Book II - Chapter 46

Chapter 46


Snake Report:


“So, it really doesn’t bother you that certain people can break the laws of physics?”

“You keep repeating that.”

“Folks just push the envelope on what any rational person might generalize as impossible, and that's okay?”

“Laws of physics, push the envelope… an interesting choice of words there. No, it doesn't bother me, because that’s just the way it works. People push their limits, and the limits move. Hell, that’s why so many people are willing to risk becoming Adventurers: they can get stronger. Culturally, historically, the Empire encourages its people to go out and gain strength.”

“The concept though, of how it actually functions, though. That’s what I’m asking about, Eveth. You’re not the least bit interested on how people end up getting stronger, or how they specifically get their skills.”

“Of course, I’m interested. I’d be a fool not to be interested in the subject of Advancement, but I'd also be a fool to believe someone who says they've got it all figured out!”


“Yes, that’s the genre of this discussion."

"So, people know about this, is what you're telling me."

"It’s a well-respected field, if only understood with approximate guesswork.”


“In a general sense, you could say it's based off the concept of fitting what we identify as current roles in society and then, going one step back further, and pairing them up assigning them to conjectures.”

“What are those?”

“Concepts… they’re based off known similarities that have been around for thousands of years. Classes like [Mage] or [Soldier] are easy, but there's also careers that are more mundane like [Trader] or [Smith] or something of that nature. They don't all match up perfectly, but they all have skills that link to the ancients, and what they had thousands of years ago when magic first originated.”

“Alright! Advancement it is, now we’re finally getting somewhere.”

“Well, no."

"We're- wait, we're not?"

"The problem with the study of Advancement is that it’s all, and I really do mean all of it, subjective to the individual. Progress in this field doesn’t follow the same variables in a consistent way. What an event in one person’s life might earn them a skill: killing a monster, healing a wound, or accomplishing some sort of identifiable talent for a specific thing… that's not true across the board. They might get a skill as a result, but it’s not the same for everyone. As a whole, Advancement is just the theory of general direction. The path one should take to achieve their goals, saying they have a clear idea of what those are.”

“… What?”

“I could go slay some horrible creature from the deep dungeons, and I might get nothing. All while someone else, perhaps even another mage who has studied the same element as I have, could get a skill for it. I've seen things like this happen: there’s no absolute, the results are almost random.”

"You're kidding me."


“But didn’t you just mention classes? People identify with them, so you were just willing to admit that there’s some system governing it all.”

“I’m hesitant to call it a system. More of a… compass? At best, maybe you could call it that. Most people chalk it up to the whims of the gods.”

“You’ve got to be joking."

“No, it's not a joke. In fact, it's serious. The Empire puts its Soldiers through certain drills, encourages certain exercises and assignments because they’ve narrowed down the themes of what works and what doesn't. They know what is likely to give those who enlist some of the more important skills they’re going to need, but even then: there are still no guarantees. From a distance it makes sense, but at the individual level? Trying to pin down the cause and effect is almost pointless.”

“Everyone just generalizes? They just accept 'Do this list of random things' and maybe you’ll get lucky? You’re telling me that’s all people know?”

“Well, there’s more to it than that, but you've got it mostly right. I believe that the only time this isn’t true would be in relation to learning spells. At a technical level, spells are much easier to pin down. Unlike a spell, you can’t learn a skill by copying someone who has it... normally. There are some exceptions when it comes to weapons, and the martial arts… I’d have to read up on those.”

“All that, and you still have no idea what levels are?”

“Aside from what you’ve already mentioned? No, though I could see how they might theoretically exist, now that we've put them into context.”

“What about ranks? When skills get stronger?”

“They get stronger with use, but there’s no specific system to track that.”

“It doesn’t make sense.”

“So, you’ve told me.”

“You don't track how they progress... you don't know how you get them... but you can somehow identify them?”

“There are some ancient rune sets that have survived here in the Empire any person could use to identify skills. Some, mind you, not all. It's a long list, but there are always a few unique exceptions. The Guild’s blood-reader was a lesser version of a recognized blueprint."

"Uncommon abilities, things like that?"

"Well, yes... some of this, presumably, has to do with cultural drift. Many skills don't have proper names, or have multiple names, which gets a bit confusing, depending on what region of the continent you're in. Maybe you get a list of skills from what the blood-reader can identify, and then, maybe you also get an unclassified list of things it recognizes as potentially being skills, but it isn’t familiar with.”

“All that, and nobody knows how it works?”

“The Ancients clearly did, but the knowledge of mankind has taken a few hits since that golden age. More than just a few massive wars, then the era of catastrophe, the rise of the First Emperor and the Prophecy... Civilization almost completely collapsing did a number on records from back then. Most agree that the Empire is the main reason we know anything at all. So, long live the Emperor.”

“Lack of patriotism noted. Fine… test another [Light] spell for me?”


“Looks pretty bright. Mostly back to normal?”


“Good… alright. Same topic then: what about something simpler? Isn’t there some sort of measurement for mana? Units, or what have you? Can’t that be tracked?”

“Of course, Noble families track their most capable children almost religiously. An important house will invest heavily to make sure their bloodline is seen as reliable to the Royal family.”

“They track… mana capacity?”

“Mana Reservoirs.”

“Down to the unit, or whatever?”

“Optimistically, they’d try. Often it ends up a bit more general than that, there's always going to be some random deviation of one day to the next, but I’d say it’s mostly accurate.”

“Huh… and no surprises there? No jumps up in ability, like stairs?”

“Well... yes: that’s the normal rate. Mana capacity comes with incremental jumps.”

“That’s leveling.”

“That’s… leveling…”

“Are you trying to sound condescending, or is that just a natural thing for you?”

“No, I’m just skeptical. That’s just the natural rate of mana growth, it's always like that.”

“Jumping up? Advancing all at once, then flatlining before jumping again? That’s clearly leveling.”

“There’s more to it than that, though. Advancement is extremely important in some fields: Mages who want to learn skills that might enhance their abilities, or soldiers who need an edge in combat. I have to imagine there have been hundreds of studies based on the theme of tracking mana capacity alone. I don’t suppose you’re familiar with statistical analysis?”

“What, like bell-curves? Tracking outliers, making charts and plotting data-points?”

“… I’d say I’m surprised, but at this point I’ve mostly stopped making assumptions.”

“What? You’re surprised I know basic math?”

“Basic math, says the basilisk.”

“Once upon a time, I had different career-goals in life.”

“I don’t suppose I could ask-”

“No, we agreed: my questions come first.”


“How’s mana responding now? Try another [Light] spell for me.”

“Alright… there. Actually, that’s much better. I’m almost back to normal.”

“Good, that means we’re almost done then. You’ve got everything you wanted packed right?”

“Yes, I’ve got all my notes. Just what’s left on the table, saying it fits in the bag."

"Lot of stuff to carry."

"Would be easier if my hand stopped hurting.”

“It should hurt.”

“Well, I told you I was sorry. At least five times already.”

“You hit me in the face, Eveth.”

“Fine, six times then! I’m sorry, I didn’t realize-“

“Look at me, Eveth. Your fist might as well be the size of a truck, relatively speaking.”

“What’s a truck?”


“Alright! I get it, I get it: no questions. Just stop that noise that isn’t a noise, it’s horrible.”

“You know, all things considered, I’m a still little bit disturbed how quickly you’ve adjusted to the current circumstances.”

“Quickly? We’ve been down here for hours, and that’s not counting however long I was out for!”

“Yeah, that’s still pretty quick.”

“Well, the fact that you’re a talking monster, no offense-”

“None taken.”

“-and that you’re not some sort of Academy hired inquisitor, goes a long way.”

“They’re that bad, huh?”

“I’ve heard a few rumors. Healing magic isn’t always very holy and righteous.”

“Oh… OH. You’re talking torture. That suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. Yeah, not my thing.”

“And thus, I’ve adjusted.”

“Fair enough.”

“Although I do have questions.”


“I can ask them now?”

“No, absolutely not. My questions first.”

“I already answered everything: from world history, to geography, to recent events, to magic theory, Guild trivia… What’s left to ask?”

“Lots of things, just give me a minute.”

“At least let me alternate, one question of yours for one of mine.”

“No. [Voice of Eveth:] please list your status.”

“Voice of… what?”

“Ahem, [Voice of Eveth:] List your titles, skills, spells, and any other noteworthy abilities.”

“Titles? You really think someone from common blood has titles?”


“Alright, fine. My name is Eveth Gale. I’m a Mage, or at least, I think that would summarize me. I don’t have any titles that I know of, but I’m employed as a member of the Farstrider Guild as an Adventurer, and in my free time I do a lot of studying and research. For my spells and abilities, it’s fair to say that I’m competent in all the main aspects. My focus is in soul magic, and my spells… I know a lot of spells. You really want all of them?”


“[Voice of Eveth:] Yes.”

“Seriously? Not only is that an impossibly long list, you know that’s a taboo, right? This isn’t the kind of question you ask people.”


“Fine: just assume I can manage any basic spell, for any element. I know them all, inside and out. That covers elemental molding, and all the typical accompanying tricks that come along with those.”

“Strongest one?”

“Soul, but that’s not really obvious or useful most of the time. I’d say I’m visibly stronger with Air, and in that respect the most difficult combat spell I know is [Barrier] but I can make any of your standard projectile molding attacks. [Spear] and [Bombardment] aren’t much trouble, aside from the mana cost, as well as some of the mixed spells that require the soul element. Spells like [Eclipse] and obviously a lot of [Light] variations.”

“Any other strengths?”

“I can use all the elements, I already told you.”

“Yeah, but that’s vague.”

“It’s the truth.”


“Alright, I’m going! Please stop that- whatever it is.”


“Light, enough already. Fire is my second most powerful: [Wall of Flame] and [Fireball] are my main techniques, but I do know [Breath of Fire] as much as I hate using it, as well as [Flare] and [Night-Sun] if you get me the right tools, and again- any of the basic forms. My Water magic is practical: so that means [Shield] and [Block] or some of the other defensive techniques that are only useful if I happen to be near a river or some other body of water. Earth magic is mostly limited to molding.”

“Really? I thought you said you were good with Earth.”

“I am, and it’s actually one of the elements I use a lot when doing research, but I feel it’s generally much too heavy for combat. Practically speaking, unless my enemies decide to stop moving and patiently wait for me to hit them, there’s not much point to it.”

“[Voice of Eveth:] you’re wrong, but you can continue.”

“Wrong? I don’t care if some people believe it’s powerful. Earth magic is the heaviest of the elements. Moving a bunch of stones around is slow, difficult, and obvious. It’s capacity for combat is almost non-existent.”



“Stop that.”

“… Fine, are there any other spells of note that might be worth listing? What about those [Light] spells that look like swords?”

“That’s just Air and Soul manipulation.”

“Huh, alright. Same for the animals?”

“The very same. One spell, many applications.”

“Hmm… alright... tell me what this does. This ring, with the weird gem. That’s a mana crystal?”

“Oh, that’s actually refined mana crystal. Someone worked with the stone, organized it with earth magic so it can fit some internal runes. It’s a replica, so it can can hold enough charge for three smaller spells or one larger spell, and it leaks so it’s only useful for about a week before the mana empties out to match whatever the ambient concentration happens to be. Much more useful in a dungeon than outside it.”

“Neat. Is it expensive?”

“Yes, but I assembled it myself, so the price could have been worse. The crystal uses some runes copied from a set of dungeon relics I got to work with in the Academy.”

“And this one here? This ring looks different.”

“That’s a storage ring, for material and not mana.”

“Material? Like, physical... stuff?”


“How the does that work?”

“An interesting subject, though no one’s in complete agreement. I read a theory once that hypothesized it had to do with a conversion of mana to matter.”

“That… actually sounds a lot like a very specific type of bomb.”

“Bomb? You mean those weapons... the ones made with dragon powder?”

“You’ve got to be joking. That’s a thing?”

“No, far from joking. Very highly prized by certain noble groups, and very difficult to make properly. Still, they’re quite impressive.”

“Well, I'm only asking about this because it looks a lot like the one back at the shop, earlier.”

“The shop? Oh… yes. Very similar but different runes. That was an original, I think. Good price too, but this one isn’t actually very good quality, though it does work.”

“So… it just stores things, I take it?”

“Yes, but only material of mostly uniform composition. Very strange things can happen if you try to use it for anything else. A pile of sand is good, a bit of air, but try and tap a keg of ale? Catastrophe awaits.”

“Catastrophe, as in… exploding?”

“Maybe sometimes, hard to say until it happens. I use this one for water storage.”


“Isn’t it?”

“Yeah, [Voice of Eveth] can you tell me what this book is about.”

“Will you stop calling me that already? I think the name 'Eveth' is just fine on its own.”

“I prefer the other one, though.”

“Are you sure you’re not crazy?”

“No, not recently. Tell me about the book.”

“Hmm... you can speak, but you can’t read, huh?”

“I can read, just not this.”

“Oh, a different language?”

“Yes, something like that. Don’t think that I don’t see what you’re doing.”

“I’m not-“

“You are. Anyways: book?”

“That’s a text on elemental theory, specifically on the uses of air and soul magic, and how they interact. Most of the books I own are on that sort of thing. I do… did my research here.”

“What were you researching?”

“I was continuing my academy thesis.”


“Soul magic.”

“Yeah, okay- got that much: specifics?”

“Are you sure that’s necessary-“

“Could be relevant.”

“You understand you’re asking me to reveal my life’s work, don’t you? I built this place for a reason.”

“Rest assured, I’ll promise not to go telling everyone.”

“That’s not the point.”

“You can simplify the details.”


“Hey, another question: do you remember that time you set me on fire?”

“Yes, but that was an accident-”

“Or that time you tried to choke me out?”

“No, I don’t remember, my memory is-“

“Or, hey: maybe that time you punched me in the face?”

“Oh, for the First King’s sake, alright! I am truly, humbly apologizing, again. I didn’t know, and you went about it all evasive! How the hell was I supposed to realize it was you-“

“If you’d been polite and watched my ice sculpture show, like any normal person!”

“Nobody in their right mind would have just sat through that! It was dark. I didn’t know who you were. I’ve had the Academy on my tail before, and now with the Guild burned down and the mercenaries trying to kill us? I’ve been under a lot of stress!“

“Well excuse me for trying to soften the ‘I’m an intelligent magical snake’ blow. People either try and worship me like a God, or they try to exterminate me. There’s been very little between those two options, Eveth!”

“For fuck’s sake, I was wearing you around my neck all day like some noble woman in the newest fashion. We were getting along just fine: what the hell did you think I was going to do?”

“I had no idea, Eveth! You tried to kill me for eating breakfast! Thus, the theatrics!”

“I’ll have you know, I still have a lot of questions, I still want to know-“

“We agreed! My questions first!”

“At least tell me what the hell were you before you were a basilisk-“

“Punched in the face Eveth!”

“I said I’m sorry!”

“Punched: right in my face!”

“Gods! Will you let that go already?”

“No! Compared to me, a human fist might as well be a giant fucking boulder!”

“Then why the hell does my hand hurt so bad?”

“Because I’m a monster that hails from the bowels of the deep dungeon itself! It better fucking hurt!”

“The... oh, wow. I knew Imra was calling you a God, but the deep dungeon? Really?”

“Yes, I am. From who-even-knows how far down.”



“What was it… what was it like down there?”

“Terrible, Eveth. It’s terrible down there.”

“What kind of monsters live that deep?”

“Spiders, centipedes, eels, giant motherfucking megalodons.”

“Do you know how many layers in you were, see any ruins, or anything-”

“Eveth, I’m seriously: talk.”

“Alright! Alright, stop puffing smoke: my thesis is on soul magics interaction with non-elemental magic. I’ve been experimenting with Dwarven [Constructs] or portions of them, in the hopes of creating a better [Create Golem] spell.”


“They’re like golems, only… better. They don’t need a person standing next to them who’s controlling every little thing they do. They’re also extremely lifelike, quick moving, and have been known to display some forms of intelligence. Above all though, they’re deadly.”

“Deadly… and you’re studying these things, why?”

“Because they’re beyond what mankind can do, and better yet: they’re readily available. Constructs been coming in from the Eastern Blood Mountains for as long as anyone can remember. The Dwarves and mankind fought to a stalemate there during one of the ancient wars.”

“So, these things just… show up?”

“No, they’re being built somehow. People blame the Dwarves, but no one has seen a living Dwarf since… I don’t know, at least a thousand years or so. Unlike the Elves, that group completely disappeared, but there’s either a sect of them still trying to fight the Empire, or they went and created some sort of ritual-failsafe to do it for them.”

“Ritual failsafe, that makes these… constructs.”

“Yes, exactly. The army has sent scouts that track them coming out of the mountains, and they've mounted enough expeditions to know that there are tunnels deeper in, between the peaks. Suicidal to try and get close enough to look for them, but they're definitely there. The Empire has a huge amount of resources trying to close them up when they’re located. Geomancers, Air bombardments. Frontlines get gruesome if a new one pops up and no one notices. Slaughtered villages, poisoning wells, spreading plagues: things like that. Some of it's just rumor, but there's truth to a lot of those stories.”


“Alem fought along those lines, before he joined the Guild. His father, and his father's father... so on, so forth. That’s why he still uses that stupid hammer of his. Unless you’ve got a skill like [Clear Strike] or [Forced Cut] swords are really no good against things made out of solid rock.”

“That makes a lot of sense. So, you’re studying these constructs in hopes of… finding a weakness, something like that?”

“No, I’m studying them because they work with a different type of magic. A kind that no human has ever been able to replicate.”


“See this?”

“Sure, a bit of metal.”

“No: this isn’t metal.”

“It looks like metal.”

“Look closer.”

“… oh. Are those…?”

“Runes, yes. This is a rune covered stone, see here?”

“Strange looking.”

“Yes, the Dwarves must be using some naturally occurring vein of… we’re not sure. See, there’s always a trace of iron, but the rest looks like silver, even though the alchemists say it’s not. Anyways, at most, human runes run into a couple hundred symbols. Even the ancient and complicated ones, they don't go past that- but look here: this is just a fragment, and there are thousands.”

“Almost looks like circuits.”


“Like a computer.”

“What’s a computer?”

“Uh… you know what? Never mind. You’re trying to translate this?”

“No, people have wasted their entire lives trying to decipher the language and come up with nothing. It’s not worth my time.”

“Then, what are you doing with it?”

“Using soul magic to interact with it.”

“Uh... huh. Any luck?”



“You say that, like I should be very impressed.”

“Because you should be impressed.”

“I see your enthusiasm, but I don’t understand it.”

“Well, you were the one who wanted to know.”

“Fair enough. This is where you were using Soul magic, I take it? You said you used it for research.”

“Exactly, and though it took me a few years, I had a breakthrough.”

“Which was…?”

“The traces of iron?”


“That’s from blood.”

“Oh... blood magic.”

“Yes, exactly. That’s the trick, discovered it mostly by accident- drank a bit too much and cut my hand open something fierce, but it worked out. It was blood all along, that’s how to control these things. You have to bond them.”

“Hmm... control and bond, as in..."

"See here? The runes aren't really like a language, so far as I've been able to understand. They're much more like a... pattern. Specific channels, that guide the magic along. That's why the blood is what's important. Only trouble is, the Empire barely has any records of this branch of magic. Blood magic is more than ancient, it's predates that. The primal bargain, that's what the texts call it- and because it's so old, it's almost entirely forgotten. Still, from what I could decipher..."

"I feel like maybe this just passed over from interesting to horrifying, really quickly. Trust me on this: Blood magic is absolutely not something to mess with."

“I don't suppose you want to see?”

“What? No, I absolutely do not want to-“


“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Of course, it was under the sheet in the corner. Of course."

“I’ll admit up front: getting parts once I got expelled from the academy was almost impossible. Constructs are a restricted type of relic, all of on their own. See, there was this fuss a hundred years ago, sometime around then- one of them played dead and managed to get into the City. Butchered a couple dozen people, cut off some lesser son of the royal family's head...”

“You can’t be serious.”

“But you can trust me when I say, I took precautions."

“I don’t though, Eveth. I really don’t."

"This right here? This completely bonded to me, and completely under my direction.”

"That... looks profoundly evil.”

“It almost looks like a sculpture, right? They’re very lifelike”

“No… my ice statues are sculptures. This… this looks like some abstract-art, gone wrong. Why the hell does it have a face?”

“A little terrifying to look at, isn’t it? Funny thing, the face doesn’t serve a purpose. It's completely cosmetic, but you’re right. Between us, I’ll admit that’s the main reason I tend to keep it covered. Look at the limbs though, see the runes? Here, and here? Conduits, needed blood to activate.”

“The whole body is like that piece you had on the table?”

“Yes, that’s what makes it so unique. All the portions of the legs, torso, shoulders, neck, head- even the legs: all have runes like that, and they all work together. They’re balanced just so… intriguing as it it, this is actually a very plain model. I could only find so many pieces. They’re often much larger.”

“Larger? It’s got to be seven paces tall.”

“Constructs can take different shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’re small as a child, sometimes larger than a caravan wagon: but they all have one thing in common.”

“What’s that: they look scary?”

“No, they have a core. See the red stone, in the center?”

“Yes, it’s hard to miss the glowing red, evil looking stone.”

“Among Mages, there’s a well know spell that’s infamous for being horribly mana-intensive: [Create Golem] which was made in poor imitation to the Dwarven constructs. The problem is that they’re utterly useless, troublesome things. Watch: [Create Golem]”

“Ah... huh. Lumpy, no defined features, no artistic flourish: 5/10. Not your best work.”

“Shush. This golem here can stupidly pick things up, carry them, walk, maybe run. Good for crude labor, if you happen to have a highly trained mage who’s got abnormally large mana reserves and nothing better to do with their time but supervise its actions.”

“I detect sarcasm.”

“But this construct? It could intelligently dismember a human-being while deflecting arrows, and resisting magic damage. It’s capable of running at a top speed most [Warriors] or [Soldiers] might not be able to sprint, and has strength to match. All that, and it doesn’t need a mage as a supervisor: because of this core.”

“You say that so casually, while you’re reaching for it. Why the hell are you reaching for it? Eveth? Put that down- right now, put that-“


“OH no. You did not just do that.”

“Of course I did. Don't worry, I do routine tests like this all the time. I told you, it's no threat.”

“Murder-suicide, oh my god. This is about to be a murder suicide.”

“What? You’re rather difficult to hear all of a sudden.”

“Nothing, nothing. Can we leave? Lets leave.”

“So, anyways: this model is a bit of a mess. I had to build it piece by piece, but what’s particularly unique is that it’s damaged a very specific way. Unlike most, this won’t spring to life and kill us.”

“Won't spring... Eveth, you know what? I think I’ve seen enough.”

“What? Didn’t you want to know about my research?”

“I did, but now I think I get it. Totally understand, great work.”

“If I’m going to show you all of this, you’ve got to let me get to the good parts.”

“Which parts are those? The metal-stone hands that look like they’re made out of knives? Or maybe the fact that the evil unnecessary face that’s staring at us?”

“Oh, relax. This is completely safe.”

“That’s a flag, Eveth. I swear to god.”

“What’s a flag?”

“Oh my God.”

“Though it’s difficult to see, but here… see this? This scratch is from an arrow. Constructs move quick, so it’s rare anyone has a chance to really aim well. Apparently though, somehow a soldier along the front was capable of using [Improved Strike] in combination with some sort of [Accuracy] skill to hit it with an rune engraved arrow. This torso piece is an unusual case among unusual cases. The main controls are broken, it only acts under directive- not on its own.”

“Are you feeding it mana?”

“You can tell? Yes, I have a small tether of soul-”

“Of course, I can tell! It’s looking at us. It turned its head and now it’s looking at us!”

“Hmm… so it is.”

“That’s seriously all you have to say?”

“Well, yes. It’s a bit unusual, normally it just stares ahead when I activate it. I wonder what’s got it so interested…”

“Eveth, turn it off.”

“Well, hold on. I’ve managed to figure out a few basic commands I want you to see.”

“Eveth, I’m not kidding: turn it off, right now.”




“Turn it off. Turn it off. Turn it off.”

“[_____ __ ___ _____]”

“That was strange. Did you just hear something?”


“[_____ __ ___ _____]”


“[_____ __ ___ _____]”


“[_____ __ ___ _____]”


“It almost sounds like it’s saying something.”

“Eveth, I’m not joking. Pack up your shit, pick me up, and get us up the stairs. Now.”

“[n__ f _h o__]”

“Hold on, I think it’s saying something. It’s never done this before.”

“[ne_ f _he _or_]”

“Do you hear that?”

“[Ene_y _f the _or_d]”

“Did that just say-“