Ch017-Don't Bring Brawn To A Brain Fight
“It’s been a year. Let the poor kid go. He can still be a baker or a blacksmith or something. While he’s young enough for an apprenticeship.” Adema repeated for the hundredth time. “You always go on about the importance of knowing when to give up, so why are you so fixated on this?
“It doesn’t make sense. He’s doing everything perfectly, he knows the theory almost as well as me, it should work.” Nyx replied.
“Let him be a knight. Or a martial artist or something, he’s got the body for it. Fuck it, just marry him off to someone and let him live the rest of his life in luxury. You’ve got like 10 kingdoms to choose from, who would kill over getting a noble even loosely related to you.” Adema suggested. On the table they were sharing, plates full of cakes and cups full of hot beverages, sat untouched.
“He’s close. I can feel it.” Nyx said. For the first time in a very long time, she sounded exhausted and defeated.
“You said that last month. Have you considered it was a fluke? He’s a pure dark, you know better than anyone what that entails. You wrote half the fucking research on the subject for Thoth’s sake.” Adema almost shouted.
“Did Stefan ask you to do this?” Nyx asked. Adema looking away was more answer than she possibly needed. “In that case, you can tell him to go fuck himself,” Nyx replied. Knowing she was just being puppeteered by Stefan relieved her of some worries.
“Nyx,” Adema said, genuine worry in her voice since they sat down. “Just let it go. He’s a human, even if you succeed, how long will he last? 50? 100 years? You’ve already used up more resources on him, then he’ll ever make back. Just pick an apprentice at random, you’ll get more done that way than with that defective thing.”
“If you ever call him a thing again, I’ll never speak to you. I named him Sylver. That’s his name.” Nyx answered with a glare.
“You... named him? W-Why would you do that!” Adema asked, hitting the table with her hands.
“Look… Just trust me on this. Can you trust that this isn’t me going senile, and I know what I’m doing?” Nyx asked, waving the plates and cups that had toppled over and spilled, back where they belong.
“Stefan was right. You really are obsessed. It’s the same as last time. You made a minute amount of progress, and now you’re certain this is the way to go.” Adema said, getting up from her seat.
“It’s not the same as last time. This is really it, I’m certain of it.” Nyx countered, following after her.
“You need help Nyx. And you’ll hate me for this, but this needs to be done.” Adema shouted, before disappearing into a beam of light.
Edna managed to arrive with the wrapped-up body, just in time to see Sylver grab his roll of tools, running on the lake water, and jumping headfirst into the massive floating blob of blackness. She stood there in stunned silence, just staring at the moving darkness, and holding the surprisingly heavy wrapped up body in her hands.
“He said to put it on this platform.” A voice said behind her. She turned around and saw that it was one of the talking cats. In a state of shock, Edna placed the body where she was told, and following the cat’s instructions, cut the wrappings and let the girl’s body see the light of day.
“And he wants you to put a fish on the other one.” The same voice repeated.
With a wave of her hand, a fish was pulled out of the water of the lake, and Edna gently placed the stunned creature, onto the other blood-covered platform.
Now that the shock had worn off the tiniest of bits, Edna noticed that both platforms had a newly carved framework on them, both ever so slowly filling up with the leftover blood. She also noticed that the one with the fish, was ever so slowly crawling up the creature and covering it in a thin lattice.
“Now what?” Edna asked the cat
“Now we wait.” The grey-furred cat answered it’s tail swaying nervously.
“I remember you being… bigger,” Lola said, floating around the two bodies.
“I think you might have just been smaller when we met. And this isn’t my old body either, it’s brand new. And sorry about this, but I need a little silence for this. We are all one rogue line away, from everything ending prematurely and very badly.” Sylver said.
The bandit was undressed, and while the cats were pouring their gathered mana into him, Sylver was carefully carving a framework into the bandit’s skin. After what the man had been through, he was thankfully comatose, because trying to do this while holding the man down, would have been impossible.
As the cats passed on their power, the white dome gradually decreased in size, now to a point where Lola was unable to stand at her full height and had to crouch.
The pattern was completed relatively quickly, the only issue being that the man had run out of blood right now, and was in some definitions of the word, dead. Luckily there was a necromancer, with a fair bit of power at his disposal, nearby to help him return to the land of the living, long enough to serve his purpose.
Rejuvenating the corpse to an acceptable condition cost a good tenth of everything the cats had given him, but there wasn’t a way around it. This wouldn’t work with a rotting carcass, it had to look genuine. The cats gradually disappeared, only Lola and Horace remaining, circling around Sylver’s soul and hiding inside it as much as they could. The carvings on the bandit’s skin glowed bright red, the pattern reminiscent of roots of a tree emanating from the hole in the man’s chest.
When the dome was barely large enough to keep Sylver inside, he threw the bandit’s body out of it, and at the same time absorbed the dome into his body.
Thankfully things went according to plan, and the giant cloud of darkness forced its way into the dead bandit’s mouth, causing it to start shaking and the sound of tearing flesh and cracking bones, could be heard even by the cats on the other side of the lake.
Sylver got up from his crouch, and cracked his neck, as the years upon years of stored up mana spread through his body, the metaphorical equivalent of an ocean being poured on top of a glass.
And the metaphorical glass cracking under the pressure. His mana channels were not ready for this, Ciege’s body was not ready for this, he wasn’t emotionally ready for this, but not being ready is something he had long grown used to. He pressed on regardless.
With a stomp of his foot, a giant and intricate circle formed around him, tiny glowing formula taking up every single centimeter of space, and almost 5 meters in a radius around him. Taking a very deep breath, Sylver relaxed his arms and took the proper stance for this. His head was already starting to hurt from the pressure, but he was well past the point of backing out now. A paper-thin dome started to slowly rise up from the circle he was standing on, and finished connecting just in time. Layers upon layers of sigils covered the dome, coating the whole thing in bright yellow writing, before flashing once more and turning completely clear.
The bandit’s body stopped breaking apart and being put back together, and now a different man was standing there. He looked about as unremarkable as any person can be, the biggest difference being the absolutely absurd amount of mana floating around him, like a bonfire in Sylver’s eyes, and a massive open wound on his neck and face. Each one consisted of 5 torn up lines, and the one on his face went through his right eye.
“I can’t believe I’m actually alive!” The man shouted. He looked down at his body, and his smile was almost infectious. His every movement caused a torrent of wind to fly around, causing the dome around Sylver to shake ever so slightly from the pressure.
“You!” The man said, pointing a finger at Sylver walking towards him. “You’re the one who did this! I knew someone would eventually find my notes and help me! I knew it! I knew it! Thank you, young man. Tell me, what do you want as a reward for this?” The man asked. He stopped a few steps away from Sylver’s shield, his face so full of joy Sylver felt a pang of guilt for a split second.
“I’m only saying this because I know you’re not going to believe me, but if you use even a trickle of mana, your body, and your essence, will implode and you will die,” Sylver shouted. His voice was slightly distorted from the intense density of his shield.
To his surprise, the man didn’t immediately fire off a spell to see if this was true, and simply patted his chest. This was a problem.
“Oh dear me. An imperfect host. Thank you for the warning young man. How can I ever repay you?” The man replied, still as indescribably overjoyed as a child with a gift.
“One other thing. I’m about to fire off a spell, that will destroy your body, and your essence, and you will implode and die as a result.” Sylver shouted. He couldn’t stop the grin from appearing on his face. Well, he could have, considering he was forcing it on his face. He had a pitiful number of seconds left before things went really south.
The man who had somehow summoned and tormented Lola, the various kings of cats, and by extension their family, stood perfectly still, at a complete loss of what to do, simply staring at the blood-covered and half-naked giant in front of him.
The man moved his hand backward, and in a slapping motion, sent a torrent of light at Sylver. The beam struck the shield and caused it to waver for a moment, before bending upwards in the air, smashing its way through the barrier the temple had set up.
Sylver allowed himself a small breath of relief and the tiniest of smiles, as he saw the crack tear open on the man’s chest.
He heard an extremely anticlimactic “Oh” as a pulse went through the man’s flesh before he started to crumble from the inside.
The man sent wave after wave at Sylver, each spell bouncing off his shield, the man’s screaming lost in the sound of magic being reflected and blocked, as the water surrounding the small island flew around and rained down on the two figures standing on it. Raw magic flew around, burning the grass and vegetation with its intensity, Sylver’s shield barely holding on, with every single attack the man threw at him further and further burning through Sylver’s pitiful reserves. Steam rose out of his skin, his arms shaking, but not wavering, and pain so intense, Sylver was genuinely concerned he was about to break his teeth from the pressure he was putting on them.
The screaming became distinguishable as the man dropped to the floor, his body disintegrating and falling to pieces. The man shouted threat and vulgarity after threat, saying what he would do to Sylver’s mother, and father, and how he’d better pray he had no siblings. Sylver remained standing and ready and on guard, even up to the point when the man’s threats were cut short by the spell reaching his head. Even as the only things that remained were his hands and feet, his torso and head completely gone by this point, Sylver stood at the ready.
He would later regret how much time he wasted due to being cautious, every second burning through his reserves, and leaving him barely 10 times his capacity by the time he was certain the man’s body was completely dead. He only had a few seconds left now.
Switching his stance, he channeled the mana the cats had given him, into the forming pile of ashes, and caused it to condense into a small grey ball, before being flung into the air and towards the edited platform on the other side of the water. His last remaining drops of mana, were used on the soul of the cat, hiding within his, giving the creature enough to manifest properly, and immediately severing his tie to it, giving it the proper framework to remain independent.
Sylver’s arms had turned completely black from the experience, blood seeping out of the cracked and seared flesh, his body swaying as he tried to remain standing up. He managed to gather enough strength in himself to take the few steps that would let him fall into the water.
The freezing cold water felt divine right now, and he closed his eyes for a brief moment to let them rest.
Edna watched as the massive blob of darkness quite suddenly collapsed in on itself. It gradually decreased in size, until she could see an almost nude man, covered from head to toe in a pattern of cuts, eating up the black mist. As the final piece of the cloud entered his mouth, the man fell down onto the floor and lay there twitching.
Edna could then see Sylver get up from a crouching position, and raised his hands towards the body. He stood perfectly still for a while, his hands smoking and smoldering, as a thin barrier surrounded his body.
The bandit’s body crackled and broke apart, spraying blood all over the floor, before a man emerged from it, still covered in the same blood-red lines and sigils, the bandit had. They disappeared into his skin, and only a cut on the face and neck remained.
They spoke to each other for a few seconds, but Edna couldn’t hear a word. The man suddenly reached behind himself, and Edna was blinded by the pillar of light sent towards Sylver. When she regained her sight back, Sylver was still standing, his arms completely black now and the man was nowhere to be seen.
She saw Sylver wave his hands around, as the remains of the man disappeared into nothing. He continued to move his smoking arms around, finally stopping near his chest as a small white figure jumped out of him.
He allowed his arms to drop to his side, and stumbled towards the river.
Edna heard a sound to her side, and felt more power than she had ever experienced next to her. She looked down at the source and used appraisal on the tiny fish.
[????? (?????) - ????]
“No fucking way.” She said to herself, backing up from the platform.
One good thing about mana channels being so close to the nervous system was that Sylver had his completely burned away. His arms didn’t even hurt, he just plain didn’t feel them. Which hurt on a different level, but much more manageable than simple physical pain.
His joy from his bluff paying off was evening out the horrifying realization that he was a whole lot more defenseless than he was counting on. His exhausted body gently floated towards the side of the lake where Edna, accompanied by a massive amount of cats, as well as the current king of cats, waited for him.
Raising his head out of the water a little, he shouted at them
“Kitty! I’ll offer you another deal. I’ll trade you the experience from killing that thing, in exchange for a few materials being gathered and brought to me. And 100 gold coins.” Sylver added quickly. He wasn’t certain just how many levels killing something 200 levels above him would grant, but right now getting his arms in working order was a bigger priority.
“Deal!” The white cat with orange eyes answered. Sylver got to see her kittens starting to eat the half-dead fish that now housed the soul of the sorcerer who had done this, before passing out.
“So that’s it? You won, and it’s over?” Lola asked, her voice in that strange calm that comes with hearing your father had just died.
“It’s over. All that’s left is to wake up again and after I fix my arms, I’ll start working on a body for you to use.” Sylver said, his voice coming from nowhere before his body appeared in the middle of the room as if it were always there.
“What is this?” Lola asked, walking around the circular room and touching just about everything she could reach. Various gems and books were strewn all over the place, tables covered in contraptions in various stages of enchanting, taking up most of the area. Looking up she saw the walls covered entirely by bookshelves, going up the cylindrical room as far as the eye could see. Everything seemed dulled and greyed slightly.
“My home,” Sylver answered. He walked around the large room and sat down on a large armchair facing a fire pit. “Or at least how I remember it. I passed out from the blood loss and the mana backlash. Since your soul is so close to mine, I pulled it in so we could talk.” Sylver said.
“Are you saying I’m inside you right now?” Lola asked with a strange grin. She placed her hand on one of the tables, and with the thought that it isn’t real, pushed her hand easily through it.
“You’ll be fine. I’ll be waking up in a few minutes anyway, I just didn’t want to sit around doing nothing. I thought we could talk.” Sylver said. The firepit lit up with a gently crackling yellow flame.
Lola walked over to him, and found a man completely different from the one who had saved her a few moments ago. He had the same grey hair, but his eyes were clear and green in color. He was smaller than the other man, but he felt bigger. His dark robe covered most of his body, only his hand were visible, both of which were covered in a barely readable formula, even the fingernails having a pattern carved into them.
“I remember you being a little more. I don’t know… intimidating?” Lola said, sitting down on a slightly smaller armchair, the closets of the 3 available. She thought to herself that this man looked like a friendly uncle of some kind, more than the legendary necromancer she had grown up hearing stories about.
“It’s because I was a lot more aggressive back then. And you most likely heard an incredibly fucked up rumor or story about me. Hard to live up to myself sometimes. Aether was the one who lived up to everything the world thought of him. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, he was even better than what everyone believed him to be.” Sylver said. “What’s the last thing you remember, before you were in the woman’s body?”
Lola paused for a while, deep in thought. “I was in a cave, mining for Lackster stones. I had stone golems doing it for me, and I had a tent set up near the entrance. I went to sleep one night, and woke up inside the woman’s body.”
“Do you remember dying? Someone triggering your alarms? Anything strange happening in the days before?” Sylver asked. He crossed his hands over his stomach and kicked his feet up onto a stool that wasn’t there before.
“No. Everything was fine. I stayed with the Restartes for a few weeks while I geared up, then I was in the cave for about 2 months.” Lola answered.
“Restartes, as in plural? When was this?” Sylver asked, with a worried tone.
“Like Second Seed, 1390? I never really kept track of months, to be honest. But it was either Second Seed or Rain’s Hand. It was spring, that I’m sure off.” Lola said. She was surprised to see Sylver looking alert and confused.
“How long were you trapped with the cats?”
“I honestly have no idea. Counting Horace there were 41 of them. But they use a completely different calendar here, that I’ve never heard of before. We tried comparing world-changing events, but my understanding is that because of the Asberg, they never got wind of anything done in the east. They never even heard about the gates opening up there, they were certain it was limited only to them.”
“If the Restartes were all still alive when you died, you must have died about 300 years before me.”
“They died?” Lola asked, her voice catching despite the fact that neither of them were even breathing.
“They called it the Great Rift war. Not a single family with so much as a drop of magic in their blood was left untouched. If my memory serves me right, only Adornos Restarte survived.”
“How did you end up here? Who summoned you?” Lola asked, changing the subject as quickly as she could.
Sylver reached towards his chest and pulled out a small grey needle. “I don’t know. But there’s this thing. I can’t even feel magic coming off it, but it’s clearly hosting my soul somehow. I’ve even got perks and a racial class because of it. I think.”
“Speaking off. Did all this shit with skills and experience, start when you were still alive? When I met Horace, it was already a thing, and they couldn’t imagine a world without it.” Lola asked, kicking her feet up onto a stool that wasn’t there before too.
“No. I just woke up one day, spent who knows how long floating around in nothingness, and suddenly I’m convincing a blacksmith to trade me his body for the life of his lover, and I've been here ever since. There was this woman in white that I saw in his memories, that may, or may not be related to me, but that’s quite literally all I have to go on right now.” Sylver said. It felt so good to finally talk to someone without any restrictions. It wasn’t quite a weight off his chest, but it was the next best thing. The fire felt warmer and even the couches became softer and more comfortable
“Sounds like quite a story. Getting trapped holding back that sorcerer with the help of dead cats, sounds kind of boring in comparison. And by the way, what the fuck was that? All the stories I’ve heard, you darken the sky, as an army of undead crawled out of the depths of Tartarus itself. Undead dragons fly around, as you pulverize anything in your path. This was just…”
“Pathetic? Boring? Honestly, if it weren’t for you in there, I would have just let the bandit’s body implode and then just walk in and have Edna blast whatever remained with holy magic until it died. And all that stuff you hear, was usually greatly exaggerated.”
“So you didn’t have undead dragons?”
“I had 2. But they were mostly for transport. And before you ask, no I didn’t kill them. I made a deal with the keeper for their corpses.”
“An army of the undead?”
“That part was true. I had 16 generals, and each had about 1000 units under them.”
“You covered the sun wherever you went?”
“Sometimes. There was an 8th tier spell that protected some of the weaker undead from burning up from sunlight, so it may have been that. But I must have used it like 5 times in total. I usually work during the night anyway, so people may have just mixed the two up.” Sylver answered. He felt someone grabbing his shoulder and looked around the empty room.
“This wasn’t a fair fight either, to be honest. I only had enough power from the cats to block or redirect whatever he threw at me, but if I tried attacking him directly, it would have done absolutely nothing. Luckily, he triggered the framework in his body, so it all worked out in the end.” Sylver explained. He jumped as someone slapped him across the face.
“Luckily?” Lola asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, not luckily, no. I goaded him into attacking me. If he just sat still and waited, I would have run out of power, and wouldn’t have been able to keep the implosive framework armed. I bluffed. He was easily a hundred times stronger than me. If I didn’t prepare everything and trick him into getting into that body, we would all have been fucked. Because I’ll say it again, if it was just a question of strength, I would have lost. But thankfully I make an effort never to get into a contest of strength, with anybody.” Sylver said. Someone slapped him again, much harder this time.
“We’ll continue this later. All my knowledge is inside these books, use it as you will. Don’t try to leave this room, everything else is off-limits. If you want to hear what happened after you died, start with that section. I’ll be back later. And obviously, since my hands are out of order, becoming a shade is going to have to wait for a bit.” Sylver explained, getting up from the couch and gesturing at a pile of books off in the corner.
“It’s fine. I’ll just be here then.” Lola answered, also getting up from the couch and looking up at the enormous wall of books above and around her.
Sylver woke up just in time to get slapped so hard, his teeth felt like they were in danger of coming out.
“I’m up! I’m up!” Sylver shouted, causing Edna to stop her next attack mid-swing.
He was on the shore of the lake and was surrounded by many cats, a glowing and see-through cat, a crying Edna sitting on top of his, and 3 very well armored men, wearing the temple of Ra’s insignia.