Nova’s eyes widened at the information. She swept her eyes over the area but the message didn’t show up again. She focused her mind on the artifact detection skill. Her gaze swept the area.
[No artifact detected.]
“Nova,” Mathius said.
She turned and realized that everyone had gone inside except for her and Mathius.
“Are you okay?” Mathius asked.
Nova nodded her head. “I thought I saw something.” She shook her head. “Let’s go in before Oren sends his people after us.”
They walked inside and as they did Nova pulled up her screen. She quickly focused on the skill for Artifact Detection.
-Allows the user to detect artifacts in the observer’s sight.
-Allows the user to detect artifacts being directly used on them.
A wave of excitement went through her. It was the second time she had received the message since receiving her class. It had sort of bothered her that she hadn’t been able to do much with her class. Sure, she used Mana Sight and Mana Transfer but she really wanted to actually do something with artifacts. Crystal crafting was the only skill that was even close and she had been utterly failing at it so far.
Inside, one of the Sanitation Guild members was waiting for them. He waved at them and led them through the house to a large room with several chairs. It reminded Nova of a cross between a den and a board room. There were several comfortable plush chairs and a large table, though not nearly as wide as the ones she had seen in board rooms.
“There you are,” Guildmaster Oren said, adjusting his monocle. “Shall we get started? Mathius, since you recommended the Lutyers, you can handle the contract. I will oversee.”
Mr. Lutyer looked at Mathius with a hint of curiosity before the man’s face became a careful blank. “Come over here, Crux.”
Mathius walked over to the table while Nova took a seat out of the way of the main negotiations. She could have participated but she wasn’t interested in brokering lumber deals despite Oren’s pushing them into working with the suppliers. Instead, she scanned the room.
Nova’s eyes widened. She quickly looked around but there was no indicator of where the artifact was or what it might be. She frowned.
This skill is sort of useless.
She wondered if she got the rank up if the skill would actually help her locate the item. At least she knew it was in the room and somewhere she could see it since it had to be in sight that or someone was using it on her. She shuddered but forced herself to focus. Since she had originally detected it outside and now inside that meant it was probably being worn by someone.
The skill hadn’t gone off when she was with Mathius and Egon earlier so she doubted they had it, then again the skill hadn’t been repaired until moments ago. She frowned and scanned the two but she was almost sure it wasn’t from them.
But how can I be sure? Mana sight!
She switched to mana sight and scanned Mathius and Egon. She didn’t see any mana threads coming from them. It both confirmed and brought up new questions. Before, when her Mana Sight was broken, she had seen mana everywhere but now she couldn’t see anything. It made her wonder if she was missing aspects of how Mana Sight worked. It was something she would have to test out later.
Learning the full capabilities of her skills was something she should have done a while ago. Maybe if she had… She shook her head and shifted her attention to Mr. Lutyer. Like Mathius and Egon, she didn’t see any mana threads. Her attention turned to Guildmaster Oren.
I should have known. He’s some type of artifact collector after all.
Several mana threads poured from Oren. One came from a bracelet around his wrist, embedded with several different crystals. One was from a pin with a green crystal embedded in it on his doublet. But the mana threads that caught her attention were the ones coming from his monocle. Unlike the other items, it held no crystals but came directly from the item.
Is that what makes it an artifact?
It was obvious now that she was seeing an actual artifact. Crystal crafting wasn’t considered artificing so that meant there had to be something that separated them. When talking about inserting mana she always heard mention of embedding the crystal but never other items.
Is that the difference?
As she stared at the monocle, Oren turned and looked at her. His eyes brightened. The threads around the monocle grew brighter.
Nova sucked in a sharp breath.
Oren grinned wider and there was a knowing glimmer in his eyes.
A surge of panic went through Nova and she realized that she had screwed up.
Abruptly, Oren stood up. “Mathius, you are doing a fine job. I’ll let you handle the rest. I think I could use a walk. Nova, why don’t you join me?”
Nova let out a breath. “I prefer to stay inside.”
Oren chuckled. “I really must insist. There is a private matter we must discuss.”
Mathius frowned and he started to get up when one of the Sanitation Guild moved behind him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It’s better if you concentrate on the matter at hand, Crux.”
A deep scowl crossed Mathius’s face and he looked like he was ready to do something but what? Nova had no idea. She shook her head at Mathius and then looked at Oren.
“I understand.” She stood up.
Oren chuckled and held out his arm for her. “Shall we?”
Nova ignored his arm and walked out. She heard Oren snicker and then he was walking beside her. The two Sanitation members stayed behind with Mathius and the others.
Oren led them outside and for a moment they walked in silence, touring the grove. The silence dragged on until Nova found herself speaking.
“You wanted to talk?”
“Indeed,” Oren said with a pleasant smile on his lips. “You’ll have to forgive me. I find myself at a loss for words.”
Nova frowned. “What?”
Oren chuckled. “It’s not every day I come across an Artifactor.”
Nova looked away, staring out into the grove. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
He tilted his head. “I very much doubt that. At first, I wondered if you knew about your gifts.” He tapped his monocle. “But you recognized it.”
Nova crossed her arms. “I am a wind crystal crafter.”
Oren shrugged. “Say what you will but we both know that isn’t true.”
Nova remained silent. They both continued walking. Nova wasn’t sure what to do in this situation. The artifact told Oren what she was but he didn’t mention anything about her being a Soul Traveler. Did that mean it didn’t show up? What information does the artifact show?
“I could help you,” Oren said.
Nova jumped, startled out of her thoughts.
“I am a collector as I mentioned before. I have several artifacts that you could study.”
Nova turned to him with interest. Oren didn’t look at her but there was a faint smile on his lips.
“It would help you to develop your talent and I can promise you there isn’t anyone in all of Hayeln who can provide you with such access.”
Nova looked away as she struggled with what Oren said. It was a trap, a very tempting trap. She hesitated. “And the cost?”
Oren laughed. “This is what I like about you Nova. You’re always looking for the other side of the coin.” He paused. “I want you to join the Sanitation Guild.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Nova said instantly.
“Why are you against it?” Oren asked.
Nova gave him a look. “Besides how everyone is terrified of you.”
Guildmaster Oren shrugged. “People fear the King too.”
“I don’t want to work for him either,” Nova shot back.
Oren snorted. “You’re very stubborn.”
“I am,” Nova said simply.
Oren sighed. “I am not your enemy, Nova. And despite what you might think, I am not the enemy of the people of Hayeln.” His eyes grew distant. “This is my home and the people here are part of that. I see Hayeln’s potential and I want to help it become even greater. Is that so wrong?”
Nova turned over Oren’s words. “It depends on what you are willing to do to accomplish it.”
Oren looked at her. “And what do you think I am doing?”
Nova frowned because she didn’t have an answer. She hadn’t actually seen Oren do anything wrong. Even the people who warned her against him hadn’t said why. “You tell me.”
“I clean up Hayeln. That is all,” Oren said.
Nova wasn’t stupid. She could hear the undercurrent in those words. “By any means?”
This time Oren was quiet. They continued walking until they were back at the cabin. Oren reached over and squeezed her shoulder. “Think about it, Nova. You have great potential but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do anything with it.”
Nova didn’t say anything and Oren turned and went back into the cabin. Nova stood outside, turning over Oren’s words. Somehow his words had cut deeper than she expected. Since she arrived in Hayeln it was failure after failure, barely moving from one moment to the next.
She wanted more control. She wanted to get stronger. It felt like everything was moving faster around her while she was going in slow-motion. This was an opportunity to move faster. If Oren really meant what he said then he could push her to even greater things. Nova shook herself out of such thoughts.
“I can do it on my own,” she said to herself.
She knew that was true. It would be slower, so much slower, but she could do it. Still, the offer lingered in her mind. It lingered as they finished up the meeting. It lingered as Oren said his goodbyes and with a knowing smile left back to the guild. It lingered all the way home and even later when she was doing training practice with Helena.
A sharp slap to her elbow caused pain to jolt up her arm. “Fuck!”
“Pay attention then,” Helena said sharply. “Or are you here to simply waste my time?”
Nova flushed in embarrassment. “Sorry.”
Helena narrowed her eyes at Nova. “You should be. I thought you wanted combat training.”
Nova rubbed her elbow. “I do.” She bent down and picked up the wooden sword she dropped. “I just…been thinking about things.”
Helena sighed. “What things?”
Nova chewed on her bottom lip. “I still can’t do natural magic.”
“This again?” Helena said with a frown. “Look, natural magic is a nice edge in a fight but it’s not pivotal. Most people can only do a gust of wind if even that. There are plenty of guards that can’t use natural magic.”
“But you said it was an edge,” Nova insisted.
“Yes, as much an edge as someone who spends an extra hour training instead of moping about what they can’t do.” Helena put her hands on her hips. “Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on improving the things you can. I promise you the latter is more likely to save your life.”
Helena’s words stung. It wasn’t the words of encouragement she had hoped for. Not someone telling her that she would eventually be able to do natural magic in time. It was just a cutting truth.
“You ready?” Helena asked.
She wasn’t but she had to be anyway. She moved into the sword stance Helena had taught her, raising the wooden sword in her hand. “Yes.”
“Go,” Helena said.
Nova narrowed her eyes and charged forward.
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