The air was tense as they and the Sanitation Guild stood there. Nova wasn’t sure what to do. She had the shards in her pouch that she had brought home for Briney. She could…
“What I miss?” A cheerful voice cut in.
Nova’s eyes widened as the pink-haired demon appeared in front of them. She floated in the air next to them, her green eyes bright with excitement. Nova jumped at the opportunity.
Trixie! I think we’re about to be kidnapped.
“Really? How exciting!”
“I rather watch,” the demon said as she floated in a half-circle around them, leaning in close to get a better look at the thugs. “I’m glad I didn’t miss the good part.”
Are you serious?
Trixie simply grinned and Nova realized that the demon had no intention of helping them.
Mathius snorted. “Fine, we’ll come with you.”
“We will?” Nova asked, turning toward Mathius in shock.
Mathius nodded. “We’ve been invited by a very powerful man.” He gestured at the two thugs.
Nova understood. Mathius had mentioned that the sanitation guild had pull and as much as she didn’t want to go, she wouldn’t be able to win against these two… at least without blowing the room up in the process
“Fine,” Nova said.
“Wonderful, wonderful.” The blond waved his arm. “After you, Miss.”
“Aw,” Trixie said with a pout. “I wanted to see a fight. Come on, you could take him. I mean you would lose but it would be hilarious.”
Mathius rolled his eyes at the demon.
Nova’s attention was focused on the thugs. Her lips tightened with disapproval but she stepped forward. The bald man fell into step next to her and they began making their way out. A quick glance behind her and she saw the blond man had slung an arm around Mathius’s shoulder. When he saw Nova looking at him, he winked. She quickly looked away.
“It’s been a long time, Crux. We all miss you,” the blond said from behind her.
“The feeling isn’t mutual,” Mathius said, his voice short.
“So cold. You think we treated you bad the way you’re going on,” the blond said. “We looked out for you. You and your mom, didn’t we?”
“Leave my mother out of it,” Mathius said.
The blond started to laugh. “Still so sensitive.”
As they walked through the Caverns the people milling around gave them a wide berth. Some even nodded their heads respectfully at the men. She caught a few giving her pitying looks.
“I wonder if they’re going to kill you both,” Trixie said, as she floated along after them. “I don’t think anyone is going to get involved if they do.”
Nova glared at the demon. “You could help.”
“What was that?” The blond said.
The bald man next to her just looked confused.
Nova shook her head and looked straight ahead. “Nothing.”
Unfortunately, she had already drawn the blond man’s attention and he sidled up next to her. As he did, the bald man dropped back, moving to Mathius’s side.
“So what’s your story?” The blond said, peering at her. “I know what the boss wants with Crux but you’re a mystery.”
“Couldn’t tell you,” Nova said flippantly as she sped up a little
The blond wasn’t deterred and stepped in closer. “You sure you don’t know. I’m mighty curious.”
Nova forced herself not to step away from the man, knowing he was trying to make her uncomfortable. Instead, she stopped in her tracks and looked him straight in the eye. “Fuck off.”
“Nova,” Mathius said and tried to step in-between them.
The bald man clamped his hand on Mathius’s shoulder, keeping him in place.
The blond man started laughing. “You certainly got a mouth on you. Why don’t I-“
The blond man stiffened and quickly turned. Nova looked to see a new figure standing nearby. He was a well-dressed man in a pressed white shirt and a gray tunic with matching slacks. His clothes were neat and precise, simple and elegant. A trimmed mustache covered his lip. He looked like someone’s butler except for his eyes. The eyes were a light green that might have been pretty except they seemed devoid of life. It was like staring at a doll’s eyes shoved into a human’s socket.
“Must I remind you that these are the Guildmaster’s guests?” the man said.
Robbie shook his head. “No reminder needed, sir.”
“Good,” the man said and turned to Nova and Mathius. He bowed stiffly. “I am Noah Kellston. If you could follow me.” He turned and began walking. His steps were measured and clipped.
“That’s a creepy one,” Trixie said. “You might want to watch out for him.”
Kellston stopped and then tilted his head. He turned and as he did his doll-like eyes seemed to fasten on Trixie. Nova’s eyes widened and even Trixie seemed surprised.
“Hmm,” Kellston said and then turned and kept walking.
Did he see you?
“He couldn’t have. Only you and Mathius can see me like this.”
Trixie frowned, looking thoughtful, and then she floated over to Kellston and poked his face. The man didn’t even flinch or make any other indication that the demon existed. Nova watched as Trixie continued to poke the man’s cheek and make faces at him but Kellston kept walking like she wasn’t there.
Was it really just a coincidence?
Trixie slid back beside Nova with a wide grin. “I knew being around you would keep things interesting.”
Could he see you?
Trixie simply grinned.
They followed Kellston out of the Caverns and to a carriage outside. Nova was a little surprised to see one. Besides a few wagons, she hadn’t seen many carriages in the area. Kellston opened the carriage door. “Please.”
Reluctantly, Nova climbed into the carriage and Mathius followed her inside. They settled down in their seats while Kellston stayed outside and spoke with the two Sanitation Guild thugs. Nova turned to Mathius.
“What’s going on? They said you worked for them?” Nova asked.
Mathius frowned and then nodded. “I used to run a few errands for the guild. It was just little things but they wanted me to do more so I quit.”
“So, you were a criminal,” Nova hissed.
“No!” Mathius said, shaking his head. “It was just some maps.” He looked down at his lap. “Just maps.”
Nova squinted at Mathius. “What do they want now?”
“I’m not sure-” He cut himself off and his eyes narrowed. “Shit, Korn.”
Nova looked at him in confusion. “What does Korn have to do with anything?”
Mathius gave her a bewildered look. “Korn works for Guildmaster Oren.”
Nova’s eyes widened in surprise. “What?”
Mathius shook his head. “Just don’t say anything when we get there.”
“Why?” Nova said.
“I told you before,” Mathius said. “Guildmaster Oren is always looking for new talent.”
Nova swallowed as she turned over what Mathius said. She had been meaning to find Korn but things had been a mess since she had woken up. But now she found out Korn had been working for Oren. Did that mean Korn had been spying on her this whole time? It would explain how he found them in the Explorer’s Guild though not how he managed to get down there. For that matter, she had no idea how they got her out without being caught by the guards. There were a lot of blanks around the entire incident in the ruins.
“You really can’t trust anyone, can you?” Trixie asked, with a look of pity.
Nova frowned at the demon. She sat across from Nova in the carriage, her legs crossed. Nova opened her mouth to tell her to get lost when Kellston climbed into the carriage. He settled in the set across from Nova, half-sitting on Trixie in the process.
“Rude,” Trixie said as she floated to the other side of the man but she had a wide grin on her face.
You’re enjoying this.
“I am,” Trixie said without an ounce of remorse.
“What does the Guildmaster want with us?” Nova asked.
Mathius cleared his throat and shook his head.
Kellston looked at her, his green doll-like eyes stared at her blankly. “He would like to have a conversation.”
Nova forced herself to hold Kellston’s gaze. “About what?”
“You would have to speak to Guildmaster Oren about the matter.”
“Why? You don’t know,” Nova pushed, hoping to get some sort of information she could use.
“I do not,” Kellston said easily.
Nova watched him for any sign of irritation but the man was poised, staring at her as if patiently waiting for her next question. She kept trying to hold his gaze but the longer she met those blank eyes the more uncomfortable she grew. She finally looked away. It was only when the carriage finally came to a stop that Nova realized that during the entire conversation, Kellston never blinked.
The building they pulled up to look more like a mansion than what she imagined a guildhall would look like. A man and woman in Sanitation Guild uniforms stepped forward and opened the door for them. Kellston stepped out first and smoothed down his clothes. As he did, she noticed the flash of a wristband with a black mana crystal before it vanished back under his sleeve.
She and Mathius exchanged a look and then stepped out of the carriage. Kellston turned and began walking. “Please follow me. The Guildmaster wanted to see you right away.”
Nova glanced towards Trixie but the demon had vanished once again.
Kellston turned and led them through the front yard. Nova was surprised to see how immaculate the grounds were. There were elaborate gardens and the mansion rose above. Like most of Hayeln, there were floating buildings but they weren’t as many as in the main market area. There weren’t enough to prevent natural sunlight from filtering down and allowing the gardens to flourish.
The inside was even grander. The place was stylish, with an almost frenzied cleanliness about it. It was strange since there was a constant stream of people moving through the mansion. Not enough to be crowded but enough that foot traffic alone should have caused a buildup of dirt but the place was spotless.
They stopped in front of a polished black door. Kellston knocked on it and after a moment a clear, cheerful voice called out.
Kellston held the door open. For a moment, Nova stood there. Trepidation went through her. She wasn’t sure what she was stepping into but it was clear that this man was powerful and she was pretty sure that the Sanitation Guild was like some sort of fantasy mafia.
Mathius reached over and squeezed her shoulder. “It’ll be fine. Come on.” He stepped into the room.
Nova watched Mathius go inside and then took a deep breath and stepped inside. The room had a comfortable air about it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as extravagant as she imagined it would be. It was a den, not the office she thought she would be walking into. There was a cream couch with matching chairs as well as a beautifully carved table. A green and white rug graced the floor. Everything was tasteful and pristine. In the center of the room was Guildmaster Oren.
“My lovely guests. I’m so glad you could make it.” He gestured to the couch. “Please take a seat.”
They both sat down warily. Behind them, there was a click. Nova turned to see Kellston shut the door and then walk over to one of the empty chairs, sitting down.
“I do apologize for bringing you here so late at night,” the Guildmaster said as he pulled one of the chairs closer to the couch and sat down in it. “But I didn’t want to interrupt you at your apprenticeship”
He leaned forward and as he did, Nova was struck by how handsome he was. His blond hair was immaculate and cut in a style that was neither too long nor too short. His smile had a boyish charm to it and his green eyes were filled with an easy warmth that made a person want to smile back.
Nova didn’t trust any of it.
“So, tell me, Nova, you don’t mind if I call you Nova, do you?”
Nova frowned. “Would it matter if I did?”
Guildmaster Oren’s eyebrows rose with surprise and he chuckled. “Well, now don’t you have a tongue on you.” He grinned. “And of course, it matters. If you prefer Ms. Davis I would be happy to comply.”
Nova wasn’t sure what to make of that. “Nova’s fine.”
“Wonderful Nova. Matter of fact, you can call me Diarmait. It’s only fair.” He tucked his hands under his chin. “Now, I’ve heard you’re apprenticing with Horace over at the Golden Crystal. That has made me quite curious, you see. Mind telling me what attunement you have?”
Beside her Mathius stiffened.
“Wind,” Nova said easily.
Oren sighed and leaned back. “That’s what all the apprentices say.” He reached into his pocket pulling out a handkerchief. He unfolded the handkerchief to reveal a monocle. “I know that’s what all the Crystal Crafters tell their apprentices to say to stop them from being stolen away.”
Oren wiped the monocle with the handkerchief before placing it over his left eye. “But my thought is if an apprentice could be so easily stolen, then they were never yours to begin with.” He gestured to Kellston. “You never see me worried about my people. It’s because I treat them right and in return, I’m given their loyalty.”
Nova couldn’t help looking over at Kellston. The man looked back at her with his unblinking eyes and nodded. She looked away and turned back to Oren’s smiling face.
“My attunement is wind,” she said firmly.
Oren stared at her and then nodded. “I see.” He smiled pleasantly. “And what’s your other attunement?”
Nova was startled but she tried hard not to show it. She looked at the monocle. She got the feeling something was going on with it. She was tempted to switch to mana sight but she didn’t want to find herself huddled on the ground in front of these dangerous people. Still, it was clear that whatever the monocle did, it didn’t show her mana types to him. He had asked her what her other attunement was, not attunements.
Oren leaned back. “Shy, are you?” Oren reached out and patted her shoulder.
Nova flinched away.
Oren only smiled. “It’s fine. In time I’m sure you’ll learn to trust me.”
“In time?” Mathius asked, finally speaking up.
Oren turned to Mathius with a bright smile. “That’s right. And that brings me to why I asked you to come all the way here on such short notice.”
Oren looked over at Kellston and nodded. The man stood up and left the room. Oren turned back to them with barely contained excitement.
“So, tell me all about this Explorer’s Guild of yours.”
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