Horror lay in the mana vampire’s eyes.
It looked semi-conscious and partially delirious, but seemed to comprehend—at least in part—what was happening to it.
The creature tried to divert some of the processed mana to self-heal, but the mana vacuum was draining it directly from the organ that processed the mana. It had nothing to use.
The wild mana in the rest of its body was still burning it out, now even faster than before since it couldn’t direct any of the bits of mana it could process to heal any of the damage.
Its swollen body began collapsing inward as its bruised and wounded skin and flesh rapidly dehydrated. Blisters and burns worsened. Its tongue and arm stumps flailed, while its shattered legs spasmed, desperate to reach any of the nearby wizards.
It even tried sucking the mana being drained back into itself, but had grown too weak to fight the combined skill of Alex’s mana manipulation, and the powerful suction of Baelin’s mana vacuum.
Soon, its body had returned to its original size, but the withering didn’t stop there. In moments, it had changed from a bloated monstrosity, to resembling the starving mana vampire on The Red Siren.
Then it dried out further, reminding Alex of its shrivelled victims in the alley and townsquare.
Its skin crackled like dry leaves and it began to wheeze.
At that point, Alex stopped directing the processed mana back into the organ, which was the only thing that had been allowing it to heal. Now, the last of the wild mana was drawn through—burning the organ as it went—until finally it was choked off when there was no more wild mana left.
All that remained was a dribble of natural mana in its body, trying to preserve its failing life processes.
But, the mana vacuum didn’t discriminate between wild mana and its own.
The creature went limp as even the scant mana keeping it alive was drawn through the tube, and up into the mana waste container. Its body broke down, first becoming a milky liquid, then drifting steam. Alex quickly siphoned some of the fluid into a potion flask, sealing it tightly.
In the morning, when he went to report what he’d done with the creature to the authorities, that could serve as proof that it was dead and gone.
The vapor that remained swirled into a fine mist as the last dregs of its mana was drained away.
At last, the creature drifted into nothingness.
Khalik looked down at the ropes that had been its bonds. “Now that death has you,” he said. “And if there was a spirit in that form you held, then you can tell your victim’s souls that you know what you did to them. Ifyou should meet them.”
Silence lay throughout the room, and Alex turned to look at his friends.
Nua-Oge and Shiani were looking at the ropes with grim disgust.
Grimloch was staring at the liquid sealed in the flask with a snarl, revealing menacing teeth.
“I smell food,” he said abruptly. “I think those guys are back. Will those things-” he nodded toward the Unseen Aids, “-start looking for a fight if I let ‘em in?” Primus and Secondus seemed to scowl at Grimloch as he glared right back.
“Uhm…maybe I’d better let them in to be on the safe side.” Alex said, moving to the lab door and opening it. “There’s a room across the hall: a break room where we can eat.”
Alex took Theresa, and Selina—carrying bags of food—to the break room, followed by Brutus with some sort of bone in one of his mouths. The others followed, taking off their masks as they did.
“Let’s eat!” Grimloch shouted and was met with no resistance. Nua-Oge had to quickly dispel her protective spell on him before he started trying to eat through it.
Theresa and Selina lay the food out on an empty table and everyone dug in like locusts on a field of grain. After they’d finished eating, they wandered back to the lab to finish cleaning up.
Selina peeked her head in and—now that it was safe—walked over to where the ropes still lay beside the mana vacuum.
“Is it gone now? Forever?” She asked her brother.
“Oh yeah,” Alex said. “You can’t get more dead than that.”
“Good,” she nodded. “Good. And now what happens?”
“Now.” He looked at the golem. “I use all the power we just took from that mana-leeching fiend, and we activate it. Well, I do. …but we do that in the morning, after Baelin’s awake.”
He thought about the golem going crazy in Shale’s Workshop. Considering the many unknowns about the dungeon core substance, he didn’t want to try activating it without an invincible goat wizard nearby within berserk golem-blasting range.
He checked the mana waste container.
A lot of mana waste containers were only able to preserve mana within them for fairly short periods of time. The lower priced ones could do it for about an hour or two, while the more expensive ones were able to do it for a matter of hours.
But, Baelin’s custom model could preserve mana inside of it for days.
It would keep until morning.
He felt out the mana inside. It was beautiful. The wild mana had been converted into usable—though still very intense—power. And there was a lot of it.
With the sheer intensity and amount of mana, he could probably power five or six normal golems with the stuff.
He chuckled. This was it. The problem of power had been solved. Now all that was needed was to direct it through the golem core in the morning. He’d have to spend part of the night writing a detailed report on what had happened as he’d promised Baelin he would, though. It had been a long day, and had turned into an even longer night.
“A fine kill and congratulations,” Nua-Oge was looking up at the golem. “Have you named it yet? It’s a claygon, yes?”
Alex blinked. “A what now?”
“Ah, sorry, I mispronounced it in the common tongue,” she explained. “Clay golem, I meant.”
“Claygon…” Selina said. “Alex, that name’s awesome! It sounds really cool!”
Alex paused, thinking about it. The golem had the ability to evolve, so having ‘clay’ in its name wouldn’t be accurate once it began to change.
Wouldn’t that be fun?
Attackers punched by a stone or iron golem named Claygon would be pretty hilarious. It was one thing to be stomped by a golem or warrior with a really cool, badass name…but being stomped to death by something that was named by a slip of the tongue and a little girl’s enthusiasm?
Wouldn’t that be just plain embarrassing?
“I like it,” He said. “I like it a lot! Claygon it is!”
Selina cheered and jumped for joy as the golem was named, while the others had mixed expressions on their faces.
“I feel very sorry for any children you have, Alex.” Khalik shook his head. “They shall have terrible names.”
“How’s he doing?” Alex asked as he stepped up beside a seated exhausted looking dark-haired young woman.
Isolde blinked blearily, squinting up at Alex, Khalik and Theresa. Nua-Oge, Shiani and Grimloch had gone home, but asked them to let them know how Thundar was tomorrow. Selina had fallen asleep on the way over and Alex was carrying her.
Isolde’s smile was faint. “You’re here. Good.”
The infirmary waiting area was largely deserted at this time of night. Only a few people were waiting in the rows of chairs facing a front desk and doorway leading further into the squat, one-story building.
“It was much busier earlier,” Isolde said. “The other victims were brought in and there was much activity then, but now things have quieted down. As for Thundar…” She shook her head. “The drain was very bad…but thankfully, not as bad as it could have been. His mana pool has been damaged, but it is not to the point where it is crippled. They said he would recover with treatment, time and rest.”
Sighs of relief went through the group.
“…you don’t seem to be happy,” Theresa pointed out.
“Well, it is not all good,” Isolde said. “He cannot use magic for at least three weeks while his pool recovers. It will greatly put him behind in his studies.”
Alex nearly burst out laughing.
Leave it to Isolde to be thinking about Thundar’s academic well-being right now.
“Will they let us see him?” He asked her.
She shook her head. “He is sleeping now. They say that when he awakens he will be able to take visitors, but it will take time for his body to recover. He is not likely to wake for a couple of days yet.”
“Nothing for it, then,” Alex said. “We’ll have to let him rest up.”
“Is the monster dead?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” Khalik said. “And it was not a peaceful death.”
“Good,” Isolde said. “Thundar will no doubt be happy with that news.”
In his office, chancellor Baelin doubled over in a third fit of laughter. The goatman’s beard clasps rattled as he pounded the desktop in absolute glee.
“Oh, this is too rich!” he roared. “Stuffing a mana vampire like a roasted pig and then draining it dry! What an absolutely barbaric and mad scheme!”
His laughter filled the air for a good minute as he continued flipping through Alex’s report.
The tired, yet excited young wizard sat before Baelin’s desk, watching him in shared amusement.
Knowing Baelin’s propensity for…well, killing things and taking their skulls, he’d had the feeling that the ancient wizard would approve of how he’d made use of the mana vampire.
He hadn’t expected this enthusiastic of a reaction, though.
There were times when he couldn’t help but wonder if Baelin was completely mad. Then again…considering how old he was and how much things had changed around him, maybe the world seemed mad to him.
Finally, the chancellor closed the notebook and wiped tears from his eyes. “I swear.” He shook his head. “You flee your country to avoid battling monsters under your god’s yoke, and yet here you are, having your companions beat a mana vampire almost to death and then using it as a mana sponge! You’ve got a vicious streak in you, to be sure.”
“Well, I saw an opportunity and took it, just like you encourage us to do.” Alex shrugged matter of factly. “Is the report okay, is it detailed enough?”
“Oh, yes,” Baelin said. “It absolutely lays out everything you did in detail.” He looked at a new timepiece on the wall. “Right. Since I have a meeting shortly, will you be available later for the grand activation of one…” He squinted at the paper. “Claygon? Really?”
“Well, yeah,” Alex said. “My sister and Nua-Oge named it.”
Baelin cocked his head. “And you went along with this?”
Alex explained his reasoning on how an enemy might feel being defeated by something named ‘Claygon’.
“Ah, I see,” Baelin said. “I’m not sure if I will ever understand your perverse sense of humour, Alex, but I cannot argue with the results. But to think you would pump a mana vampire full of wild mana and drain it. Of all the ways to power a golem…”
“Y-yeah,” Alex muttered, thinking of how Baelin had accused him of having a perverse sense of humour. The same had just enjoyed a long laugh reading about them beating a monster within an inch of its life, filling it with wild-mana that could easily have killed it, and then harvesting the mana like they were taking grapes to make wine.
He decided not to point that out.
“Honestly,” Baelin said. “I thought that to solve your power problem you might consider growing and then crushing any of the mana-rich, carnivorous plant species found in the greenhouse to extract their power for your needs. Or perhaps harvest monsters from The Barrens. Or even repeatedly brew the right potion and simply extract the mana each time. I had even considered the possibility that you might ask a supervisor at your workplace for a hand. But this…well, this was nowhere in the realm of possibilities I could have imagined. It was inspired! I cannot wait until Professor Jules finds out.” He burst into laughter again.
“You are utterly mad,” Professor Jules said with no trace of amusement on her face. “Utterly, completely and totally out of your mind, Mr. Roth. There are tomes and plays written to horrify audiences about mad wizards that engage in unnatural experiments. I am half-convinced that one day, one will be written about you.”
“Uh…” Alex blinked. “Thanks?”
“That wasn’t a compli-” She stopped, making the sort of noise that a choking mule would make when dying under a hot sun.
“I find it fairly amusing, Vernia,” Baelin smiled. “Very amusing, actually.”
“Well, I suppose you can be amused,” Jules said. “I am doing my best to direct a good student, while you enjoy crafting maniacs.”
“Aren’t you the one that let him assist in a ritual to summon a shoggoth, Vernia?” Baelin said. “You put him on the path of ‘evil warlock from legend’ before I ever did.”
She paused. “Bah, I suppose we shouldn’t split hairs,” she said quickly. “There is a golem to activate after all…and an audience to satisfy.” She slowly looked toward the opposite end of the lab in mild disapproval.
It was a bit more crowded than usual.
Theresa, a sleepy Selina, Khalik and Isolde were sitting on the other side of the chamber. Thundar of course, hadn’t awoken yet, and everyone else who’d fought the mana vampire the night before were getting some much deserved sleep.
More importantly though, there was no way they could be aware of the true gravity of this situation: they thought that Alex had simply made a golem. They had no clue about dungeon core remains, or how monumental using them in a golem core was.
Brutus wasn’t there because as Baelin had said: ‘Bringing a large beast into a lab just to spectate might be taking things too far and could be enough to give Vernia a heart attack.’
Already, it was pretty obvious she didn’t approve of so many spectators, especially the non-wizard ones, and the only reason she didn’t object more forcefully was because Baelin had erected a magic ward in a circle around them to protect them from potential mishaps or catastrophe. He’d also made sure everyone was fit with protective equipment: even using a spell to shrink down an apron and mask to Selina’s size.
The sleepy girl kept rubbing at it, and Theresa kept moving her hands away.
“Shall we begin, then?” Baelin said.
“Yes,” Alex looked up at the golem. “Let’s bring Claygon to life.”
Jules snorted. “My goodness, Mr. Roth, as gifted as you are in alchemy, is as ungifted as you are in naming things.