For the next few days, Nova’s entire purpose was preparing for the journey to the ruins. Unfortunately, wanting to prepare and actually having time to was another issue altogether. She was running around doing errands for Oren. He had them check in with suppliers, rework contracts, check on stocks, and pretty much any sort of busy work Oren could find for them.
By the end of the day, she was exhausted but she still forced herself to go to weapon practice with Helena. She hadn’t contacted Jace and Miko in days and a wave of guilt went through her. She barely checked on Briney these days, leaving it to Helena who had taken charge of feeding him during her rounds. Late at night, after practice, she squeezed in reading the books Mortimer lent her. A burning desire to learn and somehow get stronger coursed through her and she found herself waking up most mornings with a book on her face.
Still, she couldn’t stop. There was so much she had to do and her time was quickly running out. In two days, she would be back down in the ruins, facing the monsters that had almost killed her.
Her head jerked up. “What?”
Helena frowned at her. “I asked if you were ready.”
“Oh, yes. Yes, I’m ready,” Nova said, holding out her sword. The sword was the same wooden sword she had been using for practice. She looked at it with a frown. “Can we switch to using real swords?”
“No,” Helena said firmly. “You’re not ready.”
Nova’s face twisted up in annoyance. “I’m trying to be. I can’t use a wooden sword to fight.”
Helena narrowed her eyes. “And who exactly are you going to fight?”
Nova let out an exasperated huff. “The monsters in the ruins. You already know this, Helena.”
“No, I don’t.” Helena tossed the wooden sword to the side and crossed her arms. “What I know is that the Sanitation Guild and several city guards are going to clear out the monsters while you and Mathius go along to help Guildmaster Oren figure out how to get the Explorer’s Guild back running. None of that entails you fighting monsters.”
Nova chewed on her lip. What Helena said was right. Their deal with Oren was that he would clear the monsters out but… what if they miss? What if she went down there and they were overrun? What if they did kill the monsters but some broke through and she didn’t have a weapon?
A flash of teeth racking down her arm flashed in her mind. She could feel the teeth ripping into her skin. The sound of dripping blood sliding over her body.
Nova blinked and Helena was in front of her.
“Breathe,” Helena said.
It was only then that Nova realized she was bent over and gasping for air. Helena’s arm was around her shoulders and she kept repeating, ‘Breathe, breathe,’ over and over. Nova sucked in a breath and started choking. Helena patted her back.
“Take it slow.”
Nova took in another breath, slower this time. In and out, in and out. Her breathing evened out. And she straightened up. She looked at Helena and felt her cheeks heat up in embarrassment at how she acted. She pulled away.
“Sorry. I don’t know why that happened,” Nova said.
“I do,” Helena said, her face serious. “I’ve seen it in the past with another guard. You’re pushing too hard, Nova. Maybe you shouldn’t go into the ruins, at least not until you get better.”
Nova shook her head. “That’s not an option. I have to go.”
“Why?” Helena said. “It’s clear you don’t want to go down there.”
Nova didn’t answer. Explaining would mean bringing up the Summoner’s Deal and the magic contract. Helena already knew about the deal she had with Mathius but she simply thought it was a regular contract. The silence stretched on.
“You and Mathius have too many secrets,” Helena said bitterly.
A wave of guilt went through Nova. She had hated when Mathius kept things from her but here she was, doing the same to Helena.
“I want to tell you,” Nova said. “But it’s dangerous if I do.”
“And you don’t trust me,” Helena said.
“I trust you,” Nova said quickly. “It’s just more complicated than that.”
Helena looked at her doubtfully and then turned away.
Nova watched her go, feeling like crap.
“You coming?” Helena called over her shoulder.
Nova perked up and hurried after Helena. She led Nova through a small entrance area she had never entered before but knew what it was. It was the barracks. The place was off-limits to civilians but the guards were pretty lax on enforcing it. Many guards brought their friends or people they wanted to impress to visit. As they walked inside, Nova noticed one guard with two giggling females who promptly disappeared into a room together.
“Watch out for Burke. That one can charm the fur off a cat,” Helena said as she walked past the rooms and then stopped at a door at the end of the hall. She pulled out a key and opened it, leading them inside.
Nova’s eyes widened as she looked around the room. There were weapons everywhere. Some hung on the wall with care while others were clustered together in piles on the floor.
“Is this an armory?” Nova asked in wonder.
Helena laughed. “No. The armory is in the tower proper. This is for the practice weapons.” Helena walked around. “Most are donations but were too poor to be used on duty. ” She nodded to the piles. “Those ones are broken and need to be sorted to see if they can be repaired or if they should be scrapped.”
Nova looked at the pile. She wondered if she might be able to use the items to practice her artifact skills. Of course, that meant explaining to Helena that she was an Artifactor, something she wasn’t opposed to but the fewer people who knew the better. She didn’t want to get her pulled into things with Oren more than she already had.
“Well go on and pick something,” Helena said.
Nova blinked. “What?”
“Not from the broken pile but the rest should be good enough. Not the best but good enough.”
Nova was shocked. Honestly, she thought Helena had brushed off her concerns but here she was trying to help her even if she didn’t agree with it. Before Nova could think better of it, she rushed over and hugged the woman.
Helena stiffened and then relaxed with a laugh. She patted Nova’s back. “I get it. I understand what it’s like to be scared.”
Nova pulled away. “Thank you.”
Helena shrugged. “We’re friends. Of course, I’m going to help you out.” She nodded to the weapons. “Now go on, though I really think you should go with something a little less lethal than a sword.”
“Lethal is sort of what I need,” Nova said, frowning.
“I know but with your…you, know. You’re more likely to hurt yourself instead of the monsters.” She nodded. “There are weapons there that could do damage without hurting you in the process.”
Nova wanted to protest but she stopped herself. Helena was doing her a favor so she would take it and go from there. She didn’t have to agree with her. Nova turned and walked further into the room. Her attention slid over the weapons on the wall.
Strangely enough, most were spears and axes. Followed closely by daggers and bows. The bows looked especially old like they hadn’t been used in years. She wondered if that had anything to do with the city being trapped behind the wall. There didn’t seem to be many areas where people could use a bow and arrow and she wasn’t sure if hunting was big. From what she saw most of the meat came from cattle and fish.
She looked down and she noticed several staffs, most were gnarled but a few had been sanded down. Her gaze lingered on them before her attention drifted to the swords. There were only three of them. Two were short swords and one a long sword. They were plain and worn, the blades weren’t even sharp. They definitely weren’t high quality but a sword was a sword.
Her attention shifted back to the staffs. There was a bigger variety of staffs and it reminded her of a video she watched of a guy using a staff to do all sorts of tricks. For a moment, she stood there, undecided. She felt the sword would make her feel safer but at the same time she knew Helena would rather she didn’t go for it. She wasn’t completely against a staff and she was curious.
She shook her head and then she turned to the staff. Most of them were too big for her but there were two around her height. She went for a dark brown one that looked a little less worn. Behind her, Helena let out a visible sigh of relief. Nova just hoped she wasn’t making a mistake. She walked over to Helena.
“So, how do I use this thing?” she asked.
Helena smiled brightly at her. “I’ll show you.”
She grabbed a staff and then led her out of the room. As they made their way back, Nova looked at the woman. “Do the guards know how to use all the weapons in there?”
Helena flushed and shook her head. “No. I just like weapons. I’ve used every type of weapon in the practice room at least once. Not good at them all but I can at least show you the basics. Mostly, my focus is on my mace and sword.”
She’s a weapon fanatic. Guess that’s lucky for me.
Nova chuckled. And they were on the training field and Helena was showing her the basic grips. The first one was holding the staff in thirds with one palm facing up and the other down. Once she was confident in that, Helena showed her some basic strikes, moving from an overhead strike then a front thrust.
One-by-one they moved from one strike to the next and from one grip to the next. It was tedious but Nova made sure not to lose focus. After going through more grips and stances, they finally got around to facing each other. It wasn’t a real fight, just moving in strikes and blocks.
“I want you to get comfortable with it,” Helena said. “And remember your staff is just one tool. You have your fists, your legs, your feet, and even your head. You are the weapon.”
Nova nodded and quickly raised her staff up to block an overhead front strike from Helena. Her arms vibrated with the force even though she was sure Helena was holding back.
A trickle of doubt went through her. “Maybe I should stick to the sword. I doubt I’ll be able to use the staff well enough to fight off monsters.”
“You won’t be,” Helena said. “But that goes the same for the sword.”
Nova bristled at that. “Then what was the point of having me grab a staff?”
“Nova, do you honestly think you were going to know how to use any weapon in a couple of weeks, let alone days?” She gave Nova a stern look. “People take years to get good at weaponry. You are just starting.”
Nova felt a well of panic slide up her throat. “So, you think it’s hopeless?”
“I think you should leave it to the Sanitation Guild and the guards to take care of the monsters,” Helena said firmly, then her expression grew gentle. “But I understand about wanting to protect yourself. So this,” she nodded at the staff, “is a fighting chance.”
Nova turned over Helena’s words. She didn’t like it but she had to admit the woman was right. She had hoped to be some sort of weapon prodigy but she wasn’t. Even her class was non-combative. That didn’t mean she couldn’t learn to fight. It just would take time.
“Is there any way to protect myself down there?” Nova asked, her voice desperate.
Helena studied her and then nodded. “I can’t give you any guarantees, but I can at least show you a move to help give you an opportunity to get away.”
“Thank you,” Nova said, relieved.
Helena started to demonstrate. She raised the staff up, bringing it down in an overhead strike. As the strike went down, the back of the staff shifted to hit the side. She ended the attack with a sharp thrust. She showed it a couple of times, signaling Nova to follow her movement.
Nova tried to mimic her but her hands felt clumsy. It took her several tries before she managed to eventually get a feel for it.
Helena then repeated the attack but sped it up. It was a blur of motion that frankly looked cool.
“Try it on me,” Helena said. “Slow at first.”
Nova swallowed and walked toward Helena, standing in front of her. “You sure I won’t hurt you?”
Helena grinned. “You won’t but do move slowly just in case.”
Nova nodded and she swung down with the staff and then tried to swing to the side and instantly fumbled, dropping the staff.
“Try again,” Helena said.
Nova quickly picked up her staff and she did an overhead strike, aiming for Helena’s shoulder, she then turned the staff so the back of the staff moved in to swing at the side to hit Helena’s ribs. The strike was clumsy but she didn’t fumble this time.
“Good, remember, you’re using the entire weapon, not just the front. Now try that again, this time a little faster.”
For the remainder of the night, they went back and forth until Helena called it quits. They headed back to the Caverns. The whole walk there, Nova couldn’t help feeling she should be training.
“Nova, don’t push yourself too hard,” Helena said as if she could read her thoughts.
“I have to. I don’t have a choice,” Nova said, stubbornly, trying to ignore how her entire body ached.
Helena frowned. “I understand this feels urgent but it’s just as dangerous to overextend yourself.”
Nova didn’t say anything. She was too tired to argue with Helena and she didn’t want to come off as ungrateful. The silence stretched on and Helena sighed.
“Just take care of yourself.”
“I will,” Nova said.
By getting stronger.
Once they arrived back, they both went to their rooms to sleep. Nova lay in her bed, her mind racing, searching for a way to be stronger when it suddenly hit her. She had the answer right in front of her.
She pulled up her system and looked at her stats.
[Name:] Nova Davis
[Level:] 1 (repairing)
[Mana Agility:] 4
[Mana Pool:] 450 (-50)
[DXP:] 5 [SP:] 3
[Unique Class:] Soul Traveler (repairing)
[Secondary Class:] Artifactor (repairing)
-Mana Sense [Evolved]
Summoner’s Deal – Stage 1 Quest
Demon Bond – Trixie
Nova looked at the stats. For a moment she hesitated, and then she quickly dumped her remaining skill points into strength bringing it up to 7. She still had the 5 DXP which she could always convert into SP but she held back. The 5-to-1 conversion didn’t seem worth it. She looked at her alignment.
The user’s strength potential.
She was pleasantly surprised that her strength alignment went from 3 to 4. She would have to work hard to get the alignment to 7 by the time she went to the ruins. There was so much to do.
“It’ll be okay,” she said softly to herself. She just wished she could believe it.
I hope you’re enjoying my fantasy LitRPG webnovel. Check out my patreon to read ahead.