Mathius weaved through the crowd with ease until he had made it to one of the floating platforms Nova had seen earlier. He fished out two bronze coins and handed them to the man who took them and handed Mathius two gray stones with three slashes on them. Mathius led them to a corner of the platform.
“Here,” Mathius said, dropping one of the stones into her hand. He pointed to the stone. “This means we paid for passage up to the third dock. Anything higher we have to pay extra for.”
“Where are the Crystal Crafters located?”
Mathius sighed. “You really are set on that.” He rubbed his face. “Most are located on dock three and up.”
“Guess that means we’re going to dock three then?” Nova said cheerfully.
“Fine,” Mathius grumbled, leaning on the gate. “But you’re in for a disappointment.”
A few minutes later, a man zipped around the platform, pausing to tell Mathius to keep his arms inside of the gate before zipping off again. Nova took a moment to study Mathius. The man had a furrow on his brow and a distant look in his eyes.
“Back at the wagon, why did you want to leave so urgently?” Nova asked.
Mathius looked at her, frowning. A loud horn blew, interrupting whatever Mathius was going to say and the platform lurched forward. Nova quickly grabbed the edge of the gate to steady herself. She looked over the side to see yellow crystals glowing and then the platform began to float. Her stomach flipped at the sight but she wasn’t afraid. Though she was very aware that this probably wasn’t the safest form of transportation, she couldn’t help the thrill that went through her.
“This world is amazing,” Nova said. She wondered if riding a cloud felt like this. She looked over at Mathius and he was staring at her thoughtfully.
“You seem so amazed by the littlest things,” Mathius said, leaning against the gate and hanging his arms out in defiance of the rules.
Nova grinned. “Everything is different here.”
Mathius glanced around him. Though the platform was crowded, most people weren’t paying them much attention. Still, Mathius moved closer, keeping his voice low. “You’ll have to tell me about your world. It sounds so different from ours.”
“It is,” Nova said, smiling.
The platform lurched and the platform operator yelled, “Dock 1! Going up!”
People got off while others surged forward taking their place. Once the platform was full, the man checked the platform. This time Mathius quickly pulled back from the edge of the gate before the operator could scold him. The operator gave Mathius a dirty look before moving on. Mathius and Nova shared a look and laughed. The horn blew and they were moving again.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Nova said. “About why you wanted to get us away. Was it the Guildmaster or the guards?”
Mathius frowned and looked down, leaning back on the railing.
Nova sighed. “Look, Mathius. I don’t know if you realize just how secretive you are. Everyone is allowed some privacy but you are downright suspicious. I need you to start opening up a little otherwise it’s going to be hard to trust you. You said this was a partnership then I need you to show me you actually mean that.”
“You’re just as wary of me,” Mathius shot back. “Don’t pretend that you aren’t. Especially after I told you about…” He glanced around. “…you know.”
Nova couldn’t refute that. She didn’t trust Mathius. If his summoning was any indication, he was willing to sacrifice her to get what he wanted. Still, he was right. She was asking him to do something she wasn’t willing to do herself.
“The man back there was Guildmaster Oren. He owns the Sanitation Guild. The man is ruthless and has a knack for finding people that are talented in different types of magic. He’s one of the people you should stay away from at all costs. I had my own run-in with him and it wasn’t pretty.”
Nova swallowed at that information. The man had looked at her and she wasn’t sure what that meant but it reminded her of a question she had been meaning to bring up. She leaned closer to Mathius and lowered her voice. “Do the people in your world have a system?”
“A system? I’m not sure what you mean?” Mathius asked with a confused look on his face.
The platform lurched and Nova was thrown against the side. Mathuis quickly grabbed her arm, steadying her.
“Dock 2! Going up!”
“Do people fall over these things?” Nova asked as she gripped the railing.
“Sometimes,” Mathius said.
Nova paled and looked over the edge. She then took a cautious step back.
“You were talking about a system?” Mathius asked.
“Yeah, like a floating blue box that tells you information about your skills,” Nova said and she felt a little crazy explaining it.
Mathius frowned and then his eyes lit up. “Oh! You mean a scrying ball.”
“Scrying ball?” Nova asked.
Mathius nodded. “You touch it and a blue board appears showing you information about a person’s mana and magic skills. Most children got to the Academy to have their mana confirmed through scrying. If they’re lucky they can also earn a scholarship to the academy.” He paused. “Does that mean you have that in your world?”
She shook her head. “Not exactly.” From Mathius’s reaction, it sounded like a personal system wasn’t the norm. It also meant she needed to decide if she wanted to tell Mathius about her system or not. It was true she had said they should start acting like partners but she was still hesitant to share.
I’m a hypocrite.
A wave of guilt went through her but she shoved it away. She needed to think on it. There was nothing wrong with taking time to think. Afterall, she was still a stranger in a strange world. Nova got lost in her thoughts and was only brought back to reality when the platform lurched again and the operator shouted out dock three.
They moved off the platform and onto a bridge. The bridge was interesting. It was made of stone with symbols carved into it. A quick look at it and Nova realized the stones had yellow threads weaving into the stones interconnecting them. There were other threads as well. She tried to make out the pattern Mathius told her should be in them but all she could make out was a jumble.
I’m obviously doing something wrong.
Mathius stopped in front of a shop called, Aker’s Crystals and Crafting. “Should we go in?”
Nova nodded. They were walking across the bridge to the shop. Inside the shop there were a few customers, most had badges sewn on their tunics. One person with a chisel on their badge and a group in black and gray with an anvil sewn on their badges. Inside, there were several tables with wooden pieces on them. Each piece had inked words scrawled underneath them saying, wind 8s and 50b, fire 2g, or something similar.
Nova moved over to get a closer look. “What are these?”
“They’re placeholders,” Mathius explained. “They don’t have the actual crystals out. It would be too easy to swipe. Instead, you pick one of these and bring them to the clerk. He verifies your money then brings out the crystal.” He pointed to the prices she was looking at. “Eight silver and 50 bronze. And this one is two gold.’
Nova frowned. “And how does that translate?”
“100 bronze for every 1 silver. 1000 silver for every 1 gold.”
Nova blinked. “That’s a big jump from silver to gold.”
Nova blew out her nose. She still wasn’t quite sure how that translated over. “Um, so how much is a bronze worth? Like I’m not sure how the money works.”
Mathius looked thoughtful. “Let’s just say 40 bronze a month is considered a fairly good wage for people living in the Caverns and most don’t make that.”
Nova paled and looked at the crystals again. The cheapest one there was worth almost two years of wages. And the prices just went up from there.
She glanced at Mathius who was looking at her with this smug look that said, ‘I told you so.’ She looked back at the crystal and frowned but a flicker of hope went through her. All the crystals listed all had a mana type tied to them. But Mathius said mana crystals were useless without the mana pushed into them. If she could buy empty crystals maybe she could get them cheaper.
She tilted her head up and went to the front of the shop. The clerk was talking to one of the customers, a young woman with a badge of a chisel on it. After she had finished, the clerk turned to them. He frowned at them.
“How can I help you?”
“I was wondering if you sold empty mana crystals?” Nova asked.
The man brightened up at that. “Are you an Academy student? We do offer a discount for students as long as you have your badge with you.”
“How much of a discount?” Nova asked, deciding not to confirm one way or the other whether she was with the academy.
“Our empty mana crystals go for 5 silvers but we charge only 3 silvers for academy students,” the clerk said.
Nova frowned. Even at the discount that would be at least seven and half months of wages. She had no idea how she was going to feed Briney that way or get in contact with Jace.
The clerk cleared his throat and she looked up at him. He had a sharp glint in his eyes. “May I ask what sort of mana you are attuned to?”
She tilted her head curiously at the question. Before she could even decide how to respond, Mathius cut in.
“She’s attuned to wind.”
The glint in the clerk’s eyes faded. “Oh. Well, would you like to purchase any crystals today?”
She shook her head. “Thank you.”
“I’m glad to be of service,” the clerk said and his attention was already turning away from her.
From there she and Mathius left the shop. As soon as they were away, Nova turned to Mathius. “Why did you answer for me?”
“He was trying to find out your attunement, probably to try to contract you as an apprentice.”
“Do apprentices get paid?” Nova asked, curious and slightly irritated with Mathius.
“It depends on the contract,” Mathius admitted reluctantly.
Nova nodded thoughtfully. “Why wind?”
Mathius sighed. “It’s the most common of the mana and the least desirable. Let me remind you we are trying not to draw attention to ourselves. You’ll immediately be on people’s radar if you have a different mana type.”
Nova’s lips tightened. “Isn’t there a type that is more valuable that won’t be too attention-grabbing?”
“No,” Mathius said firmly. “You don’t understand just how rare the other mana types are in Hayeln. Anyone outside of wind mana will have guilds knocking on your door. Stick with wind.”
“But we could use the extra money. We are trying to build a guild after all and I’m sure it won’t be cheap,” Nova said.
Mathius nodded his head in reluctant agreement. “True, but there are plenty of jobs that need wind mana if you are set on it. It doesn’t have to be a crystal crafter.”
“True,” Nova agreed but she was already thinking about the possibilities of what she could do if she knew how to craft. Being able to sell crystal infused with mana would be just what she needed to be financially independent in this world.
“So are we done with the crystal crafters? It’s clearly too expensive, especially to feed a pet.”
A loud squawk came from under Nova’s cloak. Mathius rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, you’re not a pet.”
A purple tentacle slid out waving threateningly at Mathius before disappearing back into her cloak. Mathius quickly looked around to see if anyone noticed but besides a few strange looks thrown their way no one seemed to notice the purple tentacle that had appeared and then disappeared back into her cloak.
“As to your question,” Nova said. “Not by a long shot. Time to haggle!”
I hope you’re enjoying my fantasy LitRPG webnovel. Check out my patreon to read ahead.