Ch059-Mistakes, Misconceptions, Miscommunications.
While Fredrick was busy reading through Sylver’s proposal, a fairly large project that was doomed to fail from the start, Sylver sat opposite him and observed him.
For one Fredrick was a lot older than Sylver was expecting.
All the hair on his head and face was as white as snow, and looked to be as soft as that of a rabbit. If Novva looked more like a soldier turned noble, Fredrick looked like the very notion of holding a sword would cause him to pull a muscle.
He wasn’t a mage either, his hands were the wrong shape, his mana felt too rigid to have ever been used for more than breathing and moving around. His eyes were just starting to get cloudy, but unmistakably from old age and not any spell or curse that had gone awry.
He was right-handed, Sylver could tell by the little bump on the middle finger on his right hand, but going by the slight discoloration on it, he hadn’t had to use a pen in a very long while.
In short, not a single thing about Fredrick made him out to be any kind of [Hero].
He was most certainly nowhere near the peak of his physical prime. Young or old, all the [Hero]s who ever came here aged forward or backward until they reached the rough age of 25 to 30, for humans at least, and stopped right there. But if Novva knew the man from over 20 years ago, Sylver couldn’t imagine a single reason this man would still be as old as he was right now.
For another, [Hero]s had a different feeling about them. It wasn’t distinctive enough that Sylver could point them out from a crowd of random people, or powerful enough that he could track them using it, but he felt something when near [Hero]s.
And he felt it even now, there was nothing he could confuse the feeling with. It was not dissimilar to the smell of burning paper. Sylver had confirmed a long time ago it wasn’t anything soul sense or mana sense related, given how he’d heard the same description from apprentices that had yet to be able to sense mana, but all described the feeling when around a hero the same. It was one of the things that a large number of [Hero]s had.
But this was different. It somehow felt weaker and stronger at the same time, and quite honestly had Sylver at a loss as to how this could be.
Sylver switched his attention from Fredrick and carefully focused it on his exceptionally young wife instead. Or young-looking if Sylver was being precise, given how the woman was most certainly not fully human. If she had enough elf blood in her, she could be as old as Fredrick looked for all Sylver knew.
Blond hair that was just short of reaching her shoulders, dark blue eyes that were half asleep from reading Sylver’s boring last-minute bullshit, and delicate looking fingers that had all the trademark muscle structures of an extremely well versed and practiced mage. On top of a physique that spoke of some kind of advanced martial art training.
From what Sylver had gathered regarding Fredrick, mostly from a very quick conversation from Wuss, Fredrick was, if not the richest man on this side of the continent, at the very least someone who was on great terms with whoever were the top 100 richest.
Part of that was due to his entrepreneurial nature, another was that he always seemed to be right when it came to his many investments and was considered an extremely valuable consultant on a variety of matters, and the last was that he was the only living heir of at least 17 different noble families that were too old to ever have children again. Even if he somehow managed to lose everything he currently owned, he was just one old man having a heart attack away from getting everything back.
Which was an exaggeration given how long people tended to live when they had the funds to have an onhand healer and alchemist, but the man was the truest definition of ‘old money’ if Sylver had ever seen one.
“Dear, would you mind bringing me my medicine? I’m feeling a little faint. The dark red one if you can find it,” Poppy said, causing Fredrick to wordlessly stand up and leave the room, leaving Sylver’s carefully drawn up bullshit on the table.
Both Poppy and Sylver watched the old man leave the room, gently closing the door behind himself.
They sat in silence for a few seconds, as the spy proof barrier finished solidifying and sealed shut.
Sylver turned his head back towards Poppy and watched as she seemed to look right through him. He felt as if something was crawling on his skin, but couldn’t see or feel any mana being moved around.
“That thing in your hand in your left pocket, take it out, and then we’ll talk,” Poppy said, as Sylver curiously raised an eyebrow at her and pulled out the small explosive he had gotten from Lola.
Sylver placed it on the table, but kept his hand on the armed device, and the trigger.
“Well, since we’re skipping the small talk, do you recognize this man?” Sylver asked, gesturing with his head to his left, where Spring had materialized and locked eyes with Poppy.
“Well that certainly answers my next question,” Poppy said, leaning back in her seat and staring up at the well-lit ceiling. “That was you then, right? The mask, the zombies, these shadowy things. And now you’re here masquerading as a level 40 mage for some reason.” Poppy continued, gesturing at Spring.
“Well, not for some reason, it was so we could talk. I wanted to confirm you were who you were. Put a face to the name so to speak,” Sylver said, letting Spring disappear back into his shadow, and sitting up properly.
“You’ve found me. Congratulations. Now what?” Poppy asked, spreading her arms out and laying them on either side of the table’s edge.
“I’m not entirely sure to be honest,” Sylver said, scratching his face using the small bomb and putting it back on the table.
“Is there any way at all we could both walk away from this as friends? No explosions, no killing, just two people talking things out?” Poppy asked, making Sylver genuinely consider her words.
Sylver weighed her crimes in his head. Kidnapping Ciege and Yeva, kidnapping some of Whiskers’ subordinates, making Sylver have to torture a thing that looked identical to Yeva and Ciege, and lastly, actually killing him.
If it were the past and Sylver was a 10th tier arch necromancer, and a member of the Ibis was kidnapped and replaced, and in his attempt to save them Sylver was killed, even briefly, the king of kings wouldn’t be safe.
Because there was a very small handful of people who were a serious threat to Sylver by that point in time. Even fewer if you considered the fact that it was beyond rare that Sylver went anywhere alone.
But now he had two issues with what could be called his normal approach.
The first was that he wasn’t all that sure if he could kill her. Poppy clearly had some sort of precognition, which rendered just about every trick Sylver had useless. And while he did have a way of dealing with that, the problem was plain and simple that he would need time. During which Poppy could very easily kill him. She was stronger, faster, and had more mana at her disposal, of that Sylver was certain.
But even if he somehow managed to do it, the question remained, then what?
Poppy is dead. Through some miracle, Sylver managed it here and now, and is standing next to her corpse. Fredrick comes back, calls the guards, and Sylver is very slowly executed for murdering such an important man’s wife. Or Sylver kills Fredrick, somehow manages to run away from the guards and escape, then what? The cats use Lola, Ciege, Yeva, and Benjamin as hostages to make him come back so all of Fredrick’s friends and family can torture him to death?
Sylver had some leeway for helping Kitty, but if it wasn’t enough to get information about Poppy, it wasn’t enough to protect him from the repercussions of killing her and her husband. Not to mention, he would have to kill her sisters to be safe too.
It felt cowardly to back down like this, but Sylver quite honestly didn’t see any other options, or have a choice at the moment. Even if he against all odds won, he still lost.
“Let’s try talking things out then. Is Fredrick coming back anytime soon?” Sylver asked, gesturing towards the door.
“He won’t be,” Poppy answered, her tone implying that there would be no further explanation on the matter.
“In that case, first things first. Just because no one died, doesn’t mean you didn’t kill anyone. So if we’re going to continue this conversation, we’re going to do so under the pretense of 4 of my people getting killed because of you,” Sylver said, holding out four fingers with his free hand.
“If I said everyone who was taken was going to be returned home, you wouldn’t believe me, would you?” Poppy asked, sitting up straighter and folding her hands back onto her lap. Despite how she said it, Sylver was surprised to feel that it felt like she was being honest.
“Considering you actually killed one of my men, in essentially cold blood, no,” Sylver said, getting an understanding nod as a response from Poppy.
“I guess a good place to start would be why? What the point of kidnapping pregnant women was? Why you kept their husbands alive, why you replaced them with poorly made copies. Why don’t we start from there,” Sylver asked, changing the hand that was holding the bomb because his fingers were getting tired from holding the trigger.
“I can’t tell you,” Poppy answered simply.
Sylver took a deep breath and for half a second his grip on the explosive loosened. “Can’t as in I would hear nothing but gibberish if you tried, or can’t in the sense whoever else would kill you if you told me?” Sylver asked.
“The first one,” Poppy answered, confused by the fact that Sylver seemed to expect this. Sylver quite sadly could feel she was telling the truth.
“Are you involved with what Michael Oxmaul and Andrey Do’Fidem are doing?” Sylver asked, trying to see if everything is connected.
“I am,” Poppy answered, causing Sylver to nearly do a double-take. “But I can’t tell you how, or in what way. Except that they don’t know I’m involved,” Poppy explained, before Sylver could ask any follow-ups.
“So a silent backer kind of deal… Could you tell me how you chose the women who were kidnapped?” Sylver asked, trying to see where the ‘can’t tell you’ part reached to.
“My sister was in charge of that. But she wouldn’t be able to tell you either,” Poppy answered.
“Is there a way I would be able to be told any of this? Maybe sign a contract of silence or something along those lines?”
“It’s a… It wouldn’t work… You need to be… No, or at least not that I’m aware of. It’s not something any of us have control over, and you’re either in or your out. And you’re out,” Poppy explained without really explaining anything. Sadly, also true.
“What about the framework? Can you tell me about that? How you found Nautis and got him out?” Sylver asked, getting a shake of the head from Poppy for both questions.
“What the point of the crystals was? Why you left so quickly? Why you left those fakes in their places? How those fakes were made? Did you send Samuel after me,” Sylver asked, as Poppy shook her head no for every question.
“Wait! I can tell you why I left so quickly.” Poppy said, her eyes going completely white for a split second, “You’ve got 16 daggers floating around inside your robe, 128 darts and there’s a satchel of poison dust hidden in your left sleeve. You had 3-day smoked bacon for dinner last night, you drank ginger flavored tea and there are 41 shades hidden in your shadow, your pulse is 14 beats per minute and there are so many chemicals in your blood I don’t even recognize half of them,” Poppy said, quickly, answering before Sylver could interject, telling him more and more information that should be impossible to know.
Even natural precognition magic had limits, and what Poppy just told him skipped right past them.
“So some kind of hyper-awareness that can bypass my body’s natural concealment... Meaning you figured out there was no way to win against me back then and quickly ran away… And I’m assuming you can’t use it constantly because otherwise…” Sylver asked, trying to see why she didn’t know he was the one she had killed, if she could even count the darts spread all around the inside of his sleeves.
“I don’t want to exactly just sit here and explain my skills to a man holding a knife to my throat. In the form of an explosive device in this case. I can’t see the future, if that’s what you’re asking but this is the next best thing. Listen… You said 4 of your people nearly died, I know how this sounds, but could we settle this with money? How does 1 million gold sound?” Poppy asked, the shock on her face instantaneous at Sylver’s lack of reaction.
Sylver thought about it for a moment. And decided he could find out if this is something he should be concerning himself with or not in one simple question.
“Is whatever it is you’re doing somehow related to a [Hero]?” Sylver asked, Poppy’s initial shock doubling to the point she looked like an owl.
“Then I don’t want to pry further. How about this. 4 million for killing my people. Another million for me to forget about all of this. And I want your word that whatever it is you’re doing, will not be done within 1000 kilometers of Arda. If you can agree to that, we will walk away as friends. Or better yet, we walk away as strangers and never speak to one another ever again,” Sylver said, speaking somewhat quickly, trying to get his point across before Poppy could interrupt.
“5 million gold… And outside 1000 kilometers of Arda…” Poppy said out loud, her eyes glazing over slightly.
“One last thing. Is there a woman working with you who wears a perfectly white robe? A mind mage of some kind?” Sylver asked, straining his soul sense to feel a reaction.
He didn’t feel anything. Poppy said she didn’t and Sylver didn’t think she was lying.
But there was no reason to leave something so important up to Sylver’s faulty soul sensing abilities.
“Do you mind holding my hand for a moment? I have a skill that will tell me if you’re lying, but I need physical contact for it,” Sylver asked, with Poppy almost absentmindedly reaching out a hand towards him.
Sylver’s heart quite literally stopped. His eyes widened to the point he was certain that if Poppy was even slightly focused on him, she would see them about to pop out of his head.
He recovered from the shock in the split second it took for Poppy to come to a decision.
“5 million gold. And you have my word that I will not do anything within 1000 kilometers of Arda. But regarding Michael, I can’t do anything about that,” Poppy said, moving her hand around Sylver’s to the point they were clasping their palms in a handshake but not shaking.
“Fine… Can you answer me if this is a power or money related thing? As in, you’re not just doing all this for the thrill of it, or to make money, right?” Sylver asked, slightly tightening his grip around her surprisingly soft and small hand.
“No. It’s not for fun or money or power. It’s… necessary,” Poppy answered, looking Sylver right in the eye as she spoke.
“Good… Uh… Give the 5 million to Lola Aeyri as an investment, but make it clear to her you’re not planning on ever asking for the invested gold to be returned,” Sylver said, shaking Poppy’s hand.
“Good, Fred already has money invested with her, this won’t even look out of place. And I know this is a little late, but I apologize for involving you. And for killing one of yours,” Poppy said, with Sylver being careful not to yank his hand away, but also not to hold it a second longer than necessary.
Even in his highly controlled but panicked state, Sylver could tell Poppy was telling the truth.
“Apology accepted. Thank you for your time, I’ll be off now,” Sylver said, defusing the explosive in his now slick with sweat hand, and hiding it back in his robe.
He struggled not to run as he left the room and barrier, and finally broke into a sprint when he was sure Poppy couldn’t see him.
“You’re leaving? Why? What happened?” Lola asked, standing behind Sylver who was frantically shoving his possessions into his bag and chest, getting a helping hand from the completely mute Spring.
“There’s a god here,” Sylver said, his hands shaking as he struggled to button up his bag, his daggers and darts repeatedly falling onto the floor out of his robe, only to be sucked back in again when he noticed.
“What do you mean there’s a god here? How could there be a god here?” Lola asked, the idea refusing to properly enter her mind, like a child trying to force a circular block into a triangular hole.
“Because Poppy is a guide! Or valkyrie or angel, I don’t know the word for them in a language you would know. Gods make them to guide heroes, they’re normally completely impalpable, and the only two I’ve ever met were there to accompany a god. Take her husband’s money, don’t ask any questions, don’t talk to her if you can,” Sylver ordered, throwing the wrapped up bag in the corner, along with the others.
“There can’t be a god here… Gods are real?” Lola asked, moving out of the way as Sylver rummaged through one of the chests and filled up a pouch with gold coins.
“Not Gods gods, but they are as real as demons are. They’re the same even, the only difference being gods are formed from souls with a single belief and or purpose. Enough people die thinking there’s a certain being out there that acts in a certain way, and a god is formed. They sometimes summon heroes here to act in their stead, and guides like Poppy, guide the hero in the way the god who summoned the hero would want him to act. Didn’t your mother teach you any of this? She was an elder last I checked, you should already know this,” Sylver said, just short of mumbling under his breath.
“What?” Lola asked, standing in place and just staring at the heavily breathing and sweaty man.
“For some reason Poppy thought I was a lot stronger than I am and my level is fake. I made a deal with her, and now I’m leaving,” Sylver said, trying to walk past Lola but getting grabbed by the shoulder and held in place with an iron-like grip.
“Explain what you said about gods,” Lola half-whispered.
“Gods exist, from major to minor, according to how many people believed in them when they died. If something dies while in this realm, their soul can sometimes go into another realm, usually of the same religion or culture or belief. Enough souls gather in one place, something happens, and a god is born. The god is whatever the souls making it up think it is, with somewhat similar powers and abilities and limits and restrictions. They’re heavily limited by how they can affect the world because of the… they very rarely manually interact with it. But if Poppy is here, that could mean there’s a god somewhere nearby, and I am leaving,” Sylver repeated, trying to pull himself out of Lola’s hand, but finding even his enhanced strength to be no match for hers.
“And you’re just going to leave me here? With a,” Lola raised her voice to the point it was nearly a shout before lowering it back down to a whisper, “with a god nearby?”
“You’ll be fine. I don’t know what Poppy is doing, and frankly, I don’t want to know. As long as you don’t antagonize her, she won’t bother you, that’s the whole point of how much work we’ve put into keeping the two of us separated,” Sylver said, heating his hand and holding it over Lola’s to get her to let go but finding his shoulder being frozen solid instead.
For a single moment, Sylver nearly punched her to free himself, before his panic lessened enough that he could take a deep breath and calm down slightly.
“If Poppy is walking around in the flesh, and has apparently been married for more than 20 years, then there’s a strong possibility there’s a god somewhere in the area. Asleep, meditating, in a coma, I do not know, and I do not care. Maybe her sisters are also guides, maybe not, but I don’t want to find out. You’re in the safest place you can be, and you have enough mana to defend yourself in the worst-case scenario. And anything I can defeat, you and the people guarding you can too. And anything I can’t defeat, there’s nothing I could do about anyway,” Sylver said, his breathing becoming steadier and steadier with every sentence, his speech returning slowly to its normal and unrushed tone.
“So a god is walking around Eira, and you’re just going to ignore it and leave?” Lola asked, not trying too hard to hide the contempt out of her voice.
“Yes. I didn’t involve myself with gods when I was an unkillable lich that could wield 10th tier magic, and now that I’m a good kick in the head away from becoming a zombie, I’m not going to involve myself with them even harder. I’m not responsible for everything that happens in the world. Take the money from Fredrick, don’t ask too many questions, and don’t go anywhere without at least two guards nearby,” Sylver cautioned, now completely relaxed and packing his things much slower.
“Are all gods real? What about heroes?” Lola asked, leaning against the only door out of the room and if Sylver’s mana sense was right, enchanting it to lock it close.
“I don’t know, if I’m being completely honest. As for heroes, I don’t know. I know some had a guide with them, a few that I am almost certain were completely on their own and just did whatever they felt like, and a couple I know for a fact were handpicked by a god before coming here,” Sylver explained.
“But if there’s a god wouldn’t you want to ask about… well what happened before? Find the people you sent the cats looking for?” Lola offered, earning a slightly frightened stare from Sylver.
“No. For one, no god is omniscient. For two, once you get a god’s attention, it is very difficult to get rid of it. And for three, all gods are utter shit,” Sylver said, wiping down his wrinkled cloak and sitting down onto a chair to wait for the slight shaking in his legs to subside.
“I’m sorry?” Lola asked, walking over to stand opposite him, now that the door was locked as tightly as she could make it.
“Gods are the equivalent of asking a child what the ideal parent would be like. Never punishing them for anything wrong that they do, deserts and sweets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they don’t force them to do chores, or complain when they get their clothing dirty. You ask a drug addict what’s the best way to help him, and the majority will say give them drugs. I’m over simplifying it, but the short and long of it is, gods are powerful, unpredictable, dangerous, hypocritical, unstable assholes. Demons at least have rules they follow, gods only have laws that stop them from completely fucking everything and everyone over on a whim,” Sylver explained, his panic inducing fear gradually disappearing and making him slightly sleepy.
“What did you mean when you said my mother knew about it? She never mentioned gods to me?”
“Layla Aeyri? She made Nyx a weapon to kill a demi god once, she knew about gods as much as I do. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you anything. Then again, given how you reacted to demons and heroes, I can sort of understand it. I mean, I’ve met over 40 heroes, and only ever seen two gods,” Sylver said, standing back up onto his now steady feet and walking over to the sealed shut door.
“Now don’t get the wrong idea. These aren’t Gods with a capital G. They can neither control fate, decide the future, nor have the ability to rewrite reality. They are at best extremely powerful sorcerers. Anti-Demons, if that is an easier way for you to think about them. Their power is almost beyond comprehension, but very much killable. Look just… just pretend I never said anything,” Sylver offered, sliding his finger along the door and checking for weak points in Lola’s framework.
“Pretend you didn’t just tell me there’s a god walking around somewhere?” Lola asked, gesturing towards the door and reinforcing it slightly.
“Yes! I got scared, and I overreacted. I do that sometimes. I might be wrong too, don’t forget about that. She admitted she’s involved with hero related stuff, but I don’t know what that means, and frankly I’m not interested. I am going to completely forget this conversation ever happened. I am going to take my time slowly flying back to Arda, making frequent stops on the way to enjoy the wilderness, and then I will help Nameless and his lot with you know what, and that is all I will be doing,” Sylver said, tapping an area near the bottom of the door and causing bright white sparks to explode from where his finger made contact.
“Have you considered the possibility both of us are here because of gods?” Lola asked, walking over to Sylver and placing her hand on the door and trying to repair all the damage he had caused in the 10 seconds while he spoke.
“No. They leave a trace whenever they do something, and I would have been able to feel it on either one of our souls. Gods have nothing to do with us being here, me especially,” Sylver said, narrowing it down to a single spot and moving his finger in a circular motion around it.
“But you just said they’re unpredictable!” Lola said, wasting half of her mana to try and reinforce the door, that was now turning ashy grey.
“They are! But even they have laws they have to follow. And interacting with the world so directly is impossible for any of them. Look… I know what I’m talking about, neither of us are here because of gods. Now open this door, and forget we even had this conversation,” Sylver said, standing up and shaking away the ash off his shadow covered finger.
“No, no, wait… I’m staying, this is too important. I’m overreacting, there isn’t a single good reason any god would have to get involved with either of us,” Sylver said, his heart beat dropping by the second as he finally managed to completely shake off the fear he was overflowing with. The paranoia came on a little stronger than usual.
“But there’s a god walking around!” Lola half whispered half shouted at Sylver.
“There’s also two men who can knock me unconscious with a single word, and could completely annihilate me with one hand tied behind their backs even if they didn’t have that word. We’re both already in as much danger as we can be, an infinitesimal chance of meeting a god isn’t significant enough to warrant running away, if Wolf and Lion didn’t. Oh man, I’m shivering, I haven’t been that afraid in years. Fuck me,” Sylver said, stretching his arms and body to get his skin to calm down.
“Are you alright?” Lola asked, holding her hand against Sylver’s forehead and sending a faint pulse of mana through his body.
“I am now. Sorry, it’s just… There’s less than a handful of things I’m genuinely terrified of, and gods are one of them. I feel better now, please forget this conversation ever happened,” Sylver said, snapping his fingers and getting the shades to start unpacking everything.
“But this does confirm that there’s a hero somewhere in Arda?” Lola asked, causing Sylver to pause his silent directing of shades.
“Maybe… Look, one problem at a time. Let’s finish this auction and investment business first, then move onto the next thing. Can you please open the door, I burned through all of my mana trying to force it open,” Sylver asked.
As Lola was opening the door, for half a second Sylver considered knocking her out and running away from here. Finally finding that last piece of paranoid fear, Sylver snuffed it out, and calmly cracked his neck and left Spring to sort out all of his belongings.
Gods are gods.
But Sylver wasn’t about to abandon Lola just because he was a little afraid. Not to mention, if a god was interested enough in him to find him here, a few thousand kilometers wouldn’t make much of a difference.
Fuck it, knowing this place gods could teleport wherever they wanted.
If Sylver was going to fight against something like that, he would at least like to do it next to someone he cares about.
Not that he had any intention of ever fighting against a god.