Nova watched in horror as Briney snatched up the crystal. Tinle jerked back, his eyes wide in astonishment. Mathius grabbed at the kraken but this time Briney was ready. The Kraken wrapped a tentacle around Mathius’s stretched arm and swung himself away, plopping on the ground. There Briney wiggled-hopped towards the door.
“Nova, get him before he eats it!” Mathius cried out.
“It’s going to eat it?” Tinle asked, his voice rising into a shrill pitch.
Mathius’s words knocked Nova out of her shock and she dove for the mini kraken. She skidded across the floor, her foot knocking into one of the displays, scattering the wooden placeholders over the shop. Her fingers glided over one of Briney’s velvety tentacles before the kraken slapped her hand away while another three tentacles smacked across her face.
“Briney!” Nova shouted as she raised her arm to block the attack.
The kraken took her defensive position as an opportunity to propel itself off her face. A purple ball of rebellion launched into the air and towards the door. Nova scrambled to her feet as Mathius dashed past her. She sat up to see Mathius had run to the door during her struggle with Briney and stood before the door, blocking the kraken with his legs braced and his arms out.
Briney didn’t even pause. He charged straight at Mathius, his wiggle hop becoming more of a drunken lurch. Mathius’s eyes widened and a trickle of doubt crossed his face at the oncoming collision with the purple monster.
Briney’s tentacle stretched out and hooked around the rope that Mathius used as his belt. The kraken swung up and another tentacle grabbed the edge of Mathius’s tunic. Before Mathius could comprehend what was happening, Briney slid under Mathius’s shirt. A look of utter horror manifested on Mathius’s face as he realized what happened. A small lump zig-zagged underneath Mathius’s clothes.
Mathius’s eyes dilated and then he screamed. The grown man flailed around in a circle while shoving at his clothes. “Get it off!”
“Oh, my,” Tinle said with a stifled laugh.
Nova broke away from her gawking and scrambled off the floor, rushing over to Mathius. She reached out and tried grabbing for the lump underneath Mathiu’s shirt. “Stay still!”
No sooner than she said that she was elbowed in the face and she jerked back as a wave of pain went across her nose.
Mathius froze when he realized what he did. “Nova! I’m so sorry.”
Briney took the opportunity to slide out of the sleeve of Mathius’s shirt and towards the door. The kraken’s tentacle wrapped around the knob and to everyone’s amazement, he turned the knob. Briney dropped to the floor and then bunched himself up and launched himself out of the door.
“He just…” Mathius said.
Nova rubbed at her nose which luckily hurt but didn’t feel broken. She ran to the door. She glanced back at Mathius who looked shocked and traumatized. “You talk to Mr. Tinle. I’ll get Briney.”
Nova dashed out the door. She quickly looked around her, searching for Briney but it wasn’t hard to locate him. All she had to do was follow the screams. Briney had decided to use the crowd as a personal jungle gym. He swung off of people’s arms, jumped on top of their heads, and crawled over shoulders while steadily moving from one victim to the next.
Nova shoved her way through the alarmed crowd as some flailed around in a panic and others rushed to get away. Some tried to run towards Briney and Nova made sure to deftly get in their way before they could catch the purple menace.
“Briney stop or so help me next time I’m putting a leash on you,” Nova shouted as she ‘accidentally’ bumped into a man who almost grabbed the kraken’s tentacle.
Briney made a sharp warble before grabbing onto a window ledge and swinging around the corner. A few moments later the sound of shrieks filled the air. Nova put out another burst of speed and turned the corner of a building and stared straight into chaos.
It was the fish market. It seemed stealing the crystal wasn’t enough. Briney had managed to reach one of the fish stalls and was in a tug-of-war with one of the fishmongers over a silver fish. Several people had stopped and were watching the display.
There goes any chance of hiding him.
Nova pushed her way through the crowd, some who were fleeing the scene and others who had stopped to watch the fishmonger wrestle with the purple kraken.
“You damn thief,” the fishmonger shouted. “I’m going to fry you up and eat you.”
Briney squawked angrily back at the fishmonger, tugging harder on the fish.
Nova finally reached the pair and grabbed Briney, unwittingly allowing him the leverage he needed to tug the fish out of the merchant’s hand. Briney held the fish up triumphantly and proceeded to shove half of it down his beak.
At the site of Nova, the fishmonger’s attention turned to her. A dark scowl was spread across his face. “You better pay for that.”
“Of course, I…” she trailed off as she realized that she didn’t have any money. “Uh…”
“Guards are coming,” someone shouted. Several people in the crowd backed away while some just watched on, curious about what would happen next.
Nova saw the glint of metal as two guards pushed their way through.
Before she could decide what to do, a hand wrapped around her wrist and yanked her forward.
“Over here!” The fishmonger shouted as he yanked her closer, and her hip banged into the edge of the stall.
She momentarily lost her grip on Briney. The kraken let out a squeak and then jumped on the nearest person before launching itself into the startled crowd, leaving her behind.
“Don’t think you’ll be running away without paying me,” the fishmonger said, tightening his hand painfully around her wrist.
Nova balled up her fist and glared at the man. “Let go of me.” Her gaze darted to the guards who were getting closer.
“Not until you pay,” he said with a hard look.
Nova looked around her, searching for a solution. She focused on the crowd and her vision shifted. Everywhere she could see the glowing hum of mana. Some of it came from items people wore but most of it was shining from the very stones under her feet. She could pull it out from their feet but then it would weaken the bridge. Her gaze darted around, searching for another option when she saw it. A small sphere of magic, brighter and more complicated than any of the crystals she had seen before.
Nova blinked in surprise at the message.
“Let her go,” a familiar voice said, drawing her attention from the sight.
Mathius pushed his way through the crowd and slammed coins down on the stall. “She’s paid up.”
The fishmonger glared at Mathius but loosened his hold on Nova as he peered down at the coin though he didn’t let her go completely.
“Crux!” One of the guards shouted.
“Shit!” Mathius said. “Run.” Then he turned and darted into the crowd.
Nova jerked her hand away from the fishmonger but he tightened his grip. “We’re not done yet.”
“Yes, we are!” And with her free hand, she swiped the coins onto the ground.
The fishmonger let her go as he jerked forward to save his coins as several small children rushed forward to grab the scattered money.
Nova turned and ran, catching a glimpse of the guards as they were slowed down by the sudden chaos. Nova pushed her way into the crowd, trying to find Mathius. She spotted him weaving through the crowd with practiced ease. Nova tried to follow but she kept being shoved to the side. Luckily, she was fast and short, so though she didn’t move with Mathius’s agility, she ducked under arms and squeezed between bodies.
“Crux! Get back here,” one of the guards shouted angrily.
Nova looked back, curious why this guard seemed set on Mathius. A flash of purple tentacles caught her eye as she did and she turned. “Briney!”
The kraken was still moving through the crowd and Nova turned to follow it. People were yelling and some people realized that she must be connected to the purple menace. They began to shout and point at her.
One of the guards noticed. “You there, girl, halt.”
Nova turned to see a male guard making his way toward her. It took her less than a second to decide to run. She pushed herself further into the crowd, trying to lose herself.
“I said halt!” the guard shouted after her.
Nova kept pushing through the crowd until she reached the edge. She looked frantically around her when she caught sight of a boy with wild black hair waving at her. “Over here. You can hide here.”
Nova wasn’t sure who he was but she ran towards him. The boy grabbed her hand and pulled her down several alleys then into a shop. Inside the shop, he went to one of the walls and tapped on it in a series of knocks. A small panel opened up.
“In here,” the boy said. He stepped inside.
For a moment Nova hesitated and then crawled in after him. The floor disappeared and she felt nothing but air. Nova screamed as she fell into a net.
“Quiet!” The boy whispered, covering her mouth with a dirty hand.
Once he was sure she wasn’t going to scream, he let go of her and reached up to close the panel. Nova looked around her to see she was hanging in a net, underneath the floor. She could see the roof of the building from the ground floor underneath her.
The boy plopped down next to her. The net swayed with the movement. “We just have to wait it out for a while. The guards will get sick of searching. They only really stay on your case if you stole something important.”
“I didn’t steal anything,” Nova said automatically.
The boy gave her a doubtful look and rubbed his nose.
“It’s true,” Nova insisted. Mathius had paid for the fish even if the coins had ended up on the ground. Then she remembered the mana crystal and groaned. “Crap.”
The boy gave her a worried look. “So you did steal something important?”
Nova shook her head and crossed her arms. “I didn’t steal anything,” she said stubbornly.
“Then why are the guards chasing you?” the boy shot back.
“It’s a misunderstanding,” Nova said, feeling slightly ridiculous about having to make excuses for herself to what looked to be a ten-year-old boy.
“Oh, if it’s just a misunderstanding you can always just go back out and talk to them. I’m sure they’ll understand,” the boy said with a smug curl to his lips.
“No need to be snarky.” Nova frowned at the boy. “Is this your parent’s shop?” She wasn’t sure she wanted to have to explain to the boy’s family why she was hiding in their shop with their son.
“Don’t have parents,” the boy said, plopping back on the net, causing it to sway.
Nova clutched the net and looked down then quickly away. She wasn’t afraid of heights but she also wasn’t used to hanging from a net from a height that would most definitely kill her.
She instead concentrated on the boy and took the time to really look at him. He wore a brown tunic with a gray hose. The hose had several holes in it. Dirt smudged his face. His black hair was a tattered mess. His eyes were a soft amber that had a fierceness to them.
“Oh,” Nova said as she realized he was probably homeless.
The boy let out a huff. “Don’t pity me. I get by just fine. I wasn’t the one being chased by guards.”
“True.” She bit her lip. “What’s your name?”
Nova had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. “I’m Nova.”
He gave her a suspicious look. “Korn.”
“Thanks, Korn, for helping me,” Nova said.
“Didn’t do it for you. Just don’t like that guard. He’s always bothering me.”
Nova frowned. “Oh, well, thank you anyway.” She wasn’t sure what to say or even do.
Korn grunted and looked back at the panel. He crawled up the net, sending it swaying once more. Nova clutched on, feeling her stomach rock with the motion.
“Wait here,” Korn said and then he pushed back the panel and crawled out.
A minute passed and then another. The seconds seemed to crawl by and then the boy was back. “It’s clear but you best wait before trying to ride the Skylift in case they’re looking for you.”
Nova nodded and climbed up the net and out the panel. The shop was still empty and Nova wondered if that meant it was closed.
I guess breaking and entering is now part of my crimes.
She quietly made her way to the door and peered outside. Sucking in a breath, she stepped outside and looked around. When an alarm didn’t go off, she let out a breath. She turned back to Korn who was watching her with an impatient look in his eyes.
“Thanks again, Korn. I’ll think of a way to make it up to you.” She paused, wondering if there was something she could do about his homelessness. “Maybe you could-“
“Don’t,” he said and abruptly slammed the door to the shop.
Nova blinked. She went to the door and turned the knob, but it wouldn’t budge. “Well, that was rude.”
Still, the boy had helped her but now she wasn’t sure what to do. Briney was gone and she lost track of Mathius. She could try to make it back to the Caverns but she wasn’t sure if she knew the way and Korn had told her to stay away from the Skylifts for a while.
Nova sighed. She already knew what she had to do. With a groan, she began making her way back to the Golden Crystal. She had a debt to settle.
I hope you’re enjoying my fantasy LitRPG webnovel. Check out my patreon to read ahead.