“You’re doing it wrong.”
Nova glared at the demon floating above her. “Then please enlighten me on how to do it correctly.”
Trixie looked at her nails. “Not my job.”
The demon was infuriating. She had woken this morning to find the demon floating over her. After a near panic attack, she had been relieved to see the demon.
“I can’t believe I was worried about you,” Nova mumbled.
“You were worried about me?” The demon peered at her. “You are very strange.”
“I don’t need to hear that from you,” Nova said as she picked up another crystal shard.
She concentrated on feeling the mana threads around her. It would have been easier to use her mana sight but since her mana sight had been repaired, she could only see limited amounts of mana. She figured her skill allowed her to only focus on concentrated amounts of mana. Despite its limits, she preferred it to a blinding headache but it did limit where she could gather mana. So, she had to do it the hard way.
She reached out and she could feel the threads. Slowly she slid her fingers over the threads until she grasped one that felt cold and wet. She pulled on it, guiding it through her hand and pouring it into the shard. She focused on trying to slide just a small amount into it. Carefully, the mana slid inside the crystal.
She smiled and let go. As soon as she did, the rest of the mana thread rushed into the crystal. Nova’s eyes snapped open and she saw the shard had turned blue and was glowing, brighter and brighter.
“Shit.” She tossed it into the boom jar. A few seconds later the shard exploded and the jar rocked back and forth.
“Told you so,” Trixie said with a smirk.
“Trixie, please shut up.” Nova rubbed a hand over her face. She thought she almost had it that time but in the end, the mana just kept trying to fill the entire shard even when she was trying to put only a portion inside.
“Nova,” Tinle said as he walked inside. “Was that another explosion?”
Nova looked down guiltily. “Yes, but I really am trying.”
Tinle nodded his head thoughtfully. “Perhaps we need to start with a more basic approach.”
Nova balled up her fist. She hated that it was taking her so long to get a handle on it. What was the point of being able to access so many mana types if she couldn’t actually use them? “What did you have in mind?”
“First show me what you are doing?”
Nova nodded. She closed her eyes and once again reached out for the mana like before. After a while, she transferred it to the crystal shard only for her to have to throw it into the boom jar as it exploded.
“Again,” Tinle said.
Nova did it five more times before Tinle told her to stop.
“This is quite interesting. I didn’t notice it before but now I see it.” Tinle was mumbling excitedly to himself.
“Notice what?” Nova asked.
“That you’re completely hopeless,” Trixie chimed in.
Nova glared at the demon and was shocked to see she was floating in the air with a giant container of popcorn. Trixie winked at her and tossed a piece of popcorn into her mouth. Nova rolled her eyes.
Tinle waved at her. “Sit, sit.”
Nova sat down and watched as Tinle took a seat next to her.
“How you handle mana isn’t like anything I’ve seen before,” Tinle said and his eyes were glinting with excitement.
“How so?” Nova asked, confused.
“Mana comes from within. As mana users, we take our inner mana and shift it around, directing it into other objects and weaving it to its specific patterns. Though mana is within everything, interacting with it is nearly impossible. The difference is mana crystals. Mana crystals allow a person to use mana outside themselves and hence why crystal crafters came into being.”
Nova nodded her head. “Okay.” She tilted her head. “What does that have to do with me?”
Tinle chuckled. “You are using mana the same way a mana crystal does. You are taking mana from outside and directing it. In this case, you are putting it into the shard.”
Oh! He’s talking about Mana Transfer. I didn’t realize it was unusual.
“This might be tied to why you have so little control over the mana you are putting in the crystal. It isn’t your mana you are using.”
Nova hadn’t thought of that. “But when I tried to use my mana I get backlash and well, make a mess.”
Tinle nodded his head. “That is a problem.” He rubbed his chin. “Perhaps…” He suddenly got up and rushed out of the workshop.
Nova watched him in bewilderment. “What’s going on?”
Trixie sighed. “It sure takes you a while to catch on.”
Nova squinted at the demon. “Does that mean you know what’s going on?”
Trixie grinned. “I do.”
Tinle came back and gave her a strange look but shook his head. He set two crystals on the counter. They were around the same size. One was an empty crystal, the other was a yellow wind crystal.
Tinle looked down at the crystals with glee. “Now, transfer the mana from the yellow crystal to the empty crystal.”
Nova gave Tinle a worried look. “What happens if it blows up. I don’t have the money to replace it and I’m not looking to take on more debt.”
Tinle waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry. Now, go on.” The man was practically vibrating with excitement.
Since the crystal was a single object, she decided to use mana sight. She looked at the crystal and then reached out and pulled. The mana immediately moved to her hands.
[Warning! You have 30 seconds to transfer mana before eruption.]
Nova reached for the crystal and the mana poured into it. She looked at the glowing yellow crystal, waiting for it to glow brighter and brighter. The crystal glowed but not brighter, just a normal, steady glow.
Nova’s eyes widened. “I did it.”
“Yes! How extraordinary,” Tinle said. “I have never seen anything like it.”
Nova’s brow furrowed as she tried to understand why it worked. She stared at the two crystals and then it dawned on her. “It’s because the crystals are the same size.”
Tinle nodded his head. “When you gather the mana from the crystal, you transfer the full amount to another item. If the item is too small for the mana you are putting into it then it blows up.”
Nova blinked. It was extremely simple. She felt like an idiot for not figuring it out sooner. Still, that brought up a new question. “Is there a way to only take a portion of the mana so it can be transferred into something smaller?”
“I’m not sure,” Tinle said. “You have been trying to do that already without success, correct?”
Nova nodded her head.
Tinle rubbed his chin. “Then we’ll probably have to test out different ways.” Tinle’s brow furrowed in concentration while his eyes shone with possibilities.
Nova saw how excited Tinle was and knew this was her chance. Tinle had stated in their previous conversation he had attended the academy so she could only hope he might have some connections there or could at least point her in the right direction. It was an opportunity she couldn’t let get away from her.
“I was thinking about visiting the Academy to get more information about mana,” Nova said. “Maybe they have information that might help me understand my mana better.”
Tinle brightened. “Of course! The Academy. Why didn’t I think of that? We should go right away.”
“What?” Nova asked, taken off-guard.
Tinle was steadily nodding. “I’ll need to grab a few things. I’ll probably need to close the shop early. That flake Mortimer takes hours to do anything.”
“Wait,” Nova said. “Isn’t this too soon?”
Tinle shook his head. “It is always better to get started right away. The sooner you get this figured out the sooner we can make a profit.”
Truly the words of a merchant.
After Tinle had gathered up supplies, they closed the shop and made their way to the academy. The trip took longer than Nova expected. Perhaps it was because she was used to everything being in the market area that it never occurred to her that the academy wasn’t nearby. Instead, it was three hours away by wagon.
As they traveled, Nova found herself growing nervous. What she had been hoping for was a contact or access to the Academy library, she didn’t expect to be escorted by Tinle. Tinle was lost in his thoughts and would mumble to himself while scribbling in an old ledger. The only time he looked up was to grumble in annoyance when the wagon hit a particularly jarring spot. Trixie had also come along.
“Maybe you’ll actually be able to use mana correctly after this,” Trixie quipped.
Nova decided to ignore Trixie. She discovered that worked the best with the demon…sometimes.
After a wagon ride where Nova grew more and more anxious, they finally arrived at the academy. Nova’s eyes widened. The Academy was huge. It rose from the ground like a gothic castle. Around it, towers floated, but instead of staying in one place, they dipped down to the ground, releasing a group of students from classes. Another group of students took the group’s place and then the tower was back in the air.
Tinle hurried off the cart while Nova followed. Her gaze took in the people around her. Most of the students wore orange cloaks with elaborate pins. The pins had numbers as well as small color shards embedded in them.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?” Tinle said with a hint of pride.
“I’ve seen better,” Trixie stated.
“It is fantastic,” Nova said.
Tinle smiled warmly and guided them to the main building which was one of the few that didn’t float. As they moved inside, he led them to a large desk where a woman sat. She had a no-nonsense air about her and gave a brief nod in greeting when they approached.
“We’re here to see Assistant Professor Mortimer Keven,” Tinle said.
The woman at the desk frowned. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No, but I have an open invitation,” Tinle said. “The name is Horace Tinle.”
The woman nodded and pulled out a book. She muttered the words, ‘Horace Tinle.’ An orange crystal embedded in the book began to glow and then the pages started to flip on their own. When they stopped, the woman read through it and then nodded. She tapped the page and then turned it.
“Your signature please,” the woman stated.
Tinle placed his hand on the page and a moment later the page started to glow. A few seconds later the glowing stopped. The woman turned the book, looked it over, and nodded. She then turned to Nova.
“And you Miss?”
“She’s my guest,” Tinle answered.
The woman frowned but nodded, pushing the book to Nova. “Signature please.”
Nova hesitated. She didn’t think they meant for her to sign her name. So, following Tinle’s example, she pressed her hand against the book. As she did, she shifted to mana sight. Orange threads climbed up from the book and wrapped around her hand until she was encased in them. They thrummed with a glow before retracting back into the orange crystal.
The woman took the book back. “Please have a seat.”
Nova rubbed her hand as she sat down in one of the chairs nearby. “What did that do?”
Tinle smiled. “Your first time touching a knowledge book.” He chuckled and puffed out his chest. “It is an amazing invention created by one of the Elder professors. It stores information and relays it based on request. In the one possessed by the Academy, it has a special feature that identifies the person based on any knowledge found in other knowledge books. The City guard has one as well and writes down any pertinent information. It’s a way to quickly identify criminals through their mana signature.”
That was a lot to take in. She hadn’t expected something like that but it brought up lots of interesting issues.
“What if you don’t have their signature?” Nova asked.
“Then they have to be vouched for,” Tinle said. “Usually this means a professor or a professor assistant. Even then, there are certain parts of the academy that a new signature won’t be allowed access to.”
Nova nodded. “What about me, then? I don’t think I have a signature in that book.”
Tinle waved his hand dismissively. “It’s fine. Mortimer will vouch for you as long as I do. We won’t be able to venture into certain rooms in the Academy but we don’t need to anyway.”
Nova felt some relief. She was glad Tinle had brought her here after all, instead of going by herself. It sounded like she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if she tried it alone. Nervous excitement went through Nova as she waited but it slowly fell into boredom as two hours passed. It took an additional half-hour before Mortimer arrived.
The man looked to be around Tinle’s age, somewhere around his late forties or early fifties. His chin-length hair was auburn with a small streak of gray. He had a short beard that was nicely trimmed. As he walked over, his steps were filled with barely contained energy like he would shoot off in any direction at a moment’s notice.
He strode toward Tinle with a wide smile, slapping him on the back. “Sorry to keep you waiting but I’ve been in a meeting. You should have sent a message first.”
Tinle waved his hand. “Don’t worry about the wait. I knew what I was getting into, showing up without warning but I promise you, you’ll be quite intrigued.”
“Another invention?” Mortimer asked, curious.
Tinle shook his head. He turned to Nova. “This is Nova Davis, my new apprentice and we have a puzzle for you.”
Mortimer arched his eyebrow and turned and studied Nova. As he did he frowned, tilting his head. “Hmm.” He turned. “Shall we?”
“You must vouch for Miss Davis,” the woman at the administration counter stated.
“A light vouch, please,” Mortimer said.
The woman nodded and wrote something down in her knowledge book. Then Mortimer began guiding them through the building. They walked up a flight of stairs and then stepped into what looked like a classroom based on the small tables and chairs.
Tinle looked around, confused. “Why are we here?”
Mortimer pointed to Nova and his voice was cold. “Miss Davis, would you mind explaining the creature you have with you?”
“Busted!” Trixie said, cackling.
Nova looked at Mortimer’s cold eyes and Tinle’s confused face and she hoped she could somehow explain the demon she had with her.
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