The Golem-Maker of the City
By Aaron Canton
The next day was bright and sunny—Laika’s favorite weather—and she smiled out the stairwell window as she descended to the guild’s lobby, a set of six one-foot-high golems in tow behind her. “I’m going out, Mr. Renzeya!” she called once she’d reached the bottom floor. “I’ll be back for lunch!”
“That sounds fine,” responded Renzeya, who had poked his head into the lobby with a knowing grin. “Just don’t get into trouble.”
“Who? Me?” Laika chirped, affecting an expression of injured innocence. “I would never!”
Renzeya’s grin grew as he gestured to the door. “Go then,” he urged. “I’m sure you don’t want to keep your friends… or anyone else… waiting.”
Laika giggled before hurrying outside—stopping for only a moment to let her iron golems by the doorway bang their staves a few more times than usual, just for a little added ceremony—and then rushed towards the square. Her new golems chased after her, with only a couple bits getting caught in the rough cobblestones of the road and breaking off. They were fairly simple golems which she’d whipped up just since last afternoon, but she knew they were good enough to serve her purpose. “Come on!” she urged them as they advanced. “We gotta go take back the square!”
The golems saluted as they ran—she’d got them trained to do that, at least—and as she sped up, they matched pace until they all were tearing through the streets at a rush.
They reached the square in just a few minutes, where the situation looked much the same as it had the previous day. Most of the kids, Laika’s friends included, were clustered on the square’s sides and staring longingly at its center while the half-dozen mage apprentices watched Brandon waving his wand in a tightly-controlled pattern. Normally, Laika might have been curious enough to wait and see what kind of spell Brandon was casting, but she had a mission to complete, and they were losing precious minutes of playtime. Instead, she skidded to a stop by her friends and murmured to her golems. “Now! Go now!”
“What are you doing?” Matthias asked as the golems hurried away into the crowd, cutting between people’s legs and even knocking a few people aside as they ran. They were short enough that they vanished almost immediately, and within thirty seconds, Laika knew none of her friends could see where they’d gone. “They’ll break your golems again—”
“Nope!” Laika grinned at him. “I’ve got a plan to get rid of them!”
“A plan?” Thomas grinned. “Awesome. Need any help?”
“Nope! But if Lyra wants to write a song about it later, that’d be really neat!” Laika turned to Lyra, who blushed—she was comfortable performing other people’s pieces, but composing and playing her own made her lose her confidence, so Laika always tried to remind her how good she was at it—and then gave a quick nod. Laika beamed at her, then spun on her heel to face the square. “Here I go. Wish me luck!”
“Good luck!” said all three of her friends at once, and Laika’s smile grew. It was nice to have friends, she thought. She’d never had them before—she’d been stuck in a shed making golems from dawn to dusk—but now that she did, she wouldn’t let anyone hurt them. Not even big kids with magic like Brandon and his gang. After all, she was strong too—more than strong enough to stop the bullies in their tracks.
And she had just the plan to do it.
She squared her shoulders and then advanced towards the square’s center as she had the previous day. “Hey, Brandon!” she called. “I wanna talk to you!”
Brandon sighed then turned toward her as a lazy, cruel grin spread across his face. “Again?” he said. “Where’s the golems? Learn your lesson?”
Laika shrugged. “I wanted to make a deal with you!” she chirped, counting seconds in her head. “So that you can use the square sometimes and we can use it sometimes. How’s that sound?”
“A deal?” Brandon looked at the other mages, most of whom were chuckling by this point, before turning back to her with a sneer. “And why, exactly, should members of the Vestigo Guild listen to a little kid like you?”
“Well,” said Laika, trying to match the conciliatory tone Reynoll used in his diplomatic negotiations. “There must be something you want…”
As she spoke, she saw her little golems advance out into the open from the side of the square behind the mages, all of whom were looking at her. They crept closer, their leafy feet completely silent on the ground, and their vine fingers twitching a little as they neared the mages.
“Oh really?” taunted Brandon. “’Cause right now I’m thinking all we want’s to be able to practice our magic in peace. What else you got that we would want?”
Reynoll had described many times how it could be useful to keep someone talking, and Laika knew all his tricks. “I got a lot!” she said, spreading her arms wide and inviting them to waste time laughing at her instead of paying attention to their surroundings. And sure enough, the big kids laughed and teased her—and the golems crossed more of the square as they snuck up on the mages.
“Like personal golems to do all our cleaning and chores and stuff?” asked another mage. “’Cause that could be nice.”
Brandon thought for a moment, then grinned. “You know what? I could go for a cleaning golem—in fact, I bet we all could. And hey, I guess if we ever needed more golems to do other stuff, we could just come back here, and you’d make them for us, right?” He chuckled. “So that we’d leave you alone—”
Then one of Laika’s little golems rushed up behind him, reached out with its vine fingers, and ripped his wand from his hand.
Brandon’s mouth dropped as the other mages drew their own wands, but it all happened so quickly that Brandon’s friends had no time to look behind them, where Laika’s remaining golems were standing. In moments, her other golems pounced and snatched up the remaining wands. They then ran behind Laika, who took the wands and beamed—her magic had worked perfectly. If Mr. Cenard had seen her, she knew he would have been proud. “How about this?” she asked. “I’ll give you your wands back if you agree to let everyone else use the square!”
The mages gaped—except for Brandon, who flushed. “Give those back!”
“Not unless you promise to let us use the—”
Brandon bunched up his fists and took a big step forwards. “Give,” he hissed. “Them. Back. Now.”
Laika thought for a moment—then stuck out her tongue at him. “Come get them!”
The kids around the square gasped, and then Brandon rushed her with a roar.
He was a big kid, and Laika knew that if she let him land any blows he could really hurt her. But she also knew, from Miss Naphkator, lots of tricks for avoiding that. As he ran at her she waited until the last minute, then dropped into a crouch, and as his fists swung over her head, she swept her arms out at just the right time. He ran right into her grasp, and she twisted to redirect his momentum outwards and send him stumbling away, until he tripped and smashed into the ground. “Ow!” he screamed, rolling over and revealing bruises and cuts on his face. “You jerk! I’m telling!”
“Telling what?” Laika asked. “You attacked me! And yesterday you broke my golems first too! Everyone saw it!”
Brandon’s eyes flashed as he hauled himself back up to his feet. “That’s not what my friends will say!” he snapped. “They’ll back me up, say you started it—”
“And say I somehow got all your wands without you noticing?” Laika grinned and waggled the wands at him, though she kept an eye on the other mages—all staring at the scene in shock—just in case they tried to intervene. “Okay, go ahead! Of course, they’ll want to know what happened and I guess you’ll have to explain how my golems beat all of you.” Her eyes twinkled. “Sound good?”
Brandon’s eyes darted back and forth for a moment before his face took on a darker shade of red. “Then maybe I won’t tell. I’ll just wipe the smile off your face—”
“And we can do this again?” Laika dropped into a combat form Naphkator had taught her, and even though Brandon was bigger than her, when he saw her steady, focused stance, he faltered. One hand went up to his bleeding cheek, and Laika smiled. “’Cause you might have had a lot of magic school, but I’ve gotten lessons from a real knight!”
The mage stiffened, but then his shoulders slumped. “Fine,” he hissed. “Whatever. Just give us back the stupid wands, and we’ll leave.”
All around the square other kids burst into applause, and Laika almost cheered at her own triumph. If she’d just beaten him in a fight like Miss Naphkator had suggested, he could have tattled, but now he couldn’t do that without embarrassing himself by admitting he and his friends had all lost their wands to Laika’s magic. And if she’d just used her magic to take their wands like Mr. Cenard had proposed, Brandon might have attacked her friends in revenge, but now he was too scared to do that. So he was giving up… and she hadn’t even had to bribe him with any golems to do it. “See?” Laika teased as she sorted through the wands. “I knew I had something you wanted!”
The mages all swore, in front of all the other kids, they would never try to stop anyone from playing in the square again. A couple seemed hesitant, but then Laika threatened to break their wands over her knee and they quickly gave in. She returned the wands after that, but not before carefully carving a strip from each of them with a pocketknife so she could still prove she’d had the wands at one point by showing how the strips fit the damage to each wand. This way, if Brandon went back on his word and tried to tattle, she’d be ready. Brandon scowled when she carved a piece off his wand, but he could do nothing about it except jam his wand into his pocket when he got it back and then turn around. “Let’s go,” he growled. “This square sucks anyways.”
“Bye!” called Laika as the mages scurried away, the other kids jeering too. “Don’t come back unless you wanna mess with me again!” She grinned, then turned back to the other kids. “Okay, what do you want to do—”
“Three cheers for Laika and her golems!” yelled Thomas from one side of the square. “Hip hip hooray!”
“ Hip hip hooray!” echoed the other kids.
Laika grinned, and at that moment, she knew the day was going to be absolutely perfect.
* * * * *
When Laika returned to the guild a few hours later, she was still chewing the last of the warm honey rolls the others had bought for her, and at the same time, she was humming the new song Lyra had composed. She was just up to the verse about how Laika had thrown Brandon onto the ground with the force of a mighty avalanche when she walked into the guild’s lobby—and saw several adventurers looking at her.
“So?” Miss Naphkator asked, leaning against one wall and cocking a grin at her. “How’d the quest go?”
Laika quickly swallowed and then grinned at her. “It went great! The mages left, and I don’t think they’ll come back ever again! And then everyone bought me honey rolls and candy, and Lyra made up a new song for me, and now a bunch of kids want me to teach them fighting moves!” That had probably been the most fun part of the victory celebrations—everyone had been watching her as she explained and demonstrated how to do the move she’d used on Brandon, and then she’d had her golems help practice with the others until all the kids more or less had it down. “It was awesome!”
“I hope our advice was of some use to you,” said Mr. Cenard. He was leaning on his wizard’s staff near Reynoll, while Renzeya himself was waiting by the entrance to the bar and dining area. “Did you find it helpful?”
“Uh-huh!” Laika quickly nodded, and her golems behind her followed suit. “It was!”
“Well.” Renzeya stepped to one side so Laika could get through the door into the dining area. “In that case, I’d say it’s your turn, Laika.”
“To tell us your story!” Miss Naphkator grinned. “We’ve told you plenty of ours—now you should tell us the great saga of how little Laika from the mountains beat a big, tough, Vestigo mage in front of everyone!”
Laika blinked, for a moment scarcely able to believe it. “You… want to hear my story?”
“Of course,” said Mr. Cenard. “After all, it does seem like you’ve had an impressive adventure.”
“Perhaps even worthy of being recorded in the guild’s journals,” Reynoll noted.
The golem-maker slowly grinned at the adventurers around her. And as she headed into the dining area, sitting down in the most comfortable chair and gathering her golems around her so she could point to them as needed during her story, she felt happier than she ever had before.