When Nova opened her eyes all she could see were teeth. She screamed and jerked back.
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. If I wanted to eat you, I would have already gobbled you up.” The demon said as she floated over her. Her pink hair spilled across her face.
Nova rubbed her eyes and tried to push the pink hair away. Her fingers just went through it. “Trixie?”
There was the thump of feet and then the drape was thrown back as Helena stepped into the room. A sword was gripped tightly in her hand. “Nova?” She looked around and then lowered her sword. “Nightmare?”
Nova nodded her head. “Sorry, I was just startled…” She trailed off and glanced over to Trixie floating near her bed.
Does she not see her?
“I thought I saw a demon. It must have been a dream.”
“A demon. That does sound horrible,” another voice said. Then a second later Trixie, another more solid Trixie, walked into the room joining Helena.
Nova stared. Looking at the Trixie standing by Helena and the one floating over her bed. “How?”
Helena gave Nova a tight smile. “Trixie came by. She said she was a friend of yours? Honestly, I’m surprised she managed to find you here.”
Trixie shrugged and looked at her manicured nails. “I can always find Nova. We’re just close like that.”
Nova narrowed her eyes at the demon and noticed that Helena, despite her easy smile, was also giving the demon a suspicious look. The pink hair probably wasn’t normal around here.
“Well as long as she’s a friend,” Helena said, turning her attention back to Nova. “Why don’t you come out and eat? I’ll have to leave for the barracks soon. Do you have plans today?”
Nova jumped from her bed. “Oh! Yes, I’m supposed to meet with Tinle today!”
“Tinle?” Helena said.
Nova nodded as she climbed out of bed. “He’s a crystal crafter on the first dock. I’m supposed to train with him today. I have to get to his shop by eight.”
Helena nodded. “You should have told me. I would have woken you sooner. If you’re walking to the city it’ll take you 40 minutes. That gives you 20 to get ready.”
“I’ll be quick.” She was grateful that she had taken a bath last night.
Helena nodded and ducked out of the room. Trixie grinned and then followed her while the other remained, hovering over her bed.
Nova squinted at the demon, keeping her voice down. “What is going on? How are there two of you and why can Helena see one of you and not the other?”
“You humans are surprised by the simplest things,” the demon said, with a smug look.
Nova crossed her arms. “Explain.”
Trixie twirled in the air before landing on the bed. “What if I don’t want to?”
Nova opened her mouth and then closed it. Honestly, she had no way of forcing the demon to tell her. She didn’t like it.
A delighted laugh spilled from Trixie’s lips. The demon tucked her hand under her chin and gave her a toothy smile. “It is best you understand the power dynamics of this arrangement now. You are alive because I was in a good mood. Don’t think you can demand things from me.”
Nova’s lips tightened. She hated that the demon was right. Still, if she thought it was going to be that easy she was mistaken.
“I can see the gears in your mind turning,” Trixie said.
And I can hear your thoughts so don’t think you can hide things from me, Trixie’s voice popped in her head.
Nova’s eyes widened and then she frowned. I’ll just have to fix that.
You can’t. We’re bonded.
Nova ignored her and she went to grab the pouch of crystals. She noticed they were almost gone. It was a good thing she was meeting Tinle today. She went over to Briney and pulled out a few shards. The kraken was still asleep but jumped up when she gently taped him.
Briney wiggled in excitement and she handed over the crystals. The kraken gobbled it up.
“Why do you even keep that parasite?” Trixie said with disgust.
“Briney isn’t a parasite,” Nova said.
The kraken turned, his golden gaze darting around the room until it settled on the demon. It then wagged its tentacles angrily at the demon. The demon sneered at it.
Nova blinked in surprise. “Briney can see you.”
“Unfortunately,” Trixie said and then bared her teeth and hissed at the kraken.
The kraken squawked at her in return. They reminded her of two angry cats.
“Nova! We should get going!” Helena called out.
Nova hurried to get dressed and then grabbed Briney. For a moment she wasn’t sure where to go. The kraken was much bigger than usual so hiding him under her cloak for the entire day wouldn’t work. She needed a bag.
She stepped out of the room and Helena shoved a biscuit toward her. “Here. Let’s go.”
“Wait,” Nova said. “Do you have a bag?” She lifted up Briney. “I need some way to carry him.”
Helena looked at her in surprise. “You’re bringing him with you to work?”
Nova opened her mouth to say she was and then stopped.
What am I thinking?
There was no way she could bring a crystal munching kraken to her job. “I don’t have anywhere else for him to go.”
“He could stay here,” Helena offered.
Nova brightened. “Are you sure?”
Helena nodded. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”
Nova nodded and put the kraken down on the floor. “You’ll have to stay here for the day, Briney. Be good, okay?”
The kraken warbled and waved a tentacle.
Helena laughed. “Sometimes it’s like he really understands you.”
“Good riddance,” Trixie said, floating behind Nova.
Nova ignored her but it did remind her of the other Trixie. A quick glance showed her that Trixie number two was nowhere in sight. “Where did Trixie go?”
“She went to check on Mathius,” Helena said as she grabbed her equipment and made her way to the door.
Just the mention of Mathius made Nova’s entire body burn with anger.
“Oh! You two had a fight! I missed it,” Trixie whined. “Damn, I knew I should have left myself there. Show me your memories!”
Nova ignored the demon. “Shall we go?”
Helena nodded and they both made their way out and joined the traffic going toward the city.
“Show me!” Trixie demanded loudly.
I thought you could read my mind.
Your mind, not your memories! You have to allow me to see your memories. So show me already!
Nova grinned. What if I don’t want to?
She could practically hear the demon fuming at her words being thrown back at her. As they moved down the tunnel, she and Helena chatted while Trixie pouted and made off-handed remarks Nova made sure to ignore.
Nova discovered that Helena was actually fun to talk with. The woman talked about anything and everything, pointing things out like a tour guide. She asked a few questions about Nova but when Nova shied away from anything personal Helena didn’t push. It was very different from the other times they talked. It was nice. By the time they reached the market area, the walk had flown by.
“I have to get to the barracks. Here,” Helena said and handed her a pouch.
Nova looked at the woman in confusion and took it. “What’s this?”
“A few bronzes. You’ll need them for the Skylift.”
Nova blinked. She hadn’t even considered she would need money for it. She had forgotten Mathius had paid before.
I really was depending on him for a lot. She frowned. She wanted to return the money to Helena but she did need to get to the first dock. “Thank you. I’ll pay you back. I promise.”
Helena nodded. “Good luck on your first day. May your fortune shine bright.”
Nova blinked. The way she said the last part made it sound like some sort of salutation. “May your fortune shine bright,” Nova said, tumbling over the words.
“Sickening,” Trixie said, rolling her eyes.
Nova ignored her as Helena waved and then trotted off. Nova made her way to the Skylift. Paying one coin, she received a stone, and then boarded and rode up to the first dock.
“Ugh, you’re so boring. I thought Soul Travelers were supposed to be interesting,” Trixie said, lying sprawled on the railing.
“I’m not here to entertain you,” Nova mumbled.
“That’s exactly what you are here for,” Trixie said with a sniff. “But I’ll forgive you if you show me your memory. The fight had to have been good.”
“If you tell me how you had two forms I might consider it,” Nova shot back.
A man on the platform turned to her and looked at her strangely. Nova flushed and looked down. She had forgotten that to everyone else she looked like she was talking to herself.
“Ha! You look insane.”
They arrived at the first dock and Nova climbed off. She began making her way to the Golden Crystal. It took her a while because she didn’t remember exactly the way back. It was another thing she had been depending on Mathius to help her with. She felt embarrassed that she had gotten in the habit of leaning on Mathius in such a short amount of time. She silently promised herself to do better.
Finally, she made it to the shop…twenty minutes late. When she stepped inside, she was met with a glaring Tinle. His expression quickly morphed into horror.
“What are you wearing?” Tinle practically screeched.
Nova looked down at her clothes. It was the same clothes she borrowed from Helena. She hadn’t really thought about how she looked but now that she was standing there, she realized just how bad it was. Big baggy clothes that could hardly fit her. “I’m sorry. My dress was damaged and this is all that I have. I have clothes coming, they just aren’t ready yet.”
Tinle’s lips tightened and then he abruptly turned. “Come with me, young lady.”
Nova followed him, realizing she wasn’t exactly making the best impression. Tinle led them through a door behind the counter and she was immediately stepped into a room filled with trunks and jars, as well as several shelves housing crystals of all sorts.
“This is amazing,” Nova said, looking around her.
Tinle nodded. “It is my life’s work and I would remind you that I take it very seriously. I expect the same dedication from you and so far I am starting to wonder if it was a mistake to take you on as my apprentice.”
Nova flushed. Embarrassment and anger warred in her before logic took over. Tinle was right. She had been late and had dressed very unprofessionally. It was no wonder he was second-guessing her. “My apologies, Mr. Tinle. I won’t be late again. I’ll also see if I can find something suitable to wear in the future.”
Tinle studied her for a long moment and then nodded. “Then follow me.”
Tinle led them further into the storeroom until they reached a second door. They stepped inside a room just a bit bigger than the storeroom. It was cluttered with wood, stone, and clay. Broken crystal shards sat in bags with a few crystals laid about on tables.
“This is the crafting workshop. You’ll be spending most of your time here, working on your crafting. I will give you different tasks throughout the day to practice. Now, first things first, show me your natural magic.”
Nova blinked at Tinle in confusion. “Natural magic?”
Tinle looked annoyed but then paused and nodded his head. He held out his hand and a gust of wind spilled from his palm. “Natural magic is the magic you can do without a crystal. Everyone who can use mana has it. Now show me yours.”
“Oh,” she swallowed nervously but a tinge of excitement went through her. “Let me…” She raised her hand and then tried to mimic what Tinle did.
Tinle gave her an impatient look. “Go on.”
“Sorry, I just have never done this before.”
Tinle’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Never? Not even by accident?”
She shook her head. “Not like this.”
Tinle frowned but this time he had a thoughtful expression on his face. “Okay, let’s start with wind. Now just follow my directions. Close your eyes.”
Nova closed her eyes.
“Now, imagine the flow of your mana traveling through your body.”
Nova concentrated on that. It reminded her a bit of the wall back at the ruins. She had felt something, the pulse of mana. She always felt the mana outside of her, never focusing on the mana inside. Still, it must be a similar process. She focused inward, searching. Threads of mana slid through her body, a shimmering network.
“I think I can feel it,” Nova said.
“Good, good,” Tinle said and there was a calm reassurance in his voice. “Now feel the wind flowing through you. It slides through the mana, glowing with a yellow light. Do you feel it?”
This part was different for Nova. She hadn’t encountered this before. Still, she tried to imagine the mana thread resonating with yellow light, a flow of a breeze dancing over it. It took longer, like trying to catch the wind and pull it into the thread. The image fought with her and she frowned as she struggled to pull it in.
“Don’t fight it,” Tinle said. “Let the wind glide with you.”
Nova relaxed her grip trying to glide with the wind this time. She let the mana thread float in it and as it floated it began to absorb the currents flowing with it. She smiled.
“I…I think I have it.”
“Wonderful,” Tinle said. “Now take the mana and guide it towards your hand and push it out.”
Nova began to guide the thread, letting it travel down to her hands. She felt it as it moved. It was so easy. The wind mana clustered at her hands and she could feel her fingers buzzing with unreleased power. Then she pushed the mana out.
She felt it surge and then it slammed into something. It was like hitting a brick wall. She pushed harder and the mana pressed against the wall but it couldn’t move past it. Nova bit her lips and tried harder, shoving it further. The mana built and built and then it splashed to the sides, bending back to her. All of a sudden, the mana rushed through her body in a wave that roiled through her body.
Nova’s eyes snapped open.
Tinle frowned at her. “What is it?”
Nova opened her mouth and a slew of vomit poured her mouth. Tinle jumped back as Nova bent over and continued to vomit until her entire stomach had emptied.
At some point, Nova realized someone was laughing. She looked up to see Trixie bent over clutching her stomach as she laughed her ass off. Nova turned away to face Tinle. The shopkeeper looked at her with barely contained disgust.
“Sorry,” Nova said, wiping at her mouth.
“Ah, well, that wasn’t supposed to happen.” He frowned. “Well, we will just have to try again. But first, a mop and bucket.”
Nova nodded. “And water please.”
Tinle nodded and left the room. Nova looked down at the mess on the floor. She got the feeling it was going to be a long day.
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