Besides living out a personal fantasy that was truly at the heart of one of her favorite superheroes, climbing walls like a spider wasn’t actually that fun. Well, climbing up the wall was pretty fun but crossing the ceiling was a definite no. Her head hung upside down and the blood rushed to it, making her feel light-headed. A few times they had to chance going to the side of the wall and hoping no one saw them before returning back to inching across the ceiling.
Maybe if it was faster. The problem was how the crystal worked. When she disabled the shell around the crystals holding the floor and floating pavement up, the weaving had been so intricate she hadn’t been able to comprehend it. She had spent several days just trying to make sense of it.
Still, she was able to glean some important aspects. One was that the crystal crafter had hidden the nature mana he used behind all the wind mana. While wind mana was important in the crafting it was the thread of nature mana that tied it together. Nature mana basically tied to things such as plants, dirt, and rocks. What this particular weaving did was help draw those pieces together, basically making an earth magnet. The wind also played a part, helping to push the material.
In the original weaving, the wind also helped to make the items float but that part had been beyond Nova’s comprehension at least as far as she could put together in a week. Fortunately, since Tinle had started teaching her about warding networks, Nova was able to understand the nature mana network that led her to figure out that part of what she liked to call her rock magnetism weaving.
When she put the crystal against the rock, it basically magnetized part of the wall and she could use the rocks around her waist, wrist, and ankles to spider crawl the walls and ceilings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as fluid as she had hoped and she had to basically drag herself across the surface. Honestly, she didn’t think she could do it at all without the strength buff she got before. She would have ended up plastered to the wall, unable to move.
“We’re almost there,” Mathius said, beside her. “Keep a look out for a place to go down.”
Nova looked down and down. She felt a wave of vertigo and quickly averted her eyes. She wasn’t afraid of heights. Honestly, she got a thrill from them, but the position and how the blood was rushing to her brain just made her dizzy. She groaned and was silently grateful for the void crystal muffling their sound.
Maybe I need to put points into stamina next time.
She glanced back down, trying to focus. She hadn’t seen any sign of Korn and she hoped that meant he was off in the dungeons, clearing monsters. She looked away and swallowed.
“Wall,” she muttered and then began moving towards the side.
Most people didn’t look at the ceiling so they were relatively safe but the walls were different. All it took was a casual glance or someone catching movement from the corner of their eye. It was chancy but they needed the reprieve. She glanced around, trying to see any opportunities.
Most of the guild members focused on the dungeon areas, handling any monsters that came up. There were a few patrolling the ruins and the construction sites. So far, the building was starting to look like an actual building, now though there was definitely more work to be done. Still, it provided them enough cover to sneak in. Two guild members patrolled the construction site while six focused on the ruins – four Sanitation members and two city guards.
“Behind the construction,” Nova whispered.
Mathius nodded and headed that way and Nova followed. She was a little jealous of Mathius. He didn’t have nearly as hard a time moving across the ceiling and walls as she did.
How is he so strong?
She let out a soft huff and focused on their destination. They ended up having to move to the side of the construction site since the back wall was still too far away. The left wall was closer but they would still have to dash for cover. They waited for the patrol to make their loop then scrambled down the wall.
As soon as their feet touched the ground they ran, the void crystal muffling their steps as they made their mad dash. From there, it was weaving across the construction site until they got close to the entrance to the ruins that held the Core room.
The Cradle tree loomed over the area, the glowing fruit eerie in the darkness. There was a feeling about it like it was reaching for something in the darkness. Nova wondered if this was why no one wanted to work down here at night, which was interesting since the area was always somewhat dark due to its location.
“They’re avoiding the tree,” Mathius whispered to her. “It means we can sneak in if we move around it.”
[The Cradle Tree is active during hours when the sun sets. I advise keeping out of contact during these times.]
“Ava says we should avoid the tree,” Nova told Mathius.
“Yeah, it gives me the creeps,” Mathius said, glancing at the tree. “But it’s our best way in.”
Nova looked back at the patrol. They were tightly clustered together, stationed mostly at the obvious entrances but with the ruins having so many gaps they couldn’t cover every area in. If they focused on the areas near the Cradle tree, they could sneak in and avoid a possible confrontation.
“Okay, just don’t touch the tree,” Nova said. She still remembered the voices she heard before.
Creeping around the guards wasn’t as easy as they had hoped. Even if the areas around the Cradle Tree weren’t guarded the patrols made it difficult to even reach that side. It looked like they weren’t as lax as they hoped.
“We need a distraction,” Nova said, frowning.
“I have it,” Mathius said and then he was turning.
He pulled out his knife, cutting his finger. Nova watched as he began to write symbols on the ground in his blood.
“That is so creepy. Are you summoning those gremlins again?”
“Aoxels. Yes, though it’s more a relocation summoning. I didn’t dismiss them so I can shift them to our location. It takes less mana.”
“How many times can you do a summon in a day?”
“It depends on the size of the summon and what I’m summoning,” Mathius said. “Now if you could let me concentrate.”
“Sorry,” Nova said and waited.
A purple glow started to surround Mathius though not as bright as before.
“Do you see that?” Someone said.
“Shit. Mathius! They can see you?” Nova said, reaching for her knife.
“Done!” Mathius said as eight aoxels appeared. “Attack them.”
As the guards got closer to their hiding spot, the aoxels rushed out, jumping on the guards with a vengeance and climbing up their bodies. The guards let out a surprised yell and started attacking the monsters. One of the aoxels was killed almost instantly, vanishing into the air. The others dodged the attacks.
Still, the monsters were obviously outmatched and wouldn’t last long. Nova felt a mixture of feelings. They had basically sent the creatures on a suicide mission.
Mathius grabbed her arm. “Let’s go.”
Nova nodded and then they were rushing out of hiding and towards the Cradle tree. They tried to keep out of sight of the guards. The aoxels managed to keep most of the guards’ attention. Nova just hoped they thought they were some new monster from the dungeon instead of a summon.
They made it through to the tree and climbed into a window nearby. As Nova passed through it, she felt a chill slide over her and soft whispers poured into her ear. There was a faint pulling sensation like something was pulling at her soul. She scrambled through the window and quickly moved away from the tree.
“Did you feel that?” Mathius said, his eyes wide.
Nova swallowed. “The tree…”
They shared a look.
“Let’s just hurry and get out of here.”
They both began moving but drew up short when they heard voices.
“You shouldn’t have pissed off Robbie. Now we’re inside this creep show.”
“Damn it. How was I supposed to know that git was even there?” a man said.
Nova and Mathius ducked behind a broken stairway as the patrol walked by.
“Just assume he’s listening and keep your trap shut,” the woman said. “Now, we’re stuck here and if we’re lucky, we won’t end up lying dead and cold against that tree like Fen.”
“I thought that was just a rumor. Sure, the tree is creepy but you really think it’s killing people?”
“Don’t know but Fen’s dead, and that tree… well you can hear it, can’t you? The whispers?”
The guards trailed off. Nova looked back at the Cradle Tree and if she let herself listen, she could hear it. The faint whispers.
“The sooner we’re out of here, the better,” Mathius said, uneasily.
Nova couldn’t agree more.
Once they were clear of the guards, they began moving as fast as they could through the ruins. Surprisingly, they didn’t run into any other guards but Nova guessed that had to do with patrolling the ruins being some sort of penalty duty. With all the guards outside it would have been hard for anyone to get inside without a distraction.
When they were close to the Core room, Nova stopped. “You have to wait here. Ava won’t allow me entrance if someone’s with me.
Mathius looked disgruntled. “Really?”
Nova shrugged. “It’s not up to me. She said once you are part of the guild you can go inside.”
Mathius rolled his eyes. “Fine.” He then frowned. “Wait, that means the Guildmaster can’t get inside either. Wouldn’t it be smarter to just leave the artifact in there?”
Nova looked to the side. “Yea, but I need to study it. It’s a way for me to grow my abilities. I mean, how can I become an Artifactor if I don’t have any artifacts to study.”
Mathius looked doubtful but he nodded. “We’re already here so there’s no reason to argue about it. Just hurry it up.”
Nova felt a little bad about dragging Mathius along with her but he had volunteered so she shoved the feeling away. She turned and made the rest of the way to the Core room.
Ava, keep a lookout for me and Mathius. Let me know if there is any danger.
Nova turned to the invisible wall and pressed her hand against it.
[Core room access granted. Welcome, Soul Traveler. Would you like to enter the Core room?]
The portal opened and Nova stepped inside. The portal closed behind her. The room looked just like she left it. The temptation to look around was strong but she knew she didn’t have time. Instead, she grabbed the bow and quickly turned back to the door, pressing her hand back against it.
[Privacy range calculating.]
This again. She waited, growing nervous at the delay.
[Privacy range approved.]
The portal opened and she hurried back out.
I did it!
A wave of relief went through her.
Nova whirled around. The portal closed. There was no one. She looked around her, confused.
Was it the Cradle tree? But it sounded so clear.
Nova stopped, listening. But there was no new voice. She swallowed and hurried out of the room. She remembered what Ava had told her about the Cradle tree.
Hallucinations, auditory illusions, changes in behavior and personality.
She shook her head. That was only if she ate the fruit from the tree, at least that is what she thought Ava said before. She shoved the worries away and hurried to meet up with Mathius.
“Got it,” she said as she moved back to where she had left him.
Mathius looked at her with obvious relief. “Good, let’s get out of here.”
Nova caught movement and jumped when she noticed one of the aoxels standing there.
Mathius nodded. “The only one left.”
Nova swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
Mathius looked at her quizzically. “Why are you sorry?”
“They died to make a distraction,” Nova said and wondered if Mathius didn’t care about his summons. She couldn’t help feeling it was a bit ruthless.
Mathius grinned at her. “They’re not dead. Just dismissed. Their bodies here are temporary.”
“What?” Nova asked. “That’s confusing. I mean I came through completely solid.”
“Ah, yes,” Mathius said. “Yours is more complicated. Their summon is more like with Trixie. A temporary body that if destroyed severs the connection. They’re not as strong as they would be in their full form but I obtain more control.”
“You have control over Trixie?” Nova asked, doubtfully.
“It’s a work in progress,” Mathius said. “You ready?”
Nova nodded and tightened her hand around the bow. “Yes.”
They began making their way back. Once they neared the window they had climbed through, they heard the patrol and ducked into hiding. They listened to the two guild members talk as they moved away. Once they were clear, they stepped in the direction of the window they came through. The faint sound of whispers echoed around them, louder than before. Nova was so ready to get out of there.
“I thought there were a couple of rats crawling around here,” a female voice said.
There was the scrape of a sword being drawn. They whirled around to see the two Sanitation members that had been patrolling.
“Go!” Mathius ordered.
The aoxel leaped towards the female guard. Without even hesitating, she cut the monster in half. “So, you were the one who sent those things, huh? I heard you made quite the commotion.”
“Run!” Mathius shouted.
Nova ran to the side while Mathius ran in the other direction. The sound of footsteps was the only warning Nova got. She dodged to the right. The male guard lunged at her, trying to grab her. She twisted, trying to bypass him as he crashed to the floor. She was almost out of reach and to the window when she felt something grab her ankle.
She only had a second to comprehend that the man had grabbed her ankle before he yanked and she was sent to the ground. She hit the floor hard, her head banging against wood. Suddenly, a burst of voices filled her head. Hundreds of voices rushed towards her.
Nova screamed. She could feel them, yanking at her body, pulling. It was stronger than before. They seemed hungrier, desperate. She tried to pull free, but she could almost see it, their hands wrapped around her, pulling her, dragging her.
She tried to resist. She yanked and pulled at their grasping hands.
Come with us. Join us.
Her head felt like it would burst. She felt something building up in her. “No!”
Everything went white.
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