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“Ooooh, careful with that part," Alex said to Selina as they worked on sculpting the massive foot on the golem’s left leg. “If we sculpt too much filigree in this area, then the foot could get caught on stuff when it's walking.”

“Hm, that makes sense,” Selina said, reshaping some of what she’d shaped.

Alex smiled at the progress she’d made. With all the work he’d put in with The Mark, he’d become a talented sculptor in these past few months, and teaching Selina what he’d learned—along with her natural talent—had let her skill grow right along with his. He was very proud of his little sister.

They continued carving the leg and a silence fell over them, one tinged by a bit of sadness. In a way, he didn’t want the sculpting process to end: it had been the longest project he and Selina had ever worked on together with such focus and—as much fun as he had teasing her—he dearly loved spending time with the little goblin.

He’d miss not having the project for just the two of them to share, even though he was still really excited at the idea of the golem’s body being completed.

A glance at Selina showed that she was also looking a little sad as they sculpted towards each other, until at last, they finished putting the finishing touches on the leg. Together, brother and sister stepped back to look down on their handiwork.

“We’re done,” Selina said in amazement.

“Hold on, let me check.” Alex retrieved a measuring snake construct from the worktable and it began to circle the leg, taking measurements and comparing them with the golem’s other leg, and the two sections of the pelvis where the legs attached.

He’d been using The Mark continually, checking to see if the arms and legs were symmetrical—and though it had guided him with mathematical precision—he still did a check whenever they finished each stage.

“Alright, we’ve got it,” he said after the measurements were confirmed. He raised his hand.

Slap!

Selina rushed over and had put everything she had into their high-five.

“I can’t wait to see it standing up,” Alex said.

“Then why keep waiting?” Thundar’s voice came from behind them.

Alex turned and saw Khalik, Thundar, Isolde and Theresa piling into the room, with Brutus close behind, and the massive Najyah perched on the prince’s arm.

Alex noticed that Najyah was blind-folded. “What happened there?”

Khalik made a face. “This overgrown chicken thought to hide and play dead again, but my ability to trace her mana and our connection is much stronger than it has ever been. She is being punished for her tricks…”

Najyah made a loud, mournful cry.

“…and she sulks now,” he said.

“Hah!” Alex laughed. “And what about the rest of you?”

“You told us of this monstrosity, and Khalik said that he was to help you finish fusing its parts into a whole,” Isolde assessed it. “How could we not see for ourselves? Hm, a ferocious design. And quite large too.”

“Yeah! It’ll smash everything!” Selina cried giddily.

“Ah,” Isolde nodded, smiling warmly. “The excitement of childre-”

“Yeah! It will smash everything!” Alex cried giddily.

The words died on Isolde’s lips and she just shook her head. She gave Theresa a pointed, questioning look and the other young woman just shrugged her shoulders.

“I couldn’t keep any of these guys away even if you wanted me to, Alex,” Theresa said, smiling as Brutus bounded over to sniff the golem curiously, and Thundar walked over to…sniff the golem curiously.

“Hoo boy, wish we had this basher when we were fighting the earth elemental,” Thundar said. “Or that it was finished in time for the xyrthak. I’d like to see that big, overgrown flying bird-lizard try and mess with us with one of those fists in its beak. Or a boulder thrown by one of them.”

Alex had designed the arms to be thick and the fists absolutely massive; he was sure that even a xyrthak would be feeling a punch from this thing for days. “Well, unfortunately, the golem won’t be ready, but I’m sure we’ll be okay if we work out a good plan with the rest of the class.”

“I have no doubt,” Khalik said confidently. “Now come, let us get this finished.”

Using his Lesser Heat spell, Alex heated the golem’s left leg to dry it faster, then he and Khalik lifted the limb and moved it into place beside the golem’s pelvis. With Thundar helping, they positioned the golem parts on a giant floating dolly cart: it could tilt upright by command andsupport enormous objects like Alex’s golem.

Once they’d finished that step, Khalik applied the Shape Earth spell he’d learned in his earth elemental magic class, and—under Alex’s guidance and Selina’s encouragement—he fused the legs to the body.

Excitement tinged the air.

Isolde, Theresa and Thundar leaned in with anticipation.

The right arms were attached next.

Then the left arms.

Finally, they fused the head and neck to the shoulders.

With a spoken command from an excited Selina—Alex had given her the honour of instructing the enchanted dolly to bring the golem to the standing position for the first time—the magical, giant dolly slowly rose to a vertical position until the golem was upright before them.

It was, in one word, impressive: ten feet of clay ready to be powered by mana. Its body looked like a massive, armoured warrior with four arms of colossal proportions, and hands that could easily palm Thundar’s head. Its face was almost a mirror of the ferocious, fanged goddesses from the Traveller’s sanctum.

The only difference was that its sculpted teeth were the image of Grimloch’s shark teeth instead of the needle-like fangs of the goddesses, and its head was covered with a far larger, more intimidating helm.

It looked every inch an unstoppable juggernaut.

“Yeeeessss,” Thundar said excitedly. “Now order it to crush Khalik!”

“Hey!” The prince glared at him.

“Fine, fine…crushing Isolde would be easier anyway!” the minotaur sneered.

“A fair point,” Isolde said. “But certainly crushing the largest of us would be a better test of the golem’s capabilities, therefore Thundar would be far more suitable-”

“Ooooh you traitor!” Thundar snorted.

Isolde sputtered. “How is that treachery? You were trying to crush me and Khalik!”

“And as the rightful leader of the cabal-”

“Oh by the elements.” She buried her face in her hands.

“-it is my right to say that my subordinates should be the test subjects of the war golem that’s going to add to our deadliness!”

Thmp.

Thundar paused, looking down to see that Khalik was stepping on his hoof. “Heh, try again you jer-Argh!”

He yelled as the prince delivered a swift kick to his shin.

“You shi-“

Alex cleared his throat, nodding toward Selina, who was innocently gazing up at Thundar in amusement. The minotaur fell into a stewing silence.

“So, while that was hilarious,” Alex said. “The golem can’t crush anybody until its golem core is completed and it’s all powered up. Can’t wait for that, though.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about golem core stuff,” Theresa said. “But I do know that both you and Selina did an amazing job. I don’t think I’d ever want to fight this thing.”

“Thanks!” Selina grinned. “It’ll protect all of us…but I can’t think of a name for it.” Her face soured like a small, frustrated raisin.

Well, less small than it used to be, Alex thought.

Selina was starting to enter a growth spurt, and he, Theresa and Selina had recently had to pay a visit to the school seamstress’ enchanted emporium for new clothes for her. Some of the baby fat had disappeared from her face—though her brother’s baking still kept plenty on—and she seemed to be standing a little taller everyday.

Early in the summer, just after second semester ended, she would turn twelve. He frowned. She still hadn’t said much about herself and wizardry, or if she wanted anything to do with it.

A decision would have to be made soon, though: she would need to be enrolled in the program for next year that began magical training for youngsters at the junior school who were interested. Of course, she could wait longer if she wanted to, but—if she did want to become a wizard—then an early start on education in the magical arts would be advantageous.

It had really benefited Isolde and Khalik, from what they had said.

“When will you construct the golem core?” Isolde asked, going behind the golem and squinting at the hole for the core in its back. “I…have some awareness of how this is supposed to go.”

“Oh, I’m hoping to do it soon, but it depends on how quickly Baelin and I go over the analysis of the other core again,” Alex said, lowering his voice. “We’ll have to confirm everything, then I’ll be ready to go.”

“Right,” Thundar said. “Still can’t believe that thing makes monsters and you said it was the size of your head?” He shook his head. “That’s crazy. There’s all kinds of things in the world.”

“And speaking of monsters,” Khalik said. “Any more thoughts on the xyrthak? The time is coming soon.”

“I had a couple,” Isolde said. “I was speaking with Shiani and Rhea—delightful people—and we thought that since the creature’s vision is poor from close range, we could do well by creating a screen of smoke. Both know spells that create more smoke than flame, and that will trouble the beast. As for myself—lightning can seize the musculature, which can interfere with flight. I think that would be a boon against the creature.”

“Mhm,” Khalik nodded. “Thundar?”

“Agh, I talked with Grimloch, Malcolm and Eyvinder,” he said. “Malcolm said he might be able to ice its wings, but that’s a lot of area to freeze and he’d need time to do it. Eyvinder can move earth, but we’d need to lure the beast closer to the ground for him to really do his work. And Grimloch.”

The minotaur pulled his lips back from his teeth, and deepened his voice to mimic the giant sharkman. “Gimme a boulder to smash it down, and then gimme a plate to eat it off of.

“Oh wow, that’s cool,” Theresa said admiringly. “I wonder if…no, never mind.”

Everyone turned toward her.

“What is it?” Alex asked.

“Well,” Theresa began. “I guess he didn’t swear me to secrecy or anything.”

“Hmm?” Khalik asked.

“Well, the other day Grimloch came around and uh…well he asked me if I could tell him anything about life enforcement. Maybe show him how to start it.”

Everyone froze.

“Oh that is cheating!” Alex cried enthusiastically. “That is so cheating! Can you do it?”

“Well,” Theresa frowned. “I don’t know… I wanted to ask my professor about it before I said yes since I’m just learning…but I dunno, I’ve never really taught it to anyone before.”

“Hey, you guided me through that thing the other day,” Alex said. “And you taught me about meditation.”

“Wait, you know meditation stuff?” Thundar asked. “I’m into something similarish, and listen, there’s this instructor and if I got a lot better at it then-Ah, maybe we can talk later?” He gave Alex a shifty look when his friend’s face broke into a sly grin.

“I got faith you could do it,” Alex added to Theresa. “Do you want to teach him?”

Theresa blushed a little. “Kind of…yeah. I think it’d be cool, plus like…I’m so much stronger and just…everything since I started life enforcement. Could you imagine what he would be like?”

“That is a lot of life to enforce,” Khalik said. “And if he could start down that path before the xyrthak-”

“If he can,” Theresa said. “We’ve had more students drop out and a lot failed when they tried their path of life enforcement at the beginning of semester two. And I have no idea if I’m the right person to help him.”

“-yes, if he can. That would be a great help,” Khalik said. “What about you, Alex?”

“Well, I had a chat with Caramiyus and Angelar,” he said. “Rayne too…even though he’s a little freaked out by what happened to Minervus. I can’t believe they still haven’t caught the damn thing.”

“It is why the city fears such creatures so much,” Khalik sighed. “But they have been caught before, and someone will eventually destroy it and collect the bounty.”

“Yeah, two thousand gold now, when you add in what Minervus’ family put up. Anyway, Rayne doesn’t want to be the only one flying when the xyrthak comes for us, but I could make a few Potions of Flight: I’ve got a free lab in Jules’ extra lab sessions that I can use to make anything I’ve made so far. I’m thinking of churning out as many Potions of Running Enhancement, Flight and Haste as I can. There’s a few ways I can turn a Potion of Flight into an aggressive solution too, plus, if I’ve got my forceballs up there moving around, that’ll mix things up and make more targets to confuse the xyrthak.”

“Right,” Khalik said. “And some of my earth spells could impede its wings, especially when combined with Malcolm’s ice magic. Alright, well it looks like we have a plan forming. We can coordinate all our resources with the others and see what we can do.” He shook his head. “No solution for its cry, though. That is troubling. We will need it close enough to have an effect on it, but not so close that its cry can ruin our mana.”

“That’s where I might help,” Theresa said. “My bow’s draw strength is way too low for me now—I could handle one a lot stronger—but it’s still a good Thameish hunting bow: I’ve killed bears with it. But Baelin said the xyrthak’s scales are like plate armour, and after talking to an armourer in the city, I know there’s no way my bow’s getting through plate.”

Her look turned hard. “So, I think I’ll head into town to get a stronger one before we hunt it. If I can get a few shots into it—into the softer parts around its long neck or its wings—with some good heavy steel broad-heads, I might be able to wound it at a range, or at least close enough—yet still far enough away from all you wizards—that it won’t be able to use its cry on you.”

“Hey, here’s an idea: something useful from battle magic. I know a spell now—Blows of Lead—that enhances the weight and sharpness of weapons on impact. I can only make it last for about three-ish minutes or so, but it should help your arrows punch through.”

“That sounds great,” Theresa said.

“Right then,” Alex nodded. “Then we spend the next while prepping.” He looked up at the golem. “And I need to give you a core.”

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