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He could feel the energy crackle all around him and fill him with euphoria. Manadrunk, like falling in love or staying up too late with a new friend late into the night, talking. The leylines surged thick here. It was an artificial dam in this room: the beating heart of the city that kept everything flowing.

There was the constant sound of the mana, like an overlapping babble of chords and notes. It was so loud inside his head that it made his head hurt. Everything tinkled around him like glassware or a river turned into an instrument.

Yolic licked his fingertip and turned the page of his book, reading over the latest instructions. He plotted a course to a distant island from the shore. He turned the compass from its point on the map, carefully measuring the degrees.

He was better than this, he knew, but it was too late to make major changes. He would just need to avoid the major shipping lanes and ocean traffic. The hardest thing would be making sure his scribe took down his instructions correctly.

After all, the Great Shelled One was literally the ground under their feet. They had harnessed the power of the giant manabeast. Given a constant supply of hypernutritious mana pumping straight into its brain stem, it grew to massive size and only continued to grow with every passing decade. The top of its head had been carefully drilled into, leveled and now housed an entire city on top of its flattened dome.

It was the reason Pendalosa was a major world power. With its central capital and fortress unobtainable atop the most powerful beast, there was no reason to believe anything would ever change. His job couldn’t be better. Yolic had some minor concerns about his current apprentice’s less-than-stellar performance but that would all be fixed in time. His scribe,

The scribe, Rop, carefully chiseled at the silver tablet with a powered-up drill as Yolic read out which runes to carve. Order was very important. Maybe the most important thing. Without active will, the manabeast would not make any decisions that someone else didn’t make for it. As head Runegineer, that was Yolic’s entire job. Anything else was handled by other positions and departments. He just had to check the figures and calculations and make sure everything added up correctly.

“Sir, I have the final figures of the current boats in the area.”

“Hand them over, please,” Yolic replied. “Everything seems regular. Proceed.”

“Sir!” His apprentice saluted and left.

The scribe stopped, wiping sweat from his brow. Yolic paused and dropped the temperature with a chilling incantation. The room turned blue briefly and became just a touch colder.

“Have you got it in you to finish tonight? We can take a break if you need it.”

The scribe smiled palely. “I’m fine, sir, thanks for asking.”

“Well, maybe I need it.” Yolic smiled wryly. “How’s the wife? Still sick?”

“Lev? She’s doing well. All better now.” The scribe placed down his chisel, unable to concentrate with Yolic’s talking. Yolic had noticed sometimes he worked too hard. He didn’t want any mistakes so it was better to just do it this way. Yolic picked up the manachisel.

“They don’t make them like this anymore.”

“No, sir,” Rop agreed. Always so neutral. Even though Yolic was always kind, everyone seemed afraid to offend him. He wasn’t really sure why but it was just how things were now. Yolic felt desperately lonely sometimes.

“Ever since the Dalmeda Empire fell, no one else produces these with the same qualities.” Rop took the chisel back, rolling it around in his hand and swinging it up and down slightly. “It’s weighted correctly for long work and never clogs.”

“Aren’t you from Dalmeda?”

“No, sir.”

“You can just call me Yolic.”

“Yes, sir.”

Not even a hint of irony.

“My grandfather was Dalmedian, not me. I’m from the East Snowplains.”

“That’s a long way from Pendalosa.”

“Distances are shorter now.”

“Very true,” Yolic agreed.

He thought back to when there were no Great manabeasts in his youth, only regular manafeeding beasts. Untamed. In the matter of only a few years, everything had seemed to snowball all at once during the initial discovery. Once the mana volcanoes were tapped, the production of energy and the harnessing of invisible forces only became easier. Yolic had lived long enough to see a sea change in the entire state of the world.

One time, the Shelled Beast had been whole and free. Currently, it had no regrets. It had no anything, really. It was just a mindless slave to the instructions of the Besuh capital.

If you stood at the edge of the mana field on a clear night, you could see the tops of the Shelled One’s giant hardened legs moving below. On any given night, you could fully see the single moon of Aria. Astronomers theorized it was the source of all mana, but it was still just a theory based on the color and composition of its crust. There was talk of spells breaching the layers of the sky, but no one had been successful yet. Yolic wondered if he’d live long enough to see that boundary conquered as well.

And night or day, anyone could see the humongous shell spiraling out behind the Shelled One. Every year, more layers of sediment were added to it over time. It twisted like a corkscrew and came to a point far away.

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Published by Watercolorheart

Artist, animator, painter, writer, aspiring musician. Working on short stories for an animated series called Sparse. Pen name Lyn Mitre.

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