To say that the mana vampire had seen better days would be an understatement. It would likely be dead already if its battered body weren’t using its last dregs of stolen mana to cling to life.
One of its arms had been torn away, leaving nothing more than a stump from partway down its bicep. Its other arm—while still attached—was broken in three places and had been shredded by cerberus fangs. Mana had been able to only close the wounds slightly, leaving a discoloured mess of thin-looking skin over ragged, gaping wounds.
The creature was so bruised, that very little of its original skin colour remained: it was mostly a blue-purplish shade from head to toe. Its legs had been snapped by the ferocious stomping Theresa had given it with her enhanced strength, and were bent at horrifying angles.
He could swear he saw Grimloch-sized fist imprints throughout its torso. It twitched occasionally and was breathing, but was definitely unconscious—but, if it should wake up—he doubted it would be going anywhere anytime soon.
“How gruesome,” Isolde said. “I would almost feel sorry for the creature had it not done what it did to Thundar.”
Angelar growled. “I almost want to finish.” He looked at Alex. “You say your plan’s going to make it suffer?”
“Oh yeah,” Alex said. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Good,” Carmiyus said.
Khalik walked over to the creature and spit on it. “For Thundar and Najyah.” He looked at Alex. “Now let us be done with this.”
“Yeah.” Alex agreed, then looked at Selina. “Do you want to get down now?”
She nodded quietly and slowly slid down to stand on the cobblestones. The little girl was staring at the fallen creature, her jaw hardened. “Serves it right for hurting Thundar, and you, and Khalik and Najyah, and Theresa and Brutus and everyone else like that.”
Alex glanced at his sister.
Well, that was a bit of a bloodthirsty statement. Where had that come from?
He frowned, thinking about what she’d been exposed to in the past half year. Being hunted by monsters and seeing them killed in The Cave of the Traveller. The mana vampire being killed by Fan-Dor and Gel-for. Alex’s stories about the monsters Baelin’s class had fought and killed in The Barrens of Kravernus.
Recently, she’d also heard about Minervus’ murder. And now, this attack.
Selina had been exposed to an awful lot of violence in the past little while; he would need to have a talk with her about it.
The guards began to wake up, groaning and blinking as they did. They first checked in with one other, finding out which of them hadn’t been knocked out and knew what had happened in the townsquare while the rest of them had been out cold. Then, some went to offer aid to people the mana vampire had drained, providing flasks of mana-soothing potions to help their recovery. Some folks were beyond help so the guards called for transport for those bodies, and also got help for anyone needing to go to the infirmary.
Others moved toward Alex’s group who were standing around the mana vampire, their eyes warily on it.
“I’m guard captain Giorno, is this thing dead?” one of them asked.
“No,” Alex said. “But, it’s definitely subdued. Broken legs. Ripped up arms, and it’s low on mana to heal itself from the look of it. We’ll tie it up as soon as we get some rope, but we're watching it closely.”
Alex prepared himself for resistance, wondering if the guards would kill it on the spot.
“Right, it does look properly subdued.” The guard captain went over and kicked it to make sure it wasn’t conscious. “Ya, I’d say it's properly subdued alright. Are you wizard students from the university, because a couple of my men said your group was casting spells at it?”
“Some of us are, some aren’t. Why?” Alex answered.
“Well, because since you’re wizards, will you be taking it away, are you claiming it under The Right to Specimens, and assuming all responsibilities therein?” the guardsman asked.
“Uh, the what now?” Alex asked.
The guard gave him a look, then pulled out a booklet from one of his satchels. “Right, first time capturing a dangerous monster in Generasi, eh? Well, The Right to Specimens is under Section 3.1.7 of the Code of Punitive Measures Against Monsters: any resident of Generasi may claim a monster that is under bounty by the city—living or dead—for the purposes of dissection, vivisection, alchemical extraction, research or sacrifice.”
He paused, turning the page. “The monster will be recorded as being under your custody and if it harms anyone during that time, you will be held in full responsibility for its actions. You have one day and one night to appear before a public officer with proof of the monster’s destruction, or to apply for an extension to the period of custody. Note that failure to do either of these actions will result in a fine no less than five hundred gold pieces plus the current bounty levied for the monster. Will it be you that’s taking custody?”
Alex glanced around as all of his friends took a large step away from him. “…yes.”
“Perfect, then we shall need your name and a few signatures once the investigation team arrives.”
‘Right,’ he thought. ‘City of Wizards. Of course they’d have a clause for researching captured monsters. What else would a wizard want to do with one?’
He glanced down at the mana vampire, remembering how the one on Fan-Dor’s ship had turned to mist after they’d killed it. He was glad it had simply evaporated because had it lived, claiming it and bringing it to Generasi with him would have been a little awkward.
‘And on that note, it’s time to get things rolling.’
The paperwork took some time, but—by the end—Alex was technically the custodian or owner of one mana vampire. The investigators took statements from everyone present and loaded the victims into more sky-gondolas that were painted white.
Eventually, Alex’s group was finally given leave to go about their business.
The next issue was Selina.
“I don’t want to go, I want to stay with you!” she yelled, stomping her foot.
“There’s no way,” he told her. “You’re going back to campus. Shiani was very nice and said that she would take you there, okay?”
“No, please let me stay, please!” she begged. “Please!”
“No way, little goblin,” he said. “We’re going to that dangerous place that we go to with Baelin. It’s safe there for us, but too dangerous for you. If everything goes well, we won’t be gone long and be back in about an hour or two. Then you can come with us for some of the next part since we’ll be doing that on campus, okay? It’ll be much safer if you’re with Shiani for now. And—if you go back to campus—we’ll be safer too because we won't have to watch out for as many people.”
Her lips trembled and she looked like she was on the verge of an outburst of temper—something she hadn’t done for half a decade or more—but she finally sniffed a couple of times, swallowed, then slowly nodded. “You’d better be back soon.”
“I will,” he said, bending and kissing her on the forehead. “I will.”
He let her join Shiani, Angelar, and Caramiyus on their way back to campus. Alex and the remainder of the group stood waving as they watched them depart on a sky-gondola.
Then Isolde turned to them.
“I…” she grimaced. “I want to join you in The Barrens, but I worry for Thundar. I think I shall go to the infirmary and see if the fact that we are in a cabal together will at least let them tell me how he is, even if I can’t see him.”
She glared at the mana vampire. “Please ensure that its last moments are miserable.”
“You bet I will, and now, the streets will be safer too.” Alex said, gripping her shoulder. “We’ll come and see Thundar as soon as we can, if they let us in. And by the way, good job tonight.”
She nodded and then left to board another sky-gondola.
That left Theresa, Khalik, Najyah, Grimloch, Brutus and Nua-Oge with Alex.
“So, we’re going to finish this together, then?” he asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Theresa said, glaring at the brutalized monster.
“Right, then watch this thing for a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”
He moved quickly, running down the street.
Shale’s Workshop—closed to the public, but almost always staffed—was still working well into the night on their latest projects. Alex had the night off, and Lagor and Carmen weren’t working, but the others knew him.
It took a bit of convincing, but he managed to get someone who was on break to open the supply centre for him. When he was in there, he put a long length of rope and a mana conductor on his employee’s credit, planning to bring payment for the items tomorrow.
The mana conductor—even with his employee discount—cost a whopping one hundred gold coins: a sum he wouldn’t even have begun to consider spending if it weren’t for the fact that he’d be receiving a good chunk of coin for the mana vampire soon, as well as something from Baelin for the xyrthak eggs.
It’d be well worth the price, too.
By the time he got back, he saw Theresa, Khalik and a familiar sky-gondolier talking near the sky-pier.
Lucia seemed a bit different: far more animated than usual. The sky-gondola hanging above her was far longer and wider than the few he’d seen her flying around the city. It was probably one that was used to transport larger groups, or for moving a quantity of supplies somewhere.
The mana vampire still lay broken and motionless on the ground, guarded by Grimloch, Brutus and Nua-Oge.
“No,” Lucia was saying and her voice actually sounded alive. And very agitated. “You want to fly to The Barrens after nightfall, with a half-dead mana vampire in my gondola? Are you crazy? If that thing wakes up, we’ll all be its dinner!”
“I do not think you quite understand what you are refusing,” Khalik said. “I-Alex!”
Lucia turned as Alex approached them, and her eyes widened. “You…?”
“Hello,” Alex said. “I’m going to keep this simple. Listen, we want you to take us into The Barrens. It won’t be far from the wall separating the countryside from the wastes, and it won’t be dangerous. That area used to be xyrthak territory-”
Her eyes went wide.
“-now let me finish,” he said quickly. “But we killed it a few days ago. It is dead, and I doubt there’s going to be anything else deadly around there, yet. And if there’s say, some muupkaras or a bone drinker around, then you’ll be with a bunch of people that killed a xyrthak, and beat the ever-loving shit out of a mana vampire. And, in return for you doing this…”
He paused, thinking over sums and what he could expect from the reward. The guards had informed them that the bounty had risen to three thousand gold coins.
Evenly divided among everyone who’d been a part of its…well, its beating, he’d still have plenty left to spend, even taking into account buying the mana conductor.
So, he decided he could afford to be generous.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll pay you thirty gold coins to take us there. I’ll give you what I have right now, which is five gold, and bring you twenty-five more tomorrow. All you have to do is take us there, then take us back to campus. You don’t even have to get out of the gondola.”
Lucia actually gasped at the sum.
Khalik cleared his throat. “I am prepared to match that amount. Think of it: a little risk, to be sure, but you will make sixty gold coins for an hour or two of your time. Is that not worth it? Know that if you say no, we will find someone else who will take the coin.”
Lucia’s eyes narrowed.
Alex could see the war going on in her head. On the one hand, he could see her caution—caused by whatever happened to her at the university—telling her to just forget them and move on. On the other hand, there was something that Alex knew all too well.
He’d been trapped in a dead-end job too, having to deal with unpleasant customers, a problematic boss, and the day-in-day-out of long hours and low pay. It could become crushing after a while, and Lucia both looked and sounded like she’d been crushed by it.
She’d once been on the path to becoming a full-fledged wizard and a graduate of Generasi, then tragedy or some accident had taken that from her. Now, was an opportunity to—if not break that cycle—at least start to lay a path out of it.
Even in Generasi, sixty gold pieces was a lot of coin.
It was a sum that would be worth several months of his work at Shale's Workshop, which paid better than a lot of other jobs in the city.
Sixty gold coins for an hour’s labour and a bit of risk.
Enough gold to maybe lay the foundation for something new.
When he'd been given an opportunity like that, he’d fled his homeland to take it.
By comparison, this risk was far less.
Lucia exhaled, at last something had won out in her.
“Alright,” she said. “Thirty-five gold upfront. I’ll be working the evening shift tomorrow, so the other twenty-five tomorrow before supper. The moment I see anything bigger than a muupkara up there, I’m gone. I keep the thirty-five, and you find your own way back. Got it?”
Alex looked at Khalik and the prince nodded.
“Sensible to me,” he said. “Come, then. The Barrens await.”