“This is paradise,” said The Fool of Thameland as he stretched out on the grass.
A glowing crimson hand floating beside him picked up a dried, candied pineapple ring from a basket and gently placed it in his mouth. The basket was also floating in midair, hanging from a glowing red orb: the first spell he’d ever learned, forceball.
It was a cool spring day and a sun-shower was coming down lightly, but another spell—wind and rain shield—blocked the droplets from wetting him or the patch of dry grass he was lying on. The sky was a mix of silver, rain clouds drifting away from the sun.
The air had a fresh, warm tang to it: it was never very cold in Generasi. Even winter’s bite had few teeth compared to winters in his hometown of Alric in the Kingdom of Thameland. Warm and cozy, being fed by his spells while he hardly lifted a finger, made Alex Roth feel pretty kingly. And not like some bland king, but more like one of those horrifying hedonistic kings he’d read about in old tales.
The ones that always seemed to be lounging on their side with their head resting in their palm while servants fanned them and put grapes in their mouths.
“Yeeeeah, one of those,” Alex smiled as his Wizard’s Hand drifted over with a grape. “Mmmm, this is the life, right, Claygon?”
He looked up at his golem: a ten-foot tall juggernaut made of magically animated clay, sculpted to look like an impossibly powerful knight with four arms crossed, its surface was carved to resemble intricate plate armour decorated in filigree. Claygon’s face—made to look ferocious with a mouth filled with shark-like teeth—watched the surroundings with absolute discipline; the fire-gem in his forehead gleamed in the sunlight, ready to blast any clawed monsters, demons, mana vampires or anything else that might decide to disturb his master.
Claygon was on-guard, and above him Alex had cast a wind and rain shield. Not because the weather would necessarily hurt the golem, but because Alex had come to feel that if Claygon could watch over him, then he could do the same for the golem that he and his little sister had crafted together. The golem who had saved his life.
That was another thing he had in common with those pleasure seeking, corrupt kings from the old stories: things just kept trying to kill him. A remarkable amount of things, really.
There was the hive-queen and silence-spiders back in Thameland. Then not one but two mana vampires, the demons on campus, and the three clawed creatures that had led a horde of monsters in an attack on Patrizia Giuseppe dePaolo’s estate: the cousin of one of his closest friends and cabal-mates.
There’d been enough monster attacks to make anyone take notice, and if there was anything that was gnawing at the peace of his little paradise at the moment, it was the unanswered questions from recent events. For all the searching he, Chancellor Baelin, and others in the city of Generasi had done, the only lead on the trio of clawed creatures had been found in an obscure book from an empire far, far, far away to the northwest.
The Irtyshenan Empire, a land that was not only inaccessible to him, but one that shouldn’t have had any connection to The Heroes of Thameland or their struggle against The Ravener—their deity’s eternal enemy—or their realm.
Yet in those pages, he’d found a note scrawled in the strange, unique language that was also found in a book that had belonged to The Traveller, the patron saint of Alric who was also The Saint of Uldar from three generations before.
Alex paused, frowning for a moment.
Shouldn’t that have been ‘matron saint’, since The Traveller was a woman? Now that he really thought about it, he seemed to remember her being called a matron saint by his teachers at the church school where he attended as a boy. Yet, everyone else in town always called her a ‘patron saint’.
Funny how that worked.
It reminded him of how many of the alchemical substances listed in his alchemy books often had long, academic names that were really useful for categorizing them, but weren’t used in everyday conversation: even by the alchemists that worked with them.
Sometimes, what was commonly ‘known’ as the truth, often ended up becoming reality for people, erasing the actual truth.
He shook his head. His mind had wandered off on a tangent again, as it often did.
Baelin was reaching out to contacts he had within the Irtyshenan Empire to see if he could get more information about the language. Meanwhile, the chancellor had also instructed the library staff to comb through their records for the names of all who had borrowed the book in the past.
Things were developing there, but soon, he would have more immediate things to worry about.
First, his final practical exam in Baelin’s class where he and his cabal-mates would have to face down a dune worm, was coming soon. They’d begun researching and planning out how to handle the creature…and it was looking like it would be a tough fight. That was in spite of the growth they’d all made since the beginning of the school year.
Still, Alex was looking forward to facing this new opponent. It would be the first time he, his closest friends, and his golem would be facing an opponent all together. If they could overcome it, that would mean they’d be even more ready for whatever his homeland had to throw at them when it was time for the expedition to Thameland.
The expedition was the second thing that Alex would have to face soon: going to Thameland to collect major dungeon core material for the school’s research. If the monsters that had attacked him at the masquerade ball turned out to be from Thameland—whether they were creatures from The Ravener or something else—then he’d be going to a potentially hostile environment by joining the expedition.
It would put all of the skills he’d gained, his knowledge, and training to the test. He’d been planning on expanding that knowledge and would soon be able to do so thanks to his unexpected financial boon from slaying monsters recently, and his pay as a crafter’s assistant at Shale’s Golem Workshop.
Having more than enough gold coin meant he’d be able to afford to take a few extra courses during the shortened semester in the summertime.
He would need to choose them soon, but he already had a few idea-
“There is the lazy lout! Have you no shame, my friend?” a familiar voice said from a distance.
Alex turned lazily, looking at the three figures approaching him: his cabal-mates.
Khalik Behr-Medr—a prince of the southern realm of Tekezash who was keeping his royal status concealed while he was at Generasi—was waving at him, grinning through his well tended beard. Najyah was perched on his powerfully muscled arm, the massive eagle looked at Alex with eyes that had unnatural intelligence. The prince’s familiar was grooming herself, though her feathers were dry thanks to her master’s wind and rain shield.
Flanking him were a hulking wizard—Thundar the minotaur, son of Gulbiff—and another wizard, the stately Isolde von Anmut from the Rhinean Empire, her clear blue eyes were focused on Alex.
“Are…are you having your Wizard’s Hands feed you?” she asked incredulously.
“That’s the most genius thing I’ve ever seen anyone do in my entire life,” Thundar said appreciatively.
“Hey, welcome to my humble kingdom!” Alex kipped up to his feet with a single twitch of his powerful core and leg muscles. He stretched. “I only rule one subject.” He nodded to Claygon. “But I’ve got all the benefits of being waited on hand and…”
He looked at his Wizard’s Hand spell. “…and uh, hand.”
Khalik chuckled. “I see, and perhaps King Alex would deign to meet with his fellow kings and queen to plan for the horrible worm that is going to seek to destroy us. We wouldn’t want to disturb you though, considering how relaxed you look.”
“Bah, what need is there to meet?” Alex joked. “My mighty warrior will easily slay this worm.”
“Ah, so then we can leave you to it. You can battle the horrible death worm yourself while we sip wine and eat dried dates. Come, Thundar and Isolde let’s go and-”
“Waitwaitwaitwait, let’s not be hasty!” Alex said quickly. “I’m joking fellow kings and queen! Merely joking! Don’t make me fight the creepy death worm by myself!”
He and his cabal mates changed locations to a round table in a gazebo. The table and chairs were made of stone, but seemed to noticeably soften and shift on their legs as Alex and company sank into them. He still hadn’t reached the point where he’d become unaffected by some of the university’s wonders and comforts, and hoped he never would.
It really was an extraordinary place.
“So,” Khalik started their little meeting. “From what my research shows, a dune worm’s earth magic is extremely powerful, but as Baelin said, it is not that versatile. It relies on its natural abilities to shift the earth, much like the xyrthak’s cry disrupted mana. It cannot use its magic to engage in more complex effects.”
“Right, right,” Thundar grunted. “So what’re we talking here? I’ve seen the stuff you can do summoning spikes, and your earth armour and all. And Eyvinder’s natural earth magic packs a lot of punch. So, can it do stuff like that?”
“Hmmm,” Khalik mused. “The summoning and creation of earth will likely be beyond it, as would changing the composition of the earth and stone around it. It can soften earth, harden earth, and change its shape at will. Such feats require much mana, but it has a lot of mana to use.”
“Crap,” Alex muttered, taking notes. “So I’ll need to brew us all some flight potions. What’s the range of its earth magic?”
“Somewhere between one hundred to two hundred feet above the ground,” Isolde said. “I discovered a book in the library that spoke of a battle between a group of explorers and a dune worm: there was an account of one of the creatures shooting up massive clouds of sand to choke its enemies as well as firing streams of rock upward quickly enough to smash through full plate.”
“And if that wasn’t enough,” Thundar said. “It’s hide’s kind of like a carapace, but like a foot thick and hard as rock. But the good news is, it's also brittle like rock. If you hit it with enough force, it won’t bend, it’ll shatter.”
“That is something,” Khalik noted. “If Claygon can get close, then he might be able to break through that armour with a punch or two. The issue is that the creature might be able to trap or damage him by warping the ground beneath his feet: unfortunately, your flight potion would not be of help to him since a golem cannot not ingest substances.”
“Leave that to me,” Isolde said. “I believe I have the last few parts of the spell array for flight magic figured out at last. I think that by the time the exam comes, I should have it worked out.”
“Isolde, you’re awesome,” Alex said. “So if you can put that magic on Claygon, I’ll take care of the rest of us, which will save you mana.” He tapped his pen on the page. “Right, that’s one problem solved: we can stay flying above the ground and just blast it a bunch. One thing I’ve been thinking about is how to stop it from just retreating back into the earth. There’s my booby-trapped flight potion, but I don’t know how well it’ll work if the worm’s underground. If we get it to breathe the gas in, then the potion might not be able to move it if it’s completely encased in rock…but I think I’ve got just the thing for that.”
Alex grinned a grin that would have suited a mad wizard in a play as he pulled out an unfamiliar potion bottle.
He placed it on the table.
“I perfected this baby in Jules’ alchemy class. I think we’ve got a brand new ‘weapon’ to use.”