“How,” Nova started and then quickly clamped her mouth shut.
Oren’s smile grew wider. “There’s no need to hide. I already know your adventures down in the ruins. It’s quite the find. Many people have searched for the remains of the Explorer’s Guild without success.” Oren leaned back in his chair. “It’s strange that it has taken so long to be discovered, don’t you think? It’s like someone tried to hide it.”
Nova hadn’t thought of that. She wasn’t completely sure how long it had been since the Explorer’s Guild fell into ruin. She would have to ask Ava. There was the sound of the door opening and a moment later Kellston stepped inside with Korn. Unlike everyone else in the sanitation guild, Korn was dirty and he wore no uniform. His hair was just as wild as when she saw him last.
When Korn came in, he plopped down on the ground instead of sitting in a chair. Kellston looked at the boy in disgust while Oren simply looked amused. Korn glanced at Mathius. Mathius glared back. Korn shrugged and his attention drifted to Nova. Nova smiled at the boy.
“Korn, I’m glad to see you’re okay,” Nova said gently.
Korn’s eyes widened and he looked away. The boy crossed his arms. “I said I would be alright, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, you did,” Nova said. “But it’s still good to see you.”
Korn snorted. “Idiot.”
“Manners,” Oren chided.
Korn stiffened and then nodded. His amber eyes drifted over the room until they landed on something to the side of Nova. Nova turned. Beside her was Trixie, still floating and watching the events. Nova jumped in surprise before quickly looking away. When she turned away, she saw Oren watching her.
“Is something wrong, Nova?”
She shook her head. “I’m just a little nervous. I didn’t expect…this.”
Oren nodded his head. “It can be a little overwhelming but I’m hoping to help with that.”
“You mean you’re planning to take over?” Mathius said, his eyes narrowing
“Come now, Mathius. If I wanted to take the Explorer’s Guild from you, I would have already done so.”
Mathius frowned but didn’t deny it. “Then what do you want?”
“I want to help, so I’m proposing a partnership. I will assist you in your endeavors with the Explorer’s Guild and in return, I obtain partial ownership of the establishment and anything within it. I think it’s a fair price.”
“You mean you want to see if there are any artifacts you can take,” Mathius said, crossing his arms.
Oren smiled. “I am a collector.”
Nova was startled at the mention of artifacts, but this time she managed to not reveal her surprise. It hadn’t occurred to her that the ruins would have artifacts in them. It meant that this was an opportunity. Finally, she might actually be able to do something with her class. Still, there was a big issue with this whole conversation.
“Why?” Nova asked. “Like you said, you could take the Explorer’s Guild from Mathius at any time. So why are you interested in a partnership?”
“You are a sharp one, Nova,” Oren said with approval. “You are correct. There is no need for me to actually offer a partnership, especially since Mathius has no legal ownership of the area. I assume you haven’t bought the land there.”
Mathius scowled. “You know I haven’t. Even if I could afford it, it’s protected by the crown.”
“Yes, the land is off-limits but leave that part to me. The King and I have an understanding,” Oren said simply.
Nova’s eyes widened. Just how powerful is this guy?
“You still didn’t answer the question,” Nova said.
“Yes,” Oren said, resting his hand on his armrest. “The reason I’m offering a partnership is because Mathius here has done what many have tried and failed to do. He is driven and I quite admire his determination. Instead of stifling it, I would like to see exactly how far he could go if given the right sort of support.”
“I won’t join the Sanitation Guild,” Mathius said flatly.
“I am aware of your reluctance but perhaps during our partnership, I can change your mind,” Oren said, unbothered by Mathius’s refusal. “In the meantime, you’ll need to get permission to go down to the ruins without being arrested in the process, correct?”
“I was working on it,” Mathius said, sinking further down in his seat.
“I’m sure you were as well as clearing out the monsters that attacked you both the last time you were down there,” Oren said calmly.
Nova stiffened and pointedly didn’t look at Mathius.
“I will take care of both, of course, as part of our new partnership,” Oren said with a warm smile.
“You’re offering a lot for very little,” Nova said bluntly.
“I’m a generous man,” Oren said.
“You’re a businessman, Guildmaster,” Nova said, watching the man closely. “When a businessman is generous it’s often a calculated risk for something bigger.”
Oren laughed and clapped his hands together. “Wonderful. You are certainly a treat, Nova. I could use someone of your talents in the Sanitation Guild.”
“You think too highly of me over a simple comment, Guildmaster,” Nova said. “I wouldn’t bring anything to your guild. I’m just a wind crystal crafter.”
The corner of Oren’s mouth quirked up in a half-smile. “Only a wind crystal crafter. I had forgotten.”
His eyes danced with amusement and Nova knew he wasn’t buying it just as much as she wasn’t buying that he truly wanted a partnership.
“Okay,” Mathius said.
She and Oren both turned to look at him.
“I’ll agree to the partnership if you make sure to get us permission to work on restoring the Explorer’s Guild and have a group clear out the monsters. We’ll also need a set of guards down there with us in case more monsters attack while we’re working.”
“Of course. It will be arranged,” Oren said.
“There’s more,” Mathius said. “You don’t automatically get to keep everything we find down there. It’s split 50/50. We’ll take turns. You get a pick and then I get a pick.”
Oren arched his eyebrow. “Unusual terms but I’ll agree though I would like to get two picks for every one pick of yours.”
“What?” Mathius said, frowning.
Oren raised his hand. “In return, I’ll pay for most of the supplies you’ll need to rebuild. I think that’s a generous offer.”
Mathius frowned but nodded. “All right.”
“Good, now I’m sure there are more details we’ll need to work out but it is getting quite late. Shall we continue this conversation tomorrow?”
Mathius nodded. Everyone stood up except for Nova.
“You’re really agreeing to this,” she asked Mathius.
Mathius nodded. “It’ll be the best for the both of us.”
Nova shook her head and stood up.
Oren smiled. “I look forward to our partnership. I’ll see you both tomorrow. Kellston, if you could make sure my guests are safely returned home.”
Kellston nodded and led them out. As they walked out, she spotted Korn turning down a hall. She started to call out to him but he quickly vanished around a corner. It was too bad, but she figured she would talk to him another time.
The drive back to the Caverns was quiet with only the occasional commentary by Trixie. She kept poking Kellston whenever she got bored, but the man never reacted. It opened the question of why Korn could see Trixie because she was pretty sure he had. Everyone seemed to have their secrets.
Finally, they arrived back at the Caverns, Kellston wished them a good evening before leaving once more. Nova followed Mathius back to his place and waited until the door was shut before she finally spoke up.
“Why did you agree to work with him? You know he doesn’t really want to be in a partnership with you,” Nova said.
Mathius turned to her. “I know. He’s after something and he plans to use me to get it. I figure I would use him right back.”
“This is dangerous,” Nova said, her brow furrowing with worry.
“I know, but he would have found a different way to try to force his way. At least this way he’s giving us the illusion of playing nice,” Mathius said.
“It’s a bad idea,” Nova retorted.
“What else was I supposed to do?” Mathius said in exasperation as he plopped down in a chair. “At least this will buy us time and once we get out of Hayeln it won’t matter.”
“Damn it.” She shook her head. She would need to think about how to get them out of this situation without getting buried in some unmarked grave in the process. But she was too tired. It had been a long day and Oren had been right, it was getting late. She walked to the door.
“You’re leaving?” Mathius asked.
She turned to him, surprised. “Yes, it’s late and I’m tired.”
“But…why don’t you stay here?” Mathius said.
Nova frowned. “Why would I?”
Mathius’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Everything’s fixed now. Guildmaster Oren is taking care of the monsters and we don’t even have to hide from the guards anymore.”
Nova crossed her arms. “Your point?”
“So, I mean…we can…” Mathius trailed off.
Nova glared at Mathius. “We can pretend you didn’t want to throw away my life for your own benefit? Things aren’t fixed between us, Mathius. The only thing that has changed is you have us entangled with a mob boss. I might not die from being eaten by monsters the next time I go down there but that doesn’t mean we won’t end up in an unmarked grave somewhere.”
“Then how do I fix things?” Mathius asked, frustrated. “I don’t want you to hate me.”
“And that’s what it comes down to, right? You don’t want me to hate you.” Nova sighed. “Well, if it makes you feel better, I don’t hate you, but I’m also not your friend either.”
“But I want that to change,” Mathius said.
“That’s the point, Mathius. It’s not always about what you want,” Nova said. Then she turned and walked out.
As she walked, she heard clapping beside her. “That was dramatic. Well worth the viewing.”
“Trixie, is that what you plan to do the entire time we’re bonded together?” Nova asked, irritated.
“Yes. Like I said, I’m here purely for my own entertainment,” Trixie said happily. “And I can say so far it’s worth it. A few times it was a bit iffy there but then bam, the twists and turns just keep coming. Now, I’m going to go and see just how much you crushed Mathius’s soul. I wonder if he’s crying.”
The demon vanished and Nova sighed, wondering if she had actually made a mistake having Trixie save her life. She didn’t look forward to a lifetime of a demon giving an ongoing commentary about her entire life.
She made her way back to Helena’s place. She felt bad that she was returning so late. Tentatively, she knocked on the door. She only knocked once when the door was pulled open and a frumpled-looking Helena stared back at her.
“Yes, sorry. I was-“
“Kidnapped, I heard,” Helena said and waved Nova in.
Nova’s eyes widened. The entire place was a mess. Before she could speak, a purple blurb threw itself at her.
“Briney?” Nova asked, patting the kraken who warbled pathetically at her. She looked over at Helena. “What happened?”
“Briney happened. It looks like leaving him alone wasn’t the best idea,” Helena said, sinking down onto her couch, looking exhausted.
“I’m so sorry, Helena. I didn’t know he would act out this way.”
Helena waved her hand dismissively. “It’s fine. Now come here and tell me what happened between you and the Sanitation Guild.”
Nova hesitated. She liked Helena but she was a guard. She settled down on the couch, struggling to find the right words.
“I’m not sure how much I can tell you,” Nova said.
Helena frowned but nodded. “If it involves the Sanitation Guild, I can understand it. Why don’t you tell me the basics?”
Nova turned it over in her mind but in the end, she really needed someone to talk to so she told Helena. It wasn’t nearly close to everything, just the basics of the meeting. At the end, Helena flopped back on the couch.
“Looks like you’re in quite the mess,” Helena said. “I never thought the whole Explorer’s Guild would lead anywhere but if Guildmaster Oren is interested then there might be something to it.”
Helena looked thoughtful. “Do you think it means we really could-” She shook her head. “Forget I said that. In any case, I’m sure I’ll learn some of the details tomorrow?”
“Why’s that?” Nova asked, confused.
“He said he’s going to get permission from the guard to go to the ruins, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” Nova said. “He can really do that?”
Helena nodded. “Yes. The Sanitation Guild has definite pull, even with the guard.”
Helena gave her a look filled with pity. “You’ll figure things out and I’ll try to help the best I can.”
Nova nodded. “I’m not sure how…” A new idea came to mind and Nova turned to Helena, excited. “Helena, can you teach me how to fight?”
I hope you’re enjoying my fantasy LitRPG webnovel. Check out my patreon to read ahead.