“Five…four…three…two…one,” Alex counted down as he watched the timekeeper.
The footsteps were closing in. He thanked whoever designed the building for making it so large: the hallway was long enough to give him some extra time.
The mana spectrometer finished and he quietly shot across the room. He and his Wizard’s Hands went to work swiftly removing both samples from the machines and pocketing the readouts. The first Wizard’s hand quickly dumped the solid sample back into its pouch, while the second put the liquid sample back into the bottle.
Meanwhile Alex placed the sample of the incomplete Potion of Flight into the mana spectrometer and had it turned on just as he heard the door open and Amir enter the room.
“Sorry about that,” Amir said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “I hope you weren’t getting too impatient while I was gone?”
“It’s alright,” Alex said, putting on his best relaxed face as relief washed through him. “You were right on time.”
‘The one time I didn’t want you to be,’ he told himself, but didn’t say it outloud. In the end, he’d gotten another aspect of the analysis done, which would save him time later.
Best not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
The rest of his lab time was less stressful.
Amir got up from his seat several times to check on Alex’s progress, but didn’t linger for long and soon returned to the paperwork on his desk. He still seemed pretty distracted—which suited Alex’s purpose just fine—though less than he had been before his trip to the lav.
While analyzing the viscosity of the dandelion essence, Alex told Amir that he’d made a mistake and needed to re-do the analysis of the essence’s viscosity. He’d actually done it correctly, but this time he pretended he was re-doing the analysis, but ran the machine with the sample of liquified dungeon core essence instead, then pocketed the read-out.
He resumed brewing the Potion of Flight and luckily—he needed to legitimately use the piccoscope several times during the experiment to see if the puffball spore essence had bound itself to each of the other ingredients.
That made it easy to slip his solid sample of dungeon core remains into the device in between.
He gulped, then slowly put his eye up to the lens.
Something about this step made him nervous.
The read-outs gave him more data about the remains, but this felt more personal. Rather than just seeing bands or numbers on a piece of paper, he would be directly looking at the dungeon core’s minute structure.
Remembering the way The Mark had guided him through its network of mana pathways, Alex wondered if he would see the remains of those pathways, or what else he would be able to see.
He brought his eye down to the lens.
He’d been anxiously waiting to make use of the piccoscope to see what the smallest particles that the apparatus could reveal would look like, but when he looked down at the core’s remains he saw…he saw…
Alex frowned and adjusted a dial on the side of the piccoscope bringing the particles into focus. There. His eyes widened.
The particles of the dungeon core were complex and jagged. Piccoscopes could see the tiniest things, even things invisible to the naked eye, even minute things like the tiny unseen slime-like blobs that swam around in pond water. Dexter predicted in the textbook that—when more powerful piccoscopes were developed—wizards would be able to clearly see even smaller things that only appeared as tiny moving dots on present day piccoscopes.
One thing that current piccoscopes showed was that living things tended to have a more rounded shape. This jagged pattern indicated that the building blocks of the dungeon core were more elemental, mineral or…
He paused. Squinting harder.
There were fusion points along the particles of the dungeon core. It was similar to how the puffball essences looked when bound to the other ingredients of the potion: there would be ‘fusion lines’ and ‘fusion points’ where mana had made the substances’ particles bind to each other.
“Artificial,” he whispered.
If this was correct,
That would mean that the dungeon cores weren’t living things. They were artificial, like magic items or…
He swore beneath his breath.
What if they weren’t just like golems in structure or in how their mana felt. What if they weregolems?
He thought about what Lagor had said about the first golems: they had connections to their masters, where they shared their consciousness and took on their masters’ thoughts and emotions. He also thought about when he’d talked about the shapes of golems: the humanoid form was not necessary for them to function.
If one wanted to make a golem into an orb of darkness, one could make a golem into an orb of darkness.
His eyes narrowed.
When he was trying to push the dungeon core’s mana into The Traveller’s, he’d felt the dungeon core’s aggression and desperation. After going ‘deep enough’ into the dungeon core’s essence, he was able to feel the connection between it, The Ravener and the other dungeon cores.
What if the dungeon cores were golems that had connections with The Ravener? Connections that were far stronger than what golems would have to their creators: connections strong enough to also connect with other dungeon cores at the same time?
Were the dungeon cores the golems, or were the dungeon cores the golem cores, and the dungeonsthemselves the bodies? The dungeon core in The Cave of the Traveller had used its mana to animate the surrounding caverns, and shift them as it wanted, similar to how a golem core animated a massive body of clay, stone, iron or other material.
Perhaps a ‘dungeon core’ turning a cavern or cave into a dungeon, was similar to how implanting a golem core into a sculpture would animate it, and turn it into a golem.
He shifted the sample plate around in the piccoscope, examining different particles.
There. Tiny little nodes that looked like they had burst apart.
They were completely destroyed to the point where they would never function again, but they definitely looked like the cracked remains of the pathways that would connect a golem to their masters’ mana and thoughts so that it could receive instructions.
This golem theory was gaining more and more traction in his mind.
Golems, however, were a mortal creation: an attempt to mimic the creation of life by way of wizardry, and perhaps to improve upon it in certain ways.
If each dungeon core made flesh and blood monsters—monsters that breathed, ate, and lived—then why would it need to create artificial constructs in order to make those monsters?
A disturbing possibility occurred to him.
Golems were a mortal creation.
What if mortals had created the dungeon cores too?
It would help explain why mortals could interact and control one. When a golem’s master died unexpectedly, several things would happen to the golem: they would go berserk in some cases, or simply shut down in others. In other cases, if they were largely autonomous to begin with, they could continue to exist: mimicking the tasks that their owner had set for them when living. If a golem was broken, a wizard or crafter could sometimes fix the golem’s core and connect to it themselves, essentially becoming the golem’s new master.
The mana of the dungeon core was nearly dried out when Alex had connected to it. Was that why he’d briefly gained control of it?
He thought about The Ravener.
Where had it come from?
None of the legends or history texts really ever said, only that it was in Thameland and that Uldar fought it.
Had it been working with mortals?
Were mortals helping it by creating its dungeon cores?
Alex chewed his lip.
Or was he completely wrong? He’d had golems on the brain for months, maybe he was reading too much into the connections?
Either way, he had a new lead, and he’d also found out that the pathways that made the dungeon core function were definitely annihilated.
That was good: it helped confirm that the dust wouldn’t suddenly be controlled by The Ravener out of nowhere. It also meant that there would be only so much he could learn from analyzing this sample.
As he took the dungeon core’s powder out of the piccoscope, he frowned heavily.
One day someone—whether that was him or a professor he trusted, or even some wizard from Generasi—would need to perform deep analysis on a better specimen: a living—or about as ‘living’ dungeon core as they could get.
For now, though, he had other read-outs to look at once he was done with the lab.
He cleaned up and said goodbye to Amir, hoping that the next time he saw the supervisor, he’d be on time.
Alex had used the last of his lab time to complete his Potion of Flight, something that he was—quite frankly—nearly giddy with excitement over. Wizards could do a lot of really cool stuff, but flight was one of those things that everyone wished they were able to do at least once.
Now, that power was in his hands.
What was also good was that he’d already come up with some ways to alter the potion’s recipe slightly to be useful against opponents. An idea had come to him on a possible way to make the potion burst into a gaseous state. By using slightly more dandelion essence—packing the essence with extra mana—he might be able to make the buoyancy of the potion itself change, meaning that it would expand and blast outward when it left a sealed space.
All of that he could work on later though: in the next couple of labs he was going to have the freedom to concoct some potions of his own choice—including potions he’d previously made. The purpose of those labs would be to train him in brewing large batches of potions, and the reward would be that he’d be able to keep whatever he brewed.
It would be the gateway to autonomy when it came to alchemy. Eventually, at least.
He had sat down within a secluded copse of trees, and now carefully took out the readouts he’d hidden in his pockets earlier.
The first was the mana spectrometer readout.
“Awesome,” he said.
It showed the entire structure of the dungeon core separated into the neat coloured bands. Now he’d be able to study it and see how much of it was substances he knew about.
The viscometric device results were promising. When liquified, the substance was what was often called ‘prime mana viscosity’. Essentially, it was thin enough to combine with many substances, while thick enough to create strong bonds whenever it was bonded to any substance.
“It’d be fairly easy to make magic items with this stuff,” he noted. “Or to construct more dungeon cores from raw materials whenever one was destroyed. Hmmm, and now for mana conductivity. Let's see wha-”
He froze, looking at the read-out from the manohmeter.
The dungeon core’s mana conductivity was astounding.
The reading showed that the mana lost almost no speed when it was being transferred through the substance, and there was no waste of mana. With most substances that weren’t the pure mana circuitry of spellcraft, there was at least some mana that would be wasted. A bit of energy would be lost during mana conduction through a material.
Or at least, through most materials.
One of the reasons that quartz was used to construct golem cores was that it was relatively cheap, and its high mana conductivity meant that a golem core would far more efficiently generate mana overall, and conduct that mana into the golem’s body at a faster speed.
One of the problems with constructing very large golems was that they required materials with higher mana conductivity to construct their golem cores. If a material with lower conductivity was used, it would mean that the mana generated within the golem core would take longer to flow through the body of the golem.
This would mean that the golem would be slower, weaker and clumsier overall.
Wasted mana would also mean that—even if a golem core produced an immense amount of power—much of it would be lost trying to pass through the golem core, which would mean less power overall.
For certain materials in golem core construction, conductivity was king.
And this substance?
This substance might have been the emperor of those materials.
“I’m…I’m reading this right, aren’t I?” he blinked at the number for the power output: how much energy the mana had after it had passed through the dungeon core’s remains.
It was higher than the amount of power the mana had before it was fed into the substance. It likely meant that something about the dungeon core energized mana: it made any mana that passed through it stronger, faster and more efficient. Like some sort of catalyst.
Materials that were capable of that were very rare.
He took the sack of dungeon core remains out of his bag.
The substance would be excellent in magic item construction, but—if utilized correctly—it would be nearly perfect in golemcraft. Rather than just power a golem, it would make it so that the golem could use less power and still function just fine.
Or it could mean that if the golem had a core designed for a lot of power output, this stuff would make sure that all that mana was super-energized.
If the brass golem that they’d worked on—designed to play multiple musical instruments—could bend steel then…
“What would a battle-golem with this stuff in its core be capable of?” He was nearly vibrating with excitement. “And this same stuff has similar properties to chaos essence, meaning the resulting golem would have the capability of evolution.”
He quickly dug out two notebooks and began writing rapidly in both.
The first notes would be the report he’d make concerning his findings on the dungeon core. He planned to bring it with him when he eventually spoke to Baelin about The Fool.
The other notebook contained his design for his dungeon core. Using The Mark, he went over it again, jotting down some potential numbers.
“If I replace the quartz and copper with this stuff, then…”
His eyes widened at the results of his calculations.
“And if I just made the core a little bigger to dedicate more sections of it for the purpose of power generation...and with the dungeon core remains infusing my golem core...”
He began to laugh to himself like madness had taken him.
Professor Jules was right.
He was going to do some horrifying things.