It had been three days since Nova met with Guildmaster Oren and it had been a constant stream of activity. The Sanitation Guild moved fast, obtaining permission for them to go into the ruins. Despite that, the arrangement wasn’t as clear-cut as Oren wanted them to think. It looked like the ruins were an area of special interest to the Royal family and even the Sanitation Guild didn’t get free rein. Due to this, they weren’t allowed into the ruins until certain tasks had been completed.
The biggest one was the ground. They needed to stabilize the ground before people were sent in. Ava said she could fix it as long as the heartstone was retrieved but both Nova and Mathius decided not to mention that to Oren. They weren’t sure how much Oren knew about the AI but they weren’t interested in giving him too much information. Oren needed them now because of what he thought they knew and it would be dangerous to outlive their purpose.
Nova rubbed her forehead. We’re playing a dangerous game.
“What are we doing here?” Trixie asked. “This place is a dump.”
Nova looked over at the floating demon. “You can leave.”
Trixie grinned. “And miss out on whatever mischief you’ll get into next? Not a chance.”
Nova sighed and then plopped down on the floor of the shop. Trixie had been sticking to her and Mathius ever since their ‘invitation’ to visit Guildmaster Oren. From what Nova gathered, despite their bond, Trixie wasn’t omniscient. If she wasn’t there to see or hear it, she didn’t know but she could access their memories. Fortunately, they had to give her permission to do that.
In one of their information sessions, Mathius had explained a bit about demons. For one the Pits was an actual place. Yes, souls went there when they died but a person could actually physically go there as well though it was nearly impossible and often ended in death. Demons were tied to the Pits and couldn’t leave without a bond to another sentient creature. If the bond breaks, they are sent right back to the Pits. Nova figured that’s why Trixie had made a deal with both of them. If one bond broke, the remaining bond would keep her in Galius.
The second bit was about their forms. Demons tended to have two. A physical body and an astral body. They could use both forms simultaneously without any drawbacks. Currently, Trixie’s astral form was with Nova while the physical form stayed with Mathius.
“Are you planning to just sit there?” Trixie asked, annoyed.
Nova smiled pleasantly. “For the moment, yes.”
Trixie huffed but didn’t disappear. Sometimes the demon would run off if she got bored long enough but she really hated to miss things. Nova looked around. It was the same shop Korn had brought her to. She figured it was probably one of the Sanitation Guild’s bases. She hoped if she waited around long enough, Korn would show up.
She knew it might be a long wait, but it was fine because she had something to keep her busy. Nova pulled up her screen.
[Diagnostic check complete. Initial functions stabilized. Ninety-two percent of system is severely damaged. Repairs needed. Continue?]
Nova stared at the message. She knew she needed to confirm repairs but the last time her system went down she lost the ability to communicate. Now that she was involved with the Sanitation Guild it could be even more dangerous. She wasn’t sure what Oren would do if he discovered she was a Soul Traveler.
But if 92% of my system is damaged doesn’t that mean I’m in even more danger if I don’t repair it?
She wasn’t exactly sure how the system was tied to her but she didn’t like the feeling that she was causing more damage to herself allowing it to just sit, broken.
[Repairs initiated. Please choose a repair type:]
2. Partial Shutdown
3. Learned Adjustments
Nova looked at the options in surprise and some relief. She hadn’t expected to have a choice.
“What are you doing?” Trixie asked, floating around her. “I can sense something but I can’t see it.”
Nova turned to Trixie. “That’s a relief.”
Trixie frowned. “What are you doing?”
Nova smiled. “None of your business.”
Trixie pouted and then grinned. “You are filled with mysteries, aren’t you?” She leaned in close. “I look forward to peeling them back, layer by layer.”
“Why did you bring that disgusting thing here?” A new voice said, cutting through the atmosphere.
Nova managed not to jump at the sound of the voice. After all, she had been waiting for it. She turned to face Korn and smiled. “She followed me. I can’t seem to get rid of her.”
Trixie perked up. “So interesting!” She floated around Korn. “You can see me but you’re human.”
Korn’s lip curled. “Get away from me.”
Trixie leaned closer, ignoring Korn’s warning. “There’s something there. What is it?”
In a flash, Korn twisted. His hand shifted into black claws as he slashed it down Trixie. At the last moment, Trixie twisted but didn’t completely free herself from the claws. The claws hit her arm, causing long grooves down her skin. Pink goo flowed from Trixie’s arm. The demon’s eyes widened and then in a blink, she was gone.
Nova jumped to her feet. “What just happened?”
Korn crossed his arms. “I warned her.”
“But she was in her astral form. How did you even hurt her?” Nova asked, bewildered.
Nova tried to wrap her mind around what she had seen. Korn had wounded Trixie in her astral form. On top of that, Trixie had run away. She had looked just as stunned as Nova. None of it made any sense.
Just how strong is this kid?
“Why are you here?” Korn asked, his claws fading away to human fingers.
Nova swallowed and tried to steady her mind. “First I want to say thank you. You saved me.”
Korn snorted. “No, I didn’t. Mathius was the one who kept you alive.”
“There would have been nothing for him to keep alive if you hadn’t killed that sether that attacked me. So again, thank you.”
Korn looked away and grunted. “Whatever.”
Nova thought she could see a hint of a blush underneath all his wild hair. Her lips twitched in amusement. She shook her head and focused.
“I’m curious. Have you been following me from the beginning?” Nova asked, keeping her tone neutral.
Korn stiffened and then glared at her. “Is that why you’re here? You want to get back at me?”
“What? No,” Nova said, shaking her head. “I mean, I wasn’t happy you were spying on me but I was hoping you could at least tell me a little about what’s going on.”
Korn scowled. “Why should I?”
“You don’t have to,” Nova said. “But I was hoping you would be willing to tell me what you could.”
Korn squinted at Nova and then nodded. “The Guildmaster saw you in the market. You looked weird and he told me to follow you. I think he thought you might have one of the rare manas.”
Nova nodded her head. “Do you know why he thought that?”
“You have one, don’t you?” Korn shot back.
Nova smiled at Korn. “I can use wind mana.”
Korn snorted. “Sure.”
“So?” Nova said, prodding Korn. “Why does he think I have a rare mana?”
Korn shrugged. “Not sure. He’s just good at telling. He can look at someone and tell.”
Nova frowned. That sounded problematic. Still, he didn’t seem to know what type of mana she had. Even if he was suspicious, she needed to make sure he continued not knowing.
“You’re not mad at me?” Korn asked and she could swear he sounded a little worried.
Nova looked at Korn. The boy was looking away like he didn’t care but kept sneaking peeks at her.
She shook her head. “No, I’m not.”
“Why?” Korn asked, finally looking at her again. “I tricked you.”
Nova let out a huff of laughter. “You want me to be?”
Korn grunted. “You’re weird.” He looked at her thoughtfully. “Are you going to join the Sanitation Guild?”
Nova studied the boy and hesitated. “Do you think I should?”
Korn frowned and he looked down as if he was struggling to find the correct answer. “You will. They always do.”
Nova frowned but said lightly. “Maybe I’ll be different.”
Korn snorted and then in a blur of speed he was in front of her. “I hope you’re different.” Then he sped out of the shop, leaving her alone.
Nova sighed. Things just kept getting more complicated and dangerous. She couldn’t help feeling sorry for Korn. He was just a kid and Oren was using him as a spy. With Korn’s strength, she could only guess what else Oren had him doing.
No, she wasn’t mad at Korn. It was Oren she was pissed with.
Nova flopped down on the ground. She was supposed to meet Mathius. He was going on supply runs for Oren. The Guildmaster seemed intent on keeping them busy as he handled getting into the ruins. She was sure the man had his own people who could broker deals with the merchants but he insisted she and Mathius do it for the experience. The whole thing made her uneasy.
She would deal with that later, right now she had a system to repair. She looked at the three options on her screen. She focused on the first one and as she did a new screen popped up.
This repair will shut down the entire system in order to completely overhaul the structure. All system functions will be offline besides bare necessities. Requires 95% of mana pool during process. May require outside mana to function. Possibility of physical shutdown during process.
Success rate: 100%.
Time to repair: One year
And that’s a no.
Though the success rate was 100% she had no desire to have her entire system shut down. She went to the next option.
[Partial Shutdown Repair]
This repair will shut down part of the system, routing 60% of mana pool to repairs and 40% of mana pool to designated system function. Soul Traveler may designate sections to keep active from a list of functioning system options. This repair can cause strain to live functions that may lead to further damage to active system functions.
Success rate: 60-90%
Time to repair: Three years
Nova looked over the information with a sigh. It looked like repairing the system was going to be a long process no matter what she did. She didn’t like that the active functions would be damaged by using them, but she didn’t want to not have any access to them either.
She focused on the last option.
[Learned Adjustment Repair]
This repair will keep functions active as they are used. System functions will be repaired as they are used, pulling from available mana. Certain functions will not work properly if mana isn’t available to repair. The more a function is used the more mana will be focused on repairing that particular system function.
Success rate: 70-100%
Time to repair: Variable
Nova frowned and re-read the descriptions. So basically, it was learning about the functions she used and repairing them as she went. It allowed flexibility but at the same time, it also meant that some of her skills might not work when she needed them.
Honestly, none of these options are ideal.
So, it was a choice of what would be more useful to her in the long run. She knew the overhaul option was completely out. The partial shutdown seemed the safest. It did mean she wouldn’t have access to more than 60 percent of her system but the part she did have access to would consistently work.
The Learned Adjustment meant she would have access to her entire system but in unreliable spurts that could mean she could be screwed over when she actually needed it.
Risk and versatility. Safety and reliability.
Nova knew the choice she should make and the choice she was going to make. She just hoped she didn’t regret it. Nova looked at her screen and with a deep breath, she made her choice.
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