Interlude 5 – A Mage and an Orb

Douglas Yew was a positive man. He was positive that his friend Julius was going to get in trouble with the Dahsins, so he decided to visit the Kalavichos. He was positive his presence in Hulthemia would cause problems, so he limited his time spent in the city. And, most of all, he was positively ecstatic to finally be able to study a temple core in person!

Or, to be more specific, to study it at his own leisure. In his own hero’s quest, he was able to study the fascinating orbs of monstrous and divine magics when in the temples, but he was always dragged away before long. Initially by Sir Zweher, then by Tisma when she joined the group. His small frame back then made it quite easy for them to literally carry him away from the cores, much to his consternation.

Well, no matter. He had the time now, and far more understanding than he once did. 

Stepping over the crumbling body of an earth golem with a molten hole through its chest, Douglas arrived at the center of the dungeon he was traversing, all to find the Dungeon Core nestled deep in its interior. It was a decently sized one, far from the city and any nearby towns, so it had been allowed to grow relatively far.

It was simplistic though, mainly relying on artificial beings it could compose from the elements around it, and once Douglas held the temple core up to the smaller dungeon one he could immediately note a number of visible differences.

Not only was the first one larger than latter, it was more…stable wasn’t quite the exact word; it would be more accurate to say that the dungeon core seemed to constantly emit energy, possibly to keep its bond with the dungeon it formed around itself, whereas the other one kept all its magic inward

That was…odd, as far as he could tell; a core should emit magic constantly to support what structures it resided in, as even removed dungeon cores consistently emitted magic to form a new dungeon wherever they were located. They had to be actively rendered dormant to be stored, lest they expand their storage space in rough, distorted ways, yet the temple core lacked that quality. It certainly wasn’t dormant, every indication it gave signaled its activity, so how was it different? Looking over the larger core, he couldn’t help but wonder why it was the way it was. 

“Just what are you…?” 

Douglas first set the core down and walked around it in a short circle. Bringing a hand up, he next began to mutter low incantations as a rush of protective magics coated his body, bathing him in glows until the shields settled and he looked as normal as always. Lastly, he pointed at the core with one finger and braced himself. One minor arcane bolt, the most novice of novice attacks sprung from his digit in a flash of pale blue and flew straight towards the unassuming gray core.

However, before it could impact, the core itself took on a metallic sheen and the attack bounced off it entirely. 

“…Ah hah. Interesting. Good, and interesting,” Douglas mumbled as he took a seat by the core, his legs crossed under him. He was both fascinated and immensely relieved. 

Fascinated, because the temple core’s response proved that it was capable of directly observing and responding to outside stimuli, a quality dungeon cores had difficulty with. The sentience/sapience of cores were of some fierce debate in academic circles, particularly due to the influences their existences have had on various cultures around the world, particularly in the Dark Lands, but it was generally accepted that they had sense of their surroundings and were capable of both predatory and scavenger-like behaviors through manifested intermediaries. 

Essentially, they could create ‘monsters’ as vehicles for their sustained existence. Beyond that, a core couldn’t act on its own. No dungeon core could use magic to form a shield around itself in an instant, for instance, yet a temple core, apparently, could. Hence, fascinating.

Though, still, relieved, because that could have backfired on him in the worst of ways if the temple core was somehow far more fragile than the typical core. Dungeon cores had certainly been destroyed in the past, but they always needed to be rendered dormant beforehand, lest they detonate and kill the person attempting the destruction. 

The only recorded instance of a temple core being destroyed, on the other hand…Well, there was a reason the Barren Lands were named as such, so good he didn’t actually damage it.

As he reached toward the core, he stopped when the same sheen returned. Odd; he didn’t attack it, yet it still defended itself…almost as if it recognized he had previously attacked it. 

“Hm…” He stood up, pointed at the dungeon core, and cast another arcane bolt. However, rather than splashing harmlessly against a defense, the attack landed without a problem, and when it did, causing a small spark of energy from the core, the dungeon itself seemed to quake for a moment before settling. “Hmmmmmm….” 

Raising a hand down the tunnel of gray stone he had walked through, Douglas muttered a simple incantation before blasting a molten hole through the earth golem that had formed. 

So, based on his observations, it appeared as if D-Cores were able to react after they were attacked while T-Cores could react beforehand. So, if they did have some form of intelligence, D-cores would be more akin to wild animals, while T’s were more akin to an actual person…Though animals could react to perceived threats, certainly, so perhaps it was a matter of levels of intelligence, or, perhaps, ability?

Could the difference be simply because of the gods’ influence or were T-Cores different because of their age? If a D-Core was given time to flourish, could it become a T-Core or was there a fundamental difference in their very natures?

Douglas walked over to the D-Core and pressed a hand against it. He could carry it in one hand easily, though he couldn’t close his fingers around it, but more importantly, it wasn’t reacting at all. Perhaps it had wasted too many resources on regenerating its guardian, perhaps it lacked the ability to directly defend itself, or perhaps it simply couldn’t recognize the threat?

He paused for a moment as a dim sensation traveled up his arm and into his head. The core was attempting to contract with him, thereby forming a symbiotic link. He rejected it, of course, and the core settled back into inactivity, no longer recognizing him as an asset, or a threat. If he lingered in its room for too long, another golem would inevitably form, but for now, the D-Core was inert, which was all quite standard.

Douglas had done similar testing before, and it was interesting enough seeing how a Rosiavan D-Core reacted when compared to a Tramontavan D-Core–the main point of comparison being that the Rosian cores seemed more Earth-focused, emphasizing rats, snakes and rudimentary golems, while Tramontan cores were more Air-focused, quite fond of bats, hawks and sparrows–but his interest laid with the T-Core, so it was time to actually focus and get down to it. 

He tapped the D-Core once, emphasizing a sense of SLEEP, and its surface promptly turned dim as it went dormant. With that, he was back to the T-Core, back to sitting down, and back with reaching towards it. The T-Core formed its shield again, of course, but he still pressed his hand–And then pulled his hands back as it abruptly formed multiple spikes across its surface.

“…Ha! Ah, well aren’t you quite a funny little one?” he muttered as he slowly waved a hand over the core’s surface. The spikes extended when he neared them, then retracted once his hand was past. He repeated the motion and the same thing happened, twice, thrice. The T-Core was undoubtedly responding to his actions. Wonderful!

Yet he couldn’t actually touch it. Less wonderful, but there were ways of touching without touching and studying through other senses. He certainly wouldn’t be licking or poking it any time soon, but the other four senses would work fine enough.

Douglas took a deep breath, centered himself, and felt all distractions fade away. 

Touch would not work. Taste was non-applicable. 

Smell was simple. Closed eyes and a deep inhale took in the dusty scents of the dungeon. Earth and stone, the slight damp of mildew, the fragments of still charged ozone around the dungeon’s core…they all melted away. The Temple Core reeked of iron, copper, and steel. Its nature was Metal, and it would reflect its nature in all ways. Metallic, a scent of shaved steel chips, of clean blades, of spear points, arrowheads, wrought fences and hulking automatons carved and built, with only the barest hint of Blood in its air.

He smirked slightly. A barest confirmation, but one that made sense to him. The nature of the gods was a fascinating thing, and though they demanded distinction, the Rakuli and Ouza were so much more similar than they desired. The same Mother bore a Metallic Son and a Bloody Daughter and though they would not acknowledge truth, the little large core spilled secrets readily.

Another breath, and a slow exhale brought the world into Silence. The barest noises of shifting soil and whispering winds faded, and he Heard only the clanging of hammered steel and the singing of swung blades. Violence was the core’s purpose, and yet the song of Life and Creation filled its nature in fascinating ways. It was Rakuli, born of their ichor, most assuredly, yet a wild nature sung its song alongside it, a divine choir matched by the melodious howling of an unknown, unseen beast. A beat, a buzz, a soft screech amid a rising timbre…This was not the song of a dungeon core.

Dungeon cores sounded, for all the world, like the tick of a metronome. A slow, steady rhythm there to keep the pace of all its symbiotic servants. The Temple Core sounded so much more wild, yet restrained. A drum. Yes, it was like a drum, keeping a beat, but ready, oh so ready, to pick its pace, to move faster, to boom far, far louder.

He took another breath, and gave the core another look. Still spiked. Still wary. Shame.

With the next breath, he looked with an extra eye. Nope, still stubborn, still spiked, still opaque. Dangit. Crafty little one.

Ah well.

Douglas took one more breath and calmed himself down. He turned his focus inward, into his final sense. Some beings were said to have seven, but humans were limited to six, and some, unfortunately, had less than the full set for some reason or another. He was simply fortunate enough to have all of them.

Sight. Smell. Hearing. Taste. Touch. And finally, Intuition. An odd one. A sense without sense, sensation deriving from feeling without touching. It operated out of premonition, recognition, the vagaries of realities in all their glory. 

Also some astral projection. That was where the more metaphysical bits of it came in.

As such, when he breathed out again, the world melted away entirely into the emptiness of the cosmos. Here, only he and the object of his focus, the Metal Core, remained, and he could sense its nature with ever more clarity.

It was Metal.

Perhaps he should not have expected too much.

The physical world returned as he frowned at the core. So it was wild, but controlled. Everything about its nature was ‘Metal’, from the physical to the metaphysical…Historically, there have been a number of beings that were said to embody a particular element. 

Collectively known as elementals, Sylphs, Undines, Salamanders, and Gnomes were all beings said to be directly born out of a particular element. However, there were then those said to be ‘true elementals’. Beings of pure elemental force and magics, they were said to have been born when mortals had not yet understood the breadth of magic. 

Douglas felt his own tattoos keenly across his skin as he thought on how his predecessors in the fields of magic discovered how they could prevent themselves from becoming monstrosities. 

…With similar such tattoos, in case that wasn’t obvious.

Point was, old mages could turn into elementals if they screwed up and allowed unrestrained magic to overwhelm and distort their bodies. People could still become altered in the modern era, of course, but methods of healing existed to restore them back into their normal selves. 

Anyway, Douglas’s odd sequence of thought there could be summed up as ‘there are certain beings that do embody elements, so what if the core is related to that?’. It was a decent hypothesis. One he currently couldn’t test at all without another T-Core or maybe an elemental to test it with…He should research the subject more first.

Douglas sighed with a smile. “You are going to be a fascinating mystery to solve, little friend. That is, if I can actually justify keeping you, though I’m sure Jules can provide me some excuse to hold onto you.”

He raised a hand and frowned as his attempt to mystically lift the core outright failed. It was actively resisting him by this point…Hm.

Douglas promptly got down on his hands and knees and prostrated himself before the core. “I sincerely apologize for my harmful conduct towards you, and do solemnly swear upon my heart, may the Miser claim it should I lie, to never act in a violet way towards your person again.”

When next he attempted to lift the core, it allowed him, though it retained its metallic sheen. It also stabbed his hands a few times as he walked back to Hulthemia, but he assumed those were intended to be minor complaints, judging by how it never drew blood or even pierced his skin. It almost reminded him of Jules in that regard…hm. 

Douglas should check on him, actually. Julius was…not the best at impulse control. He complained about Douglas’s ‘helping thing’ readily enough, but when agitated…Well, Douglas readily admitted most of his other friends were more responsible than him. 

The three exceptions to that rule, from most to least responsible, were Julius, Yuliani, and Cyrus. So yes, he was a little worried.

He really didn’t expect his worries to be that justified though, so finding out Julius had streaked the city, punched out a governor, and been arrested did come as at least something of a shock.

At the current moment, some hours after his investigations into the core, Douglas found himself sitting in a lavishly decorated room within the Kalavicho’s crimson courthouse. Really, he thought involving the Red Roses would deescalate the situation, not send it spiraling into utter chaos; after all, Edwin had settled that whole mess with the Viokas back in the day. Then again, he had married into the family…

“Hmmm…” he hummed, attempting to gain more time to think. Being in front of Governor Kalavicho’s desk like this was certainly odd, and having Julius actually be silent for once, on account of him napping on the couch nearby–dressed in a gray shirt and pants provided to him on account of the aforementioned streaking–was also odd. He’d been letting him take the lead recently, so the whole situation just felt…odd. “…Could you repeat those charges?”

“Mister Yew, I would appreciate it if you do not waste my time,” Governor Kalavicho replied. She had quite the fancy chair. Shame she wasn’t letting her sisters sit. Both knights stood behind their superior sister in professional uniforms–red jackets with gold trim and white pants with black boots–while she wore similar, if more dressy–meaning she had a white skirt on–and decorated–meaning with gold epaulets and medals–attire.

“…So that would be a ‘no’ then?”

“Correct.” Governor Kalavicho stared at him. He stared back. She had somewhat narrow eyes. Western ancestry, perhaps? The gold-tan complexion would match. “Do you have actual questions, Mister Yew?”

“…A few. For instance, the, er, indecent exposure charge. You did say he kept his underwear on, correct? So…”

“Mister Yew, even factoring in Sir Goldforge’s minimal coverings, I assure you they did not do much for his modesty.”

“Not that that’s a bad thing,” the nearby Dame Kalavicho muttered. He briefly wondered if they ever found that confusing, having similar titles and such. Then again, they would likely refer to each other by name…As for said sisters, the twins blatantly resembled each other while sharing little more than facial shape with their sister. 

It was the hairstyles, really. Both blonde twins kept their hair cropped short while their redheaded elder sister kept her longer hair in a tight, three-strand plait. The twins took more after their father in that regard, really, including the aquamarine eyes, instead of their sister’s crimson.

“Indeed.” Oh, Kalavicho actually acknowledged the younger’s words-Wait, she agreed? “I heard a number of comments to a similar effect last night. It appears many of the guests were quite appreciative of Goldforge and Dahsin’s half-naked fisticuffs.” She smirked slightly as one of the twins, the other one, sighed in obvious exasperation. “Following that line of thought, Mister Yew, you and Sir Goldforge are also the subject of multiple lawsuits.”

“…Excuse me?”

She started taking papers off the stack beside her. “First, the Black Shell Mercenary Company is seeking reparations for public defamation of character and slander. Second, the Green Rose Political Faction is demanding action for your assault on their leader and the destruction of their property. Third and final, the Rosvord Faction and Golden Rose Conglomerate have a joint claim of breach of contract.” She raises an eyebrow at him. “You apparently were supposed to bring them a temple core.” She turns her gaze to said core, which was in the seat next to him, on a cushion. “Would that be the core in question?”

“…Would you believe it’s actually just a very large dungeon core?”

“I would not.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I didn’t expect that to work…”

“Ah, one moment. I misspoke.” Oh. Oh, good, maybe they weren’t about to be tied up in constant legal- “The last suit involves a third plaintiff. The Church of Augant is also suing you for failing to uphold your contract.”

…Well. “A church can sue me?”

She shrugged. “There’s precedent.”

Damnations. He wouldn’t be able to keep the core now.

He held up a finger. “To be fair, they never specified when I should hand over the core, only that I have to.” 

“Hm. Caroline, can you go over to Rostel and Bulinto to see if he is lying?” …She could’ve said ‘see if he’s telling the truth’. The assumption of lying there was mean.

“Sure thing, Sis!” Saluting her, the younger sister walked out of the room to check the contract. Hm. Did he actually sign anything? Julius signed something. Right? He wasn’t quite paying attention…Ah! But there was one thing he just remembered!

He held up a second finger. “Also, and I’m not exactly sure what this means, but apparently the Black Shells are supposed to have us delisted? Or, well, Julius and me, anyway. He never told me what it meant, but apparently his sister did that when she took over Orin, so I think we have a good…thing there.”

“Eveline.” 

“On it, Ma’am” Saluting her older sister, the remaining younger one also left. 

“So that’s two of your three problems that face a possible resolution, but there is still the issue of the Green Roses. Even if we find it true that Evrard did send mercenaries to attack Julius, there will still be demand for action against him.” 

“…He claims diplomatic immunity.” 

“Hm?” 

“His sister is Magrave Brascul, Duke of Orindaco, and as such claims diplomatic immunity.” 

Governor Kalavicho stared at him blankly. “…That’s…That’s not how that works.” 

“…In my defense, I have spent the last twenty or so years of my life studying magic and little else.” 

“I can tell.”

“…We claim heroic immunity?”

One red eyebrow raised. “I haven’t heard that term before.”

“Well, we are heroes, and we’re trying to save the continent from being invaded, and Dahsin did plenty of illegal stuff too, right?”

“That is currently being investigated.”

“And Julius gave you cause to investigate, so clearly we should be-”

“Exempt from the law.”

“Yes!” He beamed. 

She didn’t. “…Mister Yew, I will be blunt. Governor Dahsin is a controversial figure. Some like him, others despise him. He is, however, still the current head of his family, which in turn heads one of the largest political factions in our nation. Even when we find more than enough evidence to convict him of the multitude of alleged crimes he is accused of, the Green Rose Faction will want recompense for Sir Goldforge’s actions.” 

‘When’. Not ‘if’. Interesting. “…So what are you saying?”

“There must be some punishment for Sir Goldforge so eagerly and flagrantly flouting the law. Thankfully, I have just the punishment in mind.”

She passed him a paper. He read the paper. He nearly cackled. “Yes. Yes, I think that works perfectly.”

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