Nova didn’t go to the Golden Crystal right away. Instead, she wandered the streets looking for any sign of Briney or rumors about a purple monster with tentacles. Though she heard tidbits about the purple kraken it was mostly about the spectacle that happened earlier. Every once in a while she heard mention of the guard but it sounded that while she had been hiding they moved on from the area. Still, she made sure to be cautious and keep a lookout.
Unfortunately, she found no sign of Briney. After a long search and seeing neither him nor Mathius she decided to take a break from searching and return to the Golden Crystal to face Tinle.
With a combination of memory and asking people passing by, Nova managed to find her way back to the Golden Crystal. She looked at the door and took a deep breath. It would be easy to run away but Briney had been her responsibility so she knew she had to pay the debt for the lost, and probably eaten, crystal.
Straightening her shoulder, she stepped into the shop. Two sets of eyes turned to her as she walked in.
“Nova!” Mathius said hurrying over to her. “Are you all right?”
She nodded, relieved to see Mathius. “I managed to get away but it was close.” She looked around and saw the shop had been mostly cleaned up.
“You’re timing is impeccable, young lady. One of the guards left here just fifteen minutes ago,” Tinle said. She expected the shopkeeper to be upset but when she looked at him his eyes peered at her with curiosity
“Oh, um, you didn’t report us,” Nova said, shuffling slightly.
“No, no. Or at least not yet. From what I’ve seen, that octopus belonged to you?” Tinle inquired.
She nodded and tilted her head up and looked the man in the eye. “I’m so sorry and unfortunately I think Briney ate the crystal.”
Tinle rubbed his chin. “A creature that eats mana crystals. I had heard of them but it’s my first time seeing one. Interesting, so very interesting.” He shook his head. “But enough of that. That crystal your pet ate was worth six silvers.”
Nova sighed. “I don’t have any money.”
Tinle nodded as if he expected as much. She waited for him to get angry but the man only looked thoughtful.
“Perhaps we can pay in installments,” Mathius said.
Tinle looked at Mathius. “That is a possibility but usually some sort of collateral is involved.”
Tinle looked at Nova. “Wait here, young lady.” Then the man headed into the back where there was more clattering and clanging. When he came out, he was carrying a small pouch. He waved Nova over.
Confused, she walked toward the counter.
Tinle opened the pouch to reveal a bag of clear shards. “Crystal crafting is a delicate process and sometimes during the infusion process crystals break.” He picked up one of the shards. “Shards of this size are unable to hold useful amounts of mana and therefore are useless to crystal crafters.”
Nova nodded, interested but unsure why Tinle was explaining this to her.
Tinle pushed the bag towards her. “Mana crystals still have a hint of mana in it so I think they would be more appropriate for feeding your pet.”
Nova’s eyes widened. “You’re giving this to me?”
“But why?” Nova asked. “You just said I owe you six silvers but you’re giving me crystal shards.”
“There’s a catch,” Mathius said, narrowing his eyes.
“Indeed there is,” Tinle said and then grabbed something from his pocket and tossed it to Nova.
“Wait!” Mathius said but Nova already caught the ball.
The ball immediately lit up with multiple colors.
Tinle sucked in a breath. “By the Realms.”
Mathius immediately stepped in front of Nova. “No.”
Tinle’s expression hardened. “This isn’t up to you, boy.”
The two glared at each other. Nova put her hand on Mathius’s shoulder and stepped in front of him. “He’s right.”
Mathius’s lips tightened. “He’s going to try to blackmail you.”
“That’s a little harsh, Mathius.”
Mathuis looked sharply at Tinle. “Aren’t you?”
Tinle’s lips pursed. “I was hoping to negotiate.”
Nova frowned. “Fine, let me hear your offer.” She set the ball on the table and it immediately stopped glowing.
“Become my apprentice,” Tinle said quickly. “I’ll clear off the debt and personally teach you about crafting. Once you complete your apprenticeship, you’ll be guaranteed work at the Golden crystal and fair pay. You’ll also be free to take all the crystal shards you want to feed your pet.”
Nova turned that over. She was interested in crystal crafting and this was a way to get free tutoring. Still, she couldn’t help feeling there was something off about the offer. “What does an apprenticeship entail?”
“Indentured servitude,” Mathius said, crossing his arms.
Tinle huffed. “Apprenticeships are normal among most guild positions. It provides valuable experience and though you don’t get paid you are allowed to practice without having to buy supplies. Besides, I did state I would pay her a fair wage once her apprenticeship is over.”
Mathius looked annoyed but didn’t refute Tinle’s claims.
“How long is an apprenticeship for?” Nova asked.
“Five years, seven at the most,” Tinle said.
Nova shook her head. “It’s too long.”
Mathius looked relieved while Tinle frowned.
“I can lower it to four but that’s rushing it. If you are planning to be trained as a crystal crafter, four is the absolute minimum. Also, don’t forget it could take you just as long to pay off your debt.”
“There’s also our contract,” Mathius said, cutting in.
Tinle looked at Mathius, his eyebrow going up. “Contract?”
“It’s confidential,” Mathius shot back.
“Could you both just stop?” Nova said, rubbing her forehead. “I understand the terms but I’ll have to decline, Mr. Tinle.”
A smug smile spread across Mathius’s face.
“But I am willing to negotiate,” Nova said calmly.
Mathius’s smile immediately dropped.
Tinle smiled and a shrewd look appeared in his eyes. “What are your terms?”
Nova mentally panicked. She wished she had time to think more about it but she pushed forward. “I’m not interested in working for free but I’m willing to take on a paid position.”
Tinle’s lips pursed. “You want me to hire you without any training or experience.”
“Yes,” Nova said simply. “I might be untrained but I doubt you will find anyone who brings what I can.” She reached out and picked up the ball again and once again a rainbow of colors flashed across the ball.
Tinle swallowed and then had to drag his gaze away from the sight. “You still owe a debt.”
Nova set the ball back down. “We both know it would only take a few times infusing mana crystals to pay off that debt with the mana I have.”
Nova in fact wasn’t sure that was the case. She didn’t know the first thing about infusing mana into crystal besides what she could do with mana transfer and she didn’t think Tinle was interested in her blowing things up in 30 seconds or less.
“I think you underestimate how complex crystal crafting is,” Tinle said, looking at the shards. “On top of that, I would be training you which in itself is time-consuming and expensive.”
He got her there but she wasn’t giving up. “True. It is time-consuming and you’ll have to provide me with materials but you’ll also be selling everything I make, so as I see it’s going right back into your pocket.”
Tinle frowned and she could see him waffling, but she had just the thing to nudge him over.
“Or I can see if there are any crystal crafters willing to agree to my deal. Maybe I can convince them to give me an advance to pay off my debt to you.”
Tinle slammed his hand on the table. “50 bronze a month, paid weekly. You don’t get paid until your debt is paid off.”
“I want a percentage from the crystals I infuse,” Nova shot back.
“Minus the cost of material,” Nova added.
Tinle hesitated and she could almost see him doing the figures in his head.
“40/60 split,” Nova said. “With you getting the 60.”
Tinle shook his head. “10/90. Let me remind you I’m still providing training materials as well as tutoring you for free.”
Nova hesitated. She wanted a bigger cut but she was also aware that despite what she brought to the bargain, Tinle was offering a lot. On top of that, he could still report her. She decided to relent. “20/80 and I get to take as many shards as I like.”
Tinle grumbled and then nodded. “Agreed. Come tomorrow and we’ll get started.”
“Can’t tomorrow. I have other obligations.” She glanced over at Mathius who had been scowling through the entire conversation but brightened at her words.
“Hmm,” Tinle said, looking between the two. “I won’t push you on your contract with Mr. Crux, but if this deal is to work you have to promise to work for me exclusively during the duration.”
“Agreed as long as it doesn’t include the work I do with Mathius.”
He frowned. “Are you selling crystals with him?”
“No,” Nova said.
He nodded. “Then as long as you’re not also selling crystals with Mr. Crux I agree.
“One more thing, you are not allowed to tell anyone about my mana,” Nova said.
Tinle laughed. “Of course. If I tell people I have a pile of gold in my house I’m just asking for someone to come steal it. Though you’ll still have to register with the Crafter’s guild as my apprentice.”
Nova bit her lip. “Is that actually required?”
“Yes, there’s no way I’m going to let my business get shut down. Not even for you.” Tinle’s eyes twinkled. “But that doesn’t mean we have to register all your abilities. Registering you with wind mana should be enough.”
“Oh! They don’t check?” Nova asked.
“They’ll try but apprentices aren’t required to go under a scrying until they apply for the license. In fact, you don’t even need to go to the guild. I can simply register you. As long as a licensed crafter vouches for you as their apprentice no one should bother you.”
Nova nodded. “All right.”
Tinle grinned. “Now then, let’s talk about your schedule.”
It took some juggling but eventually, they came to an agreement. Mathius had eventually gotten pulled into the conversation, not wanting Nova’s training to interfere with his own plans. By the end of it, she had agreed to work two and a half days with Tinle. While keeping three and a half days free to help Mathius with only one day a week left for herself.
Tinle wanted to set a work contract for at least two years but Nova shut that down. She did eventually agree to a one-year contract. She didn’t like the idea of being tied down for a year but Tinle didn’t budge on it and Nova got the distinct idea that work contracts like that were the norm.
She figured that at least it would give her time to really delve into crystal crafting and it wasn’t a bad thing to be able to be skilled in an extremely lucrative business. In the end, things were settled and she was to come back on at the beginning of the week and sign a contract.
They left soon after and after talking with Mathius, they began searching the area for Briney once more. Mathius was able to point out even more places for her to look that she never thought to look. It soon became clear that Mathius knew the area like he knew his own home.
Still, there was no sign of Briney and they had to call it a night since the last Skylift was about to leave. Nova sagged against the gate, exhausted, and filled with guilt. She couldn’t believe she lost Briney. She was worried about him not to even mention how upset Jace would be that she lost his pet.
“We’ll look again in the morning,” Mathius said.
Nova looked at him, a little surprised at the offer. She knew how anxious he was to get started on the explorer’s guild. She smiled. “Thanks. I’ll make it up to you.”
Mathius shrugged and looked away. When the platform reached the ground, they both dropped their stones into a box. Nova was a little surprised no guards were waiting for them but she figured that they weren’t actually important enough. The fishmonger had gotten his money and so their only crime was disturbing the peace at most.
They began making their way back to the Caverns. There was no wagon to take them back so they had to walk. Once they arrived, Nova was tired and just wanted to plop down in a bed and sleep. It didn’t help that she was undoubtedly going to break her promise to Miko. For all the things that went well today an even greater amount had gone wrong.
Mathius frowned. “Something’s wrong.”
“Huh?” Nova asked.
“People are staring at me.”
Nova looked around and indeed several people were giving Mathius furtive looks. She looked at Mathius but couldn’t see any obvious reason for the attention.
Mathius’s lips tightened and he sped up. “Let’s get home quickly.”
Nova nodded, following him. He rounded the corner to his house and then froze. Nova crashed into him.
“Mathius?” Nova asked.
“Don’t you dare run, Mathius Crux, or I swear I’ll send an entire unit of guards after you.”
Nova peered from behind Mathius. A guard was standing in front of Mathius’s door. She was dressed in the same armor that she saw in the marketplace, except her helm was off revealing bright blonde hair pulled back into a bun. But it wasn’t the guard that drew her attention. Swinging from the guard’s arm like the woman was his personal playground was a purple kraken.
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