“What do you mean?” Alex asked, suddenly feeling very afraid for Theresa, Isolde, Khalik and the others. “Do…do you think the demon summoner is down there?”
Baelin continued to watch the horizon. “I don’t know. Again, the magic existed for a mere heartbeat or less. Then it was gone. If the demon summoner was in there, then they either aborted their casting or they are extremely good at masking their magic.”
“W-we should go back!” Alex said quickly, trying to fight down rising panic as he imagined demons stalking the passages.
“No, you should not. I have summoned The Watchers and teleported them into the maze. They are investigating the incident even as the rest of the class finishes their practical session.”
“The class is still going on?” Thundar asked.
“It is,” Baelin said. “You might think it foolish, but understand, I am old. Very old, and I only felt the magic for an instant. It could be that one of you students cast the teleportation spell, or it could be that I simply imagined it. I have been searching for the culprit who summoned the demon for some time, after all: the mind can conjure all sorts of wants, tricks and desires if it really wishes.”
Alex remembered that brief moment when he desperately wanted to escape the haunt in the complex and how his thoughts went to The Cave of the Traveller. His thoughts went to when he was younger, shortly after his mother and father had died. Sometimes he’d wake up at night and—for one confused moment—think he could hear his father in the kitchen or his mother humming at the bar.
The mind could conjure all kinds of phantoms when it was over-taxed. Still, fear gripped him, and he took to pacing back and forth along the escarpment.
“Do not worry,” Baelin said. “Even as The Watchers patrol the complex, I myself am examining it through divination magic. I have felt nothing unusual since that instant…but if I do, and if it is our culprit…”
He made a crushing gesture with one of his massive hands.
The group fell into silence behind him, and Alex continued pacing. Thundar eventually walked over to Grimloch.
“Those tunnels were bullshit, weren’t they, eh, big guy?” Thundar clapped the shark man on the shoulder.
Alex had been the receiver of many of the minotaur’s robust back and shoulder claps, which were strong enough to send him stumbling, if he wasn’t braced for them.
Grimloch didn’t even budge.
“Got lucky. We got him,” the shark man chewed out his words and jabbed a thumb toward Eyvinder. “Didn’t even bother with tunnels. This guy looked at the rock and it just opened up for him. We just walked straight to the teleportation circle.”
“…you lucky bastard,” Thundar grunted. “I nearly got torn open by skeletons becau-”
More shimmering in the air.
Brutus began barking excitedly.
Caramiyus, Nua-Oge, Angelar, Theresa and Hogarth appeared next. Theresa was in no way bloodied, though they all looked like they’d been in a fight.
“Oof!” Theresa cried as Brutus tackled her to the ground and began to bury her face in a torrent of licks.
“Ach, boy, you know you’re not supposed to jump on people!” She raised herself into a sitting position.
“You’re not suppo-Oof!” Theresa cried as Alex tackled her to the ground. Luckily, he didn’t bury her face in a torrent of licks.
“Alex, I shouldn’t have to tell you not to jump on people!” She pushed herself up into a sitting position again while Alex crouched beside her.
“Even if you did, I wouldn’t have to listen. That’s the beauty of being not-a-dog.” He grinned. “I’m just really glad you’re alright.”
She frowned. “Yeah, we are…was it that bad for you, with the skeletons, I mean?”
He helped her back to her feet. “Yes and no, but listen, some stuff is going on…”
As he filled her in on what Baelin was watching for, the rest of the class teleported back onto the escarpment. The chancellor turned his attention to them, explaining the situation.
“Did any of you use a teleportation spell in the complex? Even a minor one?”
Malcolm raised his hand. “I cast ‘Call Through Ice’, to teleport a key that was on an altar so we could disarm a spinning blades trap.”
“Call through what now?” Alex muttered, quietly thankful that his group didn’t run into any ‘spinning blades trap’. It sounded horrible.
Isolde—who’d appeared with one of the final groups—leaned close to him. “It freezes two points in space and conjures a teleportation doorway through the para-elemental plane of cold. It is difficult to cast for anyone not specialized in ice magic, but it is one of the lowest tier teleportation spells that exists.”
“Thanks Madam Librarian,” Alex said, grinning at her.
Isolde rolled her eyes.
Baelin was considering Malcolms’ explanation, stroking his braided beard. “Hmm, perhaps that was what I felt. I was unaware that you or anyone in the class could use teleportation magic.”
“It’s something I learned over break,” Malcolm said, looking a little subdued. “Been trying to learn some more spells that are…less ‘all or nothing’ after the vent-drinker class.”
“Right,” Baelin nodded. “And the rest of you saw no other teleportation effects or felt anything of that nature?”
The rest of the class shook their heads.
“I see.” Baelin focused on the direction of the tunnels again.
The class talked among themselves until The Watchers of Roal arrived at the escarpment, then looked on as Baelin questioned them.
“We found nothing, chancellor-”one started to say.
“Baelin,” the chancellor corrected.
“Ah, right,” the watcher said awkwardly. “Well, we didn’t find anything. No traces of summoning, no teleportation, no sign of anything down there except for the undead and your students.”
Baelin frowned. “Hm, perhaps I simply felt your magic after all, Malcolm. The…elusiveness of this demon caller has weighed on me.”
He gazed off in the direction of the tomb. “Still. Curious. Very curious, indeed.”
Alex looked at Malcolm. A slight suspicion began to grow.
Malcolm—being a second year—was one of the most powerful students in The Art of the Wizard in Combat II. He also specialized in cold magic, and had just revealed that he could cast teleportation magic, which was similar to summoning.
Alex remembered that the demon had appeared in fire, but there was also an element that it had been notably adept at using, judging from its attacks.
He watched Shiani and Rhea talking to Malcolm. They were close. The demon appeared in fire and then used ice. Malcolm, Shiani and Rhea were ice and fire wizards.
Fire and Ice.
Alex tried to shake the thoughts away. He didn’t know much about Malcolm and Rhea, but he liked Shiani. His sister did too: she still asked about the fire wizard sometimes.
Besides, none of them seemed powerful enough to cast the kind of magic someone would need to bring forth a demon, never mind the kind of demon that could give The Watchers of Roal trouble.
They just couldn’t.
Perhaps they were keeping secrets, concealing their true power.
He ought to know about that.
As the class ended, Alex shook away the thoughts as ridiculous, but a lingering doubt continued to follow him long after.
He couldn’t help but wonder if that doubt and discord was what the demon summoner had wanted to sew all along.
“Alex!” Selina cried.
“Huh, wha-?” Alex shook his head. “What was that?”
“You were staring again,” she said, then looked at him suspiciously. “You’re not going to change the design again, are you?”
“What, no, no, I wouldn’t!” he insisted.
In truth, he’d been thinking about his classmates in his combat class and how they might be keeping secrets of their own. He hadn’t been able to completely shake the thought since the escarpment.
Still, there actually was a very good reason why Selina might have thought he was thinking of changing the golem’s design.
He glanced over at their work which had progressed quite a bit since the break. He couldn’t deny it though, it would’ve been farther along if it weren’t for the fact that he seemed to change the design of his creation every three days. While the general size and emphasis on power hadn’t changed, a lot of the aesthetic design and other elements had been altered.
“The first golems almost always looked like mortals,” Lagor had said while they were working one evening. He had been carefully forging the delicate brass fingers for a specialty golem. “Giant, bulky humans, elves, beast folk: mirrors of whatever was creating them. Thing is, a golem’s physical form doesn’t really matter for how well it functions. Not on the outside, at least. You’ll want your mana structures proper, but the humanoid form isn’t anything special.”
Lagor had looked up at the specialty golem. While it was forged in the shape of an androgynous humanoid, the brass construct had six long, thin arms each with a hand that had seven fingers. Unlike most golems, the mouth of this one actually led to an airway that led to two mechanical chambers that mimicked lungs.
Apparently, a prominent duke had wanted it to play several musical instruments at once: essentially making it into a one-golem orchestra. That said, it would apparently be powerful enough to bend steel with its bare hands so it could also serve as defence.
“That’s the thing with golems,” the orc crafter continued. “You can make them look like dragons or krakens or anything: what’s essential to make sure of is that your golem core is sophisticated enough to coordinate all those limbs and produces enough mana to power them all.”
That revelation had set Alex’s mind afire. He’d thought about the silence-spiders with their multiple limbs, and how his force shield was able to block more attacks which allowed his arms to remain free.
And thanks to helping build that golem, he’d learned how to design a golem core sophisticated enough to run at least eight limbs. However, he’d still need enough room on his creation’s torso for so many limbs, which would call for an even bigger golem body than was practical for him to build.
So, he’d decided to go with two extra arms so that he would have four, thick, sturdy, powerful ones containing nice, big mana pathways through them.
At first, Selina had been thrilled with the change.
“Four arms is super cool!” she’d cried.
Her displeasure had started with the next change.
He’d hit upon the idea of applying some of the aspects of force redirection he was learning in Professor Ram’s class. He’d realized that making his golem look like a giant muscular man—while unbelievably cool—would actually have made the golem less efficient at blocking enemies’ blows. Bare areas with pronounced pectorals, abdominals and the contours of musculature—while they’d look cool—could be a weakness for blades or claws to go for.
Instead, he’d decided to use a design that he knew worked when it came to protection against enemy strikes: armour. He’d joined Isolde and Theresa on one of their trips to a weaponsmith to look at the armour they carried. Using The Mark to examine the plate armour carefully, he'd then returned to their work room and practiced making small sculptures and trying various armour sculpting designs for hours.
He’d finally settled on a rounded, sloped shape for the golem’s surface that perfectly mimicked the plate armour.
When he’d shown Selina the design change, the colour had actually drained from her eleven-year old face.
“It’s super ugly now!” she’d bluntly informed him.
“Well, it’s practical,” he’d said. “And that’s what matters the most.”
And so, they’d re-sculpted the surface of the golem to his specifications…only for him to realize that she’d been right. There was no denying it. It was super ugly and it honestly looked kind of stupid. Alex was practical, but—in the end—he wanted his golem to look at least somewhat cool.
So he’d gone back to his design, continuing with the armoured inspiration, but altering it to get the best of both worlds: a design which perfectly matched a hulking, armour clad warrior. The plan still retained the sloped, rounded angles of plate amour—to deflect blows and force away from its centre mass—but now, he’d added extra details that actually made it look like finely crafted full plate, with images of filigree and designs of warriors and monsters throughout.
None of the designs were raised enough to catch blows or hook claws, while also looking cool. If the golem evolved from a clay golem, to stone, and then to an iron one, the ‘armoured’ design would look even cooler in those materials.
Selina had been far more enthusiastic, but still expressed dread that he’d make another big change and throw all their work away again to just end up making it ‘look stupid’.
Despite reassuring her, he couldn’t really be completely sure that he wouldn’t discover something else that would lead to another abrupt improvement to the golem plan.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” he said, somewhat to himself. “I think we’re going to stick with this design this time.”
She looked at him suspiciously. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he promised, though still not quite sure.
“I hope so.” She glanced at the head they were working on presently: which appeared to be the head of a giant with a steel helmet on top of it. The giant had a ferocious expression and sharp teeth—similar to the faces of the goddesses—in The Cave of the Traveller.
“Why are we making an extra hole in his forehead?” she asked, looking at the deep impressions they were sculpting into the centre of the helmet. “Are there going to be three eyes? Why three?”
“You’ll see,” was all he said.
He hadn’t told her yet what the extra eye hole was for, nor the reason for the holes he’d planned for them to sculpt into two of the golem’s palms.
Those holes would be the new homes for the fire-gems.
He just needed to make sure he’d have the power necessary for them. He was still working that out, but he was sure he’d eventually learn something beneficial, whether that was through his job, or his analysis of the dungeon core.
Alex paced back and forth in front of Cell-301, mentally counting off the lab time that was slipping away. The Watcher of Roal standing in the hall nearby gave him a sympathetic look. He glanced at his bag—suspended from his forceball—which contained both his solid and liquified sample of the dungeon core’s remains.
This was his second independent lab time and the second time that Amir was late.
Alex was starting to see an unfortunate pattern.