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Ch025-New In Town

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“So in short they’re keeping us all as slaves, with the difference being that we have a chance to leave if our parents pay the ransom, and if they don’t, we just stay here as slaves.” Sylver summarized.

“I’ve spoken to some of the people who’ve been here for years. It’s not just nobles, they have random people mixed in too, almost anyone they can get. The guards don’t make you do anything, but if you want to eat you have to mine for them and sell the ores and crystals you find. Same for buying clothing, tools, or even weapons. The only exception being those like us who still have ransom potential, get free food.” Katia explained.

“And I’m guessing there are gangs who make other prisoners pay a protection fee, in exchange for not getting killed or crippled, because the guards don’t care or get involved when people fight?” Sylver asked, still searching around the room.

“How did you-”

“Every single time something like this pops up, that’s how it evolves, or devolves, depending on who you ask. The guards and warden don’t have to get involved in the nitty-gritty logistics of sorting out who gets what, and get all the ore and crystals, or whatever it is they’re gathering, with minimal effort. It’s like a mini Laissez-faire economy.” Sylver explained, picking up a small syringe and smelling it.

“Why are you smiling? What are you so happy about? You’re a mage who can’t use magic. I’m in the same boat, except even worse since I don’t even have any strengthening skills.” Katia said, getting off the table, and struggling to keep her voice down.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve been hired to keep you alive, and that’s what I will do. Stick with me and everything will be fine.” Sylver said, making his voice as gentle and calm as possible.

Which was difficult because he was feeling…

Excited?

No that’s not the right word for it.

Eager? Thrilled? Delighted?

He almost felt drunk. But in a good way. In the best way imaginable. And it took him a moment to remember the last time he had felt like this.

It was when Aether was still around. And Sylver had a crystal clear purpose. After an entire month of walking around with only the vaguest idea of finding Oska, Helca, and Sonya, building a body for Ciege and Lola, he finally had something he could do right now.

Protect the girl.

Such a simple, but wonderful goal. He even had a simple way of telling if he was succeeding or not. If the girl is alive, and using her skill to call Raba and the others, he’s succeeding. And if she dies, he’s failed.

The feeling must have spread to his face, because Katia stepped away from him, bumping into the table behind herself.

“Before I forget, why did you make me fight Matheo? You do realize that it made me stand out, and could have ruined the whole thing. Not to mention you spoke to me, when there could have been people listening.” Sylver asked, remembering what he couldn’t ask in the carriage, due to Katia’s attendants.

“Because their plan was already ruined. Somehow information from the Cord leaked, that they were planning something. So these guys were going to call the whole thing off. So I went around to all the new students and repeated the hissy fit you saw, until just about every one of them was being watched. When I got to you, they were spread too thin to keep track of me and I’m assuming thought I was going crazy. I don’t know if you heard, just short of every first-year, challenged a sixth year to a fight.” Katia explained, speaking with a calm tone that didn’t match her face.

“And if you stuck around after wiping the floor with Matheo, you would have seen most of them chicken out. But by that point, I had confided in my attendants that Rory De’Laneti was the agent from the Cord, and that I was calling the whole thing off since he wouldn’t fight and I didn’t trust him.” Katia finished, looking down at the floor.

“And because you knew your attendants were working for this group, with this newfound information, the plan to kidnap you, was put back on track, since they thought, that you thought, that the Cord had stopped it? Because their agent was discovered, and you refused to cooperate with him?” Sylver asked, trying to wrap his head around this double, triple, and quadruple cross bullshit.

“Exactly. They thought I thought that since this was being allowed to happen by the Cord, it wouldn’t happen if their agent was discovered. So they thought that I thought I was just going to get to the training facility, without any issue. And that they were doing the smart thing by kidnapping me, when I was certain I wouldn’t be kidnapped. And I even broke the device they were using to communicate, after I told them about De’Laneti, but before you won the fight and switched places with Matheo. So they didn’t get a chance to tell them about it until the very last second.” Katia explained.

“Alright. I see what you did. A little stupid and dangerous maybe, but about the same as allowing yourself to be hired to get kidnapped, so who am I to judge. Who else did they get?” Sylver asked.

“Us two, and 2 more students. Lorence Da’Joule, and Emily Da’Joule. But there are other people, from all over the continent here too, also kidnapped only today.” Katia answered.

“Good. Well, not good, but that’s fewer people to worry about. He’s coming back so try to ignore what I’m about to say and do, and play along.” Sylver asked, getting back on the table and starting to sob again.

*

Sylver spent a good half hour wasting the man’s time, making up more and more contradicting details to the shadowy thing that had attacked them. He was careful to sound as hysteric as possible, constantly circling back to how he’d never seen a person die before and ‘so much blood’.

It had the intended effect, and the man gave up on him, and let him and Katia leave. Sylver was somewhat surprised by this and was quite honestly expecting a few more hours of interrogation before being allowed to leave.

“I’m just asking this to be sure, but you can’t use whatever that skill is, while wearing the collar right?” Sylver asked, walking towards the large building off in the distance.

The “prison” was more akin to a large village, with a large faintly glowing dome surrounding it entirely. A small river ran down on one side of the village, and a large entrance to the mine below took up the center area. Currently, they were still in the heavily watched and patrolled sector near the only exit and entrance from the dome. Not that it changed anything, since unless you murdered a person with a ransom the guards didn’t do anything. They only killed those that killed the one with a ransom, like Katia or Sylver.

Since they were still potentially worth something as ransom, Sylver, Katia, and the Da’Joule’s were provided with a separate building in which to sleep and wash and live, until such a time that they either left and went home, or were forced out so the next kidnapped people could live there.

Weirdly enough the whole area appeared largely deserted. This would later be explained to Sylver by the fact that it was “night time”, despite the fact that the large artificial magical lights were never turned off, and day and night was a matter of opinion.

“No. And there’s a certain condition I need to activate the skill, that will be a little difficult to get down here.” She explained.

By down here she of course meant the fact that the “sky” was completely blacked out. Tiny beams of pale green light pierced through the absolutely massive thing overhead them. Shadows sometimes passed over the beams of light, temporarily stopping them, but as a whole, the place they were in was most certainly underground.

“Is it tied to the moons?” Sylver asked.

Katia stopped dead in her tracks and Sylver just continued to walk. She stood in shock for a few moments, before jogging to catch up to him.

“How the fuck do you know that?” She whispered harshly, grabbing his right arm.

“All good location spells either use the moons, or the suns. Very rarely some mages can use stars, but you’re not anywhere near that level of mastery. And I’m assuming by ‘certain condition’ you mean you need a full moon, that will be impossible to know the exact date off since we can’t see the sky from here. Obviously, we know the next one is in 9 days, but it’ll be hard to count days here, so you’re worried you’ll miss it. Right?” Sylver asked, stopping and making eye contact with the woman.

“Who are you?” Katia asked, gripping his arm a little harder.

“Right this moment I am Mort De’Leon. Your friend, savior, guardian, and knight in shining armor, who will do whatever he has to, to make sure you stay alive and we get rescued.” Sylver answered, looking down at his arm, his skin going white from how hard she was gripping it.

“No. Who are you really?” Katia asked, not letting go and getting far too close to his face.

“In my heart of hearts, I am a seeker of knowledge. But as I said, right now I am just a man with a job to do. Now please let go of my only functioning arm.” Sylver suggested, lifting his right arm slightly, until Katia let go of it.

Walking into the building that would be their home for the next couple of weeks, Sylver was greatly disappointed. The thing looked like it had been ripped out of a city at some point, and then completely abandoned. A giant pile of dirt circled around it, a large hole in the top half made the second level completely exposed to the elements, and all the windows were broken and closed up using rotten wooden planks.

Inside the ‘bed’ was soaked in blood and there were no bedsheets in sight. The only redeeming feature of the whole thing was that it was very warm inside. Mostly due to the thick stones that made up the walls and floor. The word ‘decrepit’ came to mind when looking around the place that would be their home for the next few weeks.

And off in the corner sat two people, each with the silkiest yellow hair Sylver had ever seen, on humans, curled into a ball and crying into their knees while sitting next to each other.

On the right was a man with long blond hair, tied into a ponytail, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, that was the latest fashion for this area, and by the shaking and shuddering of his body, having a minor to medium, complete mental breakdown.

On the left was a woman, with long blond hair, tied into a ponytail, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, that was the latest fashion for this area, and by the almost methodical shaking having a simple panic attack.

Katia started to run towards them, but was stopped by Sylver grabbing her by the arm.

“They’re upset at being kidnapped, they’ll get over it. There’s nothing we can do about it right now, they just need time.” He quickly whispered. He half dragged Katia to the next room and only near the end did she stop trying to run off from him.

“Sleep. I’ll keep watch in case anything happens. You’ve had a rough day and it couldn’t have been easy on you mentally.” Sylver suggested, with an expression on his face that left very little place for discussion.

Katia simply nodded and made herself comfortable on the small couch, before falling asleep so fast, she may as well have passed out.

Sylver leaned back on the hard wooden chair, and allowed his eyes to rest as he allowed his mind to wander and come up with a more concrete plan. He had a lot of information to process right now, but couldn’t help but smile at how good it felt to finally have something to do.

*

Sylver ‘woke up’ as something bright and yellow entered his peripheral vision. It was the girl Da’Joule. Emily.

[Human (Mage) - 25]

“Good morning. Mort De’Leon, nice to meet you.” Sylver whispered, getting up from the creaking wooden chair, and walking over to the dead-eyed woman.

Sylver had no obligation to help these two. He wasn’t hired to do so, he wouldn’t be getting anything if he did, and it would make his actual job a whole lot harder. But one could argue that he is partially responsible for them ending up here. If he hadn’t accepted the quest, Katia wouldn’t have been kidnapped, and neither would they. But at the same time, he wasn’t the one who kidnapped them, the one who allowed them to be kidnapped, or even the one who could have prevented it.

Sylver and the woman stared at each other, neither blinking nor moving. He took her gently by the arm and led her towards what could be considered a kitchen/dining room and away from the snoring Katia.

He sat her down onto the closest thing they had to a table, and went into the backroom to see if there was any food there.

There wasn’t. There were crooked and cracked plates, as well as a bunch of rusty spoons, and metallic cups with extremely rusted and sharp edges. Empty rusty cans sat in a giant pile off to one side, that had random insects crawling in and out of them.

“Your circadian rhythm is going to be a little off for a few days, until we all get synced up to their self imposed day and night cycle,” Sylver explained, speaking softly and carefully.

“I’m sorry?” The girl asked, only a slight tremor in her voice.

“I’m just trying to make small talk. I found in situations like these, it doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you speak. People calm down quicker, when they have to shift their mind to a conversation.” Sylver explained. He rolled his shoulders back, and both crackled loudly.

“I… what?”

“I think I saw you at my singing class. You play the violin, right?” Sylver asked, resting his arms on the greasy table.

“Viola.” The girl answered weakly.

“What’s the difference?”

“A viola is bigger than a violin, and plays lower and softer notes.” She explained.

“Right. Yours was that lovely white cherry wood one, right?” Sylver asked, carefully smiling.

“That was Alberan’s. Mine was made from frosted ebony. It looked like there was a giant crack on the side of it, if the angle of the light was right. But it had the brightest strings out of everyone. Elven spider silk, almost impossible to find unless you have a direct connection to the elves.” The girl explained, gesturing with her hands as she spoke.

“Oh yeah. I remember now. And you had those white gold frets too right?” Sylver asked, adjusting his tone with each sentence into his usual one.

“No, you’re thinking of Alberan’s again. Gold for frets is only for show-offs, you need a hard material for them otherwise they rub away instantly. You need a lot of force to hold the note properly, and it’s almost impossible to get your finger off the fingerboard at the correct angle, so as not to scratch them. A master bard could do it, but I only play as a hobby.” The girl explained, miming playing the viola in the air as she spoke.

“It’s a good hobby. It’s important to know how to play an instrument. Helps you learn concentration and proper timing. Very applicable to most magic. I tried to learn the lute when I was younger, but didn’t have any talent for it. I can finger out a tune, as well as anyone, but you can hear it’s just memorized and not from the heart. I had slightly better success with the harp, but I never really got into it. ” Sylver explained, also miming playing an imaginary lute.

“What kind of lute did you play?” The girl asked.

“An Oud. My master had a custom one made for me, that was enchanted to never lose its tune. I passed it on as a gift when a friend of mine took an interest in it. Beautiful instrument. Brass plecum, silver-lined strings, platinum frets, and ivory wood body. I’m fairly certain he played it on the day he died.” Sylver explained, stretching himself on the weak chair.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” The girl answered.

“It’s alright. How are you feeling? Any pain? Stomach ache? Headaches?” Sylver asked

“No. They didn’t do anything to us, you were the only one they kicked unconscious. How are you? You look a little too lively for a man who was beaten for almost half an hour. Is your arm going to be fine?” The girl asked, gesturing at Sylver’s oily-looking left arm.

“I’m very resilient. And they were kind enough to heal the damage, and Katia helped a little as well. Some sort of neutral natural regeneration skill I would guess.” Sylver explained, looking at his slightly better looking left arm. He decided not to mention that they healed his damage unwillingly.

The conversation continued in a small circle, the girl gradually calming down as Sylver explained more and more of the situation to her, circling back towards instruments or other safe topics, when he felt she was starting to lose it again.

At some point, Lorence Da’Joule joined them at the table, but unlike Emily, he wasn’t crying anymore or look beaten and terrified. He just had a completely blank look on his face and didn’t say a single word.

*

“You’re leaving?” Emily asked, her eyes as close to clear and awake as was possible for the moment.

“I’ll be back in a few hours. I’ll find out what the situation is like, and see what I can do, maybe organize some protection for us. From what Katia told me, you’ll be safe inside the house, since the guards are watching it, and we all are still ransom worthy.” Sylver said, searching through the giant pile of junk in the corner, looking for something to work as a bag.

“What should we do?” Lorence asked.

“Sleep. If you can. Maybe clean this place up a little, if you can’t. We’re going to be here for a while, and I personally hate living in a dirty environment. I’d start by putting everything that we can’t use into one room, to throw away later. See what furniture can be repaired, and throw out the ones that can’t. Tell Katia to stay inside when she wakes up.” Sylver said.

He got a feeble nod from both the Da’Joule siblings.

This submissiveness might be temporary, while they’re both still in shock, but it worked well enough for the moment. There would obviously be a backlash if they ever fully wake up from it. Or they’ll stay like this forever, Sylver had seen it go either way enough times that he considered it a 50/50 chance.

Katia had some warning, even if she didn’t really know exactly what for, but these two were quite literally plucked out of their normal lives and thrown here.

Regardless, the two seemed to accept Sylver as the leader, whether it was due to him defeating Matheo or just because he was the only one that was calm, and handing out orders. So it was good enough for now, whatever the reason was.

Outside of their house, were similar squallers, in varying degrees of decay and ruin, and populated by people that were dressed in identical orange jumpsuits, and wearing the same collar as Sylver was.

A majority were inside their homes, crying, or rocking back and forth, screaming, or whatever method they chose to calm themselves. Very few were sitting outside the house, observing their surroundings, and even fewer were actively walking around introducing themselves and trying to figure out their situation.

He didn’t recognize any of them, and why would he? He wasn’t a real noble and he’d only been alive for a little over a month.

The ground was mostly dirt, pieces of stone and metal embedded into it, pushed into the floor after years of being stepped on. Overhead balls of light hovered in the air, lighting up the area as if it were daytime, and making the multiple rope bridges almost impossible to see. Some sort of magic on the guards blocked all attempts to use appraisal on them, but after a lifetime of not having that skill, Sylver could tell from a distance he wouldn’t win in a fight against one of them. Let alone a group. At least not while wearing this magic restricting collar.

Each one was dressed in a black leather-like uniform, different from the one the guard Sylver had killed was wearing, and holding a strange-looking metal spear in their hands. The bridges were as high as possible, and in some areas were almost touching the shining dome above.

Even higher than that, was a massive green blackness, stretching outwards for miles and miles, the end almost impossible to see, as only the tiniest of curves gave away the fact that it was a dome. They were in a prison, inside a magical dome, inside an even bigger stone dome.

From Sylver’s estimations this cave could easily fit 4 times the area of Arda inside of it, and still have room for more. How something this absurdly massive was not falling in on itself, boggled the mind.

The answer was obvious of course. Magic. But something of this scale would require a 6th or 7th tier geomancer. Which, if true, raised a whole lot more questions regarding what exactly was the purpose of this whole thing.

There was something odd about the whole thing. It felt a little… unnecessary? Why bother keeping nobles here, instead of their own cells or something? Why have guards patrolling things, instead of having an automatic system? It was all weird and inefficient.

They kidnapped nobles, to ransom away, and when they didn't get the ransom, used them as slaves to dig for crystals. If their end goal was the crystals, why bother kidnapping nobles and drawing attention to themselves? It was idiotic. The only explanation would be that the crystals were sensitive to magic, and golems or undead couldn’t be used. But then why not just buy normal slaves? Or bandits? Or kidnap peasants no one would notice missing? Was the operation so smooth that they could get money and crystals, without any issues?

Well considering they’ve been at it for who knows how long it seemed to be perfect.

Sylver understood another part of the collar’s framework that he didn’t have time to properly examine, when he saw a fight break out amidst the new people, and they were all thrown away from each other. Even when they got up he could see that their collars were repelling one another, forcing them to keep their distance. Looking up Sylver saw that a guard was pointing at the group with his strange metal spear.

*

After a good couple of hours of exploring his new home and talking to some of the friendlier locals, Sylver made note of several things.

First was that there was a hard limit to where he could go while wearing the collar. Literally. He made an attempt to walk down an alleyway, and he nearly choked to death from his collar pulling him away from it. What was strange was that he couldn’t understand where the limit was. It wasn’t a radius around something, it wasn’t street or house related, it almost looked random at the moment.

He’d be walking and suddenly, with no warning, there’s a harsh tug at the collar.

The second was that the guards didn’t particularly care where he went or what he did, and focused mostly on the people who were either a high level, or higher ranking in terms of nobility. One fat bastard had 3 guards standing right on top of him, keeping watch. Which again raised the question, why not just keep him away from everyone else, if he was so important?

The prison city had a few other points of interest. A giant hole off in one side, that smelled strongly of carrion and decay and was used as a place to throw trash. A small flowing river that was filled with shit and other filth. A tiny well, with a giant line of people waiting to use it. And lastly, 3 large metallic buildings, that had rope bridges connected to them and with metal doors at the top for guards to enter and exit.

They were used as a way to trade for food and other necessities. Each one had a member of their gang standing nearby and stealing food and other items as payment. After talking with a very friendly old man, Sylver came up with the start of a plan. He went to the trading building nearest to him and walked around the alleyways, filling his makeshift bag with rocks.

The building had an entrance on one side, and an exit on the other. Only one person could ever be inside and you could only enter through the entrance and exit through the exit. Sylver thought his plan over one more time, but upon being unable to find something better, walked into the trading buildings entrance.

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KingKennit

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