“Alright, I think it’s time for the next folk to have a turn,” Sim cleared his throat behind them.
“Alex?” Theresa poked him, her worried eyes watching him through the bulging lenses of her beak mask.
“What? Yeah, sorry, it’s just really cool. I lost myself for a moment,” he said quickly. That wasn’t a complete lie.
“Ah yeah, happens to the best of us, golem-work is one of the most awesome disciplines in alchemy,” Sim said emphatically as he guided Alex and Theresa through the door of the workshop.
Alex was quiet as the rest of the group went through the golem core’s workshop in pairs, and he remained quiet for the rest of the tour as his mind worked on what he had just sensed.
The golem core’s mana gave off a similar feeling as the dungeon core’s, but not identical. It was like seeing two similar breeds of dog side by side: they were the same species, with a lot of similarities, but there were still major differences in them. Also, he didn’t know whether or not the dungeon core and the golem were actually related: the similarities could’ve been only superficial.
He’d learned in school that—long ago—whales were considered a kind of fish because they swam and had fins. It wasn’t until an explorer found out that whales could actually drown that the difference was noted. Still, this was one of the first leads he’d gained since coming to Generasi and—since he was going through a ‘golems are awesome phase’—it would make sense to explore that question.
The rest of the tour was fairly straightforward, with Sim showing the group some of the individual rooms where they forged the golems’ bodies. Each room was dedicated to the crafting of one particular kind of golem. Thebusiest workshop was for the sculpting of clay into clay golems, which Alex had learned were the most common type.
Next, they visited a pair of rooms devoted to the sculpting of stone, and finally, a room devoted to the forging of iron or steel into massive bodies.
“Clay’s the easiest to get a golem core to attach to,” Sim said as he closed the door to an iron workshop. “It’s malleable and has lots of ‘earth’ in it: it’s easy to get a core’s mana to flow through and animate it. Stone’s a little harder…mostly because it’s harder.”
He paused, waiting for laughter, and a few people chuckled.
Theresa leaned close to Alex. “You think he makes that joke every tour?”
Now Alex chuckled.
“But stone’s still a more natural substance than iron, which is processed and tempered from the earth. Steel, of course, is damn hard to get a core to take to, and it needs a lot of mana and careful manipulation.”
Sim pointed to a room at the end of the warehouse that was sealed with a massive lock. “The final room’s for special orders and materials. Iron, stone and clay’re the most common materials for golem bodies, but they’re not the only ones. We crafted one entirelyout of gold for an emperor: heaviest you’d ever see in your life, I swear to all the gods. Some golems can even change on their own if they encounter the right mana, magical effects, or spells. ‘Golem Evolution’ we call that, but that takes a core made with materials that can generate a lot of mana and that are able to produce a variety of effects naturally: ‘Chaos Essence’ is a good example, with its ability to mutate monsters. It’s all expensive stuff that’s tricky to process.”
He shrugged. “In the end, ‘Golem Evolution’ is a neat process, but—if you just want a good golem—it’s cheaper to just build one out of stone or iron in the first place, than it is to get all the rare material you need to make a clay golem that evolves into stone and then into iron and then wherever else it might go. And for a golem to evolve, you’ve got to start with good, solid clay: can’t start with a stone or iron golem.”
He glanced around, noting the engagement of his audience. “Right, time for the last spot on our tour.”
Sim took them to a large, well-ventilated office with older sturdy-looking chairs and a table covered in sheets of paper near the top of the building. Several sweating, copper pitchers lined a side table, surrounded by cups. The liquid within smelled strongly of mint.
At the end of the room was a massive desk backing a large open window. It was covered in papers weighted down by paperweights.
“So.” Sim closed the door behind them. “This is the part of the tour where I try to convince you to join a cult and donate your life savings to it.” He paused, then laughed. “Just joking folks, just joking…what I’ll be proposing next doesn’t involve any brainwashing: to any of you who might be interested in having a golem built now or anytime else, now is when I sell you on using Shale’s workshop for all your golem related needs.”
He then launched into a pitch that would have put any travelling peddler rolling through Alric to shame. Alex and Theresa settled into a couple of comfortable chairs in the back, and Alex’s thoughts drifted: he had neither the wealth, the resources or the skill—yet—to rent out the workshop to make a golem of his own, or order one made by the masters here. Sim’s pitch wasn’t exactly relevant to him. For now.
He leaned toward Theresa. “Want something to drink?”
“I’d love it,” she said. “We should also think about lunch before we go back to campus. My stomach’s starting to rebel.”
“Yeah, I think I saw some places across the street.” He pulled himself from the chair and went to the side table with the copper pitchers.
Pouring two cups of minty water, he stepped up to the desk and peered through the window behind it. Across the street were a line of eateries—some were food stalls and some full on restaurants. There were signs advertising grilled meats or vegetables while others displayed pictures of steaming bowls of stew.
It’d been a while since they’d had a good stew, and his belly rumbled as he took in a giant sign featuring steam rising from heaps of vegetables surrounding a browned leg of meat jutting above the rim of a pot. He could also see a few bakeries that looked like they’d satisfy his sweet tooth after the stew.
His eyes lingered on one that caught his interest, but for all the wrong reasons.
McHarris might have been a bully and tried to hide rotten eggs in his baked goods, but the man had always made sure that his building’s facade always looked to be in good repair. Presentation was key for any business involving…well, anything, but especially food. The last place someone would want to buy bread from was a place that looked like a cockroach palace lay inside its walls.
Or at least, that would be the case as long as there were other alternatives to buy bread from.
The bakery that had caught his eye looked like it might have seen better times a long, long time ago. The sign, with its flaking paint, had the image of a faded loaf of white bread being drenched in melted butter on it. Chipped paint was peeling from the wood on the front facade, and the stoop looked like pigeons spent a lot of time there. Some of the shutters looked cracked or were missing slats, and the general appearance of the place seemed to be screaming: ‘eat here if you want to live in the privy for the next three days’.
‘Huh,’ he thought. ‘Well that place probably won’t stay open much longer.’
The second and third floors seemed to be housing; if the clothes on clothes lines hanging from one side of the alley to the next were any indication.
His eyes narrowed in thought as he wondered if the bakery might be going under.
As he turned away from the window, his gaze fell on the desk and spotted some papers strewn across it.
He paused as his eyes caught the words written on a half-finished document lying at the corner of the desk. It was dated for early in the next month, and the largest words on it were:
‘Help Wanted. Evenings.’
“It’s perfect.” Alex nearly vibrated with excitement. “Think about it, I cou-Agh!”
The stew burned his tongue.
“Slow down, slow down.” Theresa raised her hand. “It’s as hot as a forest fire in mid-summer at noon. I get it, you’re excited, but you won’t be able to tell me anything if your tongue’s burned and swells to the size of a cow’s. And if you’re worried about Brutus, don’t be, the meat platter from the stall will keep him happy ‘til we’re done.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He blew on his spoon before scooping the creamy mushroom and beef stew into his mouth. The restaurant was bursting with people having their noonday meal. A mixture of strong-armed folk and scholarly ones from the golem workshop poured down cups and bowls of stew, followed up with cups of weak wine.
“Listen, it doesn’t get any better than this. I can learn all about golems while getting paid for it.”
“Uh, maybe I don’t know how skilled jobs work here, but shouldn’t you have some kind of knowledge of the thing you’re getting a job in?” Theresa asked.
He waved a hand. “All I have to do is get ready for it beforehand. The job said it needs folk who are good with mana manipulation and have experience with crafting using magic: I’m in potions class and mana manipulation, which’ll teach me what I need to know. There’s a month before it even opens up for application. All I need to do is get good enough to qualify for ‘Crafting Assistant’. It’s an assistant, not an expert.”
She frowned in worry. “Is a month enough time?”
“With…” he paused and she nodded, indicating she understood that he meant The Mark. “…I could pick up what I need before it’s time to apply. It’s just an assistant, after all, but it pays two gold coins a day. Fifteen days and that completely pays for our lodgings, Selina’s junior school and your auditing. At the same time…”
He glanced around and then whispered what he’d felt from the golem core’s mana in the workshop. She gasped. “Really?” she mouthed to him.
Alex nodded. “We could learn something if I get experience with those cores. Even just being around the mana could give us lots to look into. It’s worth at least a try. Like, a lot of problems at once are solved by this, and if it doesn’t work out, we don’t really lose anything.”
Theresa nodded. “And I guess, it’s less dangerous than Life Enforcement or Art of the Wizard in Combat…” she paused, frowning. She had audited part of Baelin’s class earlier in the week, but they hadn’t had time to talk about it much yet.
Her eyes drifted up to Alex and they held an emotion that was rare for them to display: unease. A strong unease.
“Is…” she paused, slowly stirring her spoon in her soup. “Is he always like…that?”
“Who do you mean?”
“The Chancellor,” she said. “His eyes…they feel like…like they look right through you.”
“Oh by Uldar, I thought I was imagining that,” Alex said, slipping his spoon back in the bowl. “It…feels like he’s peeling you away doesn’t it? Like there’s something else in there. But like, when he talks, he’s just a nice older guy most of the time.”
He remembered Baelin’s small speech on how ‘gods were parasites’, and his unique philosophy on The Art of the Wizard in Combat in general. Almost every other professor he had met talked about avoiding dangers. Professor Jules kept emphasizing the need to learn procedure and study only what one was ready to handle.
But Baelin? Baelin had just thrown everyone into The Barrens as a test and told them to make it through with what they had. In the end, Alex had learned a lot from that test, and students who the course might have been especially dangerous for were weeded out. It made sense from a certain stand point…a harsh one.
“It feels like…he’s from a different time,” Alex said. “Like all that stuff he says about harsh, barbaric times for wizards…that doesn’t sound like stuff he’s only read or heard about.”
“Yeah, it feels like history itself is talking to you,” Theresa said. “But, all that stuff about being prepared for anything does make a lot of sense. Even judging from what we’ve been through, you never know what dangers might be lurking out there.”
She was interrupted by a harsh, mocking laugh from the next table. A rough looking, bearded man had thrown his head back and was clutching the table for support. Alex glanced over and noticed a falchion in a scabbard at his side.
“One hundred gold?” the man said, his accent harsh and chopping through the words of the Common tongue. His eyes were like steel. “You should’ve said so in the first place. I wouldn’t have wasted so much time making you convince me.”
“Good coin here that’s a king’s ransom elsewhere,” an older woman said, leaning over the table. Her leather apron from the golem workshop creaked as she did. “That’s why I wrote to you, cousin. A mana vampire would be no problem for you: you fight by sword and crossbow, not spell. The bounty is always open, and recently there’s been some strange happenings outside the city. Even if it’s nothing, there are other bounties. Other monsters. You and the boys would make a killing. Literally.”
“Fair enough.” The man smiled. “How much is your finder’s fee?”
“Ten percent. I’m not greedy, and it’s just telling you what I hear.”
“Deal. I guess I will be moving the band to the Wizard City for a bit. Easier than whatever nonsense is going on in Thameland.”
A mana vampire in the countryside. Or maybe more than one.
“Yeah,” he said to Theresa, his tone serious. “We really don’t know what’s out there. But hey, I’d feel a lot safer with a big golem at our side, wouldn’t you?”