The Golem-Maker of the City
By Aaron Canton
“Mr. Renzeya, can I go out to play?” Laika beamed up at Renzeya with her brightest smile. “I finished my lunch, washed the dishes, and cleaned up my room. And a few of my friends and I were gonna practice sparring in the town square! So… can I?”
Cedric Renzeya, veteran of the Viscosan guard and current head of Viscosa’s Adventurers Guild, looked over his desk at her with an amused expression. They were in his office, a large room in the rear of the guild with racks of weapons, shelves of books, and several maps lining the walls. “I don’t know,” he drawled, leaning back a little in his chair. “Is that really the only reason you want to go out?”
Laika blushed a little—Renzeya was too good at reading her, she thought. “Well… there’s also a bakery with a special on honey rolls today, and I was thinking maybe I could stop in?” She clasped her hands together and looked right into his eyes as she smiled. “Please? Just to get one piece?”
Renzeya let the moment extend for a moment longer before flashing a smile of his own and gesturing at the door. “Of course. Have fun with your friends, Laika—but remember: one piece. If you’re going to be a great hero someday—”
“I have to eat right, I know. Thanks, Mr. Renzeya!” Laika was already scampering out the door and down the short hallway to the main lobby of the guild. “I’ll be back for dinner!”
She rushed through the lobby, greeting the various adventurers who said hello to her. Though she’d grown a couple inches since she’d been brought to the guild and now wore shiny, sparkling dresses instead of the faded brown ones she’d arrived in, she otherwise didn’t look too different from when she’d first arrived. She had the same long blond hair tied into braids, the same bright blue eyes, the same charming smile that had helped make her lots of friends. And so, even though some of the patrons had been gone for months on various adventures, almost everyone recognized and waved at her. “Hey, Laika!” called one of the regulars, a middle-aged mercenary named Lily Naphkator, known for her skill with a rapier. “Gonna go show your friends what I’ve been teaching you?”
“Of course!” chirped Laika, flashing a quick grin at Miss Naphkator before vaulting onto the stairs. “Thomas said he was a better sparrer than me, and I gotta prove him wrong!”
No sooner had she run into her room than two of her golems, Rosie and Lim-Lim, turned from their posts by her bed and trotted to her side, prompting another smile to appear on her face. Laika was a natural at making golems, and while she didn’t have to make dozens of them every day anymore—the warrior called Grannick had taken her away from the village where she’d been cooped up in a shed and forced to build as many as the mayor could sell to neighboring villages—she still liked experimenting with her talents and learning how to build better golems out of new materials. Both Rosie and Lim-Lim were basic humanoids about as tall as Laika herself and didn’t look much different from any other golem she had made. Rosie still smelled as sweet as when Laika had first crafted her out of bits of rosewood, and the limestone that comprised Lim-Lim was so easy to work with that Laika found it simple to give him fun add-ons like cat ears and tails, so they were definitely her favorites. “Come on!” she called to her golems as they helped gather up sticks and wooden bucklers for sparring and coins for the honey rolls. “We gotta go!”
The golems saluted—Lim-Lim bonking himself in the head in the process, which Laika made a note to look into later—and then chased after her as she rushed back out of her room.
Laika hurried down the stairs and out the front door of the guild, passing the two iron golems she’d built as sentinels, which obediently banged their staves down whenever she or Mr. Renzeya entered or left the building. Once outside and on the sunny streets of Viscosa, she quickly straightened her green dress—a present from a guild member whom she’d loaned a housekeeping golem for a few weeks—so the flecks of emerald in its fabric sparkled in the sun. Then she was racing to the nearby town square where she knew Thomas, Matthias, and Lyra would be waiting. “Hey!” she called as she approached the square, her golems easily keeping pace with her and drawing interested glances from passersby. “Hey, Thomas, ready to play? Thomas—”
She reached the square but skidded to a halt when she saw it was almost empty. While the cobblestones were usually swarming with other kids running around and playing games at this time of day, now the only people in the square proper were a half-dozen kids—maybe two or three years older than Laika herself—standing in the center. They all wore green habits, which Laika recognized as the uniform of the Vestigo Mage Guild, and a blocky blond boy waved his wand around while the others watched.
“Laika!” called a voice. The girl turned to see her friends and several other kids standing against the wall of a nearby building facing the square. She approached them as Thomas, the one who had called to her, gestured at the young mages. “Can you believe this? They won’t let anyone else play!”
“Why not?” asked Laika. Her golems formed up behind her as she looked out into the square. “They’re barely using any of it!”
Thomas shrugged. He had brown hair, hazel eyes, and an athletic build that made him look kind of cute in Laika’s opinion—though she would never admit that out loud. “They just said nobody else can use it.”
“And they’re mages,” added Matthias, a short boy with scraggly black hair. “If we do anything, they could turn us into frogs!”
Laika frowned, thinking back to something another Adventurers Guild regular had told her once. “Mr. Cenard says that’s really hard,” she said at last. “And he’s a real mage, and he can do all kinds of cool stuff, so he’d know. I bet they can’t do any of that.” She looked at the kids. “I’m gonna go talk to them!”
“Be careful!” murmured Lyra. She was a lithe girl who always had her little lute with her and had appointed herself the de facto bard of the group. “I mean, I know you’re a super-powerful golem-maker and all, but… but those kids are scary!”
Laika just grinned and waved for her golems to follow her, then jogged up to the mages while the other kids watched. “Excuse me!” she called as she approached. “Um, my friends and I want to—”
“Beat it!” The blond mage snapped, not looking away from the others. “We’re using this square to practice magic. Go play somewhere else!”
A scowl crossed Laika’s face. “It’s not yours!” she insisted. “Everyone should be able to use it!”
“Are you deaf?” the kid snapped. “I—”
“Brandon, wait,” said another mage. “She’s got magic too. Look.”
Brandon finally looked up at Laika, and then his gaze moved to the golems behind her. Laika grinned and waved at the golems, who quickly ran through a series of poses she found impressed people. “Right,” she said. “I do also have magic! And me and my friends—and the other kids—want to play too. So—” A sneer ran across Brandon’s face, and she trailed off. “What?”
“We’re apprentices in the Vestigo Guild,” Brandon snapped. “You know, the most important mages guild in Raleigh? The one responsible for guarding the king and the nobles from any dark wizards that might try to hurt him? We’re learning important magic, and we have to practice. That’s a lot more important than letting a novice like you play with stupid constructs like those.”
Laika flushed red. “Rosie and Lim-Lim aren’t stupid!” she yelled. “They’re—”
“You named them? Wow.” Brandon twirled his wand for a moment, and then a wicked gleam came to his eyes. “Here, let me teach you some real magic.” With a snap of his wrist, two bolts of green light flashed out of his wand, and both of Laika’s golem’s shuddered and collapsed back into little pieces of wood and stone, their animating magic gone.
“What? No!” Laika’s mouth dropped as she stared at the ruins of her golems. “You can’t—you—”
“Why not? You gonna tell on us?” taunted Brandon. “Our instructors keep the city safe. I don’t think your family’ll want to mess with them—or us.” He shoved Laika hard enough to make her stumble into the rubble that had been her golems. “Now get out of here, kid!”
The other mages laughed, and Laika was tempted for a moment to turn back and punch them in the nose. Instead she lowered her head and slowly retreated away from the wood and stone that had been her favorite toys.