The first thing they were ever aware of was their Mistress. Before they were even granted sight, they felt that wondrous magic of hers granting them life.
And as the world came into being around them, they felt their body. Strong and unbreakable.
“Arise my general, and show me your power!” she commanded as a great sound boomed in the air. Thunder.
The golem’s eyes lit up as they experienced sight for the very first time, then those eyes turned to their Mistress. Their creator.
She grinned back at them, her yellow eyes meeting their teal. “Well? Are you going to arise or what?”
[…I am arisen,] they replied.
“No, you’re laying on a slab. That’s not arising, that’s lying, so stand up.”
They nodded, instinctively knowing how to signal an affirmative, and stood as their Mistress commanded.
“…Alright, now get off the table.”
They did so.
“Sweet! Aw, this is so awesome! My first ever golem and you’re a complete success! I knew you would be, because I’m awesome and obviously I’d get it right on the first try, but seriously, look at you!”
Once again they did so, looking at themselves as best they could. As they did, the golem knew what their body was made of–Mithril–and, of course, knew how strong they were–Very.
[Mistress, what is your command?]
“Ah…you know, I don’t actually have anything right now…I was more so focused on making sure everything went well…”
[Very well, I shall await your command.]
“Hm. Alright, good, that’s probably good…” Mistress rubbed at her chin for a moment, then nodded to herself. “You need a name. What’s a good name for you…Jade? No, you are greenish, but more a silvery-green…Not Silver either, that’s just in poor taste.” She paused, then poked at their chest. Then looked at her hand, removed her glove, and poked their chest again. “…Right, no, I was working with mithril for months now, of course I’m not allergic to it, what was I thinking? Ah, make a note of that…Val? Val. Make a note of that, I’m not good with silver. It’s a weird issue, tends to happen with cambions, but I think it only really came in for me when I started partnering up with the Ouza, which gave me a lot more demonic oomph.”
The newly dubbed Val made several mental notes about the potential threat to their Mistress’s life, as well as the status of her demonic “oomph”. [Noted.]
“Good, good…No, not Val, that feels more like a nickname…Valon.” She nodded to herself again, then grinned, pointing at their face. “You are now Valon.”
[Understood,] Valon replied, further aware of their proper designations. Valon was their primary name, Val was an applicable secondary name.
“Good, now then, there is much to do!” Turning around, Claire walked away, leaving Valon where they were, awaiting commands. By their estimate, it was less than a minute before she returned, poking her head in with what they presumed was confusion.
“Uh, Valon, why aren’t you following me?”
[My apologies, mistress. I was not aware of such a command.]
“Oh, well, follow me.” Valon did as commanded, following behind her as they awaited another command. “Just so you know Valon, just because I don’t tell you to do something, doesn’t mean you have to wait for me to tell you something.”
[May I ask what it is you mean?]
“Uh…just do what you think should be done.”
[Which is to follow your commands.]
“No, just…hm…how do I explain this…right, Valon, your task for the day is to go around the castle and study how everyone acts, got it?”
[Very well, I shall begin this task.] they replied, and then promptly set about completing this task by walking away from their mistress-
“Hey hey, not yet! Jeez, okay, that time you were supposed to wait until I gave the go ahead.” Mistress sighed as she approached them, giving them a short visual examination. “Right. Clearly there’s more to this thing than I expected…alright, now, here’s how this works. My castle’s currently being constructed, alright? That means there will be areas that are in the process of being built.”
[I am aware of the definition of construction, Mistress.]
“…I can’t tell if you were sassing me there, so I’m just going to move on. Essentially, you’re allowed to go anywhere on the castle grounds as long as the area isn’t marked as restricted, or currently under construction. If you can’t tell, look for someone with a yellow helmet on. Those are there to specifically mark who’s on the building teams. Aside from those restrictions, feel free to explore where you want and look in on whoever.”
“Ah, one more restriction. No leaving the castle grounds. Don’t go behind the outer wall, I don’t want you getting lost.”
“Alright, good. Thank you.” Mistress nodded. She waited. She sighed. “That means you can go now.”
[As you wish, Mistress.] Parameters set, they walked off once more, seeking to complete their assigned task by gaining knowledge of the castle. Valon was aware of what a castle was, as their mind was built with specific knowledge to give context to the world around them. They knew what walls were, what the bricks in the walls were, and what solidity was and why it meant they could not push through walls.
That was incorrect though, as they could push through walls; the walls would suffer catastrophic damage in the process, however, so it was not a viable mode of transportation. That fact was also the reason for the continued existence of doors, such as the one right in front of them.
Walking through the door, Valon looked upon those outside, and began to study them. From what they could tell, it was several workers within a more open area, all of which appeared hard at work as they continued to build the castle, with a young looking goblin seemingly being in charge.
Curiously, the workers appeared to primarily be adding foundations; beams and planks were set into place, and then the walls began to form over them. Valon considered the phenomenon, looked to the leading goblin–a young adult in worker’s clothing consisting of overalls, undershirt, and bandana–who was holding a pendant in her hand and speaking into it as she pointed at parts of the structure, and came to the conclusion that she was directing some type of entity capable of generating physical material in the form of building components. With that gathered information, the most likely source of the growth was a dungeon core.
However, inference was not proof, so Valon approached the goblin to ascertain the facts further.
“-now spread up to section seven-Oh?” the goblin glanced up, then smiled at Valon, “Oh hey! You’re Claire’s-” Then she stiffened and looked back to the structure. “Ah, wait, no no no-”
Valon watched as a massive amount of black stone suddenly stretched rapidly across the set framework, earning some yelps as the workers jumped back, before the stones started falling into the field without anything to hold them. “Ahh, nooo…aw…No no no, it’s okay Quincy, you’re fine, I made a mistake, just pause for now.”
The goblin sighed, before facing Valon with another smile, though the strain on her lips seemed to indicate annoyance. “So, heya! You’re Claire’s project, right?”
[Correct. I am Valon of Valondrac. My apologies for distracting you during your time of difficulty.]
“Pft-Time of difficulty? I mean, I’m just sorta directing, not really working directly here, so it’s more Quincy doing stuff-Oh yeah yeah yeah, so, no problem!” Her grin appeared more genuine. That was good.
[Understood. May I request knowledge of your name?]
“Oh sure sure, yeah, my name’s Sieda Yellowrock! Official architect of Castle Valondrac and artificer-general of the Valon Empire!”
[It is good to meet you. May I request information about your current practices and tasks?]
“…Uh, sure? Yeah yeah yeah, okay okay, sure, weird golem’s asking questions, I guess I can answer them, uh, so! Basic’s stuff, we have a few dungeon cores set up in the lowest level of the castle grounds. Sort of like the basement? But instead of having them build down like a core naturally would, we’re having them build up because it turns out as long as there’s a structure to work with, dungeon cores can build just about anywhere! And there were even older demon lords who did something similar, with specifically modified ‘castle cores’, which we’re sorta using here but with four total so we can build the castle without having to worry about a single point of failure, y’know?
“I actually got the idea from one of the other generals, Ariel, who’s sorta a snooty jerk, but she’s got a good head for finance and also, more related to the topic, she’s actually from a dungeon and has a dungeon core as her ba–ah, as her parent, and Peter, that’s the core, built this mansion thing on top of their mountain so I was like ‘oh wow, cores can build anything!’ and now we’ve got this going on with other cores Ari and Seth got for us! Oh and Seth’s also a general, he’s probably flying around somewhere cause he’s a dragon.”
[…] Valon waited for a moment to determine if there was more information forthcoming, then nodded. [Thank you for your explanation. I will cease taking your time. Goodbye.]
“Huh? Oh, kay? You weren’t really–and you’re already walking away, kay then…” Sieda tilted her head. “…why did Claire make such a weird golem?”
Valon did not have an answer to that question. They were not intending to seek such an answer at the current time. To the contrary, they were seeking to find the remaining subordinates of their master on the castle grounds, where there were a number of tents and rudimentary buildings established as temporary while the actual structures of the castle were being built.
Instead, they located two individuals standing at a map under a canopy. One was a male vampire dressed in black finery–including a wide-brimmed, sun-blocking hat–while the other was a kitsune dressed in a yellow yukata.
“-don’t think we’ll have much of a problem with Heiavon,” the vampire spoke, “The gorgons have been acquiescing to our approaches so far.”
“Sure, so far, but snakes are still snakes, and Sthaldo has a reputation,” the kitsune retorted, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the beols are getting stirred up.”
“I thought that was more due to that pirate?”
“Oh Jonny, Jonny, Savina’s a greedy glutton, but even she doesn’t stir up hives unless she has something to gain or someone’s paying her. Right, big guy~?” the kitsune asked into Valon’s ear, now leaning up onto their shoulder.
Valon gave her their attention. [I am unaware of who ‘Savina’ is.]
“Savina Glaise, captain of the Eclair,” designation:Jonny answered instead, “A rather unpleasant woman known for raiding merchant ships along the coasts of Skiritaba.”
“Also a vamp, as our dear count left out.”
“Not deliberately. I simply don’t think her species has bearing on the criminal actions she undertakes. I certainly don’t censure you, dear Kiyoshi, for your Brunzaban cousins.”
“I’ll have you know that Kyubi Fuyumi is actually a pretty cool lady when you get to know her.”
“You know it~.”
Valon had more context now. These two were generals of their Mistress. Both were planning strategic matters beneath a canopy. The vampire had the name “Jonny”, though it may be a secondary name. The kitsune possessed eight-tails, and was named Kiyoshi. Therefore, she would be Hachibi Kiyoshi. Further, the knowledge Valon had naturally and the knowledge they lacked seemed…arbitrary, now that they began to think on matters.
If they had inherent general knowledge of the beings around them, why did they lack specific knowledge? Their mind was artificial, so if information could be given to them, why did their creator not give them all the information she had available?
[May I request knowledge of your name?] they chose to ask instead, looking at the vampire.
“Oh certainly, my good golem! For you see before you is the illustrious Count Jonathan Bleaksky, humble vassal of the great Demon Lord Claire Valondrac and liege lord of Blekhon County!”
“‘Humble’?” Kiyoshi said with clear amusement and sarcasm.
Jonathan simply smiled, adjusting the front of his coat. “Compared to others I could speak of, certainly.”
“Oh~? Is that a subtle dig at me I hear?”
“Well it certainly wouldn’t be subtle if you could spot it that quickly, and I have to say, assuming it has to be about you isn’t exactly humble, now is it?”
“Oh no, caught in a logical trap! Whatever shall I do? Admit to my own foibles, or double down and call you a dick?”
The two seemed amused at their own byplay. Valon was losing interest. Their attention wandered, and they noticed a shadow going across the field. A look overhead showed that it was a dragon, which they knew from prior information was named Seth.
[Thank you for the information. Goodbye,] they said to their fellow generals, choosing to leave rather than listen to their continued conversation.
“Hm? Oh, farewell-My, they move quickly when they want to.”
“So they do, so they do…hey, weird question, but why did Claire give them a really nice ass?”
“Ah…how am I supposed to know?”
Valon did not have an answer to that question either, though they put it at an even lower priority than all the rest. For now, their task awaited, and so they went to the ice dragon landing in a wide-open space on the courtyard.
“Huh. You’re new,” Seth addressed Valon as they approached, staring at them with a curious eye as he shifted to a bipedal form.
[I am. I am Valon.]
[Hello. I thought you would say more than–I am changing the subject. What were you doing?]
[For what purpose?]
He shrugged. “I like doing it, and it lets me check out the town better. No real problems to report there either, though I don’t think I’d report to you anyway. You a general?”
[…Presumably. Mistress commanded me to ‘arise’ while calling me her general. I believe that makes me a general]
“Huh. Yeah, I think that would do it.”
[…You are difficult to speak to.]
Seth huffed in audible amusement. “You wouldn’t be the first one to tell me that. I do know someone who’s better at talking though. C’mon.”
He gestured for Valon to follow him and began walking away. So Valon did follow him, over to another set of tents. One large, white tent was occupied by a number of people talking around a round tea table, having tea or coffee and gesturing to a map set on the table. Two men and two women, though both women appeared to be arachnes while the men seemed to be lycanthropes.
“-be best to set overland routes through the Maws,” one man, a blond lycan in dark furs, stated, directing finger to the mountain rage splitting two halves of the map, “It will attach the other border lords more tightly to our empire and-…”
“And what? Why did you stop-Oh for the love of-” The white arachne cut herself off by pressing a hand to her face. “Seth, why.”
“Why what?” Seth asked in reply.
“Why are you naked, again?”
“I can’t wear pants as a dragon.”
The arachne scowled, her upper eyes glaring at him even as she covered her lower ones, before they looked to Valon. “Oh gods there’s two of them…”
[That is incorrect. I am Valon, a golem created by Mistress Claire Valondrac.]
Her glare sharpened. “Who do you think you’re calling mis-Did you say created?”
“Ooo, how fascinating!” the other arachne said with a bright smile on her comparatively dark face. In contrast to the white arachne, her chitin was a deep brown, while her hair and visible fur was a bright gold. In addition, she wore a black gown, threaded with gold bows. “So this is what our brilliant lord has been up to with all that mythril!”
“Oh. Hm, well, yes, I suppose you are quite masterfully constructed, as would be expected.” The white arachne gave them another look over. “You are still lacking clothing though.”
[…I was unaware of its requirement.]
Seth shrugged. “Eh, not really required, some people are just-”
“It is very required, and put some damn pants on you stupid lizard.” The white arachne scowled again as Seth shrugged once more, unperturbed, before looking to Valon. “My apologies, I’m forgetting my manners. You have the honor of addressing General Ariel Leicester of the Valondrac Empire–” Recognition: This one was the “snooty jerk”. “–honored vassal of our Empress Claire Valondrac, and president of the Woodcourt Coterie. My companions consist of my fellow general, Fergus Otakin of Godmaw-”
The blond lycan raised a hand in greeting, but kept his eyes averted, with a faint blush present on his face.
“-the esteemed Lady Marion Horthall, president of the Flintbed Coterie-”
The brown and gold arachne grinned and waved to Valon, very obviously leering at their metallic body.
“-and Lord Sjur Laurson of Clan Alikin, Jarl of Fishtomb.”
The other lycan, a black-haired and bearded man in a scaled jacket rather than furs, inclined his head, seemingly annoyed at the meeting being interrupted.
“Now then, is there anything you need from us? Aside from clothes, that is.”
[I was instructed to study the inhabitants of the castle. As such, I came here.]
“Oh, but of course! Our gracious lady must want you to learn at the feet of your senior generals, to gain our vast knowledge-”
“Just go see Hans,” Fergus interrupted, still averting his gaze, “He’s in the library, literally the next tent over.”
[Thank you. I will be going then.]
“Wha–No, wait, I wanted–” And yet, Valon was already leaving, and Ariel slumped as they went, before shooting Fergus an annoyed frown. “I could’ve been a good teacher to them…”
“You’re saying you would’ve been better than the actual professional instructor?”
“…Snark is unbecoming of you.”
“…So hey, can I get some tea too?” Seth requested–
“PUT SOME DAMN CLOTHES ON!”
Valon paused for a moment, looking back at the shouting coming from the tent, then chose to disregard it in favor of continuing their mission. If this “Hans” individual was who they should seek, then seek them they would. And they did not have to travel far, as the library in question was, as Fergus stated, within the closest tent nearby, itself a broad structure that seemed set to keep out the elements.
Valon entered. Valon stopped. Valon began to stare at the sheer number of shelves and books already set up within the relatively small space.
“Oh, hello. You are Claire’s creation, are you not?”
Valon turned their gaze to a desk, where an elderly human appeared to be sorting books. [Yes. I am Valon.]
“Well hello Valon! It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am Hans Samore, general of the growing Dark Lands Empire, though I think of mineself as more of an aide than a general. Mine apologies if I don’t stand, I am in the middle of cataloguing,” Hans explained, continuing to take notes in a ledger as he directed books floating from stacks into proper places on the shelves.
[I see that. I was directed to you for information.]
“Oh, well feel free to look around then! A library is the perfect place to study, and if you need any help finding anything, please feel free to ask us.” He paused, then seemed to speak to his demonic right arm. “Yes, us, you are here too.”
[Do you have a suggestion for where to start?]
“Hm…well, an encyclopedia of the Dark Lands would be a good starting point if you are looking for more general information. Ah, but first, are you literate? That should have been my first question, what with how the information here is conveyed.”
[I am.] That was another inherent, programmed knowledge. It was odd. Some things were innate, others required learning. The common link they could see was context; they had information that inherently allowed them to gain more information.
“Then here you are.” A large tome floated over, bearing the title L’Istoria du Dokla. The History of the Dark Lands. It was noticeably dense and heavy. “I think this will do well for a starting book. It gives a fairly thorough overview of our great continent, the societies within, and the many cultures that dot our lands, though if you want specific information, you can always come back and ask.”
Valon nodded. [Thank you for your aid. May I leave with this tome?]
“Of course! You merely need to return it once you are done.”
They nodded to Hans again, noting the old human’s kind smile, then turned and left, again. Though they weren’t sure why. They could easily read while standing, but that felt strange to do. They had an urge, which further felt strange because they were artificial. They knew that. They should have no urges to speak of.
As they exited the tent with the book under their arm, they began to walk and think. They, Valon, should have no inherent desires because they were an artificial being. They were created for a purpose, much like a tool.
Yet they held the desire to please their creator. Did all tools hold such a desire? Why were they actively thinking of such matters when those thoughts had no bearing on their current task? They were to observe the generals, so they should continue looking for the generals. Right?
They paused for a moment at the sounds of fighting and looked over to another section of the field, which had been cleared of grass and set apart by a fence of ropes. Context and inherent information put together that it was a “sparring ring”, though it looked more akin to a square than a ring, from what they knew of shapes.
The current ring featured a blonde, female orc boxing with a bald, male orc, while both were wearing shorts and little else. The blonde won rather easily, punching her opponent hard enough to split his lip and draw blood, and there was a cheer from the surrounding soldiers–consisting of orcs, goblins, humans, and lamias–as the blonde champion raised her arms in victory with a big smile.
Judging by the chants of “Leok” and “Lion-Bane”, the orc’s name was Leok Lion-Bane. That information was filed away for later–and they would later learn that she was, in fact, one of their fellow generals–as Valon promptly avoided that ring entirely in favor of finding somewhere nice to sit and not be punched in the face.
That was odd. Despite the parameters of their mission, Valon held a desire for comfort. Not to be comforted, but to be comfortable. To live in a state of ease. It was a lower priority than making their creator happy, but they still had that desire. But that was odd, because they were meant to be a tool.
But were they?
They were meant to be a general. They served their creator. They were strong and unbreakable, but they also didn’t want to be punched in the face. They would likely be unscathed, but still. But why was “but still” a reason to begin with? They should be fine with face-punching if it was conducive to their goal.
Mistress also said “Just do what you think should be done”. Was that also a command? It hadn’t seemed like one. But maybe it was.
They stopped walking, because if they had continued, they would have run into the red tree standing in front of them. It was a pretty tree. Red bark, red leaves. It seemed to glow in the sunlight.
Sitting down in the shade of the tree, Valon opened the book and began to read from it. And once again they questioned just why exactly they had the knowledge they did as the book started with the ouzan titans, which they knew, and how they created the dark lands, formally known as the demon lands, which they didn’t.
“What are you doing?” questioned a feminine voice. Looking up from the book, Valon was unable to find the source of said voice.
[Who is speaking?]
“Behind you.” Turning their head, Valon found the upper half of a dryad sticking out of the tree. She had her arms crossed over her chest and appeared a mix of annoyed and curious. The latter was better than the former.
[Hello. I am reading.]
“I can see that. I’m Autumn. Why are you reading under my tree?”
[I don’t know. Reason dictates that I would be perfectly capable of reading the book in any location, but this spot appeals to me.]
The dryad raised an eyebrow, then stepped from her tree and looked over their shoulder. “What’s it say?”
[‘From all known records, the history of the Dark Lands as we know it begins approximately three thousand years ago, at the end of what is known as the Third Era and the start of the Fourth. This era was not signaled by the fall of a nation or the rise of a sapient race, but instead the disappearance of two great gods,’] Valon began, reading directly from the book, [‘The final sealing of the Ancient Gods and the sudden disappearance of an Elder God rocked the foundations of our world and heavily altered what was known as Abiala, the Demon Lands-’]
They continued reading as Autumn crouched beside them, following along with their words. They were reasonably certain the dryad could not read by that point. In a way, that did make sense. Literacy was not inherent for organic beings, and as a dryad, she was essentially Valon’s opposite.
That did not mean she was stupid, merely that she did not know what they knew. She listened along fine though, and even offered comments at points, describing details of Ostrotoba–the description of which the book focused its third chapter on–and Skiritaba–itself the eighth–that the book did not go deep into, such as the persistent scents of fungi and decay in parts of the swamps and how alraune communities formed within the jungles.
Of particular interest was the detail that most darklanders assumed alraune were solitary creatures almost solely because those that survived their presence most often encountered single members of the race, whose solitude made them more likely to communicate in order to gain resources. Communities, in contrast, were far more likely to be self-sufficient and thus lack any need to preserve the lives of invaders. In addition, groups of alraune were far more capable of defending themselves, and often set their roots down in particularly lethal parts of the jungles in order to have a greater access to larger prey. Predatory mammals and reptiles, primarily, who were drawn in by the naturally enticing scents the alraune produced.
The exchange of information continued for quite some time. Valon did not need to sleep, and neither did Autumn. In addition, Valon’s eyes were quite capable of seeing in the dark, and reading too, so the talk was allowed to continue on, with Autumn sharing details of her life, travels, and deep love for her wife, Eytelia. That part of the conversation resulted in Autumn’s face greening into what Valon would later learn was a blush, and she quickly changed the subject to requesting further information within the book.
[‘-to the formation of Fishtomb, a Jarldom in which the lycan and the leviathan-’]
“Uh…Valon? Autumn? What are you two doing?” Mistress’s voice came from above, and Valon looked to see her standing over them with a bright light floating over one open hand.
“Oh, hey Claire. Wait, your name’s Valon?”
[I am reading to Autumn. She requested information from my book in exchange for sitting beneath her tree and learning of her stories.] Valon paused, then looked up at Autumn. [Yes, my name is Valon.]
“…It’s a good name.”
Mistress’s eyes narrowed. “Why did you say it like that.”
“…Hey Claire, did you make Valon here?”
“Yes? And what’s wrong with their name-”
“I guess that means you’re a mom now, bye.” Autumn receded into her tree as Mistress flinched back, her eyes wide.
“Wha-What the hell does that mean!? Autumn! I know you’re still there, that’s your tree! It’s literally your body!”
Valon considered matters. They looked to their creator. [Should I change your designation to ‘Mother’?]
Curiously, their creator went stiff, looking at them in what looked like a number of emotions they could not quite decipher. “…….th-that…ask me later, when it’s not four in the morning. Which, crap, I really should be sleeping…”
[Why are you not?]
“…” She ran a hand through her hair, sighing. “I…guess I got weirdly worried, all of a sudden. I had a lot going on today, getting the castle up and the city running, so…I didn’t forget about you, alright? I didn’t and wouldn’t. I just didn’t think about what you might be up to for most of the day, and then I woke up out of nowhere, because sometimes I just do that, and I had this thought slam into my head that I needed to check up on you. So…are you good?”
[I am good. I do not need sleep, and I was having a good conversation. Thank you for not forgetting me.]
“Heh, no need to thank me. I’m not forgetting someone I made.” She smiled, then sighed, visibly tired. “Right, I really need to sleep…”
[You could sleep here.]
“…Out here? Under Autumn?”
“…yeah, sure, fuck it. Autumn, keep the fucking sun out of my eyes when it starts creeping up, else I’m gonna have to start thinking of ways to kill that stupid fireball…” Mother yawned, then sat down beside Valon, her eyes blinking blearily with the effort of staying awake. “Mm…hey, tell me if I’m bothering you, alright?”
She did not bother them. Valon was relatively certain she never could.
Once they had confirmed she was asleep, Valon stood, requested information from Autumn, and then went to retrieve blankets and pillows. Once obtained, they brought the items back and placed the pillows properly so their mother would not suffer any discomfort in her sleep, and then placed the blankets on her so she would sleep without fear of the cold.
Then they sat close and listened to her low, slow breath as she slept. Valon did not have answers to a majority of their questions, but they had the answer to one.
What did they want? Simple: To keep their family safe.