One thousand and five hundred gold coins.
The number made Alex weak in the knees, and he stood in the street pondering it as Minervus made his way through the crowds to get to work, though there was still quite a bit of time before their shift started.
Alex watched the flesh golems push their way through the crowd. Some of the adventurers—a few with shining badges of the Delvers’ Guild on their chests—shot glares at the three constructs, but none moved to create a larger fuss.
There was equipment to buy and hunting to be done.
Hunting for something worth fifteen hundred gold coins.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t heard about larger sums or things costing larger sums. Golems regularly sold for many, many thousands of gold coins. He was sure the sum wouldn’t be that much to someone like Isolde and definitely not to someone like Khalik.
But there was something about it being a reward for a mana vampire’s destruction that made it seem closer to home for him. It wasn’t like the price for a powerful magical construct that he couldn't dream of buying for the foreseeable future, or the cost of an advanced piece of lab equipment owned by the university. Those were notions that were distant and more abstract to his current life.
This was a bounty for a type of monster that he’d actually fought before: it was a reality to him, almost reachable.
A thousand and five hundred gold pieces.
Alex shook his head and let out a stunned whistle.
If he were still working for McHarris making one silver coin per shift—and if he worked every day without missing a single one—it would take him a staggering 41 years to earn that much gold.
Even now it would be an incredible sum. Each of his shifts at Shale’s netted him two gold coins and each of Theresa’s at the Beastarium paid her one. Together, they would have to work more than three years to earn 1500 gold coins.
Between the two of them—each working three days per week—they were covering their basic expenses, which was thirty gold coins for the apartment, the junior school and Theresa’s course auditing. They had a handful of expenses above that, but all in all, they were breaking even and even starting to save a little each month.
The reward for the mana vampire who’d boarded The Red Siren had been a big help, and Alex had hardly needed to touch his and Selina’s inheritance.
But that still hadn’t let them make much headway toward some of their bigger goals. He really wanted to buy a place of their own in Generasi City, but the prices were still far beyond his reach. He was sure that—with a good job—he’d be able to afford something eventually, but he had no idea how long that would take.
Selina loved it in Generasi. It was clear that she did, and he’d hate to have to drag her away from this city that was giving them all a new start when he finished his studies in four years.
But this reward of fifteen hundred gold pieces?
He sighed, deep in thought.
It would be a nice start toward buying some property here. It could also mean other opportunities. He loved alchemy, but it was such an expensive branch of wizardry. Practicing it safely and correctly called for high-priced tools, a safe and clean workspace, and a competent assistant or two to lend a hand when one worked with complex alchemical devices.
That amount of coin could begin funding some alchemy supplies for him…
All that gold...just for killing the type of monster he’d killed before.
He shook his head as reason began coming back to him.
‘Don’t be stupid, Alex,’ he thought. ‘You barely survived a starving one. There’s no way you would stand a chance against one at full power…would you?’
He looked down, flexing one of his arms. The now powerful muscle swelled in his shirt. Temptation came back.
Alex Roth wasn’t the same young wizard who’d been ambushed by a mana vampire on The Red Siren. He—as strong as he’d become—could have broken the him from when he’d first arrived in Generasi in half
He also knew more spells.
He now knew how to regenerate his mana.
In speed, agility and reflexes, his present physical abilities were as different as night and day compared to then. He’d also been part of groups that had beaten a bonedrinker and an earth elemental and more. He’d gone up against undead skeletons and a menacing haunt in a dangerous underground complex. He had a lot going for him now.
Of course, he also had a magical Mark that could still mess around and make him vulnerable, especially if he was alone in a combat situation.
‘Just because you’ve thought of ways around it and improved yourself, doesn’t mean you’re some super powerful barbarian warrior, or an arch-wizard, or a super deadly martial artist. Don’t let greed cloud your better judgment now. Besides-’
He looked at the crowd.
‘-you’ll definitely have a helluva lot of competition.’
Looking more closely, he realized that many in the crowd didn’t have the same lethal look that the well-armed, hard-bitten monster hunters that made camp near the city walls had.
As a matter of fact, he recognized many of them: workers from some of the surrounding shops. Folk that came to work here day after day and bought their meals here, socialised with their co-workers, and at the end of the day, went back to their homes and peaceful lives. Now, they walked around with shiny new weapons and equipment, looking less like monster hunters, and more like children playing at being soldiers and warriors.
Baelin’s words about the mana vampire from a conversation a time ago drifted back to him: ‘Please do not be so foolhardy as to go after it yourself; from the way this one has evaded detection and the pattern of its attacks, it is likely old, powerful and cunning. Know your limits, and let professionals handle it.’
He should probably do just that.
Anyway, he wouldn’t even know how to find the thing in the first place.
His eyes clicked to Shale’s.
Still though, he did wonder whether or not golems would be useful for hunting a mana vampire. Maybe he could subtly ask during his shift.
“Are golems useful for hunting mana vampires?” Lagor repeated Alex’s question. “Oh, boy, don’t tell me all that hunting-mania’s gone to your head too. Don’t do anything stupid, I need all my assistants here. And alive. And not so broken they’ll never work mana again.”
“Oh, uh, sorry,” Alex said quickly.
He, Minervus and Carmen were helping Lagor install a golem core into the completed body of a clay golem. It had been a busy night with them working intensely to get the work completed on this final rush job for the week. Unfortunately, the golem core had been late to arrive: while Lagor and his assistants built the body, another crafter’s team had forged the core. The core was a bit of a specialty: it was designed to power some magical items of lightning magic that would be implanted into the golem’s arms.
Since they’d received it so late, they’d really had to push to get it fitted into the setting in time. Now, they were taking a breather and having their last break before activating the construct for the very first time.
“You’re not thinking of going after it, are you?” Lagor pressed him.
“No, no!” Alex said quickly. “I was just curious. I’ve been seeing so many people suiting up to go after it and it got me wondering if maybe some of them would try and make a golem to take it down.”
“Good,” Lagor said, a grim look taking his features. “We’re down enough assistants as-is.”
Alex knew what he meant. When he’d arrived for his shift, he was shocked to learn that at least three or four staff members were missing: assistants to some of the other crafters. Fewer assistants had been one of the reasons Lagor’s team had received the golem core so late. Apparently, all of the missing had sent word that they were sick, or that a family emergency had come up.
The orc crafter seemed to have doubts about their excuses.
“Fifteen hundred gold coins is a tempting amount of wealth,” Lagor grunted. “But your life’s worth a hell of a lot more. Ugh, I hate hunt-mania.”
“Wait, that’s a thing?” Alex asked, having missed it the first time Lagor used it.
He’d thought it was just a term that Minervus had made up.
“Of course, it is, I specifically told you about it, didn’t I?” Minervus said with acid in his voice.
Alex resisted the urge to respond.
“Oh yeah, there’s such a thing, for sure,” Lagor grimaced. “Last time it happened was about ten years ago. A wily young wyvern flew in from the north on a hot wind and nested in the southern countryside. First it started stealing milk from cows: sneaking into barns in the dark and suckling while the cows were asleep. Then it graduated to eating a couple of the young calves, then goats, then a full grown cow or two.”
Lagor started listing the wyvern’s deeds on his fingers. “It was just considered a nuisance at first, and we do have the odd monster menacing the countryside or the port at times, but then it ate a miller on his way home one evening. That’s when the city took notice. Well, then it started breaking into the nobles’ wine cellars and drinking up their vintages. That got them really mad. But the bloody thing was smart.”
He spread his arms as though he were the wyvern about to take flight. “It only flew at night and it flew high. It only picked fights with monster hunters that had no wizards with them, or wizards it could catch off guard. The reward kept climbing. When it hit a thousand gold coins, suddenly a bunch of the city folks got big ideas. Hunt-mania, it was called: everyone got it into their heads that they could set themselves on the path of riches by hunting the thing down, claiming the reward, and selling the parts that have value to alchemists. Students and honest, simple workers dropped everything to become monster hunters. And a lot of people died.”
“And what happened to the wyvern? Did a professional monster hunter get it?”
“No,” Lagor snorted, and amusement entered his eyes. “It wasn’t even a wizard either. It was a stableboy.”
“What?” Minervus raised an eyebrow. “Was the stableboy perhaps some sort of mighty beastfolk?”
“Nope, he was human. He just hit on an idea. You see, wyverns are immune to most poisons, but the stableboy realized that it must’ve liked alcohol a lot if it kept breaking into wine cellars. So, he bought a bunch of cheap booze from the market with his family’s savings and added a big batch of his grandpa’s moonshine recipe. Apparently, grandpa was an herbalist, so it was strong stuff. The boy set it out on a hill in some barrels one night and waited.”
“The wyvern flew down and drank its fill,” Lagor continued. “The damn thing got so drunk that it threw its guts up and passed out right there on the hill. The stableboy walked up, put a pitchfork through the beast’s eye and made himself rich.”
“That’s a great story,” Alex said. “Like a fairy tale from old times: the clever youngster overcomes the big beastie.”
“No, it isn’t a great story,” Lagor grunted. “Cuz now, everyone thinks about him and goes, ‘Hey, if a stableboy can kill a wyvern, then I can kill a mana vampire, or a griffin, or whatever the city wants dead.’ But all they end up doing is wasting their time or their life.”
“Oh,” Alex said.
He was reminded of Professor Jules’ story about how young students got themselves killed by looking for monster organs that were worth a lot in wizardry, before the academy gated much of that knowledge away from them.
‘I suppose most folks would go for dangerous opportunities if the reward was right,’ he thought. ‘Including me, maybe. Didn’t I brave silence-spiders and a cave of portals just for the chance to become a wizard?’
He shook his head at himself.
Maybe he would’ve gone after the mana vampire if he were more powerful and didn’t have The Mark to deal with. Or maybe if he were desperate enough.
Lagor glanced back up at the golem. “And to answer your question: it’s complicated. Mana vampires can drain golems pretty damn easy because they’re constructs made with mana. Apparently, their mana’s not as nourishing to them as mana and spells from living beings, but they still go for golems if pressed. Sorta like a snack, I guess. That said, better a golem gets drained than you. And while a mana vampire is draining a golem, you—and preferably some friends that aren’t wizards—can come in and smash its skull open. Plus, if you’ve got a really strong golem, then it could rip a mana vampire in two before the creature could drain it. So, it all depends on the golem and how you use it. But enough of that for now. We got work to do, so, let’s stop hanging around and get this thing started. The faster we turn it on and run the tests, the faster we can get it ready and be helping the other teams.”
Alex sprang up from his seat as Minervus and Carmen got up and put their masks back on.
This would be an important moment.
While he’d been around for the first activation of other golems, this would be the first time Lagor would be allowing his assistants to directly guide the mana into the core to start one up.
It would be a crucial experience for when he activated his own.
Hopefully, it would all go as to routine.
He glanced up at the golem core prepared by the other team.
It seemed to glow in readiness.