Alex washed his hands then turned to Claygon.
“Professors, would you mind uh…helping me with the activation process?” Alex asked. “I know I’m supposed to do this alone, but I’ve never activated a golem outside of a team of four: a crafter and three assistants. I’m not sure if I can do it by myself, especially with the special nature of the core and the mana that I’m using.”
“Of course,” Baelin said. “You have solved the major hurdle and have learned from it…although not the lesson I anticipated that you would learn. Expecting you to handle this by yourself would just be irresponsible.”
Jules shook her head. “Because wild mana forcibly processed through a mana vampire organ is not irresponsible, apparently. But, yes. Agreed. We will all learn much from this. We should work together.”
“Perfect,” Alex said.
Together they divided the tasks: Baelin would jump-start the mana process, Alex would power up the section that controls the golem’s movements as well as the section that connects with its master to receive instructions. Jules would work on the section responsible for connecting to the embedded fire-gems.
Then, they would all join together to activate the golem’s power generation.
Alex called out the floating platform that the golem stood on and then used a ladder—also floating, because of course Baelin would have a floating ladder in his laboratory—to climb up the side of the creation. He slowly and carefully implanted the fire-gems.
He embedded the first one into the palm of Claygon’s upper-right arm, and then the second into the palm of its upper-left arm. The last he embedded in the hole in its forehead that he and Selina had sculpted in the center of its ‘helmet’. A third eye.
For a time he’d considered using all three of the fire-gems as eyes like how they’d been set in the goddess’ statues. But he’d reconsidered that when he came up with the idea of placing two of them in two of the golem’s four hands and one in its forehead. That way, it could direct fire beams in two different directions at once while firing in a third direction from its ‘third-eye’.
Perfect for mass destruction.
Once the gems were embedded, Alex paused, thinking about the first time he’d seen them gleaming in the goddess’ eyes. He’d needed to think fast to stop them from blasting the four of them to ashes in The Cave of the Traveller, but some long-term thinking had let him turn them into his permanent weapons.
He shook his head. Life was incredibly strange at times.
“Something the matter?” Baelin asked.
“No, sorry, just thinking about things,” Alex said quickly as he climbed back down.
He ordered the floating platform holding Claygon to hover in front of the mana vacuum and waste container, then glanced at Professor Jules. “You know, if it weren’t for you, I couldn’t have managed this. Seriously, thank you for introducing me to alchemy, professor. I owe you a lot.”
The older woman paused for a moment, a strange look passing through her eyes. “R-right. Thank you, Mr. Roth.”
Baelin chuckled quietly, but said nothing.
“Alrighty,” Alex took a deep breath, acknowledging and calming a final surge of nerves. “This is it. No point in delaying.”
Alex stepped onto the floating ladder, while Baelin and Professor Jules cast flight spells upon themselves and floated up behind the golem.
They looked at the large, uniquely coloured golem core and Alex connected the mana vacuum to it. He and Jules drew their mana conductors.
Baelin glanced at it. “No no,” he floated to one of the shelves and came back with far more delicate looking mana conductors. “Those are good tools, but if the best is available, then you might as well use it.”
Alex and Jules exchanged mirrored slightly offended looks before taking Baelin’s offered conductors. As soon as Alex ran his mana through it, he sighed.
Baelin was right: this one was much better.
Together, they placed their conductors against the golem.
Alex touched the wand of the mana vacuum. “You both ready?”
He received two nods, and then threw the switch.
Mana began to gush into the golem core, and even though he knew it would be powerful, the sheer amount of power still surprised him. He’d been shocked by Lagor’s mana when he’d first felt it, but the amount flowing out of this made the orc crafter’s seem positively tiny.
The intensity of it was stunning too. The mana had been processed by the mana vampire’s organ, but it was still freshly tamed wild mana: like a trained wolf, there was still a lot of ‘wild’ in it.
Then Baelin and Jules were there, starting to handle their areas of the core. Taking comfort in their presence, Alex dove right in. Using The Mark, he let it help guide him through his tasks, and it called up memories of his first contact with the dungeon core, his activation of golem cores at Shale’s, and even his guidance of the mana through the mana vampire.
Using everything that he’d done right at those times, he was able to quickly get a handle on the mana and begin activating the section that was responsible for the golem’s movements. He joined his own mana with the processed wild mana as it continued to flow, passing it through all the inner pathways of his part of the golem core.
The combined mana flowed, and began to flood the tiny nodes that were responsible for moving its body. At first he hesitated, but then kept pouring his own and the intense processed wild mana into the nodes; they simply drank up the energy without lighting up.
For a moment he started to worry that he might have underestimated how much the core would need.
Then things shifted and Alex smiled: the nodes began to respond.
The nodes responsible for its upper arms began to spark.
The nodes responsible for the lower pair began to spark.
Then the node for its legs. Then the one responsible for the intake of sensory information as well as its perception of its own position and movement. Then finally, the node responsible for its head.
They all began to hum into life.
Elsewhere he felt the beginnings of the powerful core coming to life. As Baelin finished his task, the centre of the core began to pass the wild mana through itself and—as it did—the dungeon core remains infused within, further increased the intensity of the mana.
The core was already thrumming with power, and most of it hadn’t even been activated yet.
Alex felt the surge of fire magic join with the processed wild mana; it seemed to crackle and race within the golem’s limbs. The fire gems began to glow as their own powerful magics were connected to an even greater source.
Quickly, he moved to the area of the core meant to receive and process his commands. As he activated those nodes, he found them increasingly easier to spark now that more of the core was coming to life.
Something was touching his mind.
He’d learned about this phenomenon from Lagor: the golem core was reaching and learning his thought patterns. For an instant, it was overwhelming: all of his thoughts, feelings, emotions and insecurities flooded the core in a wave and it drank them all down greedily.
As more nodes came to life though, the tide slowed to a trickle, becoming far less invasive. There was almost a curiosity to it as it organized his mental energy and forged thin connections of mana between his mind and itself so that it could receive instructions from him.
The connections continued solidifying until finally, every last node was activated.
Claygon would soon be ready to receive his instructions by way of his thoughts, or the thoughts of anyone else he would transfer ownership to.
Now all that was left to take care of was the power generation.
He joined Baelin and Jules in the centre of the core, and they poured their mana in together while guiding the processed wild mana into the golem’s internal reactor.
The core drank both their mana and the wild mana like a suckling pig, taking more and more of it into itself in a wave. The suction was so strong that Alex almost felt like the mana vampire was draining him again,except he controlled the speed of its flow.
Increasing amounts of processed wild mana flooded the reactor, but there were still only sparks being created inside of it and the rest of the core. The mana flowing through built up in volume and raced around with intensity, but still the sparks weren’t catching enough to build into a roaring fire.
Alex felt Professor Jules and Baelin continuing to push their mana into the centre of the core and he flooded in his own mana as well. Neither of the two older wizards looked worried, but Alex couldn't help but feel an icy knot of nerves in his belly.
He spared a quick glance at the mana waste container.
Half of the wild mana had been poured into the core already.
‘Come on,’ he thought. ‘Come on.’
It all seemed to happen at once.
Alex felt the beginnings of the mana generation process begin to activate and—an instant later—the power spiked. A new mana woke up: that of the core itself.
It was far more vigorous than the mana he’d felt from any golem he ever worked on, and there was also something familiar in the way it felt: similar to the way the dungeon core’s mana had felt when he was driving it into The Traveller’s.
Yet, it wasn’t quite the same as the dungeon core’s mana either, there was a difference to it: in the end, Claygon’s mana was unique and Alex was glad for that.
That unique mana started roaring through like a river. Then like a rushing tide in the sea. Still, the three wizards continued to feed it with the wild mana as well as their own.
Finally, the flow from the mana vacuum trickled to a stop: there was nothing left in the waste container.
But now the mana generation was self-sustaining. Unstoppable.
Alex gasped as his mana was pushed out of the core, followed by that of Jules and then Baelin’s. The three wizards floated away from the golem—Alex still clinging to his ladder—taking it in from a distance. The room was filled with a reddish-gold light that shimmered like sunlight filtering through shifting water.
If the activation of a regular golem core was like the sun coming out, then Alex didn’t know what to even callthis.
The sun and stars? Ten suns?
Its power was overwhelming.
“By all the gods,” Jules murmured, as the multi-coloured light built in the golem core. “…it’s so beautiful.”
“Indeed,” an intense light lay in Baelin’s eyes. “It's dawn, Vernia. We are witnessing the dawn of a new era in wizardry.”
The air twitched and surged as—at last—the construct came alive. The fire-gems flared, shedding a fiery light.
Alex felt the circuits between himself and Claygon vibrate.
The connection solidified.
A giddy sense of triumph surged through Alex, and he raised his hands in glee.
“It lives!” he cried. “It liiiiives!”
“And it might try to kill us in the next five heartbeats, Mr. Roth, focus!” Jules barked. “Test the connection!”
“Right, right!” he said quickly, catching himself.
He heard a slap from across the room and saw Khalik had pressed his gloved palm to his masked face.
Alex cleared his mind and turned toward the golem.
This would be another major point of tension.
Would the golem listen to him? Would the use of the dungeon core have an unexpected side effect? Was The Ravener suddenly connecting with the golem core?
He took a deep breath.
“Claygon,” he said. “Take one step down from the platform.”
There was a terrifying rumble as the golem shifted forward. Its colossal, armoured foot rose off the floating platform. Even though he had not specified the exact movements necessary to maneuver down from the platform, the golem stepped down with ease.
The floor seemed to shake.
Alex felt excitement coursing through him. Next he willed the golem to take three steps forward, as though he were commanding one of his spells.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Claygon took three steps forward.
‘Turn,’ he thought.
The golem slowly turned and Alex took in his creation in its entirety.
As an inanimate statue it had been impressive.
As a moving figure, it was terrifying.
It was slightly taller than Grimloch’s almost ten foot height, and broader than the shark man at the shoulders; the thing looked like a ‘living’ castle wall. The filigree and designs that he and Selina had sculpted into its armour made it look like some legendary warrior who had arms that were thick and powerful enough to snap a xyrthak’s neck or a hive-queen’s back like a chicken.
Its vicious, shark-toothed face and four arms looked like some monster that had crawled out of a demonic abyss, and the red, ominous glow of the fire-gems, made it seem even more like some knight of devil-kind.
The sheer power radiating from the golem—felt deeply through its connections to him—was daunting.
He had created a monster; one with the capability of evolving to greater heights.
“Well done,” Baelin said. “A remarkable creation. It seems that the first test of the application of dungeon core essence is a success.”
“The power…” Professor Jules blinked behind her mask. “I absolutely must see this in a field test.”
“He’s too cool!” Selina shouted from the opposite end of the room. “He’s toooo cool!”
“I wish Thundar could see this,” Khalik said. “He would enjoy such a spectacle.”
“I want to see its speed,” Theresa added. “It could make hunting or combat against most creatures as easy as digging earthworms.”
“Um,” Isolde said. “I know this is all grand…but where will you keep it, Alex?”
“Oh, it’s small enough to actually fit through regular doors if it stoops,” Alex said. “Juuuust small enough.”
“Indeed,” Isolde said. “…but er, will you keep it crouched in your apartment? It will take up a frightful amount of room.”
“…oh,” he said. “Well, details, details, to be dealt with later. We’ve gotten over the hard part. Claygon’s active and so far there’s no issues with commands. I feel sorry for anything that tries to hurt us now.”
Alex smiled behind his mask.
“Indeed,” Baelin said. “And now…to work on the report and test it in the field.” He frowned. “It will take some time to come up with and organize a proper combat test. In the meantime, it is your private property, Alex. It’s all yours. But once the field test is complete…it is time to make plans.”
His eyes shone with intensity.