Warning: Mana reserves at critical levels.
5% power remaining.
Core mobility functions will fail.
The mana leak MUST be contained.
“Yes, I can see that.”
Amelia had not turned on her Access Core’s higher functions in over a month. She had lived module-free for so long that it seemed like her whole system was angry at her. It always malfunctioned when she first activated it after a while, but this time was much more severe than usual.
She already lost her right hand; it laid uselessly on the ground next to the dead dwarf’s body. Now, her stone-made right leg was starting to jitter and she could feel the shaking coming to the rest of her body as well.
“Gods, I hate this,” she muttered to herself. She sat down on the dirt and let her legs rest before they both completely lost functionality.
This was going so much faster than she thought it would.
The system frantically checked her body for the source of the leak, but nothing had come up yet. Just progress loading bars on her HUD that moved uncomfortably slowly, and a loud chirping sound to warn her of her peril.
Warning: Mana reserves at critical levels.
4% power remaining.
Entering power-saving mode.
If there had been anyone around, they could have helped, though the way she looked probably would have scared anyone off as well. Not easy to get sympathy when half your body was rocks, she noted. Also the bodies.
Amelia noted the intense irony of her entire body shutting down in the middle of a yard full of scrap metal and broken machinery. She would just be gone like the rest of it—not quite dead, but only because she was never quite alive either.
This was what a year without Ed had done to her. The only person in Sunwell who could have helped her, who could have fixed the problems plaguing her system, had disappeared without a trace.
Just a single photo in Amelia’s memory banks. A close-up of her unstoppably beautiful face.
She could say something cheesy like “she’s the only thing worth living for,” or “I was made for her,” but it would not have the same effect because both statements were essentially true. No matter how many souls Amelia absorbed, no matter how powerful she became, she would keep falling over on the ground, keep wrestling with her malfunctions and damage reports until one day she no longer got back up again. Only one person in this world had the sheer skill to actually fix all of this.
The only person in the world who understood her, and she was gone.
She loved her. Wanted to be with her again. But more than anything, she just wanted to understand what happened.
That day still ran through her mind with such vivid energy—
Waking up to an explosion and an empty spot on the bed next to her.
Rushing up the ladder, only to be blown back down by a shockwave.
Staring at the caved-in ceiling, buried in rubble.
The pile of clothes laying next to the overturned cabinet.
Her inability to form even a single tear.
By the time Amelia finally dug herself out of their home and reached the surface, the whole region had become a bombed-out wasteland. Rolling hills and dotted cottages collapsed into gray soil and cool smoke. Her home a tomb for a failed experiment, presumably, and Ed long gone.
She had spent a year waiting for this. Waiting to confront her girlfriend and find out the truth behind everything. She knew she was not responsible for all the horrible things that had happened in Rockmund. So then... Why? Why had she left and come back to Fleettwixt?
If Amelia died here in the scrapyard, she would die without answers, and she would die without love, and she would die without revenge. Keeping those three things unfulfilled was absolutely unacceptable.
This was not her time to die. Until she found her girlfriend, until she completed her revenge on the North Sunwell Company, death was not even remotely an option. Not even a faint glimmer of an idea in her mind, as failing as its systems were.
Warning: Mana reserves at critical levels.
3% power remaining.
Entering power-saving mode overridden. Error.
Please enter power-saving mode, Amelia.
She had faced longer odds than this before. This was nothing.
All this technology around her should have been useful. Should have given her the power she needed to survive. Normally, she could survive off passive absorption alone, but the leak was growing, and the scrap around her was too shallow a mana source to draw from.
Amelia reached out using her Scan Module, and with the last of her power, searched frantically for any last bit of energy around her. The bodies had souls, yes, but she could not extract them fast enough to save herself.
A ping. One source nearby.
With her single functional arm, she pulled herself along and crawled like a pathetic snake over to her bag and all the items strewn around it.
Her toothbrush was ruined, and her cache of empty soul gems was obviously useless. But that battery-lamp... That ran on mana. Just a tiny fraction of a filled-up soul gem, just one cube, but she knew it was fully charged. She knew she could use it, and immediately found herself unscrewing its bottom and letting the battery fall into her palm.
Such a weak, tiny source, but the only one she had available.
Amelia shook off her jacket—and immediately felt the chilly winter air against her skin, but that was unavoidable—and pulled down the collar of her white t-shirt to look at her soul gem container.
The device—a large purple triangle barrier in the middle of her chest, near where her heart might have been—pulsed weakly. Inside there laid her soul gem... it WAS her, in a literal sense. If it went out, it would not just be her system that deactivated.
She tapped the outer barrier in a certain pattern and activated the failsafe. The dragonglass hatch opened up and now her entire life force, the large sphere right in the center of her body, was exposed to the outside elements. In any other circumstance, this would be far too dangerous to even attempt. But the battery was too small, too weak to even absorb through her chest. It needed to go directly to the source.
Now, Amelia delicately pressed the mana cube against her soul gem. She felt a brief tingling sensation from the osmosis factor—her body was absorbing the battery as fast as it could.
Then, just as quickly as it came, the feeling vanished. She pulled her hand out of her chest and looked at the cube, now gray and fully drained, and flicked it away.
As soon as she shut the hatch, her right hand came flying back and attached to her wrist. She made sure to turn off [Throwing Hands] and disable her Combat Module entirely.
Great work, Amelia!
You now have 8% power remaining.
Estimated fifteen minutes until power-saving mode.
Warning: Mana leak MUST be contained.
That was enough time not to die, if the diagnostics scan actually told her what the hell the problem was.
She turned off her Scan Module and Boost Module, leaving her higher-level systems entirely disabled. The light in her false eye dimmed. That stopped the drain a little, but not enough to give her more than a few extra minutes.
She looked down at her right hand and the precious right glove that always adorned it. Until she found that left hand to complement it, she would not abandon it for anything.
Five bodies laid in the yard around Amelia. Already, a few birds had landed and begun pecking at one of the humans, but she shooed them away. This was her prey, after all.
She looked over the corpse formerly known as Theo, resting peacefully on the ground, charred by that [Mana Burst] earlier but otherwise in fine shape. It was far from her first kill, but she never quite became used to the way the eyes looked. Body parts without function. Flesh without life. It reminded her too much of herself.
Since he no longer needed it, it was time to extract Theo’s soul energy.
It was pretty lucky of her to have fallen into some thugs who did not know what they were dealing with. Fourland was all about smuggling in contraband via unwitting fools, and she was sure if she had stuck with Theo she would have been pulled into much worse. But she was no hapless farm girl; she was a golem with powers far beyond any human’s. They were dead from the moment they drew their weapons.
She rummaged through the area around her rucksack once more, looking for the soul gems scattered around the dirt, about twenty in all. All empty, of course; she consumed half the souls herself to power up her systems, then sold the rest to a necromancer in Berryward for more than a year’s wages out in the rice fields.
That necromancer was on a perilous journey of his own, and if they ever met again, they would certainly come to blows. But for that transaction only, they were valued business partners. Two magical travelers railing against the colonial destruction being wrought against Sunwell.
Now, for Theo.
What she was about to do, she did not do lightly. She was about to embark on a ritual so sacrilegious that almost every culture on the known planet expressly forbid it: She was going to collect a glossal soul into a soul gem.
Trapped in a gem, a living soul could not pass on to join back with the Earth, could not enter the afterlife. For the glossal races, such a fate was worse than even death itself.
Golemancers, therefore, used the souls of livestock and wild animals in their creations. Plants, even. Summoners took care never to go beyond what creatures could converse with them. Even necromancers shied away from resurrecting intelligent corpses with intelligent souls.
Capturing a glossal soul was an abomination worthy of scorn in every magical field, and worthy of execution in every jurisdiction.
And yet the North Sunwell Company had been doing exactly that for a century and covering it up with the flimsiest of excuses. She had seen dozens of Ed’s golemancer colleagues using humans and elves and whatever souls they could get their hands on. Hell, SHE was a product of this very process. And so Amelia, not one to put stock in taboos in the first place, would follow in their footsteps.
She grabbed the largest of the soul gems, about a thumb in size, and held it out over Theo’s body. She exerted some mana and activated the soul absorption spell.
Faint purple waves rose up from the body and collected inside the gem. The body, already growing cold, withered and faded even further. When it was finally over, there was barely enough left to attract the birds back to the corpse.
Now the soul gem was half-full. She repeated the process with the other four bandits and ended up filling three and a half of the gems. It seemed paltry compared to the five she consumed just a week ago, but these were human and dwarf souls—the power they contained far outweighed anything she could get from pigs and mudbeasts and chopped-down mega-trees.
Just a single gem was enough to fill her reserves up to a healthy degree, and possibly even give her some upgrade potential.
Unlike the battery cube, she didn’t need to open up her safety measures just to fill herself up. These were far too powerful to need that level of precision. Instead, merely touching the soul gem against her clothed chest was enough to imbue the power inside it.
A rush of energy flowed through her. Surged into her mind and shocked alive any dormant, malfunctioning systems within.
Soul detected. Would you like to incorporate or convert?
Yes, she could have theoretically benefited from absorbing all of these men’s memories and all the powers they might have had, but she didn’t think they would be worth the mana loss. Plus, her girlfriend warned her about incorporating too many souls into her single gem. She could lose bits of her identity until suddenly she wasn’t even the same woman anymore. If Ed saw her like that, she would...
There was no risk of that, because Amelia converted one of the soul gems into mana and refilled her own power. No identity sapping involved this time, even if it really could have helped.
This extra bit of energy was exactly what her systems needed, it seemed, because right at that moment, the diagnostic scan completed:
Warning: Mana leak detected!
Location: Right shoulder.
Please contain it immediately, Amelia.
The right shoulder. She must have gotten hit there in the time since she last activated her modules, something to bump out a rock and break everything. Maybe bumping into that orc on the sidewalk did the trick?
Or maybe her body was simply a broken shell with no one to repair it.
Amelia sat back down and took off her jacket just minutes after she put it back on. Cold as hell in just a shirt, but it had to be done. She felt at her back for any chipped chunks or other places where the stone could be weak and leaking. But that was not how it actually worked, she realized after a few fruitless moments.
That was the problem with being a golem. Or half-golem. Or whatever she counted as. A broken, discarded prototype like nothing else ever created.
Most of her body was human flesh, animated through the soul-powered engine in her chest. Her artificial soul flowed through the organs and pumped them to life, or filled in for their functions where the body parts were missing—she had no brain, for example, so her whole nervous system was controlled by a meticulously crafted space in her own empty head. Incomprehensibly complex, but workable.
But it was a more tenuous situation for the parts of her created from rock. The mana alone held everything together, but it had to be controlled and distilled or else it would be just a group of rocks floating loosely around her soul. To make her arm and leg and half of her face, she needed her lower-level systems—her Access Core—to guide her soul around. Remove the stone, and the limbs would still be there—they would just be purple glowing beams of energy desperately seeking a substance to cover them up.
The leak in her right shoulder was not from the stone itself; it was from something in her systems that worked improperly for whatever reason in the millions of minute details in her system and its modules.
She really needed a tune-up. And, unfortunately, the only golemancer she knew had left her behind—her girlfriend Ed.
But she was here in Fleettwixt, and Amelia was going to find her... Just as soon as she plugged the hole that was quickly killing her.
The overflow in mana from the soul absorption would be enough. She activated the Repair Module in her higher-level systems—basically, the only direct control she had over her body—and began searching for whatever tiny malfunction had caused this leak.
A 3D model of her body—the real one, made purely of energy—appeared on her HUD. It showed her mana flow in a humanoid shape, with one tiny cone jutting out as if she had a single spike on her back. Mana would flow to this section, then with too much distance from the soul core, dissipate into the atmosphere like a misting humidifier. Useful to the mana batteries around her, but very deadly for her.
Rerouting body flow.
Plugging in new layout. Please be patient, Amelia. :)
“Take your sweet time,” she muttered. The system did not respond snarkily, because unfortunately her girlfriend had not programmed it for extended conversation. Would have saved her a bit of loneliness if she had.
A spiked back was not a bad idea for fights, she thought. It would have been nice to have extra defense in close-combat situations, especially considering that human with a crowbar who was able to send her body spinning with just one well-placed blow. But this one mana cone was too small and too off-center to work even if she built stone onto it. It was merely a useless glitch. She would need to intentionally create spikes—dozens of them—and design her lower-level systems to flow like this. Unfortunately, she had neither the souls nor the experience with golemancy to implement any of this yet. Emphasis on “yet,” she thought to herself.
In a few moments, the mana recirculated around her body and the leak was eradicated. Her systems returned to normal function, and the perilous alerts on her HUD went away.
She leaned her head back and looked at the snowy skies above her. If not for that giant force field bubble around the city, she’d be near-death and freezing cold to boot. At least it was only one of the two.
Amelia was broken.
Mentally, physically, spiritually—you name it, Amelia suffered in it. She was at the very end of the line and coming to Fleettwixt made it worse.
Somehow, despite everything, she felt ecstatic. She was finally making progress in her life. She had just begun a valiant path towards vengeance and justice. Her girlfriend was somewhere in this city, and she was about to find her, no matter what it took. No matter how many people got in her way.
Her body was slowly breaking down, her higher-level systems barely worked, and she was about to be made a target for one of the biggest agriculture syndicates in all of Sunwell. All that meant was that she was in for much a tougher challenge than just a few hours ago.
Good. Amelia enjoyed a challenge.