“Why are you boiling dirt?” Selina asked, staring at her brother as he leaned over the side of a massive cauldron that rose as high as his waist.
They were in a ‘project room’, so they were called—large chambers in the university that could be booked for personal magical projects. Any student or staff member could book one as long as what they would be working on didn’t involve magic that was too risky. The project had to be approved before the space could be booked.
Projects like illusion practice, painting with magical pigments, other art projects, or even low-risk activities like magic item construction could be practiced in these rooms. Staffs, for example, were a magic item that required the carving of the staff from a piece of wood before it was infused with the magic circuitry for the spells that would be built into it. The process was a reasonably safe and low risk one that Alex had learned was often done in these ‘project rooms.’
The rooms were reinforced against mishaps, but not as heavily as The Cells, and they actually had windows in them to let the sunlight in.
Alex had also borrowed a special cauldron from one of The Cells’ supply rooms and gotten Thundar to help him bring it to the project room. The pot was controlled through mana manipulation, allowing it to heat substances without the need for flame.
“It’s because we need a special kind of material for what we’re making today,” Alex said, stirring the earthy-smelling substance carefully.
“Oh, okay,” Selina said. “I hope it’s finished soon. Is it really that special?”
“Oh yeah.” He glanced at his open notebook on a nearby table. “If I got the recipe right, it should be some of the finest clay you’ve ever worked.”
On their final trip to The Barrens for the semester—a largely uneventful one compared to other trips—Alex had brought a shovel and a heap of burlap bags to collect a massive amount of mana-bathed dust, with Baelin’s permission, of course. He’d also arranged with Khalik to conjure soil and clay from the elemental plane of earth using a spell he’d learned in his earth elemental class.
The prince had obliged, summoning the substance by the bucketload—though it had taken several days to gather. All in all—with the plans he’d put together from helping Lagor build golem bodies, and with information he’d gathered from several manuals at the workshop—he’d need two thousand pounds of good, even clay to construct the golem he wanted to craft.
He’d debated for a long time trying to decide on what size of golem he wanted to build. For a time, the young excitable boy in him just started to scream: ‘bigger! bigger! biggeeeeer!’
The image of himself leading some thirty-foot tall clay titan back to Thameland to smash every silence-spider terrorizing his homeland was incredibly tempting. Unfortunately, practicality killed that dream before it could even get underway. For one thing, sculpting such a large body would take forever, and secondly, storing it would be impossible.
The school had storage areas students could rent—where he’d stored the sacks of materials for the golem—but none could accommodate thirty-foot titans. The next size he considered was something the size of Grimloch: a ten-foot tall monster that would still be able to crush anything in its path. Then he debated going even smaller: something human sized, or maybe minotaur sized. Eight-feet tall was a standard golem size that was not only practical, but could also serve him well.
In the end, though, he’d settled on a Grimloch-sized one after considering what he wanted it for.
And that was for power.
Grimloch could fit through doors as long as he crouched, and that was what Alex wanted: something as big, strong and unstoppable as possible that was still practical enough to fit through doors. He could craft smaller golems later, if he really wanted to.
Another good reason to have the body be a bit larger was so that it could store and handle more mana. As he researched the process for implanting the fire-gems into the golem’s body, he’d realized that it would need to be strong enough to hold together from the mana passing between its core—which he planned to build to be as powerful as he could manage with his budget and skill—and the three powerful magical stones.
Using clay from the elemental plane of earth was a good start, and mixing in the mana-blasted dust from The Barrens was the next good step, but in the end, size would increase the volume of mana that the body could handle.
So, he and Selina would have to sculpt a minor giant.
“Alright, stand back,” he said, waiting until his sister had stepped back before gripping the cauldron. He reversed the mana flow through the cauldron, switching its heating magic to cooling, then he waited a few minutes while the cauldron sucked most of the excess heat out of the mixture. Next, he began to tip the cauldron.
He nearly over-balanced, overestimating how much effort it would take, but caught himself before anything could spill. Sometimes he forgot how much his strength had increased since arriving at Generasi. He’d worked hard to get stronger, and it had been worth all the effort because now, he could do things like lift and move things like the cauldron, that he never could have before.
He poured the mixed, liquid clay into the pot and then stirred it. Smiling contentedly, he cast his newest spell: Orb of Air.
After carefully going through the spell array, a floating, near-invisible sphere of fresh air manifested in front of him. Slowly, he sank the orb into the container and spun it through the still warm clay, giving one final pass to cool it and make sure it was beaten to the right consistency.
He eyed it carefully: he’d created a few test mixtures with smaller amounts beforehand, using The Mark. He’d wanted to make sure he’d perfected the substance’s consistency before he went all in on making the large batch for the golem.
It was at the perfect consistency for golem body sculpting.
“Alright, you ready to get your hands dirty?” Alex glanced at his sister.
“Yes!” she said excitedly, bounding over.
“Okay, then let’s do it.”
On their first day, they would start with the torso. The plan was to craft the golem in pieces, then fuse them together later, using magic and the proper tools. For now, the torso would be the best place to start using their hands and sculpting tools he’d bought from Shale’s.
They spent the next few days slowly crafting the torso. The outside wasn’t complicated to sculpt—though they would add more detail over time, for the fun and aesthetics of it—but the inside work of crafting pathways for the mana to flow through the golem and power it, was complex. The only area he left blank on the inside was the setting for the golem core—he wasn’t sure exactly how large his golem core would end up being.
After a few days of sculpting, the Roth siblings took a break.
The countryside of Generasi awaited.
“Holy crap I should have booked passage on one of these months ago, this is amazing!” Alex shouted over the wind as he leaned over the railing.
“It’s incredible,” Theresa agreed, holding the rail with one hand and moving her wind-blown bangs from her eyes.
Selina giggled, filled with delight—at their reactions— while hopping up and down beside them. Khalik laughed exuberantly alongside them as Najyah soared by, Isolde smiled and Thundar was all grins. Behind them Brutus pressed himself tightly to the floor and as close against Theresa’s legs as he could.
Around them, throngs of holidaying students and other passengers looked at them in amusement, but didn’t say anything.
The reaction of pure delight Alex’s group was having was common for first timers on a sky-ship. The trip they were on was a popular, crowded excursion arranged for folks to tour Generasi’s wine country. While Selina had been on a sky-ship with her class once before, none of the others had ever ridden on one.
Everyone tensed as the galleon pulled away from the massive skyport terminal where they’d boarded, and climbed up above the soaring towers of Generasi city. Despite the fairly steep incline the ship took, the passengers didn’t lose balance or plummet overboard since it was charged with magic that kept them comfortable and safely on board. Brutus, however, was obviously nervous about the entire affair and eyed the glass bottomed deck like he expected it to crack and spill them into the sky. By the way he’d plastered himself to Theresa, it seemed he was even more distrustful of sky-ships than sky-gondolas. Maybe it was the transparent, fragile looking floor that was making him uncomfortable, especially with Selina jumping up and down on it. Theresa kept reassuring him that he’d be back on land soon, but he was still wide-eyed and whining as he watched Selina.
Passengers crowded the deck, sipping from cups of chilled coffee, lemonade, iced teas and chilled wines from the ship’s drink menu while the captain’s voice boomed over the wind.
Beside the ship flew a flock of the students’ familiars, soaring and circling around the vessel. The mood was high, marred only by what looked like a small battalion of city guards joined by members of The Watchers of Roal.
The mana vampire hadn’t attacked recently, and the city authorities still hadn’t managed to track, and put an end to it.
Its bounty continued to climb.
As the flying ship soared over the city wall, a small encampment of mercenaries, monster hunters and rangers came into view in the open fields between the countryside proper and the city walls. Some hunted within the city, looking for the creature and the golden prize it would bring, while others ventured deep into the countryside in case the monster still stalked there.
Alex wondered just how high the bounty had climbed to bring so many warriors of fortune to the City of Wizards. He glanced back to the ship’s protectors, patrolling along the sides of the deck.
For now, all the city officials could do was set up experienced fighters as deterrents and continue the hunt. It made Alex feel a lot better. From how The Watchers of Roal resisted the demon’s aura of fear, Alex figured they were well equipped to stand against a mana vampire’s ability to put others to sleep.
With how they’d handled themselves in the demon attack, he figured a mana vampire would have an awfultime fighting The Watchers while trapped on a flying ship, unless it was a lot stronger than he knew. He felt safe…enough.
He glanced at the other travellers.
The Watchers presence didn’t stop him from checking his surroundings every now and then, though. The ship flew over the green fields and bright vineyards of the countryside, and everyone gawked at the manor houses that resembled something from a fairy tail dotting the countryside.
Between them rose lone wizard’s towers—that looked like something straight out of one of the storybooks in the church school—surrounded by gardens and low walls that were marked with protective glyphs on top.
“Wow, it’s like wizard paradise,” Alex said.
“It is,” Isolde said. “Look there.” She pointed to a villa that rose from a hill, with bright yellow stucco walls and a red terraced roof. “One of my distant cousins lives there, but I have never visited.”
“You’ve never visited?” Theresa looked at her sharply. “Awww, I wanted to hear what a place like that looked like on the inside.”
Isolde shrugged. “I might still visit. The relationship is distant, so we do not share much in the way of correspondence.”
“You’ll have to tell me all about it then, especially that!” Theresa pointed to a well-kept forest that was a riot of colour blazing with bright red, orange, purple, and yellow leaves. Through some of the clearings, Alex could see toadstools the size of carriages. “What a forest! Does it belong to your cousin’s family?”
“Not quite.” Isolde drew a line through the forest near the villa with her finger. “Many acres are claimed by my kin, but most of the forest is under the dominion of the dryad village that is there.”
“Did you say dryads?” Alex, Khalik and Thundar said at the same time. They laughed, glancing at each other.
Alex had read about dryads: beautiful forest-nymphs bound to trees by a life-link. They were said to be masters in their own branch of magic that deals with nature, animals and plants.
“What are they, why are they so excited about them?” Theresa asked.
Isolde gave the minotaur, the prince and The Fool a long look, before explaining the concept to Theresa.
The huntress’ eyes lit up. “They’d know so much about forest-craft, I’d love to meet them.”
“Yeah, that’s why I was so excited,” Alex said, ignoring the pointed stare of Isolde and the rapid agreements of Thundar and Khalik.
“Perhaps, I could arrange something,” Isolde said. “My cousin hosts a spring masquerade ball—though the masks are far less grotesque than those we wore for the Festival of Ghosts—if I could secure invitations, perhaps I could convince my cousin to broker a meeting between you and one of the tree-women.”
“I would love that.” Theresa said.
The Fool, prince and minotaur didn’t say a word.
The ship stopped at several estates where passengers were free to disembark and sample the many wines, foods and fruity beverages on offer. Selina, Najyah and Brutus played in, and explored some of the nearby grounds.
Thundar and Alex ate way too much, and were in a half-coma by the time the evening rolled around. Still—even while barely awake—Alex could hear a merry Khalik composing poetry about imaginary dryads half in his language, and half in the common tongue.
For some reason, Theresa seemed to find this endlessly hilarious, and laughed so hard, she was in tears.
Isolde was decidedly less amused, while Thundar, nearly passed out from overstuffing himself, sat on the deck with his eyes closed and pet Brutus with one massive hand. Selina lay flat on her stomach beside them, contentedly looking through the glass deck at the evening scenery below.
It was a fine day, all in all, and one they were eager to repeat a few more times during the break.
Luckily, Isolde was there to provide.
“So,” she said one day, when the cabal had met for lunch. “I contacted that distant cousin I spoke of, and fortunately, he has invited me—and any guests I should see fit to bring—to his estate for the afternoon.” She paused. “We need to be cautious in light of the mana vampire lurking, of course and…”
She paused again. “My cousin informs me that a time ago, monster hunters spotted another creature lurking in his lands. One that leapt from tree to tree, covered in scales and—judging by the marks it left in the bark—absolutely wicked claws.”
Alex—his face full of brioche—paused. “Another monster?”
He wondered what else might be lurking in Generasi’s countryside.