Nova slowly stood up, keeping her eyes on Kellston. Her weapon was in pieces and the dagger lost. Even her shards were gone. Luckily, there were rocks all around. Would that be enough? She heard movement to the side of her.
“Mathius, are you okay?” Nova asked.
“Yes. You’re the one injured. Nova, I tried to get to you but I couldn’t move,” Mathius said quickly.
“I know,” Nova said, narrowing her eyes at Kellston. She wasn’t sure what Kellston had done to Mathius and Olivia but he had stopped them from moving.
“No need to fret, Miss Davis,” Kellston said. “I don’t mean you any harm.”
“Bullshit,” Nova said. “You sat there and watched me almost get eaten.”
Kellston tilted his head and nodded. “I had the situation in hand. I would have stopped it before any lasting damage.”
Nova balled up her hand. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“I suppose it wouldn’t.” Kellston walked forward in that strange clipped walk of his.
“Stay back!” Nova shouted, she reached down scooping up a rock.
Kellston looked at the rock curiously then back at her. He didn’t seem worried about the rock and she couldn’t blame him. He had no idea what she could do. Still, the man seemed to consider her before coming to a conclusion. Nova watched him in tense silence.
“Stay here,” he said and then he turned and walked away.
Nova let out a shuddering breath.
“Oh my, oh my.”
Nova turned to see Olivia, sagged onto the ground with a shocked expression on her face. Mathius hurried to her side, helping the woman up. Nova joined them.
“Are you alright, Professor?” Nova asked.
“I should be asking you that. You’re bleeding.”
Nova looked down at her arm. She blinked. She had forgotten about the wound. Just the sight of it made her stomach queasy.
She glanced around for her satchel only to see part of the strap broken and the contents destroyed in the attack. All the supplies she brought was gone as well as her weapon.
Next time, I need to invest in a backpack.
“Here,” Mathius said. He pulled out several bandages from his satchel and came over. He started to reach for her wound but she stepped back.
“You need to clean it first or infection will set in and clean your hands too,” Nova said. “Do you have any water and soap?”
Mathius nodded. “I have water with me but not soap.”
Nova bit her lip and nodded. “That’ll work for now.”
“Have you trained with healers?” Olivia asked. “I never heard of having to clean your hands before treating a wound.”
Nova blinked and then nodded. “It’s common knowledge in my family. Clean hands, clean bandages, clean wounds. Otherwise, infection and worse can happen.”
At her words, Mathius paused with the bandage in his hand and quickly discarded it for another. Nova took a good look at it before she nodded in approval. She pulled back the ripped sleeve and let Mathius dress the wound.
“I’m sorry,” Mathius said.
Nova shook her head. “I could see you wanted to help, Mathius. It’s not your fault.”
Mathius tightened his lips but didn’t say anything else.
“What did he do to you both?” Nova asked.
“I think he was using some type of Royalty mana. I had never heard of such a technique. There are people who can freeze people in place but that usually involves a great deal of ice. A variation of water mana that is quite unique.”
Nova frowned. “Then how do you know this wasn’t a variation of some other type of mana?” Nova asked.
Olivia blinked. “Well, it doesn’t fall into any known type I have seen and while I’m not an expert on Mana Studies, the field strongly aligns with my own so I have studied it in detail. It also doesn’t seem to be a variation though I admit I’m not knowledgeable in every variation out there mostly because they are still being discovered. Still, it is often best to consider a unique mana as a Royalty mana.”
“Why is that?” Nova asked.
“Royalty mana is unique, unpredictable, and extremely dangerous. It’s better to assume it than not to,” Olivia said firmly.
Nova rubbed her forehead. “Okay, Royalty mana it is for now.” She looked where Kellston had went. “Do you think he wants me dead?”
“No,” Mathius said. “If he did, you would be and us as well.”
“Oh, now that’s an unpleasant thought,” Olivia said, brushing off her skirt. “I think this has been quite enough excitement for one day. Shall we head back?”
Mathius looked at Nova.
She paused. Kellston told them to wait but she wasn’t particularly inclined to do what the man asked her to do. So, she nodded. The pair began to walk when Nova realized an opportunity had presented itself. There were no guards. It was the perfect chance to visit the Core room. The situation wasn’t ideal, especially with the chance of flesh sethers around but she had to take the chance.
She slowed down and Mathius turned to her with a questioning look. “What’s wrong?”
“I left some of my core stuff behind. I want to check if it’s salvageable,” Nova said.
She had talked to Mathius about sneaking away to the Core room before and he was going to help her distract the guards so it didn’t take him long to catch on. He glanced at Olivia and worry flickered in his eyes.
“It’s dangerous to go back there. There might be more monsters.”
“I know,” Nova said. “I’ll be careful.”
Before Mathius could say anything more, Nova turned and headed back. A part of her knew it was dangerous. She had no weapon but she had her artificing and at least with that she could make mini-bombs. For now, it would have to do.
Ava, alert me to any danger or anyone coming close by.
Nova didn’t ask Ava to guide her to the room. She was worried about anyone seeing the lights and she was almost sure she knew the way there. She moved swiftly and as quietly as possible. She didn’t want to alert any lingering monsters or anyone who might have come after her.
After getting turned around once and having to have Ava direct her the rest of the way, she made it to the Core room. She paused as she stepped inside. Her attention drifted to the desk. Standing there, an untouched relic. She turned away and focused on the area where she had seen the door.
She started to close her eyes to send out her mana as before when she realized there might be a quicker way. Her System was up now. Instead, she pressed her hand against the invisible door. Immediately a box popped up in front of her.
[Core room access granted. Welcome, Soul Traveler. Would you like to enter the Core room?]
The world shimmered and a hole appeared in front of her. It was definitely a portal. Once again, she peered inside to a room that looked immaculate. The large curved table sat there with several empty chairs surrounding it. In the center of the room was the strange stage that based on the paneling was actually some sort of device.
Nova hesitated. Last time Ava had been almost pushy in her insistence that Nova go inside. It made her wary but she couldn’t afford to hesitate now. Nova stepped inside.
As soon as she crossed the threshold, the door portal closed behind her. She looked around her and she could see maps plastered all around the walls. Nova stepped further in, looking around at the different maps. Each one showed places she had never heard of, a treasure trove of new wonders. Next to the maps was a summary of the terrain and even talked of the monsters likely to be encountered. Everything was so detailed and it was clear someone had worked hard on collecting the information.
“Mathius would love this,” Nova mumbled to herself. Mathius had seemed genuinely excited about mapping and she wondered if his fixation on the Explorer’s Guild wasn’t only about escaping Hayeln but a place that allowed him to fully realize his passion.
She almost felt jealous. She never considered herself as being particular passionate about anything besides running. Even her love for running hadn’t meant she wanted to pursue a career in it. It had been why she struggled to settle on a major in university. Even now, in a strange world, did she have something she wanted that went beyond survival?
I’m still not sure.
Her gaze lingered on the maps before her attention turned to look further in the room. There were seven chairs and she wondered who were the people who sat here and what did they discuss. There were half-finished maps on the table, a cup filled with a drink that had long evaporated.
As her gaze trailed over the room, she noticed a strange ball sitting in front of one of the chairs. It looked similar to a crystal ball except it was orange. Nova blinked.
“No way.” She hurried over to it and switched to mana sight. Sure enough, the ball glowed with orange threads. “It’s a mana crystal. The largest one I’ve ever seen.”
Nova reached out and touched it. There was a scream and then a stag as big as an SUV stood in front of her. Its entire body was covered in thick white fur and icicles hung from its antlers. When it stared at her, its eyes were black as night and endless. The stag stepped forward.
Nova jerked back. Her hand fell away from the crystal and the image of the stag faded. “It’s an illusion?”
Of course, it’s an illusion.
She looked back at the crystal and that was when she noticed the bow. She walked over to it. It stood by the chair. It was strange, no dust collected on it, and she could almost feel the power radiating from it. The bow had no string and she wondered if it was broken.
Nova shifted to her mana sense, focusing on sight. Right away she could see the mana threads weaving through the bow. She quickly grabbed it. There was no crystal. “It’s an artifact. This must have been the weapon Ava mentioned before.”
Nova wanted to take it but she knew if she did Oren would take it from her in a heartbeat. She desperately wanted to study it.
[Someone is approaching the Core room. You have 10 minutes and 52 seconds before they reach the room.]
“Shit,” Nova muttered. Reluctantly, she put the bow down. She would have to figure out a way to sneak out with the item without Oren or any of his numerous people seeing her with it. “Later.”
She hurried to the portal door and pressed her hand against it. It didn’t open immediately.
[Privacy range calculating.]
What’s going on, Ava?
[The door won’t open if an unauthorized person is too close.]
[Privacy range approved.]
The door opened and Nova quickly stepped out. She hurried away from the portal. She got halfway through the room when Oren stepped inside.
“Ah, there you are Nova. It’s quite dangerous for you to wander off.”
Nova felt a wave of panic but she shoved it down. She folded her arms. “It seems I’m in danger whether I wander off or not.”
Oren stepped further into the room, his gaze sweeping over it. “I suppose you are speaking of the incident with Kellston.” He looked at Nova curiously. “What are you doing in here?”
“I got lost,” Nova said. “I was trying to see if I can salvage any of my things but got turned around.”
“I see,” Oren said as he walked across the room and moved to the desk. He tapped his fingers lightly on it. “You’ve managed to get quite far away. I will have to insist you do not wander off without a guard. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
Nova gritted her teeth. “I find that hard to believe when Kellston allowed a flesh sether to almost eat my face.”
“Ah, yes, that was a miscalculation on Kellston’s part. The intention was to help you overcome your fear of the beast by allowing you to confront the monster.” Kellstone moved behind the desk and tugged at one of the drawers. “He became a little overenthusiastic.”
Nova gaped at Oren as his words sank in. “Wait, you were in on it?”
“It is best to face one’s fears,” Oren said and he gave another tug on the desk drawer, sliding it open.
“You had no right!” Nova said, balling up her fist.
“It worked, did it not?” Oren asked. “You fought the monster, defeated it, and now are here alone, unafraid.”
“What? And you think I just overcome my fear of them with just one fight?”
“No,” Oren said. “I think you have learned to control it. You have realized that though monsters are dangerous you can fight them and win. You have learned you are strong.”
Nova did feel strong. She hated to admit it but the fight had helped her. “Don’t think that makes what you did right.”
“I don’t care if it was right or wrong.” Oren pulled out a book from the drawer. “But it was effective.” He turned the book over with interest. “Now, I think it is time we join the others. Mathius is quite worried about you. Shall we?”
Nova wanted to punch him but instead she stormed towards the exit. Before she could leave Oren behind, he reached out and grabbed her arm. She tried yanking away but his grip was strong.
“I know you are angry with my choices but what I did was in order to help you. This world is dangerous. Coddling you will only leave you defenseless. You are much too important for me to do that to you.”
“There aren’t any monsters,” Nova said.
“What?” Oren asked. A flicker of confusion danced in his eyes.
“I noticed it when I was alone. I didn’t run into a single monster while coming here. Those things, the flesh sethers, they always move in packs. So why was there only one?”
Oren met her eyes and she looked back. The answer was plain as day.
“Let me go, Oren. I don’t want your type of help,” Nova said.
Oren’s hand tightened on her wrist and then he released her.
Nova twirled around and stormed away.
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