Alex had only ever seen a golem core once, and that was during the tour of Shale’s Workshop with Theresa. He couldn’t imagine how bad it would have looked if they handed him one and his immediate response was: ‘Duuuuh, what’s that?’
“Right, what else can you tell me about it?” Lagor asked, the orc crafter watching him closely.
“Well.” Alex said carefully. “I could tell you more if I had certain equipment.”
“Interesting,” the crafter said. “What equipment would you use?”
“A mana spectrometer would let me tell you about most of its magical constitution, and a manohmeter would let me give you a number for its magical conductivity,” Alex said, turning the object over in his hands.
The golem core was pyramid-shaped and surprisingly heavy. Now that he was able to actually examine one up close, he took the opportunity to inspect it as thoroughly as he could, comparing it to the dungeon core from The Cave of the Traveller.
Both were heavy, and though the golem core was not as large as the dungeon core, he’d put them both at similar density—though he couldn’t be sure without doing a proper analysis of them side by side. Both were smooth to the touch as well, and both had a similar sort of…feel.
He couldn’t quite place it but there was an odd similarity between this object and the dungeon core that he couldn’t voice. His mind returned to the day in The Traveller’s Sanctum, remembering well how the dungeon core felt when he was interacting with it, and when he’d forced its mana to touch The Traveller’s-Ah.
That was it.
“It’s dead, isn’t it?” Alex said, looking up at Lagor just in time to see a surprised look cross his face. In a blink, the orc’s expression returned to neutral.
“What makes you say that?” the crafter asked.
“It just feels that way,” Alex said. “And I’m feeling no mana at all coming from it. Of course, I’d need to actually fully examine it with my mana senses to be sure, but right now, I’d say it feels dead.”
“That’s right,” Lagor said. “But why use the word ‘dead’?”
“Why not use the word ‘non-functioning’ or ‘broken’?”
“Hmmm,” Alex paused, thinking carefully on the question. The reason he used the word dead was because the golem core felt so similar to the dungeon core, and he’d felt that the latter had been alive.
He couldn’t really say that, so he thought carefully on how to answer: balancing out what was close to his true feelings, with what likely would please his interviewers.
“Well, they’re something close to alive, right?” Alex said. “I mean, they don’t have a heart and lungs and a brain, but neither do earth elementals and they’re alive.”
‘Boy, are they ever alive,’ Alex thought—remembering how the massive elemental had nearly torn apart his group in The Barrens.
“So the word ‘dead’ feels right, though—like I said—it’s not quite the same.”
“I see,” Lagor said neutrally. “So, let’s say it’s dead. What else can you tell me?”
“I’ll need to examine it through mana manipulation to be able to tell you more.”
“Fine,” Lagor said. “Do you need a mana conductor?”
“No,” Alex said. He had never touched a golem core before, but he had been able to use his mana to infiltrate, examine and control a dungeon core, and if they were as similar as he thought they were…
He sent his mana into the golem core and the sensation was incredibly familiar. Not quite the same, but still familiar enough. Activating The Mark, it showed him his most successful moments of sending his mana into the dungeon core and guided him on how he’d done each.
That—combined with his improved mana manipulation skill—made the task simpler, even though he hadn’t had this specific experience before. In a few heartbeats, he’d passed his mana through the entirety of the core, completely feeling out its internal structure.
“Interesting,” Alex said. “There were…”
He passed his mana back and forth through the core.
“…three spells built into the core: the core’s structure is complex, but there were also at least three different magic circuits for spells built into it too—separate, but still powered by the core’s mana. I can’t say what spells they were, though.”
He continued to feel around the core.
“Cause of death…or I guess the malfunction that broke it was a mana overload, I think. Some of the magic circuits have crumbled in places.”
He’d felt a similar degradation of magic circuits when he’d overloaded the fire-gem before Theresa used it to kill the hive-queen.
“I can’t really say why it happened, not without doing closer analysis…although.”
He pushed his mana through the inner pathways of the golem core more slowly, examining the internal parts and comparing them to his own mana pool, as well as to the pathways within the different magical tools he’d used with mana manipulation before.
“Huh,” he said.
“What is it?” Lagor asked from close.
Alex startled a little, and looked up to see the orc leaning closer to him. He glanced over and saw that Sim was leaning over the desk while Toraka was writing something down.
“So, this is going to be a guess here…” he said. “Because—again—without proper analysis and consultation I can’t say things for sure, but…”
He closed his eyes, and took a deep, meditative breath, shutting out all his senses except for his mana sense. He noticed little ‘punctures’ in the walls of the core’s mana pathways—almost like areas where a soufflé had burst. Examining the pathways from both sides, he compared them to the internal structures of his own body, and the devices he’d used in his Mana Manipulation class. He also noticed that some of the pathways were thinner than others.
It was in the thinner areas of the paths that the punctures had occurred.
“The walls of these pathways are a little thin…here, here, and here,” he said, pointing to different sections of the pyramidal core. “That’s where the perforations are in the core. Again, I’d need more tools to be sure, but it looks like that’s where the internal structure burst.”
“Huh, I see.” Lagor wrote something down. “Right, anything else you want to tell me?”
Alex thought back on the knowledge he’d gained from Professor Jules’ graduate students. “So, I can say that this is not an evolving golem, probably. At the very least, there’s no chaos essence in here as far as I can tell—parts of it would be wavering slightly if there were: chaos essence doesn’t like to stay in one form. Judging by the amount of pathways and the mana that should be channeling through them, this is probably the core to a clay golem.”
“I see.” Lagor continued to write. “And if you were to…guess what materials were used, what would you say?”
“Hmmmm.” Alex frowned at the core. “Well, that’s a bit of a tricky question: there’s a few different materials that one can use to make golem cores that are fairly interchangeable. You can use molten copper as a conductor, but you can also use silver, gold, zinc and brass. Silver’s one of the best metals for use, though if you really want very high mana conductivity, orichalcum’s good, but pretty expensive.”
He turned it over. “But, if I were to guess, I think this probably uses mana-aged quartz: it’s fairly cheap, easy to work with and—with enough time infused with mana—is a fairly good conductor. Other materials-”
Alex fired off a list of possible materials, narrowing down what would likely be used by Shale’s Workshop if he were to consider the area, price and accessibility. As Lagor nodded with his responses, he promised himself he’d bake the grad students an absolutely massive cake when this was all over.
“Right, right, right,” Lagor said.
“Do you think you could be more specific?” Toraka asked.
“Actually, no.” Alex shook his head. “Guessing would not be best practice in alchemy, since it’s all about precision: and most golem workshops keep their exact recipes secret.”
“Hm.” Toraka wrote something else down.
“Right, I’ll take the core back now,” Lagor said.
Alex let out a sigh and rubbed his hands together, picking up his papers and holding them almost as if they were a protective shield. His mind was racing, trying to analyze his own answers and every minute aspect of his interviewers’ reactions to try to predict how he’d done.
He shook away those thoughts.
Don’t think. Adapt, but don’t overthink.
“Right.” Sim looked at Alex closely. “Your summary letter said you worked in a bakery before?”
“For roughly four years,” Alex confirmed. “I worked in a team, assisting the master baker.”
“Quite the jump in careers,” Sim said. “So why do you want to work in my mother’s workshop, specifically?”
‘Because you pay well and you’ll help me when it comes to analyzing the nasty spawn from the monster that keeps putting my kingdom in peril,’ he stopped himself from saying.
Alex leaned forward, glancing at the notes he’d made about his experience in the bakery. “At my old job, we had good days and we had bad days: and bad days were usually all about breakdowns in the team.” He spread his hands. “We were kind of like parts of a machine, like the pathways in a golem core.” His hand gestured to the dead core sitting in front of Lagor. “Some of the pathways burst in that core, which killed it, and that killed the whole golem, I’d imagine.”
His eyes flicked to Lagor, and he noted the ever so slight nod.
“Same with a team: when the team breaks down, the entire machine breaks down and then the job doesn’t get done. When I toured the workshop with you, Sim-” He gambled on using the young man’s first name: Toraka’s son had introduced himself by his first name, and using it would create familiarity.
Again, he noted the slight shift forward in Sim’s body weight.
“-I saw that everyone was working well as a team. Everyone was pulling their weight, nobody was rushing or scrambling around—which meant that the entire team was organized and everything was the way it was supposed to be—and no one looked dejected.”
That he’d seen, at least.
“And if that’s what the team looks like on the average workday, then that means the shop’s well-organized and well-run. I also heard from Professors Val’Rok and Jules that the golems produced here are some of the strongest, most efficient, most astute at carrying out orders, and easiest to maintain in the entire city. That’s why you price them the way you do: you craft quality, and I want to be a part of that.”
Toraka’s pen was writing very quickly, as was Sim’s.
“Okay,” Sim said. “And if you’ve got a conflict on the team, what would you do?”
Alex thought back on Minervus, hoping that the young man didn’t also get a job here. “I would try and work it out with whoever I was having a problem with and—if that didn’t work—I’d bring it to my supervisor so we could all work it out.”
The sound of three scratching pens filled the room.
“Right,” Sim said. “And do you have any questions for us?”
“Yes, actually.” Alex raised his sheets of paper. “What do you need a crafter’s assistant to show you that lets you know they’re succeeding at the job and actually being helpful in the workshop?”
Toraka looked between Sim and Lagor. “An assistant would have to follow orders, show initiative and work well within a team. They wouldn’t need to know everything: that’s the crafter’s job, but after the training period, they’d need to be a quick study and actually be able to assist the crafter. This isn’t school, this is golem-craft, and we need all hands to know what they’re doing. At the same time, we need people that don’t make this place hard to work in: I don’t employ machines, but a good attitude helps the whole process. What do you think, Lagor?”
“What you said,” Lagor agreed. “And I don’t want anyone thinking that they’re going to try and impress me by doing a bunch of stuff that’s outside of procedure: innovation’s not like it is in the books and plays. It takes time and sometimes years of small steps.”
“Got it.” Alex wrote down their answer word-for-word. “Another question: is there opportunity for advancement?”
“Yes,” Toraka said. “There technically is: if you’ve got talent, pick up enough experience and show that we can trust you, we’ll get you where you need to be in the workshop.”
“Right, right, and you said there was a training period?”
“Two weeks,” Lagor said.
Alex circled that answer. “I see. That’s all I got then.”
“Perfect,” Toraka rose, picking up a sheaf of papers. “Then the last thing is a short written test, and that’ll be it. Mark it with your name and leave it with the front desk when you’re finished, and we’ll go from there. Thank you for coming in.”
“Alrighty then.” Alex rose from his seat, fighting down his rising nerves. “Thanks for the opportunity.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Alex startled, nearly ruining the notes he was making on Orb of Air in the evening light bleeding through the slats of his window shutters. “Selina?” he called.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The tap came again.
He could still hear Selina grumbling over a problem she was having while doing her homework in the kitchen, and he hadn’t heard Theresa return from practicing with the Watchers of Roal yet.
“Brutus?” he asked.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
He realized it was coming from the window. “N-Najyah?”
Alex tiptoed to the window and slowly opened it.
He gasped as a massive, golden dragonfly flew into the room, its wings making a metallic buzzing noise. It landed on his desk and slowly rotated toward him. Attached to its tail was a letter bearing the seal of Shale’s Workshop.
With a low cry, Alex charged across the room and tore the letter open, scanning its contents quickly. His eyes froze on the final lines:
-start as soon as possible. Please write a return note stating whether you accept or reject the position and attach it to the messenger golem’s tail. Looking forward to working with you. - Lagor
“Yeeeessss!” Alex cried, pumping his fists.
A huge weight lifted off his shoulders.
He now had an income, he was a step closer to being able to properly analyze the dungeon core’s remains, and build his very own golem. And luckily, there had been a lot of candidates who’d applied.
The likelihood that Minervus would have gotten hired would be slim to non-
‘Oh cooome ooooon!’ Alex screamed mentally, freezing as he was stepping into the workshop on his first day.
“Oh, Alex, you’re here,” Lagor said, nodding in approval. “The first of our new assistants just arrived. Alex, meet Minervus. Minervus, this is Alex.”
Minervus stared at Alex for a long moment, and then his pale and narrow face slowly grew a painfully forced polite smile. “H-hello,” he said in a strained voice.