Nova felt strange. Like she was seeing without seeing. Everything was slightly blurry. Everything but the tree. The glow had grown brighter around the tree and there was a sense of anger around it. Like it would lash out at anyone that came near it. Nova didn’t care.
She lifted her artifact, her staff. It was almost as tall as her. The wood was a pale brown and as she gripped it a faint ghostly glow surrounded it. A staff that was more than a staff. She twisted it in her hand and as she did, she could feel the flex of muscles in her arms. The scent of wheat surrounded her as she prepared for harvest. She twisted the staff and onyx mana poured from it, forming into a large curved blade.
It was time to reap.
She lifted her scythe. Arms of white mana shot out at her, trying to hold her down. She cut them down with ease. Sometimes the stalks were difficult, but even they would be harvested. She moved closer to the tree and as she did, she could hear its voice, almost a scream.
“Safe! Home! They’re safe!”
Nova ignored its cry. She was not here to talk. She pulled back her scythe.
Nova swung. The blade thrummed with power. Black mana pulsed as the blade cleaved the tree in half. A large wound opened and from it, a wave of souls spilled out. The tree let out a shriek. Even with such a strike, the tree wasn’t finished. Nova tightened her grip on the scythe and swung again.
Another gash fell on the tree and this time the wound spread. Black mana slid over the tree, eating away at it. She watched it as it slowly began to disintegrate.
“Was I wrong? I just wanted to keep them. I didn’t want to-“
Whatever words the Cradle tree was going to say, faded away, lost as the last bits of it crumbled away. Nova turned away from where the tree once was. When she did, she was greeted by hundreds of souls, maybe even more.
One stepped forward. “Will you free us?”
Nova looked at them and a wave of sadness went through her. “Do you want to go?”
A soft hum of assent went through them.
Nova nodded. “Alright.” She tightened her hand on her scythe. “Gather close.”
Most of the spirits gathered up but a few didn’t. She focused on those that gathered. She took a breath and she raised her scythe once more. She slashed across. The black blade thrummed as a wave of black mana engulfed them.
The ghosts faded away until there was nothing left.
[Quest “Redefine Your Path” completed.]
[200 XP Awarded. Error! Inefficient mana to repair leveling. XP stored.]
[Mana Pool expansion pending. Calculation in process…]
[Unique Title granted. You have obtained the title, “Weaver of Souls.”]
Nova blinked at the wave of alerts that hit her. She tried to concentrate on them but a surge of dizziness went through her. The scythe blade faded away and she found herself clutching her staff to keep herself upright.
Something cold touched her and she turned to see several of the ghosts surrounding her. She blinked at them, confused.
“Some of us would like to stay with you.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
They looked pointedly at the staff.
She shook her head. “You’ll be trapped again.”
“No. We won’t. We will go where you go, fight and learn with you.”
Nova didn’t completely understand but she was too tired. “Are you sure?”
She sighed. “Okay.”
Without another word, the ghosts surged towards the staff, sliding inside. Nova could only watch in amazement. She wasn’t sure what that meant, that her staff could suck ghosts inside it. It was something she would have to figure out later when she didn’t feel like she was going to pass out.
There were a few other spirits left but they didn’t approach the staff and eventually drifted away. Until she was alone. Or at least she thought she was alone. She felt an arm wrap around her shoulders.
“How you do surprise, Nova. Truly a treasure.”
Nova jerked away but the arm tightened around her. She looked up and as she did it felt like her vision cleared. It was Oren. He stared at her with barely contained excitement. His grip on her felt like steel bands.
She glanced around. All around her were Sanitation guild members and several city guards. She wasn’t sure how she hadn’t noticed them before. They must have seen what happened.
“Let go,” she gritted out, trying to straighten but after everything she had done, she was lucky to even be standing.
Oren ignored her and turned to the side. “Kellston, take care of the guards. No witnesses.”
“No!” Nova said.
She used the last of her strength to shove her staff between her and Oren, pushing it to leverage herself out of his hold. She fell back, hitting the ground.
“Really, Nova, this is for your best interest, too,” Oren said, clearly unphased by her act. “Let’s just go quietly and talk this over.” He stepped forward.
Nova scooted away. She pulled the staff between her and Oren and willed the scythe to return. For a moment Oren paused, wary. It flickered but nothing happened. Oren grinned. He took a step forward and that’s when everything fell into chaos.
Black forms began to rise from the floor. Everyone stopped, unsure what was going on. One of the guild members swung at one of the creatures but his blade slid through it. Wraiths. They were wraiths. With a shriek, they leaped at the Sanitation members. One of the wraiths attacked Oren. The guildmaster twisted, grabbing the wraith in return. As he did, black threads poured from him, eating away at the creature. But as he focused on one, two more jumped on him.
Nova watched it all in horror. Suddenly, a hand grabbed her and she jerked.
“Shh. We have to get out of here.”
Nova’s eyes widened as she saw Mathius beside her. “How?”
“No time,” Mathius said, helping her up.
A groan came from the ceiling and bits of rocks crashed down on the ground. Nova blinked and looked up. “The tree was holding this place up.”
“I know. It’s going to collapse. We have to get out of here.”
Nova nodded as Mathius frowned and then scooped her up as if she weighed next to nothing.
“Hey!” Nova protested.
“You can barely walk,” Mathius said, without pausing as he hurried out of the ruins.
Nova couldn’t deny that and wrapped one arm around his neck.
Several Sanitation guild members spotted them and tried to grab them, but before they could several wraiths swept over them and they were left fighting them off.
Realization dawned on Nova. “The wraiths are yours?”
Mathius nodded as he dodged another guild member and carried them out of the door. “While everyone was distracted by your ghost show, I decided to summon my backup plan. But don’t expect anything more. I’m all out of – Ah!”
Suddenly Mathius lurched forward and Nova was thrown from his arms. She slammed to the ground, rolling. Her staff fell from her hand skittering across the ground.
“Hey, Crux, where are you going?” It was Robbie. He tossed a knife playfully in his hands. “I don’t think the Guildmaster would appreciate you running off.”
Mathius groaned. There was a knife protruding from his thigh. “Are you sure, Robbie? Maybe you should go ask him.”
Robbie laughed. “Why don’t we ask him together?”
Nova twisted, grabbing at her staff but it was kicked away. She looked up to see Korn. He had a grimace on his face.
“Sorry. Can’t let you have that.”
Robbie laughed even louder. “I bet you thought he would be easy on you, lass. But Korn’s the boss’s heir. You can’t change that.”
“Korn,” Nova said, a plea in her eyes.
Korn’s lips tightened and he looked away.
Nova knew they had lost. Korn was too strong and she was still weak from her fight with the tree.
Korn reached down and pulled her to her feet. “Don’t fight. It’s too late to escape now.”
Nova couldn’t help the feeling of betrayal that went through her, but she still tried. “Korn, don’t do this.”
Korn was silent.
A grunt sounded behind her and she twisted her head to see Robbie kicking Mathius over and over. “Damn pain in the ass. I would gut you but the boss still wants you around. More trouble than you’re worth in my opinion.”
Robbie bent down and grabbed Mathius, yanking him to his feet.
Suddenly, a loud roar sounded in the air. So loud it shook the entire area. Pieces of debris fell from the ceiling.
“What in the pits was that?” Robbie shouted.
Then the floor began to rumble. Nova’s eyes widened as she looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. Korn yanked her forward. When he spoke, his voice was low and rushed.
“Run away from here. Don’t be around where I can catch you.”
Korn flung her away and shot forward, straight towards the dungeon. As he ran forward, a swarm of monsters poured from the dungeon entrance. But it wasn’t only flesh sethers. Giant horned beasts the size of cars came pouring in. They looked like bulls but were covered in spikes and had one eye on their forehead.
Yells filled the air as the bull monsters smashed into people, stabbing them with their spikes. Anyone impaled on the spikes suddenly found their bodies turned into a dried-up husk. Nova watched as Korn went straight for one of the beasts.
The boy smashed his fist through one of the monsters’s eyes and then grabbed it by the horn, lifting it partly from the ground. He flung it to the side, smashing it into one of the other monsters.
“That’s insane,” Nova said.
I don’t have time to gape like a fish.
She twisted around, spotting her staff close by. She picked it up and quickly climbed to her feet. She was still weak but fear and adrenaline made her move.
A sharp scream came from behind her. She twisted, raising her staff only to see Mathius limping towards her with a bloody knife in his hand. Behind him, Robbie was clutching his side. It seemed Mathius had ripped the knife out of his leg and used it to stab the man during the chaos.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“You need to wrap the wound before you bleed to death,” Nova said quickly.
Nova nodded her head and they started rushing through the crowd. Most of the Sanitation guild ignored them, set on fighting back the monsters. While they were cutting down the flesh sethers easily enough, it was the bull monsters causing them the most trouble.
A flesh sether jumped at Nova. She raised her staff, smacking the monster to the side with all her strength. It was knocked down and Mathius dove forward, stabbing the monster, finishing it off. They were attacked two more times and they weren’t anywhere close to the exit. On top of that, Nova was exhausted and Mathius was lagging behind due to his wound.
“We need somewhere to hide,” Nova said.
Mathius nodded. “I think we can-“
His words were cut off as his eyes widened. “Run!”
Nova turned to see one of the giant bulls rushing toward them. She flung herself to the side just as the monster charged her. The monster crashed its head into the ground, leaving behind a groove in the stone before standing and shaking itself off.
Nova didn’t wait for it. She ran. She didn’t run far when she heard the heavy steps of the beast charging her.
I can’t outrun it.
It would trample her or impale her on its spike. She gripped the staff hoping to pull the scythe out but there was only a flicker before it faded. Whatever source she used to power the scythe was empty. She had to think of something else.
What do I have? My staff, the crystal I made, and my shards.
A desperate plan began to take shape. She didn’t have time. She knew the monster would reach her soon. She grabbed her pouched, spilling shards out as she grabbed one and began charging it. In her other hand, she grabbed the crystal and activated it.
A roar sounded behind her and she could feel the monster’s breath on the back of her neck. She threw the crystal towards the wall as fast as she could and then dropped the shard. Nova was flung forward in the direction of the crystal as the crystal hit the ground. She felt like her back would break from the sudden jerk forward.
Where she had been, the monster shoved its head down, impaling the ground. It let out an angry roar as it jerked its spiked head from the ground, leaving grooves behind. It started to take a step forward when a loud boom rocked the ground under its feet.
The shard exploded. Unfortunately, Nova was closer than she would have liked. Rock and debris slammed into her and she raised her arms, trying to protect herself from the rubble as it smashed through the air around her.
Eventually, the spray of rubble stopped. Nova pulled her arms away, her breathing shaky. She stood up and as she did, she heard another loud groan.
She turned and she saw Mathius running towards her, his expression panicked. “Watch out!”
Another groan sounded above Nova. She looked up. An avalanche of rocks was heading right for her.
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