The ax fell down with a loud crunch. A splash of blood sprayed across her face. Mathius was screaming. Nova wanted to join him. The ax wasn’t sharp enough to sever the legs in one strike like she had hoped. She knew she would have to try again and again. Her hands trembled.
“Don’t stop!” Trixie said gleefully.
Nova grabbed the belt holding up her dagger and tossed it to Mathius. “Bite down on this.”
She made the mistake of looking at Mathius. His skin was pale, and his face scrunched up in pain, blood poured from a tear on his lip. She wasn’t sure how he was even still conscious.
Nova swallowed, trying to disconnect from what she was doing. She gripped the ax. “Ready?”
She didn’t wait for Mathius to answer. Instead, she pulled back the ax and began to chop. It took three more cuts. At one point, Mathius passed out, but Nova was forced to wake him before she finished. He had to be awake for the summons.
As soon as the last cut was made severing Mathius’s legs, Mathius slapped his hand against the symbol he had made on the ground and whispered an incantation. The summoning circle began to glow then bit-by-bit the symbols turned red as if covered in bloody ink. A red sludge formed in the circle until it was a thick blob. The blob’s body surged up from the ground, twisting and turning until it found what it was looking for.
“You will walk again. You will run faster and be stronger than you ever were before. But be warned, I will swallow you whole if you’re too weak to hold me. Boy, shall I be your legs?”
Mathius spit out the belt he had been biting down on and croaked out a word. “Yes.”
The blob laughed. “Let’s see how long you last.”
Then it swirled out of the circle and fastened itself to Mathius’s butchered thighs. Mathius shoved his body back as the legs began to form into a mimic of his own, except the legs were red as blood. Once the legs had formed, Mathius stiffened and then passed out.
Nova rushed to Mathius’s side. She placed her fingers on his neck, taking his pulse. It was there but weak.”Is he going to be okay?” Nova asked, turning to Trixie.
Trixie was peering at Mathius with a piercing intensity. “He’s cementing his deal.” Trixie looked away with a satisfied sigh. “That was perfect. Ah, it was definitely worth it making a deal with you two.”
“Are we really just entertainment to you?” Nova gritted out.
“Yes, and so much more. You are the best meal.” Trixie looked dazed like she was intoxicated.
“Meal? You mean mana.” Nova stood up slowly staring at the demon.
“That too. But mana is like water. This! This is a banquet made of some of the finest dishes. Soul travelers are truly the best meals. They sow disaster wherever they go.” Trixie started to laugh.
She stretched her arms out and then tilted her body in the air like she was about to take a nap. Her form shimmered before vanishing.
Nova stared at the spot where Trixie had vanished. She waited to see if there was any sign of Trixie returning, but the demon seemed to have left for now. She turned back to Mathius, checking his pulse once more. It was beating steadily though a bit weaker than she would have preferred. She just hoped he wasn’t suffering from blood loss or shock.
She glanced down at the red legs. They really did look like regular legs, except for the color. She stared at them, wondering if Mathius would be okay or if she had led him to a slow death being eaten by what amounted to a demonic prosthetic.
The sound of rocks hitting the ground made her jump. She turned to see her makeshift ax falling apart. The rocks lay on the ground with blood and flesh clinging to them.
Don’t look beside them. Don’t look.
Bile climbed up her throat. Nova covered her mouth and ran to a corner, away from where Mathius lay. She leaned over and emptied her stomach, over and over until there was nothing left, not even water. Tears ran down her cheeks.
All of this was too much. Chopping someone up like they were a piece of meat. Who did that? Demons, monsters, and danger were everywhere. Now they were trapped in this cave and who knew how long they would survive. She hated this. She dragged her hand down the cave wall, digging her fingers in it.
Nova threw back her head and screamed. She screamed until her throat felt raw, screamed out the rage and helplessness until she felt she wouldn’t break apart. She leaned against the wall, panting.
Someone help me.
There was no deity this time, no summoner, no Korn to rescue her, no demon to make a deal with. No Tinle. No Helena. It was simply her. Nova sucked in a breath and held it. Holding it as if she could pause life for just a moment. Finally, she let out the breath and straightened up.
She looked into the dark. Out there, there were monsters. It was time to move. She walked back to Mathius. He was still unconscious. Even her wild screaming hadn’t woken the man. Nova snorted and wiped the back of her hand over her face. Nova bent down and grabbed under Mathius’s arms, then she began to drag him away from the carcass of his old legs.
She didn’t get very far when the torch crystal tumbled from his hand onto the ground. Nova stopped. Picking it up, she tried to figure out the best way to use it. Honestly, she was wary about having it active. More than likely, it would be a beacon for the monsters but she didn’t think groping around in the dark would be any better.
She took off the bands of rocks around one of her wrists and wrapped it around the torch crystal. She then tied it back around her wrist. She tested it out, making sure the crystal wouldn’t fly off. She breathed a sigh of relief when it stayed put.
She started to grab Mathius again but stopped. Her staff. She could leave it behind and grab it after she had moved Mathius but she was nervous about leaving him in the dark alone. Instead, she hurried and grabbed her staff and then returned to Mathius.
She couldn’t drag Mathius and carry her staff. She thought about it for a moment and then she laid the staff against Mathius’s chest, tucking it into his belt. She frowned, realizing that it wouldn’t work in that position. Instead, she twisted it horizontally. Using the other strap from the rocks around her other wrist, she tied the staff to Mathius’s belt. It looked awkward when she was done, but it was secure enough for her to move.
Hooking her hands underneath Mathius’s arm, she began dragging him again until they had reached the other side of the cave, and the area with the bloody rocks and Mathius’s mangled legs was covered in darkness. By the time Nova was done, she was panting. She slumped down next to Mathius.
She was thirsty and hungry. She was sure that Mathius would need some sort of nutrition as well, but they hadn’t brought rations with them. This was supposed to be a quick in-and-out heist. Well, that hadn’t worked out at all. Nova let out a sigh. So, they need to find water and some sort of food source. She wondered if flesh sethers were edible.
“Ava would be really useful about now.”
There was suddenly a garbled noise.
Nova jerked up. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Shit! Don’t tell me I could have been talking to you this whole time. Ava, you there?”
“Right. Sounds like you can’t get through.” There went that plan. She leaned back when she heard a soft ping. Nova frowned and looked around. The ping didn’t sound again.
Nova waited. When nothing happened, a thought came to mind. She pulled up her system and at the bottom of the screen, she saw notifications pending. She focused on them and a message came up.
[Explorer’s Quest unlocked. Find Me. Would you like to accept this quest?]
Nova blinked in surprise. She hadn’t expected to gain a quest in this situation but she wasn’t going to say no.
[Find Me quest accepted.]
The screen display closed and she was back looking at her main screen where the quest lay. She focused on it.
Quest Level: Stage 1
Quest Type: Explorer
-The Explorer Core, Ava, has been lost in the Hayeln dungeon for a century. Find it.
-Return it to the Core Room.
– 100 XP
– Automatic membership into the Explorer’s Guild.
– A Deeper Connection to the Ava Core
Nova looked at the last reward. That seemed like a pretty strange reward. What did a deeper connection to Ava mean? Yes, she was more than an AI but did it mean Ava would like her more or something else?
She wasn’t sure but at least the quest gave her a goal while she was in this place besides surviving. She started to close out the window and then stopped. There were still the rewards. She glanced over at Mathius. He was still asleep and didn’t show any sign of waking up anytime soon. She had a bit of time to at least check out her other two rewards before they moved again.
She focused on the blueprint first. Immediately a detailed blueprint appeared in front of her, describing her Soul Weapon and its production. Underneath the blueprint was a brief summary.
[Soul Weapon Blueprint]
Class: Evolving weapon
– This weapon is permanently bonded to one person.
– The weapon will grow as the user develops.
– The weapon can manifest the user’s mana though manifestation is more complicated when multiple mana attunements are used.
-During growth, additional material may be needed to prevent the weapon from breaking down.
-Artifact can no longer be made in the Room of Weaving, all productions of this artifact and upgrades must be done physically, following the blueprint.
Nova was surprised by the last restriction. She knew it was sort of a cheat to be able to make an artifact as she had done but she figured she needed a few cheats. Now it seemed that making her soul weapon that way had been a one-time thing. She tilted her head. Or maybe not. The message said this artifact. Did that mean she could still make artifacts in the Room of Weaving like she had done before, just not another Soul Weapon?
She thought that might be the case, especially since there had been multiple displays in the Room of Weaving. She would have to test it later. She closed the window.
[Blueprint stored in the Room of Weaving.]
Nova glanced at the message before closing it out and turned to the last reward, one she found herself extremely curious about.
She looked at the hint reward and focused on it. A new message came up.
[Hint – What is the purpose of a Soul Traveler? Manifest this and you’ll be given a gift.]
Nova blinked at the message. That’s it?
There was nothing else. Just that. What does it mean by manifest?
She tilted her head. Manifest means appear, right? Or more than that, make it solidify. So that meant she had to find out what the purpose of a Soul Traveler was and then make that purpose appear.
Yeah, nothing big there. She frowned. Did this mean all Soul Travelers have the same reason for existing? Or do I have to discover my unique purpose? Ugh, so frustrating.
She leaned back and looked at the ceiling.
She put the thought aside for now. There were other things on her list she had to focus on. She looked at Mathius.
Just a little bit longer.
Nova stared into the darkness and wondered just how much time they had left.
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