He probably won’t recognize me.
Nova plastered a smile on her face as Mathius came closer. She noticed that Mathius seemed more relaxed than she had seen him before. The man also had a hint of a smile on his lips as he listened to Mathius ramble on.
“It’s exciting!” Mathius said. “To think we’re one step closer to making the Explorer’s Guild real again.”
The big man’s voice rumbled as he spoke. “I look forward to seeing it.”
Mathius was practically bouncing, reminding Nova of how he acted when he first summoned her. It felt like ages ago but in actuality, it had been only a couple of weeks. Mathius turned to her.
“And this is Nova Davis. She’s the key to making all this happen,” Mathius said.
Nova raised her eyebrow. She was surprised Mathius would say that much. “This is mostly Mathius’s project. I’m just along for the ride.”
The man looked amused. “That sounds like Mathius. He gets carried away when he sets his mind to something.”
“Yes, I’ve learned that first-hand,” Nova said and her tone came out much more bitter than she meant it to be.
Mathius shifted awkwardly and a tense silence descended over them.
The man looked between them but didn’t say anything.
Mathius cleared his throat. “So, this is my friend, Egon Lutyer. His father owns the Lutyer Grove, one of the best lumber suppliers in Hayeln.”
Egon shook his head. “It’s probably not a good idea to call us that anymore.”
Mathius frowned. “Just because Lord Rafes-“
Egon gave Mathius a look and Mathius clamped his lips close.
“I understand you, Mathius, but it’s best we move on from the past and focus on the present.” Egon looked at Nova. “Come inside. It’s warm and I think we all could use a drink.”
As they walk, Mathius began talking about the Explorer’s Guild again.
He really does have a one-track mind. Then again if I was magically trapped in a city would I be any different.
She jerked in surprise.
I am magically trapped in a city.
She balled up a fist as a surge of anger went through her.
“Are you alright?” Egon asked.
Nova blinked in surprise. She looked at Egon and realized she had suddenly stopped. Mathius was giving her a confused look as well. She shook her head.
“No, I just remembered something and it took me off-guard.”
Egon nodded and continued walking. Mathius kept shooting her looks but she pointedly looked away from him. The anger was still there and if she focused on him, she was likely to say something unnecessary.
She took a deep breath and focused on the trees around her. Every once in a while, she would see brown and green crystals in the ground. She focused her mana sight and she could see the bundles of threads balled up together. It was nice being able to use her mana sight without getting an earth-shattering headache in the process.
“Are you interested in crystals?” Egon said, catching her looking.
Nova managed not to jump. She mentally scowled at herself for being so jittery. Circumstances were different from before. Still, she couldn’t help her gaze straying to his axe then quickly looked back at him. “Yes, I’m apprenticing as a crystal crafter.”
He nodded his head with a ‘hmm.’ Egon studied her for a moment and looked thoughtful. “Have we met before?”
Nova’s heart beat frantically in her chest. She scrambled to think of an answer when Mathius’s voice cut in.
“Are you flirting with her?” Mathius asked in surprise and amusement.
Egon jerked up and his dark skin grew even darker. “No,” he said firmly and then quickly sped up his steps.
Was he blushing?
Mathius started laughing like a hyena and Nova found herself cracking a smile. She pressed her hand to her chest as her heartbeat slowed down. That had been close. Still, she needed to think of an excuse if he did recognize her or even better leave before he did.
She turned to Mathius who was slowly recovering from his laughing fit.
“Where’s Trixie?” She whispered. “I thought her physical form was with you.”
Mathius shrugged. “She decided she had better things to do. She’s always chasing after entertainment.”
Nova nodded but felt a little uncomfortable. Trixie had been obsessed with following them after their visit to the Sanitation Guild. It was strange that she changed her mind after her encounter with Korn. Maybe she was overthinking it. Still, it was as good as any excuse to leave.
“Maybe I should go look for her?” Nova volunteered.
Mathius gave her a confused look and then shook his head. “Guildmaster Oren is going to meet us here. He’s going to expect the both of us to be here.”
Nova frowned. “You know, I didn’t make the contract with him. You did.”
Mathius frowned and then shook his head. “Does it matter? If you’re not here he’ll just send someone to come after you.”
Nova sighed because she knew it was true. The man had people everywhere. If she tried to run from him, he would find her. “I don’t like this.”
“I know. Just bear with it. Once we get the Explorer’s Guild active, we’ll get out of here.”
Nova still wasn’t sure she believed in whatever creature had told him they could escape but it seemed like even if she didn’t Oren did. It was the only reason that she could see for the Guildmaster to want to be so deeply involved in the Explorer’s Guild.
“Coming in?” Egon asked.
Nova looked up and realized that Egon was waiting for them at the door of a large cabin. It was a cozy house made of thick red logs. It was more elaborate than any cabin she had encountered but still maintained a more down-to-earth feel.
“We’re coming,” Mathius said and then lowered his voice so only Nova could hear. “You are coming, aren’t you?”
As much as Nova would like to ditch the meeting, she agreed that Oren would just send his people to drag her back so she decided to stick around. They stepped inside the house, where Egon led them to the kitchen. It was a proper kitchen not a section off part of a room like with Mathius. Nova and Mathius sat at a table while Egon poured them glasses of a reddish-orange juice. He set the cups on the table before taking a seat.
Nova took a cautious sip of the juice. It tasted like a mix of apples and grapes but with a fuller flavor and not as sweet. She decided she liked it.
“What type of juice is this?” she asked
Egon gave her a strange look. “Aplyon.”
“So, Egon, there’s a reason I came here,” Mathius said.
Egon turned away from Nova and nodded at Mathius like he expected it.
“I need to put in an order of wood. A large order,” Mathius explained.
Egon nodded slowly. “I understand. I’ll try to help as much as I can but since we lost our sponsor…”
Egon trailed off as Mathius shook his head with a wide grin.
“No, I’m not asking for free lumber or even a discount. Matter of fact, the more expensive the better,” Mathius said with glee.
Nova laughed when she heard that and she grinned. “You’re really trying to take him for whatever he can.”
Mathius shrugged his shoulders. “If he’s going to force us to do these errands then he can deal with the consequences.”
“Who are you trying to swindle?” Egon asked.
Mathius straightened. “Guildmaster Oren.”
Egon’s eyes widened. “What? Mathius, what have you gotten yourself into?”
Nova sighed. This reaction. It really did hit home that these were dangerous people.
Mathius waved his hands. “Don’t worry! We have an arrangement.”
“That worries me even more.” He then looked at Nova or more he stared at her. Then it seemed to dawn on him and his expression turned into a scowl. “You’re the one that broke in. Did you drag Mathius into this?”
Nova folded her arms and scoffed. “It’s the opposite.”
Egon seemed to pause at that before narrowing his eyes. “But you work for the Sanitation Guild.”
Nova shook her head and glared back at him. “I don’t and I would appreciate it if you would stop throwing accusations at me.”
“Calm down,” Mathius said. “Nova isn’t part of the Sanitation Guild.”
“How can you be sure?” Egon asked. “He has many spies.”
“I’m sure,” Mathius said. “I can promise you that.”
Egon looked at Nova suspiciously but nodded reluctantly. She wasn’t sure if he actually believed Mathius or was just agreeing for now.
“So what’s this about a break-in?” Mathius asked.
She had forgotten she had never told Mathius about her adventures with the Grove. “You know how you left me in the tunnel and I was covered in mud.”
Mathius frowned and then his face lit up as he remembered. “Yes, I remembered.”
“I was wandering the area and came across some guards. They started chasing me and I hid in the grove. Your friend found me and put an axe to my throat.”
Mathius paled. “He did what?”
“She was trespassing,” Egon said defensively. “I thought she was one of the merchants trying to sabotage us again.”
Mathius frowned and then nodded.
“People are trying to sabotage you?” Nova asked, confused.
Egon nodded solemnly. “It’s the Merchant Wars. Resources are thinning and people are trying to force people out of business in order to take their supplies or monopolize land.”
Nova frowned. “It’s because of the magic wall.”
“The Royal family has been good about handling the resources we have but the kingdom keeps growing and there are only so many resources we can nurture before it runs out. Most people haven’t noticed but the crafters and merchants have.”
Nova bit her lip. She was starting to realize just how important breaking the wall was. It wasn’t just a matter of freedom but survival.
As the weight of those words hung in the room a large commotion came from outside. Egon stood and lumbered towards the door. Mathius hurried after him. Nova considered waiting but curiosity got the best of her. She followed them.
She heard the people before she saw them. Outside two Sanitation Guild members and Guildmaster Oren faced an older dark-skinned man that looked so much like Egon that it was clear it was his father. The man was yelling at Oren.
“What are you doing on my land? Did the Merchants send you? Well, you can tell them to go fuck right off. I’m not selling and no matter who they send to threaten me, my answer ain’t going to change.”
Egon paled and rushed over to his father. “Father, stop.”
“Egon, get back. I’ll handle this.”
“Father, wait. He’s a customer.”
His father twisted around to face his son. “What? We don’t have a sponsor.”
“You son is right, Mr. Lutyer. I came to buy, not to cause trouble,” Guildmaster Oren said with a pleasant smile.
Mr. Lutyer’s face paled. “Ah, shit.” He muttered and then quickly bowed. “Please forgive me, Guildmaster Oren. There is no excuse for my disrespectful behavior.”
“Indeed,” Oren said and looked at the man with a wide smile. His eyes, though, were like chips of ice. He adjusted his monocle.
Mathius stiffened beside Nova and a tense silence filled the air. Nova watched it all, unsure what to do. Oren turned away from the man who was still bowing until his gaze landed on Mathius and then her. Oren frowned and then began to laugh. Everyone looked at the Guildmaster in confusion.
“You caught me in a forgiving mood, Mr. Lutyer. Shall we proceed?” Oren said his eyes were no longer the frosty cold they were before but instead filled with delight.
Relief mixed with confusion flooded the air as Lutyer straightened from his bow with another apology. As Lutyer started to guide them inside a new message popped in front of Nova’s eyes.
[Artifact Detection repaired. Artifact detected.]
I hope you’re enjoying my fantasy LitRPG webnovel. Check out my patreon to read ahead.