Mark of the Fool-Chapter 848: Mk. III

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Chapter 848: Mk. III

Alex Roth and his business partner materialised in Shale’s garden, and hit the ground running.

“They’re already at the capital?” Toraka asked, passing fruit trees and rose bushes swaying in the low, night wind.

“They’re everywhere,” Alex ran by iron golems standing silently around the garden, their heads swivelling, scanning for intruders. Their gazes paused on the two crafters for a moment, but quickly returned to their vigil. “They’re all over Thameland, killing and burning everything.”

Toraka swore under her breath, skidding to a halt in front of a squat, brutal looking building at the end of the garden. She pressed her hand to a glyph just above the door handle, a sharp click announced the door swinging open.

A dark staircase lay beyond it, leading deep into the earth. The instant she stepped inside, magical torches began to shine, lighting the way down.

“Dammit, I was hoping there’d be more time,” she cursed, taking the stairs two or three at a time.

“More time for what?” he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Hold on, I’m going to teleport us.”

“Wait, whaaa—” Toraka cried.

The young archwizard teleported them down the stairs, ten at a time. “How far down are we going?” he asked.

‘To the bottom!” she shouted. “We can walk or run, you know—”

“This is faster.”

A few more jumpsbrought him and a panting Toraka to a set of steel doors at the bottom of the stairs.

The doors were enormous: greater in size than Claygon’s height and width, they looked thick enough to withstand a behemoth’s charge. An image of a fist was etched into each door.

“You nearly gave me a heart attack,” the older crafter complained, placing her hands on glyphs carved into the doors. There was a loud, dull click and the doors began opening in an eerie silence. “But I get it. We’re in a rush. Anyway, do you remember when we were first testing dungeon core-infused golems?”

“Yeah?” Alex asked. “You had one clash with a standard iron golem and use your…”

His words stopped.

Light suddenly illuminated a massiveroom beyond the doors.

Standing inside were five iron golems—each twice Claygon’s height—and forged in the image of full-plate armoured warriors. Their size was impressive, but what really drew Alex’s eye were the devices the constructs’ left arms were inserted into.

Devices that were somewhat familiar.

He remembered standing in the subterranean lab beneath Shale’s workshop as a sound like thunder grinding on a cliff face echoed from the back of the chamber.

An entire section of wall had slowly risen, revealing a secret room. From within, a tall brass construct forged in the curious shape of a humanoid praying mantis had unfolded its arms. Atop scythe-like blades on those arms, a pair of hands had sat, and in them had been a tray held by elongated fingers with a dozen joints.

On the tray, a curious device had lain: a thick iron box, covered in dials, tubes and exposed circuitry that wove together in a complex pattern. On one side, a hole big enough for an iron golem to insert its arm up to the forearm, had gaped; from the opposite side of the box a thick, heavy tube jutting more than half a dozen feet, had protruded.

The devices on these iron golems’ arms were even bigger.

Their shapes were the same as the device he’d seen before, but—where the older device had been made up of exposed circuitry, tubes and dials—these were sheathed in a thick carapace of steel, etched with glyphs of hardening.

The young archwizard’s heart beat faster, and he recalled what he and Shale had talked about in the lab on the day of that test:

“What I can tell you is that it produces a super-heated column of fire magic, further charged with a burst of lightning magic all held within a force magic carrier wave.”A twinkle had danced in Shale’s eye. “Add in a sprinkle of disintegration magic, and…”

“...and you have the coolest sentence I’ve ever heard in my life,” Alex had said.

“Exactly.” She’d beamed as the mantis-construct bowed to the old iron golem which inserted its limb into the hole. Energy had sparked, emitting a pulse of mana so powerful, Alex’s hair had stood on end. “It’s a bit of a pig on mana—for obvious reasons—so it's built to draw power from a golem core,” she’d said.

The young wizard’s eyes had shone. “Looks like it’d make a very big boom.”

“It’s designed to do just that.” Toraka had smirked. “I would like to introduce you to the…”

Alex walked toward the five golems, his eyes fixed on the weapons. “…Gale Force Cannon Mk. I Prototype…” he whispered its name.

Toraka chuckled darkly. “The Mk. l, was what I showed you, wasn’t it?” She ran her hand along the deadly weapons. “This is the Mk. III.”

Alex threw her a startled look.

“Once I saw the power output of a dungeon core essence-infused golem core,” she continued. “I realised I could make the weapon more powerful, as long as I reinforced its chassis and added some ice magic to the structure to ensure it didn’t overheat from repeated firing. I also added a dose of dispelling magic to the projectile, to help it rip open any magical defences. That was the Mk. II.”

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She gave Alex a smug look. “When I learned that Claygon’s fire-beams had become so much more powerful when he evolved into iron, I realised I could go beyond that.” Toraka tapped the device. “I infused dungeon core essence into the device’s internal power supply, lacing the entire projectile with some nasty energy. It’s not as powerful as if I’d combined it with chaos essence—since I couldn’t figure out how to do that without the device exploding—so it’s not going to be quite as destructive as Claygon’s beams, but…I can tell you that just about anything that walks, crawls or flies in this world is going to have a really bad day if they get hit by this thing.”

Her eyes hardened. “And that bad day’s going to be their last.”

“By the Traveller,” Alex murmured, stunned. “And…were these for a client?”

“Oh, by the gods, no!” She shook her head rapidly. “These are for my personal collection and the defence of my residence.There’s no way I’m letting them out into the world…except to let you borrow a few to defend your homeland when I’d finished making ten.”

She sighed. “But considering how bad things are looking…I’ll let you have these five for now.” Shale snapped her fingers five times. “Golems, you are to listen to this young man, his name is Alex, and defend what he tells you to defend. Kill what he tells you to kill…unless it's me, don't kill me, even if he tells you to.” She smiled at Alex. “Just a little precaution, partner: not that I don’t trust you. Also, do yourself a favour and leave at least two of them with your hometown…Alric was it? I can’t have my business partner’s old home turned to ash, now can I?”

The young archwizard stared at Toraka for a long moment.

Then he surged forward, wrapping the woman in a tight hug.

He lifted the struggling crafter from her feet.

“Thank you Toraka!” he cried. “Thank you so much!”

“By the gods, let me go, you big oaf: you’re crushing me!” she complained.

“Oh, sorry, sorry!” Alex put her down, but gripped her shoulders. “Listen, I’ll never forget this.”

“You’d better not!” she rubbed her sides. “I think you might’ve cracked a rib.”

“Sorry,” he apologised again, teleporting beside the golems. “I have to go.”

“I know,” she said. “Do what you have to do. And make sure you come back alive. We have more coin to make, you and I!”

“I’ll make us all the coin in the world.” Alex promised.

“You’d best.”

With that, the young archwizard teleported the golems to his hometown.

“The situation is dire, Kartika,” Baelin said grimly. “I fear that—if we do not take decisive action immediately—then the kingdom will fall. The supply of dungeon core essence will end, as well.”

The councillor buried her face in her hands, sinking into her arm chair. Magical lamplight cast shadows through her sitting room. “When you teleported into my bedroom—which I will never forgive you for, by the way—”

“Apologies, Kartika. But we simply do not have time for pleasantries.”

“I know, I know. But I thought a devil had appeared at my bedside to devour my soul, ugh,” she complained. “And to make things worse, you came to tell me the worst news I’ve had in a while. Fantastic.”

“Will you be able to provide aid?” Baelin asked. “The Heroes, Alex’s companions and I will be seeking to destroy the source of this devastation, but—if my theories are correct—it will require all of our attention while we are in the fae wild. We will need as much help for the kingdom as can be spared.”

She gave him a concerned look. “Half the council and most of the city’s elite are pouring coin into expeditions to extract as much dungeon core essence as can be secured. Faith in the Traveller is spreading through the city.”

Baelin’s face was a mask.

“If we don’t help now,” Kartika said. “It’s going to look bad, considering we are allied with Thameland. Not to mention that most of my fellow councillors would like to remain on Mr. Roth’s good side. Including myself. Listen, it’s going to take a bit: I can’t authorise a military force’s deployment on foreign soil without full agreement of the others. That should take about ten minutes. By the time we have a strike force ready to go…expect it to take at least an hour.”

“Of course,” Baelin said. “The Thameish will have to hold out until then. Alright, thank you for this. Now, I must go. I have some final preparations to make. This…will likely be a battle that tests even me.”

“Really?” Kartika shuddered. “Even you? Then why do you look so excited?”

The chancellor startled, then burst out laughing. “Goodness, I am growing far too obvious in my dotage. Well, the reason I look excited…is because I am. It has been a long time since I have properly tested myself in the field of combat.”

He clenched his fist.

“Far too long.”


“That’s going to be too long!” The priest bellowed at the messenger. They stood on the walls, wind buffeting their cloaks. The cries of Ravener-spawn filled the air. “We need more soldiers now!”

“The road to the Cave of the Traveller’s been cut off!” the messenger shouted back. “And the next garrison’s at least an hour’s ride away, even if the road wasn’t full of Ravener-spawn. If we try sneaking our way to the Coille, and make it,it's going to be at least three hours until we can get help, if they’re not overrun too!”

“I don't like your tone messenger!” the priest fired back.

“Quite frankly, sir, I don’t give a damn!” The messenger grimly looked at the road. “I think we're all going to be seeing Uldar and the Traveller very soon. If you don't like my tone, you can take it up with them.”

The priest sputtered, then fell silent.

Further down the wall, Peter winced. “Well, so much for help.”

“Aye…” Paul looked at the western road. “Listen, Peter, it's been an honour serving with you. More than an honour.”

“Yeah, Paul.” Peter gripped the parapet. “Yeah, it has.”

The road ahead was teaming with Ravener-spawn.

And not just any Ravener-spawn.


Dozens of them, standing shoulder to shoulder, marching toward the little town with death in their eyes. Their feet crushed rock, and ground stone. Their bone spokes scraped each other’s armour. Their bellows echoed through the land.

Surrounding them were hundreds…no, thousands of bone-chargers. Their growls sounded like distant thunder.

That thunder was getting closer.

And Alric did not have nearly enough warriors to weather the storm.

“We’re going to die,” Paul said solemnly.

“Aye,” Peter echoed. “Unless we run. Maybe the eastern road is—”

“Gibbering legions to the east!” A cry went up from the wall on the opposite side of town. “At least a hundred! And thousands of chitterers! Thousands!”

“Well, there goes that plan.” Paul’s voice remained even. He glanced at his fellow guard. “You seem awfully calm, mate.”

“Same with you.” Peter shot back.

“Well, if we’re going to die…shit, there’s worse ways to go than battling Ravener-spawn for our homes.” Paul smiled bitterly. “Always planned to go while in bed, all wrinkled up, and surrounded by grandchildren. Heh, didn’t even get to marry. But, ah well, I guess this is a good second best. What about you, you sound real calm yourself?”

Peter shrugged. “Nothing to be done. At least this happened while we’re on duty here, and not in the Cave. The Traveller’s Cave is nice enough, but I’d rather die in the place I was born.”

“We can agree on that…” Paul began to crank his crossbow. “Look, they’re getting ready to charge.”

“Seems like it.” Peter lifted his crossbow. “Shoulda cranked that earlier.”

“Aye, last mistake I’ll be making I guess,” Paul said, his voice wavering. “…I don’t really want to die, Peter.”

“…neither do I, Paul. Neither do I. Let’s hope the Traveller deems louts like us worthy of her mercy.”