It wasn’t something that a first year or even a typical second year student would recognize, and the only reason Alex knew anything about it was because of helping professor Jules with her experiment.
The dungeon core—or at least the part of it that the mana spectrometer had broken down—read almost identically to-
Alex recalled a smokey cauldron and a being whose presence twisted his senses.
That didn’t mean for sure that the dungeon core was made of chaos essence or that it had chaos essence in it, just that part of its composition was unmistakably similar. What that meant was that it likely shared properties with chaos essence.
Alex frowned, thinking back on the dungeon core’s abilities, and what it had shown during the fight in The Cave. For one, it had created a variety of monsters from its own mana. That implied a certain…malleability to its mana: it could be used to create different monsters like the smaller silence-spiders or the massive soldiers. It could use what it created to infest a space and then alter the walls and structure of the area.
He thought about other dungeon cores from past legends: it was said that they had created a truly wide variety of creatures, and he had personally encountered arachnids with massive sword-blade-claw-things.
Its similarity to chaos essence made some sense in that case, but the odd thing was how stable it was: at no time did the dungeon core ever show any signs of shifting or changing shape when he touched it. Its remains were constant, starting as dust and remaining as dust. If it were like chaos essence, then it should have continued shifting its shape.
His frown deepened.
That implied some sort of stabilizing agent in its structure. He wasn’t sure if that was correct, but it gave him clues for what to look for as he continued his analysis. He was pleased with the results so far, though: even incomplete analysis using one tool had generated the beginnings of answers.
He slipped the read-out into his pocket, and took the Potion of Haste back out of the mana spectrometer. As he did, he took a long, admiring look at the device and thought back on what professor Jules had said about the advancement of alchemy and magical devices.
The mana spectrometer was a marvel of wizardry, one that—according to his textbook—had been invented roughly seventy years before. It was an instrument that didn’t function outside of Generasi itself. In his textbook, there’d been a chapter on the history of alchemy that professor Jules had expanded on in her lectures.
That part of the course had been gruesome. The section was all about how many horrors early wizards had inflicted on themselves in their quest to uncover the secrets of alchemy and magical substances. Apparently, the very first golem had been a monstrosity: the link between its consciousness and its creator’s mind had been too strong, and it had received a constant stream of the wizard’s thoughts, joys, lusts, insecurities, fears, hatreds, rages and other emotions it had no way of knowing how to process.
The weight of these mental weaknesses had piled onto the construct overwhelming it until it had begun to rampage and eventually, had to be destroyed. Five hundred years later, with advancements in spellcraft, alchemical tools, a greater understanding of magical lore and an awareness of the interconnectivity of things, wizards came to understand that the golem’s creator had crafted its core in such a way to connect too deeply with its creator’s thoughts.
From then on, the creation of golems became a far safer process: growing more and more advanced until something like Shale’s Workshop could exist in modern times.
“Imprecision and guesswork,” professor Jules had said. “That’s what cursed and plagued the early alchemists.”
He glanced at the black substance within the sample flask.
‘I wonder just what kind of tools the wizards were working with the last time you got analyzed,’ he thought. ‘Maybe with these more advanced tools, I—and maybe others—will be able to find out more about what makes you work.’
“Are you almost done over there?” Amir asked. “It’s almost time to vacate the lab.”
“Yep, you wanna take a look? I’m just going to finish cleaning up in the meantime and make a note in my notebook. Something to remember for later.”
He slid the flask with the dungeon core’s liquified sample into another of his apron pockets. While Amir was examining his Potion of Haste on the other side of the room, Alex carefully took an empty potion bottle out of his bag under pretense of retrieving his notebook.
His movements, now more precise and silent with The Mark, he had no problem quietly transferring the sample from the flask into his potion bottle and stoppering it. As long as it didn’t degrade, then it would already be in liquid form for future tests, which would save him time. He also definitely didn’t feel comfortable disposing of it anywhere until he knew more.
“The Potion of Haste looks good,” Amir said. “Excellent work. Bring the report by my office in Cell-B07 next week, and I think you’ll do very well. For now, the potion is all yours. It’s safe for you to ingest, but use it wisely.”
“Gotcha,” Alex said, half-listening.
A question began brewing in his mind, one he would ask professor Jules during next class.
He packed up quickly. “Hey,” he said to Amir as he was stuffing his possessions into his bag. “You know what equipment we’ll need for next experiment?”
“Let’s see.” Amir flipped through his notes and handed Alex his next assignment. “It looks like a manohmeter, a viscometric device and a piccoscope.”
“Gotcha,” he said, thinking about what he knew about those devices.
The manohmeter tested for mana conductivity, and he’d used one before. The viscometric device measured a liquid ingredient’s viscosity and how well it combined with certain other magical compounds. They were supposed to be learning about it in class this week, which was when he would ask his question.
The piccoscope was one of the instruments he’d heard of and read about in his textbook for second semester: it was a device that used illusion magic and a form of divination magic to project the image of miniscule things onto a glass lens that one would look through. With it, he could see the tiny substructure of the shattered core and be able to compare it with other substances to look for similarities.
“Do you think maybe we could start a little early next time?” Alex asked. “Just to get the equipment set up, if you don’t get a chance to.”
Amir blew out a breath. “I am very busy. Very, very busy. But you never know.”
Alex looked at him and sighed, stifling his irritation.
“So…it’s made of the same stuff that came from that monster your professor summoned?” Theresa asked quietly.
The two of them were hidden in a bower within the Beastarium, speaking in low voices, during Theresa’s lunch break. By now the young huntress knew the Beastarium like the palm of her hand so it was easy for them to find a private place to talk.
Brutus stood lookout, using sharp senses from three noses, six eyes and six ears to be on guard for anyone coming close. Including any animals.
One never knew which bird or beast could be a wizard’s familiar.
“Maybe,” Alex said. “At least it’s structurally similar.”
“What do you mean?” Theresa asked.
“It’s like…” Alex paused, looking for an uncomplicated way to explain it. “It’s like how oak trees and apple trees are both different, but they’re both still trees. One makes apples, which oak trees don’t, but both have bark, both grow tall, have leaves and put roots down in the earth.”
“Right.” Theresa frowned, puzzling through it. “So, it might be similar to the stuff from that horrible monster from your professor’s lab, or it might even be the same. Either way, it sounds like it’s going to have some of the same properties.”
“That’s what it looks like,” Alex said.
Her brows furrowed. “What does that mean…do you think The Ravener comes from the same place as that monster thing did?”
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Alex said, thinking back on it. “Maybe originally, though.”
“What do you mean?” Theresa asked.
“Well, according to the legend, The Ravener first appears in Thameland a long, long time ago and caused a disaster, right? Well, these shoggoths and their masters are also very, very old and very powerful, according to professor Jules. Before The Heroes, it took a god to beat The Ravener.”
“Right.” Theresa nodded. “And you said that these…shoggoth things don’t really… ‘work’ like creatures from our world do. Maybe that’s why The Ravener keeps coming back after The Heroes kill it…but wait.” Her frown deepened. “If it’s like one of these monsters that aren’t from our world, then why would humans be able to control its dungeon cores? And you said it was similar to that thing that goes inside of golems-”
“-yeah, right those. You said it’s like that, right? So why would it be similar to a golem core if it was one of those horrible, shifty, shoggoth chaos monsters.”
“Those are damned good questions,” Alex said. “But, soon I’m going to have access to different tools that’ll let me uncover more aspects of the dungeon core remains. Then…once I get some more results, maybe Baelin will be able to give me some answers.”
“Right, right…” She nodded. “Lots of questions…lots of questions. Still makes you wonder why The Fool is so looked down upon if The Mark is so useful. Or even why Uldar would make The Fool not able to fight, do magic or use divinity in the first place.”
“Yeah…yeah…all really good questions. We’ll see what happens and what answers I come up with when I get the remains under the piccoscope.”
“That what now?”
“It…” He explained the device to her, and she shook her head.
“Wow, that makes my head spin even thinking about it. So, now what?”
“Now I talk to Jules, there’s a certain question I want to ask her. About this stuff…depending on her answer, the dungeon core might be able to help us.”
She raised an eyebrow. “How would it be able to help us?”
“Well, I’ll tell you a little more when I figure out more,” Alex said, tapping the side of his nose.
Over the last few hours, a mad, stupid, horrifying, insane idea had been brewing in his mind. One that the rational part of his brain was screaming for him not to even consider.
However, now that it had nestled its way in, he couldn’t quite shake it. First, he’d need to finish his analysis of the dungeon core’s remains. He especially needed a full idea as to its mana conductivity. Getting the full spectrum of its composition would be necessary too.
In the meantime, he would ask professor Jules his question. Depending on how she answered: if he got what he was looking for, then potentially, the dungeon core’s remains could be-
“You know, being all mysterious is really overrated.” Theresa crossed her arms.
“Not if you’re the one being mysterious.” Alex smirked mischievously. “Then it’s pretty damn awesome.”
“Ugh, next thing you know you’ll be putting on a mask and costume and going around like bloody Robbing Hood.”
“Hmmmmm,” he said, rubbing his chin in thought. “What do you think of the name ‘Robbing Fool’?”
“I think it’s terrible.”
“Your taste is terrible.”
Theresa stared at him for a long moment, then burst out laughing. She laughed so hard that Brutus actually turned around and stared at her.
“What?” Alex blinked. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, I’ll talk a little more about that later.” She grinned.
Alex sucked in a breath like he’d been mortally wounded. “You dare, Theresa Lu, you dare use my own words against me?”
“Hey, it’s fun when you’re the one being mysterious, right?” She got up, humming to herself and sauntered off from among the trees.
Brutus looked at Alex for a long moment, walked over, gave his face a lick and then bounded after his master.
Alex shook his head. “Now the dog is giving me pity licks,” he said.