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Years ago.

In the village in Rockmund.

Amelia sat back on a tree branch and watched over Ed as she spoke to a group of children, all of them humans. Local kids.

She realized she was in power-saving mode. This was a memory that her mind was currently defragmenting. Unlike most nights, though, this one seemed to stick a lot better. No sudden shifts to other memories. Just this beautiful spring day as she looked at that beautiful red headed woman.

Ed was great with kids. The way she spoke to them with kindness and simple words, yet never condescended to their true intelligence. She taught them as future adults, not as brainless saps to entertain. As Amelia watched her work, she mumbled to herself with a goofy grin, “We need to raise children.”

The Amelia of now would never entertain the thought of something so comically unfeasible. But the Amelia of years ago had thought it with great sincerity. If only she had said the words to Ed herself, perhaps things could have ended up differently. There was no way to know until Amelia learned the truth.

There were no new truths in these memories. Only old ones.

Ed, with two simple bipedal clay structures, just three feet tall, beside her, explained the concepts of golemancy to the children of the village.

“These things beside me,” she said, “are just sculptures. They have nothing to them but shape and form. Come closer and see.”

One of the girls hesitantly reached out and touched one. Nothing happened, and she giggled.

“I told you. They’re nothing right now. If you don’t tell them what to do, they’ll just stand there forever.”

One of the kids raised his hand. “How do they move? Is it magic?”

“Exactly right,” she said. “Golems are powered by magic. All of us have it. Every living being, whether that’s plants or animals or glossals or anything else, has a soul. Inside that soul, there’s magical energy flowing around, helping us all survive. Humans have more than most, so we’re lucky, aren’t we?”

The children cheered, as if their favorite sports team had just won a decisive victory.

“But, ‘more than most’ still means ‘not very much.’”

All the kids booed as if their favorite sports team just flubbed it in the final ten seconds.

Amelia put her hand against her chest, where her own artificial soul sat peacefully, working ceaselessly. She had more magic than almost anyone, but she had no idea how to use it.

“Golems, though, don’t have a soul yet. At first, they’re just little sculptures. So then, what do we do?”

The boy from earlier raised his hand again. “We put magic in it!”

“Right again,” Ed said. “They need mana to move, and there’s two ways to do it.” She ruffled through her pocket and pulled out a stone of quorium filled with energy—a soul gem. “Most golems need these. Soul gems collect the mana around them, like a battery, and they can be extremely powerful if they collect the right kind. But there’s another way, and I’ll use it to demonstrate.”

Ed walked over to one of the clay statues and began to shift her left hand around. From her black glove emerged a field of pale red energy that circled around, and then entered into, the clay figure.

“Once you give a golem the mana it needs, you must give it a directive.”

“A directive?” one girl asked.

“The sacred, magical words that bind a golem and bring it to life. They only do what you tell them. And the directive I’ll give this one here is, ‘walk.’”

On command, the short golem began to walk. It moved its legs forward, one after the other, and swayed its tiny arms in sync. It walked all the way over to the nearest barn, where it ran into the wall... and kept on walking in place, head hitting the wall over and over.

The kids laughed.

“Golems only do what you tell them,” she repeated. “So if you tell them to ‘walk,’ that’s all they’ll do. Luckily, this one doesn’t have a soul gem, so it can’t absorb any new energy. It’s just the mana I put in there. And that will only last about...”

The golem stopped moving and froze in place.

“There we go. See, kids?”

“How do you make directives?” that same boy asked. “Do you gotta say a really long list of things and make sure not to forget anything, like ‘don’t bump into walls’ or ‘make sure to go to bed at night?’”

“Sort of.” Ed put her gloved left hand to her chin to make sure she thought out how she explained it next. Amelia loved seeing her think hard. She had the best contemplation face. “You’re right about that. You really do have to account for every single thing to make a golem work like you want. But don’t forget, directives aren’t real words; they’re magical words. So it’s not quite the same.”

She walked over to the other clay golem-to-be and shoved her soul gem in an opening in its eye socket area. “There’s three principles for golemancy that always have to be followed: Accuracy, foresight, and compassion.

“Accuracy is the first part. You have to account for everything. Don’t mess up, or the golem might break later!

“Foresight is about planning. Even if you account for everything now, you might not think of everything. Creating directives that can adapt to the future is really important.

“And the most important part is compassion. Don’t forget that golems aren’t machines. If you use a soul gem, that’s a living being you’ve made. A very simple one. It might not be glossal, and it might not be made of skin or scales, but it’s still alive. Golems need to help people, but you need to make a golem that can help itself, too.”

Finally, Ed used more magic and activated the second clay golem. It began to walk around the field and went over to the barn wall, where it patted the inactive golem on the top of its head. The kids chased after it, but when they approached, it leapt into the air landed right beside Ed again. It bowed to its prepubescent audience, and they cheered.

“You can make very complex golems if you study enough,” Ed said after the applause died down. “There’s a lot of commands you have to give them, but there’s also directive scripts, which bundle together a lot of those commands together. Memorize those, and you can save a lot of time when you first make a golem.”

“How many scripts do you know?” the curious boy asked.

“A few thousand, at least,” Ed told him. “I’ve never kept count. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s really fun.”

“I think I’ll mess up.” one of the very youngest girls chirped with a big frown on her tiny face.

“Not to worry!” Ed exclaimed. She waved her hand over the bowing golem, and within seconds, it reverted to its natural position and froze in place. “If you mess up, you can always change the directive later. As long as you remember the original, that is. I just turned this one off completely.”

“Bye-bye, golem,” one child said.

“So, if any of you want to learn real lessons, I’ll be happy to teach you more. I’m always around town.”

The kids responded with great enthusiasm, and then they all scurried off to go play elsewhere. Amelia was sure none of them would ever care to learn about golemancy; they were farmer’s kids, after all, not scholars to be. But it was very cute, both for the kids and for Ed herself.

Once the coast was clear, Amelia hopped down from the tree and landed right behind Ed. She jumped back in shock.

“Amelia!” she shouted. “Don’t do that!”

“I loved your talk,” Amelia said.

“Well, thank you. Why aren’t you at the house, though? You said you were planting today.”

“I lied. I wanted to sneak here and watch you in your natural state.”

Ed slapped Amelia’s arm playfully. “Oh, stop. You’re so silly.”

“Honestly, I just love watching your face when you’re happy.”

“It was fun. Do you think any of them are going to come back for more lessons?”

“No,” Amelia said. “I don’t think they ever will.”

“Aw. I thought that boy might.”

Amelia leaned against the barn door, halfway trapping Ed into her personal bubble. “And you’re the one who always talked about keeping a low profile.”

“I know, but I’m bored,” Ed grumbled. “It’s been three years since we escaped Newpool. They aren’t coming.” She looked at Amelia with eyes so hopeful she knew they were fake.

“But you still seem real tense.”

“Let’s change the subject,” Ed suggested.

“Okay. Do you think I can learn golemancy?” Amelia asked.

Ed put her hands on her hips. “Here you are, asking about golemancy. Need I remind you about the day in the research center when I asked the same thing, and your exact response was, ‘Hurr durr, I’m not interested in golemancy, because all I want to learn it how to protect you better, but actually I just want to make you horny with all these cheesy lines about guarding you for life and whatever.’ Remember that?”

“I remember that night, at least,” Amelia said.

Ed narrowed her eyes. “You’re on thin ice with me, Bluewood.” Oh no. She only ever called her “Bluewood” when she was getting feisty. “To answer your question, I have no idea. Any normal golem, I’d say no. But you are certainly not normal. I’ve never even seen another golem that can talk, let alone fall in love and fight for justice. So it’s hard to say what magical abilities you have.”

“Besides the ones you design me.”

“I don’t understand the first thing about your core, Amelia,” Ed said. “Remember, I’m not messing with you; I’m messing with the modules that keep your core awake. The golems-within-a-golem.”

“My five little buddies.”

“Soon to be six, if my tinkering goes well,” she said. “I’d really like to know if you could do golemancy, though. It would be so fascinating. I don’t know your directives, and I don’t know who created you. But maybe if you made golems of your own, we could sort of figure that out. Reverse engineer it.”

“I’ll take you up on it,” Amelia said, “after you find us that dog you promised.”

“Oh, Amelia, you and your dogs.”

“A promise is a promise.”

Ed kissed her gently on the lips, and whispered a sweet nothing in her ear. Amelia returned it by kissing her on the cheek, and then the neck, and then the lips once again.

“Three years,” Ed said once their mouths separated. “We’ve lived here for three years. And it’s been the best years of my life.”

“And the only years of mine,” Amelia unhelpfully added.

“But, Amelia, you’re supposed to be the hero,” she said. “The golem with enough power to save Sunwell and defeat the colonizers. Like we dreamed about together in the research center.”

“That’s why I train every day. I’m getting stronger, and soon I’ll be unstoppable.”

Ed sighed. “It’s just... Is it really okay for us to stay here for so long? We haven’t saved anyone. I haven’t learned anything new about your core. If we don’t do something now, will we ever?”

“We will,” Amelia said simply. “You gave me a command, and I’ll follow it, because that’s what golems do.”

“Don’t make fun of golemancy...”

“Then teach it to me.”

“I will. And I’ll get you that dog.” Ed smiled for a brief second, but then something dark fell on her face, her spirit, as she said these words. Something Amelia could not recognize then nor now.

Then in one scoop, Amelia swept her off her feet and carried her off, away from the barn.

“What are you doing, Amelia?”

“I don’t know. I think I just wanted to watch you for a while.”

“I think I’ll let you.” Ed smiled, this time making not even the slightest attempt to hide her joy.

And so, for no particular reason, Amelia carried Ed all the way back to their farm, gazing on her face the entire time.

Ed never did manage to teach her about golemancy. They had very little time left together.

***

...And then, the next morning, Amelia woke up with a sharp pain in her chest. Then a sharp pain in her shoulders, and her thighs.

Her battle at the warehouse last night was a lot of fun, but her injuries did not heal anything like what she expected. The claw wounds from that felid woman remained, and there was a throbbing, pulsing ache in her head. Confusing that someone could get a headache when they had no brain, but Amelia hurt too much to think on that further.

Everything was so sore. She could hardly move out of bed without excruciating pain.

Yesterday, she felt lethargic and tired for a few hours. This morning, she felt absolutely pitiful.

It clicked all at once—the reason for these body problems.

Her system was defective again, but this time at a much deeper level. Every time she absorbed a soul, the next morning was a little bit harder for her. Last night, she absorbed a huge amount, so now she felt like death itself had beaten her up and left her to die. Every muscle ached. Even her rocky right arm, which had no flesh to speak of, felt like she had exercised it entirely too much.

Her core was not processing new souls correctly. The absorption was going poorly, and it was affecting her entire body.

Something very big was wrong with her, and the only person who knew how to fix it was missing.

She cursed herself for never learning golemancy, and tried to go back to sleep and rest this off.

This truly sucked.

 

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A note from Thedude3445

Today's Shoutout: One of my all-time favorite Royal Road stories, Doing God's Work by Csuite. It's a satirical adventure about former pantheton deities forced to work in a call center for God, and it has a surprisingly large amount of action for what you're expecting. There's one fight in here that's honestly amazing. https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/25442/doing-gods-work


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Thedude3445

Bio: I like to watch movies.

Avatar art by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

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