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Ch049-Skinning Cats

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To Sylver’s surprise getting drunk and sleeping it off, still wasn’t enough to come up with a better idea. And no matter how long Sylver lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, it didn’t change the fact that a demon wasn’t something he could just ignore. As much as he wished he could. It was stupid to leave it in someone else’s hands, when he could be directly affected by it.

Aside from the collateral damage ruining the city he had decided was his temporary home, a demon core could be extremely useful. Possibly even enough to help Tuli.

The alternative was either trying his luck down in the caverns below, hunting monsters for experience and materials, or going on quests and buying up equipment that could help him. Which would be a tiny, marginal, almost insignificant help, given how there wasn’t anything that would help with his necromancy.

And Lola still needed more time to finish setting up before production of anything could begin. Not to mention filling up a mana well to start it would take ages, even with everyone in the workshop working none stop.

*

*

*

Getting both the cats and the Cord on his side turned out to be surprisingly easy. Since all he was asking was for them to act as a sort of arbitrator, neither side had an issue with making sure the temple of Ra didn’t arrest him along with the real demon worshipers. Not to mention both of them were as disturbed as Sylver was at the premise of a demon being somewhere inside the city and were more than willing to provide the tiny amount of aid he was asking.

But what was worrying was that neither side seemed to be aware there were demon worshipers in their territory before Sylver had told them. Meaning the possibility this was a setup was becoming bigger and bigger. But now at the very least Sylver had a little protection against that.

They both said they would make contact with the temple of Ra soon, and that they would make it clear that Sylver was a valued asset of theirs, and they would be incredibly upset if anything unjust were to happen to him. Neither of course said they would go to war over him, but the implication was good enough for the time being. Most of this was due to Sylver’s light paranoia, which originated from the fact that priests were as close as anyone could get to being his natural predator.

So now Sylver was just walking in a circle around the temple of Ra, scouting it out and just thinking if this is worth it. What it boiled down to was if the possible threat of a demon was greater than the possible threat of the temple of Ra.

And the threat of a demon won out. By a wide margin. Even if the priests are zealots, they were still human. But a demon was such a universal threat, Sylver walked around with goosebumps just thinking about it. If a tier 5 showed up in Arda…

Shaking away the seeping chill and putting the grim thinking on pause, Sylver stopped right in front of the 4 guards, guarding the entrance to the garden area that wasn’t defended by the holy barrier. Sylver made eye contact with each one of the guards in turn, and didn’t get so much as a twitch from them.

He took a very deep breath before walking forward and asking for a meeting with Sofia.

*

*

*

“What changed your mind?” Sophia asked, appearing right in front of Sylver and walking back into her seat. Another priest had appeared before her and had arranged the table and chairs inside the very same gazebo they had met in yesterday.

“I thought about it, and wanted to at least hear you out. I’ve had… I’ve heard stories about them from my master, and I panicked slightly when you spoke of… of demons.” Sylver explained, being careful to sound pitiful, but not too pitiful. People tended to ask fewer questions when someone was visibly uncomfortable discussing the subject.

“I see…” Sophia said, scooping sugar into her cup of tea and stirring it in silence for a while.

“In short, a few weeks ago the city guard caught a man attempting to kidnap a woman and child. One of our priests was sent over to heal the perpetrator so he could be questioned and… I can’t tell you how we know, but we know that the man was a demon worshiper. And while we are almost certain we know where the rest of his group is, we are unable to check ourselves...” Sophia explained, placing her manicured fingers together and her face with a very faint scowl that Sylver recognized all too well.

“Let me guess. It’s a shithole of some kind, and anyone even vaguely connected to your temple is too much of a known and upstanding citizen to ever go there naturally and not arise a great deal of suspicion and scrutiny. Unlike a filthy, dirty, perverted, and very likely demonic newcomer necromancer like myself,” Sylver said, taking a sip from his cup.

Sophia looked taken aback at the suggestion, or the words, but didn’t dismiss what he had said.

“It’s called ‘The Swift Swindler’s Swirl’. At the very edge of the southwestern area, almost right up against the wall. I am uncertain how you would go about making contact or what you will need to do, but as long as the demon issue is taken care of, you have the protection of the temple.” Sophia said, speaking with the same softness she had when Sylver had first met her.

“So if they ask to kill a child to prove I’m not a spy, you’ll protect me from the consequences?” Sylver asked, putting his cup down.

Sophia barely blinked as she answered, “I would hope you manage to get around that somehow, but yes. The loss of any life is a great tragedy, but it would be a small sacrifice, if it will get rid of the demon and his ilk.”

The two just sat there staring into each other’s eyes as Sylver tried to see if he could see anything in hers. Aether could do it. Even before he learned to soul read, he could tell with frightening accuracy what a person was thinking, just by looking them in the eye.

But sadly Sylver couldn’t and all he got was a reminder of how alluring Sophia was. If he wasn’t immune, he would have thought there was some kind of charm magic being used on him. When in reality he was fairly certain he knew exactly where the attraction came from, and knew just as well there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.

“I have 3 demands,” Sylver said after a while of just staring at her eyes and mulling things over.

“If it is within my power I will grant it to you,” Sophia said, with the same cold certainty she had about killing one to save many.

“I want 50 kilograms of the highest quality blessed silver your temple can make,” Sylver said, barely getting a reaction out of Sophia.

“That can be arranged.” She said without so much as a pause.

“There’s a new craftsman in the eastern sector, Lola the high elf. She is making something for me and needs a mana well to finish it. I would like for however many priests you can gather to go to her workshop and help her fill it up and kickstart it for her.” Sylver said, getting a single nod from Sophia.

“And lastly… A favor to be named later.” Sylver said, speaking very delicately and carefully to keep everything polite and friendly. He was just asking for a favor, free healing for a friend when he needed it. Just a kid who couldn’t quite decide what he wanted right at this moment.

“The favor would have to be limited to my temple only. And within the confines of the local law, as well as the tenets of Ra. If your favor meets those criteria, I would be more than happy to grant it.” Sophia answered, smiling with an ever so slight smugness in her eyes.

Didn’t fall for it.

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I have one last thing to ask before I depart. You wouldn’t happen to know which realm or tier the demon they’re trying to summon is from?” Sylver asked, doing his best not to sound too interested in the question or answer.

“I’m sorry?” Sophia asked, genuine confusion in her voice, or at least genuine to Sylver’s ears.

“Never mind. In that case, I will be off. Is there some way I could contact you, should I find their base? Or do I need to go through the guards each time?” Sylver asked, gesturing at the four men who were still as motionless as statues.

Sophia ran her hand through her hair and pulled out a single gold ring. She held it out to Sylver, and it burned the tiniest amount as it made contact with his fingers. He took a cloth napkin off the table and wrapped it around the ring immediately.

“If you show the guards this ring, they would know to contact me urgently, regardless of the day or time. And in the event you land into trouble with the city guards, you’ll at the very least be able to buy yourself some time with this.” Sophia explained, as Sylver put the wrapped up bundle inside his robe.

Or if I get caught, you can say I stole it and kill me for theft. Sylver added to himself, as they each said more pleasantries and left.

Sylver worried that she hadn’t asked him why he didn’t ask for gold, but was hopeful that she was doing what a lot of women tended to do around him and assumed he wasn’t as selfish as he originally appeared.

*

*

*

For a ‘shithole’ Sylver couldn’t help but admire how clean everything was. Cleaning was normally done with magic of some kind, but here you could see it was from the efforts of manual labor, rather than any automated system.

And despite allegedly being the poorer area, the flooring and houses were exceptionally well maintained. If it weren’t for all the cheap materials being used, Sylver could have easily believed this was the noble’s living area. All it was missing was an overuse of tacky looking gold and marble, and unnecessarily large garden areas.

Instead, everything was tidy, neat, and every possible inch of space appeared to be used to maximum efficiency.

As Sylver walked through the area, he gradually built up the story he would be using for this. Demon worshipers never worshiped demons for the thrill of it. Reasons tended to range from fear of mortality, resurrection of a loved one, money, power, or righting a perceived wrong. The question of whether the demon was a named one or not, was also equally important, but impossible for Sylver to even guess at the moment.

Certain demon experts Sylver used to know would be able to feel the demonic energy in the air. They would be able to make a lap around the area, and almost literally sniff out the demon’s location. But the only spell Sylver knew that could copy that natural talent was in the tier 4 area, and he wasn’t even certain the materials required existed on this side of the world for him to even attempt it.

As the suns gradually set and the area and roads started to darken, Sylver was delighted beyond words when the lanterns started lighting up by themselves. Some sort of gas-based system, with tiny yellow flames being amplified using glass and mirrors and illuminating the roads almost as well as mana powered balls of light would.

The Swift Swindler’s Swirl was a 3 story building, largely made up of bright red bricks, dark wood, and colored glass windows, with beautifully carved double wooden doors. Looking inside through the windows, Sylver quite quickly understood why they sent him specifically. Among other things, the majority of the people here looked as violent as they were stupid.

From men covered from head to toe in scars eating a giant cooked animal's leg straight off the bone, to mages and other magic users that had the telltale signs of overusing magic far above their ability and compensating for lack of skill and conductivity with drugs and elixirs.

But mixed into that were normal-looking fishermen, miners, craftsmen, builders, and other miscellaneous non combative persons. It was difficult to tell which of the two groups were more likely to be demon worshipers. Neither had any of the recognizable cuts on their hands, or any markings or brandings, as far as Sylver could tell anyway.

But then again, demon worshipers very rarely walked around with a demon symbol tattooed on their forehead, and bright glowing red eyes. If anything Sylver was more suspicious of the farmers, than he was of the barbarian looking warriors.

Walking inside through the double doors, Sylver took note of the people who took note of him, and mentally marked their faces in case he needed that information later. He took special care to remember the ones that weren’t looking at him, but merely glanced, since that usually meant that they had a great deal of practice.

Or they have a skill for it. Sylver added with a slight scowl, that turned further and further into an upset and distraught expression. Making himself as pissed off and upset as he wanted to appear, was surprisingly easy. Sylver already had a lump in his throat.

He sat down in an empty spot at the bar and ordered their strongest drink.

*

*

*

“...but when I came to them for help, they told me to fuck off! They let her body get ravaged by those green fucks and didn’t lift a single of their dainty fucking fingers to help!” Sylver said, slurring his words slightly, but being careful not to overdo it. He was supposed to be raving drunk right now, not pass out drunk.

“Bastards. The lot of ‘em.” Sylver’s drinking buddy agreed, as he had for the last three hours or so.

“And then- And then they go after me like I’m the one trying to summon a fucking demon! If I knew how to contact a fucking demon, I would have done so already.” Sylver complained, lowering his face to rest it on the bar table.

Ciege’s extreme alcohol tolerance was coming in incredibly useful. And that Sylver had only further increased it by fixing his liver and then pushing it to the limit with Salgok, had only solidified that skill. Down to the point, Sylver was honestly surprised he didn’t get an actual skill or perk for it.

“What’d you want a demon for anyway?” Sylver's drinking buddy asked, completely red in the face and slurring his words. The man was called something or another, Sylver had missed the name due to the noise all around them, and didn’t get the feeling the man knew Sylver’s name either, so he didn’t bother asking a second time. And that the man didn’t look like he would be remembering any of this.

“I don’t. Or at least I don’t know how. If I knew, I sure as shit wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be back home. Sera would be there, and my son-” Sylver said, stopping mid-sentence lowering his face into the crook of his arm, and taking another deep shuddering breath, before looking back up. He didn’t actually have to fake the being upset and miserable part, only had to muddle the details.

“But they ask for your soul. Everyone knows that it’s-”

“All bullshit.” Sylver interrupted, opening his hand above an empty space behind him. “Souls are worthless!” he half-shouted, half mumbled into the wooden bar table, as Tom appeared underneath his hand and stood there, looking around confused.

“See that? That’s a soul. Or at least the closest you’ll get to seeing one without having the sight. Fucking worthless piece of garbage, is what it is.” Sylver said, slapping Tom on the shoulder without looking and causing him to liquefy into a puddle on the floor. “And they don’t ask for your soul, they ask for a soul. Big difference.” Sylver said while closing his eyes.

“How do you know that?” possibly one of the greatest drinking buddy’s Sylver had ever had asked. The man was beyond perfect. Asked all the right questions, and even emphasized with Sylver over his loss over his made-up wife and son. He was right to choose an old man as a conversational partner.

“It was in one of the tomes I read. Soul magic is a big part of summoning a demon apparently.” Sylver mumbled, yawning and closing his eyes for the moment.

He didn’t have to fake this part either, since he was genuinely tired, and it was quite mentally exhausting juggling so many lies around. He needed the proper mix of showing off that he would be beyond useful, and at the same time was stupid and desperate. Hence the wife and child, and bad-mouthing Sophia for half an hour.

His drinking buddy changed the subject to more local and less important matters, mostly to do with the difficulties of fishing, and Sylver happily obliged. Tonight wasn’t the night he would be getting anywhere, tonight was just about spreading the bait all over the place. Get the interested people interested, so when he came back in a day or so they might listen in a little closer.

Time passed too quickly for Sylver to count, as the bar gradually emptied, and only a few people too drunk to walk out remained. Deciding there was nothing more he could do tonight, Sylver paid his tab with a bunch of scratched up and dinged silver coins, courtesy of Lola, and slowly walked out.

Sylver gave plenty of hints at the fact that he was broke and was doing despicable things for money.

*

*

*

Lola’s workshop was still a work in progress, but several things had been completed. The first was Lola’s office, where she and Sylver currently were. The second was the base for the mana pool, and the third was temporary workstations for a few of the more eager employees.

“Can’t you just see the damage to their souls or something?” Lola asked, walking back and forth around the room, constantly tugging at the leather strap amulet around her neck.

“It doesn’t work like that. Demon’s don’t take pieces, they take the whole thing. There’s no damage to be found.” Sylver answered, sitting lower on the couch and moving his robe to be a pillow under his head.

“How’s the diamond hunt going?” Sylver asked, closing his swollen eyes for a moment.

“Prices have already more than tripled. Wuss has been intercepting traveling merchants and buying all their stock before they so much as make it here, but more and more just keeps appearing out of nowhere. He thinks there’s someone with a massive stockpile, taking advantage of the inflated prices, but hasn’t managed to find them yet,” Lola explained, still pacing around and as of yet to sit down. There were a few moments of silence as Sylver tried to think of the best way to word it.

“I have a hunch this might be a named demon,” Sylver said in a monotone voice, stopping Lola right in her tracks and causing her to turn even whiter than before.

“How do you… What would a named demon be doing here?” Lola asked, swallowing her tongue for a moment.

“I don’t know. But that’s the feeling I’m getting. It’s too tight, too careful. I don’t think a nameless would be capable of keeping everything running so smoothly that even the cats didn’t have a clue. And I’ve looked through the list of missing people, and it’s nowhere near enough for anything tier 3 or higher. They’d need hundreds of times more, and they’ve slowed down during the last couple of weeks. And that’s assuming they’re the ones responsible for 100% of the missing persons. This is a tier 2 named demon at best. Probably.” Sylver explained, taking the chilled towel out of Tom’s hands and lowering it onto his swollen eyes. He was still drunk, but it was already wearing off.

“What about slaves?” Lola asked, walking over to him.

“What about them?”

“Couldn’t they buy slaves and use them to summon it? Did you take those into account? Or bandits, or other people no one would notice missing?” Lola asked, looking down at him.

“Doesn’t work like that. You need ‘untainted’ souls. Which people, in general, understand to be children and virgin women.”

“Is that not what it means?”

“It isn’t an objective term if we’re being honest. It’s more along the lines of knowing it when you see it. Children are usually untainted but not always. I’ve met serial murderers who were untainted, and priests who never hurt a fly in their life tainted to shit. It’s dumbed down to mean good versus evil, but that’s not it. It’s hard to explain it in words, it’s like trying to describe a person's mana signature. You can say it smells like so and so and feels like so and so, but there’s no words to describe it properly. I am almost certain it’s only the people that went missing in Arda. Not to mention, bringing people inside from the outside would be incredibly difficult.” Sylver said, gesturing with his hands as he spoke, and flipping the cold towel over to the other side.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. Scratch that. With this system in place, who the fuck knows what is and isn’t possible anymore. Nothing makes sense, you managed to get to level 16 with quite honestly minimal effort, and I’ve wiped out the equivalent of a small town and didn’t even get a single level out of it. This whole thing is honestly very ridi-” Sylver started saying before a migraine so bad he couldn’t breathe shut off any further criticism.

“Are you alright?” Lola asked, watching Sylver writhing in pain.

“I’m fine!” He said through gritted teeth, getting up off the couch and pacing around the room while pressing down on his forehead with both hands.

The pain and pressure receded slower than usual this time, but it finally went down after a while.

“What was I saying?” Sylver asked, sitting down on the couch normally this time.

“You said that it’s most likely a named tier 1 or tier 2 demon. And that they have slowed down on getting more sacrifices.” Lola answered, going back to pacing around.

“Right. At least that’s what this seems like. This is one of those really strange situations where simultaneously time is of the essence, and there’s nothing to be gained by rushing into things. So I’m going to do this slowly and carefully, but at the same time as quickly as I possibly can. If it’s something I can handle, I’ll just kill it myself and get the core. And if not I’ll contact the temple and let them duke it out.” Sylver explained, getting comfortable and leaning his head back again.

“You’ve met demons before, right?” Lola asked, stopping her pacing for the moment to stand directly in front of Sylver.

“A couple of times,” Sylver answered with a faint grin that he wasn’t feeling at the moment.

“How bad are they? Are they as bad as the stories?” Lola asked, tapping with her foot on the hollow wooden floor.

“Do you remember that sorcerer who was responsible for trapping you in with the cats?” Sylver asked, instead of answering.

“Vividly.”

“And how I had to give up the use of my arms and went through unimaginable pain just to block a few of his attacks? To say nothing of the fact that I could only do it because of all the mana the cats gave me.”

“Yes, I remember that too.”

“If that sorcerer was a demon he would have about half of the power the lowest demon would have. The minimum a freshly born one would have.” Sylver answered in a grim tone and matching grim smile.

A long silence permeated the air as Sylver could feel Lola’s soul shaking inside her chest.

“And a named demon would have a little over 5 times that. Possibly 10. Maybe more.” Sylver finished, his voice completely devoid of all warmth.

“And if it’s a tier 5, it will be able to suck this entire city, and a few hundred kilometers around it, into its realm and there would be fuckall anyone here could do about it.” Sylver finished.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Lola said, running off towards the corner and vomiting in a basket.

Sylver looked up at the ceiling and waited for a few minutes as Lola repeatedly emptied her stomach, and after he heard the sound of running water continued to speak.

“On the other hand, I honestly think there’s a solid 30% chance this is all a big set up by the temple of Ra to get rid of me. And although I do feel like Sophia could be trusted, my judgment is heavily compromised on the matter. Not to mention I’ve only got their word to go on for the moment, I’ve yet to see anything to even remotely suggest the demon being real. They wouldn’t even let me see the alleged demon worshiper because the body has been long burned and the ashes used as fertilizer.” Sylver said, as Lola got up from washing her mouth out and walked back over to him.

“I feel like we’ve already talked about you overestimating the threat you’re perceived to be. So what do we do? Should we evacuate?”

“No. Not until I’ve confirmed the demon is real. And even then, they’re only dangerous if they’re fully materialized. While it’s limited by its host, even I should be able to handle it. Or at the very least stall it long enough to destroy whatever is stabilizing it. But again it's all speculation until I see it for myself.” Sylver answered.

“So best case scenario?” Lola asked, trying to summarize everything. Her eyes were bright red, but she looked to have calmed down slightly.

“It’s a tier 2 named demon, inside a compatible but extremely weak host, I could make a deal with it, and get a demonic weapon or some other enchanted item. Or I kill it and get its core. The temple of Ra sees me as a threat, but at the same realizes I make a better ally than an enemy and leaves me alone. I use the weapon to make up for the power gap between myself and the white woman when I go to see her.” Sylver summarized, counting the positives off on his fingers. It sounded so nice in theory.

“Worst case scenario?” Lola asked with a faint smile.

“It’s a tier 3, and it manages to materialize, countless people lose their lives trying to kill it. I get no core, no weapon, no nothing, and possibly die in the process of trying to run away. The temple of Ra pins the whole thing on me, I’m locked in a dungeon and tortured until I’m dead. The cats and Cord decide that you’re useless without me and either capture you and torture information out of you, or make you a slave that crafts things for them. Or the temple of Ra gets to you first and you’re burned at the stake, along with Ciege, Yeva, and their child.” Sylver answered, as once again all the color disappeared from Lola’s face and she ran back to the leaking basket.

“So you know… Try to think positively, but do keep in mind this is a demon after all.” Sylver said, with the same positive attitude he was trying to instill in Lola.

She didn’t seem very open to the suggestion at the moment, so Sylver called for one of her employees to bring her a bucket as he made his way out of her office and into the dark of the night.

*

*

*

Sylver tightened the robe against his body and warmed it up against the cold wind.

Demons were terrifying. They were the worst thing that could happen to anyone and anything.

It wasn’t just their absurd level of power, their completely foreign and alien magic, or even the fact that even the dumbest of them were beyond geniuses by any standards.

It was the fact that they were unpredictable.

Thousands upon thousands of souls merged into one form, created a mismatch of emotions, desires, wants, and needs, that made every single demon unique in every sense of the word.

Sylver got the inspiration for making Fallen Dawn work from dissecting several archdemons. It was only time he’d seen something mangle souls to such a degree. If anyone other than him knew about the spell and its function, many would justly call it demonic.

There was also the issue that this would be the first time, ever, that Syver would be attempting to negotiate while so much weaker than it. If negotiation was even on the table, to begin with.

But if even a tier 1 managed to cross over… Even with the level 100 adventurers wandering around, if it managed to stabilize properly and created a foothold…

All this thinking was making Sylver reconsider getting involved. His pride was getting in the way. As well as his desire to protect Lola and the people he considered his friends here.

On the other hand, if he succeeded he would either have a demonic weapon, or a demon’s core for Lola to make him a proper staff. Or he could try absorbing it into his body, or make an amazing shadeling with it, the possibilities were endless.

And it wasn’t like he needed to kill it. Sylver had more than enough shades to stall it while he made his escape. Between the guards, and the priests, he was certain they could handle it. But that did open up another question.

Why was a demon inside a city anyway? Low tier ones preferred villages, kidnapping passing travelers, and the like. Cities, with guards, priests, and information networks like the cats, were a death trap for them, even if they did manage to cross over.

The only reason a weak one would appear inside a city…

Is if there was a [Hero] somewhere inside…

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KingKennit

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