“No matter how many times you do this, it’s never going to work,” Trixie said with a bored expression.
Nova glared at the demon and went back to mopping the floor. She was exhausted. Nova spent most of the morning working on pulling her natural magic out only to hit the same wall each time. She would push and push and then get hit with mana backlash and start heaving up all over the floor. Eventually, she ended up dry heaving when she had finally emptied herself of all the contents in her stomach.
Tinle had gone to work the shop hours ago, leaving Nova to practice trying to pull her natural magic. In all that time nothing had changed. The feeling of failure weighed heavily on her. It wasn’t just the dream of being able to do magic that was slowly dwindling but if she couldn’t handle the basics then there was no way Tinle would keep her on. She needed to be able to do crystal crafting if she really wanted to be independent in this world.
“I’ll figure it out,” Nova said stubbornly.
“You won’t,” Trixie countered. “Before you waste any more time, I suggest you just give up. I can promise you. You’ll never be able to do natural magic. You don’t have the talent for it.”
Nova narrowed her eyes. “I’m not going to listen to you.”
“You should. It’s the truth.”
Nova looked away and tightened her lips. “Whatever.”
“Fine, don’t listen to me, but you’ll see soon enough that I’m right.” Trixie let out a loud yawn. “Now, I think I spent enough of my time watching you be pathetic. I’m off.”
And like that, the demon was gone.
Nova’s shoulders sagged. A part of her worried Trixie was right. What if she couldn’t do it?
Nova jerked up and whirled around.
She shook her head. “I promise I’m trying. It’s just not working.”
“And you tried different mana types?” He asked.
She nodded. “Earth, water, wind, fire. None of it is working.”
Tinle nodded and a thoughtful expression covered his face.
Nova hesitated but forced herself to ask. “Is it possible I’m unable to do natural magic?”
Tinle frowned. “It happens but in your case it’s very unlikely.”
“Why?” Nova asked. She wanted to hold on to hope but not if it wouldn’t go anywhere.
“One moment, Nova.” Tinle turned and left the room.
Nova waited nervously. A part of her wondered if he was trying to figure out a way to let her down gently.
Three minutes later, Tinle came back and threw a ball at her. “Catch.”
She caught it and as soon as she did it lit up. She looked down at it curiously. “The scrying ball.”
Tinle nodded. “Exactly. That is why I think you can do it.”
Nova looked at the ball, confused. “I don’t understand.”
“A common misconception people have is that people who don’t have mana can’t do magic,” Tinle said as he walked over and peered at the scrying ball. “In actuality, it has nothing to do with if you have mana, but rather if you have a large enough mana pool to do magic.”
He looked up and smiled. “Everyone has mana. Everything has mana. But not everyone has enough to use it.” Tinle tapped the scrying ball. “This is one of the devices to determine your mana but that is an incorrect phrasing. What it truly is doing is measuring your mana pool and its attunement to that mana. If, for example, a person with an insignificant mana pool to do magic with a wind attunement were to touch this it wouldn’t light up because their mana pool would be too low to affect it.”
Tinle’s smile widened. “And as you can see…”
“Mine does,” Nova smiled with relief, and then she frowned. “Then why can’t I use it? It’s like I’m hitting a wall.”
“I haven’t the foggiest but we are going to figure it out. You are my apprentice after all,” Tinle said, puffing out his chest.
Nova felt a wave of gratitude go through her. Tinle wasn’t giving up on her despite her failure. “Thank you.”
“Of course, now, I think you’re due for a break. Come along, it’s time for us to go on a few errands.”
Tinle closed the shop, something she was a little surprised about but he didn’t have any other staff. She wondered about that but didn’t ask. They left and soon Nova found herself on a shopping trip. To Nova’s surprise, Tinle purchased two sets of clothes. One set was a pair of pants and blouse for the workshop and the other was a dress with a fashionable vest that Tinle said she should use whenever he wanted her to work the counter. The last one surprised her because she hadn’t expected that he would want her to actually work the shop besides making crystals.
While her measurements were taken, he went to the guildhall. She had been curious to go with him but Tinle told her it was best she didn’t come if she didn’t want to be asked too many questions. After she was done and Tinle returned, they continued their shopping, even stopping at the Skylift so she could receive a band with several stones weaved into it. It would allow her to ride on the Skylift without paying coins, sort of like a prepaid bus card.
It was clear that Tinle was taking his investment in her seriously. It made the weight of her failure feel heavier but she didn’t dwell on it. She was determined to reward his faith in her.
“You said before it’s a common misconception that people think other people don’t have mana when they actually do. Why is that?” Nova asked.
“I’m not sure. I suppose it is easier to think you have no mana than to realize your mana is so insignificant that you might as well as have none at all.”
She frowned. “That’s harsh.”
“Life is harsh. We are all born with our inequalities. You are proof of that or do you think everyone could so easily become an apprentice?”
As much as she hated to admit it, Tinle was right. It seemed extremely unfair but even in her old life things had been just as unfair. The difference was back home she had truly believed if you work hard enough you could make life fairer. She wasn’t sure if that was true but it was something she wanted to believe. She pushed the thought out of her mind.
“Do all crystal crafters know about mana being in everything?” Nova asked.
“The good ones do,” Tinle said. “They either figure it out on their own or they learn about it at the Academy. I delved deeply into Mana studies there.” He puffed out his chest as he said that.
“I have been curious about the academy,” Nova stated.
“Are you thinking of attending?” Tinle asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” Nova said, glancing at Tinle to see his reaction.
The crafter looked thoughtful and then shook his head. “It is an experience.” He paused and then almost reluctantly added. “I think visiting the library will at least be beneficial to you.”
Nova brightened at that. All this time she hadn’t even considered going to the library. “I think I might just have to do that then.”
Tinle frowned and started to say something when his mouth clamped shut.
“What is it?” Nova asked.
“We have a visitor,” Tinle said with a deep scowl.
Nova turned to see a tall thin man, dressed in a brown and burgundy suit standing outside the shop. He had a cane gripped in his hand with a large crystal on top. As they got closer, Tinle plastered on a smile.
“Mr. Dently, what brings you to the Golden Crystal.”
The man snorted. “You’ve stuck with that old name. I would have thought you had given it up after everything that happened.”
Tinle’s smile grew strained. “It’s a good name.”
Dently waved his hand dismissively. “I have heard you have taken on a new apprentice.”
“News certainly travels fast.” Tinle turned to Nova. “My new apprentice, Nova Davis.”
“Humph.” The man looked her over with a critical eye and Nova was silently grateful she changed into the new work clothes Tinle had bought her. “What’s your attunement?”
Nova frowned. She didn’t like how the man just assumed she would answer him. She looked to Tinle who gave her a short nod.
“Wind,” she said.
“And that’s all?” the man asked, peering closer at Nova as if he was trying to look past her skin to the mana underneath.
“Is it necessary for my apprentice to have more than wind?” Tinle asked.
“Not at all. It’s just you’ve always been choosy about apprentices. Everyone at the guildhall is in a fuss about your new one. There’s even talk of you returning to the upper levels.”
Tinle shook his head. “I have no intention of doing any such thing.”
“A pity,” Dently said. “I’ll leave you then. I wouldn’t want to interfere with you opening your shop. I know how you need the business.”
Then abruptly, Dently turned and walked away.
Tinle frowned and then unlocked the door to the shop. When he stepped inside his scowl grew darker. “That unrepentant, snaggle-tooth scoundrel.”
“I guess that means he isn’t a friend of yours,” Nova said as she followed him inside.
“Not in the least and I’m sure you’ll find that out soon enough when he attempts to poach you.”
Nova’s eyes widened in surprise. “What?”
Tinle shook his head. “He stole away my previous apprentice and ruined my name in the process.” He shook his head and then his brow creased in worry.
“I’m not interested in working for anyone else. I’m quite happy with our agreement,” Nova said.
Tinle turned to look at her, studying her for a moment, and then nodded. “Of course, you are. It was a very good deal. And on that note, we should get the contract signed.”
Signaling for her to follow him, Tinle guided her back into the store room but this time he turned left, leading her to a door she hadn’t noticed before. He opened it up to a cozy office with stacks of paper all over the desk. Nova’s gaze slid over the room until her attention was held by a strange crystal sitting on one of his shelves. Except it didn’t have the translucent color of most mana crystals but was completely solid gold.
“Did you name the shop after this?” Nova asked.
“Yes. It is a family heirloom.” Tinle tapped his desk where the contract laid. “Can you read?”
Nova nodded. “I can.”
“Good.” He gestured for her to take a seat.
Nova read through the contract. Everything was like she had agreed with Tinle. In the end, she signed it and handed it back. Tinle took it and turned to a safe, putting it away. When he turned back to her his eyes were bright.
“Now it’s time to train.”
Nova had to hold herself back from groaning. She didn’t think her stomach could take another heaving session. It must have shone on her face because Tinle smiled at her.
“Let’s try something a little different,” Tinle said and then guided her out of his office and back to the workshop.
Once back in the workshop, Tinle seemed to hesitate before shaking his head and moving to one of the bags of shards.
“Have you ever put mana into a crystal?” Tinle asked.
Nova chewed on her lip and remembered about the warding crystal in the grove. “Once.”
Tinle looked surprised and then suspicious. He handed the shard to Nova. “Show me.”
“But I thought you said shards are worthless to use as mana crystals.”
“They are. The energy disperses from them fairly quickly and they won’t hold a pattern. But they are good for practice.”
Nova nodded and gripped the shard in her fingers and hesitated.
“Is something the matter?”
Nova bit her lip. “When I do this, things tend to blow up.”
Tinle’s eyebrow rose. “It should be fine with a shard. Like I said they aren’t able to hold onto mana for long before it disperses.”
Nova still hesitated.
Tinle smiled. “It’s fine.” He walked over to a pot in the corner and pulled it out. “This is a warding pot. If it seems like it will get out of hand then just throw it in there and it’ll contain the explosion.”
“And you just have one of these lying around,” Nova asked curiously.
Tinle chuckled. “Every crafter has one in his workshop. Mistakes do happen.”
Nova nodded. She felt a little better about it. So, taking a breath, she started.
It would have been easier with mana sight but her system still was offline and she had no desire to collapse on the floor in pain in front of Tinle. She had already done enough things to look bad in front of him, she didn’t need to add another. Instead, she closed her eyes and began to do the same thing she had done back at the ruins.
She tried to feel the mana. It took a lot longer and was much harder without touching anything. At first, she wondered if it was a mistake and if she would have to use her mana sight after all but eventually, she felt it. The threads were there, one after another after another. She didn’t think she would sense this many but just like before there were hundreds. She focused on one and grabbed onto it, pulling it forward. It was much easier this time around. She then pushed it out, letting it flow into the shard.
Nova opened her eyes.
Tinle was staring at the shard in astonishment. “How are you…”
The shard grew brighter and brighter. Nova hurriedly dropped the shard into the pot. She hurried away, her entire body tensed, and a cold sweat began to run down her skin.
Am I far enough away? What if I’m too close and…
A loud bang sounded in the pot. Nova jumped and clutched at Tinle’s arm. The pot shook but otherwise, nothing else happened. Nova let out a breath. She felt a pat on her hand and realized she was still holding tightly onto Tinle’s arm.
“You can let go now,” Tinle said with a gentle smile.
Nova hurriedly snatched her hand away. “Sorry.”
Tinle shook his head. “It’s fine.” He walked over to the pot and peered inside. “How you managed to keep the shard glowing like that is truly amazing. Of course, we’ll have to do something about the whole blowing-up piece before we move you on to crystals but this is truly more than I expected.”
Nova felt relief flood her at Tinle’s words. “Does that mean I can become a crystal crafter?”
“My girl, you will become one of the best at this rate.” He pulled away from the pot. “Now, let’s talk about control.”
For the rest of the day, Tinle had her in the workshop spending her time putting mana into the shards. Her task was to only put small amounts in and keep going until she managed to not blow up the crystal.
In the end, she had managed to blow up every single shard. It was disappointing. Tinle didn’t seem bothered by it and just patted her shoulder. “Everyone goes through it. Control takes time.”
Nova nodded and tried not to feel dejected.
“Now I’ll see you tomorrow. You’ll need to use the side door since the shop will officially be open for business.”
Nova nodded and then she made her way out as Tinle stayed behind to take care of a few things in the office. Nova was completely exhausted. It wasn’t just the training but the constant explosions that had set her on edge. Every time she heard them, she couldn’t help being reminded of the ruins. She tried to block it out but it wore on her.
She was so tired that she didn’t register until the third time someone was calling her name. She turned and her expression immediately dipped into a scowl.
“Nova,” Mathius said. “We need to talk.”
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