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Ch015-Dirty, Mean, And Mighty Unclean

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“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Edna said, watching the tiny island with her hands shaking in her lap.

“Me neither.” Sylver lied, sitting next to her.

“What does 4 question marks for a level even mean?” Edna asked, trying to scry the thing and getting absolutely nothing back.

“My guess? She's 200 levels above us. Apparently, a level 200 cleric, couldn’t so much as dent the thing.” Sylver said, looking back at the sound of two rocks colliding with each other. His shades were in the process of preparing the ritual grounds but first needed to clear the debris away.

“She?” Edna asked.

“I’m assuming by the handwriting. The author was an elf, so it’s a little hard to tell, but I’ve never seen a man write his K’s like this. Elven women have ever so slightly longer index fingers, and it shows in the way they hold their pens and write. They normally get it trained out of them by the time they’re old enough to leave their home, but most of them slip back to their natural ways after a few years.” Sylver explained, gesturing to the letter that looked like a K and comparing it to his notes.

“What language is this anyway?” Edna asked, taking the large book from his hands.

“Elvish. And luckily a dialect I’m familiar with. Or at least most of it is. There are notes on it written in Eiran, so I’m guessing she’s been here a while. But more importantly, the formula and framework blueprints are all in a format I can understand.” Sylver said. To Edna, the whole thing looks like a giant jumble of scribblings, with very few spaces to indicate where one sentence started, and another stopped. And she couldn’t even see any formula or frameworks that Sylver was gesturing to.

“How long have you been at this?” Edna asked finally.

She’d been called to help when Sylver went to tell the group he wasn’t coming with them. He offered her 20 gold as payment, and a promise to escort her back to Arda once they were done. On top of getting a huge payment for what was explained to be only a few days of work, Edna was also interested in what exactly Sylver was doing.

Breaking a curse that’s plaguing the king of talking magical cats, it turned out. Not the king of talking magical cats exactly, just the human girl, who was the owner of the king of talking magical cats, who was barely 10 years old, and already almost dead from a curse placed on her bloodline an unknown number of generations ago.

Unlike Sylver who took the whole thing in perfect stride, or at least put his confusion on hold, Edna was still in a state of shock and freaked out every time one of the cats did anything more than meow or lick itself.

“2 days. Well, 2 nights and a day if you want to be precise.” Sylver said, taking the book and his notes back from her.

“That explains the bags under your eyes. I already swore on my life to keep everything a secret, so could you tell me how exactly you know how to do this?” Edna asked.

“My master was a master at breaking curses. I’ve studied enough about them, that I know what I’m doing. If I’m being honest, this one is only a threat because of the years it’s had to grow itself. Not to mention the hundreds of lives the previous king’s of cats gave it. If this was dealt with properly when it started, you’d need at most a few adept clerics and the whole thing would be over. But considering the temple was more likely to kill the person under the curse if it failed, they put it off for too long. Then they just let the thing sit and fester, and now what used to be a tiny scratch you could treat with some aloe vera, is a full blow infection about to stop a heart.” Sylver explained, shutting the book and setting it nearby. The only lie in what he said was how he knew how to do this.

Nyx wasn’t a master at breaking curses. In fact she was very bad at it. Her redeeming feature in that area was only that 99 times out of 100, she had enough raw power to just over power it. Sylver on the other hand, studied the subject profusely, at first out of curiosity, and later when he realized how many cursed treasures could be uncursed to become his valuable tools and weapons. And as a result of that, he knew enough about them to handle the tricky 1 out of 100 that Nyx couldn’t overpower.

“That still doesn’t answer how you know how to do this. I get unique classes level up differently from any other, but even with that, you should still be leagues stronger if you know how to work with magic like this.” Edna said.

“Do you trust me?” Sylver asked, turning to look at her. In the light of day, his black eyes seemed darker than ever.

“I do,” Edna said without hesitation.

Sylver paused from the surprise but tried his best not to show it. “In that case, trust me that there’s a good reason I’m not telling you.” Sylver said.

“Fine. But I want you to promise me you’ll tell me one day.” Edna said, looking at Sylver.

“I can’t promise that. What if I die before telling you? I can’t die with an unfulfilled promise. I’m not promising anything, but if there comes a time when I’m comfortable sharing it, I’ll tell you. And more importantly, even if I told you, it would change absolutely nothing. There would be zero benefit to either of us, and potentially great harm to me.” Sylver said.

“Alright then. Keep your secrets. How certain are you that this will work?” Edna asked, changing the subject to a more comfortable area.

“Very certain. I’ve never gotten to do this, while holding the book detailing how exactly the curse was done. There’s obviously a few unknown factors, given the size and age of the curse, but I know where it started, so figuring out where it ended up, isn’t that hard. I’ve already had the king of cats show me how she would go about giving up her life to the thing, and it’s only confirmed my theory.” Sylver explained.

“How would you do it, if you didn’t have the book?” Edna asked, getting off the log they were sitting on, and stretching.

“Well there’s a couple of ways. The first is the brutish show of strength. Just blast the curse with raw magic until it can’t even hold itself together. Which isn’t an option right now, given the strength of that thing. I already tried hitting it from a distance, just to see what happens, but it didn’t even react. Even with the cats helping out, I can’t throw anything hard enough to hurt it.” Sylver said, getting up as well and walking towards his group of shades.

“Holy magic, kind of falls under that category in most cases. They have such a huge advantage against dark magic, they rarely bother learning how exactly the curse works. Unluckily for us, this particular curse is a little too powerful for that. Which is where the lockpick method would usually come in.” Sylver said. The shades were almost done. They only had a few giant boulders to move out of the way.

“The lockpick is exactly what it sounds like. You prod and poke a curse, until you feel a soft spot, and then you push at it, until it gives a little. Keep pressure on that area, and move onto the next, and after a few more, the whole thing breaks open like a lock. Hence lockpick.” Sylver continued.

“Is this the lockpick method then?” Edna asked.

“This? Oh, no. Not even a little. This is the ‘Don’t leave a fucking book detailing the entire process of creating and maintaining the spell’ method. This is like trying to raid a castle that has a wall made of paper and you know exactly which wall it is. It’s so unfair, I’m almost pissed off that something this incompetent has caused so much suffering. Granted, not everyone would be able to grab the book as I have, but even with that, this is beyond idiotic. My feeling is that the woman had an accomplice, who either quit or wasn’t very good at his job. Other than a few segments, the whole thing is incredible.” Sylver said, opening the book once again, and flipping to the bookmarked page.

“Just look at this. Using a reversed matrix to keep everything stable. It seems so obvious now that i’ve seen it, I can’t believe I never thought of it before. But then it goes right back to retard territory when she links the whole thing up to an imperfect catalyst. It’s really weird, there’s so much potential in this, completely wasted by small mistakes.” Sylver explained leafing through the book.

He spent the remainder of the day going through the book for the hundredth time, as his shades completed the ritual site for him. Using his magic he cut a large boulder into two halves, and with great care made the cut area’s mirror finish smooth. Laying them down next to each other, he had two sparkling white circular tables, and got to work carving everything out.

Edna mostly sat around watching him work, and only left for a brief hour to help the cats move the body over.

At his request, they found a random bandit and brought him to Sylver still alive. He was interested in how exactly cats managed to subdue a man at level 22, but by the point they brought the body over, he didn’t care enough to ask.

The tied up, blindfolded, and gagged man, was placed onto one of the homemade stone tables and struggled fruitlessly for a few minutes. He seemed to run out of stamina surprisingly quickly and simply lay on the table panting.

After Sylver finished carving the table on the left, the man was moved onto it and started to struggle once again. But he was no match for the ropes the cats had used or the fact that Sylver had reinforced them while he had the time. His armor was removed at Sylver’s request, and he was left in the cold in his undergarments.

“This feels wronger than just killing him,” Edna commented.

“On the other side, he’s inadvertently helping save the life of a little girl. And the mother of a litter of kittens. Have you seen the kittens? They’re absolutely adorable.” Sylver said, putting on a cherry voice and trying to change the subject.

Edna’s expression remained stoic, or as Sylver was used to thinking of it as, silently judging him. Human sacrifice tended to leave an extremely sour taste in most people's mouths, even when it’s for a good cause, and done to a person who arguably deserves death. The man was a mid ranking bandit. And from what Sylver gathered from Salgok, the initiation to become one, usually involved killing. The requirements to rank up the food chain involved even more killing. It wasn’t something you really failed your way upwards in. It required drive and willingness, according to Salgok at least.

“If it makes you feel any better, you can leave for now. I’ll have one of the cats call you when I need you. If you want we can discuss the ethics of essentially torturing a person to death, but I’ve honestly already had this conversation a million times. a. My opinion on the matter? I measure things in utility. This man’s pain and suffering, is the price I’m willing to pay for the life of that little girl, and the lives of her potential children. Not to mention the king of cats’ life, finding my family, potentially saving the people this man would have killed or destroyed, and stopping a curse that may or may not develop into a full-blown calamity.” Sylver explained. He sorely missed the days when he could just drink a potion and spend a month completely awake and clear. Right now he was having trouble not swaying on his feet.

Edna stood quietly for a while, her attention divided between the struggling man, and the exhausted-looking man, diligently carving through mirror-smooth stone using a toothpick thin chisel and a rock he found on the floor.

“Is there any other way to do this?” Edna asked finally.

“There is. But not in the timeframe I have, or within my current scope of abilities. There are other methods that wouldn’t require any suffering, save my own, but they do not have the same probability of success as this will. As it stands now, this is the safest, and most certain method, to save the girl, and destroy the curse.” Sylver explained.

“Can’t you drug him? Knock her out or something?” Edna protested.

“I can’t. I need him conscious, alive, and aware, otherwise, this won’t work. If it changes anything, it’ll only hurt him for a few minutes. After that, the delirium will settle in, and he won’t have any idea what’s going on. And this is kind of a moot point now. Because what’s the alternative? Just kill him mercifully and waste the chance to do some good to save this murderer a little pain? Let him loose to rape and kill until he ultimately gets shanked in the face by another bandit?” Sylver asked.

Edna remained silent, simply watching him work on the other stone.

“Did you know I used to study under a priest when I was a child?” Edna asked, walking around the large stone, and the tied-up man.

“I assumed so. Most children do at some point.” Sylver answered.

“He was a very gentle man. Had a herb garden, spent his free time helping the poor, the sick, and never once in the time anyone knew him, raised his voice in anger. Really old too, he must have been in his 80s when I knew him.” Edna said, almost whispering the words.

Sylver could tell where this was going, given how he’d heard many stories about gentle priests in the past.

“His temple was on the outskirts of the city. Just far enough away, that the guards didn’t quite have watch over it.” Edna continued.

“And one day, a group of people decided to steal from him. They broke down his doors, ruined his garden, and made an attempt to steal the people he was teaching. And do you know what happened?” Edna asked.

Sylver almost sighed the words out. “He turned the other cheek, and they saw the error of their ways and everything worked out all right. Violence is never the answer, never be cruel, and so on and so forth,” He said.

“He tore them limb from bloody limb and then spent a month hunting them down like a wild animal. He came back almost 30 levels higher and absolutely drenched in blood. And do you know what he said to us?” Edna asked.

Sylver remained silent, carefully chipping away at the stone.

“He said to be kind and forgiving to all,” Edna said with a cheery tone. “But the moment they try to harm you, or yours, grind them to a bloody paste.” She said with a grin Sylver that could hear in her voice.

“I don’t really see how this story applies to the current situation. But the message I’m getting is that you’re not a stranger to violence or death. But this isn’t that kind of righteous violence. This is the cold kind. The one you normally picture assassins or cowards using. He’s tied up, it’s not a fair fight in any way. This man hasn’t hurt anyone close to me or you. He’s a stranger, we don’t even know his name. For all we know, he’s a good person, just caught up with a bad crowd or something to that extent. There’s no such thing as someone truly evil, everyone has some good in them. Sure he’s a bandit, but he’s also somebody’s friend, and somebody’s son, and maybe even a father.” Sylver said, blowing stone dust out of his carving.

“Are you trying to get me to change my mind?” Edna asked, walking over to the man and looking at him.

“I’m just trying to make sure you don’t see this as something it’s not. It’s murder. And human sacrifice. In cold blood, I might add. This is neither heroic, or righteous, save for the fact that I personally don’t place the value of this man’s life, anywhere near the girl’s life, or yours, or my own. He’s a nameless bandit, I’d put him roughly in the same category as a wild wolf trying to attack me, or a pig I bought to butcher.” Sylver explained.

“I’ll be honest, that’s a little fucked up. How can you compare the life of a person, to that of an animal?” Edna asked.

“Easily. Do you know what separates an animal from a person? Choice. An animal has none, it simply does as it’s nature compels it too. You can’t get angry at a starving wolf trying to eat you, in the same way, you can’t get angry at an earthquake destroying your house, or a flood killing someone. It’s just what it does, it has no choice in the matter, no volition or autonomy, it feels nothing when it destroys, it neither consents to its actions nor denies them. A person, on the other hand, does. A man chooses to kill, a man chooses to steal, and a man chooses help or hinder. And at least as I see it, animals are perfectly innocent in that regard, since they never made any choices at all.” Sylver said.

“Sure you can say that the bandit stealing and killing to stay alive, is as innocent as a wolf doing the same, but I don’t think of it that way. It’s one thing when circumstances force you to act, but at some point, there’s a choice involved. This man chose to remain a bandit, instead of becoming a baker, or a knight or some other acceptable profession. And to bring down my moral stance even lower than that, I’m stronger than him, so therefore, I get to do whatever I want. If he has a problem with this, but no power to act, that’s on him, not me.” Sylver finished.

He got up from his crouch and stretched and looked down at his handiwork with pride. The stone turned out to be with only very minor faults, which was quite easy to work around. Normally this would be done with metal since the stone was relatively porous, but it was more than enough for his purposes.

His train of thought, that was mostly Sylver mentally patting himself on the back, was interrupted by one of his shades returning, carrying a small vial of red liquid in his hands.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Thomas said. In a slight twist of fate, the grey tabby cat that had originally spoken to Sylver was named Thomas.

“I do,” Sylver answered simply. He already knew Thomas wasn’t completely on board with the idea, but at the same time, knew that they were very much out of options.

With everything ready, there wasn’t any reason to put things off any longer. It felt strange to perform such a ritual in broad daylight, but the curse was ever so slightly weaker under the sun, so daytime it is.

Removing his shirt he handed it to Fen and got up onto the well-carved platform. The tied-up bandit started to struggle again, but whatever his strength attribute was, it wasn’t enough to break the magically enhanced ropes. Taking the vial of blood from one shade, and the intricately carved glass needle and flask from the other, he gently poured the blood from the vial into the flask. Swishing it around, he waited for the magic to activate, and as it just began to glow, stabbed the bandit through the heart, with the needle.

With the tiny alterations Sylver had made to the flask, it forced the blood inside of it, out of the needle, and into the bandit’s heart. As the dual platforms began to glow, the bandit struggled harder and harder, hitting his head multiple times against the stone, and his muffled groans turning into noticeable screams. He had the man held down for a moment, as he marked the skin around his heart and face, and allowed the shades to let him go to continue struggling.

Using a small scalpel, Sylver sliced a pattern into his own skin on the shoulder blades, down his arms, and a wobbly line across his heart. Cutting a thin pattern into one palm, then the other, his blood was freely dripping onto the stone platform.

The bandit had managed to bite his way through the cloth gag in his mouth somehow and was now screaming openly, the barrier erected by the temple in the past, thankfully hiding all the noise.

The cats all walked up to the bandit’s platform, and one by one poured their mana into it. Edna placed her hand on Sylver’s platform and did as they had practiced, and channeled her mana into it.

“I’m probably going to scream a little, but please ignore it,” Sylver said to Edna. She nodded without a word.

He had to psych himself up for the next part. Blood magic didn’t just hurt, it really hurt. Master practitioners were famous for their unbelievably high pain tolerance. Sylver studied under a man, who made a habit of breaking his own fingers, whenever he was bored. If it weren’t for the fact that he was recommended by Nyx, Sylver would have ended his apprenticeship on day one, and never looked back.

But on the bright side, that’s all behind me. Sylver thought as he held his hands close to each other, but not yet touching. He was already covered in his own blood by this point, the red liquid pulsing with magic, as the circuit was nearing completion.

*Edna

Everything was going according to plan for now. As Sylver said the bandit started to get more and more agitated, some of the rope starting to stretch and tear, and very gradually the man managed to remove an arm, amidst his panic and screaming. The hole in his chest was leaking blood everywhere, covering the bandit in it and leaking onto the platform underneath him.

Edna watched as Sylver continued to hold his hands close, red sparks flying between them, but not quite touching yet. Right now Sylver was whispering something to himself, too quiet for Edna to hear, but he was doing a motion that wasn’t dissimilar to almost clapping. His shoulders tensed up, and multiple times he almost brought his hands together stopping at the very last moment.

The screaming bandit undid the binding on his other arm, and sat up, grabbing at his chest, and clawing at the hole the needle had created. Edna did as Sylver had said, and continued to supply his platform with mana, ignoring the man and everything else going on around her.

A very faint clap set everything off.

First, Sylver’s blood, which was previously randomly spreading out on the carved stone, pooled in the middle and spread out properly and evenly. The bandit’s blood on the other platform, did the same, spreading out on the slightly different carving. It rose out of the stone as if a net, and wrapped itself around the bandit’s body completely, marking his skin with the stone’s pattern.

Sylver’s “scream a little”, turned out to be a deafening howl, that made Edna, the woman who had faced death multiple times in her life, shake with fear. Every single cat inside the barrier shrieked in terror, Sylver’s voice so primal with its pain that it transcended language and species. Every cat, mouse, fish, and fowl, ran away to hide as far as they possibly could. The exception being the remaining 4 cats who had yet to pass their mana into the bandit’s platform. They touched the rock simultaneously and ran away as quickly as they could the second they were finished.

Edna almost removed her hand to try and close her ears off, when she felt the platform start to take more and more mana out of her, almost sucking it out by this point. As her MP got to 10% she pressed against the stone with her feet and pulled her hand off it. As if losing a tug of war, she fell backward and almost turned over from the force.

She looked up and saw that Sylver was sitting down now, his whole entire body, glowing bright red, and sparks of black and yellow jumping around every inch of his skin. The line he had drawn on his chest, spread out, covering his chest, stomach, neck, and arms with a similar pattern to the bandit’s, but much denser in pattern and color.

Edna wasn’t sure when the bandit had managed to completely free himself, but he was now holding onto the stone for dear life, as some unseen force had lifted him off the ground and was trying to pull him away. He spoke gibberish, inhumanly fast, his blood glowing bright red and his face twisted into an indescribable expression.

His face was lit up by the glow of his own blood, the only thing invisible to Edna were his eyes which had turned completely black.

The bandit looked as if he had winked at her, before letting go of the stone platform, and flying towards the small island in the middle of the lake.

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