Darkness was everywhere. Nova spun around, trying to figure out what happened. She thought the Cradle tree had ejected her but this didn’t seem like the ruins.
Shit! I need to transfer that mana.
“Don’t worry, Nova Davis. You will not erupt. At least not yet.”
The voice was familiar. Matter of fact the place was familiar even in the darkness.
“It is because it is yours.”
Nova smiled. Start.
The entire room lit up and in the midst of it all was the Wandering Goddess. She smiled at Nova.
“Welcome back to the Room of Weaving.”
“Have you been just sitting here in the dark?” Nova asked.
The goddess laughed. “No, but I came here to watch your choice.”
Nova frowned. “I didn’t choose to come here. Honestly, I don’t even know how I got here. I was fighting the Cradle tree and…” She frowned thinking of the warrior and all the ghosts. Did she free them or were they still trapped?
“Are you ready?” the goddess asked.
“What? No. I have no idea what I want to make and I don’t have any materials with me. I was in the middle of a freaking fight!”
The goddess smiled at her. “And yet, you are here. Perhaps the mana immersion brought you here, perhaps something deep inside you already knows the path you are to take. Come, Nova Davis, it is time to create.”
“This is starting to feel less like a choice and more a directive,” Nova grumped.
“You can leave but it will be harder to access this place as you currently are. Still, it is your choice.”
Nova paused at that. Her brow furrowed. “What about Mathius and the ghosts? I can’t just stay here while they are fighting.”
“Did I not say the seconds have been stretched here?”
“Not that I remembered,” Nova said, a hint of annoyance in her voice. Then again, the goddess had said she wouldn’t erupt. Did that mean she had paused time?
The goddess didn’t seem bothered by her annoyance. She simply stood there, an ecosystem of life dancing in her hair. Nova sighed. She already made her choice. If time was frozen and this was her only time to make an artifact.
As if knowing her decision, a voice popped up.
[Welcome Artifactor. Would you like to begin the creation process?]
All the display lights turned off and instead there was only one display. It was empty and waiting. She stepped towards it and took a breath.
A blue sphere appeared, floating in the center of the room.
[Artifact construction open.]
[Material detected. Would you like to view material?]
Nova was curious about that. What material did she actually have? Yes.
2. Bow of Manifestation
3. Souls of the Lost
4. Branch of the Cradle Tree
Nova blinked. “What the hell? Souls of the lost?”
[Would you like to view Soul of the Lost material?]
“This is so messed up. Yes! Get them out here.”
Suddenly, the room was filled with at least a hundred ghosts. Nova looked at them in distress. She hadn’t meant to trap them with her. She wanted to free them.
“Are you alright?” Nova asked, looking around her.
“We’re not in that damn tree anymore,” the warrior said, stepping forward. “I think that’s a vast improvement.”
Nova couldn’t help smiling with relief when she saw the warrior. “You made it.”
“Yes, but I’m a little confused about where we are.” The warrior looked around him, curiously and a little warily.
“Ah, yeah, about that. This is where I make artifacts or will be. Unfortunately, it seems that it thinks you all are some sort of material.” She quickly added. “Though I have no intention of using you in that way. I’m going to try to free you.”
She turned around until her eyes landed on the goddess. This had to be in her domain. “How do I free them?”
“You choose to,” the goddess said, smiling softly.
“You do know that doesn’t explain anything,” Nova said, exasperated.
The goddess chuckled and gestured to the blue orb.
Nova frowned and then she got it. She would have to make an artifact that could free souls. “I have no idea how to do it.”
“You do it like you have done everything else,” the goddess said, a hint of amusement dancing in her eyes. “You start.”
The warrior crossed his arms. “That’s the gods for you. Can’t get a straight answer from them no matter what you do.”
Nova rubbed her cheek. “Okay. I can do this.”
She looked at the ghosts. Some stared at her but most of them looked at the goddess in wonder. Perhaps they were hoping she would be able to lead them to the next life. It brought a pang of sympathy through Nova. She needed to free them no matter what. Nova turned back to the orb.
[Artifact design beginning.]
Suddenly, she was swallowed in blue light. As the light cleared, Nova found herself inside the sphere. Thousands of images covered the sphere, flashing in front of her eyes.
[What would you like to create?]
Nova had no clue what she could make to help free the ghosts. Not to even mention the quest’s goals.
“By the gods. What is this?” A voice came from behind her.
Nova whirled around and blinked in surprise to see the warrior standing there.
“How did you get in here?” Nova asked, confused.
“Jumped in when it started to swallow you. Thought you might need my help.” He gestured at the flickering images embedded in the blue sphere. “Didn’t expect this. I’m getting the feeling you’re not a normal girl and if the gods are getting involved, I’m betting you’re one of those Soul Travelers.”
Nova flinched. “How?”
The warrior whistled. “Damn. You really are one of them. Well, that’s got to be quite the pain in the ass for you.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Nova said, with a half-smile.
The warrior nodded. “Met one of those sorts in the past. It was like they were cursed. Sure, they had skills that you never saw before but for every amazing feat they pulled off they got triple that in trouble.”
“Glad to hear I have something to look forward to,” Nova said. Her headache was already returning.
“It’s the truth. Any story can tell you that.” He leaned over to look at one image. It was one of Nova crossing the street to her job at a pet store. “Are you really planning to free us?”
“That’s the plan,” Nova said, trying to hide her nervousness.
The warrior looked thoughtful and nodded his head absently.
Nova sighed and turned away.
The question of what she wanted to create was difficult. She didn’t know how to design an artifact. She hadn’t forgotten it would also determine her path but even that was vague. Maybe if she stated what she wanted.
“I want to free the lost souls. I want to help people. I want to protect my friends. I want to fight to save myself instead of just scrambling.”
[Parameters set. Searching personal data.]
Suddenly, it felt like she had been kicked in the head. A rush of information went through her all at once.
[Personal data insufficient. Secondary data source found. Searching secondary data.]
There was a grunt beside her and the warrior stiffened beside her. Nova’s eyes widened. “Stop! That isn’t what I want.”
The warrior was released and sagged.
“Ugh,” he said. “Now that’s going to be a headache. Haven’t had one of those in a while, since I joined the tree.”
[Secondary data gathered. Artifact options expanded. Would you like to make your artifact?]
“Sorry,” Nova said, moving to the ghost. She then lifted her head and glared at the sphere. “System, do not use the Lost souls as material.”
“Wait, wait.” The warrior said, taking a step forward. “Do you need us to make an artifact that can release the others?”
Nova bit her lip. “I don’t know but it defeats the purpose if you get trapped in an artifact.”
“I see your point but if it can save the others, it might be worth it.”
“I won’t sacrifice you or the others,” Nova said stubbornly.
“Then you’ll doom us to our fate instead?” The warrior said, looking her in the eyes.
Nova flinched and looked away. “Why does it have to be one or the other?”
The warrior sighed. “Soul Traveler, let me give you some advice that it’s best you understand now instead of later. You won’t be able to save everyone. Sometimes, you have to settle for saving some.”
“I want to try,” Nova said, balling up her fist.
“Then try,” the warrior said. “But understand, you won’t get them all. People die, sometimes horribly. You can only do your best.” He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “And right now, doing your best means you can free a lot of souls by sacrificing a few in the process.”
Nova looked back at the warrior, meeting his eyes. His gaze was sad but certain. Nova ripped her gaze away. She walked away from him to the other side of the sphere. She stared at the images flickering across the screen. An image of a farmer caught her eye. His face rose up to the sun as he wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. It wasn’t her memory. She closed her eyes.
“Warrior, what’s your name?”
The ghost was silent for a long moment. “I don’t remember. But does it matter?”
“It matters,” Nova insisted.
The ghost sighed. “Fine. Then call me Axe.”
Nova turned around. “Axe? That’s what you are naming yourself.”
“As I said, it doesn’t really matter, does it?” He hefted up his battle axe, letting it rest on his shoulder. “Besides, I like my axe.”
Nova snorted and rubbed her eyes. They felt damp. “Only volunteers. I won’t use people who don’t want it.”
“Aye. Only volunteers.”
Nova nodded and turned away. She sucked in a breath and focused on the sphere. “I’m ready to make my artifact.”
[Artifact design commencing.]
Blue light flooded her sight. In the distance, she heard a voice.
“I will return this to you,” the goddess said. “Let your mana guide you.”
There was a soft touch on her forehead. A wave of pain flooded Nova and suddenly she felt her entire body was overflowing with mana. It spread through her body and worse it covered her brain until she was drowning in it. Every pore, every thought, was immersed in mana.
[You are suffering from Mana Immersion.]
It was the last thought she had before her entire being was filled with only one thought, one purpose.
Her hands began to move. Designs flooded her mind as she started to pull threads with efficiency and skill she never knew she had. She began to weave. The bow hung there and she could see what it did and she broke it apart, combining its weaving with her own, putting it together to make something new.
She took the wood of the Cradle tree, the perfect material to hold mana, even better than crystals. She poured the weaving into it, shaping it. Her artifact began to form in her hand. Crafting together in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in her own world and all in mere seconds. Before she would have wondered at it all but now she only moved, grabbing and pulling, folding parts together until it was nearly perfect.
She turned, looking for those last pieces, and then she saw them. Ghostly figures standing in front of her. Most were soldiers, but there were others, a farmer, animals, creatures she had never seen. Before she might have memorized their faces but now all she could see was material.
Someone spoke to her but she discarded their words. Instead, she reached for them, pulling and folding, shaping them into threads. Then she began to weave. She weaved them into her creation until it stood there, ready. The perfect artifact. One that would define her path, one that would grow as she grew.
The artifact solidified in her hand.
The sphere vanished and she stood there. She considered it. There was still so much she could create. So much more that needed to be weaved.
A hand touched her shoulder. “Come back, Nova Davis.”
It was like someone brushed their hand over her mind, lifting a veil resting there Nova blinked and she was staring at the goddess. She glanced around her. She was no longer in the sphere but standing back in the room. The room was dark except for a single glowing display.
Her mind felt fuzzy. “What happened?”
“Mana immersion. You were suffering from it,” the goddess explained.
“You gave it back to me? Why?” Nova said as her mind began to clear. Anger washed through her that was soon replaced with horror.
She remembered what she had done. The ghosts! She had grabbed them and just used them without even a word. Sure, they had been volunteers but she just took them without a second thought, without even a goodbye. She felt sick.
“It was better to let the mana immersion come to you here instead of out there,” The goddess said gently.
“What I did to them,” Nova said, shaking her head. Her stomach twisted. “I promised them and instead I used them without a second thought.”
“Do not think of it as an ending,” the goddess said. She leaned forward and brushed Nova’s cheek. “You have chosen an interesting path, Nova Davis. Now it is time to go. Time can only be slowed for so long.”
Something about how the goddess spoke felt distant. “You’re leaving.”
“You will not see me again for a long time, Nova Davis. This room is still yours but you will not find me in it. Your path is yours alone to travel.” She smiled. “I’ll keep watching, Nova Davis. It is not only you who wishes to save them.”
Nova wasn’t sure how to react. Anger mixed in with longing. When she was with the goddess, she felt safe. A feeling she hadn’t felt in a long time. But it wasn’t only that. She felt a connection to her, one she couldn’t explain. She didn’t want to lose it.
[Mana limit exceeded. Room of the Weaver terminating.]
“Goodbye, Nova Davis,” the goddess said with a soft smile and the room split apart.
Nova closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, she was in the ruins once more.
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