“It’s too bad they can’t stay longer,” Selina said wistfully, waving at the ship as their little group stood on the quay.
“They’re off to do what they have to do…like hunting pirates.” Theresa’s eyes sparked as she said the words and waved at the ship with one hand, while patting one of Brutus’ heads with the other.
The massive cerberus panted contentedly: he had spent the afternoon basking on the ship’s deck and gorging himself on fish-treats some of the crewmembers had tossed him. He’d even taken treats from Alex, and none of his heads had eyed the young man suspiciously.
Operation Fetch was progressing quite nicely.
It had been one of the most fun afternoons Alex had had in awhile: it was thrilling learning the other parts of the dance, and learning it with Theresa had been an extra bonus. An extra extrareward was that staying so long on The Red Siren had given the priests’ ship plenty of time to set off on its voyage, and the few remaining priests of Uldar had departed back to the city a long time ago.
As for Theresa’s learning the dance, his childhood friend hadn’t practiced any of it before, so he was more than a little smug that he’d exceeded her in doing something physical. For all of his own growth in strength and endurance, her growth in speed had been even quicker than his: she seemed to run endlessly these days and at speeds that were pretty stunning.
Still, her natural grace—which had bloomed since she’d started life enforcement—had allowed her to do quite well with only one afternoon of practice.
Seeing her agility and hearing about her skill in armed combat, Fan-Dor had taught her more stances, guard and steps than he’d taught Alex on his first lesson, and he’d even shown her how to perform the first jump and first flourish. Theresa was athletic, but watching her go through the jump had been something to see: a single twitch of her legs had sent her high into the air, and she seemed to float when she came back down, landing in complete silence.
Fan-Dor and Gel-Dor had been impressed, and the leering twins had pulled Alex aside like naughty children sharing a secret.
“When you master what we taught you today, boy,” Captain Fan-Dor had elbowed him in the side with a knowing grin. “You should teach her what you know.”
“It’ll bring you closer,” Gel-Dor said more seriously, but a sparkle played in his jet-black eyes. “Think of it like a secret weapon.”
Alex had given them a strong thumbs up at the time, and now smiled at the memory as he waved back at the waving figures of the crew.
“Alright, why don’t we grab some supper in the city and then head home?” he said as they turned away.
Heading back into Generasi—which Alex realized he’d started thinking of as ‘going home’—they caught another sky-gondola and returned to the part of the city closest to the school. He watched the passing streets below and smiled at what he saw.
The abundant forms of priests standing in squares and crossroads, asking for donations to Thameland’s efforts against The Ravener had vanished. He could see priests of other deities on the city’s roads, but even they faded, becoming less and less common the closer they got to the district next to the school. Soon, there were none to be seen at all.
They had the sky-gondola driver stop at a restaurant he’d seen near the golem workshop and they had an excellent meal. What they chose were dishes of wheat noodles in various shapes, smothered in thick sauces made with tomatoes, meat, cream or a combination of all three. On the side were baskets of bread dipped in garlic and butter, which was absolutely delicious, but also made their breaths an absolute nightmare.
Only Selina’s manners kept her from breathing on him while they were at the restaurant, but she immediately began to as soon as they’d left.
All in all, it was a great afternoon followed by an even better evening, and as they travelled back to the university, Alex’s eyes traced the smoke lines rising from the city’s workshops, painting the sunset-orange skyline. His gaze fell on the squat structure of Shale’s workshop, noticing something curious about the front of the building.
The door to the workshop—and the front doors of some of the other buildings—had been decorated with wreaths made up of dried grape vines and straw surrounding wooden boards that had been painted to look like monsters snarling.
He wondered what they were all about, and hoped that he’d be finding out soon. With luck, he might be coming to this section of the city a lot in the not too distant future, if his reference letters opened the door to Shale’s for him.
“Hey Selina,” he said. “Would you like to do some clay sculpting when we get home? If you don’t want to, that's okay too.”
Humming and in high spirits, she nodded vigorously. “I want to see if we can build The Red Siren.”
Theresa smiled at her. “I’m sure you can, Selina. Especially with Alex helping you.”
Alex smiled as well. It was progress. It was progress.
The waiting room was filled with candidates.
Alex—earliest to arrive—chewed his lip and shuffled sheets of paper between his hands. He tried not to look at anyone, and just concentrated on taking in all of his surroundings at once by focusing on his senses. He focused on the smells of hot materials coming from within the golem workshop, not the smell of cold sweat coming from some of the other candidates.
He focused on the floor instead of the door that led to the room where the interviews were being held—waiting for it to swing open and for his name to be called.
He focused on the sounds of the shop and street outside, and not the fact that one of the candidates who’d recently stepped out of the interview room was quietly weeping into their hands while waiting for a friend to finish their turn.
He focused on the weight of his body against the chair instead of the feeling of cold nerves rampaging through his belly.
He tried to keep calm, but already his leg was twitching.
The day for his interview had arrived.
An entire week had passed since he’d dropped off his summary of skills and the two reference letters, and the time had gone by fairly peacefully. Midterms had flown by in a blink and—compared to Challenging the Exam for Credit for Mana Manipulation—they all had been quite easy.
Well, except for FORC-1550.
He was sure he had done really well on the written portion—at this point, he could almost recite the content of his textbooks in his sleep—but the practical portion had been more of a struggle. He’d been able to cast the required spells: forceball, forcedisk, and Wizard’s Hand with extreme control and efficiency. The modifications he’d made to those spells had impressed the graduate student who was invigilating the test.
Unfortunately, he’d lost points in the speed department.
Even though he’d gotten much faster at acknowledging and letting go of The Mark’s interference, it still made him have to be very careful during spellcraft. Compared to the most proficient students in the class, he was still slow.
That had been frustrating: he’d done so well on the written part of the exam as well as on his other exams, but that one single problem had aggravated him. He wasn’t giving up and was getting over it, though. He’d been talking with Val’Rok about a special project that would prepare him for the second year mana manipulation class he’d be taking next semester.
Alex shook his head, hardly believing that half the semester was nearly over. Sometimes—when he woke up in his room in the insula—he’d be disoriented for a bit and wonder why he wasn’t in his room in the Lu’s inn. It was hard to believe that—a few short months ago—he had still been working for McHarris. Things were changing all the time, and time was marching on.
He had brought Selina to Baelin’s class during the week, and as promised, the chancellor had taught a fun class about funny looking monsters complete with pictures, diagrams, and a cute taxidermied muupkara...with its mouth closed, thankfully. Baelin had spoken to her after class, though Alex didn’t know what they’d talked about, but Selina seemed a little more sure of herself after their conversation. She’d even taken to calling him, “nice Mr. chancellor Baelin.”
Soon, he planned on hosting another dinner party for his friends, and this time, he’d invite Shiani—they’d already discussed and agreed on that. If the young fire wizard was introduced to Selina as one of his friends during a party at their home with food and laughter and fun, then Shiani’s words might be more comforting and better reach her in familiar surroundings in a festive atmosphere.
That was the plan, anyway.
If only someone was around right now to make him feel more comfortable.
He resisted the urge to look at the door again and instead, shuffled his papers. The entire setup was alien to him: one really didn’t ‘interview’ for jobs in Alric. One usually just talked to a merchant, farmer, or business owner informally, shook hands or not, and the deed would be done.
This was far from informal, and Alex hoped he’d be ready for whatever this interview involved.
Wood groaned as the door opened again and Alex’s eyes flew up.
A young man—looking like a Generasi student—was shuffling out of the room with a stack of papers in his hands and looking so pale, that it seemed like he was about to be sick.
Was that nervousness? He hoped that they hadn’t bullied him in there: the last thing he wanted was to come all the way to Generasi to work for another McHarris.
“Mr. Alex Roth!” Sim Shale called, looking around the room of candidates.
Alex let out a deep breath, rose from his chair, smoothed his clothes—he’d worn his best doublet and trousers for this—and stepped into the room. If Sim recognized him from the tour, he gave no sign.
“Have a seat right there.” Sim shut the door behind him and latched it, then gestured to a single chair in the middle of the room.
Across from it rose a high desk—the kind some high-powered magistrate would sit behind—and at it were two people plus an empty chair. The person on the right was a large, bald man with green-grey skin and two short tusks jutting out from a heavy jaw.
The woman sitting in the central seat was grey skinned and-
Alex’s eyes widened.
She had been the woman who’d used the sleep spell to catch the thief in the street outside the workshop. Now that he could see her closely, he noted that there was quite the resemblance between her and Sim Shale.
‘That must be his mother,’ Alex thought. ‘Toraka Shale. Oh boy.’
He made his way to his seat, while the two interviewers scrawled notes down on sheets of paper in front of them.
“Alex Roth?” Toraka said as her son made his way to the third seat.
“Yes,” he said, shifting in his seat.
She looked up at him and gave him an appraising look, then lifted two sheets of paper in front of her. Through the morning light beaming through the window, he saw the familiar seals of Val’Rok and Jules. Those were his reference letters.
“Welcome to my workshop, Mr. Roth.” She smiled at him, though the rocky angles of her face made the expression somewhat harsh. “Val’Rok Rathakan and Vernia Jules are my two close friends, so I take what they say quite seriously. But, I have to admit, your summary letter’s a little light.”
Alex winced. This was starting off well.
“Probably wouldn’t have even called you for an interview if it weren’t for their recommendations….their glowing recommendations.” Toraka shook her head as though in disbelief. “That’s a rare thing for both of them: especially Val’Rok.”
He blinked in surprise. The quirky lizardman seemed easy going enough in class…but then again, Alex hadseen a lot of sour faces when the marks for Glyph Box had come back.
“Well, uh.” He cleared his throat. “I’m glad that I impressed them.”
“Not an easy thing to do, but,” Toraka said, adjusting her papers. “You still need to impress me. So, let’s start with the formalities. I’m Toraka Shale and I own this workshop, beside me is my son—Sim—and to my left-”
She gestured to the green man—an orc; they were not a race he’d seen until he’d arrived in Generasi.
“I’m Lagor,” his deep voice croaked out. “I’ll be the crafter you’ll be assisting if we hire you.” He reached beneath the desk and took out an object, then rounded the desk and crossed the room. “Tell me everything you can about this.”
Alex quickly put his papers on his lap and took the object that was handed to him.
His eyes widened.
“This is a golem core,” he said.