Mathius moved to Nova’s side. “Are you alright?”
Nova gaped at Mathius. “No, I’m not alright. Oren and his entire guild just made a bunch of monsters dissolve.”
“Yeah,” Mathius said, looking around uneasily. “We probably shouldn’t talk about that.”
Nova blinked. “What?”
Mathius shook his head. “After a few disappearances, people decided it’s best to not talk about what you see around the Sanitation Guild.”
Nova’s lips tightened. She looked around her, seeing several of the Sanitation Guild members pocketing their black crystals, some of them having them fitted into bracelets and necklaces. The guards were still pointedly not looking at them as if they ignored them, they wouldn’t have to deal with a similar fate.
“Have they made people disappear just for talking about it?” Nova asked, incredulously.
“There are rumors though I don’t know for sure. Most people don’t want to take the chance,” Mathius said. “After all, what can you do against someone who can literally make you disappear?”
Nova wasn’t sure what to say about that. She could admit it was pretty damn terrifying. Then she realized that she had seen those black threads before. They were the same ones the golem had attacked her with. Black threads that could make her disappear. Vaguely, she wondered if Oren was connected to the gods who tried to remove her from existence but that didn’t make sense. If there was a connection, Oren would be trying to erase her, not recruit her.
“Nova, Mathius. Please come along,” Oren said. “I have a job for you both.”
Mathius gave Nova a worried look.
Nova sighed but she squared her shoulders and made her way over to Oren. He stood with Olivia who was bent over, trying to catch her breath.
“What a frightening experience,” Olivia said, her hand fluttering to her chest.
“In more ways than one,” Nova said, glancing at Oren.
Oren only looked amused at her words.
“Thank you for saving me, Guildmaster Oren. Though I think in the future perhaps I could be assigned a guard?”
“Of course,” Oren said and waved his hand.
A moment later, Kellston came over. He immediately bowed to Olivia.
“My apologies, Professor Melio. One of my men let the creature slip past him. I will have him punished for the failure.”
Olivia shook her head. “That’s not necessary. Everything turned out fine and I had the lovely experience of seeing the Guildmaster in action. I must admit it was worth being chased by a monster.”
Kellston’s jaw twitched.
“Kellston, please assign a guild member to protect the professor. I wouldn’t want any more accidents.”
“Of course, Guildmaster,” Kellston said stiffly.
“And I would like you to personally stay with Nova and Mathius. They are my precious partners and this place is quite dangerous.”
“That isn’t necessary,” Nova said quickly. She didn’t want to have Kellston on her back, especially because she was interested in checking out the Core room.
“We can handle things on our own,” Mathius chimed in.
“I must insist,” Oren said with a smile. “Your last visit down here made it clear that protection is exactly what you need.” Oren looked thoughtful. “Though I suppose I can assign Korn to you since you are familiar with him.”
Nova hesitated but that option seemed better. At least Korn seemed more likely to bend the rules.
“I guess,” Nova said reluctantly.
Oren nodded. “Please bring Korn over, Kellston.”
Kellston nodded and then walked away.
“What exactly do you want us to do?” Mathius asked.
“Ah, yes. Professor Melio, if you could please.”
Olivia grabbed her satchel, opening it and pulling out multiple scrolls. She handed one to Mathius and one to Nova. “This is a preliminary map of the area. I heard you are a cartographer, Mister Crux?”
Mathius perked up at that. “I am.”
“Wonderful! Then you will be in charge of helping to map the area. We want to make sure we’re not missing any spaces that might be useful later. It’ll also help the construction workers to have an idea before they send in their own surveyors.”
Mathius nodded and there was a hint of excitement in his eyes. Nova realized though Mathius had mentioned being a cartographer when she first met him, she hadn’t actually seen him do anything with mapmaking besides his unusual knack for moving around in the tunnels.
“Now for you, Miss Davis.” She held out a scroll. “You have Mana Sight, correct?”
“Yes,” Nova said.
“Then you’ll be helping me pick out unusual mana signatures. While mana crystals are interesting, a true artifact will have no crystal embedded in it but still give off a strong mana signature. You’ll be pointing out anything like that.”
“But she can only see wind mana,” Mathius said quickly.
Nova blinked and then realized she had completely forgotten that people could only see mana threads of the mana they are attuned to.
“Only wind?” Olivia asked, confused, and looked at Oren.
A hint of annoyance flashed across Oren’s face before it cleared and he shrugged. “Ah, I must have forgotten.”
He was trying to trick me! And I was about to walk right into his trap.
She would have to thank Mathius later for saving her. She smiled at Olivia. “Sorry, it doesn’t sound like I would be much help.”
“Nonsense!” Olivia took Nova’s hand, patting it. “Wind artifacts exist as much as any type.” She let Nova’s hand go. “Though we might need to invest in a team, Guildmaster Oren. It’ll be more efficient to have someone of as many different attunements as we can to help point out artifacts of varying types.”
“What type do you have?” Nova asked, curiously.
“Water attunement,” Olivia said. “But I have a little extra to help me.”
“Extra?” Nova asked.
Olivia seemed to have been waiting for her to ask that. “I have Mana sense! It’s an evolved form of mana sight. The evolution allows a person to sense mana outside their own attunement. Of course, it has its limitations. It isn’t as accurate as Mana sight is hence why it’s better to have people with the mana attunement but it will work in a pinch.”
Nova hesitated. She also had mana sense but she wasn’t sure if she should bring it up. It might be great as a trump card, but if she did bring it up now it might throw Oren off her scent. It would explain why she could have one attunement instead of several. She made her decision. Oren knew too much about her. If she could misdirect him at all, that would be for the best.
“I also have mana sense,” Nova said. “I think it’s why I was apprenticed as a crystal crafter despite having only a wind attunement.” She purposely didn’t look at Oren, hoping she wasn’t laying it on too thick.
Olivia at least was ecstatic. “Wonderful! Then Guildmaster Oren was right in picking you for this task. There are only so many people with the mana sense evolution. I’ve been trying to get funding to start a study into the field actually.”
“Are we just going to sit here gabbing all day?” a familiar voice said.
Nova turned to see that Kellston had returned with Korn and another guard.
“Despite my pupil’s rude words.” Oren gave Korn a disapproving look. “I do believe we should get started. The sooner we confirm the areas, the sooner we can get construction started.”
After that, they huddled together deciding on their course of action. They decided to look through the center crater and then move on to the left side. The right side was saved for last since it was the side whose structure was still standing and therefore probably had more that could be salvaged.
Starting with the center area didn’t help much. It was mostly a crater. Still, there was plenty of debris to shift through. Korn and the guard assigned to Olivia, Bear, help move any debris. It was all pretty monotonous but they had found a few broken mana crystals which they collected and stuffed away in bags.
The real treat came when Mathius did what he called his map shaping. Nova wasn’t sure what to expect as she and Olivia stood back. Mathius placed his hand on the ground and as he did something she had never seen before happened. Mathius began to glow. Sure, she had seen threads glowing before but she wasn’t using her mana sight but she could still see a purple glow surrounding him.
Is it because of mana sense that I can see it?
She quickly brought up the skill.
[Mana Sense (Evolved)]
-Allows the user to see mana directed at them. (Mana Sight)
-Allows the user to actively focus on mana in a single object or person.
-Allows the user to sense mana in a 1-meter radius around them. (Mana Touch unlocked)
She closed the window and frowned. The description didn’t explain why she could see the mana around Mathius. But Mathius wasn’t finished. Suddenly, the purple glow spread out, seeping into the ground, and then it began to rise up from the ground, surrounding them.
Nova whirled around as glowing purple structures formed and suddenly, she was looking at a translucent version of the Explorer’s guild as it once had been. Nova took it all in, fascinated.
“What a wondrous ability!” Olivia’s voice chimed in as the woman rushed to Mathius’s side. “You must join the Academy! Honestly, I can’t imagine why you haven’t been recruited already.”
Mathius smiled at the woman and then shook his head. “I can’t. I’m a Crux, remember?”
Olivia frowned. “Certainly, an exception could be made. Your mana pool alone is enough to get you in, on top of royalty mana.”
Mathius simply shook his head and pulled his hand away. “No thanks.” He then trotted over to Nova. Nova was a little perplexed and worried.
“Should you have done that?” She whispered to him. “Oren will-“
“He already knows,” Mathius cut in. “Why else do you think he has been trying to get me to join his guild?” He pulled out the scroll and began to write on it.
Nova watched as he scribbled down the mana of the area as well as an image of the structure that used to stand there. “I think this was an entrance hall as well as a cafeteria behind it,” Mathius said pointing at a floor plan. I also believe this used to be rooms where guild members slept.”
“This really is amazing,” Nova said with a shake of her head. “I’m sort of with Professor Melio on this. Why aren’t you with the Academy?” She had seen how excited Mortimer had gotten and the explanation about royal mana she had read meant that his power was a rare one to boot.
Mathius stared down at the scroll. “I’m a Crux. I’m banned from the Academy.” He looked up. “We should go to the next section.”
He walked away before Nova could ask anything else. Nova watched him go and as she did, she realized she really didn’t know much about Mathius. What did it mean to be a Crux? Why was he banned from the Academy? At that moment, Nova began to understand a little more about why Mathius was so desperate to get out of Hayeln.
She didn’t like how he used her and forced her into this situation but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t help him. And perhaps it was time for her to take some time to get to know Mathius a little better.
“You coming? Or are you just going to stand there staring off?” Korn asked gruffly.
Nova rolled her eyes and then reached over and ruffled Korn’s hair. He swatted her hand away before following into step with her.
“I see that creature isn’t with you,” Korn said.
Nova nodded. “I was a little surprised but I guess you scared her off.” She had expected Trixie to be here, honestly, but when she woke up this morning the demon was nowhere to be seen.
“Good,” Korn said. “You should be careful of that thing just as much as the other one.”
She figured by the other one he was referring to their previous conversation about Oren and the Sanitation guild. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You should. There’s a lot of dangerous stuff sniffing around you.”
Nova grinned and slung an arm around Korn. “Then I’m lucky to have you around to protect me.”
“Ugh,” Korn said and pushed her arm off, and trotted ahead.
Nova chuckled but Korn’s words turned over in her mind. When he said dangerous stuff did, he just mean Oren and Trixie, or was there something else? Nova looked around her and shuddered. Since they cleared out the monsters, she had relaxed a little, but the anxiety came back. Cold dread filled her stomach. Everywhere she went danger lurked around the corner. Nova hurried to catch up with the others.
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