The time for the Patrizia’s ball had completely snuck up on Alex. He couldn’t really blame himself for almost forgetting about the upcoming party: life had been busy.
But in good ways.
“2,950, 2,960,” the city’s accountant counted out the small mountain of gold coins on his desk. “2,970, 2,980, 2,990 aaaand 3,000 in all. Divided amongst all of you…”
He looked up, peering over his lenses at the small crowd filling the hall in front of his desk.
Alex was there, of course, along with Theresa, Khalik, Grimloch, Nua-Oge, Shiani, and Isolde.
“…seven ways?” he asked.
“Eight,” Khalik said.
Caramiyus and Angelar—despite being present for the fight—had decided against taking a share of the bounty, feeling that they hadn't really done much during the fighting.
“If we took some of the bounty, then everyone who was standing in that square should get some,” Caramiyus had grunted when the subject was brought up. “Thundar did far more than we did.”
“Yeah,” Angelar had added. “Maybe give him one of our shares: he did a lot more than us that evening.”
And so, they’d decided to split the bounty eight ways; with the eighth going to Thundar.
“Right, right,” the accountant said.
Clack. Clack. Clack.
He slid beads across his abacus.
“Easy mathematics, then. Split eight ways, that makes for a total of three hundred and seventy five gold pieces each.”
Alex’s jaw nearly dropped open and Theresa began loudly coughing and hacking beside him, choking on some water she’d been drinking.
Three hundred and seventy-five gold pieces was a lot of coin. Sure, it was just a small fraction of the total—and still less than the fifteen hundred gold that was first offered—of the mana vampire’s bounty, but it was still almost equal to his and Selina’s entire inheritance of four hundred and fifty gold coins.
It was a staggering amount of coin to him, and even more so for Theresa. He knew it would be an absolute fortune for the huntress since it was the largest amount of coin she’d ever received in all the years they’d known each other. He couldn’t help smiling thinking about what this would mean for her. Maybe she’d treat herself.
She’d really developed into a serious warrior in these last months, and a big part of the reason why they’d been able to take down the mana vampire was because of her all around badass skills. If any of them deserved to treat themselves to anything they wanted, it was her, and Thundar and Grimloch.
Still, for his part, Alex was extremely glad for the coin: it had helped him be able to afford to pay Lucia, pay for his mana conductor and the rope for the mana vampire, and still have enough for a massive increase to his nest egg. His funds were growing to the point where he could soon start thinking about regularly spending on ingredients for his own alchemical experiments. That was a thrilling thought.
After signing off on the receipt for the bounty, the group of mana vampire slayers emerged from the government office, chatting excitedly amongst themselves on their way to the infirmary.
Alex was still thinking about his finances and how it did really seem that sometimes when something good happened, more good stuff seemed to follow soon after. The mana vampire bounty wasn’t the first financial boon he’d gained recently, or might be gaining in the future.
First, he’d received the coin that Baelin had promised them from the sale of the xyrthak’s eggs: which had netted Alex fifty gold.
The sum had shocked him: everyone in the class had received an equal share, which made him wonder exactly how valuable xyrthak parts were. Maybe that was one of the reasons Baelin had suggested they start hunting monsters on their own.
Alex had to admit, the idea was becoming more and more interesting to him since the fifty gold from Baelin. Word had spread around the city as to who had slain the mana vampire, and everyone involved in the fight was receiving a lot of attention. Other students were bombarding Alex and company with questions, offering to buy them drinks if they regaled them with stories about that night.
Even Carey London had excitedly ambushed him, begging him to attend her group with her, calling him an ‘Unmarked Hero’, and saying that he would’ve made a perfect member for the Heroes. She’d even suggested that he would have made a “wonderful Champion, or Chosen.”
It was lucky for Alex that he’d been using The Mark to help him keep a straight face, otherwise, he would have burst out into hysterical laughter.
Derrick had also come crawling out of the woodwork, with offers of wine and an invitation to join ‘his little gentleman’s club’.
Alex had politely refused both of them—the phrase ‘a fate worse than death’ kept running through his head—yet Derrick had seemed a little too indifferent about the refusal though he’d been the one who’d approached Alex, insisting that he join him.
Whatever was going on with Derrick, in Alex’s opinion, was largely his own business, and he hoped that it would stay that way.
What was actually important to Alex was that there was talk of him being considered for a financial award from the university. Baelin and Jules had been busy lately, and they’d also been meeting in secret a lot. It was to the point where they hadn’t even had time to meet with him to field test Claygon’s combat abilities. Alex chose not to do the test himself, though he could technically do whatever he wished since it was his own golem, after all.
Even so, he’d decided that it would be wiser—plus he wanted to share the experience with them—to have them there for the very first test to see what the golem was capable of in battle. So, he’d waited.
That had not stopped him, however, from taking Claygon with him wherever he went, whenever he could. He was extremely proud of his golem and wanted to show him off to everyone. His progress with Call Through Ice was going really well, and he felt close to being able to cast his first second-tier spell. The first thing he would like to have done—if the spell could handle Claygon’s size—would have been to teleport him wherever he was going.
Alex had started taking the golem to class, letting him wait outside while he was in his classes. He had him follow him around on campus too, and even carry his gear, which reminded him of the very first time he’d ever seen a golem on the day they’d arrived in Generasi. It felt like a lifetime ago now. Of course, he’d also taken him to Shale’s, drawing lots of admiration from many of his fellow employees.
Lagor had actually whistled when he’d felt it out using mana manipulation. “I don’t know who you know, what you found or what you did, but I can feel the power in that thing from halfway across the bloody workshop,” the half orc had exaggerated. “The craftsmanship is excellent too, I have to say, well done, Alex. Well done.”
Alex was relieved that Lagor hadn’t asked to examine it too closely: he’d have a lot of awkward questions to answer if the crafter got too close of a look at the core. Then again, Lagor hadn’t asked to look in Minervus’ golems either, probably simply assuming that there was nothing unique to see inside of them or in his.
Even now, on their way to the infirmary, Claygon followed the group through the streets taking huge strides, drawing eyes from everyone around. Alex supposed that even in this unique city, they must have made for a remarkable sight: an immense golem with four arms that looked like a warrior in fantastic plate armour, a massive shark man, and a cerberus.
Isolde glanced at the golem. “Alex…please tell me you’re not considering bringing that thing to my cousin’s ball?”
“No, not to the ball,” Alex said. “That would just be crude. …I’ll have him wait outside.”
“Alex, please,” she groaned. “Why not leave it on campus?”
“Two reasons,” he said. “First, I’m showing him off to literally everyone. I spent months of work and had to kill a mana vampire to get this thing done. If I could show him to the entire world all at once, I would. Secondly, the countryside’s still got monsters in it, right? It’d be pretty silly if I built a golem for protection, and then left it on campus where…y’know, it can’t protect us.”
She winced. “But it's so…garish.”
Khalik cleared his throat. “I cannot know your cousin as well as you, but he was a warrior once upon a time was he not? I do not think he would be so sensitive to dislike Alex’s construct just because it is obviously built for battle. It is fashionable in most noble courts in the world for one to wear a sword on their hip if they are so inclined toward weaponry. Bringing the golem would be similar to that.”
“First of all, the golem is the size of a carriage, perhaps larger,” Isolde said. “Secondly, the issue is that I think my cousin will love it. But to the other nobles…it is not so much like wearing a sword on your hip as it is showing up to an elegant party with a catapult or ballista dragging along behind you.”
“Do you mean to say that—in this land of wizards—no one attends parties with any constructs with them?” Khalik raised an eyebrow. “In all the merchant or nobility parties I have ever attended or heard tales of, what most people try to do is show off their wealth and importance. One’s own golem would be quite the statement of wealth.”
Isolde started to explain. “That is not to say that some in Generasi never bring golems to parties-”
“Hear that, Claygon?” Alex jumped in. “It’s party time.”
“Oh by the elements, let me finish,” she said quickly. “But the golems brought to higher society are usually small: as in human sized or smaller, and usually carved to look more like comely servants rather than a walking siege engine. Bringing this would be like attending a wedding with five halberds strapped to your back.”
“In our gatherings, it is common for our people to come with ivory spears in hand,” Nua-Oge said.
“Yeah.” Grimloch ground out. “People would look at you funny if you didn’t.”
“Listen, Isolde,” Alex said. “I don’t want to embarrass you, but I’ve been attacked by a mana vampire twice since I left Thameland to come to Generasi. If cooler heads didn’t prevail the last time we visited your cousin, I would have had at least fifty dryad arrows in me. So, the moment I’m like ‘doo doo doo, I don’t need the golem’, some horrible monster is going to jump out of the bushes and try and eat all of us. I’ll leave him outside, but I’m bringing Claygon. Besides…if anyone’s going to embarrass you, it’s not going to be my golem: it’s going to be me. Or Thundar. Or both of us.”
“…sadly true. Sadly true,” Isolde shook her head. “Perhaps Thundar will…show some restraint, at the least.”
“I am going to drink like it’s my last day on earth,” Thundar grunted as he moved around in bed. “I don’t care if it’s wine, ale, cider, harder stuff, I don't give a damn. If your cousin is offering, I will drain everything. I’m not gonna be happy unless all of you have to carry me back home.”
Isolde made a similar sound to a dog regurgitating a clump of grass.
“Now, see, Isolde?” Alex said, handing the minotaur a bag of ‘get well cookies’ he’d baked. “Claygon’s going to be useful! He’ll be able to carry Thundar back using only two of his arms!”
Isolde’s ‘sick-dog sound’ upgraded to ‘dying dog’.
Alex could barely stifle laughter and Khalik was grinning.
Theresa gave Isolde a consolatory pat on the shoulder. “Thundar, it’s not going to be good if you get better just to drink yourself back into the infirmary.”
“Who says that’s what’ll happen?” the minotaur snorted, tearing into the bag of cookies with a vengeance. “I’m made of stern stuff. Hell, I survived a mana vampire, didn’t I? And there’s no way I’m going to drink myself down so hard that I’m going to miss out on ‘dryad dancing’. Besides-”
He glanced over at an empty tray on his bedside table and made a face.
“-what they feed you in here should be a war crime. It’s been nothin’ but gruel, gruel, some vegetables and more gruel.”
“Porridge and vegetables heal the body and fill your belly,” Theresa said.
He glared at her. “I don’t want to hear about the benefits of gruel and veggies from a woman who literally earned her keep by hunting meat for her town. Not a word.”
She shrugged. “The quicker you get healthy, the quicker you’ll be able to eat whatever you want again.”
“I know, I know!” the minotaur complained. “That’s what makes it so terrible. I know you’re right, and I don’t like it.”
“Hey, man,” Alex said. “The quicker you get better the happier I am. Not gonna lie, I was pretty freaked out there for a bit.”
“Oh, there you go getting all mushy on me,” Thundar grunted. “I’m fine, and I’m just happy to hear that you horribly killed that thing. And I wish they’d let you bring your golem inside for me to see.”
Alex made an offended snort. “He would have fit, you know. I don’t know what their problem was: just a little bit of crouching and he would have gotten in. He fit through my apartment door no problem.”
“Alex, if you cannot understand why an infirmary might not want someone bringing a war golem to see one of their patients, then you might have a problem,” Isolde said.
“Oh I do understand it,” Alex grunted. “Still gonna be mad about it.”
“That’s quite immature.”
“And that’s also my choice.”
“Well said,” Thundar nodded in agreement.
Isolde groaned. “Perhaps I can convince Giuseppe to cancel your invitations…anyway, here are the readings and what’s due in your classes, Thundar.”
The minotaur groaned. “I am both glad you brought those and curse the day I met you.”
Alex laughed. “Hey, it’s thanks to her that you get to go to the party with all the booze and dryads, right?”
“…” Thundar snorted. “Yeah, you know what? You’re alright, Isolde.”
Khalik burst out laughing while Isolde gave Thundar a withering look.
Alex couldn’t wait for the ball to arrive with all of its fun and feasting.
They could use a peaceful, entertaining evening.
He glanced over at Theresa.
And that evening could provide certain opportunities that he’d been waiting for.
‘The right moment’, at long last.