When Nova stepped out of the room, she found Mathius pacing. His face was scrunched into a scowl. It seemed like he wasn’t as okay with the situation as he let on. She wasn’t too surprised. When he noticed her he said something to her. When she just looked at him blankly, he sighed and then pointed to her shoulder and wiggled his arms.
She couldn’t help letting on a short giggle-snort at the motion. This just caused Mathius’s scowl to deepen. She shook her head, hoping he would get the message. She then pointed to the bathroom and Mathius moved out of the way.
She went in and immediately sighed. The tub was in pieces and the clothes she had brought in with her were also in tatters. She picked up the dress and stepped out, holding it up to Mathius. Mathius frowned and then waved for her to follow him. Guiding her back into the room, he went over to the basket, pulling out another dress. This one was a bit fancier than the one she had been wearing but not by much. It was a soft blue with white simple trim. It wasn’t worn and seemed to have been treated with care. Mathius grimaced and then held it out to her.
She felt bad taking it. This was obviously something his mother had taken pride in but she didn’t have anything else to wear. She took it with a small thank you. Mathius turned away and continued digging through the basket so Nova left and went to get change. When she came out, Mathius was waiting for her. He pointed to the table that he had righted once more.
Nova walked closer and saw there were lots of new scratches on it. She felt extremely bad. In just one morning she had damaged at least a third of the furniture in his house. She mentally tallied it up with the other things she needed to pay back.
Her gaze turned away from the scratches and focused on several figurines on the table. Mathius pointed to one and mouthed a word. It took her a second but she got it. He was teaching her words. Nova instantly brightened and said several of the words. The figurines were of a wagon, a woman, a man, and two children.
Once she got those words, Mathius began running in place and barking out a word over and over again. It didn’t take her long to get he was telling her the word for run. She repeated the word a few times and when he was satisfied, he began flailing his arms in the air and running in a circle. Nova snorted and Mathius stopped and glared at her.
He repeated the word again and did the same thing. It took her a second to figure out what the word meant but she realized he was saying help. She said the world multiple times. It became clear that Mathius was teaching her words she might need on their journey. It made her a bit nervous.
“Where are we going?” Nova asked.
Mathius simply stared at her and she huffed. She pointed to him and here and then put two fingers on the table to mimic walking. “Where?”
Mathius looked at her blankly and then shrugged. Nova groaned. It was clearly going to be a long day. After Mathius taught her a few more words he thought would be important, he packed up a bag and slung it over his shoulder. She tilted her head, curious, but Mathius didn’t give her a bag.
Seeing he was busy getting ready, Nova went into the room and collected Briney. She considered leaving him but she figured she might need him to communicate in an emergency. Pulling on her cloak, she placed Briney on her shoulder. The kraken slid under her cloak. She smiled and then tied the shard pouch to her belt.
“Time to go.”
After they left, Nova made use of the travel time to point at things and have Mathius say the word for it. Some of the words she remembered but others she forgot pretty quickly. Eventually, she stopped pointing things out, realizing she wouldn’t be able to remember every single word she was learning. Instead, she focused on common words and going over the words Mathius had taught her back at his home.
Mathius eventually led them to the alley they used when she first arrived. After making sure no one was paying attention to them, Mathius pulled back the stone and climbed down into the hole, closing it back with an ease Nova envied.
He gestured to her. “Follow.” He held out her hand and she realized he was going to lead her around in the dark again.
She shook her head and pointed at the torches.
He shook his head. “Danger.”
She frowned and then nodded, taking his hand. Mathius led them deeper into the tunnels. She still found it curious how he could navigate the tunnels with such ease in the darkness. He seemed to move in most places with ease and Nova wondered if that was tied to him being a cartographer.
Nova hated being led around in the dark. She didn’t think Mathius was going to hurt her. If that had been his plan, he would have done it long ago. It didn’t mean she liked the idea of not being able to make her own way in and out. She glanced at Mathius, unable to make him out in the dark. She was still unsure how she felt about him. Of course, it had been only a couple of days since she met him but it felt longer.
He had kept secrets from her and made it clear he was using her. He was an illegal Summoner and so technically a criminal in this world. On the other hand, he helped and defended her. Though grumpy he was patient with her. He was even willing to take on her debt. It left her with mixed feelings on whether to trust him or not.
She wanted to trust him because he was the only person she knew in this world, but she also knew it was a dangerous way to think.
Should I take a leap of faith and hope for the best?
Nova bumped into Mathius, not realizing they had stopped. Mathius snorted. He squeezed her hand and then let go. For a moment, Nova panicked. She could hear Mathius moving in the dark and then there was the sound of stone sliding against stone. A sliver of light shone down on them as the stone above them was pulled back. Grabbing the edge, Mathius pulled himself up from the hole. He then turned back to Nova. Raising his hand, he pointed down and shook his head.
She wasn’t sure what the word meant but she gathered he wanted her to wait. She frowned but nodded. Mathius muttered something and then he pulled the stone back.
Nova’s eyes widened. “Wait!”
But it was too late, the stone was locked in place and she was left alone in the dark. Her mind whirled with one negative possibility after the other. She felt like her entire skin was tingling as she waited for something to come for her in the dark.
Didn’t he say there was something dangerous in here?
Her skin felt itchy, like she was waiting for something to crawl across her skin.
Calm down. Mathius wouldn’t have left me here if he thought it was dangerous, right?
She knew that was true but Mathius couldn’t know for sure. She sucked in a breath and blew it out. She needed something to concentrate on. Her mana sight was a no-go. She had no desire to feel that sort of pain again so maybe mana transfer.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any crystals she could play with around her. It did give her a different idea. She unwrapped the bag of shards from her belt. Immediately she felt movement on her shoulder and she almost freaked out until she realized it was Briney.
Seriously, I need to calm down.
She pulled out a shard, turning it in her hand. Before she could react, Briney slid down her arm and snatched the shard, gobbling it down.
“Really?” She glared at the dark lump on her arm and reached for another shard. This time she moved it out of the way before Briney could snatch it. “Stop that.”
Briney made a sad warbling sound before climbing back up to settle on her shoulder. She kept the shard in front of her and tried to imagine pushing mana into it. She kept her eyes glued on the crystal though it wasn’t too easy to see in the dark. Nothing happened.
She frowned. She had never tried to put her mana into a crystal before but she thought she should be able to do it. That was what the crystal crafters did after all. She narrowed her eyes and tried to think of energy flowing from herself and into the crystal. For a moment, the crystal flickered in the darkness.
“Yeah!” Before she could focus on it again, a tentacle snaked out and plucked the shard from her fingers. “Briney!”
The loud scraping of stone stopped her and she looked up. The stone was pulled away and light poured into the opening. Mathius stood at the edge of the opening and gave her an annoyed look. He put a finger to his lips and then held out his hand. Nova quickly checked to make sure the shard bag was secured and then took Mathius’s hand.
He pulled her up and she looked around her. It was the ruins she had arrived in when she was summoned. She looked at Mathius in curiosity. He was putting the stone back in place. Once he straightened up, he put his finger to his lips. Nova nodded.
Mathius waved at her to follow him and then guided them carefully through the ruins. They made their way near the summoning circle but stopped right outside the entrance. Mathius waved for her to come closer and then pointed around the corner. Nova gave him a questioning look and he once again put a finger to his lips. Nova carefully peeked around the corner and her eyes widened when she saw two guards posted nearby.
The guards were standing at the spot where Mathius had summoned her. They were talking quietly among themselves with their backs to Nova and Mathius stood. They looked tired and slightly anxious.
Nova turned her hand over, palm up, and put two fingers down. She moved her fingers across her palm like they were running and then gave Mathius a questioning look.
He shook his head and pointed to a wall. It was only a few steps away but if the guards turned, they would be seen. It was way too risky for her taste. Nova shook her head.
Mathius nodded then pointed to the wall. She shook her head again but he ignored her. Giving the guards another quick look, he pulled up the hood of his cloak and then started sneaking across the room. The wall wasn’t far from them, about nine feet away.
Nova bit her lip as she watched Mathius creep forward, sliding past debris littering the floor. He picked his way across with ease, reaching the wall without making a single sound. He then leaned against the wall, pressing his fingers against the stone at different spots. There was a pause and then the wall slid open without even a creak which was a feat in itself. Mathius grinned and slipped through the passageway. He waved her over.
Nova swallowed and looked at the guards. They were talking to each other but despite that their gaze flitted to the front entrance into the room. She wondered if that meant they didn’t know about this back entrance or if there was some other reason they were more intent on the front entrance.
Nova crept towards the secret passage. She held her breath, scared to even breathe and alert the guards.
Don’t trip. Don’t trip.
The floor was littered with broken stones and debris. She wasn’t sure how Mathius navigated it so quickly without even kicking a stone. A guard cleared his throat and she froze. She gazed over and noticed one of the guards was half turned towards her. Her heart beat frantically in her chest. If he turned away just a little then she would be caught.
Her mouth grew dry. The second guard said something and the first guard turned back. Nova almost let out a sigh of relief but caught herself in time. She started walking again. It felt like ages before she made it across the room to the door but she made it to the passage without alerting the guards. A wave of relief went through her.
Mathius looked amused and signaled for her to follow.
Nova nodded and crossed the threshold. As soon as she did, the entire doorway lit up in bright white light.
The two guards turned and spotted them. “Stop! By order of the City Guard.”
Mathius grabbed her arm and dragged her down the stairs.
“We need to shut the door!” Nova said but Mathius wasn’t listening. Luckily, someone else was.
[Would you like to lock the East Entrance?]
“Yes!” Nova shouted.
[Entrance closed. Warning! Intruders are breaching the east entrance. Shall I dispatch intruders?]
“No!” She wasn’t sure what dispatch entailed and she had no desire to kill a bunch of guards just for doing their job.
Mathius shouted something and they turned into a passageway she would have never noticed. As soon as they were inside a new message appeared.
[East entrance breached.]
She looked at the door they passed through. “Can you lock this entrance?”
In response, part of the wall began to move. Mathius and her jumped back. Before their eyes, part of the wall descended, sealing them inside. She shuddered and Mathius’s eyes widened.
[Southeast entrance closed.]
Mathius stepped forward, putting his hand on the wall. A worried scowl appeared on his face.
“It’s fine. I told it to close it,” Nova said.
Mathius turned to her, looking confused. Nova groaned. The language barrier was killing her and she had no clue how to tell him that it was fine because the walls were talking to her. Then a new idea came to her.
“Can you share your messages with Mathius?” she asked.
[Negative, your companion does not meet the criteria to share system windows.]
Mathius was giving her a weird look. He had probably caught on that she wasn’t talking to him but something else.
What are the criteria? Nova thought silently like she would with her own system.
She waited but there was no response. She frowned and then tried again, this time saying it out loud.
“What are the criteria?”
[A system interface must be accessible to send messages.]
Nova turned that over. She was a little surprised that she was able to get messages since her own system was under maintenance.
“Are you able to provide auditory information to my companion?” Nova asked.
[Basic auditory information is allowed. Would you like to allow your companion level 1 clearance?]
“Level 1 clearance granted to Mathius Crux.”
Mathius jumped and spun around. He said something but she couldn’t understand him though she could guess.
“System, are you able to translate our conversation?”
There was a pause.
[I am unable to access your translation system directly. I can provide an auditory translation.]
Her voice echoed through the room in a different language. Nova looked around in surprise and then frowned. She hadn’t expected the system to mimic her voice. Mathius said something and then a second later his voice echoed in the room again but this time in English. Mathius glowered.
“What’s going on? Mathius’s voice demanded.
“The room can talk is all I know. I think it is some sort of Soul Traveler area,” Nova said. She cringed a little as her voice rang out a second later speaking in a different language. It was pretty freaky. “Where are we?”
“You are in the Explorer’s Guild, Hayeln Division, status disabled,” the system said in a female voice. “I am Heartstone 12, Ava. Would you like to activate Explorer’s Guild, Hayeln Division?”
Mathius’s eyes widened and he nodded his head enthusiastically.
Nova grinned. “Yes.”
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