Banir’s shoulders slumped as he exhaled a tired sigh. He glanced over his shoulder at the apprentices, gathered together in a bunch whispering with worried gleams in their eyes. He cleared his throat with a loud harrumph. “You heard the man, now get back to work! There’s a deadline to meet!” The apprentices startled at the sudden barking from their master, but quickly scurried back to moving the preassembled golem pieces.
Banir studied the apprentices closely, clay-encrusted hand stroking the point of his otherwise close-cropped beard. Three boys and two girls, barely more than children. But they had shown they had potential as golemancers, and so the Sultan had conscripted them into his service, just as Banir himself had been conscripted those decades ago when the Khan had scoured the land for those capable of practicing his strange new blood magic.
Still, whatever “gift” these youths might promise to have someday, they were barely of any help to him now. He snorted in disgust as one of the boys, and one of the more promising apprentices at that, began the incantation to weave the parts of their Demon Lash together. In spasmed jerks and twitches, the pieces slowly melded together…and then clattered to the ground. Though they could manage the simplest of blood magic to assemble small parts of the whole, they could not summon the will to actually assemble a completed golem.
“Still,” Banir mused to himself. “They might prove of some use yet…” Turning back to the doors entering the workshop, Banir placed a ponderous lock through iron loops in the door’s handle and the doorframe, and snapped the lock shut. With a brief incantation, the lock grew red as though fired in a furnace, and melted with the iron loops into a solid piece.
Banir shuffled slowly back to the far side of the workshop where a mountain of clay blocks awaited shaping into the brigade of golems he had been ordered to construct. With a deep sigh, he drew his ceremonial dagger from its belt sheath. The black, curved blade gleamed in the morning sun, the runes etched near the hilt almost glimmering red as if thirsty for its next meal. The golemancer began chanting softly as he pulled the waist of his robes aside and drew the sharp edge across his skin, releasing a bright red gush of blood. Only for a few moments. Almost as quickly as it had begun, the flow of his life source stopped up, a fresh scar forming on his flesh overlapping countless others just like it. The blood itself had pooled on the dirt floor at his feet, beading curiously on its surface rather than soaking into the earth.
Stepping back, Banir began chanting louder, dagger still in hand and now outstretched. The blood slowly slithered in two meandering streams towards one of the clay blocks near the top of the pile. As the twin serpents of blood pierced the clay, the block began to change form, coming apart into tiny particles and clusters, slowly reassembling into a grotesque mask—the head of a new Blood Channeler. Once the head took form, the clay hardened once more, reddened by the blood now thoroughly intermingled with it.
Beads of sweat had appeared on Banir’s face by the time his incantation was finished. He stepped over to the golem head to inspect it, looking over every inch with a critical eye before giving a grunt of approval and stepping back over to his clay stockpile. Another gushing slash across his body, this time his arm, and the process was repeated with a leg for the Blood Channeler. More slashes, more bloody serpents floating through the blocks of clay, and beads of sweat formed rivulets down the weary golemancer’s face as he continued to fashion the parts he needed for the Blood Channeler. As the day passed, he grew paler and paler, even as the assortment of Blood Channeler parts neared completion.
As Banir inspected an arm he had just finished constructing, his work was interrupted by a girl’s piercing scream. Broken from his concentration, he turned in alarm towards the front of the workshop. One of his apprentices, Shira, was pulling at the lock on the door. Two of the other apprentices, a boy named Kuro and another boy named Gnalda, were prying at the door’s handle in hopes of breaking it free.
“It’s no use, that lock will remain in place until our work is complete. The Sultan’s golems must be completed by the deadline!”
Shira dashed over to him, stopping short at the sight of his dagger still unsheathed in his hand. She dropped to her knees, watery eyes gazing up desperately at him.
“Please, Master Hareed. We need rest, we need food! There aren’t enough supplies here to feed all of us that long. At least let Kuro and me go out and bring some things back to keep us while we are working.”
Banir shook his head. “A Golemancer’s reputation is everything. I know the Sultan’s demands are too great, but the reputation of Banir Hareed—and all of you, as my apprentices—is at stake. That is the far greater threat than the Sultan’s threat to claim our heads. Everyone stays until the work has been completed.”
Shira began to shake, lower lip quivering. “But, Master Hareed. You said yourself, we don’t have enough golemancers to finish the work in time. You’re already pale from just one golem, and there are so many left to craft yet. There isn’t enough blood in your veins to finish the entire brigade!”
Banir looked down at the girl, who had begun to pick herself up off the ground and dust herself off, small streams of damp streaking her dirty cheeks. For a moment, a glistening in his own eyes threatened to leave damp smudges on his own cheeks as he stared back into her eyes. Shira caught a glimpse of something, maybe the old golemancer’s soul, and let out a strangled yelp as she spun away from him in a sprint.
“Dana-Arga forgive me…” he muttered, hand clenching tight around his dagger’s hilt.