Before they left, Nova was checked over by Oren’s people. After she wandered off on her own, they had to make sure she wasn’t hiding anything. It was a good thing she hadn’t brought the bow with her. It did mean that she would have to find a different way of getting it out of the ruins.
Oren stared at her with a slight frown on his face for the remainder of the day. She couldn’t help glaring back. That he would go so far as to plant a flesh sether in the ruins and have Kellston make sure she fought it all to get over her fear made her realize just how unhinged the man was. The worst of it was that he honestly believed he was helping her. Just how many others had he ‘helped.’
She obviously hadn’t responded how he wanted her to and she wondered how long he would put up with her defiance before he became disinclined to go the persuasion route and did things by force instead. She had no delusions that he would simply give up. So as soon as they were freed from their work, Nova signaled to Mathius.
“Can we talk?”
Mathius nodded his head. “Something wrong?”
“Not here. Your place?” Nova asked. She remembered how Helena said he had something to help muffle conversations.
Mathius gave her a curious look but nodded. They moved swiftly, Nova looked back, hoping they weren’t being followed but she couldn’t see anyone. She knew she was just being paranoid but after what happened she couldn’t help feeling a little cautious.
When they arrived at Mathius’s place and locked the door, it was Mathius who spoke up first. “I’m sorry.”
Nova blinked. “What?”
“What Kellston did to you. It would have never happened if I hadn’t forced you to go down there,” Mathius said.
Nova gaped. She wouldn’t say the thought hadn’t crossed her mind and though she was still angry with Mathius she didn’t blame him for this. “No, leave the blame with him and Oren.”
“Oren?” Mathius frowned and then his eyes widened. “He told Kellston to do this?”
Nova nodded. “His shitty way of trying to help me get over my fear.”
Mathius gaped at her and then his entire face grew red with anger. “What in the Pits! That’s insane.”
Nova shrugged. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’s a few eggs short of a dozen.”
Mathius shook his head. “And he seems obsessed with you.”
Nova shuddered. “Okay. That is not a fun image.”
“But it’s true. To go that far and he has given you one of his best to protect you. Back when I worked for the guild, there had been rumors of Korn becoming his heir.”
“What? Are you kidding me?” Nova groaned at the news. “Korn practically told me he hoped I would manage to get away from the guild.”
Mathius frowned. “He did?” He shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know much about him. I didn’t talk a lot to Korn. He was always out. Mostly I dealt with the other guild members and sometimes Kellston.”
“What is the deal with Kellston?”
“I don’t know,” Mathius said, rubbing his neck. “It was the first time I’ve seen him use his powers. It was more than being frozen in place. It felt like he took over my entire body.”
Nova grew quiet at that. What Mathius was implying meant that Kellston was a much bigger threat than she could have imagined. Oren had really gathered all the monsters in Hayeln into one place and he wanted to add her to the roster.
“Nova, let’s end the deal.”
Nova turned to Mathius in surprise. “What?”
“I’m sure if we both agree to cancel it, we can end our contract and you won’t be forced to be involved anymore.”
“I’m already involved,” Nova said. “Besides, you think he won’t come after me?”
“I can hide you. I know this city inside and out. There are places even his guild doesn’t know about,” Mathius said, his voice growing in excitement.
Nova stood stunned. “Why? I thought you needed me to get the guild up and escape Hayeln.”
“I do,” Mathius said, balling his hand up. “And a part of me hopes you will still help me but I don’t want to force you anymore. What I did…I was wrong. I realized it but I kept giving excuses but today, after what Kellston did to you. What Oren ordered him to do. I realized I was doing the same thing.” He looked down. “I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to force you into danger just because I think it’s best.”
Nova’s chest tightened. A complex rush of feelings went through her. Hope, suspicion, anger, and more. She took a deep breath. She wanted to break the contract but would doing so end the quest? Did the quest even matter at this point? She called up the quest.
Quest Level: Stage 1
Quest Type: Contract
Within 60 days, re-establish the Explorer’s Guild within the Kingdom of Hayeln. (34 days remaining)
-Establish a guild hall.
-Have at least three members
-Complete an Explorer’s Guild quest.
-1 rank level within the Explorer’s Guild
-1 Establishing guild item
-1 Special item
Nova frowned. The time to establish the guild was almost halfway done. Would she even make it in time? She looked over the rewards and closed the window.
“I don’t know if you’re just being driven by guilt or you really mean what you’re saying. Either way, I’m not just going to trust you again due to a few well-meaning words even if you were to break the contract. I can’t forget what you did.” Nova paused and closed her eyes before nodding. “But I’m willing to try forgiving you.”
Mathius looked up at her. She could see hope in his eyes. She turned away.
“You want my trust? You have to earn it. We’ll go from there. We’re still not friends, Mathius, I’m not sure if we can be or not. But for now, I’m willing to give the partner thing a try.”
Mathius looked confused. “Partner? Wait? You want to keep the contract?”
Nova nodded. “I have my reasons and right now I’m not inclined to tell you. You okay with that?”
Mathius frowned but he nodded. “I can deal with it.”
“Good to hear. Now to test our new partnership. I need a favor,” Nova said.
Mathius’s brows went up in surprise and a little suspicion. “What kind of favor?”
“I need your help sneaking back into the ruins.”
Mathius stared at her. “Have you completely gone insane?”
“Like you said, your mapping allows you to see places others can’t, right? There has to be a route we can use.”
Mathius groaned. “If we get caught, we’ll be killed or worse.”
“You don’t have to come. I just need a route,” Nova said, crossing her arms.
“Of course, I’m coming with you,” Mathius said with a scowl.
Nova felt some relief at that. She hadn’t expected Mathius to come with her but she knew he was better at getting around and would be more helpful than any map she took.
“Are you sure?” Nova asked. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I’m sure,” Mathius said.
Their eyes met. Nova could only see Mathius’s resolve. She hoped she wasn’t making a mistake.
“Okay. Then let’s get started.”
“Ooh! You’re plotting.”
They both turned to see Trixie floating in the air behind them.
Nova groaned. “Your timing is suspicious.”
Trixie simply grinned.
“Where have you been anyway?” Mathius grumped.
“Aww, did you miss me? I’ve been doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”
“How very vague of you,” Nova said.
“A girl has to have her secrets,” Trixie said with a wide grin.
Mathius frowned. “Hopefully you have been keeping out of trouble.”
“I make no promises.” Trixie flicked her pink hair over her shoulder. “But it looks like you two are about to dive headfirst into trouble. How thrilling.”
“Just ignore her,” Nova said. “We should figure out a route.”
Mathius nodded and he went to his satchel, pulling out two scrolls. One was the map he made in the ruins and the other was blank. Quickly, he pulled out a piece of charcoal and began to draw on the scroll, creating a map of the ruins. Nova watched with fascination as he drew from memory without a single pause. Once he was done, he set the charcoal down and took out a cloth to wipe his fingers.
He nodded to the map. “Here is the route we’ll need to take.” He pointed to several sections on the map, making sure not to smudge them. “If we go this way, we can bypass the guarded points. Here is the entrance I think Korn must have used to follow us. I don’t know if it’s guarded so I’ll want to check it out before we go with this route.”
Nova was impressed. “It’s like you already had a plan to sneak in.”
Mathius shrugged. “I did.”
Nova blinked at him. “What?”
“Once we get the Explorer’s Guild started, I figure we might need a way to sneak out or in depending on how things go,” Mathius said. “I like being prepared.”
“Of course, you’ll be caught,” Trixie said cheerfully.
Nova glared at her. “If you’re not going to add anything constructive then butt out.”
Trixie gave her an exaggerated pout. “I am so unappreciated.”
“Actually, she’s right,” Mathius said, reluctantly.
Nova frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Mathius pointed to the ruins area. “There’s nothing but space once we reach the ruins. We have nowhere to hide and if we try to cross it someone is going to see us.”
“We’ll need a distraction,” Nova said.
“I thought of that,” Mathius said. “But a distraction is only going to work once. We can use it to get in but if we try to use it to get back out then someone’s going to catch on. That’s not even including the added issue if either Kellston or Korn are down there.”
Nova caught on right away. “They can sense mana. At least I know for sure Korn can. He could even see Trixie in her astral form.”
Mathius’s eyes widened in surprise. “I didn’t know that.” He rubbed his forehead. “Kellston is similar. Somehow, he always knows where people are, whether they are hiding or not. I don’t know if it is mana senses or not, but we’ll instantly get caught.”
“Right, so we have to do it when neither is there,” Nova said. “How likely is that?”
“Not very likely. Oren will probably keep at least one of them close to the area, but they are important people so an opportunity might present itself if we’re patient.”
Nova nodded. She considered the time they had before the quest was due. She was really regretting that deadline. “We can wait but not too long. So that leaves just getting across without being detected. The distraction we can use as a backup.”
“It’s too bad you can’t just disappear like me,” Trixie said. “The limitations of humans are such a sad thing.”
Nova glared at Trixie but it did get her thinking. “Is there any way for us to disguise ourselves?”
“You mean pretend to be Sanitation Guild members?” Mathius said with a sick look on his face. “I don’t know.”
Then a new idea occurred to Nova. “Maybe not as Sanitation Guild members. How about as guards?”
Mathius groaned. “We could get arrested for posing as guards.”
“Only if we get caught,” Nova said with a grin.
Mathius rubbed his forehead but there was a hint of a smile on his lips. “A Crux as a guard. Now that would be a twist.” He frowned. “But we’ll have to hide our faces. At this point, every member of the Sanitation Guild probably knows who we are.”
The guards didn’t wear helmets so having two show up with them on would be pushing it. “We need a glamour.”
“Look at that!” Trixie said. “You have someone here that specializes in glamours.”
Nova looked at Trixie with suspicion. “And you’re willing to help us?”
“For a price,” Trixie said with a wide grin.
“Pass,” Nova said and looked away.
“What price?” Mathius asked.
Nova stared at him. “No way.”
“You want to get in, don’t you? Let’s at least find out.”
Trixie pouted. “You two are so suspicious. What have I ever done but help you?”
“You scammed us both and threatened me,” Nova said bluntly.
Trixie waved her hand. “That’s so long ago I can barely remember it. You really shouldn’t hold on to stuff like that.”
“Trixie, what is your price?” Mathius asked with an even tone.
“In such a rush,” Trixie said and floated down to sit on the edge of the table. “It’s only a small price. I want to be able to look at your memories whenever I choose.”
“Nope,” Nova said. “There is no way I’m doing that.”
Mathius nodded. “Your price is way too costly for what you’re giving in return.” He paused. “But I’m willing to negotiate.”
Trixie’s eyes glinted. “What did you have in mind, my dear Mathius.” He leaned in, tucking her hands under her chin.
“You can peek into a memory of a single day of your choice. That’s all.”
Trixie narrowed her eyes and her voice grew cold. ” Are you trying to scam me?”
Nova snickered. “He’s learning.”
Trixie huffed. “Three days and I get to decide when I want to look at them.”
Mathius looked queasy. “Agreed but if I’m in the middle of something important I’m not just going to stop to satisfy your curiosity.”
Trixie scrunched up her nose. “That’s a little too open-ended for my taste. Please be more specific.”
Mathius tilted his head in thought and then nodded. “If I’m in a situation where you reading my memories can lead to death, injury, or cause a problem for me now or in the future.”
Trixie flopped back on the table. “Ugh, you’re no fun. Fine, but Nova has to agree as well.” She turned her head to the demon. “Do we have a deal?”
Nova squinted at the demon. “No.”
Nova looked at Mathius. “I don’t trust her. Why does she want to see our memories? I’m not buying it’s just for entertainment value.”
“I’m a simple demon with simple desires,” Trixie said, fluttering her eyelashes.
Nova frowned. “I’d rather find another way.”
Nova shook her head. “No.”
Trixie sat up and shrugged. “It’s your loss.” She reached over, tucking one of her sharp nails underneath Nova’s chin. “But call me if you change your mind.”
“I won’t,” Nova said.
Trixie laughed then she vanished.
Mathius was giving her a doubtful look. “Do you really think that was a good idea?”
“I don’t know but let me think on it.” A couple of ideas played in her mind. It was just a question of whether any of them would work. It was time to see just how far crystal crafting could take her.
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