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A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hello everybody and thank you for your support!

I have so many books on the go. So I'm in this book club with some of my friends because I am a giant nerd I enjoy reading and discussing books. So I've been reading through Excession by Iain M. Banks lately at the same time as Cradle by Will Wight. Those books could not be more different.

Wight has a very down to earth easy-to-read style while Banks is SUPER complex. Real hyper-hard science fiction stuff.

Both are very interesting, but I'll tell you if I recommend either for you folks. One thing I've learned over the years is just because a book is good doesn't mean it's for everyone. 

Alrighty, onto Fool!

Crack!

The pillar sped toward them at a frightening rate; the sheer amount of mana raging from it was incredible.

But something was off.

That surge of mana…was it-?

“The worm’s mana’s getting closer!” Alex shouted as the group flew higher into the sky. He popped the lid of his second flight potion and chugged it, the others did the same.

“Why would-Oh, that sneaky bastard,” Thundar said. “Alex! Can Claygon smash that tower?”

“What, why?” Alex asked. “I mean, probably?”

“I bet you that the worm’s inside the tower: it’s riding up here, but it’s keeping itself protected! Everyone spread out! It’s gonna start shooting at us!”

Alex blinked, thinking about where the mana surge was coming from. There was so much of it that it was difficult for him to pinpoint…but it did seem to be coming from inside the tower. “Claygon! Smash that!” He pointed.

Without a sound, the golem shot toward the tower with all four fists extended, like a stone shot from a trebuchet. Alex looked down, watching as the sides and top of the tower shimmered.

Shoom!

Spikes burst out in every direction. He dodged away, concentrating on avoiding the spears while trying to guide Claygon through them.

Crack! Crack! Crack!

Spikes cracked off of the clay body.

The golem kept going.

Bang!

He slammed into the side of the tower; his fists drove into the side, crushing the rock, and the rest of his massive frame blasted through the crumbling stone.

There was a cry from inside the tower as the top shattered.

Alex hadn’t been able to precisely sense the worm’s exact location: it had been slightly lower in the tower than he’d thought, but now, it was partially exposed. One of Claygon’s upper hands shot down and seized it by an armoured plate. He began to pull the struggling worm from the rock.

Alex’s jaw dropped.

The lifting tests that he, Professor Jules and Baelin had performed on the golem had shown that Claygon could lift far more than a normal golem of even his size, but it was something else entirely to watch him pull something the size of a whale from pure stone.

As the worm resisted, giant claws materialized from the rock and struck at Claygon, but his powerful arms swept out, shattering them as they reached for him.

Alex saw something flash through the air: a series of arrows from Theresa flew straight into the worm’s mouth, and right down its massive throat.

The monster roared and Alex felt the mana coming from the creature grow a bit more sluggish. He started to cast Call Through Ice.

Crack!

Then the lightning came. Isolde fired a bolt down its throat an instant after Theresa’s arrows had struck home. The creature shuddered and roared as the electricity coursed through its immense body.

Bang!

Khalik barked an incantation and snapped his fingers. An enormous explosion of sound boomed from within the worm, and Alex thought he heard something rupture inside. It screeched and jerked away from Claygon.

Rrrrrp.

Part of its armour plate ripped off as it dove back into the tower. Alex could see that it was moving slower than before, which meant that the mana it used to glide through rock was slowing.

He finished casting the spell.

The icy door opened directly in front of his mana soothing potion, then, the potion abruptly vanished. Teleportation magic opened the doorway right in front of the dune worm’s gaping mouth.

A heartbeat later, its mana slowed again, and it struggled to melt back into the stone, but it's escape had been hindered long enough for Claygon to snatch it.

“That’s it, Claygon! Pull it out!” Alex shouted.

Again Claygon dragged the worm free from the rock, by its tail this time. He caught it with his two upper hands, stabilizing it in his grip, which left his lower arms free to lay into it.

Crack! Crack!

Thick carapace crunched and split with every blow from the golem’s fists, exposing, then bursting flesh.

The dune worm screeched as rotting pieces of corpses dislodged from its mouth. Alex was glad he’d cast Orb of Air for everyone because the odor must have been putrid.

WhooooOOOm.

The fire gems in Claygon’s upper hands and forehead began to glow as they gathered energy.

Voooosh!

All three blasted into the worm at once. The flame roared, but—to Alex’s amazement—it didn’t react to the flame at all. This was a creature that could spew lava and dive deep beneath the earth where temperatures were hot enough to melt rock, so the fire gems had no effect.

It pulled its upper body free of the stone tower and turned toward Claygon. Alex saw light building in its throat.

He willed Claygon to move fast.

An instant later, a massive torrent of lava spewed from the creature’s gaping mouth, spraying through the air. Smoke billowed as the dead bodies in its mouth burst into flame.

It lurched sluggishly back into the stone; the spikes stopped firing as it focused its disrupted power on getting to safety.

That was when Svenia and Hogarth shot forward, hoisting back their harpoons and aiming them straight at the areas of flesh exposed by Claygon’s battering.

The harpoons struck, driving deep. Then the two warriors tossed the heavy ropes to Claygon who grabbed each one by Alex’s command. The ropes went taught as the worm thrashed, and the golem pulled.

That’s when Thundar flew in.

He landed on the carapace with the spell-crafted mace floating beside him and began hitting the outer covering, pulping the flesh beneath it with purposeful blows. He kept it up long enough to inflict deep wounds, then drew his crossbow and fired directly into the monster’s exposed flesh. The minotaur shot away as spikes emerged and launched from the tower, but their force and speed were far less than before.

The monster’s bulk heaved against the harpoons, snapping the ropes and the weapons’ shafts as it finally escaped back into the tower, desperate to reach the ground.

But Alex was ready, and Claygon was moving lower down the tower to head it off.

He drove his fists into the column.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Crack!

His massive fists smashed the stone until the entire pillar began to give beneath the blows. Then, it started to topple like a colossal tree felled by a giant lumberjack.

Whoooosh!

The stone plummeted toward the ground.

Boom!

It hit the dusty terrain of The Barrens with an earth-shaking impact and the worm screeched as it abruptly met the ground. The force was partly cushioned by the magic infusing the rock it had been hiding in, but the fall still sent a terrific jolt through its entire body.

Alex could see that it was hurt and—from its frantic movements and the glow coming from lava bubbling in its throat—angrier than ever.

“After it!” Khalik roared. “Before it can orient itself or dive underground!”

The group shot down as the worm reared and roared at them. It had sunk its body partially into the ground, but seemed to be hindered from using its earth magic properly.

Instead of trying to dive in again, it called up layer upon layer of earth and stone to coat itself, forming a covering similar to what Khalik conjured with his armour spells. Mounds of spikes sprang from all sides of the worm’s protective covering.

For most opponents in The Barrens, the spikes would have been the perfect thing to frighten them away, but they were a poor choice against the versatile wizards it was facing.

The group of flyers swooped around the worm, harassing it with low mana costing spells. It spewed lava at them, but they stayed just far enough from its reach to make themselves difficult targets.

Its movements became more agitated, but Alex could tell that the beast was tiring. Its lava flowed more weakly, and it turned with a listlessness when it tried to track them. Alex danced his force balls around its mouth, distracting it, while Theresa fired the last of her potion-arrows down its throat.

Its mana slowed to a trickle.

Now it was time to finish it.

“Claygon, grab it!” Alex shouted, and his golem flew at the monster. He shot to the side of the worm, flying directly into the stone spikes, but paying them no attention as they broke on his body. Claygon seized the creature again and jerked it upward with all four arms. This time the worm was too exhausted and its mana too slow to fight the golem as he hoisted it over his head.

His arms constricted, cracking its earth armour while it squirmed. The other wizards flew toward its mouth. Alex sent his force balls zooming around it, panicking it and making it spew a weak stream of lava too prematurely to hit any of the flyers.

When the lava cleared, the cabal flew directly in front of its mouth and fired their most powerful spells.

Khalik conjured a massive stone spike, angling it so that it pierced the side of the worm’s mouth, wedging it open. Theresa, Hogarth and Svenia fired arrows into the soft tissue, wearing it down further.

Thundar shot his floating mace into the creature’s mouth and began beating the inside like a drum.

Finally, Isolde finished casting one of her most effective lightning spells—the one she had used with great effect against the xyrthak—and blasted sparking orbs of electricity down the dune worm’s throat.

Alex could see the glow of lava begin to slowly build in its throat, but when the orbs of lightning arced bolts of electricity between each other then loosed the bolts inside the worm, the lava glow abruptly fizzled. Lightning crackled as the monster jerked in Claygon’s grip until finally, it went limp. A wave of steam drifted from its mouth.

Remembering that the monster from the masquerade ball had played dead to lure him, Alex had Claygon squeeze the creature once, crushing it where he gripped it. It did not make a single move.

“It’s done!” Khalik said, pumping his fists. “Well done, everyone! We did it! We passed the final!”

Thundar let out a roar of triumph along with the prince, which swept up the rest of the group until they were all cheering like drunken warriors after a bar fight.

“Indeed, ‘well done’,” a familiar voice said from behind them.

Everyone whirled to see Baelin floating just above, and behind the group. A sardonic smile was on his lips, but his eyes gleamed with ferocious pride.

“Look at you,” he said, with a similar tone that Alex had heard Theresa’s grandfather use toward his granddaughter. “Well, look. At. You. Who is this I see? It certainly cannot be the same group I saw ambushed by muupkaras and forced to flee a bonedrinker, can it?” He gave a low chuckle. “My, my, how they do grow up so quickly.”

“We did it, Baelin.” Alex grinned.

“Indeed you did. Now, why don’t we return for our final debrief…although, it might be some time before we can start. You, my young friends, are the first group to finish this time. So, just let me take a moment to collect your spoils, and then off we go.”

As Baelin set about whisking the worm back to the university, Alex took one final look around The Barrens: the last he would take as a first year student in Baelin’s class, he realized.

In a sense, The Barrens of Kravernus looked much the same as when he’d first laid eyes on them as they’d flown above them in Lucia’s sky-gondola when he, Selina, Theresa, and Brutus had arrived in Generasi.

It was still that same, mana-blasted wasteland of dried earth and dust. But it was also suddenly different. From far above, it had looked like this mysterious place of hidden dangers and unsolved mysteries. That had only proven to be even truer when he and four other students he barely knew had been transported there for their initial test: the first time his futurel cabal had worked together.

They had been on foot, trying to coordinate with each other through much discussion and anxiety about their surroundings and what was to come.

But, today?

They’d coordinated with hardly a word. Hell, they’d actually stopped partway through the fight for a little chat. When had they grown so comfortable? He remembered his first few shifts at Shale’s Golem Workshop: the team had been quiet during them, communicating mostly to coordinate around the job. After a few months of working together, though, they’d become comfortable enough to chat with one another while doing their work.

Now, the relationship between him and his cabal was so comfortable, that they knew they could depend on each other in battle, or otherwise. They were now a team. They trusted each other, and had grown the skills, experience, and strength to handle a host of threats against each, or all of them.

Thinking about it more, Alex realized that The Barrens didn’t seem…quite so vast and threatening anymore. It wasn’t exactly a quiet meadow outside of Alric, but no longer threatening to where he thought that anything there could demolish them with a single blow.

He blinked.

And maybe that was the point of The Art of the Wizard in Combat. Sure, it taught them how to protect themselves, but—as their competence grew—it would make more of the world more accessible to them. The world itself wouldn’t become safer, but the young wizards would become more dangerous.

More ready to handle the trials that their art would throw at them.

His eyes narrowed.

Likely, the meadows around Alric would be far more dangerous than they were the last time he’d walked through them. But he—and his friends—were a far greater threat than before.

The world was now open to them more.

He exchanged a grin with the others just before Baelin waved his hand over them to teleport them to the plateau.

At last, his first year at the university was coming to an end.

…and opening up entirely new beginnings.

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A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

End of school is such a strange time because it's an ending and a beginning all at once.

Though, I guess all endings are beginnings...it's just school endings and beginnings are more formalized.

Alrighty, speaking of endings, that's the end of this author's note!

And the beginning of the rest of your evening and day until we meet again tomorrow!

Seeya then!


Big thanks to all my readers—I appreciate each and every one of you—and a very special thanks to my patrons on my Patreon

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UnstoppableJuggernaut

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