Nova was able to convince Mathius to give her something to eat while he made dinner. She chewed on the bread thoughtfully as Mathius cooked. It looked like he was making some sort of lentil soup. It wouldn’t have been her first choice but she was too hungry to be picky. Still, she must have made a face because a wry smile spread on Mathius’s face.
“If I had known you would wake today, I would have celebrated with fresh poultry. I did buy some more dried meat.”
Nova perked up at that and Mathius nodded to the basket he brought in. Nova hurried and searched through it, pulling out a piece of dried meat and chewing on it. “I don’t know why I’m so hungry.”
“You’ve been asleep for almost three days and your healing must have taken a lot out of you.”
They both grew quiet at that and Nova sat back down. His words brought up the elephant in the room. She wasn’t sure what to say as she struggled with how to put her feelings into words.
“I am grateful for what you did,” Mathius said.
Nova looked at Mathius in surprise. “What?”
“You tried to drag those monsters away from me, didn’t you? It’s why you almost died.” Mathius’s hand tightened on the spoon he was holding.
Nova’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah, but it wasn’t exactly a success. A group of them still stayed. I’m not sure how you managed to survive.”
“I almost didn’t,” Mathius said flatly and he raised his hand, touching the new scar on his face. “But you gave me some time and I used it.”
Nova looked at him, curious. But Mathius didn’t go into detail and she didn’t push. Neither one of them was interested in reliving that moment.
“I didn’t know about the monsters,” Mathius said quickly. “I would have warned you if I did.”
Nova blinked. It hadn’t even occurred to her that Mathius would have known. The attack caught them both off-guard. “It’s not your fault.”
Mathius’s shoulders sagged as if he had just been relieved of a heavy burden. She wondered if he had carried the guilt of her attack these last few days. For a while they both sat in silence, Mathius concentrated on cooking while Nova ate the last bits of bread and dried meat. When the soup was done, Mathius brought two bowls over to them, sliding one toward Nova.
Nova wished she could say she was full at this point but the hunger still gnawed at her stomach. She immediately went to the bowl, picking up the wooden spoon Mathius had given her. She was halfway through the lentil soup when she finally decided to bite the bullet.
“What did it cost you to summon her?” Nova asked.
Mathius put down his spoon and shoved away from his bowl. “She wanted a bonding and a portion of my mana pool.”
Nova looked up in surprise. “It was the same price as me.”
Mathius blinked. “What? She also made you pay a price? That damn demon!”
Nova blinked. “Oh. Do you mean she tricked us?”
“Of course she did.” Mathius slammed his hand on the table. “That greedy hag.”
Nova laughed and then shook her head. “Well, it’s too late now but I think in the future you might need to figure out how to make better deals with the things you summon. Trixie says you suck at making contracts and I have to agree.”
Mathius squinted at Nova. “You got tricked too.”
Nova shrugged. “I did but I also tricked you during our deal as well.”
Mathius scowled at her and then closed his eyes and groaned. “You’re right.” He rubbed his forehead. “I’m still pretty new to this.”
Nova nodded her head sympathetically. “I’m just glad you could do it.” She looked down at her bowl. “Thank you, Mathius, for saving me. I would have died if you hadn’t.”
She looked up at Mathius and his expression was complex and then he shook his head.
“Don’t thank me. It was the least I could do. We’re partners, right?”
Nova chuckled. “I guess we are.” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arm. “So, tell me. Just how much trouble are we in with the whole being bonded to a demon?”
“Not that much…I think,” Mathius said.
Nova raised an eyebrow. “You think?”
Mathius shrugged. “I can’t be completely sure but demons aren’t as strong outside of the Pits. It’s why you don’t see them roaming around. Most can’t even leave the Pits without a bond contract like ours. It also means she won’t try to kill us because if she does, she’ll be sent back to the Pits.”
“The Pits,” Nova said amused.
I guess Gailus had its own version of Hell.
Mathius gave her a funny look before continuing. “In any case, I think we’re safe from any betrayal due to that.”
“I think you’re forgetting one thing, Mathius. She has two bonds. She only needs one of us alive.”
Mathius frowned and then rubbed his forehead. “Shit.”
Nova nodded in agreement.
“We’ll just have to be careful and watch out for each other,” Mathius said. “And don’t ever agree to let her possess you. Once you say yes there is no guarantee she’ll leave.”
“Believe me, I wasn’t planning it,” Nova said.
No exorcism for me.
“So where is she now?” Nova asked.
“I have no idea. She decided to go see the sights is what she said,” Mathius said with a deep scowl. “Our contract didn’t really include a clause about controlling her.” Mathius paused. “Damn it! I really am terrible at this.”
Nova laughed. “Definitely.”
A loud banging interrupted their conversation. They both stiffened and looked at the door.
“Do you think it’s her?” Nova asked.
Mathius pursed his lips. Another loud bang came from the door and Mathius walked over. “Who is it?”
There was a muffled sound and then Mathius opened the door and then promptly tried to close it again. The door was caught and Nova watched as there was a sort of tug of war before Mathius was knocked back and tumbled to the floor. A moment later, a woman in a guard uniform stepped in.
“Get out,” Mathius said as he climbed up from the floor.
Helena glared at him, her blue eyes stormy. “Screw you, Mathius! Do you know how much trouble I’m in because of you? The captain almost pulled me from your case because I covered for you.”
“I never asked you to,” Mathius grumbled.
Helena stomped towards Mathius. The blonde looked like an avenging angel as she moved closer with rage on her face. “How dare you say that to me! If you’re so sure you don’t need my help then why don’t I drag your ass down to the tower?”
Nova stepped forward. “Um, maybe you both should calm down.”
Helena’s head snapped toward Nova’s direction. She stared at her and then blinked and then blinked again.
“Oh my fucking gods! You really did it,” Helena said. “Fuck.”
Mathius hurried to Helena’s side. “Shhh! Be quiet or…”
“What? People might find out. People like the fucking guard,” Helena said.
“Please, Helena,” Mathius pleaded.
A struggle played across Helena’s face before she sighed and sagged down in one of the remaining chairs. “Explain.”
Mathius frowned and then nodded. He went to the door and shut it. Helena’s attention turned to Nova and she squinted at her. She then pointed at the chair. “Sit.”
Nova frowned but did as the woman said.
Helena leaned forward, looking Nova over with a keen eye. “This is insane. You were at death’s door last I saw you but now you don’t have a mark on you.”
Nova’s eyes widened and she turned to Mathius with a questioning look.
He rubbed the bridge of his news. “When I brought you back here, Helena was waiting for us. It looked like the guards wanted to rule me out as a potential suspect. It seems they found two people sneaking in the ruins and thought it was us.”
Helena snorted. “It was you.”
Mathius shook his head. “Not true. Nova was practicing with crystals and there was an accident. It was much worse than it looked.”
Helena narrowed her eyes. “She was completely mangled and bleeding out.”
“It wasn’t that bad. How do you explain her walking around?” Mathius challenged.
The two glared at each other.
Nova watched them, not sure what to say. Technically she did have a crystal accident though that certainly wasn’t the whole story.
“And the ruins?” Helena probed.
“What ruins?” Mathius asked stubbornly.
Helena’s voice turned into a growl. “Don’t play with me, Crux. I know you know the entire kingdom of Hayeln like the back of your hand. There’s no way you don’t know about the ruins.”
“Fine, I know about them but that doesn’t mean I was doing anything wrong.”
Helena squinted at him. “The guards said someone opened a secret staircase.” She stared long and hard at Mathius. “There are rumors about that place. Rumors about the old Explorer’s Guild.”
Mathius flinched. Helena jumped to her feet, her chair clattering to the ground. “Damn it, Mathius! Are you really searching for the Explorer’s Guild?” She looked at Nova and her eyes dawned with realization.
Nova swallowed. She wondered if this was the moment she got to see the inside of a fantasy jail.
“And you are having her help you search. Did she get injured when some wall or something collapsed on her?” Helena began to pace back and forth. “And you put her at risk for some sort of fantasy?”
“Don’t,” Mathius warned.
Helena whirled on him. “Don’t what, Mathius? Tell the truth. We’re trapped here. No amount of wishes or chasing after dreams of the Explorer’s Guild is going to change that. The wall isn’t coming down.”
“Wall?” Nova asked, confused.
Helena turned to her and hurried over and took her hands.
Nova stared at her in surprise as the woman looked at her in pity.
“I don’t know what Mathius has told you, Nova. But there is no way he can get past the wall. If the academy can’t get us out of here then neither can he. There isn’t even any proof that finding the Explorer’s Guild will take down the wall. We’re locked in here, forever.”
“Forever,” Nova said, stunned. Her mind tried to parse through the information.
Helena patted her shoulder and then turned back to Mathius. “Just give up on this Mathius and live your life. This is how things are.”
Mathius glared at Helena. “You might be alright with being locked up in this bubble but I refuse to stay in here.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“I have a choice!” Mathius shouted. “I won’t sit here and just accept it!”
Helena gave him a look filled with pity. “You have to Mathius. Hayeln might be small but it’s a lot bigger than a prison cell. If you don’t stop now, that’s exactly where you’re going to end up.”
“Get out,” Mathius said, his face red with barely contained rage.
Helena shook her head and walked to the door. “I won’t cover for you again, Mathius.”
“Just leave!” Mathius shouted.
Helena opened the door and stepped out, shutting the door behind her.
Mathius stood in the middle of the room, his fist clenched at his side.
“We’re trapped?” Nova asked.
A flash of guilt crossed Mathius’s face. Nova’s stomach sank as she realized she had uncovered yet another secret Mathius was hiding from her.
“It’s not what you think,” Mathius said quickly.
“Then explain it to me,” Nova said flatly as she settled in her chair.
Mathius nodded and quickly walked over to her. He picked up the chair Helena had left on the floor and then sat down.
“Okay. Just give me a chance to explain the whole story,” Mathius said.
Nova balled up her fist and put it in her lap. “I’m listening.”
“Hayeln. The entire Kingdom of Hayeln is trapped in a magic dome.”
I hope you’re enjoying my fantasy LitRPG webnovel. Check out my patreon to read ahead.