A wave of panic washed over Nova. She had to think but Mortimer was staring at her, waiting for an explanation. It would be bad if she took too long but at the same time, she wasn’t sure what the reaction would be if she was discovered to have a demon. Though Mortimer hadn’t simply attacked her, so maybe there was more to this.
“You mean my mana pet?” Nova asked, calmly. “It was a gift given to me.”
Tinle’s expression brightened in understanding. “You mean the purple octopus creature. I believe you called him Briney?”
Trixie’s face twisted up, her nose scrunching in disgust. “How dare they compare me to that thing.”
Mortimer looked to Tinle in surprise and some relief. “So, you knew about it?”
Tinle chuckled. “Yes. It is the reason I have been led to such an extraordinary apprentice.”
Nova had to stop herself from gaping. That they were confusing Trixie with Briney was fortunate though she wasn’t happy to be talking about Briney with just anyone, but that ship had sailed. He wasn’t exactly a secret anymore though she still wanted to avoid people digging in too deeply.
Mortimer scratched his cheek. “Besides the wind sprites, I haven’t met many mana creatures. Perhaps you would allow me to study your pet a little closer.”
“I believe that is my cue to exit left,” Trixie said and vanished.
“Oh! It’s gone,” Mortimer said.
Nova laughed. “I think you scared them away.”
Mortimer looked at her curiously. “They can understand our language?”
Nova nodded. “Yes, but it doesn’t go both ways.”
“Fascinating,” Mortimer said.
“How were you able to see them?” Nova asked curiously.
“My mana sight is quite advanced so I was able to pick out the mana signature. So, I couldn’t see its true form, I could still see its mana.”
Tinle cleared his throat. “Mortimer, now that that is cleared up, may we discuss this somewhere a bit more private than an empty classroom?”
Mortimer nodded. “Of course. I do apologize but I had to make sure about what was being brought into my office.”
Mortimer led them out of the classroom and through the halls and up another flight of stairs. Then they were guided into a spacious office covered with crystals, books, and scrolls. Mortimer gestured to two empty chairs, one of which was covered in scrolls.
“Please have a seat and tell me what has you rushing over,” Mortimer said, sitting behind his desk.
Tinle immediately sat down and began digging through a satchel he had brought while Nova carefully moved the scrolls in the remaining chair. She sat down and as soon as she did a blue water crystal and an empty mana crystal were thrust into her hand.
“Show him,” Tinle said.
Nova’s eyes widened. She looked around. “There’s no boom-I mean there’s no warding pot.”
“It’ll be fine,” Tinle assured her.
Nova nodded. She just hoped she didn’t end up blowing up the entire office. She shifted to mana sight, looking at the glow of the water crystal. She reached out, pulling the mana from it. The usual 30-second warning came up but she ignored it, instead focusing on transferring the mana to the empty crystal. The mana poured into the mana crystal, glowing steadily but not growing brighter and brighter like usual. Instead, it fell into a steady glow. She let out a sigh of relief. No explosion this time.
A screech of the chair caused her to look up. Mortimer had jumped up from his chair and was staring at Nova. “Amazing! I haven’t seen anything like it.”
Tinle grinned. “Indeed.”
“Is it limited to water crystals?” Mortimer asked.
“It isn’t. The strange thing is she has been having trouble doing natural magic. She can-“
“Wait,” Nova said, interrupting the two men. “Before we continue, I need confirmation that you won’t tell anyone about this.”
Mortimer frowned. “Why ever not?”
Nova met the man’s eyes. “Privacy.”
Mortimer shook his head. “But this could be a great discovery in Mana studies.”
Nova crossed her arms. “No.”
Mortimer ran his hands through his hair in frustration before looking at Tinle. “Say something, Horace.”
Tinle looked thoughtful and then looked at Nova. Nova’s expression was set. Tinle sighed and nodded.
“This will have to be a private matter,” Tinle reiterated.
Mortimer groaned. “How do you expect me to keep this a secret?”
Nova stood up. “I suppose we should leave then.”
Mortimer raised his hand. “Wait, wait. Okay, okay, I’ll keep it a secret, but surely we can come to some sort of an agreement.”
Nova settled back in her chair and crossed her arms. “What sort of agreement?”
“You came here for answers, correct?” Mortimer asked, smoothing down his robe as he settled back in his chair. “I will be happy to provide them and in return, all I ask is to study your use of mana and perhaps publish a few papers on the matter.” He raised his hand. “Who you are will remain anonymous of course.”
Nova squinted at Mortimer. “The deal’s benefits lean heavily to your side.”
“Knowledge cannot be quantified. It is its own reward,” Mortimer said, puffing out his chest.
“I think we should still try to quantify it anyway,” Nova said.
Mortimer glared at Tinle. “Your apprentice seems to be quite mercenary.”
Tinle grinned. “An admirable trait.”
Mortimer sighed and then sagged in his chair. “Fine, fine, what is it that you want?”
“Access to your library and any equipment that will help me to better understand my skills,” Nova said. “As well as being supplied with any equipment that will help me further develop my skills.”
Mortimer’s eyes brightened with interest. “I expected you to ask for coins.” He scratched his cheek. “Interesting. What you ask for is even more costly.”
“Knowledge is its own reward,” Nova said with a grin.
Mortimer grimaced at her. “I see you will be most difficult to work with.” He leaned back in his chair with a thoughtful expression.
Nova wondered if she pushed too far but she needed the resources the Academy could provide otherwise she might be forced to turn to Oren for help.
Mortimer drummed his fingers on his desk. “There are certain things I cannot do for you. I can provide you access to the library but there are certain sections even I don’t have clearance to. As to equipment, I will provide you with equipment as long as it is within a reasonable expenditure.”
“Define reasonable?” Nova said, looking at him doubtfully.
“I believe the cost should be equal to the benefit,” Mortimer said
“And who defines that?” Nova said.
“Well, I am an expert in my field,” Mortimer said proudly.
Nova opened her mouth to ask if he was an expert then why wasn’t he a full professor but decided that was pushing it. She didn’t know his situation and she had no desire to devalue his worth before they even started working together. Instead, she shook her head.
“We both shall decide and with Tinle as a meditator if he is willing,” Nova said.
“I’m willing,” Tinle said.
Mortimer nodded. “Acceptable but before we can go any further, we will need to do a test.”
“Test?” Nova asked, curiously.
Mortimer nodded. “I would like to do a scrying. While your use of mana is unique, I want to make sure that it will be worth the effort of studying.”
Nova could understand that. “I agree on two conditions. One, we sign a contract saying that any information from the scrying is kept private. Second, I look at the results first with the option to cancel the agreement.”
Mortimer’s eyes widened. “An interesting request.”
She knew this made her seem suspicious but she couldn’t chance it. “I am a private person. I already have other parties interested in me and I would rather not have to deal with them.”
“Other parties?” Tinle asked.
Nova hesitated. She rather not bring it up, but at the same time she wanted the men to know what they were getting into. The desire for knowledge warred with her need to be honest and not endanger the people around her.
They might be scared off if I tell them about Oren. It’s best not to tell them.
She paused, disgusted by her own thoughts. If she did that, she would be doing exactly what Mathius had done to her. She sighed and hoped she wouldn’t regret it.
“Guildmaster Oren has approached me. He is interested in my talents,” Nova said.
A dead silence fell over the room. She looked over at Tinle whose face had grown pale.
Am I about to lose my apprenticeship?
Mortimer slapped his hand on his desk. “Deal!”
She jumped at the noise and looked at Mortimer in surprise. “Deal?”
“If Guildmaster Oren is interested then there must be something to this mana of yours. That man is always stealing our best students.” There was a fire in Mortimer’s eyes as he spoke. “Shall we?”
Nova looked at Tinle who was recovering his coloring but still seemed nervous. “Mr. Tinle?”
Tinle shook his head. “It’s fine.”
Nova couldn’t help giving him a worried look but decided she would talk to him after they finished up with Mortimer.
While Mortimer wanted to hurry off to the scrying test, Nova had him make up the contract first. Unlike with the apprentice contract, Tinle signed as an official witness. She was curious about why that hadn’t been required with the apprentice contract. Tinle explained that it didn’t matter with the apprentice contract since a merchant’s reputation was all that was needed in those instances. Nova didn’t agree. It seemed like a system set up to take advantage of apprentices. Fortunately, Tinle didn’t seem the type to abuse a contract so she considered herself lucky.
Eventually, they finished up and Mortimer led them back downstairs and to the front desk where he requested access to the scrying room. Once approved, they were led down another hall and into a large room. The room had no windows and was completely black and as Nova watched, stars appeared upon the walls, like she was standing in a planetarium. It was beautiful.
In the center of the room was a platform. Mortimer approached it and put his hand down. A blue screen popped up and he tapped a few things on it. It looked more futuristic than what she imagined a fantasy world would have installed. It threw her off.
Mortimer turned to her, waving her over. Nova joined him on the platform and realized that the object he had rested his hand on was a book. It was similar to the book she had seen at the front desk.
“You place your hand here and it will scry your information. Once you are ready to show your information just tap the screen. If you decide you wish not to share it, remove your hand when you are done.”
Nova frowned. “Will it record it and share it with the other knowledge books?”
Mortimer shook his head. “Usually, but I have told it not to do so.”
Nova nodded and turned to the platform. Mortimer lingered but when Tinle cleared his throat, Mortimer huffed and stepped back, joining Tinle near the door. Nova was nervous. She didn’t think she should be since she had already seen her information but she was. If the scrying showed her as a Soul Traveler, then she wouldn’t be able to share the information with Mortimer and she would lose access to the resources the Academy could provide.
I could always chance it.
She wasn’t sure. It depended on just how serious the crime of being a Soul Traveler was. Would she be immediately turned over to the Fixers? On top of that, it could be dangerous for Mathius as well. She decided to see what showed on the screen first and then make her decision.
She touched the book. Automatically, she shifted to mana sight. Orange threads spread over her fingers but with them was a mixture of white and purple threads.
The screen in front of her flashed.
[Name:] Nova Davis
A wave of relief went through Nova when she saw there was no mention of her classes. It looked like the scrying tool only focused on mana. Still, she was fascinated by the long list of mana she had. She looked it over, trying to see if there was anything that might get her in trouble but in the end, she didn’t know enough about mana to tell.
Let’s go for it.
She pushed the screen and one part of the starry wall turned blue, reflecting her screen. She looked at it before turning to look at Tinle and Mortimer. Both men were staring at the screen with wide eyes.
“By the gods,” Mortimer breathed out.
Nova was surprised at the shocked look on Tinle’s face. He was shaking his head in disbelief. It was then she realized the scrying ball didn’t have as many colors as the number of mana types on her screen.
Mortimer turned to her. “What are you?”
Nova wondered if she had just messed up.
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