“You can’t simply get mana crystals,” Mathius said as he guided them through the slowly waking city. A few were up and milling around, but mostly the streets were empty. She did notice several people in silver tunics with green sashes running around.
“Why is that?” Nova asked, stifling a yawn. Though she had slept it was still early and she had gone to bed fairly late. One of the people in the gray tunics passed her and she caught sight of a badge with gloves sewn on their tunic.
“Who are they?” Nova asked, nodding to the people in the gray and green uniform.
Mathius frowned and his gaze flitted to the people and then away. “Members of the Sanitation Guild.”
Nova looked at him in surprise. “There’s a Sanitation Guild?”
“Yes, ever since…well, they take care of the jobs other people don’t want. I suggest you always be respectful of them. Their guild is quite powerful. Some people say they are just under the King and his knights in power.”
Nova’s eyebrows rose in surprise. She never considered that a Sanitation Guild would be that powerful. It did bring up the question of how advanced Galius was, especially when it came to medicine. Did they know about germ theory?
Mathius turned and led them down a street that trailed a little further away from the city. She wondered if they were going to the fields. She stiffened. It would be bad if she was recognized by the guards or the man with the axe.
“As I was saying, mana crystals are expensive, extremely expensive. I can’t afford them and therefore you can’t. Besides, mana crystals are bought up fairly quickly by the King and different guilds. To get them you would have to either buy them from a Crafter or be part of a guild.” Mathius glanced at her, curious. “Why did you need them anyway?”
Nova poked a finger at Briney who had settled on her shoulder. Every once in a while, the miniature kraken would peek its head out from her hood.
“Briney needs to eat,” Nova said.
Mathius came to a halt and stared at her. “You were going to feed them to your pet!”
Briney squawked indignantly and pushed further out of Nova’s hood, letting out a series of angry squeaks at Mathius.
Nova gently patted the kraken’s head. “It’s okay, Briney. I know you’re not a pet. You’re your own person…or, uh, kraken.”
Briney settled down after she stroked him a couple more times before sliding back behind her hood, but not before waving his tentacles angrily at Mathius a few more times.
Nova smiled at Mathius. “You heard Briney.”
Mathius rolled his eyes. “Fine, do what you like but don’t expect me to help you in your mad plan to feed your…Briney mana crystals.”
Nova shrugged. “Fine but you’ll at least have to answer any questions I have. That’s part of our deal.”
“Yes, yes, I’m aware.” He turned down the street and a large arch entrance that seemed to form up from the ground came into view.
Nova looked at the entrance, curiously. It looked like a tunnel. “Is that where we’re going?”
Mathius’s lips tightened. “Is that a problem?”
“It’s not what I was expecting,” Nova said.
Mathius’s eyes narrowed. “I live in the Caverns. That should be good enough for your needs.”
“Okay,” Nova said, not exactly sure what was bothering Mathius. “What are the Caverns?”
Mathius blinked. “Oh, right.” He paused. “You’ll see it soon enough.”
A little further and they entered the tunnel. Two bored-looking guards stood at the entrance and barely glanced at them. The tunnel sloped down and several people walked up the slope, making their way out. As Nova and Mathius went further down, small orange crystals glowed in the ceiling and yellow crystals were embedded in the walls.
Nova paused to take a look at the yellow crystals, recognizing them as the same ones she saw under the torches in the tunnel they had hid out in. She glanced at Mathius who was looking nervously at her but hadn’t tried to hurry her.
“What are these for?” Nova asked. She gathered from her trip to the fields that the crystals probably did something.
Mathius walked closer to her, keeping his voice down. “These are wind crystals. They help circulate the air in the tunnels and also pull fresh air in when needed.”
Nova looked at the crystal curiously. She focused on it and could see strands of yellow thread weaved within the crystal.
“You’re not planning to steal it, are you?” Mathius whispered.
“What? Why would I do that? I’m not a thief,” Nova said, her voice rising.
Mathius backed up and held his hands up defensively. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, you said you wanted mana crystals and people have tried to steal them before.”
Nova squinted at Mathius. “It still sounds like you’re calling me a thief.”
Mathius shook his head quickly. “I just…sometimes when people get desperate, they do things…”
“Like you?” Nova shot back.
Mathius’s hands dropped and he grew quiet then nodded. “Like me.” He then turned and began to walk.
Nova frowned and followed after him. They both were quiet. Nova was finally letting it sink in that as little as she knew about Mathius, the same went for how much Mathius knew about her. He was taking a risk on her, a big risk since it was clear being a Summoner was illegal. It did make her wonder why he was so desperate to form this Explorer’s Guild.
As they went deeper into the Caverns, the area grew crowded. She could see a network of tunnels leading to different areas. Small symbols were carved into the wall with simple signposts next to them. As the crowd grew thicker, Mathius moved faster, every once in a while he was stopped by someone or waved down. It was surprising because Mathius didn’t exactly come across as the most friendly of people.
“You’re popular,” Nova commented.
Nova looked at him curiously. “You disagree?”
“Being well known isn’t exactly the same as being well-liked.” He gestured to the people. “Most people are talking to me because of work.”
“As a mapmaker?” Nova asked. With the network of tunnels, Nova could see how the profession could be very useful to people.
Mathius shook his head. “No. People don’t have much need for maps here. It’s my other job.”
Nova waited but when he didn’t explain she finally prompted him. “Other job?”
“I’m a courier,” he grumbled.
“Ah,” Nova said. It made sense. People tended to be friendly with their mailman. “You don’t like being a courier?”
He shook his head. “That’s not it.” He ran a hand through his brown hair, ruffling it. “It’s just that sometimes the job can be…difficult.” He straightened up. “We’re here.”
Mathius stopped in front of a wooden door. He unlocked the door and they stepped inside. The place was small, probably only as big as a studio apartment. In the front was a worn couch with a blanket. A small table with two chairs was next to it. There were pieces of cloth in a pile in the corner and several tall curtains separating parts of the room from each other.
Mathius pointed to one of the curtains. “The toilet and bath are over there.” He reached into his satchel and pulled out the clothes he brought her, handing them to her. “To use the tub just tap on the blue crystal, wait for the water to fill, and then tap once on the red crystal.”
Nova didn’t wait. Her skin was itching and she was dying for a bath. She hurried inside to find a large wooden tub. It looked more like a human-sized barrel but she wasn’t going to complain. On the side of the tub were three crystals: one blue, one red, and one white. She tapped the blue crystal and the tub immediately began to fill with water. As the water rose, she heard a loud squeak, and then a purple blur was throwing itself into the tub.
She looked down to see Briney pushing himself through the water. “I guess I’m not the only one who wants a bath.”
It made her wonder just how long Briney could be outside of the water. Jace had never said one way or the other. She would have to talk to him about it at some point. Of course, that meant actually finding some mana crystals.
She sighed and reached down to grab Briney but the kraken dodged her. She tried for another 15 minutes to catch the kraken but it refused to leave the tub. She gave up, pushed the red crystal, and then got into the tub. She ended up staying in the bath for a good while with Briney floating contently next to her.
Once she got out, she spent another twenty minutes figuring out where the toilet was and how to use it. It was clear that the city used crystals for everything. She did take a little time to examine the crystals with her mana sight. They had threads in them, the color of the threads directly correlated to the color of the crystal. It was straightforward but she couldn’t help feeling she was missing something about them. Like how did they know what sort of magic to do and for how long?
The red crystal was definitely tied to fire but it only warmed the water instead of setting the tub on fire. But how? She realized that learning about crystals might be incredibly important.
Once she was dressed, she went to grab Briney. This time she managed to catch him, though she figured it was more because he let her. That didn’t stop the kraken from grumbling at her before making himself comfortable on her shoulder. She then pressed the white crystal, curious about what would happen. Immediately the water in the tub, dark from the mud that had been caked on her body, was cleared. In its place was clean water. The blue crystal lit up and then the water was sucked into the crystal and the tub was left completely dry.
“Whoa,” Nova said. “Magic is so cool.”
“Nova?” Mathius called.
Figuring she had been long enough, she stepped out of the bathroom in the dress Mathius had given her. It was a brown dress with a light tan blouse that was worn under it. The dress fell to her ankles and made her really long for her jeans. It wasn’t bad, just not her preferred choice.
Mathius gave her a critical look and then nodded. “You’ll do. Though you need to do something about your hair.”
“What about my hair?” Nova asked, touching it.
Mathius shook his head and pulled out a chair from a small table. “Come here.”
Nova gave him a wary look.
“I’m helping you. You don’t have to be suspicious of everything I do,” Mathius said.
“I’m not,” Nova said and then sat down in the chair. Briney climbed off her and onto the table, investigating it. Briney wrapped a tentacle around a wooden cup that was around the same height as him before promptly climbing into it.
Mathius sighed but didn’t comment on Briney making himself comfortable. Instead, he reached up and gathered up her hair. Nova stiffened, shifting uncomfortably.
Mathius let out a thoughtful hum before stepping away. “One moment.”
He walked over to one of the drapes and disappeared behind it. When he returned he came back with a brush. The next thing Nova knew, Mathius was brushing her hair and then deftly putting it into braids. The room was silent and Nova felt strange having a man doing her hair like this. She tried to pretend it was just like visiting a beautician but somehow it felt too intimate.
“I have a few questions for you,” Nova said, deciding to focus on that.
“Go on,” Mathius said, sounding distracted.
“How do crystals work? I’ve seen so many of them and they seem such an intricate part of everyone’s life. But how do they know what to do? Like how did the blue crystal know to suck up the water after the white crystal cleaned it?”
Mathius started to laugh. “You really do have a lot of questions.”
Nova couldn’t help smiling at the sound of Mathius’s laughter. It was an easier sound compared to the harsh laughter she heard from him before. “I’m in a world entirely different from my own. There’s a lot to learn.”
“I see,” Mathius said, his hands pausing in her hair briefly. “I can tell you a little about crystals but I’m not a crystal crafter or a scholar. I can only tell you the basics.”
“Crystal crafter?” Nova asked.
Mathius continued working on her hair. “Yes, a mana crystal is mostly useless without a crystal crafter. The crystal crafter pushes their mana into the crystal in order to make the crystal active. From there they shape the mana threads to make the crystal do whatever it needs to do.”
“Oh! I didn’t realize the threads had any shape. They just look like a ball of thread to me,” Nova said. Next time she would have to see if she could find a pattern.
“You can see mana threads then?”
Damn. I meant to keep that to myself. Well, it’s too late now.
“Yeah,” she admitted.
“Hmm,” Mathius said. “So can I, though it’s not very useful in my case. What type of mana can you use?”
“I don’t know actually,” Nova said. With her system screen messed up, she hadn’t really been able to delve into it.
“Well, the mana you can see is tied to the mana you can use. So what mana can you see?” Mathius asked.
“Um, so far I’ve seen the blue crystal, red crystal, the yellow one, and the white one. I also saw these gold and black mana threads.”
Mathius scrambled in front of her. “You can see all those?”
“Yes,” Nova said, pulling back from him a little.
“That’s ridiculous. You are ridiculous.” He straightened up, looking away in thought. “What they said about the Soul Travelers is true.”
Mathius looked stunned and then a wide smile spread across his lips followed by panic. He swiftly turned back to Nova. “You mustn’t let anyone know you can do that. If you do, people will most certainly come after you, especially the Sanitation Guild or even the King.”
“Why would they come after me?” Nova asked, worry spreading across her face.
“You’re valuable and people are going to want to use you or tie you down in a contract you can’t refuse. And if anyone suspects you are a Soul Traveler.” He shook his head. “We would both be in trouble. Soul Travelers are sent to the Fixers.”
“The Fixers?” Nova was getting more confused by the moment.
Mathius scratched his cheek. “Uh, yes. Well, you see, how Summoners are illegal. It mostly has to do with Soul Travelers. The gods have deemed Soul Travelers a threat to the world so they created Fixers to handle them.”
Nova swallowed. “Handle them how?”
Mathius looked at her and she got the feeling he hadn’t meant to tell her about that. He bit his lip and looked away.
“What do the Fixers do?” Nova demanded.
Mathius rubbed his forehead. “They find things that don’t belong in our world and then remove them. That includes Soul Travelers.”
Dread began to build in Nova’s chest. “How?” Nova said flatly.
Mathius met her eyes. “They remove them from existence.”
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