The Golem Maker of the Tower
A Story by Aaron Canton
The tower of the Vestigo Mage Guild was a tall, shadowy structure surrounded by a high black fence. Everyone in town had heard rumors of mysterious and dangerous experiments taking place inside, and many had heard about a friend of a friend who had supposedly stumbled inside, irritated a short-tempered wizard, and promptly been turned into a frog. As a result, most people gave it a wide berth as they went through the southern part of Viscosa. Even those who had cause to approach it did so quietly and snuck away as soon as their business was concluded.
The child and golem-maker known as Laika, however, had a slightly different approach. “Hello, Mr. Bestle!” she chirped as she skipped to the gate trailed by two of her best golems, both carrying wicker baskets. One was made of marble; its basket contained a tasty lunch prepared for her by Mr. Renzeya of Viscosa’s Adventurers Guild. The other, made of ash, carried some of her favorite toys. “How are you today?”
The mage on duty, Bestle, was an older man with green eyes and a puffy white beard. He adjusted his cowl a little so he could look down at Laika and smiled when he saw her face. “Excellent, Laika. Thank you. Here to see Arendal?”
“Uh-huh!” Laika waved her golems forward. “A bunch of us are having a picnic, and I thought maybe he’d want to come! And then—”
Bestle held out a hand, stopping Laika from skipping past him into the compound. “Wait a moment. Arendal’s master, Cenard, has given him a big project to complete. He does not have time to go picnic with you today.”
Laika frowned. Arendal, a boy one year older than her with platinum-blond hair, bright amber eyes, and a gleaming smile, was one of her best friends, but it was becoming increasingly hard to see him. Lately it seemed that whenever she and the rest of their group—Matthias, Thomas, Lyra, and so on—got together, Arendal would just send a message saying he was busy doing complicated magic stuff and he’d have to talk to them later. He’d said he would hopefully be free today, which was why Laika had come to his tower to get him, but now it sounded like he would be chanting or playing with newt eyes or whatever else apprentice mages did when they weren’t playing with their friends. “Aw, but he promised!” Laika protested. “He said he’d be around if we wanted to go to the park!”
“I know, but Cenard thinks Arendal may be ready to graduate to the next level of his apprenticeship and is giving him the final tests. Your friend needs time to complete them satisfactorily. Still…” Bestle scrutinized Laika for a few seconds before nodding firmly. “I think he should be able to squeeze in a visit from a friend, as long as it’s brief. Go on up, Laika.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bestle!” Laika grinned and waved her golems forward as she scurried into the compound. The tower itself was across a short yard, and she hurried through it, dodging the spots she knew were trapped with magical wards. The wards were spells mages had cast long ago and fixed to the ground so thieves trying to break into the compound would step on them and be stunned or frozen or made too heavy to move so they could be arrested. Arendal, though, had told Laika where the wards were, and she could quickly slip past them and arrive at the big wooden door of the tower. She pushed it open, let her eyes acclimate to the dim lighting like always, and ascended the stairs within.
The Vestigo Mage Guild’s tower was always cold and drafty, no matter what the temperature was outside, and Laika was convinced all the senior wizards had set that up just so they could wear thick, comfy robes all day. She shivered as she ran up the first flight of stairs towards the third story, where the apprentice mages lived and studied in little rooms. When she finally arrived there, she waited for her golems to catch up and then moved towards the third door on the left, just past a little torch flickering in its bracket. “Arendal!” she called as she reached the door. “Hi!”
There were footsteps from inside the room, and the door swung open to reveal the bright, smiling face of Laika’s friend. He wore a big brown robe and held a magic wand that sparked and fizzed in his hand. “Hey, Laika!” said Arendal. “Nice to see you! Come in!”
He ushered Laika and her golems into his room. It wasn’t large, but it had enough room for a little bed, dresser, and desk, as well as open space in the middle of the room where what looked like a half-completed crate sat next to a bunch of wooden planks and some carpentry tools. Arendal shut the door behind them and edged around the box to sit on his bed. “What’s going on?”
“You said you could play today, so I came by to get you!” said Laika. “But Mr. Bestle said you can’t. He said you have tests.”
“Yeah…” Arendal sighed. “Master Cenard gave me some big projects before he promotes me to the next level. I really wanna advance, but I gotta get this stuff done first.”
“But we’re all going to play now,” protested Laika. “Can’t you get promoted later?”
Arendal chuckled. “But when I get promoted, I get a bigger room, and I get to use better spell ingredients. I’ll be able to cast real magic and not just little stuff.” He waggled his wand, which sparked again. “Plus, you know if I take too long to get promoted or screw up the tests, I’ll get kicked out. I don’t want to have to go back to my family’s farm. I’ve wanted to be a mage ever since a scout came to my village and said I had potential. I’d be really upset if I had to leave because I couldn’t finish one stupid little test.”
As far as Laika was concerned, it was very mean of the Vestigo Mage Guild to throw out the apprentices who were slower to advance than their friends. When she got older, she decided, she’d try to do something about it. But in the meantime, she had a friend to support. “Well, what’s your project? Maybe I can help you finish it real quick so we can go picnic with Matthias and Thomas and Lyra!”
“I have to put this together with magic.” Arendal nodded at the half-built crate and the wood next to it. “And I only have two more days.”
Laika studied the box critically for a moment. “That doesn’t look too hard,” she said at last. “Here, I’ll put this piece here—”
But the instant she touched a wooden plank, her fingers felt tingly and then went numb. She yelped and stumbled back as both Arendal and her golems rushed to catch her. “Hey!” she said, shaking her fingers as feeling returned to them. “What’s wrong with the wood?”
“It’s bespelled,” said Arendal. “If anything living touches any of the pieces, they go numb. And their magic goes through gloves too; I already checked.” He sighed. “Like I said, I have to build the crate using magic. I’m not allowed to touch the wood or the nails or anything with my hands. And look.” He gestured at the pieces of wood, which Laika noted were two different colors. “You’d think I could just set up the four walls and then lay planks on top of them, right? But I’m only allowed to use the red planks for the top, and they’re a little shorter than the others. They cover the gap, but there’s no overhang, so I can’t rest them on top of the walls. Those planks go inside the box, and I have to nail them to the walls so they don’t fall out. It’s really tough.”
“Oh,” said Laika. She knelt and stared at the wood. “That sounds hard.”
“It is. I’ve never done anything needing this much focus at once before. Usually I do wards because wards you can break apart; if I want to write a ward that uses five sigils, I can write each one separately and focus on each one as I do it. But for this, I have to focus on the wood I’m controlling, the nails, and the hammer all at the same time, and it gets really complicated.” Arendal raised his wand. “See, I’ve been trying, but…”
As he spoke, his wand glowed, and after a few seconds, a wooden piece twitched to life. It wriggled a few times before floating to the top of the half-finished crate and shifting over so that its end was pressed against the top of a crate wall. Arendal grunted, and his wand sparked harder as a few nails floated too. His face twisted in concentration, and he waved his wand yet again to make the hammer begin to fly—but then the wood slipped down, clonking into the hammer, and everything fell to the bottom of the crate in a big pile.
“And usually when I try, I lose focus, and that happens,” Arendal concluded. “It keeps falling apart. I really don’t want to get sent home, but I’m stuck.”
The two were silent for a few moments. Laika was acutely aware of time passing and precious daylight minutes slipping away instead of being properly spent playing with friends, but she knew she shouldn’t be focusing on that. Her friend was in trouble, and she had to find a way to help him. She didn’t have much with her, just the food, her toys, and her golems…
She brightened. “Hey, I know!” she said. “My golems can help you! They’re not alive, so they can touch the wood! And they’ll be able to put it together in minutes so we can go out and play!”
Arendal brightened before suddenly hesitating. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m supposed to do this myself. If the golems do it for me, Master Cenard might get mad. But…I really don’t want to get kicked out, and I’m supposed to get this done by tonight…”
“Maybe they could just do a few pieces?” offered Laika. “Once we get a few more pieces set up, it’ll be easier to do the rest, right?”
Both children looked at the half-built crate in the center of the room and the substantial pile of wood next to it that still needed to be added to the structure. “All right,” said Arendal at last. “But only a few.”
“Right!” Laika clapped her hands. “Ashie! Speckle! We’re going to put more of the box together!” She waved at the crate and focused on her golems, and they immediately tossed their baskets aside and jogged over to the half-completed structure. Laika pursed her lips as she drew on her power to manipulate the golems exactly as she needed them to move. “Okay. First we’ll lift that wood there so it’s next to the top of that plank…”
The golems worked quickly, with the marble golem Speckle hefting each piece of wood into the air and setting it in just the right place so Ashie could hammer in the nails that kept it stable. After only a few minutes, several more pieces were in place, and the crate began to look nearly done. Arendal didn’t say anything, instead choosing to watch Laika’s golems with what looked like wonder in his eyes. Laika remembered him telling her once he really admired her instinctive grasp of golem magic, and she felt a little surge of pride as the older boy smiled at her constructs while they worked.
In the span of ten minutes, the crate was completed. Laika and Arendal both cheered. “It looks awesome!” said Arendal. “Although…I mean, I was hoping to do a little more of it…”
Laika frowned. Sure, she’d gotten a little carried away, but she’d hoped for something more along the lines of, ‘Thank you for helping me, Laika! Your golems are the best golems ever!’ But she reminded herself that boys were sometimes silly and didn’t react to things the right way. “But now it’s done,” she said. “It was a silly project anyways—and now you’ll get promoted, and you won’t have to go back to your village!”
“Good point.” Arendal was still for a moment longer before nodding. “Let me just tell Master Cenard, and then we can go. Uh, better hide your golems, Laika—just in case he looks around.”
Laika quickly gathered her golems in the little closet in the back of the room. It was a tight fit, but she finished just before she heard Arendal’s footsteps returning. She turned to see him reenter the room with Master Cenard behind him. Cenard scratched his big black mustache as he extended his staff into the room ahead of him. “Ah, hello, Laika. Come to give your friend moral support?”
“Uh-huh!” said Laika.
Cenard paced around the box a few times, tapping it with his cane and even bending over to examine it in more detail once or twice. “Well done!” he said at last. “This is remarkable, Arendal. Truth be told, many of the apprentices here struggle with the crate test. But yours is immaculate. You pass.”
“Yes!” cheered Arendal. “Thank you, Master!”
Laika jumped to her feet. “Now he can go out to play, right?”
“Of course.” Cenard turned towards the door. “Have fun with your friends, Arendal. But do return soon—you’ll need to get ready for your final test. Pass that and you’ll advance, and then you’ll get a much bigger room.” He turned back with a faint smile on his face. “I remember when I was an apprentice. The tiny rooms were always the worst—”
“Wait,” said Arendal. “What’s the final test?”
“Oh, you’ll be casting spells in front of a committee. You know, building a crate or shelf or dresser or another piece of furniture, but instead of doing it in your room, you’ll be doing it in front of several senior mages. It’s basically what you just did, except bigger, and there’s a strict time limit since the mages all have their own research they’ll want to get back to.”
Arendal gulped. “On my own?”
“Of course on your own. That’s how all the tests are.” Cenard looked puzzled for a moment, then shrugged and moved to the door. “But that’s for later. Have fun with your friend!”
When he was gone, Arendal looked at Laika with horror on his face. “Laika, I’m not ready for this! I couldn’t even build this box on my own—I’m not going to be able to build something bigger! And you won’t be able to help me with the mages around!” He put a hand to his head. “And when I fail, they’ll probably figure out I didn’t build the crate on my own either! I’m going to get thrown out of the guild and sent back to my village!”
Laika’s mouth dropped. And though she wanted to comfort him, she couldn’t think of anything she could do.