Chapter 30

The entity was slowly becoming aware. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience.

For some odd reason, it couldn’t see, smell, or hear a thing. It retained the sense of touch, but that was only giving it a cold feeling of… emptiness.

With periods of gradual awareness, it slowly experienced itself, and felt an unstoppable desire to create… to innovate… to build; it discovered untapped seas of potential at its hypothetical fingertips. A sea of sprawling possibilities for creation, and unbridled aspiration.

Albeit… it felt lonely. It felt so very alone.

This changed when a stray thought, one that was most definitely not one of its own, invaded its mind:

How’s it going, partner?

“No, the soul provides the will: the ability and desire to take actions. The spirit holds the experience and the knowledge. The spirit has the ability to reason, but in its detached state, it can only follow the commands given, with no motivation of its own.” Faisal lectured patiently, his voice echoing in the spacious workshop.

“So, binding a soul to the golem doesn’t automatically give it the ability to reason?” Ethan asked.

“It does not. The soul only powers the golem. It serves as the mana channeling mechanism, but it can’t do much else.” Faisal made sure Ethan had the time to process this, before continuing, “this is why a golem core is required. Because it binds a spirit and a soul, to give the golem the capacity for basic reasoning.”

“Can a golem learn new things, then?” Ethan asked.

“No, the spirit can only learn new things while it inhabits a living body. Inside a golem, it can only use what’s already there. However, Masters of Golemancy have tried to create sapient golems that can learn and advance in classes and levels, alas it has never been successfully done.”

Faisal looked contemplative, his face betraying that this fact wasn't going to stand true for much longer.

“Although… with your new technique of imbuing an enchantment with the capacity to learn – your Machine Learning, this may soon become a possibility.” Faisal said, “A professed [Golemancer] or [Grand Enchanter] would pay dearly for such secrets.” He admitted sheepishly.

Ethan nodded. Faisal’s price for teaching him the arts of Golemancy had been a promise to impart the knowledge on how to construct Artificial Neural Networks. Although Ethan’s plan was to eventually give him this knowledge freely, Faisal had strongly advised him against it.

Apparently, the followers of Memeta believed in something called the principles of equal exchange. They believed that information should flow both ways in a conversation.

Now Ethan wondered what Memeta would demand from him in the future, in exchange for teaching him the secrets of soul magic. If her followers believed in this principle, she almost certainly would.

Faisal had also demanded full room and board for himself and his companions for an entire year. The shrewd [Trader] thought that it would be fair.

Ethan, however, had only agreed to that on the proviso that the followers of Memeta would teach students in their respective fields for a full year… once he eventually built a school.

All in all, it was a fair trade.

Faisal also had another request, one that was not part of the final price for that deal. For some reason – and at the Dwarf’s adamant insistence – he wanted to spend an entire hour each day with the sceptre.

Ethan saw no reason to deny him, although he found the request quite odd.

He shook his head and tried to pay attention to the lesson again. Something he’d heard earlier was bugging him.

“Earlier, you mentioned that only a Master [Enchanter] can bind a spirit to an enchantment, but this seems like one of the pillars of Golemancy. So, why is that?” Ethan asked.

“Ah. That is because binding a spirit without a golem core is almost an impossible feat.” Faisal tapped his chin as he spoke, “and a golem core has very specific requirements. It can’t be simply attached to any enchanted object.” He paused, “Not to mention its size.”

Ethan scratched the back of his head. Golem cores had turned out to be a very clever solution to a very tricky problem: allowing a golem to reason and follow basic commands.

Physically speaking, the core looked like three – or more – intertwined metallic hoops orbiting a central glowing mass, all nestled inside one another.

Magically speaking, it projected a magical field that had input and output “ports” – officially named “connectrons” – which functioned like the nerves that connected the brain to muscles in a living being. These “connectrons” had to be attached to the various enchantments present on the golem’s body, via a string of Connect thaums that ran along the golem’s magical “spine”, so to speak.

So far, he’d managed to learn a new family of mechanical manipulation thaums and runic formations, with Rotate and Translate (for use in pistons) chief amongst them. They formed the magical actuators and springs that allowed the golem’s joints to pivot, move or otherwise function. It was like learning about the different types of rotors for the first time in Applied Mechatronics all over again.

He was picking this stuff up at an astonishing speed, though; and he was at least thankful for that. It was a fact that amazed Faisal to no end.

The AI’s database was swelling with this new knowledge. Golemancy not only involved Enchanting, but also had close ties to Alchemy… a fact which he found rather exciting.

Ethan listened carefully as Faisal continued explaining what went into a golem core.

Crafting a golem core required a fair bit of knowledge in both Alchemy and Metallurgy, since it required the preparation of special alloys of magicite and one or more elements. Preferably a different alloy for each one of the “hoops” – which were called Foci – that went into the core. The types of metal and magicite used would determine the type of the Focus; and the types of Foci used, and in what order, affected the finished golem and its final properties in a myriad of different ways.

The central mass in a golem core was something different entirely, though, and had to be made of a very specific material: Everliving Steel.

Everliving Steel was a very precious alloy smelted from meteoric iron ore, alchemically-processed charcoal, and a magicite crystal containing a bound soul. It was volatile, unstable, dangerous to handle, and had some known and many unknown magical properties.

When Ethan asked about the high nickel content in meteoric iron and how it could influence the resulting alloy, a delighted Grenda had elaborated by stating that the magicite would bind with the pure iron and the charcoal while rejecting the impurities entirely, and that he would be surprised when he saw the smelting process, because it was a very animated process, and perhaps occasionally explosive as well.

“So, how does one bind a spirit to a golem core?” Ethan wondered aloud.

“We don’t know the specifics, but a new spirit usually forms when the core is finished; or it comes from somewhere else, attracted by the assembly of the core and the presence of a soul.”

Faisal paced around, before pausing and continuing with his train of thought.

“Some say that the residual memories imprinted on the soul attract the spirit, or that the specific structure of the golem core causes the attraction; but in truth…” Faisal shrugged, “…no one truly knows.” He sighed, “What we do know is that the spirit does not survive death, or being outside of the body, for too long.”

Ethan sighed dejectedly after that. Because there were too many things he still didn’t know, and because it was getting late and Faisal wanted to end the lesson for today.

He thanked them all before they went their own way, and proceeded to spend all night working alone in his workshop.

Because come next morning – his rule would officially begin, and he wanted to make some serious progress before then.

Kothar slept restlessly.

Although all his serious wounds had been completely healed by the shamans after his return from the encounter with the cultists. It seemed he still felt phantom aches and pains in his body every now and then.

Yet, he had never complained.

Unbeknownst to him, he was being observed in his sleep.

Milandera, who had no place to sleep to call her own, had taken to sleeping in the corner of his tent.

She now observed him with wide eyes, as he tossed and turned and occasionally grunted in pain, all while feeling torn between her desire to go and comfort him, and the social values of her upbringing, which told her that it would be a most improper act.

The fact that they slept in the same tent was skirting the limit of proper, as it was.

She hugged her furs to her chest. The furs he’d given her to sleep in, and resisted inhaling his scent on the warm furs.

She thought about the future, and felt uncertain.

She just hoped that Kothar would talk to Ethan West, and that as the new leader, the man would really free her companions – and her brother – soon.

If not, then she'd have to take matters into her own hands.

Queen Elnora Featherwind stood naked in the cold of the night, as brilliant stars shone and illuminated the ground.

Like most creatures of the Fæy, the newly ascended [Færie Queen] did not particularly fear or feel the cold; but she was enthralled by the gigantic tree.

On a clear night such as this, she usually went outside alone, and quietly listened as nature sung all around her.

But the melody of The Mother of Chaos was the clearest… the most beautiful of all.

It was a celestial tree. One that serenaded her in the most seductive of ways.

She felt its haunting call, and slowly approached the trunk.

Hesitantly, almost reverently… she touched the magical bark with a delicate finger, and listened…

Listened to the song.

Ethan wiped at his sweaty forehead, and inspected his handiwork.

After a full night of continuous experimentation and testing, he’d made a most curious object – two, actually – and he couldn’t wait to put it all to the test.

The first object looked like an unassuming sphere of copper. It had a single magical socket – like the “connectrons” in a golem – for output at the base, and as far as he knew: it was the first of its kind.

It was the world’s first enchantment designed to produce mana, and not to consume it.

It was a stationary version of his “energy bubble” spell. His first failed attempt at an energy shield that converted any form of energy into mana.

Yep, the one that had almost killed him in the process by giving him the Overcharged status.

Thinking about it some more, Ethan realised that no; it was not an “energy bubble”, because that name was lame. He decided to dub it the “Ambient Energy Collector” spell.

Well, maybe that was lame too. He’d figure out a proper and impressive name that fit, eventually.

The ‘Mana Cell’ – as he’d decided to call it – projected a spherical field that could convert any form of energy – including light – that tried to intersect it into a current of pure mana, while producing a small amount of waste heat.

In the beginning, the heat had presented a big problem. Because it usually meant that the entire object would melt in the space of a few minutes, once the heat was allowed to build up. Some of the prototypes had failed that way, sometimes with explosive results.

But he’d managed to skirt the issue by discovering a clever loophole, one that allowed him to integrate the excess heat into the projected field’s input criteria.

Wasn’t heat, technically, a form of kinetic energy? Why not include it in the conversion formula?

And so, the end result simply took the waste heat from the conversion, and dumped it back into the field, resulting an infinite loop. It completely broke the laws of thermodynamics that Ethan was familiar with… but not much else in this universe seemed to follow the known laws of physics, especially when magic was involved.

His choice of copper was because it had excellent heat conductivity. Well, that and it took well enough to enchantments, too. Not to mention it wasn’t very difficult or costly to summon it from the earth in smaller amounts.

The whole assembly had a remote control: a separate on/off switch, for safety’s sake, as well as an automatic shutdown feature; which could be triggered by the temperature rising beyond a certain threshold.

The on/off remote’s effect wasn’t instant, unfortunately; because the loopback mechanism would gradually convert the leftover heat to a weak mana current even after turning the device off, or risk releasing the heat in one go; but it was better than nothing at all.

Mana Cells! He thought excitedly. Who needed a bound soul to channel meagre amounts of mana, when you could start building industrial mana dispensers to convert all forms of energy to mana at your beck and call.

He deflated slightly at that. He still had to figure out the thaums for triggering controlled atomic fission and fusion, if such things even existed; but then again, why not? If molecular Bind and Release thaums – thaums which manipulated electrons and atomic bonds – both existed, then why not element transmutation and manipulation thaums?

Wouldn’t that make his dream of unlimited energy a possibility? That was assuming that the process didn’t consume more mana than the energy it produced, of course; but still.

He wondered what would happen if his ‘Mana Cell’ was exposed to a decaying isotope. Like a source of radiation.

Didn’t some mutant fungal strains – discovered near nuclear reactors from his world – perform “radiosynthesis” using a pigment of melanin? If biological life could evolve to feed on gamma radiation and find a viable process to convert it to high-energy ATP molecules, then why not a magical enchantment?

He assumed it would output ‘mad levels’ of energy then.

Ethan chuckled at the unscientific thought. It wasn’t important right now, because he doubted a natural source of enriched uranium existed in this world, and he wasn’t about to enrich his own any time soon.

Most of his night had been spent working on the Mana Cell, but what occupied his attention now was the second invention at the centre of his workshop.

He turned to observe it, and slowly made his way around the big machine. Should he try it out now?

When he’d discovered that [Meld] worked with metals, he was ecstatic; because it essentially allowed him to skip the process of forging components by coordinating with a smith. Not to mention precise measurements that were hard to get across. It allowed him to skip the process of crafting molds, too; or shall he wish it, to craft a mold with accuracy down to the millimetre.

It was the best skill he’d managed to learn by far, hands down; and combined with his sceptre… well, let’s just say he was in engineering heaven.

He felt giddy with elation, looking at this new machine.

He socketed the Mana Cell into place, and had to smooth over a few areas with [Meld] before it connected properly. It clicked into place with a most satisfying sound.

Now he needed big amounts of organic matter for the machine to break down.

He’d dump the stuff into the large chute at the top, turn the machine on, then observe the glorious process.

He’d eventually have to move it outside for the sake of efficiency, since direct sunlight would provide the highest energy conversion levels from the Mana Cell.

Oh, and he needed to invent some medium to store mana. Some kind of magical battery made sense, now that he thought about it.

He’d do that later, though. Because right now, he needed to do a test run.

He abandoned his workshop and closed the door; then went to find a farmer with access to bales of hay… or something like that.

Maybe dead leaves? Whole trees? Garbage? Anything organic would do… really.

Elder Ro was having her tea and breakfast in peace, when a group of angry farmers found her and started harassing her.

Apparently, an eccentric and overexcited Patriarch of questionable origins had come over this morning and whisked away most of their manure.

She sighed and got up. That boy was trouble, Patriarch or not. How had he managed to haul piles of manure of all things, by himself, anyway? Wait… she did not want to know that.

She followed the group of farmers to the strange new building he’d erected yesterday, and could hear loud noises – what sounded like grinding, clunking, and banging – coming from within.

A crowd was quickly gathering. All were bleary eyed, confused, and following the source of the noise. Some tribespeople had their spears out and were coming closer to investigate.

The entire gathering was in upheaval this morning. What other harebrained scheme had he come up with, now?

The noise grew louder as she came closer, and she had to shout to be heard over the noise, and to make the crowding people part and move out of her way.

Her mouth opened in incomprehension when she finally entered the building, and she yelled at Ethan to get him to shut his infernal contraption down; but not before the whole thing exploded in a shower of sparks and black smoke.

People swore and quickly fled away, and from the billowing clouds of smoke emerged a grinning and very sooty Ethan West. He was triumphantly lifting a lump of something shiny and featureless above his head.

“What the hell is that? And what the hell is this ungodly smell?” A [Warrior] asked, wrinkling his nose in disgust.

“It’s plastic! Plastic!” Ethan exclaimed joyously before using a skill, “Woah, it’s really easy to [Meld]!” He concentrated for a moment and the lump changed shape, “I just made this piece into a bottle!” He raised it above his head to show everyone, “It’s for storing water… for drinking! It’s got a cap that screws on the top! See?”

She approached him slowly, and smacked him on the head with her cane. Patriarch or no, that boy needed direction.


Besides, had he just crafted a container – to be used for storing drinking water… from a pile of stinking manure?

Needless to say, after Ethan was forcibly escorted to the hot springs for a hot, long soak, he sat wrapped in a cloak while his clothes were sent for cleaning.

Then a laughing Kothar came by, took pity on him, and lent him a pair of poorly fitting trousers.

And so, a shirtless Ethan sat on a rock in the sunlight, wearing loosely fitting pants and wrapped in a fur cloak, contemplating his life choices, and waiting for his hair to dry.

He leaned back and sighed. He really needed to obtain another set of clothes soon.

Maybe now, with access to polymers, he could tinker with synthetic fabric?

I should just slow down. He reminded himself. He didn’t want to lose himself in his excitement and forget about the important stuff, again. For instance, he needed to make sure that the Krell saw the importance of his creations; which would hopefully happen, given time.

He decided to make use of his free time, and accessed his settlement interface. He was intent on exploring it more fully this time.

Settlement Name The Gathering Nation Krell Tribes of Meerenva [Change...]
Level 1 Rank Tent City [Details…]
Specialisations None Available 1 [Select…]
Morale 117 Rank Segregated [Details…]
Population 13,274 Yearly Growth (Approximate) 135.3 [Details…]
Health 10 Rank Below Average [Details…]
Buildings 3,507 Average Construction Quality Shoddy [Details…]
Settlement Points 11,390 Daily Income 120 [Details…]
Education Points 15 Daily Income 5.55 [Details…]
Research Points 30 Daily Income 26.64 [Details…]
Construction Points 176 Maximum Daily Income (Variable) 12.66 [Details…]
Crafting Points 358 Maximum Daily Income (Variable) 73.85 [Details…]

The first thing he noted was the fact that his income of Research Points had increased overnight. He wondered why, then mind-clicked the ‘details’ button next to that row.

Research -
Active Researchers 2
• Alchemy School (1) 4
• Workshop (1) 20
Active Bonuses 11%
Daily Income 26.64
Total Available 30

So that’s what happened! When he built the workshop it must have boosted the settlement’s research score. Which must have solely rested on Aylin Merza’s shoulders up to this point.

He guessed that all the research he’d been up doing all night must have counted for something, at least. Despite the fact that his machine had exploded near the end.

Before his mind wandered and he started fussing over the reason why his machine had exploded, he clicked on a button at the bottom of the research screen. It said ‘Research Tree’, and it made him curious as to what he’d find.

What confronted him then was a gigantic tree of available research topics, with labels strewn about, connected by lines. Some were glowing, some were dim, some were greyed out, and some were completely unreadable, with a strange fog covering the parts he couldn’t yet access near the edges.

It was similar to the fog of war that prevented you from spying enemy movements across the map in some real-time strategy games. An interesting mechanic, he thought.

He tried zooming out, and the whole thing kept shrinking until only a small dot was visible in the middle, in the midst of a sea of fog. The research tree must be vast, the thought occurred.

He zoomed back in, and inspected the available choices and their costs.

  • Farming II: +2% to harvested yield, +2% to growth rate and health of planted crops. (Cost: 10 RP)
  • Hunting II: +2% to tracking and the yield of any snares and traps set by the hunters of your settlement. (Cost: 10 RP)
  • Foraging III: +3% to chance of finding edible plants, roots, and vegetables in the wilderness. (Cost: 15 RP)

The list went on. There were hundreds of choices for all things important and mundane. He even found a technology called ‘Lye Making I’ leading up to ‘Soap Making I’, which was kind of tempting to be honest, since he’d just had a bath without a hint of soap.

He missed soap, amongst other offerings of the modern world. He missed the internet, and coffee, and…

Focus! he thought.

He wasn’t about to spend 20 precious research points just to purchase the secrets of making soap, since he already knew how to make it.

It was listed as a branch of Alchemy, though. Did that mean that it required different ingredients in this world? Or did making soap involve a magical process somehow?

He’d try it out by himself, first. Chemistry was chemistry, no matter the universe. At least he hoped. He promised himself that his next bath would include soap, and preferably indoor plumbing, and maybe a freaking shower.

He also found ‘Energy and State Manipulation – Entropy’ far off into the distance. It was the technology that The Mother of Chaos had unlocked with its mere presence in his settlement.

It stood out alone, in a galaxy of obscured technologies surrounding it. He guessed it branched off from Alchemy, considering it lay in that direction of the research tree. It cost 2,500 research points to purchase this technology though, and it had no ready description.

He’d consider risking that later. Much later. When he had the points to spare.

He focused on the tech tree once more, and soon found one called ‘Alchemical Foundry – Enchanted Processing’ unlocked, which was presumably what he’d been working on last night. As was evident from the description, he supposed.

He also found ‘Energy and State Manipulation – Energy Conversion’ unlocked. Did that come from his ‘Mana Cell’ research?

How did this research system work, anyway? Did his settlement just download the information from The Wheel directly or something?

He suddenly remembered the followers of Memeta and their concept of the principles of equal exchange.

Holy shit!

Come to think of it… why did The Wheel award him research points in the first place? Did it, perhaps, collect his research and add it to the research tree for other settlements all over the world to purchase, too?

The more he thought about it, the more he felt his dread rise; and the more he thought about it, the more he hated that damn Wheel.

He knew his reaction didn’t make sense, and wasn’t at all scientific, or even rational; but he hated the idea of an entity having an insidious, subtle influence on him. Much like he loathed the idea of mind control.

Mind control is evil.

It was a simple fact. He reflected that the idea was so deeply ingrained into him that he had no idea as to where, or as to when, it had originated in his own head.

Centuries of subtle conditioning and indoctrination by Hollywood can do that too, I guess… His thoughts followed the natural conclusion; which made him do a double-take.

Weren’t Hollywood movies a form of insidious, subtle influence, too?

Damn. He frowned. This was a big can of worms, it was time to focus on something else.

He was about to open the Education screen to see what information it offered, when a smirking tribeswoman swooped by and delivered his newly cleaned clothes. She told him that a shaman had used air magic to dry them quickly at the elders’ request, because they wanted to meet with him in person, soon. She stressed the last word.

He checked his internal clock. Had he just spent three or more hours lost in thought, exploring the research tree?

As it turned out, he actually did.

He stood up and got dressed, then sighed and went to find the elders at the command tent.

He guessed that the exploration of the rest of the screens would have to wait, again.

Aylin Merza was smiling in glee.

What had he called this material again? Plastic?

It soaks up spells! Like a sponge absorbing water! She internally exclaimed.

She fingered the transparent, shapeless lump she’d snatched from Ethan’s workshop during the commotion earlier, and wondered what other marvellous properties it held.

It must be a secret from his world, she thought. I thought he said that his world had no magic at all, though? Did he lie about that part? She wondered.

She looked down at the precious material again, and sighed. She had to have the secrets of its make. She had to.

She tried channeling mana into it again, and it sucked it up without end.

Where does all that mana go? She wondered. This energy has to go somewhere.

And the first thing he had used it for: to make a water bottle. A bottle? She scoffed at the idiocy. What was glass for, if not for making such baubles?

She looked at this plastic, once more.

What was it made of? Was it a new form of crystal? Like magicite? Would it capture souls, too?

No matter what, she would experiment, and she would find out.

As for the secrets of its making, she would extract those out of him, too.

One day…

Jarett Lytell crawled through the sewers. He wasn’t sure how he’d managed to get down here and escape his captors, at all. He wasn’t sure where he was. He wasn’t sure what city he was at, even.

One thing he was sure about, though; and that was his neverending madness.

He’d lost his mind.

Now he saw things in the sewers. He ate things, too, but he saw things, too; and some of the things weren’t very tasty.

The evil bastards had completely ruined his mind; a part of him thought.

The other part wondered if thoughts were tasty.

The darkness of the sewers enveloped him, and part of him wondered if he’d ever get out of here.

The other part didn’t particularly care, and wondered if the darkness was tasty.

He looked down at his dirty fingernails in disgust, then proceeded to suck on his ruined thumb.

Not tasty, that.

He crawled along as unbridled hunger gnawed at his stomach. He had to find some fat rats to eat.

Because – despite everything else – one fact remained true: rats were tasty.

Ethan arrived at the command tent to find the elders sitting around, and a very antsy [Færie Queen] awaiting to greet him.

He thanked his lucky stars that he looked – and smelled – presentable, then. He didn’t want to leave the wrong impression, after all.

“You’re finally here.” Elder Jiran observed.

“Yes, what’s going on?” He asked while eying the [Færie Queen] with a side glance.

“Our fair guest wishes to have a word with the Patriarch.” Elder Ro spoke up.

“Sure, how can I help?” Ethan asked.

Elnora fidgeted, before speaking up.

“Listen, I spoke to the tree, and she told me…” She began.

“What? You spoke to a tree?” Ethan blurted.

“Yes, my kind can commune with nature; and it wasn’t just any tree. I spoke to The Mother of Chaos.” She explained impatiently at being interrupted.

“Okay, and what did it say?” He wondered.

“She’s a she.” She looked at him archly.

“Of course… what did she say, then?” He corrected.

“She has a request, a request to make of you.” The [Færie Queen] said, quite hesitantly.

“If it is within my power, I’ll help. What does she want?” Ethan asked in curiosity.

“She wishes for you to find her a mate.” Elnora elaborated.

“A mate? Do trees mate?” Ethan was confused.

“Yes, but it only happens once in a lifetime. A tree will pair with a mate… A nymph will bond with the tree, and become a hamadryad that will care for her wellbeing.”

“Oh! So it’s like a symbiotic relationship?” He asked.

“Yes. The relationship will lengthen both their lifespans and produce offspring.” She paused, “Will you help her?” She finally asked.

• You have been offered a quest: A tree and her mate…

Ethan didn’t finish reading. Because a singular thought occupied his mind:

What the fuck?

Did he just get… an actual quest?

Character Sheet