole mess.

Thrynn, who had remained unnervingly calm and shown only mild curiosity to the revelation of the box's contents, spoke up. "Quite astute actually, from a philosophical standpoint. Calamity Mages are founded on the principle of overthrowing the current magical system. Makes sense they would align themselves with the Colossi, the first people to rebel against that system's creators. They're theological allies." She mixed a few potions and tinctures from her lab together as she spoke, and took a sip. "Of course, they're also mad as old King Xemu if they think their newborn Colossus will heed their commands."

"Which is why me and the other Guild agents tried intercepting that box before they could receive it. We're determined to keep any Colossi artifacts out of improper hands. If for no other reason than to prevent a new one from running around," said Tivany.

"No, we couldn't have anything upsetting your precious Guildmaster now could we?"

"Watch it. I'm sure there's plenty of stuff in this tower to earn you a sea stone prison cell."

Holding up a hand bathed in blue light, Thrynn said, "Just try it, pig."

"Ladies, we have bigger issues to deal with," said Durbin, putting himself between them again. "Namely, what should we do with this embryo now?"

"Simple, we take it to the Guild."

"Much as I hate to agree with her, the stooge is right," Thyrnn added, "That fossilized fetus is safer in the hands of those bureaucrats and thugs than with the Calamity Mages."

Durbin nodded. Giving the baby Colossus to the Magician's Guild would be their best play.

"Excellent. We're all agreed then," said Tivany. She slammed the box's lid shut and yanked it off Thrynn's desk.

Before she could abscond with it though, its owner snatched his dangerous prize out of her clutches. The box had been Durbin's greatest income for the last several days; he would wring some profit out of the damn thing yet.

"Now hold on a moment. I agree about our best course of action being to give this box's contents to the Guild. But this is still my property. I'm willing to part with it, for the greater good, but not without fair compensation."

Tivany could only stand there, dumbfounded. "You can't be serious."

Thrynn smirked at his audacity. She found this side of the good doctor amusing to a fault. She wanted to keep savoring the scene but a light appearing outside her window drew her attention. Strange, she thought, the spells around the tower should have alerted her to any intruders.

Putting his salesman act back on, Durbin continued, "Oh I'm quite serious Miss Zenboor. Given the rarity and quality of the item in question, I think half a million Quell should cover it nicely."

"Half a million Quell!"

"That won't be a problem for the Guild now, will it? I'll even throw in the box for free."

"This is ridiculous. Entwhistle, if you think we'll pony up that kind of-"

"Morons!" Thrynn interrupted, "I think the negotiation might be moot. Come here."

Their argument suddenly silenced, Durbin and Tivany exchanged glances and went to the window. They understood what the researcher meant as soon as they looked out.

On the wild lawn in front of Thrynn's tower, Karna and her entire cult had gathered. Many held torches, and others bounced clubs on their palms. All the Calamity Mages dressed the same; wine red or faded white robes, bandage-wrapped arms and legs, and roughly cast plaster masks with crude eyeholes over their faces. Martex stood at their front, scarlet energy sizzling around him, and cracked his massive knuckles. From the horde, Karna emerged and tilted her hidden face up at them.

"Doctor Entwhistle!" she cried, "You still have something that belongs to us. This is your last chance to give us our box back freely."

Confident in Thrynn's defenses, he shouted back, "You're lucky Ms. Calamity Mage. I was presently in the process of taking offers. How much will you pay? My life I assume?"

"Oh, I'm afraid that won't be an option after what you did to my face. The only offers I'll give you are a quick death if you give me my box, or a slow and agonizing one if you don't."

"And how do you intend to kill me from down there?"

Karna raised her hand, blazing with arcane energy, and choked the empty air. Durbin's throat ignited in burning pain. His hands went to his neck and he coughed, gasping for breath, the same as when Martex attacked him at Pucky's. He collapsed to his knees as Thrynn rushed to find a remedy.

"Was he struck by one of their spells?" she asked Tivany.

"Yes, back in the pawnshop."

"Oh, that's just swell."

Frantically, she checked bottle after bottle on her shelf. Pushing a few of them aside, she found the right one in the back. Pouring its orange contents into a glass, she handed it to Durbin who swallowed the whole thing. The concoction was sweet and spicy, like cinnamon, but cooled the burning on the walls of his esophagus.

"Funny thing about Calamity Magic, Entwhistle," said Karna outside, "The smallest amount will seep into you. It lingers, even after its intensity fades. But I can stoke those embers into a blaze to rival the sun! So give me my box, and I'll reduce you to ashes in seconds instead of hours."

As Durbin rubbed his throat, still recovering, Thrynn opened and slammed shut her desk's many drawers. She withdrew the item she sought, a polished blue & white geode, and pressed the mineral into his palm. She told him, "Hold on to this. The potion you drank subdued her spell's effects, but that soulless cretin outside will bring it back if you're not protected. This stone ought to ward off her attempts."

"Thanks Thrynn."

Slipping the geode into his waistcoat pocket, Durbin adjusted both his cravat and his perspective on the situation. Clearly bargaining was off the table. Time to pass things off to someone with more experience in these matters. Or at least move himself out of the firing zone.

"All right Miss Zenboor. I believe your talents would be of better use under the circumstances. So," he gestured to the window with the flair of a hammy stage actor, "Whip out your magic and get rid of those lunatics, would you?"

"What? I don't know any magic," said Tivany.

Durbin's knees buckled and his arms went limp as hoses, wind utterly taken out of his sails.

"But you work for the Magician's Guild!"

"Yes, as a plainclothes inspector. They didn't actually teach me magic."

Behind him, Thrynn snickered in delight.

"But... But..." Durbin stammered, "But your bugs?"

Tivany's remaining hornet lifted off her forearm. "These are only enchanted, tools loaned out by the Guild. They didn't tell me how they work, and this one certainly doesn't have enough knock out needles for Karna's entire cult out there."

Thrynn's snickers burst into open laughter. "Oh, this is rich. A Guild pig that doesn't know any magic."

"I 'm not sure why you're laughing, so-called researcher," Tivany said making air quotes, "If those Calamity Mages break in here, they'll kill you too."

"Eh, debatable."

Outside on the lawn, Karna offered up another declaration. "I'm giving you ten minutes to decide, Entwhistle! This is your last chance to make up for being so naughty."

"Thrynn, can I borrow these? Thanks," said Durbin snatching the spectacles off her face. She swatted at his hands a second too late. After putting them on, and being assaulted by his friend's horrendously blurry vision, he tapped the lenses, waking up Thrynn's gargoyle doorknocker.

Speaking through it, he told Karna, "Thank you for the reprieve. I promise not to keep you waiting. Doctor's honor."

He turned to Thrynn and asked, “Will the spells defending the tower hold?"

Taking her glasses back with minor irritation, she responded with an expression of pure insult. "Yes."

"Excellent. That should buy us a few minutes."

"Entwhistle, what are you getting at?" asked Tivany.

Durbin ignored her and plopped down into Thrynn's swivel chair. Giving it a slow spin, he went over the situation in his head. Karna and her Calamity Mages were waiting outside for him to give them their box. The one containing a Colossi embryo they would use to cause a monstrous catastrophe. He couldn't let that happen for numerous reasons, not least of which being his potential clientele would all die. Picking up one of Thrynn's flasks, he gave its contents an experimental sip.

The time for profit had most definitely passed. Now his top priority was getting out of this mess with his life. But to do so, Durbin needed to find some clever angle to exploit. Thankfully, he was an expert con man, and therefore very clever.

Tivany spun him around to face her. "Hello? Entwhistle? Stop ignoring us. We need a plan."

"No," he said, "We need a scheme."

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About the author

NicholasDuval

Bio: Nicholas Duval, or Nick to his friends, is a Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Genre writer from the US. He's been writing for Seven years and is happy to finally be sharing his work.

He also may or may not be a Giant Robot. No one is sure.

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