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Ch054-All The World’s A Stage

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Walking down the empty street, Sylver was surprised at how much he had missed having eyes at the back of his head. Spring was performing exemplary, and barely needed a word from Sylver to follow up on anything suspicious he had seen.

There wasn’t a great deal of difference in the practical sense, Sylver already had a system in place to have his shades report anyone even loosely following him, or anyone watching him for more than a few seconds, but having someone moving around from shadow to shadow, giving constant updates on the lack of danger was reassuring.

Even if it was already getting annoying.

But if not for Spring’s overly enthusiastic exploration, Sylver never would have known about the two people following from the rooftops. They followed him out of the bar, all the way to Ron’s Rest, and were now following him back to the Swift Swindlers Swirl.

Because Sylver had gotten too drunk, forgot his money at home, and had to pawn an extremely important item as collateral. And now he was just short of jogging to get it back.

But this would be his last attempt for a while. And quite frankly he was tired of drinking watered-down ale, and way too spicy mead.

So if this didn’t work, he was going to try to brute force his way inside.

Demon worshipers weren’t stupid enough to have the whole thing in their basements, but they had to do it somewhere. It would take a while, but going house by house until he found a tunnel or a hidden room was an option.

And if that didn’t work, he would just have to summon something demonic himself, and use a piece of it to track down where the actual demon was hiding.

Assuming there was a demon of course.

A demon inside Arda specifically. Because what Nautis and Poppy were doing might not look like a demon summoning circle anymore, but it sure as shit smelt and felt like one.

Even after looking it over while very close to blackout drunk, Sylver still wasn’t any closer to fully understanding it. It was too big, too convoluted, and Sylver couldn’t see a pattern it was following.

After having seen and researched possibly hundreds of thousands of unique magical frameworks, he’d long ago developed a kind of instinct for them. He barely needed a glance to be able to tell what the primary element was, what tier the framework belonged to, if it used an analog or a digital mana current, and more often than not, recognize the majority of the framework and was able to predict what it was about to do.

It felt inverted if Sylver had to put a word to it.

But inverted relative to what? A demon? A human mage? A high elf? Sylver’s understanding of magic?

Even the horrible hangover Sylver was purposely allowing himself to experience, paled in comparison to how infuriating it felt to be stumped in such a way. This was something he should know, how dare he be embarrassing himself like this!

The Swift Swindlers Swirl, looked a lot less friendly and clean now that Sylver was seeing it in the morning light. If anything it somehow managed to look just short of rundown. The glass windows all had a crack in the corner that Sylver was surprised he had missed, the wooden door looked chipped and weathered, and even the bricks had so many holes and missing pieces that there was a bird’s nest hidden in a particularly large hole near the second floor.

And to think I wanted to bring Leke here…

The double doors creaked unnaturally as Sylver pushed them out of his way, and walked over to the bar he had spent the majority of last night, and sat down at his usual spot.

The barman/owner, Horace, was as usual polishing a glass. Where the man kept finding a dirty glass to polish, even though Sylver hadn’t seen a single mug made of anything but wood or metal, perplexed him to the point he very nearly asked.

But that would give away the fact that his shades were spread all above the ceiling and were watching every single patron for him. With Spring acting as a filter, Sylver could concentrate on his bait filled complaints and hoped he had managed to attract at least someone who knew something, with his sad tales of being poor, weak, hating the temple of Ra, being persecuted by them, and desperately wanting to fuck Sophia, but being rejected by her.

The rapist/necromancer mixture wasn’t one Sylver was particularly fond or proud of, but this worked better if people saw him as a walking stereotype. The more weaknesses he had to manipulate, the more enticing he would be for the demon worshipers. And he really was attracted to Sophia, so his overly crude descriptions of what he would like to do to her, weren’t all that hard to come up with. If anything, he was having to hold back on some of his more outlandish ideas, as those didn’t work without her putting in a consensual effort.

He was just your average, everyday, necromancer, who of course knew how to summon demons. And had little to no morals, compassion, empathy, or any kind of redeeming qualities, and could be very likely bought for a very reasonable price and the promise of being given the woman he’s desperately lusting over.

Hence why he had left proof of the temple of Ra fucking with him, and trying to bribe him into ratting out the demon worshipers, who he of course was involved with. Or at least they thought he was involved with.

“Morning Horace! You look chipper as always!” Sylver said, purposely forcing himself to sound more cheerful than he appeared, as if he were accidentally overplaying it. Sylver wasn’t sure if being incompetent was a trait modern necromancers were branded with, but it would be one he would wear. He was a competent necromancer but an incompetent person overall.

Which was the kind of person that was both incredibly useful, and easy to manipulate.

Like Nautis.

Raw skills and power, or knowledge in Sylver’s case, but too stupid and otherwise incompetent to achieve anything on his own. And a weak enough character that he could be pressured into working for them.

Horace silently poured Sylver a mug out of a bottle he hadn’t seen before and placed it in front of him.

“Thank you, but I’ve got a job in a few hours and I’m already going to be late anyway. If I show up late and drunk, I don’t even know what she’ll do.” Sylver said, referring to his extremely vague and very badly paying ‘job’. He had a massive amount of debt to pay off, of course, courtesy of Wuss’s people spreading rumors around for him.

On top of the rumors of him getting kicked out of wherever he came from due to his demonic related activities, debauchery, and incompetence. Sylver’s public image may take a small hit as a result of this, but the people whose opinion he cared about, wouldn’t believe them anyway. Considering there were only like 5 people he even knew by name in Arda.

“Can I ask you something personal?” Horace asked, pouring himself a mug from the same bottle.

“I’m flattered, but I only like you as an enabler for my alcohol addiction and nothing more,” Sylver said, pushing his mug back with mocking concern on his face.

Horace laughed so hard, the tension that was plainly written all over his face disappeared entirely.

“I’m married, so I don’t know where you got that idea from. But that’s not what I wanted to ask… Do you think life is fair?” Horace asked, moving the mug directly into Sylver’s hand, and taking a drink from his own.

“I take it I said something incredibly horrible last night, and you want to clear your conscience by making sure that those were the ramblings of a drunk man, and not my genuine thoughts and plans?” Sylver asked. It was important that he pulled the conversation left and right, so Horace had to steer it back to the topic at hand.

“You did, but I’ve been a barman long enough to know the difference between the two. I’m just genuinely curious if you think life, as a whole, is fair?” Horace repeated, Sylver still just holding the cup of what smelt and looked like wine in his hand.

“Where I came from, there were other apprentices. They managed to level their skills at ten times the pace I could. Not to mention their classes were incredible, and they were born with one or two perks and bloodlines that made magic a breeze for them. I on the other hand was kicked out, and got plain lucky the woman in charge of me had a soft spot for fuck ups and failures. Do you know how embarrassing it was? To be somewhere, purely because someone pitied you and allowed you to stay?” Sylver asked, looking down at the blurry reflection in his mug.

“I can imagine,” Horace said simply, leaning slightly towards Sylver.

“You really can’t. I mean, look at me. I’m in the middle of one of the largest trading centers on this side of the continent, and I’m just barely scraping by. So no… I don’t think life is fair. Why do you ask?” Sylver asked, maintaining his mask of mild concern, while smiling internally.

Come on Horace. I’m sad that I got dealt a bad hand in life. And vulnerable and looking for a way to change that.

“My cousin is out fighting Griffins in the south. My sister became able to use the system and magic when she was 9 years old. She’s currently teaching at the Silian academy and is already level 70, after only a few years of effort. And a few years ago, I nearly lost the only two people I care about, all because some level 210 cunt felt like showing off and couldn’t control her strength,” Horace explained, the edge of anger in his voice changing the sadden melancholy Sylver had created into a strained confession.

“I’m sorry to hear that. But life sucks sometimes, so what? You speak like you’re the first person in the world to have something bad happen to them. Do you know what level the weakest person who was an apprentice with me is right now? He’s in the 300 area. I don’t know the exact level of course, given how no one talks to me anymore, but he cruised his way to 300. Fucker was born with a platinum spoon shoved in his mouth, ass, and cunt.” Sylver said, matching Horace’s anger in his voice. He was bending the truth a lot but it did genuinely piss him off how many people initially overtook him in every single way imaginable when he was an apprentice.

“Did you know the king and his family all have a unique class? That every noble in Arda, let alone the larger cities, knows how to unlock their children’s class as early as 3 years old? That by the time one of their children reaches the age of 10, they’re already as close to level 50 as possible? And with unmatched skills and perks?” Horace explained, the skin on his knuckles turning white from how hard he was holding his mug.

“Nobles inherit money and power, who would have thought?” Sylver asked in a mocking tone. “We should tell somebody! Surely such a great injustice cannot be allowed to continue! Someone’s got to do something!” Sylver offered, raising his still completely full glass into the air as if it were a toast.

“What if you could do something…” Horace asked, just barely loud enough for Sylver to hear over his bitter and joyless laugh.

You’re making this too easy.

“If I could? You mean like rid the world of nobility and give everyone the skills and perks to make things fair and equal? Instead of letting such valuable knowledge get hoarded by those in power?” Sylver asked, quoting a woman he once knew who had once tried to convince him with similar logic and premise.

“Think about it. It’s not like the skills and knowledge are finite. What difference does it make if three people know a skill, versus a million? It doesn’t make any one skill or perk any less valuable, or effective. All it does is let those at the top remain the sole beneficiaries and continue to hoard and gather power.” Horace explained, as Sylver had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from openly smiling.

Come on, almost there.

“Is there a point to this conversation? Are you trying to recruit me to your philosophy book club or something?” Sylver asked, getting a genuine look of concern from Horace.

“No, I… If you could change things, would you?” Horace asked, looking back down into his now empty cup.

“If I could? Of course, I would. If I could change things for the better, it would be my responsibility to do it. No question about it.” Sylver explained, smiling ever so slightly as Horace’s eye lit up with joy.

“Right! I… If you come to this place tonight, I’ll waive your tab. They’ll be able to explain it better than I could. But don’t tell anyone. And come alone, obviously. I promise you, it’ll be worth your time.” Horace explained, taking a neatly folded piece of paper out of his pocket and sliding it across the table to Sylver.

“I can’t promise I’ll agree to anything,” Sylver said, taking the paper after a short pause and putting it in his pocket. He didn’t recognize the street name, but it didn’t seem to be in the slums. It was a theatre apparently.

“Of course! But, I wouldn’t offer this to just anyone. I’ll give you the ring back tomorrow morning then. I look forward to… You said you had somewhere to go?” Horace said, jumping from unbridled joy to mild worry.

“Yes! Sorry, thank you so much for the wine. I’ll be back in the morning to get the ring.” Sylver said, pretending to remember he had somewhere to be and rushing out of the door.

*

“Are they still following?” Sylver whispered to himself, and moved slightly to the left so his shadow intersected the shadow made by the wall so Spring could cross over without having to be out in the open.

“They are. I don’t think they can teleport, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Spring asked, whispering directly into Sylver’s ear.

“Yes. Find me a good spot to do it,” Sylver whispered back, feeling the vague emotional reaction from the shade.

It was actually amazing how well Spring was developing. It had barely been 2 days and he was already in the process of matching Sylver’s soul fragment. If he managed to maintain this pace, this would be the fastest Sylver ever managed to bond with a shade.

Exceptionally lucky compatibility? He was a martial artist, so he most likely sees this as a master and student relationship. Or that we’re relatively close in terms of power…

Spring came back a few seconds later and pointed out a good place between 2 buildings. It was a dead-end, the alleyway ending with a very tall wall that went nowhere due to the two buildings up above leaning on one another and blocking it off.

Turning the corner sharply, Spring lifted the manhole cover up and out of the way, as Sylver ducked down to the wall and used his robe to cover himself with garbage and debris, hiding his body underneath it.

Sure enough, he could feel 2 souls enter his range, and could feel the faint panic emanating from both of them. He waited for Spring’s signal, as he watched one descend downwards into the sewer system, and launched the garbage covering him as projectiles, hitting the person standing at the top of the manhole.

Before he could so much as finishing pushing himself off the wall, Sylver was blinded by a flash of light, and felt both souls disappear before he could even close his eyes.

Bouncing off the empty wall he couldn’t stop his momentum from launching him towards, Sylver landed back on the floor and patted down his robe.

“You wouldn’t happen to be developing some sort of skill or perk to block people from teleporting, would you?” Sylver asked to the empty street. Spring appeared out of the wall and kicked the manhole cover back in place, sulking slightly.

“I’m afraid not. I think I’m getting a little faster, but it’s hard to judge.” Spring answered, walking back into the shadows.

“I see. Did you manage to get a piece of their clothing or anything?” Sylver asked, swiping his hand to the left and causing all the thrown around trash to go back into the hole he found it inside.

“I did not. He teleported away before I could touch him.”

“Was it a man? Are you sure?”

“Or an extremely muscular but flat-chested woman. But I’m fairly certain that was a man. Can you not tell by their souls?” Spring asked, speaking into Sylver’s ear.

“No. Without direct contact I can at best get a vague emotion or something of that sort. It’s not enough for me to know anything. I can tell if I’ve met someone before, provided I recognize their soul, but that’s about it, and depends on the soul. Are they nearby?” Sylver asked.

“Not as far as I can tell,” Spring answered, as shades kept coming and going from the outside shadows into Sylver’s.

“Alright. Don’t be upset, you did well. I think they had a linked spell or something ready, or maybe another one of those automatic death preventing perks. But keep looking, you never know,” Sylver explained, letting his robe go back to it’s disgruntled and discolored look and walking back into the morning light.

*

*

*

“Don’t you have somewhere else to be?” Lola asked, looking up from her desk again.

“There are so many anti divination enchantments on this building, it’s the only place I can sit around in and pretend to work and no one can find out. I can go somewhere else if you prefer. But I do need to stay inside to pretend I’m slaving away under you,” Sylver said, lifting the pillow off his face and looking at Lola.

“No, it’s fine. It’s just unnerving seeing you like this. Do you always sleep completely motionless and without making a sound?”

“Only when I let my guard down. My default is not breathing and being perfectly still, I have to make an effort to blink and breathe in and out and such. This body almost does it by itself, but I think my heartbeat goes down to the single digits if I don’t pay enough attention to it. I’m not really alive, remember? I’m just as close to alive as someone dead can get,” Sylver explained, putting the pillow back over his face and laying back down on the couch.

“Wuss found the diamond hoarder by the way. Forgot to tell you when you came in.” Lola said, digging through her drawers until she found the relevant report.

“Good job. What did you do to him?” Sylver asked, muffled by the pillow.

“Naut couldn’t get him to stop selling diamonds, but he agreed to keep a detailed ledger of who he sells them to. So if your secret meeting doesn’t work out, we can just cross-reference all the demon summoning ingredients to find the demon worshipers. Assuming there are any of course.” Lola added under her breath.

“You sound uncertain. What changed your mind?”

“That I can’t be that unlucky. From dying in my sleep, to spending years with nothing but cats for companions, only to be saved by you to find out that, thanks to Aether, my years of research were all for nothing, to then go through the unimaginable pain of coming back to life, then having to burn through every single ounce of patience I’ve ever had starting this stupid workshop, only then to have to deal with demons? I can’t say I’ve been a saint, but I’ve certainly haven’t done anything bad enough to warrant all that and a demon.” Lola explained, counting out her many troubles on one hand and thankfully stopping there.

“Don’t do that. Hoping is one thing, but you shouldn’t prepare for it. Always walk as if there’s someone around the corner getting ready to stab you. As one of my mentors used to say. I’ve always liked the less wordy version ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst.’ Did you find anything new in the demon summoning circle copy?” Sylver asked, sitting up properly since they were already having a conversation. He came here to nap and pester Lola for the anti teleportation device, not talk about what he didn’t particularly want to even think about.

“It is 100% a summoning circle. But not for a demon. I’ve had Wuss gather some books on the subject for me, and there’s too many pieces missing for it to even get close to attracting a demon.”

“I saw that too. But I don’t recognize the sigils. Which is weird because I know just about every magical language there is. It could be some sort of extremely specialized dialect, and I’m just not making a connection, but it doesn’t feel like that. Could be something that was created after I died, or it could be something that exists only on this side of the Asberg. But the big question is still what exactly they wanted Yeva and the women for… I’m not seeing a purpose. They were planning to kill them, but for what?” Sylver wondered as Yeva looked down at the unfolded page that Sylver had long since memorized.

“Maybe it’s that symbolic thing you mentioned? A demon that has a thing for pregnant women? A thing for unborn children?”

“Could be... Could be... But demons don’t tend to be that specific. You have enough psychotic souls in the mixture and it does upset the balance and make them murderous, but this would need to be what? Cannibals with a really strong craving for the unborn? It doesn’t fit. What time is it?” Sylver asked.

Lola looked at the giant clock in the corner.

“Still another 9 hours. I’m sorry for waking you up. But would you mind going to Tamay’s office, she’s away until tomorrow so you shouldn’t be disturbed.” Lola offered, waving towards Sylver and sending a small metal bead into his hand.

“Not a problem.”

Sylver left Lola’s office and walked next door to Tamay’s, promptly laying down on one of the prototype couches scattered all over the large room and willing himself to sleep.

*

*

*

I mean… If I wanted to ambush someone, this would be perfect. Nice and open area, lots of room to hide, no sewer tunnels below to escape into, enough stuff above to stop any attempts to fly away…

But despite the fact that Sylver had been walking around the empty and abandoned theatre for almost an hour, he was yet to be ambushed, or even meet another person. The note said an hour after sundown, quite specifically, and Sylver was certain he was in the right place. He even made an extra effort and came half an hour early.

If this was anyone, or anything, else he would have left under 2 minutes and told whoever was planning on talking to him to go fuck themselves. If a person didn’t have enough respect for him to be on time, he wasn’t interested in whatever they were offering.

Unless this is part of the test… See how desperate I am…

Fuck… I could be here for hours…

Wondering if Sylver had enough patience to go jump through however many hoops they made him jump through, he started to think just how dangerous it would be to leave this in the hands of the temple of Ra. And quite sadly, a demon was just about the only thing Sylver was afraid enough of to go through whatever was to come.

A single breath passed after he finished his thought.

They appeared all at once, in perfect sync, and flooded the area around Sylver with enough interference that his robe went completely limp and like a moist cloth, frazzling his shades to the point of destroying some of them.

“We have just one question for you…” A man in a blue mask said, all the others wearing simple red masks. For some reason Sylver couldn’t focus his eyes well enough to see anything more than their masks, even his soul sense was dulled to the point he couldn’t even feel the remaining shades in his shadow.

“Does the name -”

A blinding pain-filled Sylver’s head, as he fell down to his knees and couldn’t press his palms hard enough to so much as feel them against the feeling of getting his skull crushed from every single direction, a red knife slicing up and down his scalp, and a piercing chill spreading all the way down his body.

*

*

*

He had no idea when he had passed out during that whirlwind of pain, but felt the emptiness around his torso to mean someone had removed his shirt and robe. The pain had receded to just an extremely awful migraine, and Sylver just barely managed to stand up from the floor. He found himself inside a small room, a bed that was soaked in sweat that he had fallen out of, a small sink with a smashed glass in the corner, and a slightly ajar metal rusted door letting in a small amount of light.

Sylver’s attempt to throw up proved to be futile, as his stomach simply flexed with its emptiness, and the faint searing taste of bile reached his brain and told him he’d already done that. The only surprising thing was that Sylver was still wearing his pants, and almost couldn’t believe that he hadn’t shit himself during all that.

His desire to get out of the room overpowered any reasonable wants to figure out what was going on, and Sylver half walking half crawling managed to force the heavy and rusted door open and squeeze past it.

Directly in front of him was a glowing ball of light, starting to gently move to the left before Sylver could even focus his exhausted and stumbling mind on it.

He followed after it, some sort of indescribable primal fear overwriting all the centuries of experience he had gathered, using the perfectly flat wall as a guide, dirtying his hands with slime and mold as feeling returned to his legs completely and he started to run to keep up with the light.

Jogging through the otherwise completely dark hallway, Sylver briefly felt a faint jab of pain in his head, before it disappeared entirely, leaving absolutely nothing behind. A soft calmness enveloped his panicked mind, and he stopped jogging and merely walked, before just standing still and taking long and slow breaths.

“What happened?” Sylver spoke into the darkness, as the ball of light moved further and further down the tunnel, gaining speed and disappearing out of view.

“I don’t know. I just woke up, we all did. I’m sending shades out to map out the area.” Spring said, speaking out of the shadow making up the wall.

In the total darkness he was standing in, Sylver looked behind and walked back to the place he had woken up in.

His robe was nowhere to be found, neither were his weapons or anything he had on his when he came to the theatre.

“There’s people a few minutes in that direction. But there’s something weird, I can’t see them properly.” Spring said, his faint voice echoing down the halls.

“It could be the interference, or something else. They didn’t kill me so they need me alive. If I run away now, they have already seen my face and could come after me later. Don’t take a step out of my shadow until I say so.” Sylver said, speaking in a hushed tone and starting to jog towards where the ball of light had disappeared to. Spring nodded in silence before sliding down into Sylver’s shadow.

Running through the perfectly straight and flat hallway, Sylver ransacked his brain at what that could have been. Some sort of skill? But what was the point? To demonstrate he was at their mercy?

Some sort of forbidden word? Cursed speech was a thing, Sylver himself knew several words that would drive someone insane. The only reason he never used them was that his body wouldn’t be able to handle the backlash of uttering them.

Something system related? The pain felt similar and powerful enough that he had a hard time believing it could be anything else. Cutting off that line of thought before it could even finish forming, Sylver just concentrated on running and kept his eyes and ears open, ready for whatever may come.

He was ready for a lot of things.

But seeing the four people he was fairly certain were the ones in the masks, sitting around a small fire and cooking a piece of meat over it, was not one of them.

“You’re finally awake!” The one holding the metal rod with the meat said, handing it over to the man on his left and getting up from the broken down piece of stone they were using as chairs.

“Took you longer than I would have thought, most people are only out for a few hours, but at least this way we’re sure. You can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake that!” the man said, walking over to Sylver and pulling him into a bear hug.

Sylver's attempt at a question was stunted by the sudden skinship, the man’s soul so dense and strong, that Sylver wouldn’t be surprised if he was going to tell him his age was in the hundreds. The man flashed a toothy grin at Sylver’s attempt to use [Appraisal] on him, not even getting a blank as an answer.

“Sorry! I got too excited. Come, eat while we speak!” The man said, with a barking laugh and putting Sylver down, but leading him towards the fire with a firm grip over his shoulder.

Sylver sat down, or more honestly was forced to sit down, and was handed the metal rod holding the meat before he could say anything.

“Sylver Sezari, allow us to introduce ourselves. My name is Lion. This is Bear, Wolf, and Nameless.” Lion said.

Sylver found that the names were oddly fitting.

Lion was an incredibly tall and blond man, his long hair standing upwards in the way a lion’s mane did. His clothing consisted of very bright orange fur-coated armor, further adding to his lion-like appearance. His arms were completely exposed and rippled with power and muscles.

Bear was a very wide and hunched over man, his hands looked like they could wrap completely around Sylver’s head and crush it with as much ease as a grape. He wore dark brown clothing, that appeared to be rags more than armor, but understandable given how solid his whole body looked. His hair was brown, and flat against his head, thick enough that Sylver thought it was a fur-coated helmet for a moment.

Wolf was the complete opposite of the two, the only one sitting with his back straight, his eyes milky but staring at Sylver with the kind of intensity he’d only seen in wild animals and certain wild druids. His hair was a darker shade of grey than Sylver’s, but it made up for that in volume and length, tied into a proper ponytail behind his head, seemingly combed and washed on a daily basis, unlike Lion’s.

And Nameless was… He looked just like any boy you would meet anywhere. Short neat blond hair, recently cut, vaguely blue eyes, completely dulled in the faint light of the fire, an unremarkable face, unremarkable stature and presence, and in the company of these three, Sylver never would have noticed him if he wasn’t pointed out.

“You’re probably wondering what happened back there. Why you suddenly lost consciousness and woke up with a pounding headache and an unimaginable desire to run away. That’s because you heard Nameless’s real name! You need to hear it 2 more times before you’d become able to hear it without going into complete and total shock.” Lion explained, as Sylver pretended to focus on the meat and moved it out of the way of the flickering flame to stop it burning.

“Sorry! Getting ahead of myself. First things first, can you understand this?” Lion said, taking the iron rod out of Sylver’s hands and pulling a small book out of nowhere.

He handed it to Sylver and opened it on a bookmarked page.

No fucking way...

“We know what this page says, and if you can read it I promise you will be allowed to leave unharmed, no questions asked,” Lion said, tapping the page in question. Sylver didn’t bother asking what would happen if he couldn’t.

“Four hundred and ninety-seven grams of crushed obsidian, mixed with three hundred and twelve grams of treated white marrow ash, dissolved in fifty-three liters of…” Sylver read the whole page, furrowing his brows at some of the ingredients and methods. Small notes in the margins swapped them out with ones Sylver didn’t recognize, and seemed to have found ways of streamlining the process.

He finished reading it and turned the pages, looking through the rest of the book, stopping at the very last one, where the name had been scratched out. He could feel the emotions in the air, the cold and dead stare of Wolf being the only one that was out of place from the nearly ecstatic matching grins of Lion and Nameless. Bear continued to look like he was already asleep.

Sylver closed the book and touched the empty spot on the cover that had just enough space for a gem the size of a single silver coin.

He looked up at the four men, three men and boy, and the astonishment he was feeling once again overpowering whatever else he should be thinking or feeling.

“I can see it in your eyes, you can’t wait to dig in and study it! Right! Just wait before we-”

“Lion, enough,” Nameless said, his soft and childish voice so quiet it was a wonder Lion heard him at all, let alone actually obeyed him.

“We would like for you to help us. In exchange, you’ll be granted the title of a duke, as well as the land and riches that come with it,” Nameless said. Sylver was unable to look up at him because of how focused he was on the book in front of him.

“Would I be doing this alone?” Sylver asked, finally regaining a shred of composure and looking straight at the prepubescent Nameless.

“There are others, but you would be in charge of them. I have… I have a way to know what certain people are capable of, and I know that under your leadership this will be a success.” Nameless said, the gentle crackling of the burning wood louder than his voice.

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me what exactly it is you know?” Sylver asked, running his thumb over the scratched out name on the cover. The metal had tarnished past the point of readability, but Sylver could still see the title in his mind clear as the day it had been etched.

“You wouldn’t be able to hear it if I tried. But you’re the first person I’ve met with such a high figure, I’ll tell you that.” Nameless said, a faint scuttering behind Sylver taking up more of his focus than the small boy sitting in front of him did.

“Just so we are all on the same page, what exactly would I be doing, and for what purpose?” Sylver asked, opening the book’s first page and almost caressing the beautifully drawn skull symbol.

“You would help us summon a demon, so we might all make a deal with it, so that I can become the high king of Eira and save the world,” Nameless said, somehow with the kind of confidence Sylver normally spoke with.

Sylver sat in silence for a long while, only the sound of Bear’s snore like breathing breaking up the gentle crackle of the campfire.

“And if I refuse?” Sylver asked, looking up from the book to the four people around him.

“You’ll wake up in your room at Ron’s Rest, with a very faint recollection of meeting three talking animals and a small boy, and write the whole thing off as a bad dream,” Wolf said, speaking for the first time.

Sylver felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up like heckles, and felt a kind of fear he’d forgotten he could feel. This wasn’t just the usual fear of getting hurt or dying, this was the fear of facing something all the skills and experience in the world wouldn’t be able to help against. The fear of meeting as close to an equal as Sylver could ever get.

He had a hard time swallowing the lump in his throat, and just barely managed to suppress the shaking in his voice.

“Of course I’ll help! Who wouldn’t want to help the man who would be king!” Sylver said regaining his composure and getting a comforting pat on the back from Lion.

And I can’t have anyone else see this shame of mine. Sylver thought, as he flipped through the book he had wanted to forget ever writing, and started to see just how much the person who had found and edited it had changed.

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KingKennit

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