In the early days, she was not called Amelia. She was merely EG-1138. An experimental test model created by a junior assistant, a 17-year-old golemancer whose reputation in the facility was that of a self-serving, overly ambitious brat.
And in those days, Ed Winback herself would hardly have disputed such a label.
So when EG-1138, Ed’s risky, costly creation, entered the training room on this particular afternoon, she was greeted not with smiles or kind words, but with glares and murmurs. She was not the next best hope for Sunwell, yet; she was a soon-to-be failed prototype for colonial empire itself. That was the price for being associated with Ed, and she was willing to accept it.
Of course, Amelia knew then and now that Ed did not create her, not in the truest sense. Her core was dug up out of an excavation site along with countless other items from an ancient battlefield in Newpool. The North Sunwell Company’s R&D Department set up a research center around the site and began testing every single device they could.
Almost nothing worked, and for a long time Amelia’s core did not, either. It turned on, but nothing more. Nothing that Amelia could even remember.
But Ed figured it out. Amelia, or the core that would become her, just needed the right spark. One well-placed nudge and everything would work. That was where the modules came from. With their power, and with the stroke of luck of a dying human body being carted into the research center, she made her move. She reactivated the ancient golem in a brand new form: EG-1138 herself. Then lied and said she made it all herself.
A miracle among miracles. Ed had achieved the impossible, had brought immense glory to the R&D Department in a time where innovation had stalled, where the Manadhmeth Dungeon Core’s destruction had caused an unfathomably dull peace time.
Eleven months since EG-1138 came into being, and all that wonder had dissipated completely.
She came into the training room with all the fanfare of a donkey at a horse show. Out of place, out of depth, and unwanted by all who observed.
Today, EG-1138 would be performing a routine evaluation, done to show off her adept abilities and physical fortitude. It was the exact same test she had done countless times on countless days in these past eleven months. Target practice, a moving obstacle course, reflex checks, and a face-off against three different types of training golems. All randomized and thrown against her one after the other, without a second to breathe or hesitate.
All that was perfectly normal for this miracle golem. What was different today was that the North Sunwell Company executives were here to observe.
As she entered the opening gate in the training room, EG-1138 was treated to two faces. One new, and one more familiar than the rising sun.
“EG-1138,” said Ed, dressed in a suit and tie, her hair tied back in a ponytail, her eyes making a great effort not to meet hers. “This is Turr Williams, head of the North Sunwell Company’s Research & Development Department. He’ll be monitoring you today.”
The man, Turr Williams, reached little more than four and a half feet tall, but carried himself with a straightened back, slick, slimy hair, and arms set firmly at his sides. From his pointy ears to the sharp teeth in his mouth, it was clear that Turr was half-human, half-goblin, a rare kind if there ever was one.
Turr Williams did not address EG-1138. Did not even look directly at her. Instead, he focused his attention on the papers on his clipboard as he said to Ed, “Progress has not been promising, I see.”
“She’s—” Ed caught herself. “The prototype is functional on all lifeform levels in its human body, but it is having trouble adjusting to its golem side. But we are improving bit by bit. If we can create an environment that helps it—”
He cut her off with a mere finger in the air. “You’ve wasted an extremely valuable artifact on an experiment that has accomplished nothing. The amount of money we have spent already is greater than you could earn in a decade, and someone is going to be on the chopping block if this prototype does not provide us a path forward. I’ve come all this way to correct the course, because our cost is well and sunk by this point.”
EG-1138 did everything she could to keep her emotions in check. Of course she was barely functional. Of course the higher-ups were growing restless. One look at Ed, dressed in her best and peering out helpfully, and it was easy to understand. One real look at her.
Turr Williams turned around and exited the training room, heading out to the observation deck to watch the evaluation unfold. Ed stepped up to EG-1138, pretended to dust off something from her shoulder, and then leaned in close.
She whispered into her ear: “Fail for me, will you?”
EG-1138 said nothing, just that nearly imperceptible quivering of her mouth that barely suppressed the happiness she felt. She gazed at Ed, gazed past the illusion of a big-head kid who had already blown her chance, gazed at a woman who knew exactly, precisely what she was doing.
Then Ed left the room, and the evaluation began.
Just as Ed requested, just as EG-1138 had done many times in the past, she failed every test. Not spectacularly, not especially terrible in any way, but enough to underwhelm and frustrate every single researcher, every single executive in the facility.
Nobody was happy about today except for the golem and the young woman who led her astray.
EG-1138 was sent back to her room to rest and sit idly. Her day was over; as a test subject, she had the freedom to move about the facility, but less responsibilities than even a child would have. She was expected to perform training tasks, and nothing more. A machine made of flesh and stone.
So, for a few hours as Turr Williams and the other executives chewed out the entire R&D Department, she laid on her bed, right on top of the covers, and stared up at the ceiling. No monitoring, because at this point nobody really cared enough. Ed’s plan had worked so flawlessly that EG-1138 was seen as little more than a walking money pit, an abyss from which quarterly reports could never return.
It was a peaceful, horrible life she lived in this Newpool research center. But she would keep sticking around, because there was a great incentive.
That incentive came knocking on her door after dinner, using that special code that let her know the coast was clear. EG-1138 got up and opened the bedroom door to find no one there. Perfect. A few hallways down, an elevator ride down to the third floor, and there was an unmarked door, locked, lights out.
She knocked her own special code and folded her arms. Ten seconds later, the door unlocked, and its occupant slid it halfway open, just enough room for the half-golem to enter.
A mana lamp flipped on at its lowest setting. Its cold glow, and EG-1138’s dim purple right eye, were the only light in this abandoned, forgotten conference room.
Just enough for the two women to see each other.
Just enough for EG-1138 to see the most beautiful person in existence, standing before her, putting her arm around her waist. Her hair was down again, and she had changed into a casual shirt and sweatpants. It was almost bedtime, so all suits were off.
“EG, you did wonderful today,” said Ed. She pulled her in closer and kissed her on the lips. “EG, it’s just...” She trailed off, and then started giggling uncontrollably.
“What’s the problem?” EG-1138 asked.
“Sorry... Sorry. It’s just, all this planning. All the work we’ve done. It’s actually going to work.”
EG-1138 reached out her stone hand and brushed it against Ed’s cheek. “You mean we’re ready?”
“Almost,” she said. “One last progress milestone, Turr Williams told me. Chewed me out real bad. Next month, if you fail, they’re decommissioning the whole project. I’ll be demoted, and you’ll be out of here.”
“Scheduled for destruction,” EG-1138 whispered with a hopeful flavor to her voice.
Ed’s hold on EG-1138’s waist turned into a full-on embrace. She placed her head against her chest and rocked her back and forth, as if slow, touching music were playing over the speakers. “We’ll have a chance to be together without all this sneaking around, all these lies. Together forever.”
“And I’ll finally get a name.”
“That you will,” Ed said. “I hope you decide on something cute.”
The two women held their embrace and danced to a silent tune in the dark. One day, they knew, they would be able to dance together in the light.
Broad daylight. The perfect place to make public displays, and exactly where Amelia made her move this afternoon.
With nothing but a hoodie over her head, a mask over her mouth, and sunglasses to cover up her false right eye, Amelia stalked a young human man with a long neck and a tired gait. He was a recent arrival from Highden Station, a country kid picked up off the road by the Fourland Growth Corporation. Headed to a rendezvous location to deliver his smuggled goods, just like Amelia had been a couple weeks earlier. and
Hr was certainly not going to actually make it to his destination.
Amelia held great sympathy for these foolish beings who had been swindled into coming to Fleettwixt with the promise of a new job, a nice house, peace and full bellies every night. Maybe even love. Fourland, or more accurately the North Sunwell Company that controlled this whole continent, made half its profit off that empty promise of a brighter future.
It was brighter, but only for those who already had lightbulbs in their homes, who already had a golem to carry their things.
This young man here, if he continued, would find his payment slashed, his benefits a broken promise. Stuck in the Fourland dormitories, he would be sent to work in the synth processing centers. Or forced to guard a shipment opening at the port. Or maybe even forced to round up those in hospice care for soul extraction, as rumors had circulated. A near-slave who, over time, would become just as evil as everyone else.
He was already in Fleetwixt, which was his first mistake, but Amelia sympathized. If he continued in this life, though, he would become a despicable person, and she would lose her sympathy. The only way to ensure this man turned away from even the potential to become a villain who harms the city, was for Amelia to stop him in his tracks.
No room for growing from mistakes. No time to sit down for a chat. The only language with universal translation was pain.
Time to be ruthless.
Amelia liked ruthless.
So, as she grabbed the young man by the shoulder, as she pulled him back and beat into his torso with a hundred bystanders watching, she liked to think she was saving his life.
It would not be fatal to anything but his dreams. Broken ribs would heal, and a smashed-up face would give just the right amount of pity to earn him a bed for half price.
He screamed and begged for her to spare him, but he did not know that Amelia never intended for anything nearly that far. All she wanted was to demonstrate a lesson: Work with Fourland, and you feel pain. Then, of course, she retrieved his change purse filled to the brim with soul gems, two of them completely full. Property of Amelia Bluewood.
The young man was barely conscious, shaking on the ground like any normal person would. She hated to see it, but she did not look away.
Instead, she knelt down and said, “Don’t work for Fourland. Don’t even contact them again.”
Whatever his response was, Amelia did not bother to listen to it. Her work was done. She slipped into an alleyway, changed her jacket into a sweater, ripped off the mask, and reentered the crowd a few minutes later. No one was the wiser, not in a city this big, this crowded.
Ruthless was exactly the word to describe what Amelia had done for the past few weeks. Killing drug dealers, beating fools senseless, stealing soul gems... It was all so small, so petty, and made not even a single drop in her campaign against the North Sunwell Company. But, eventually, things would change. Eventually, Amelia would find Ed again, and the world would turn back to normal.
She clenched her right fist and peered at the black fingerless glove she kept on her at all times. It reminded her of the determination she always kept—always had to keep, just to survive another day.
If Amelia had to become the villain to save Sunwell, to save her girlfriend, then so be it.