It was the night before they were to go to the ruins. Nova had spent the whole day practicing with her staff until finally, Helena had forced her to stop.
“All this practice isn’t going to matter if your arms are too sore to lift your staff,” Helena scolded.
Nova reluctantly complied and they both made their way to the dock. As soon as they reached it, Helena patted the ground. Nova sat down beside her.
“Something wrong?” Nova asked.
“I thought we could sit and rest a while,” Helena said and took a deep breath. “I’ve always found the water calming.”
Nova looked out at the lake but instead of feeling calm, all she could think about is everything she had done in the last week and how it felt like not nearly enough. She had finally gotten around to buying a bag. In it, she had stuffed bandages, some salves, needle and thread, soap, and a canteen of water. Basically, a sort of homemade med kit. She had checked in with the local healers in hopes of finding healing potions but discovered that while healing potions did exist, the ingredients were hard to come by and since Hayeln was trapped behind a magic wall it wasn’t something they could go and gather.
Besides that, she had a pouch filled with shards specifically for use as mini-bombs. She wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to possibly use them after last time, but it was her ‘get out of jail free’ card. She was hoping it wouldn’t come to that and her staff would be enough.
Cold water hit Nova in the face. She jerked to her feet. “What the hell?”
Helena was laughing beside her while Briney, who was even bigger than the last time she saw him, was waving his tentacles at her.
Nova wiped the water from her face. “Really?”
“He was just trying to get your attention,” Helena said as her laughter died down.
“There are better ways to do that,” Nova said as she glared at Briney.
The kraken let out a warble that sounded closer to a roar. Nova looked around her but the pier was empty. Nova shook her head and then moved closer to the kraken. Briney stuck his head out of the water. Briney was as big as a small truck. She honestly was surprised he managed to still hide in the water. She wondered how deep the lake was. Nova reached out and gently patted his head.
“How are you doing, Briney? I’m sorry I have to leave you in the lake all the time.”
Briney let out a cheerful chirp, obviously not upset about the arrangement. Nova smiled and reached down to scratch around Briney’s beak.
“Thanks, Briney.” Nova hesitated and glanced over at Helena. Helena had done a lot for her so maybe she could give her a bit more trust. She turned to the guard. “Helena, I want to introduce you to someone.”
“Kind of late at night to go visiting people, isn’t it?” Helena asked, curious.
Nova smiled. “Wait here.”
She gestured for Briney to follow her. When she felt like they were out of earshot, she turned to Briney. “Can you contact Jace?”
Briney let out a chirp and then a moment later she felt something touch her. It was a new sensation and she jerked at the touch. Then she could hear a voice ring out.
“Nova! Are you okay?”
Nova winced. “Yes, I’m okay. Sorry, it’s been a while since I last contacted you.”
“I was getting worried. That last time you didn’t contact us you had nearly died,” Jace said.
“Yeah,” Nova said. “I’ve been busy preparing.”
“For what?” Jace asked.
“Tomorrow, we go back to the ruins,” Nova said flatly.
Jace grew quiet. “Are you going to be alright?”
“I have to be, don’t I?” Nova said, with a bitter laugh.
Jace didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. They had already talked about what happened and why Mathius wanted to get the Explorer’s Guild running. Jace wasn’t too pleased about her going back down.
“I know you don’t want to go down there, and you shouldn’t have to, but it’s possible this could work.”
Nova frowned. “What makes you say that? You never mentioned that before.”
Jace’s voice became hesitant. “There’s a lot of things that are a bit fuzzy for me. Sometimes I have to piece the memories together.”
Nova grew quiet. “I didn’t know that.”
Jace laughed. “I’m a man of mystery, lass. I can’t just be telling you everything about me.” He paused. “But the Explorer’s Guild had waypoints. I can’t quite remember how they work but they might be able to get you out of that prison you’re in. Can’t be sure so don’t get your hopes up.”
Nova had a mixture of feelings about the new information. It meant that Mathius might have been right that the Explorer’s Guild was the key to getting out of Hayeln. Did that change things? She mentally shook the thoughts away.
“There is something else I wanted to talk to you about,” Nova said, glancing over to where Helena stood waiting. “I wanted to introduce you to a friend. She’s been helping me out a lot and Briney likes her. I’m hoping if something happens to me, she could contact you.”
“You trust her that much?” Jace asked, a little surprised.
“Yes, maybe. She’s a good person but she doesn’t know what I am.” She swallowed. “She also works as a guard.”
Jace started laughing. “Are you kidding? You want to trust a guard with your secret? What if she turns you in?”
“Well, I don’t plan to tell her about the whole Soul Traveler bit, at least not yet. I figure this would be a way to get a feel for her.”
“I can’t say I think this is the smartest idea of yours,” Jace said. He paused and then sighed. “If you want to do it, go ahead, just be aware you’re taking a big risk.”
“I know,” Nova said and she felt her stomach twist up. “But I have to start trusting someone, right? She’s been a good friend and I rather not keep secrets from her.”
“Everyone has secrets,” Jace said.
Nova didn’t respond to that. Instead, she turned to Helena and waved her over. Helena had been watching and jogged over with a deeply curious look on her face.
“Nova, what’s going on?”
“I would like you to meet Jace,” Nova said and gestured to Briney.
“Nice to meet you, darling,” Jace’s voice floated up from the kraken.
Helena’s eyes bugged out. “What? Is Briney talking? You can talk, Briney?”
Nova couldn’t help grinning. “Briney is Jace’s pet.”
Briney let out a squawk.
“Not a pet. He’s my partner in all things nefarious,” Jace said. “We go a long way back.”
Briney let out a pleased chirp.
Helena raised her eyebrow. “So, you’re talking through Briney?”
“That’s right,” Nova said.
“You’re not some sort of demon, are you?” Helena squinted. “They’re known to possess things.”
“Despite my devilish good looks, I have nothing to do with the like,” Jace said.
“Then how can you talk through him,” Helena asked.
“I’m a beastmaster,” Jace said. “Since we’re bonded, I can talk through him.”
Nova blinked, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”
“You never asked,” Jace said simply.
Nova couldn’t help feeling a little bad. She really hadn’t asked Jace about himself beyond their initial conversation. She couldn’t help wondering if she had done the same with anyone else. She asked a few questions but she hadn’t really talked to Mathius or even Helena about themselves. She had been caught up in her own issues that it just never occurred to her.
“Sorry,” Nova said.
“Don’t worry about it, lass,” Jace said. “You had a heap of trouble in your lap. You focused on what needed your attention.”
“Trouble?” Helena asked.
“The whole Sanitation Guild business,” Jace said smoothly.
“Yeah,” Helena scowled. “I can’t say I’m too happy she’s involved with them.”
After that, Helena continued talking to Jace, slipping in probing questions. Luckily, Jace managed to deflect most of them and eventually the conversation petered out.
“It’s getting late. We should get going,” Helena said.
“It has been a true delight talking with you, Helena. I look forward to the next time we meet,” Jace said.
Helena laughed. “I bet you do.”
“You can’t blame me, can you?” Jace said.
Are they flirting?
“I need to talk to Jace for a second?” Nova said.
Helena nodded and walked further down the pier, giving them some space.
“That’s a good-looking woman,” Jace said.
Nova rolled her eyes. “How would you even know that?”
“I took a peek,” Jace said and she could almost see the leer in this voice.
“Well, if you’re done. I just wanted to say I’m probably going to just check in with you once a week going forward, more if I’m able. Sorry I keep disappearing on you.”
“It’s fine,” Jace said. “I think it’s Miko who worries the most.”
Nova bit her lip. “Can I speak with her?”
A few minutes later, Miko came on the line. “Nova?”
“Hey, Miko. I’m so sorry I haven’t been in contact.”
“It’s okay,” the girl said but her tone said differently.
“Things have been a little crazy here and they might get crazier so I can’t call as much as I want,” Nova explained. “I’ll try to check in weekly though.”
“Are you alright?” Miko asked.
“Yes, it’s just getting really busy around here with the Explorer’s Guild. I’m hoping once I get this taken care of, I can find a way to get you out of the Paths.”
“Okay,” Miko said with hesitant enthusiasm. “Just be careful. I don’t want you to get hurt helping me.”
“I’ll be careful,” Nova said. “Now I have to go for now. But we’ll talk again soon.”
After that she said her goodbyes and gave some scratches to Briney, she hurried over to Helena.
“So, how do you know Jace?” Helena asked as they began walking back to the Caverns.
“We met accidentally. After that, he sent me Briney to help look out for me,” Nova said.
“Are you two…”
Nova waited for her to finish her sentence. When Helena gave her a questioning look instead, Nova frowned in confusion. For a moment an awkward silence laid between them before it dawned on her what Helena was trying to ask. “No. Absolutely not.”
Helena laughed. “Just checking. For a while, I thought it was you and Mathius.”
Nova shook her head. “Again, that’s a no. I haven’t really thought about things like that. Been too busy.”
Helena shrugged. “I can understand that. My parents are always on my case to get married and have kids. I think they are hoping that if I settle down, I will retire from the guard.”
“They don’t approve?” Nova asked, curious.
“It’s not that. They think it’s good work. They just worry I’ll get hurt one of these days.” Helena shrugged. “I can’t blame them. Though we don’t have many problems with attacks, every once in a while, someone doesn’t make it home.” Her brow furrowed at her words and she shook her head. “But it’s part of the job. I knew what I was getting into.”
“Do you want to get married?” Nova asked, curious.
“One day. Children too, but maybe when I’ve gone higher in the ranks. That’s my focus right now.”
A little while later, they reached the Caverns and settled into their rooms for the night. Nova couldn’t manage to fall asleep so her attention turned to the mana books she had. She had been reading over the different mana types or attunements as the book called it.
There were nine recognized mana types and each was tied to a color:
Emotions – Light red, which she assumed meant pink.
Fire – Red
Knowledge – Orange
Life – Green
Nature – Brown
Royal – Purple
Water – Blue
Wind – Yellow
Void – Black
The book gave a short description of each attunement and its rarity. The most common ones were Wind, Nature, Fire, and Water. At least that was before the wall appeared around Hayeln. Now Wind was the only common one in Hayeln. Due to this, most of the information about the other types wasn’t as detailed as the information about Wind mana. Only Knowledge had close to the same amount of information and this was due to one of the Elders of the Academy having Knowledge attunement mana.
There was almost no information about Emotion and only a few lines about Void. Life had a few pages but it was mostly theories on how it worked. What Nova did gather was that Life attunement types tended to have healing abilities but were extremely rare. When they did show up, they were often immediately conscripted to a noble or royal. Though, there had been no healers in Hayeln for several decades.
What Nova found most helpful was the section about people with multiple attunements. The highest recorded number of attunements in a single person was three. These people tended to suffer from what was called Mana Immersion. It was a sickness that could happen to anyone with mana but seemed to show up with greater frequency with people who have multiple attunements.
“A sickness where the user becomes a slave to their mana. They lose consciousness of everything besides doing the tasks their mana desires,” Nova read aloud. She frowned and re-read the words before closing the book. “So, another thing I need to worry about.”
Still, she hadn’t felt her mana taking her over. “And isn’t that a scary thought? It’s like the mana is alive.”
Nova set the book down and rolled on her side. She had enough to think about that she didn’t need to worry about magical illnesses on top of things. Even so, she decided to talk to Mathius about it when she got the chance. With chaotic thoughts of monsters and magical sicknesses dancing in her mind, Nova fell into a fitful sleep.
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