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Ch028-Twists And Turns

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One thing Sylver liked about this area was how clean it was. The floor was almost perfectly flat, using some sort of rocky powder, and the buildings were almost entirely built into the walls of the cave. Very dwarven looking, despite the fact that he hadn’t seen a single one yet.

Giant stone pillars held up the ceiling and were used to string ropes from one to another and hang homemade artificial lights everywhere. As Severin had told him, there wasn’t a single guard around here.

Walking towards the light and the only entrance and exit, Sylver could hear the commotion begin behind him. Fires were a huge issue down here, since the smoke could get sucked down and kill the miners below, dooming everyone living off their efforts.

Because of that, they had a ton of ways to deal with fires, and everyone pitched in to get them under control. It shouldn’t be too difficult in this case, since Sylver purposely kept the whole thing contained in one room and area, and there was only a tiny doorway to provide airflow. Once it’s closed the smoke and fire will die down. The corpses will char and boil and get even more damaged, still unmistakably bitten and chewed to death by a giant creature, but not enough to make a proper analysis to realize they died from all their energy being sucked out of them.

The walk to the house was entirely uneventful.

Sylver looked up and was delighted at the fact that the guards didn’t pay any attention to him. Why would they? They were too busy reporting the smoke and fire and preparing to descend to see what was up.

When he had neared his house, Sylver hid in an alleyway out of the view of the guards, and got rid of the hat, and covered his left hand in mud to hide the fact that it wasn’t black and rotten anymore. Not that they could see anything from all the way up there, but it didn’t hurt to be careful.

He knocked on the door and entered. The house was ever so slightly cleaner, and there was a faint smell of fruit in the air. Sitting on a large couch that wasn’t there before, was Katia in the middle of eating something brown colored from a can with a shiny fork.

“I take it you traded with people while I was gone? What’d you get?” Sylver asked, walking past her to the kitchen to take out all the food from his pockets. He removed the crystals after that and placed them all into a small wooden bowl that only had a small hole in the bottom.

“How… How are you alive?” Katia asked stuttering, and getting up from her seat.

“I make an effort to always have a positive attitude. And I top that off with a great deal of faith in myself and my abilities. And the element of surprise, can’t go wrong with doing something completely unexpected.” Sylver answered with a smile. He chose a can of high-quality food at random and opened it.

It looked absolutely identical to the thing Katia was eating.

“But… They said they’d bring you back in a bag…” Katia said, frozen as if in fear.

“I know. Torture me for information and for the fun of it. All in a hidden and secret area, away from prying eyes.” Sylver explained, trying some of the stuff inside the can and grimacing at it.

“Are you trying to say-”

“That I let myself get knocked out and captured, yes. I needed money and information, and this was the fastest way to get both. I talked to some of the locals, and they said the White Locks do this to just about everyone they can. I’m a mage, so I’m the weakest in this situation due to the collar, and I did something to further piss them off to speed things up. So it was only a matter of time before they found me and brought me to their secret hideout.” Sylver explained, seeing if holding his breath would make eating the contents of the can a little better. It tasted like someone mixed up a bunch of different meats together, and then let them sit and soak in each other’s flavors for a few months.

“Where are the twins?” Sylver asked, looking around.

“Upstairs, washing. Lorence managed to hook up the decanter to a shower pipe so we now have a working shower. Although the water is freezing cold.” Katia explained.

“Good for your health. And makes waking up in the morning easier, I’ve been told.” Sylver said, walking back to the couch.

“I know it’s a little late, but I need to ask you something. Why are you doing this? Putting yourself in danger like this? Were you threatened? Hired?” Sylver asked, sitting down across from her.

Katia didn’t say a word for a while. Only the faint sound of running water coming from the stairs could be heard.

“Why do you care?” Katia asked finally, furrowing her brows.

“Because I’m going to be doing something soon that will require you to trust me. And for you to trust me, first I need to trust you. Let’s start with an easier question. Why did you use Matheo like that? You could have had me fight anyone, why him in particular?” Sylver asked, leaning forward and crossing his fingers.

“It was-”

“I have a trait that will tell me if you lie.” Sylver interrupted, with a curt tone that didn’t directly state why it was a bad idea, simply very heavily implied it.

This gave Katia pause as she just stared at him, and going by the way her eyes were going up and down reading something from one of her skills. She looked down at her lap and spoke in a hushed tone.

“I didn’t want to get him involved. I knew he’d lose in a fight against… Someone like you. That Naut recommended. I even had the twins moved around to be near us so they were the ones that got kidnapped. Their parents could afford whatever ransom was asked, so I thought they were the best choice.” Katia said quietly.

“I thought it was something like that. And you broke off the engagement why? You could have just bet his seat with you in the carriage. It would still be humiliating, but nowhere near as calling the whole thing off.” Sylver asked.

Katia mumbled something so quietly that even in the almost silent room he couldn’t make out.

“Beg your pardon?”

“I wanted him to move on if I never came back.” She said, tears falling off her nose down onto her legs. Her voice was shaking, as were her hands and shoulders.

Sylver sat quietly for a while, trying to eat from his can of awfulness and let the girl calm down.

When the shaking had receded and she wiped most of the tears away he continued.

“Then moving up the ladder, what is your skill exactly? How does it work? What does it need?” Sylver asked.

“It’s called [Moonlight Serenade]. I need to be able to see a moon, and be able to sing to it. It’s a skill I got from my mother. I taught it to a woman who works for the Cord and if we both sing under a full moon, we’ll be able to know exactly where the other is, and communicate too.” Katia said, rubbing her red eyes and wiping them away with her sleeve.

“I see… That certainly puts a dent in what I was initially planning, so thank you for telling me. Next question. What did those three that knocked me out say to you?” Sylver asked, trying to pull a handkerchief out of his pocket out of habit but finding the pocket and handkerchief missing.

“What? They didn’t say anything. You arrived barely a minute after they came and sat down.” Katia answered, cocking her head at him slightly.

“You looked terrified when I saw you.” Sylver countered. He didn’t sense a lie, but that didn’t mean that was the whole truth.

“Because I watched you bash an unarmed man’s skull in,” Katia answered completely deadpan, looking him right in the eyes.

Sylver leaned back in his chair and put the can and fork down. He crossed his hands over his stomach, and put one leg on top of the other.

“Ah... I see. And that ruined your image of me. Before I was some kind of gentleman thief or something of that nature. And now you think I’m just some common cutthroat. Not a bandit purely because Naut or the Cord require my services. If I’m willing to kill an ‘innocent’ man, what else would I be willing to do? What else have I done?” Sylver summarized.

“He didn’t raise a hand against you. You didn’t challenge him, you just beat an unarmed man to death.” Katia said, with accusatory venom dripping off her voice.

“I did. And I could explain to you how it’s better than me fighting him fairly and potentially losing, leading to you being left defenseless and ultimately caught by his group and raped, or even killed, dooming everyone trapped here, not just you. But instead, I’ll ask you this. Would you rather succeed while covered from head to toe in shit, or fail but stay squeaky clean?” Sylver asked, losing any semblance of warmth in his tone.

“That’s not the same,” Katia answered, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Do you love Matheo?” Sylver asked suddenly.

Katia froze for a moment before nodding.

“What if I said that when we get rescued I’m going to find him, and rip his throat open and kill him. Would you try to stop me?”

“Of course.” She answered without so much as a breath.

“Right. Would you say you’d do anything to stop me? Or is there a point where your principle would get in the way and you’d let me kill Matheo?”

“I…” She paused. She just stared at him.

“Not very fun to know just how far you’re willing to go for love, is it? What if I said I did what I did for love?” Sylver asked.

“You killed him because you love me?” Katia asked, looking up at him with red eyes.

“Of course not. We barely know each other. And I prefer older women anyway. But everything I do is done for love. So I killed that man. Now. Here. Today. For money and other physical materials that I’m going to be paid in. Because in the future I’ll need them to protect the people I love. And I’m more than willing to do much worse, if it means I’m better off in the end, and they’re better off in the end as a result of me being better off.” Sylver explained.

“That doesn’t make it any less cowardly.” Katia countered.

“It doesn’t. But I was given a choice between everyone I love, and a man who I knew for all of 3 minutes, during which he threatened me. And I made a choice. The lives and safety and wellbeing of the people I love and care for, including my own, over his. And there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. No line I wouldn’t cross, no depravity I wouldn’t engage in, no amount of savagery I wouldn’t willingly use, no advantage I wouldn’t grant myself, no hand I wouldn’t shake, no enemy I wouldn’t make, no shortcut I wouldn’t take, no underhanded tactic, no danger, threat or fear I wouldn’t overcome for them and myself. And if I had to bash a hundred innocent men’s skulls in to keep them and myself safe, I wouldn’t even give it a second thought.”

Sylver’s voice turned for a few seconds near the end. Katia could almost hear her grandfather in his voice. It was almost the exact tone her father and brother had used. But when they spoke of doing what was necessary they spoke of it in hushed tones and with stilted shame. And yet the man in front of her right now spoke of it with the pride of a knight defending his monarch.

“And I’ll tell you one more thing. Until this whole thing is over, you are an honorary member of my family. I will defend you and keep you safe with the same cowardice and banditry and cut-throatiness that you saw me perform yesterday. So now that we know each other a little better, I’ll ask again. Why are you here?” Sylver asked, leaning back in his seat again.

He could see Katia thinking, the cogs, and wheels inside her head turning. Her eyes moved around slightly, as she made a mental list of some kind and checked her decision against it.

“I want to succeed my brothers. If everything goes well, the Cord will help me become the duchess of Silia. And possibly even the high queen.” Katia said quietly, looking Sylver right in the eye.

He couldn’t help himself and smiled at the words.

“If you think you’re going to get into any position of power, without cracking a few unsuspecting skulls, you’re going to either need to be the luckiest woman alive, or completely give up on whatever ambitions you hold. But as I said, there’s no hand I wouldn’t shake. Even a hypocrite’s. So you can keep your ideals, your views, and morals as long as you don’t get in my way and do what the Cord has hired you to do. But I will need you to help me out with my plan first.” Sylver said, getting up off the couch and walking over to the kitchen area.

“Plan? You have a plan?” Katia whispered, following after him.

“I have several actually. But this is plan A, the safest and the most likely to succeed. But I’ll tell you later, the twins are coming down.” Sylver answered, pouring the bowl of crystals out on the table and separating them by color.

Neither the Da’Joule kids seemed all that interested in the fact that Sylver was back. They simply each took a can from the table, and went off to the dining room to eat. Neither was crying anymore, thankfully, but they still walked and looked like they were in shock. Which they probably were.

Sylver decided that since they were going to be leaving soon he didn’t need to pay them any mind and wrote them both out completely.

A freezing cold shower later, Sylver came back downstairs and took an extremely long and well-deserved nap.

*

*

*

“We’ve got roughly 6 days left,” Sylver said, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “Unless you have some sort of timekeeping ability or something.”

“I don’t,” Katia replied. If they missed this one, the next full moon would be in 27 days. They’ve got a year until the woman Katia taught her skill to, would stop trying to get in contact. Until they’re permanently on their own.

“Then let’s assume 5 days to be safe. The plan is dead simple. We start a riot. Uncollar a bunch of people, have them run amok causing chaos. Guards come in to put a stop to it, and we slip out in all the confusion. I fly us both outside, you use your skill, and we’re done. I go home, you go home, and we all pretend to never have met. You can even pretend I did the whole thing the way an honest man might have, no one would ever know otherwise.” Sylver summarized, while eating from another can and pretending it was something good.

“Where do I come in all of that?” Katia asked, copying him and trying to do the same.

“There’s a faction made up of high up nobles. It’s the oldest and strongest and I need you to use your connections to get me inside to talk to their head. I’ll need his help to organize this so it’s done properly. People without collars will need to wait for the right moment to start. The rioting must be synchronized and everywhere, so the guards are spread thin. And I’m hoping they’ll lend some manpower, in case we need to break through when slipping out.” Sylver explained.

The plan was almost idiotically simple. In fact, it was kind of standard and predictable.

But as with most things that have stood the test of time, it was the standard precisely because it worked. 11 times out of 12 in Sylver’s case.

*

“And Lord Heldan?” Novva asked, flipping the page in his notebook.

“He’s still alive, last I’ve heard. His eldest son was married to a magister in the east, and his daughter is being prepped to take over after he retires. He was entangled in a bidding war with Graf Rusta over a piece of land near the southern border of Silia, and if the rumors are true, planning to use it to…”

Sylver almost regretted coming here and remembered why he made a point to keep his nose out of politics. The head of the noble faction knew Katia personally. Although the last time they spoke she was 3 years old and he’d been gone from the world at large for roughly 20 years. He allowed them both inside, on the condition Katia was able to prove she was who she said she was.

So right now he was testing Katia, by getting every single piece of information she knew out of her. And she knew a lot. They’d both been here for over 5 hours, with Katia talking non-stop. Novva even had to get a new notebook mid-conversation because of this.

Sylver didn’t think of her as stupid, but this was well above what a normal human being should be capable of. Even a noblewoman. He himself had spent a lifetime studying with dryads to learn how to manipulate his mind to get a near-perfect memory, and yet here was this child, who had just managed to bring out absolutely insane amounts of details on the tiniest and most inconsequential things. Seeing talents like this was exactly why Sylver never felt bad about cheating.

She knew everything there was to know it seemed. From how much corn was grown in the eastern province, to how the war effort in the north is going, to what wines are popular in Arda, and which noble had which scandal, and so on and so forth.

The room was very sparse, only a table and a regular chair for the head, and almost identical chairs for his guests. There were no windows, and only a small framed painting on one wall of the man himself and a woman and 3 children.

Novva actually looked a great deal like Sylver’s boxing instructor. A massive man, with a fist the size of Sylver’s head and an extremely muscular frame to match. He had a shaved head, and had a thin dark but greying beard.

“Now. De’Leon was it? You wanted to discuss something with me?” Novva asked, finally turning his head to look at Sylver.

“Yes. I have a plan that would result in all of us returning home safe and sound and-”

“I’m not interested. If that is all, you may take your leave.” Novva interrupted.

...

“May I enquire as to why?” Sylver asked after a relatively long pause.

“Because whatever you are about to suggest, we’ve tried. And it won’t work”

“What if I said I’ve got the key to the collars?” Sylver reasoned.

“I would say, so do we. About 9 of them if I remember right. Mine isn’t even made of lead, it’s just an iron fake.” Novva answered, tugging at his own collar as it easily snapped off. He put it on the table in front of him, and Sylver just stared at it.

Sylver sat in silence for a couple of seconds, just taking it all in. His neatly laid out plan was now in complete ruins, utterly worthless. He could try to do the whole thing by himself, but the key he had was… well… key. Not to mention he didn’t really have a plan B, he had assumed he’d just need to modify plan A slightly and that’d be enough.

Sylver coughed into his fist to clear his throat. “And you’re still here because…”

“Because there’s no way out. Even if you kill all the guards, secure all 3 prisons, dodge past level 100 and up monsters, somehow climb the unclimbable wall, and get to the tiny cracks that let in light, you’ll never be able to break it. And then we all sit here and starve to half death, while Nautis goes home and takes a several month-long vacation.”

“Nautis?” Sylver asked. Severin never mentioned a Nautis.

“Dimensional mage. The only one who can get in and out of this accursed hole. Every time something goes wrong, he teleports away and doesn’t come back until everything has calmed down. You kill all the guards, he leaves, and comes back 6 months later with new guards, while we are all almost dead from starvation. There’s not enough light coming in for anything to grow sustainably, and while cannibalism is an option, it’s not sustainable either.” Novva explained, lighting a cigar as he spoke.

Katia looked mortified at this, and sat frozen in place.

“What about the crystals?” Sylver asked.

“What about them?”

“Doesn’t he need them? Why bother building all this shit and mines and using them as trading material if he can just allow the whole thing to break and crumble for months on end?” Sylver asked.

“Don’t know,” Novva said with a grin, taking a deep drag from his cigar.

“...”

“If he’s got some grand plan for why we’re all here, I’ve yet to hear it. He doesn’t care if we mine or don’t, doesn’t care if the people inside live or die, and doesn’t care what we or the guards do either. The current ones are almost all brand new, since one of the other prisons had some woman with poisoning skills and she killed every single high-level guard. Nautis just got a bunch of low-level rookies from somewhere to replace them and that was that. Other than like 3, none of them can even see what the fuck is going on below them. It’s a lot like making everyone in your camp wear armor, even the cooks, to make the enemy think you’ve got more combat capable personnel than you really do.” Novva explained, kicking his feet up onto his table.

“I’m not even all that sure he handles anything but transport for the ransoming situation either. We know he’s at least level 120, but it doesn’t matter since he doesn’t fight anyone. He just teleports away and whoever tried to fight him is decapitated, or crippled, so he comes back.” Novva continued.

“Are you trying to say-”

“That if you go against him I’ll personally twist your head off. It’s all been tried, kid. My predecessor made 9 attempts to get out of here, each one ending in catastrophic and painful failure. I gave up after 3. So we and the guards keep people busy and occupied and relatively in line, and wait until we all either die, or Nautis finishes whatever it is he’s doing.” Novva finished, dragging from his cigar one last time before crushing the bud in a wooden ashtray.

“So you’re done? Given up? It’s over, no point even trying?” Sylver asked, leaning forward in his chair.

“I am. It’s not ideal, but it’s good enough. My family sounds to be holding on without me so I can die content, if not happy.” Novva answered, taking another drag of his cigar and looking out into empty space.

Sylver undid the collar around his neck and put it down on the table. He dropped the key on the floor so Fen could secretly hide it away again. Mana started to be produced again, and he curled his fingers as it spread around his body.

“Are you dead?” Sylver asked after a few seconds.

“Are you trying to threaten me? Because I’m 60 levels above you, and my finger does more damage than you have HP.” Novva said, leaning forward in his seat.

“It’s not a threat. It’s a genuine question. Are you dead?” Sylver asked again.

“No. I’m not dead,” Novva answered with a grimace.

“Then why the fuck are you giving up?” Sylver shouted standing up and pushing his chair away. “The only thing in this world you can’t change is death. Everything else. And I mean absolutely everything else, is changeable. If you’re alive and moving, you keep fucking moving!” Sylver continued, waving his right hand around experimentally and leaving trails of yellow behind.

“Let me guess. You’ve got some fancy unique class that you’re willing to bet your life on. Look, kid. I don’t like you. And if I’m being more honest, I hate overconfident pricks like you the most. So before I lose my temper why don’t you get the fuck out of my home and never come back.” Novva said, standing up and getting taller and taller as he spoke, his eyes flaring up and his body starting to glow. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you need Katia dear, in my name and honor I guarantee your safety,” Novva added, looking at Katia briefly.

It was something Sylver still couldn’t get used to. How easily people towered over Ciege.

“If I can make one of your men teleport, will you believe me when I say I know what I’m doing? That I not only have a way out, but a concrete plan? That Nautis can disappear all he wants and that in a few days, we’ll all be home anyway?” Sylver offered, returning Novva’s glare with a slight grin.

Novva looked at Sylver for a tense 10 seconds before he slumped back down into his seat and shouted for a man to be called for him.

A scrawny man, almost half Sylver’s height walked into the room. He looked to be in his early 20s, and had a very painful scar running down the middle of his face.

“Melo, meet De’Leon. He’s going to make you be able to teleport, and if he doesn’t I’m going to kill him for getting my hopes up, and pissing me off,” Novva explained gesturing at Sylver.

Katia opened her mouth to say something, but Sylver spoke first.

“Agreed. And if I succeed you’re all going to follow my commands to get us out of here.” Sylver countered, extending his hand out to shake.

Novva shrugged his shoulders and shook Sylver’s hand, as Katia watched open-mouthed.

He walked over to the mage and placed one hand on the back of the man’s neck. And another over his chest and heart.

“So there’s two kinds of teleportation. There’s technically 6 but they can be split into two. The first is ‘blinking’ as you might call it. Works even now, but won’t let you blink outside the cave, right?” Sylver said to the man.

“Sure,” Melo answered unenthusiastically.

“It works by essentially compressing you into a tiny beam or wisp or something, and then expanding you back to how you were. It can go through some solid objects, depending on their density and material, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’re not actually teleporting, simply moving around. Hence the slight delay when using it.” Sylver explained, pressing a little harder on the man’s neck.

“And the second is ‘true’ teleportation. The spatial manipulation kind. The kind you would use to try and get out of here. And the one that’s being actively blocked.” Sylver said, channeling his mana towards the man’s core from both sides.

“Try to teleport exactly 1 meter forwards. Not blinking, properly teleporting.” Sylver instructed.

He felt the man’s core move around as it created the framework, and smiled like an idiot when it broke apart exactly how he thought it would.

“Again,” Sylver ordered, as Novva cracked his knuckles.

The man did the same exact thing, with the framework breaking apart again.

“One more time,” Sylver said, pressing harder against the man’s neck and chest.

There was a very odd sound this time, that was felt more than heard. Half of the men standing guard in the doorway leaned in to look inside.

The man disappeared from Sylver’s grasp, reappearing instantly exactly one meter forward.

[Skill: Magic Nullification (I)]
Skill level can be increased by nullifying magic.
I – If all the requirements are met magic can be nullified.
*The type of magic being nullified must be known.
*The framework of magic being nullified must be known.
*The caster must be able to cast the magic being nullified.
*The caster must be in direct physical contact with the magic being nullified.
*The cost of nullifying magic is 5 times the cost of casting the magic.
*Enchantments cannot be nullified.
*Holy magic cannot be nullified.
*Positive magic cannot be nullified.
*Pure magic cannot be nullified.
*Base magic cannot be nullified.
*Tier 3 or above magic cannot be nullified.

The room was stuck in shocked awe, as the mage attempted to teleport, again and again, as each time nothing happened. Sylver waved his hands in the air as the very tips of his fingers smoked ever so slightly. The newly lit cigar in Novva’s fingers fell out and sent embers everywhere as it hit the table.

“And there you have it. Now all that’s left is using Melo or someone else to get Katia out of here, and we’re all good to go! It’s just a matter of getting enough mana to counter it and that’s it! Home run as some might say,” Sylver explained, with a humble glee.

“I can’t fucking believe it. After all this time we finally-” Nova started but stopped talking.

As suddenly as Melo disappeared and reappeared, so did Sylver.

Except he didn’t reappear.

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KingKennit

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