“Bring that over, Tertium,” Alex said to a construct holding the black dungeon core remains.
He heard the scrape of chair legs behind him followed by the click of Baelin’s cloven hooves moving across the tiles. “And so it has come to this point,” the chancellor leaned over. “Exciting moments to witness: both the learning of a young mind, and the first application of a potentially magnificent substance. Your golem will prove an excellent proof-of-concept.”
“Yeah,” Alex said, pausing. “I’m just sorry my friends and Professor Jules can’t see this.”
“Indeed,” Baelin said.
“Hmmm,” Alex paused. “Say…when we get this research further along...in time…would you be okay if we invited professor Jules to be part of the team?”
To Alex’s surprise, the chancellor winced. “I do, ah, believe that is an inevitability.”
“Oh?” Alex asked. “What happened when you told her about us working on a project together?”
Baelin sighed, and for a moment he did not seem like such an ancient, mighty wizard. “Well, first there was her accusation that I poached her student: which, to be fair, I did not. Even if we overlook the fact that you came to me, students can be apprenticed to more than one professor at Generasi.”
Alex raised an eyebrow.
Did…did Baelin sound a little defensive?
“Then of course, she wanted to know everything about the project,” the chancellor continued. “I told her nothing that would reveal your secrets, but I did say that we had a potential lead on a new substance, and what that new substance might be able to do. The gleam in her eye, Alex…I suspect wild dragons wouldn’t be able to keep her away.”
Alex chose not to mention the gleam he’d seen in Baelin’s eyes when he’d seen the results of the dungeon core’s analysis.
“That'd be kind of cool, though, if she could be involved.”
“Oh yes, she would be an excellent asset to any research team,” Baelin agreed. “When she comes with her request to join—after she thoroughly interrogates you, no doubt—I will grant it.”
“That’s great…hey, you know who else might be able to help us?” Alex thought for a moment. “Isolde. She’s great at mana manipulation, and she’s good with spellcraft—better than me, for now, and she’s also good in alchemy. And since she knows everything about this, she’d be a great addition.”
“Aaaaah, looking out for your cabal-mates already are we?”
“Yeah, I’m not going to lie, if Khalik and Thundar were interested in alchemy, I’d be asking if they could come in on it too.”
“Ah, well I am sure their knowledge as well as the trust you have in each other will still prove its worth in this endeavour. There will be a time—I think—when it will call for far more than alchemy. But, I digress: I do believe Isolde would be quite valuable if she would be interested. This will all be moot, however, if you place the sample within the mixture and it blows the lab to particles.”
“Well, no risk, no reward, as they say. So, let us continue our party of discovery like Proper Wizards!” Baelin encouraged him.
An image appeared in Alex’s imagination: one of himself in itty bitty pieces, splattered all over the lab wall. He shook it away quickly and began.
Like he’d done many times in Lagor’s workshop, he stabilized the reaction of the melted ingredients in the cauldron in preparation for the mana-conductive material. He took the dungeon core remains from Tertium and frowned.
In Shale’s, when his team had worked with chaos essence, they had needed to use stabilizing agents and then their mana to keep the material stable while it bound to the other ingredients. The powdered dungeon core remains were already stable, so that part wouldn’t be necessary. This meant that the procedure for adding it to the mixture would be slightly different, but Alex figured he should still be able to work with it as though it were chaos essence. It was a reasonable assumption, he felt.
With a deep, steadying breath, he added the black dust to the hot mixture.
The reaction was immediate.
The yellow glow flared and a darkness began to mix with it, changing the light into a reddish-gold luminescence. It was so bright that he had to squint to see through his mask’s clear lenses. For a moment, he wondered if there were masks with lenses that could magically transition from clear to dark to filter extremely bright light. That was something he’d definitely be asking about.
The reaction accelerated rapidly: since the dungeon core’s remains were similar to chaos essence, having it double as a conductor and—a ridiculously good one at that—meant that it reacted even faster and stronger. Alex concentrated, using The Mark and his experience with invading the dungeon core with his mana to help guide the reaction.
As he passed his mana through, it began to grow more and more vigorous, over-stimulating the other ingredients beyond his expectations or experience. He called on The Mark even more, using every ounce of skill that he had in mana manipulation to try to keep the reaction contained.
The mana kept threatening to run out of control, bubbling like it would surge up the sides and out of the cauldron, but Alex’s focus held. It was a struggle since the process took far longer than it did to make a typical golem core with Lagor's team—but with The Mark’s guidance, he was finally able to manage the reaction.
Eventually, the reddish-golden glow dimmed to a level where it was no longer blinding, and he stabilized the reaction. Alex smiled, satisfied at having completed the hardest part. Now for the rest.
Next, he called on Primus—the first of the six constructs—to dump the powdered dendrite flowers into the mixture. As the lab aid added the powder, Alex spread it around, but soon realized he needed to quickly increase the temperature of the mixture to melt the chromium crystals into it.
As soon as the powder melted, it began to act as a stabilizer. Once he had completely guided the reactions to fully bind the ingredients, he killed the cauldron’s heat. Now, his golem core would remain liquid at room temperature until he engaged the final reaction to solidify and crystallize it.
Now it was time to slowly and carefully add the second to last ingredient: tungsten.
Tungsten was a tricky ingredient to work with: it was incredibly difficult to melt without magical fire or heat, and the temperature at which it finally melted was so high, that other ingredients it was being mixed with just boiled away by the time it became liquid. It was a very useful ingredient for his purposes though, and the chromium and mana in the mixture would help keep the whole thing stable. He instructed the cauldron to restart to heat the materials to their highest temperatures yet.
The intense temperature within the cauldron began to alter the tungsten and it started to melt, blending into the glowing reddish-gold light inside. Most golem cores had a teal glow, but different ingredients sometimes created different colours. Golem cores with chaos essence would shift in colour as though someone had trapped a rainbow in them, which is what he thought might happen when he decided to use the dungeon core remains for his golem’s core.
Instead, the colour remained the same reddish-gold, except it shimmered like light being shone through shifting water. He made a note of this and underlined it in his notebook while Baelin did the same.
Finally, the reaction stabilized. It would be ready for the last step; the crystallization process, once it had time to settle. Alex instructed the cauldron to kill the heat, and then he waited for the glowing substance to cool. Now, it would need a few days to rest.
“And now we play the waiting game,” he said.
“Indeed, and with good timing,” Baelin glanced through the window, noting the position of the sun. “There is a meeting I must attend shortly. We shall meet back here in, shall we say, three evenings and see this finished? You have the time?”
“Ach, I’ve got a shift at Shale’s that evening.”
“I see. Four it is, then. I could use that extra evening to check-in with some of my other students I supervise.”
“Alright, until then. You can leave clean-up to me, if you want, Baelin.”
“That is alright, this being your first day in my lab, I’ll stay to make sure you’re familiar with where things go, and to ensure that the aid constructs will be fully cooperative with you now, and in future. Then you can be off to have a nice peaceful evening.”
In the future, I shall trust you to know how things go yourself.”
“Ah, Mr. Roth, just the young man I was looking for!”
Alex froze in mid-step.
He had just stepped out of the main castle—and was noting the flag flying at half-mast in remembrance of Minervus—when professor Jules’ words echoed from above.
Slowly and reluctantly—almost like he was about to face the xyrthak—he looked up and saw her floating down toward him on her stone disk. She had a pleasant smile on her face…and a dangerous glint in her eye.
“Ah, h-hello professor,” he said nervously as he landed in front of him. “What, uh, what can I do for you?”
“I was speaking with the chancellor the other day, as you likely know-” she began.
‘Oh no,’ Alex thought.
“-and he mentioned that you and he were working on a unique project,” she said. “And I was wondering if you had any insights that you might care to share on this substance he spoke of.” She looked at him evenly. “It makes sense that Baelin would call upon you to work on it since you are Thameish and have shown excellent proclivity in the alchemical arts, after all. How long have you been working together?”
“Not long,” Alex said neutrally. It wasn’t an actual lie, and at the same time, it also didn’t reveal his earlier crimes. In a way, he wished Baelin hadn’t pointed out how he’d broken Professor Jules’ trust by analyzing the substance by himself; the guilt was going to drive him nuts, especially every time he saw her.
“I see, well this is an exciting opportunity for you,” she said. “I will still expect you to participate in helping with my projects, that is, if you so desire.”
“Absolutely,” Alex said. “And about this stuff we’re working on…it’s really something. I mean, if Baelin’s told you all about what it can do, then you know we might be really onto something here. Getting more of it might be an issue…but there’s a lot to be excited about.”
“Indeed. Well, I wanted to congratulate you, Mr. Roth, and…be careful,” she said. “The chancellor is a mighty wizard, but while he does ensure the safety of his students, he takes more risks than I am comfortable with, and does not respect procedure quite so much as I. Guard yourself—you are young, after all—and do not get dragged into something you are not ready for.”
“I got it. Thanks professor.” He said emphatically. He really needed to do something for her. “And uh…if you want to participate and Baelin’s okay with it, I hope you can get in on our project too. Having you there would be reassuring because you know so much, and then all of us could be on the paper.”
“Hm.” She looked at him intently as she began to fly away on the stone disk. “Well, we shall see what we shall see, I am very busy after all.”
Four days later, Alex unlocked the door to the lab to find both Baelin and Professor Jules already there, and deep in discussion.
He blinked and couldn’t hide the smile blooming on his face.
The two older wizards looked up from Baelin’s note filled book near the table where Alex had placed the still-liquified golem core. The two of them had been excitedly discussing an aspect of it.
“Hello, Professor Jules,” Alex said, unable to resist some cheek. “I see you managed to clear a bit of your busy schedule. I’m happy you’re here.”
Jules’ eyes narrowed, and she looked at Baelin. “Might we have him expelled?”
“I could start the paperwork immediately,” the chancellor said.
“No wait-Mercy! Mercy!” Alex pleaded.
“Good, hope that frightened the cheek out of you,” Jules said, and he could see from her body language that she was almost giddy with excitement. “These numbers on this substance, by every spirit and devil, I can’t believe your kingdom was sitting on something this grand!”
She grit her teeth in frustration. “And the mana conductivity! Good lord, Val’Rok and Toraka would likely commit bloody murder for some of this.” She shook her head. “Aaaah, if only these studies were being completed a little further in our future when our equipment was more advanced! But, I imagine things have to be even worse in Thameland, though. While I’m sure their court wizards are excellent, they can only do so much with whatever analytical equipment they do have since they don’t have access to Genarasi’s strong ambient mana as a power source.”
“Not to mention the…divine element,” Baelin frowned. “‘The Pride of the Kingdom of Thameland’. Well, the Djinn is free of the lamp now. Now, come, show your professors how you finish a golem core.”
“Your own golem.” Professor Jules shook her head, looking at the monstrous body Alex and Selina had carved. “My goodness, you did not go for subtlety, now did you?”
“Maximum smash,” Alex said intelligently.
She gave him a withering look.
“No, but actually,” he continued quickly. “I figured that the dungeon core’s remains would lend itself to a lot of power generation, so I designed it to focus on power.”
“Hm, sound.” She nodded. “I approve…or I would, if you were in your third year. Of course you are free to pursue your own projects as you wish, but to think the chancellor is aiding in this.”
“I am observing, Vernia,” Baelin said quickly. “Now, enough talk, let us see this finished shall we?”
Alex wasted no time in doing exactly that.
Placing his mana conductor back in the cauldron, he pressed it into the mixture along with a device called a Nillertoq Ray: a piece of equipment for freezing things at short ranges. It used a lot of power, but it was very precise at lowering the temperature of materials.
Alex positioned it above the mixture and began to blast it as he used his mana to guide the reaction through the mana conductor. His soon-to-be golem core absorbed the Cold-Magic rapidly as a result of its powerful mana conductivity, and the process was much faster than with regular golem cores. At this point, Alex could guide the process much better since he was now pretty comfortable working with the remains.
The liquid shook and rose, crystallizing before his eyes. He used mana manipulation, guiding the substance and shaping it into the desired diamond-like form and then, he cut power to the Nillertoq Ray. The room went quiet.
At last, his golem core was complete: a beautiful, diamond-shaped core that—while it no longer glowed—had kept the reddish-golden hue. It was immense compared to other cores he’d seen, and he was nearly salivating thinking about the power it would produce…yet, also a little worried at how much mana would be needed to start it up. Alex looked at his creation, bursting with both wonder and anticipation.
“It is rather beautiful,” Professor Jules said. “Well done, Alex. Well done.”
“I am eager to see it tested,” Baelin mused. “Have you solved the powering problem yet?"
“I’ve been working on it,” Alex said, calming down. “But honestly, I think I’m going to really push to work that out after the xyrthak.”
“Xyrthak?!” Professor Jules said in alarm, looking at the chancellor. “Already!? Surely they’re not ready!”
“Oh they are,” Baelin said. “I have a very good group in Alex’s class. A fine generation of wizards who I am sure will move on to do great things.”
“Yeah, we just have to survive the super-lizard,” Alex said.
There were only a few more days before the class where they’d be going to The Barrens to face the creature. He was nearly done with his preparations, as were others in his cabal.
Theresa had been preparing for it too.
He wasn’t sure if they’d be completely ready for everything it could throw at them, but they sure as hell would give it their all.