“Do we?” Nova said, barely controlling the anger in her voice.
“Please, Nova,” Mathius said, running a hand through his hair. He looked tired.
She thought of telling him to get lost but instead, she nodded. “Fine. I have some things I need to clear up with you anyway. Where do you want to talk?”
Mathius shifted awkwardly. “Back at the Caverns.” He paused. “We should stop at the tailor, too. I got a message that the strange pants you wanted were ready.”
He smiled. Nova didn’t smile back. She nodded and started walking. The walk to the tailor’s was quiet and when they went in Ida was busy handling other customers. Despite this, her face brightened when she saw Nova. She said something to the customer she was working with and then hurried over to Nova.
“Your items are done. If you could wait a moment, I will have someone complete your fitting,” Ida said and her eyes were bright with excitement.
Nova was a little surprised at the reception but she nodded. She glanced at Mathius questioningly but he simply shrugged. A moment later, Ida disappeared into the back and then came out with a teenage girl. She brought her over to Nova.
“This is my daughter, Erissa Acher,” Ida said with pride in her voice. “She is young but quite a talented seamstress.”
Erissa flushed and then curtsey. “It is nice to meet you, Miss Davis.”
Nova was taken aback by the formality. “Nova is just fine.”
Erissa looked at her mother who nodded. Erissa turned back to Nova. “Shall we get started?”
Nova was taken to a small curtained-off room where she tried on the clothes. Within the room was a tall flat metal that worked as a mirror. The image wasn’t the best but it helped her get a glimpse of how she looked. It was the second time she had encountered a mirror made of polished metal instead of glass. It made her wonder if glass mirrors weren’t invented yet.
The top the seamstress made was a flowing shirt with long sleeves that gathered at the wrist, over the top was a vest-like tunic with beautiful delicate stitching. It helped to give the palazzos a more refined look. She had noticed that the clothes in this world resembled the fashion right before the end of the Medieval period and the very beginning of the Renaissance, except more relaxed. The existence of work pants for women was different and so far, she hadn’t seen many men wearing hoses and codpieces.
Nova vaguely wondered if there were any sumptuary laws. She would have to ask Mathius about it. She frowned at the thought of her conversation with Mathius. She wasn’t looking forward to it.
“Is something wrong?” Erissa asked, looking worried.
Nova smiled and shook her head. “This is a wonderful design Seamstress Acher came up with. It goes perfectly with the palazzo.”
It wasn’t as casual as she expected it but it wasn’t so formal that she couldn’t wear it every day. Honestly, she thought she looked pretty good. After a quick discussion, Erissa made note of some adjustments. Once she was done, she took Nova back to the front of the shop and told her she would be back soon.
Nova was a little surprised at just how quickly alterations were done in the shop. She had never been to a tailor on earth but she had no idea if the quickness that they made alterations was normal. It was the same with the tailor she went to with Tinle to get her work clothes. They had fitted her and made the alterations all while she had waited for Tinle to return from the guildhall.
Several minutes later, Erissa returned with her clothing folded and tied up with string. When she handed it over she seemed nervous. It looked like she wanted to say something but was hesitant, finally the girl gathered her courage and met Nova’s eyes.
“Miss Davis, may I speak to you in private for a moment?” Erissa asked.
Nova looked at her in surprise. “Concerning?”
“Your new clothes,” Erissa said. “I wanted to talk to you about the design.”
Nova tilted her head curiously and then nodded.
“I suppose I’ll go pay the rest of the fee,” Mathius said and moved to the counter.
“If you could please follow me,” Erissa said politely and then led her to the backrooms.
In the back, Nova was greeted with fabric, unfinished pieces, as well as a loom, and several pieces of equipment. Nova looked at it all with interest. It was an entirely different experience. It was a bit jarring, showing just how different this world was from her own. A part of her, even now, had expected to see sewing machines.
“This way,” Erissa said, leading her into an office.
Once inside, Erissa directed her to a chair. The girl sat day, folding her hands neatly in her lap. “I apologize for calling you back here so suddenly. I just wanted to speak with you about the pants you designed.”
Nova nodded. “Okay.”
Erissa cleared her throat. “I would like to purchase the design from you.”
Nova’s eyebrows rose in surprise. She hadn’t expected that though now she supposed she should have. Why else would the girl want to speak to her about her clothes? Of course, she felt strange about the situation. She didn’t know the first thing about selling designs and she wasn’t sure if it was even ethical since the design actually was made by someone else on earth.
Erissa fidgeted in her seat. “You must think I’m being presumptuous. I know we seem like a modest business but I have a possible contact with the nobles. I think your design would do well there and though I can only offer a small sum now, I can offer more once it has been sold.”
“You sound very confident that the palazzos will be popular,” Nova said.
“The nobles are always looking for new fashion pieces. I think your design will catch their fancy.”
Nova looked thoughtful. “What if I waived the fee and instead insisted on a portion of the profits?”
Erissa looked unsure. “How mu-” She clamped her lips shut. “I’m willing to offer twenty percent of the profits. I think that’s a reasonable sum given that we are doing the work of making the palazzo and selling them.”
Honestly, she thought it was very generous since she hadn’t done much besides drawing a design that was well known in her own world. On top of that, she didn’t have an interest in delving deeper into the world of fashion so it was good enough.
Nova nodded. “I think that is reasonable.”
“And I would like exclusive rights to any future clothing designs you may come up with,” Erissa quickly added.
“I’m willing to show any future fashion designs to you first but we would have to agree to a separate contract for selling and production at that time. I also would have the right to refuse if I find the contract lacking.”
Erissa seemed to struggle over the words before nodding her head. “Agreed.”
Nova nodded. “Will your mother be handling the contract?”
“I will,” said Ida as she stepped into the office.
Nova turned, surprised to see the seamstress. She must have been listening outside the office the whole time. She looked incredibly proud of her daughter. Erissa was smiling brightly at her mother.
“We’ll work out the details of the contract and then contact you when it’s ready for you to review and sign,” Ida said.
“That’s fine with me,” Nova said.
Ida turned to her daughter. “Why don’t you start working on the contract. I will lead Ms. Davis out.”
With that, Ida led her out of the office and through the store room. Before they went to the front, Ida stopped and turned to her. She pulled out a small bag of coins and handed it to Nova. Nova frowned and shook her head.
“I agreed to a percentage,” Nova said.
“I know. It was very kind of you to do but you must realize there was no guarantee she will sell it. I don’t want any hard feelings.”
Nova smiled. “It’s not necessary. I can assure you that I will be fine whether she sells the design or not. I know there is no guarantee in business.”
Ida seemed to relax at that but she thrust the bag towards Nova. “Still, take it. Think of it as a good faith payment against royalties. You don’t even have to pay it back if Erissa doesn’t sell the design.”
Nova hesitated and then took it. “Make sure you list it in the contract.”
“I’ll make sure of it. Thank you for taking a chance with my daughter,” Ida said.
Nova shook her head. “It’s your daughter taking the chance on me.”
“I suppose she is.” Ida chuckled as she led them back to the front of the shop.
Nova was surprised to see the crowded shop was now empty. The only one still around was Mathius. Then it dawned on her that she must have arrived just as the shop was closing and people were getting their last-minute orders.
“I didn’t mean to keep you after you closed,” Nova said, looking at Ida apologetically.
“I’m pretty sure it was the opposite that happened,” Ida said as she led Nova to the door. “I really appreciate you talking to my daughter about her plans on such short notice.”
“Of course,” Nova said and after a few more assurances and good-byes, she and Mathius left and began making their way back to the Caverns.
“That took a lot longer than I thought it would,” Mathius said.
“It did but I think it was worth it,” Nova said, tucking the clothes package under her arm. Honestly, it had been a huge surprise and one she had walked out of with her own money. Now she could return the money she borrowed from Helena and maybe buy a pouch to carry Briney. She had always intended to, though with how big Briney had gotten lately she might need a bigger bag than she imagined.
Mathius looked at her curiously. “What were you two talking about back there?”
Nova opened her mouth to reply when she stopped. She had been so lost in her thoughts about the sale of the palazzo design she had forgotten for a moment about her situation with Mathius. They had been talking just like usual like he hadn’t forced her into a dangerous situation without any say of her own.
“Business. Nothing you need to concern yourself with,” Nova said coldly. “Don’t worry. It won’t interfere with our deal.”
Mathius frowned but he didn’t say anything more and they both fell into silence on the way back to the Caverns. When they arrived at Mathius’s place, Nova went to his table and sat down in one of the empty chairs.
“Okay, talk,” she said.
“Damn it, Nova,” Mathius said, running his hand through his hair. “Do you really have to act this way?”
Nova narrowed her eyes. “And exactly how am I acting?”
Mathius frowned. “You know.”
“Like we’re doing a business transaction? Because isn’t that what it is between us.”
Mathius scowled at her. “You’re angry.”
“Of course I’m fucking angry,” Nova snapped. “Am I supposed to be happy that you’re forcing me to go back into a field of monsters we barely survived the first time?”
Mathius walked over to the table. “You don’t understand-“
“No!” Nova said, slapping her hands on the table and standing up. “You are the one that seems to not understand. I get why you’re doing this. You want to get out of this bubble you’re trapped in, right? You’re stuck in here with a bunch of people who look down on you. I might not completely understand the whole situation but I get that. It’s important. I get that. I’m sure the entire city wants to get out of here.”
“Kingdom,” Mathius quietly corrected.
Nova narrowed her eyes and then sighed. “Like I said, I understand. No one wants to be trapped.”
Mathius relaxed. “Exactly.”
Nova glared at Mathius. “But what you don’t understand is that you might be willing to risk your life to go down there and fight monsters you barely survived against but I’m not. And instead of respecting that I don’t want to die, you are instead forcing me to do it. You’re forcing me to throw my life away because you are tired of being stuck.”
She balled up her fists. “So, yes, I understand because I’m trapped by someone who sees me as a tool and not a person. A person who I thought could be a friend who instead is willing to throw my life away at his whim like it means nothing, like what I feel doesn’t matter.”
Mathius grew quiet.
Nova sucked in a breath. She looked down to see her hand was shaking and then she slid back in her chair. “Now, if that was the only thing you wanted to talk about, I want to move on to a different subject.”
Mathius didn’t meet her eyes. He nodded and sat down in the chair across from her.
Nova continued. “Now my part of the deal involved providing a place to live, clothes, food, and information. You’ve already taken care of the clothes, so that leaves food and a place to live.”
“You can live here,” Mathius said with a stubborn tilt of his jaw.
“I refuse. I don’t trust you and it’s clear you don’t have my best interest in mind.”
“Since our deal was two months, I just need you to pay for a place for me to stay during that time. I’ll come back to you with several options.”
“That’s going to be expensive,” Mathius said. “Most of my budget was for getting supplies for the guild.”
Nova shrugged. “That’s not my problem. You have to keep your end of the deal just like I do.”
Mathius gritted his teeth. “I understand.”
“Good,” Nova said. “Now I’ll also need an allowance so I can take care of food.”
Nova raised her hand, halting his words. “Again, that’s not my issue. You keep your end of the deal and I’ll keep mine.”
Mathius’s lips tightened but he nodded.
“Lastly, the information. I would like to set an hour each day for you to answer any questions. I’m also interested in getting a pass to the academy library.”
Mathius shook his head. “The first I can do but the second is a no. I don’t have access to the library. Only Academy students and staff are allowed into their academy library.”
Nova frowned. “No one from the public is allowed a pass?”
Mathius snorted. “Yes, but not us. Guildmasters, nobles, rich merchants. People who can make generous donations can be gifted a pass but commoners like us, no way.”
Nova rubbed her forehead. She hadn’t expected that. It looked like she would have to figure that out on her own.
“Where are you staying right now?” Mathius asked.
“It’s none of your business,” Nova said.
Mathius glared. “Then how am I supposed to contact you?”
“You can stop at the shop like you did today or wait until our sessions.”
It was clear by Mathiu’s expression that he wasn’t happy about her response but he didn’t push. From there they decided she would come to his house for an hour after her job at the Golden Crystal. On the days she worked with Mathius, she would arrive early in the morning, do their information session, and then whatever guild stuff Mathius needed from her.
“We won’t go back into the Ruins right away. We’ll focus on getting supplies set up for it first,” Mathius said in what she suspected was an attempt at an olive branch.
Nova gave him a short nod and then stood up. “It’s getting late. I need to go.”
“All right. I’ll see you in two days?”
She nodded and turned to the door.
“Nova,” Mathius said.
“I didn’t mean for things to turn out like this,” Mathius said, his voice almost pleading.
“Mathius are you still going to make me go down into the ruins after everything?” Nova asked instead.
Mathius was silent.
Nova waited but the silence just stretched on. She let out a bitter laugh. “Your actions speak much louder than your words.”
She opened the door and abruptly stopped. Two men stood outside the door. A quick glance at their clothes showed the silver and green of the Sanitation Guild.
“This is Crux’s place, ain’t it?” one of the men asked. He was a thin man with dirty blond hair with a nasty grin. Nova got the feeling that he already knew the answer to his question.
“I was leaving,” Nova said.
The blond man slapped his against the dorm frame, blocking her way. A current of lightning encircled his arm. “No need to rush off, lass.”
“What’s going on?” Mathius said, walking over. His gaze slid over the two men and his eyes narrowed. “Why are you here?”
“So rude. You could ask us in at least,” the blond said with a dramatic pout.
Mathius didn’t move a muscle.
“No manners, I tell ya,” the blonde man said to the bald man by his side. He shook his head and then looked back at them with a playful grin on his face and a hint of cruelty in his eyes. “Here I am on special business too. Guildmaster kindly invites you to the Sanitation Guild for an important conversation.”
“A conversation,” Mathius said tightly. “I understand. I’ll come.”
Nova turned to him with a worried look. She wasn’t sure what was going on but she recognized two thugs when she saw them. “Are you sure about this?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Nova frowned and looked back at the man. Yes, she was pissed at Mathius and didn’t trust him but that didn’t mean she wanted to see him get beat up or whatever else these men might be up to.
“Wait just a minute,” the blond man said. “The invitation is for the lass as well.”
“What?” they both said in unison.
“Nova Davis, isn’t it? The Guildmaster is expecting the both of ya.” The blond grin grew even wider as he pulled back and waved one arm in a dramatic flourish. “Shall we?”
Nova’s stomach twisted and she got the feeling things had just gotten a lot more complicated.
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