Alex paced back and forth in front of the golem workshop.
It was early morning. Crack of dawn, really, and much of the City of Generasi was still waking up from their night’s sleep. A light rain hissed against the cobblestones and rooftops nearby, and he pulled his hood higher and his cloak tighter to shield himself.
Shops were opening all around and the scent of baking bread and stewing meat emerged from stalls, eateries and wine houses lining the street. Coming from within the workshop, Alex could hear the sounds of equipment being set up, forges firing and workers calling to each other. He hoped that—at any moment—Shale’s would open and-
He paused, his eyes shooting toward the door as he heard a key turn in the lock. He headed toward the door. A young woman opened it and gasped as she saw Alex rapidly advancing.
“Hello, I-wait wait wait, don't close the door!” he cried.
She paused. “If you’re planning to rob us, then let me tell you, robbing a golem shop is a bad idea.”
“No no no.” He shook his head and waved his hands. “No, I just wanted to get in first.”
She raised an eyebrow, looking around the front of the shop.
No one else was waiting to get in.
“Uh, a little keen, aren’t ya?” she said. “Need a golem that badly?”
“No, I was wondering,” he cleared his throat. “If I could see if you had any new job postings today.”
‘Look like a professional golem maker, Alex, not an excited puppy,’ he chastised himself.
“Aaaaah, I see,” the employee nodded knowingly. “Someone must’ve told a friend who told a friend. Well, come on in and take a look at the board. If you’re here this early you probably already know what you’re looking for.”
She welcomed him into the workshop and he stepped forward, spying the board where jobs and other announcements were posted. He fought the urge to frantically run up to it, instead, he sauntered over as though he were all professionalism and confidence.
He peered at the posting, finding it had not changed much in the last month seen he’d seen it on their tour, save for one important detail added to the bottom:
Help Wanted: Crafter’s Assistant.
- Preference given to those with previous experience in magic item craftsmanship.
- Preference given to those who have been apprenticed to a smith, potter or stonemason.
- Able to cast at least 1st-tier magic.
- Skill in Mana Manipulation Required (Will be Tested).
- Must have knowledge in the construction of clay golems or in related alchemical processes.
- Able to work three evenings per week from 16th to 21st chime.
- Positions Open: Three.
- Duties: The Crafter’s Assistant will assist golem crafters in the construction of golem bodies, golem cores and in the binding of golem cores to bodies. They will also catalogue inventory of supplies at the end of each shift, and place orders for more materials with the workshop manager on shift.
- Compensation: Two gold coins per shift (opportunity for raises dependent upon performance).
- Opportunities for advancement depending on performance, as available.
- Applicants will deliver a one page summary with self-description, qualifications and previous experience to the front desk along with any proof of apprenticeship, letters of character and so on. Posting will remain open for one month after which no further applications will be accepted.
- We thank all applicants for their interest; however only those considered for an interview will be contacted.
Alex’s eyes narrowed.
He had thought that the application period would only last a few days. In Alric, most job openings didn’t last long: word of mouth spread about a job and it would be filled within days. He supposed things worked differently in such a large city.
Here, in a city of thousands—many of whom were wizards—there’d probably be dozens of applicants or more.
On the one hand, the posting being up for a month was a good thing. It would give him more time to practice mana regeneration and learn more from Professor Jules. He’d been starting to get nervous about having to make his application too soon: that would have meant having to rush getting his letters of reference, and not having enough time to build the skills he’d need for the job.
On the other hand, a longer application window meant more time for a lot more applicants to hear about the job and apply. He had no way of knowing how competitive this position would be, but—like with any job—the more applicants, the harder his chances.
“Well,” he muttered beneath his breath. “At least I’m the only one who knows-”
The door to the workshop opened and he watched as three young people strode in, each gripping sheaths of paper. None of them even glanced at the postings board as they moved through the waiting area and right up to the front desk as though they knew the place well. It seemed that indeed, ‘Someone must’ve told a friend who told a friend.’
The young woman in the lead placed her sheath onto the desk, stated her name, and then said. “I’m applying for the Crafter’s Assistant position.”
Alex watched in horror as the other two also handed in applications for the same position.
“Well, shit,” he muttered softly. “Shit, shit, shit.”
This was going to be competitive.
He took a deep, meditative breath and steadied himself. That was okay. It was not like Generasi had been easy to get into. He’d broken his back studying and practicing magic to earn a position and a partial scholarship. This would be the same. He’d just have to prepare.
Straightening his cloak, he gave a nod to the staff nearby and stepped out through the entrance.
As he emerged onto the street, he put his hood up and glanced around at a growing crowd.
Then he froze.
A familiar set of faces were approaching the workshop from down the street.
“Oh, no way,” he muttered.
The three figures also froze when they spied Alex standing in front of the doorway. The one in the lead narrowed their eyes, and almost in sync, the other two did the same.
Minervus’ pale, narrow face stared at him from beneath his hood. It flushed red, though whether that was from anger or embarrassment, Alex didn’t know. “You…” Minervus muttered, then he seemed to catch himself. The trio approached the workshop with purpose.
He stopped just in front of Alex, looking up at him—he was a few inches shorter. “Excuse me, would you mindmoving from in front of the door?”
His words were polite, but there was a sharpness to them.
Wordlessly, Alex stepped aside as Minervus entered the workshop with two of his flesh golems. He turned to watch as the second year student drew a sheath of papers from beneath his cloak and placed them on the desk, declaring his interest in the Crafter’s Assistant position.
“Oooh shit,” Alex swore. “Not him too.”
Of all people to apply, it had to be him. It made sense in a way: he did have five golems built of special materials, of course he’d be interested in golems. Baelin had said that Minervus hadn’t made them himself, and so Alex hoped he didn’t have that much skill and experience in golem-craft.
Then again, if Minervus had any experience with magic items—even just by being in the second year potions class—it’d make him look better than Alex. Hell, just being a second year period was an edge he had on Alex.
Cursing inwardly, Alex started to make his way down the street.
“Hey!” he heard a voice call from behind him.
He paused, and kept walking.
“Hey, I’m talking to you!”
Alex stopped, rising to his full height and squaring his now-slightly broader shoulders. He turned, looking at the approaching form of Minervus and his two golems. “Can I help you, man?”
“Did you apply for the assistant position?” the former member of COMB-1000 asked, not waiting for a reply. “You shouldn’t. A first year couldn’t perform the duties. Trust me: my family has a long history of crafting magic items. I have the qualifications and you don’t. You’ll just be wasting your time...and Shale’s”
Alex raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. “Ooooh I see what this is.”
“You start throwing around your experience and whatever, hoping that’ll stop me from applying. And for your little bit of effort, in your best case scenario, you get rid of some of the competition. Am I right?”
Minervus went silent for a moment, but his eyes were calm. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about: I’m offering advice to a first year. If you don’t want to accept it, that’s not my problem.”
He stepped away from Alex and started down the street again.
Alex shook his head and went in the other direction.
Before he wanted the job because it would provide him with an income, give him experience with golem cores that might help when he analyzed the dungeon core, and help him gain skills to build his own golem.
He needed that job.
If he didn’t get it and Minervus did? He knew there was no way that would ever sit well with him.
And considering his manipulative stunt just now and his self-serving crap in The Barrens, losing out to him was not an option.
Alex grinned at the clay figure he’d just finished shaping. Before, his creations had looked like monstrosities with misshapen limbs and bulging heads, now, they were looking more and more like humans. They were still blocky and simplistic, but he’d gotten to the point where he was able to get the proportions right.
“Hey, take a look at this, Selina.” He grinned. “Mr. Clay the Seventeenth is born! Are you despairing, my dear sister?” he gloated like a dark lord from legends.
He looked at Selina, her back was turned to him; she was bent over her own clay creation and had been silently working on it with single-minded focus. Before, when they’d sculpted beside each other, she’d obviously been playing, but recently, things had changed.
Now it was clear she was trying.
“What’s despair mean?” she asked with her back still turned.
“Hahaha! A clever retort, pretending not to know what despair means, but now you will know it!”
“Alex, you’re being weird. What does despair mean?”
“O-oh, you’re being serious. It means uh, being sad and having no hope.”
“Okay,” she said, continuing to work on the figure. “I’ll look at your doll in a second. Juuuuust, there!”
She sprang up and spun around, presenting her figure to him. Her grin was wide, revealing a gap between her teeth: the last of her baby teeth had fallen out a few days earlier.
“Are you despairing, dear brother?” she asked.
His jaw fell open as he made choking noises. “Is…is that a bloody dragon!?”
“Language, Alex!” she checked him.
He stared at the little creation in her hands, gaping at the horror and unfairness that filled the universe. It was unmistakably a dragon: crude in some ways, but with distinct bat-like wings, a long neck and curving horns on its head.
Now that she was trying so hard, she was growing in skill shockingly fast. Or maybe she always had the ability, but simply had no reason to try her absolute hardest before.
“You, bu-” he stammered. “How did you-”
She placed the figure down in front of her.
“Des-pair! Des-pair! Des-pair!” she chanted, jumping up and down in glee.
“You!” he pointed at her. “Do not make me regret teaching you that word!”
“Re-gret! Re-gret! Re-gret!” she continued to chant, pumping her fists.
Alex’s eyebrow twitched.
He glared at his shoulder. ‘Hey! Hey you!’ he shouted inwardly. ‘Yes you, the one with the jester’s face that’s living on my shoulder rent-free! Yes you, Mr. God-provided Hero’s Mark, I’m talking to you! Do you feel no shame? I’m trying to keep up with a ten year old child here and you can’t make it so that I can wipe the floor with her? You’re supposed to at least pretend to be something that helps a person fight The Ravener, right? Come on, get it together!’
Of course, The Mark—hidden beneath his shirt as it was—didn’t respond. Though, he would have been a little unnerved if it actually had.
Watching Selina bounce around the room, Alex chewed on his pride for a moment as his eyes drifted down to the dragon. He tapped his chin in concentration. He couldn’t deny it, it actually looked pretty good.
She paused her victory dance. “Hmmmm,” she squinted at his clay sculpture. “It’s pretty good, though. You’re getting better, Alex. Maybe you should’ve done this before ‘cause we could’ve had fun making things together.”
He noticed the note of longing in her voice, and recognized a peace offering when he saw one.
There were times in one’s life when one had to swallow their pride.
Times when, for the greater good, one had to make peace with the greatest of enemies. Or, for example, be forced to admit that one’s ten year old sister was straight up much more naturally talented at something and that—if he was serious about improving his skill—maaaaaybe trying to outdo her wasn’t the smartest idea in the world.
“Alright, Selina,” he said. “Why don’t we try the next one together?”
She paused and he could tell she was excited, but trying not to let it show. Her eyes flicked to him. “Do you really want to?”
“Yeah, why not. Maybe I could learn something from you.”
“You’re just trying to learn from me so you can beat me!” she accused him.
“No.” He raised his hands and lied...partially. “No, I’m not: I just think it’d be fun, and we could learn from each other.”
“Hmmm, okay.” She stood up straight and went to get more clay. “But if I can do magic, then we have to do thattogether too!” she said seriously. “Promise.”
Alex paused, glancing back to his room. On his dressing table lay the permission letter from the Junior School asking to allow Selina’s mana level and affinity to be tested. He’d signed it, but hadn’t delivered it yet. He’d have to do it soon, though. The test was supposed to be in two weeks.
“Alright,” he said. “It’s a deal. If you can do magic, we’ll do that together. As long as it’s safe.”
She frowned. “Why only if it’s safe?”
“Huh? Because I want you to be safe,” he said. “I’ve always wanted you to be safe.”
“Hm.” Something flashed through her eyes. “Okay.”
Humming to herself, she went to fetch a new ball of clay for them to work on together. Alex watched her go for a moment, wondering what that last bit had meant.
He promised he would keep a closer eye on her.