To Nova’s surprise, Helena had heard about the Guardian. She was also known as the Wandering God. The story Helena told her was about a god who traveled through worlds searching for something. What she was searching for no one knew. Nova wondered if the goddess was directly tied to Soul Travelers. It gave her a lot to think about. This journey of the weaver hadn’t been explained to her and she still wasn’t sure why the goddess had shown up all of a sudden. Was she connected to the system or was she just using it? Nova was leaning towards the goddess just using it since the way she had spoken had been completely different from how the System phrased things when it relayed information.
I feel like the deeper I get into my System and the world, the more questions I have.
Nova wanted to dig through them all but right now her goal was trying to get through a day in the ruins. She still felt anxious going down there but seeing the guards wipe out the flesh sethers so easily had made her a little less fearful. Still, she wasn’t exactly comfortable. Despite that, she found it exciting to go through the ruin.
She had always enjoyed Anthropology in school and diving into the ruins felt like going on an archeology expedition. No, the issue was her guard.
Korn wasn’t with Nova today. Instead, Kellston had been assigned to Nova. Something that had surprised her since Oren seemed to have the man running most of the guild. For him to be her personal guard seemed a waste of resources.
“Why did Guildmaster Oren assign you to me?” Nova asked as they went further into the ruins.
Kellston turned to her. The glow coming from the Cradle tree’s fruit slid over his face. It made it almost doll-like. The more she looked at the man’s eyes the more they felt unnatural. On top of that, the man rarely blinked. When he did, it was like it was an afterthought.
“Korn was assigned with a group to dive deeper into the dungeon. We need to understand how bad the monster infestation has grown,” Kellston stated.
Nova was a little surprised he explained even that much to her. She expected him to ignore her question. Oren and his people hadn’t been very forthcoming in the past.
“How dreadful,” Olivia said, looking behind a large chunk of debris to an empty candle holder. “Do you think it will be a problem?”
“Nothing we can’t handle,” Kellston said in a clipped tone.
Olivia shuddered. “But it must be dangerous. Most likely the Explorer’s Guild cleared out the dungeon. For it to be sitting for over a century without proper clearing. There must be all sorts of monsters creeping inside.”
“Very likely,” Kellston said, seemingly undisturbed by the idea.
Nova wished she could say the same. Just the thought of monsters possibly even worse than the flesh sethers made her clutch her staff tighter.
“Have you sensed anything in this room?” Mathius cut in.
“Oh! We certainly have been distracted, haven’t we?” Olivia said cheerfully before closing her eyes and tilting her head.
Unlike Nova, Olivia’s mana sense focused on hearing. She could hear different mana. Nova found it fascinating. She wondered if that meant the mana sense could be expanded to all the senses. She wanted to try it but with so many other things taking her attention as well as Kellston watching her like a hawk, she decided to instead focus on what she could do.
She didn’t want to seem more valuable to Oren if she could avoid it. She wasn’t sure when he would stop asking for her to join the Sanitation Guild and start demanding. It was a thin line she was walking and she wanted to escape before Oren got tired of playing the nice guy.
Nova closed her eyes and reached out, sensing the mana around her. She could feel several threads, too many for it to make much of a difference. Nova had realized that most places had some mana attunement of water, nature, wind, and fire. It was pretty much everywhere. Hayeln’s wind attunement mana was stronger and it could be seen whenever she sensed it. A strong and steady mana.
Using that as her base, she focused on threads that showed up as stronger when it came to water, nature, and fire. Any mana that is different from those she also looked out for. Honestly, they hadn’t found much during their search. Mostly doors to other rooms and a few crystals. Nova was about to state she didn’t see anything when she felt something. It was solid and gave the sensation of flowers and trees.
She followed the feel of it until she stood in front of a faint green circle that could barely be made out on the wall. She frowned as she felt it.
Ava, what is this?
[It’s the former lab of Pathfinder Mercy Rothell.]
A lab? What sort of lab?
[Pathfinder Mercy Rothell specialized in gathering up unusual specimens and studying them, such as the Cradle tree. During the attack, many of her specimens were released while others remain contained.]
Nova remembered Ava mentioning something like that before. Still, specimens had her a little worried in many different ways.
Is there anything alive in there?
[Yes. A nest of Korkals is inside. As well as several different vegetation specimens.]
What are Korkals?
[Korkals are a type of monster discovered in the Tunduro Mountains. They are an avian species that feed on wind mana. Further data on the species is unavailable due to database corruption.]
Nova groaned. She didn’t think it was a good idea to peek into a room filled with a nest of monsters. Unfortunately, when she opened her eyes Kellston was watching her with his creepy eyes.
“What have you found, Miss Davis?”
Nova wanted to deny she found anything but somehow Kellston knew.
She rubbed her cheek. “Monsters. There is a room with them in it.”
Olivia jumped. “Oh! Oh, dear. I think it would be a good idea if we avoid that room then.”
“How many are there?” Kellston asked.
Nova shrugged. “I don’t know. My mana sense isn’t that precise.”
Nova hoped that her vague answer would be enough to dissuade the man but Kellston only looked thoughtful. “Where?”
Reluctantly, Nova pointed to the area.
“Mr. Crux, please mark the area on your map.” He then turned to Olivia’s guard. “Inform the Guildmaster.”
The man hurried away and Kellston turned back to them. “We shall continue searching.”
At Kellston’s words, they continued traveling through the ruins.
Nova felt a mixture of relief and worry. She knew it was only a matter of time before they opened that door. She didn’t want to go in there but the thought of allowing Oren into a lab filled with who knew what things the man could use was even scarier. She wanted to be there to see what he got his hands on or at least try to prevent the man from getting it.
Maybe I should have lied about seeing the door.
She didn’t know what Kellston would’ve done if she had lied. Kellston knew she had seen something though and it might have only led to a tighter watch of her or even removing her from the ruins. Before she wouldn’t have minded such a punishment but she wanted to get to the Core room.
It had been her intention to try to visit it today but now that Kellston was watching her, she didn’t think it was likely. Hopefully, when they returned to the ruins tomorrow, Korn would be assigned back to her. At least he was easier to deal with. She knew she couldn’t completely trust him, but Korn hadn’t told Oren about Ava and she was sure that he must have heard her if he had been following them. It meant Korn was willing to keep some secrets. If she could get him to just look the other way so she could sneak off for a bit then it would allow her to access the Core room.
The only other option was sneaking into the ruins on her own but she knew Oren had set up guards to watch over the ruins in the evening. She had seen some of the Sanitation guild members try to trade off their night shift. It seemed that working the night shift in the ruins had many of the guild members unsettled even with their void crystals.
Nova was so lost in her thoughts, that it took her completely off-guard when Ava’s alert went off in her mind.
[Danger! Flesh sether detected. Coming from the right.]
Automatically, Nova swung her staff out in a hasty sweep. The staff slammed into the flesh sether and it was knocked off course, slammed into the ground.
Nova twirled around, shouting. “Flesh Sether!”
When she looked at the others, she was shocked. Olivia, Mathius, and Kellston were all further back. Somehow, they had fallen behind. Confusion crossed Nova’s face at the gap. Olivia was standing straight, her eyes wide in shock. Mathius’s entire body was frozen in a running position, his face red as if he was straining to move. There was an angry and desperate look on his face. Only Kellston looked relaxed.
Nova reacted as the flesh sether launched at her. She threw herself to the side, falling to the ground. Nova was just fast enough to raise her staff up as the sether twisted in the air and dove down for her. She shoved the staff into the monster’s mouth.
“Help!” She shouted as the monster’s teeth clamped down on the staff. She glanced at the group.
Olivia and Mathius were still frozen in place. Kellston was the only one that moved. He watched her with those dead eyes of his and nodded his head slightly.
Nova gritted her teeth as fear and anger surged through her. Was Kellston trying to kill her? Did Oren set this up? Any thoughts on that quickly vanished as she heard the crunch of wood. Her entire attention was taken up by the monster she was desperately holding back. The wood was splintering.
It’s eating the staff.
Her breathing tightened in her chest as panic started to overwhelm her. She shoved it down. If she panicked now, she would die. She gripped the staff and shoved, throwing it forward.
The flesh sether was flung back with her staff in its mouth. Nova scrambled to her feet. She grabbed for the dagger on her hip, snatching it from its sheath. Nova looked up as the monster bit through her staff, leaving two pieces of broken wood behind. A sharp shriek came from its mouth.
Her heart beat frantically in her chest. She hoped that she could somehow escape before more of its friends came to play. The flesh sether dove for her and she slashed out with the dagger. The monster screeched and reared back.
The two faced each other. Nova’s hand shook but she kept the dagger at the ready. The monster dove for her again and she slashed again. The monster dodged. The back and forth happened twice more and Nova knew the monster was testing her range.
Time was running out. Nova was fast but the monster was faster and Nova wasn’t some expert knife fighter either. A wave of helplessness went over her. Could she win?
Think! You have to win. Dying here isn’t an option.
Before she could come up with a plan. The monster flung itself at her. She slashed out. She felt her blade cut through flesh, but the monster didn’t care. It bore through the pain and dug its teeth into her shoulder.
Nova screamed as pain and memories rushed through her. She fell back and jabbed the dagger into the monster’s side. The monster let go, letting out a shriek, and twisted its head to bite down on her face.
Nova caught it with the knife, stabbing it under the mouth. Instead of stopping, the monster pressed forward and she shoved up, barely keeping the teeth from gouging into her cheek. She struggled against the monster as it continued reaching for her.
Nova felt her hand strained against the monster’s weight. Its body wiggled in desperation. Her free hand slid down to her waist, desperately patting her waistband until she felt her pouch. She grabbed for the string and her pouch spilled open, crystal shards clinking across the floor.
She slapped her hand on the floor clutching one of the shards in her hand. Power surged through her hand pushing into the shard. The flesh sether yanked its head back, sliding off her dagger, and twisted, turning towards her hand.
It must be drawn to the mana.
Nova raised her hand and shoved the shard into the monster’s mouth. At the same time, she twisted the dagger shoving it into the monster’s mouth before it could bite off her hand.
She only had mere seconds before she yanked both her hands away. The flesh sether’s teeth scraped over her hand, leaving rivulets of blood behind. Nova shoved back and pushed as hard as she could against the monster, throwing it back. The flesh sether shook its head as it dislodged the dagger in its mouth.
Nova scrambled to her feet and started to run. She moved her legs as fast as she could and for a moment, she could feel it. A surge of power that moved her faster than she ever ran.
A loud shriek went behind her as she ran straight towards Mathius and the others.
She jumped, and as she did, an explosion sounded behind her. She slammed into Mathius and they both fell to the ground. Debris flew through the air but she managed to get clear of the blast area.
Nova lifted her head and looked back. Behind her was a small hole and pieces of the smoking remains of the flesh sether.
“I did it,” Nova said, her eyes wide. “I killed it.
The sound of clapping filled in the air. Nova twisted around and she saw Kellston, clapping. “Well done, Miss Davis. Well done.”
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