A wave of anticipation went through Nova at the thought that the first part of her quest was about to be completed. It would mean all she needed was to find three members for the guild and do the Explorer’s Quest.
“Activation failed,” Ava’s voice rang out. “Repairs and clean-up needed before reactivation.”
Nova groaned. “Of course. That would have been too easy.”
An echo of her voice sounded in the room with the translation.
“What do we need to repair?” Nova asked.
“Four pillars in the entrance hall, ranging from 4.572 to 5.1816 meters in height to be replaced by stone or wood. Two walls of -“
“Wait! Wait,” Nova interrupted. “Let me rephrase. How many rooms do we need to repair?”
“You will need to repair three rooms to return to functionality.”
Nova let out a breath of relief. “Okay, so why don’t we take a look at it and go from there.”
Several lights lit up the hall. Nova looked at Mathius. “I guess we follow the lights?”
A moment later, her voice echoed throughout the room though the words were in a different language. She really hated that but if it helped her to communicate, she wouldn’t complain. Mathius nodded and walked down the hall. She gathered from the lack of talking on his part he wasn’t too keen on the voice echo either.
Mathius moved with a surety she hadn’t expected. It made her curious. “Have you been down here before?”
Once her voice was translated, Mathius nodded. He frowned and spoke, waving around him.
His voice echo came through. “I didn’t know about her.”
Nova nodded. She figured. It sounded like Ava was only willing to follow her commands or, based on the initial greeting, a Soul Traveler’s commands. It meant the Explorer’s Guild was somehow connected to Soul travelers. And based on how adamant Mathius had been for her to help him restart the guild she was sure he knew about the connection.
She frowned. She didn’t like the idea that he was hiding information from her again. She hated finding out she was a step behind. At least it was clear that the Explorer’s Guild was a lot more important than she initially thought. She remained silent as they moved down the hall until the room opened up to reveal a large cavern with a broken building in its center.
Calling it a building was being generous. The building looked like someone had stomped on it. A huge crater was in the center. The left side had only a wall standing. The right side had been engulfed by the roots of a tree that pushed up from the ground. Strange translucent glowing fruit hung from its branches.
“Wow,” Nova said. Nova took a step forward but Mathius grabbed her arm.
She gave him a questioning look.
“We have to be careful. There are strange things down here,” Mathius said or his voice echo said. Mathius had actually attempted to whisper the information but Ava had kept it at a normal volume. Mathius glared at the air.
“Ava, is there any danger I should be concerned about?” Nova asked quickly.
“Yes,” Ava stated. “Would you like me to catalog the dangers in your vicinity?”
Nova frowned. She waved at Mathius to follow her and they backed up into the hall until they were some distance away from the area.
“Tell me the dangers,” Nova said.
“Danger based on default range. Mathius Crux, loose debris 1 meter away,-“
“Stop,” Nova said, rubbing her forehead. “Okay, let’s try this again. What is the default range?”
“It is a 3-meter radius,” Ava said.
Mathius frowned and said something.
“What are you talking about?” Mathius’s voice echoed.
Nova looked confused. “You’re not translating?”
“He does not have clearance for this information,” Ava stated.
Nova frowned. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that. She hadn’t missed what Ava had said about Mathius.
“Why is Mathius considered a danger to me?” Nova asked.
“Mathius Crux is physically stronger, with more developed agility and strength. He also has magic skills above your own, making him a threat.”
“Oh,” Nova said. When she laid it out like that Nova wasn’t too surprised. “I guess that means I’m pretty weak.”
“Yes,” Ava said.
Nova growled. “Thanks.” She crossed her arms. “Okay, I want you to let me know about any active threat or any danger I’m about to enter.” She paused as she figured out how to word it. She didn’t want constant alerts about trivial things. “Anything that could lead to death, broken limbs, or poisoning.”
She considered changing the default range but then decided to keep it as is. If it became too annoying she would shorten it. She looked over at Mathius.
“I want you to let Mathius know about any dangers to himself as well.”
“Negative. Mathius Crux doesn’t have clearance to interact with the detection program.”
Nova rolled her eyes. “Fine, then explain to him that you’re not going to tell him when his life is in danger.”
Before Nova could say more, Ava did just that. The sour look on Mathius’s face was answer enough on how he felt about that.
“Notify me if Mathius is in danger,” Nova said.
“Affirmative,” Ava said.
Nova took a deep breath and walked back to the ruins of the explorer’s guild. Mathius walked beside her while Ava pointed out a few treacherous locations.
“So, you’ve been down this far before,” Nova asked Mathius.
“Yes, but I never entered the guild,” Mathius said, walking a little ahead. “Tried and ran into some problems.”
“Danger. Mathius Crux is about to enter an area of structural instability,” Ava alerted.
Nova froze at the word danger. She reached out to grab Mathius but Ava hadn’t shared her warning. Mathius kept walking.
“Stop!” Nova shouted.
The shout made Mathius stop and he turned around. Nova felt a moment of relief. Then the ground gave in under Mathius.
Nova’s eyes widened as Mathius was one moment there and then the next falling. She rushed towards the edge.
“Danger! The ground is unstable.”
Nova froze, unsure what to do when she saw fingers clutching at the edge of the hold.
“Which area has higher stability near Mathius?”
There was a pause before Ava spoke. “In .63 meters to the right and 1.21 meters forward has the most stable path to Mathius Crux with a 50 percent probability of holding structural integrity for the next 5 minutes and 32 seconds.”
“Okay, Okay,” Nova tried to translate the meters into feet but her brain felt like it wasn’t working. Instead, she took a chance and slowly moved to the right two feet and then forward. Nova crouched down, reaching for Mathius’s hand. “Grab on to me.”
Her hand trembled and as she looked down all she could see was an endless dark pit.
Mathius grunted and swung his hand up. As he did, parts of the ground broke off. Nova laid down on her stomach, holding the unbroken edge as she wiggled up further in hopes of grabbing Mathiu’s hand.
“Danger!” Ava shouted. “Ground is unstable.”
“Shut up, Ava!” Nova said as she stretched out her hand.
Mathius swung up and this time he caught her hand. Nova scooted backward. Pieces of rock dug into her skin with each movement. Gritting her teeth, Nova pulled him in closer, grasping part of his arm. As she did another chunk of the floor fell away. It was the same chunk Mathius was holding onto.
Suddenly, Nova was holding all of Mathius’s weight. She dug her heels in and as she did, she heard the floor cracking. She knew she didn’t have much time. She held tighter and strained with all her might to pull. Her entire body strained as she felt herself being dragged towards the edge of the hole. She scrambled to slow herself down before they both fell over the edge. The drag lessened as Mathius grabbed hold of the edge again.
Nova shifted her position, pushing herself back as Mathius leaned forward. Tucking her legs under her, she dug her heels back as she wrapped her other hand around his arm and pulled. Mathius pushed up and then he was finally off the edge and onto the ground.
Nova hurried to her feet and dragged him back. “Ava, are we on stable ground.”
Mathius slumped down on the ground and Nova collapsed beside him. They were both panting from a mixture of exertion and adrenaline.
“We should go back.”
Mathius shook his head as he bent over.
Nova narrowed her eyes. “Idiot.” She looked at the ruins of the Explorer’s Guild and even as her heart thumped in her chest, her curiosity was even stronger. “Ava, can you map us a stable path to the ruin?”
There was a pause. Then Ava began to give them instructions. Nova swore to herself, wishing she had thought to ask the AI earlier. After that, they carefully made their way to the guild. Parts of the floor gave out but luckily Ava’s guidance helped them avoid the worst of it.
Still, once they reached the actual structure, Nova felt like her heart was going to beat out of her chest.
“There’s no way we can have an explorer’s guild here. It’s too dangerous.” She waited for her translation to go through, watching Mathius’s face.
He was frowning and then he chewed on his lip. “We can fix it.”
Nova arched an eyebrow at him. “How?”
Mathius’s brow furrowed. “Ask Ava?”
Nova sighed. “Ava is it possible to fix the ground to make it safer to reach the explorer’s guild?”
There was a long pause then Ava’s voice rang through the cavern. “If you retrieve the heartstone, then the area can be repaired.”
“What is a heartstone?”
“The Heartstone is a crystal designed to house the knowledge of the explorer’s guild. It regulates and protects the explorer’s guild and its members while within its area of effect.”
Nova nodded. “It should be inside the guild then?”
“Heartstones are usually kept inside the guild in a core room but I am not in there.”
“You? You’re the heartstone?”
“I am the consciousness established within the heartstone,” Ava said.
Nova paused at that. Ava said she was a consciousness, not an AI. She wondered if that meant she was more than a program.
She turned to Mathius and noticed that he was giving her a questioning look. It seemed Ava hadn’t notified him of their conversation.
“You didn’t tell Mathius about the heartstone.”
“Mathius Crux doesn’t have clearance to know about the heartstone.”
“What happens if I tell him about the heartstone?” Nova said.
“Your clearance will be revoked,” Nova said.
Nova felt a wave of annoyance. “How do I give him clearance?”
“He must be a founding leader of the Explorer’s guild or one of its posts or have been established as a Pioneer level explorer with clearance from a founding leader.”
“Does that mean-” Nova stopped, cutting herself off. She started to ask what level she was but she wasn’t sure if asking that would get her locked out of the system. She was pretty sure she was able to interact with Ava through some sort of loophole and she didn’t need Ava to dig in and realize her mistake.
“Can I establish him as a Pioneer or make him a founding leader?” Nova asked.
“He must be a member of the Explorer’s Guild and meet the criteria to be a Pioneer or founding leader.”
“How does he join the Explorer’s Guild?”
“You must journey to an Explorer’s Guild to register or establish and register a guild post.”
Nova brightened at that. “Does that mean if we rebuild the guild here, he will become a member?”
“Reactivating the guild will allow Mathius Crux to register as an Explorer’s Guild member,” Ava said.
Beside her Mathius poked her, obviously annoyed to be out of the conversation for so long. “One second,” she said.
Mathius frowned at her and then huffed.
“Okay, can you show me the rooms we need to repair?” Nova said.
Two orange lights shone in the ruin. One was right in front of them. Another shone to the left side. It was very easy to spot since there were no walls.
“Where’s the third?” Nova asked.
“It is the core room and is in a secured location. I can guide you to it.”
“But not Mathius?” Nova said, already knowing where the conversation was going.
“Mathius Crux doesn’t have clearance.”
“This is seriously getting annoying,” Nova muttered before turning to Mathius. “I have to go look at one of the rooms. Do you want to check out the other rooms to see what we need?” She gestured to the areas lit up by orange light.
After her words were translated, Mathius stood up and moved to the left area without another word. Nova got the feeling he was ticked off about the whole clearance thing. Nova stood up and looked around. Her gaze drifted over the ruin. Looking at it all, she frowned.
“There are way more than three rooms that need to be repaired.”
“Only the central rooms need to be repaired to allow reactivation of the explorer’s guild.”
Nova nodded. That meant there was still more work to be done but not work she needed to be responsible for in the long run. As long as the Explorer’s guild was active she figured that part of her quest would be fulfilled or at least she hoped that was the case. There was no way she would be able to get the entire place repaired in sixty days. She wasn’t even sure if the other part of the building would be able to be repaired unless there was some sort of magic or system fix that would happen.
“Let me know if Mathius needs me or if there is any danger to him,” Nova said.
“Okay, lead me to the Core room.”
A purple light lit up and led into the right building. Nova followed it, curious about what she would discover.
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