“You’re sure she’s going to wake up,” a doubtful voice said.
“You saw her body knit itself back together as much as I did,” another voice said. “She’ll wake up. That was the deal.”
“And you trust that thing?”
Nova twitched at the sound of the voices. She felt tired, really tired. The voices were familiar and as she listened, she pieced together who they were.
“You can’t tell him about what you saw,” Mathius said.
“Why can’t I?” Korn said, his voice growing aggressive. “You think you can stop me?”
“I’m not trying to start a fight,” Mathius answered and there was a plea in his voice. “You know what he’s like. He won’t leave us alone.” There was a long pause. “Please.”
Korn grunted. “Fine, but don’t think you can hide for long.” There was the slap of footsteps. “I’ve seen him go hunting and he’s already sniffing around.”
The room was quiet and Nova could feel her consciousness drifting away as sleep pulled her back down.
“Shit. We need to get out of here,” Mathius said right as sleep took her.
When Nova woke up again, she was alone. She blinked her eyes as the ceiling of the room came into view. She stared blankly at it, just feeling her body, afraid to even move.
Am I really alive?
Her heart beat in her chest. Her breath filled her lungs, pouring out of parted lips. She was alive. Despite everything, she was alive. Unbidden, tears sprang to her eyes and Nova began to weep. She wept for the life she left behind on earth, the parents that she never grieved. She wept that against all odds she was alive.
Nova wasn’t sure how long she cried but it felt like by the time she was done all the tears inside her had dried up. With a groan, she rolled on her side and sat up. She felt sore but it was nothing compared to the pain she had before. She looked down at her arm. It was whole, no ripped flesh, no bleeding.
She twisted her arm behind her, trying to feel her back. It was solid, no hole from a flesh sether digging into her flesh. It was almost like it never happened. She laughed and her lip trembled. A flash of memory hit her. She was running, slamming a monster with a stick. The blast lifted her off the ground. Debris pierced her body. She shook her head and stood up.
“I can’t think about this right now.” Her stomach growled and she realized that she was ravenous. “Food.”
She stood up and took a step forward. Her legs felt wobbly but after a few steps, she could move fine. Doing a circle around the room, she then pushed the drape away. She walked into the living room. A sharp screech greeted her and then the next thing she knew a bunch of purple tentacles was coming toward her.
She quickly grabbed the kraken before it could make contact with her face. She blinked. A little surprised at how quickly she had moved. She frowned but was distracted as Briney began patting her face and making soft warbling sounds.
She chuckled and gave the kraken a gentle squeeze. “I’m all right. Just hungry. How about you?” She pulled the kraken in front of her and her eyes widened with surprise. “Have you gotten bigger?”
The kraken used to be around the size of her fist but was now around double that. She frowned and looked over the kraken and noticed that it had eight tentacles. “Did your tentacle grow back?”
The kraken squawked and waved the tentacle that had been bitten by the flesh sether which was now whole once more.
“I had no idea you could do that,” Nova said.
Briney cooed and climbed on her shoulder which wasn’t as good a perch as it once was due to his size but the kraken made it work. Another grumble came from Nova’s stomach and she moved to the area that worked as a kitchen in the small carven house.
It took her a while but she found some bread and dried meat and began eating it with gusto. Even after she finished, she was still hungry and so she searched the kitchen for more food, finding some dried fruit and quickly eating that as well. By the time she was done she was still hungry but it was manageable.
After she finished, she looked around the room. “Where is Mathius?”
Briney pointed to the door. Nova gathered Mathius was out. It brought up the topic of other guests.
“Is anyone else here?” she asked Briney who warbled at her. Since she couldn’t speak kraken she decided to take a look around. Since the place was small it didn’t take long. There was no one around. She did take a minute to use the bathroom and noticed that a new tub had been added to the bathroom though it didn’t have the crystals installed in it like the one before. It reminded her that before she had passed out, she had gotten a message.
She started to pull up her system screen when she paused. There was still one more person, or creature, she hadn’t checked on.
There was no response. She tried thinking of the demon’s name and for a moment she felt something tug inside her.
The beautiful and charming Trixie is currently unavailable as she’s off living her best life. Please leave your message at the beep and she will promptly ignore it. Beep!
Nova rolled her eyes. “You have got to be kidding me.” She frowned. She really didn’t like the idea that the demon had left a voicemail service in her mind. Still, it meant she wasn’t here. She wasn’t here…
“Oh, God!” Nova covered her face with her hands. “I made a deal with a demon. Never make a deal with a demon. That’s like Faust 101.”
Fear and disbelief surged through her and her entire body trembled. Her chest tightened and her heart started beating way too fast. She grabbed hold of her arm, squeezing it tightly.
I need to calm down.
She took a deep breath. “I can’t freak out. I just have to deal.”
She sat there, pulling herself together. Until, finally, she could breathe again.
I’m here. I’m alive. That’s all that matters.
There was movement and she realized that Briney had slid into her lap and she hadn’t noticed. The kraken’s big gold eyes peered up at her. She smiled down at it.
“I’m fine. I just needed a moment.”
Briney warbled at her.
Nova sighed. She could feel the fear and panic underneath her skin barely contained. Still, it was contained and right now that was good enough.
“Can you contact Jace?” Nova asked Briney.
Briney warbled and then a moment later a familiar voice sounded from the kraken.
“So you finally remembered us. Here I was thinking you kidnapped my poor little Briney and disappeared on us,” Jace said.
Nova frowned. “How long has it been since I last talked with you?”
There was a pause. “Today is day number three.”
She had been asleep for two days.
“Nova, what’s going on?” Jace said, worried.
“Mathius and I were exploring the ruins of an old explorer’s guild when we were attacked by monsters.” Nova went on to explain what happened though she didn’t go into details about how serious it had been or the deal she made with the demon. She just didn’t want to think about it.
After she finished, a long silence hung in the air. Nova waited, not sure what to say and not really inclined to push Jace. Finally, Jace spoke and his voice was incredibly serious.
“Don’t go back there,” Jace said. “It’s too dangerous.”
Nova laughed. “You’re saying that like you think I was planning to. Sorry, but getting my ass kicked once was enough for me.”
Jace breathed a sigh of relief. There was a moment of hesitation. “You should get out of the area.”
“What?” Nova asked, surprised.
“That place is dangerous and it’s not going to be long before those monsters come to the surface.”
Nova frowned. “Aren’t you overreacting?”
“No. Those are dungeon monsters you encountered. They’re going to be searching for mana and humans are a walking mana buffet. Leave and don’t look back.”
“It’s not that easy,” Nova said. “I have a contract with Mathius.”
“Then get him to leave with you,” Jace insisted. “You’re making an explorer’s guild, aren’t you? Well, get to exploring. It doesn’t have to be there, does it?”
Nova opened her mouth and then closed it. What Jace said made its own sort of sense but she had obligations. She still had her contract with Tinle though she still hadn’t signed it. She shook her head. It was too sudden.
“What aren’t you telling me, Jace?” Nova asked. “Why are you so worried? There are guards. They can take care of the monsters, right?”
“Maybe,” Jace said and there was another pause. “Maybe I’m overthinking it. Just…you’re going to have to let someone know there’s a dungeon down there and some of the monsters are spilling over. If things haven’t been run over yet then it’s probably in a stage where it can still be controlled.”
“This is really a dungeon?” Nova asked, bewildered. “Seriously.”
“Yeah…” Jace said. “Oh! Miko wants to talk to you.”
Nova blinked at the sudden change in subject but relaxed as Miko’s voice came through, sounding hesitant.
“Hi, Miko, I’m sorry I didn’t get in contact sooner.”
From there, Nova explained to Miko about the explorer’s guild, telling her about what she found there. She talked about the monsters but skimmed over the details not wanting to scare the girl.
Still worried filled Miko’s voice. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I am. I promise,” Nova said, smiling gently.
“Just, it all sounds really scary.” She was quiet for a second as if searching for her words. “It must be scary there.”
“Not too scary,” Nova said and a part of her wondered if she was telling the truth.
“Then you’re brave, Nova. I was scared when I came to the Paths. Sometimes I still am. And I don’t have monsters attacking me.”
Nova blinked and then sighed. Miko was right. She was scared. She tried to ignore it but the fear was there. “I am a little scared,” Nova admitted. “But I can’t let that stop me.”
“Ok.” Then Miko’s voice grew firmer and brighter. “Then I’ll try to be braver too!”
Nova laughed. “Then we’ll both try to be brave for each other.”
“It’s a promise,” Miko said.
They talked a little more until Briney began to sag and they ended the connection. Nova picked up Briney and took him to her bed so he could rest. As she laid him down, her stomach grumbled once more. The hunger was back. She really hoped Mathius would get back soon.
Instead, she moved back to the living room and sat down. “Ava?”
There was no response. She figured as much. The AI was probably contained to the explorer’s guild. She felt sort of bad for it since it hinted that it was more than just a simple AI. She shook her head.
I’m humanizing a machine. It’s no more alive than my system.
With the thought of her system, she pulled it up. It sprung to life with ease. The pulling from before was gone. Nova’s eyebrows rose but she moved on and focused on the message on the screen.
[Earth attributes converted. Basic stats aligned. Diagnostic 42% complete. 103 hours until completion.]
She focused on earth attributes and when nothing popped up, she focused on stats but it was futile. Her system was still offline. Still, it must mean something. She vaguely recalled a message about her translation pack being back online too. So maybe that meant she would actually be able to talk to Mathius. Whenever he finally got back.
Nova’s stomach grumbled. “I’m hungry.”
It was another hour before Mathius got back. Nova was pacing the whole time. All she did was pour over all the things she needed to do and even that had been a jumbled mess. So she basically ran to the door when she heard the key in the lock.
When the door swung open, Mathius jumped. His eyes widened and he gaped at her. Nova looked at him unsure. Mathius looked tired. There were bags under his eyes and a scar climbing from his cheek down to his neck that hadn’t been there before.
Nova wasn’t sure what to say to him so she said the first thing that popped into her head. “I’m hungry.”
Mathius blinked and then he started to laugh. Nova stared. She didn’t think she had heard him laugh before. She grinned.
Mathius raised a basket filled with food. “Let’s eat.”
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