Ch070-Friends, Enemies, And The Rest
Sylver took a deep breath and double-checked all his weapons were in their proper place. The daggers on his back, interlocking one another to cover his spine and neck, darts in a lattice around his arms and legs, to function as armor in the event of something slashing, caltrops hidden around the bottom edges of his cloak and robe, to drop behind him if he was running, and the remaining grenades hidden near his midsection, the area he would have the easiest time defending.
Sylver was ready. He was prepared, he was armed, he was full of adrenaline and could feel his inhuman pulse behind his eyeballs, threatening to shove them out of his head.
Sylver stared at a small ball of light with one eye, while keeping the other closed, and at Spring’s word, started to run.
He had Spring synchronize everyone, so he, Sabo, and the harpies all passed through the one-way barrier at the same time.
Sylver could feel the faint light on the tip of his nose before his eyes even crossed over, and he closed the eye he had prepared for the dark and kept the light accustomed eye wide open.
But even with that, he was still caught off guard.
Maybe 40 people, all in various states of undress, sitting around, sleeping, eating, playing cards, all so engrossed in their activities, that not one of them noticed Sylver entering.
Sylver’s eyes darted left and right, counting out the people and mentally assigning the level of threat they posed, compared to the distance between them. Not counting a few of the ones furthest away, Sylver was oddly certain he could handle this heavily damaged group of adventurers. Some didn’t even look all that much like adventurers.
He didn’t recognize any of them, except a very tall green-haired woman, sitting next to a very large dark-haired woman, sitting next to a normal-sized woman, that was barely visible with all the dark bandages covering her body.
“Edna?” Sylver asked, his confused and quiet voice echoing throughout the room, the high ceiling causing his voice to bounce around.
Before the Pixie party could respond, before Sylver could react to the odd distortion in the air behind him, and even before Spring realized what was happening, Sylver was on the floor and with a dagger pressed up against the back of his neck.
The person on top of Sylver seemed confused about the armor-like lattice on his back, but with a humiliating easiness twisted his dagger and forced his way through it.
“Wait! I know him!” A voice shouted and caused the man about to push the blade into Sylver’s spinal column to pause. Sylver felt a hand reach for his mask and released the bonds that held it glued to his face. Air whooshed out of it as the hollowed-out piece of wood was pulled away, and Sylver’s pale face became visible. He saw Edna nod at the edge of his vision.
“Sorry about that,” the man on top of Sylver said simply, his voice oddly muted, not quite monotone, but neither with a whole lot of emotion behind it.
The dagger, along with the pressure on his back, and the pressure around his hands that Sylver didn’t notice until it was released, went away in an instant as the man got off him.
Sylver’s robe pushed him up onto his feet from his completely prone position and absorbed the mask on the floor into itself.
“Are you with Erin’s group?” The man who had somehow managed to nearly kill Sylver asked.
Edna looked up and met his eye now and looked taken aback.
“I know, I know, white as snow, I’ll explain later, what is all this?” Sylver asked, waving away the obvious question Edna was struggling to put into words.
A mixture of being in total darkness for an extended period, as well as his constant use of magic effectively burning through every drop of whatever it was that gave people their color made Sylver’s skin almost glowing white. He hadn’t looked in the mirror for a long while, but he could imagine how his completely black eyes contrasted his colorless face.
“If you’re not with Erin? Who are you?” The man who had nearly killed Sylver asked. He was dressed in thin-looking cloth that Sylver could feel had some sort of enchantment underneath it. Most of it was a dark brown color, the kind used by those that snuck around during the night. The man was adorned with a mixture of strange-looking curved daggers, and small sharpened metal discs.
His hair was cut very close to his head, somewhat fine and with all the small campfires behind him, almost translucent. Going by the small squaring of his jaw and the flatness of his nose, Sylver guessed one of his grandparents was a dwarf, with the rest being human.
“Sylver Sezari, necromancer and adventurer extraordinaire,” Sylver answered, with a slight bow. The adrenaline rush was slowly receding, but it left a euphoria-like feeling in its place.
“Necromancer?” The man asked, looking sideways at Sabo, and the harpies perched on him as if he only now noticed them. Considering how dead silent they were, he really might have.
“They’re under my control, don’t worry about it. I’m going to guess you’re all part of the 50-person expedition that went missing?” Sylver asked, getting a strange stare from the man.
“I am. She’s not, and they’re not,” The man answered, gesturing at himself, then at Edna, and vaguely towards the left, where the majority of the least adventurer looking people sat.
“What are you doing in here? If you’re not part of Erin’s group, how did you get past the elves?” The man asked, crossing his arms and taking an ever so slight step back.
“Slipped past them. I came alone,” Sylver answered simply.
“Did you now…” The man said, his tone once again completely neutral, but Sylver could now see that his eyes appeared to glaze over slightly.
“He’s telling the truth,” Edna quickly said, to no effect given that the man seemed to ignore her. “He has a unique class, and he’s too rich to be bribed by the elves,” Edna continued.
Rich? How would she- right the money the cats paid me…
The man rubbed his hands together, metal mesh glove over metal mesh glove, and stared at Sylver.
“Sorry, where are my manners. Eliot ,rogue. Come. Have a seat while we talk,” Eliot offered, placing a hand on Sylver’s shoulder and leading him towards one of the tables in the back.
Comparing notes had answered several questions.
The first was that Sylver was right. This was a challenge crypt.
Which was good news for Sylver, because according to Eliot the crypt counted the total level when deciding which creature to send them to fight.
Meaning a party with an average level of 100, would face enemies whose levels were 100, give or take. Usually give, since just about everyone who had made it here said that their enemies were at least 10 or so levels higher than them. Not counting the giant mass of proto zombies wandering in the corridors, those were all around level 50 to 60.
But the more interesting part was that almost everyone was forced to split up. The crypt blocked people from passing through the one-way barriers. Literally. In the areas where it split into left and right, different parties saw different paths being open.
Where the pixies could see a giant black wall blocking them from going left, the party right next to them saw a giant black wall blocking them from going right. How the crypt knew who was in a party and who wasn’t was a mystery to Sylver, and Eliot alike.
Eliot had put together the maps everyone had made on the way here and created what looked like a triangular funnel. Everyone started from the same spot, but then spread out, first into 2, then 4, then 8 then 16, and so on. Oddly enough, at some point, the funnel inverted, and started directing people to the same place. This place.
Sylver’s path matched almost perfectly with a party of mages who arrived here a few minutes prior, they were the reason everyone was so off guard. Because of the way everyone was spaced out, people arrived every couple of hours. If they arrived. The crypt seemed to be filtering people, moving the more ‘capable’ to the left, and the less capable to the right, but everyone had to pass through here eventually. Eliot’s theory was that it was based on time, how long it took a party to take down an enemy.
Sylver’s path mostly went to the left, taking a very hard right when he fought the harpies. Still, they all ended up here at the end, which kind of defeated the whole point of initially splitting them up.
“I always hated crypts with a gimmick,” Sylver said, almost to himself as he continued to stare at the strange map. It didn’t do a very good job when it came to showing the different levels, but Sylver was starting to think this was one of those awkward-shaped crypts. A slanted pyramid, or at least that’s what it looked like.
“You’ve been in a crypt before?” Eliot asked, mirroring Edna’s surprise.
“No, but I’ve researched them,” Sylver answered half honestly.
He normally had Rook or one of the queens handle these kinds of things. Or if Edmund wasn’t busy, just have him power his way through whatever intricate nonsense was going on inside. Sylver hadn’t been in an active, unconquered crypt in ages. Nyx took him with her once, but she did something to it, that destroyed all the traps and mechanical constructs waiting inside.
“Can you read the writing? The one on all the doors?” Enda asked, bringing Sylver out of his thoughts.
“What? No, it’s not a language I know. Speaking of which… Does anyone here have any of the items inside? There’s one specifically that I want, and I’m willing to pay a good price for it,” Sylver asked, as he looked around Eliot and his companions.
“What’s it called?” One of the women behind Eliot asked.
“[Dead Man’s Last Stand]” Sylver answered feeling an unpleasant reaction as he said it.
“How much would you have paid for it?” A man to her left asked.
‘Have paid’ past tense…
“Considering it’s a unique item, its value is entirely subjective. But my employer offered me 100 thousand gold for it,” Sylver lied.
The small group that had surrounded Sylver and Eliot stared at him wide-eyed.
Sylver took a very deep breath and closed his eyes. He didn’t like the way they were looking at him, and especially didn’t like how hard most of them were trying not to look at Eliot.
“I found it and used it,” Eliot said simply, deciding there was no point dragging this out.
A small, emotional, irrational, usually kept well under control and under wrap, part of Sylver, flicked his hand up and disintegrated Eliot into a pile of ashes.
Thankfully Sylver wasn’t insane, and instead just took another deep breath and opened his eyes with a newfound optimism.
“Fair enough. So why is everyone gathered here?” Sylver asked, switching the subject as fast as humanly possible.
“Initially there was just my group, there were, as you said 50 of us. When we arrived, there was a group of elves guarding the entrance. We forced our way through and made it inside. Inside we were all forcefully split up, lost some members, fell prey to a few of the cleverer traps, and found a small group of elves, who were hostile from the get-go, and we ended up getting attacked by them and barely won. One of the items they had on them was the [Dead Man’s Last Stand]. Before coming here, my party faced up against a giant club-wielding creature, and I used it so we could kill it,” Eliot explained.
Fuck, he’s telling the truth…
“So… Am I to understand that the elves who were in here could somehow read and open the hidden rooms, but you killed them and took what they found for yourself?” Sylver asked. It wasn’t hard to keep the malice out of his voice. Because quite honestly, he didn’t have it in him to be concerned about some people getting killed.
They were already dead, there wasn’t any point starting something with this group over dead elves. Especially when Eliot alone had managed to overpower him. Even if Sylver had a strong feeling that he wouldn’t be able to do it again. Sylver’s appraisal showed him Eliot was level 88, but the discrepancy in speed and strength was too big, there was something else involved.
But Sylver’s gut was telling him, there was more than just a level difference. Eliot had done or used something extra, something Sylver’s gut was telling him couldn’t be used for a while. He could take him in a fight if it came down to it.
“Yes, in short. The group that followed after us was Enri’s, they didn’t go through any official channels, and were planning on coming in to offer their support services, but were surrounded by elves and forced to flee inside of the crypt. The last group to enter was Edna’s group, they fought their way inside through the elves guarding the entrance. We’re fairly certain that the next challenge will be against something at least 20 levels higher than the level average. All the people that thought they would be able to handle that, have already left,” Eliot explained, gesturing towards the wide-open doors leading further down the crypt.
Sylver couldn’t feel it from this far away but was certain there was a one-way barrier there.
“So, you’re all sitting here, waiting for…” Sylver asked.
“For someone to get to the end of the crypt. No one knew this was a challenge crypt, so now we either wait for someone to finish the crypt or try our luck facing up against monsters 20 levels higher than us,” Eliot explained, as the small gathering around him nodded in a bored acceptance. They’d been here a while, Sylver noted.
Sylver knew there was something he wasn’t being told. Eliot wasn’t lying but he was hiding something.
“What happens when someone finishes the crypt?” Sylver asked, as he collected his notebook and hid it in his robe. He would give it to Spring later on, with fewer people watching.
“It shuts down. Any unclaimed treasure is destroyed, whatever monsters are left inside turn into ashes, rendering all their materials useless, and hopefully everyone inside is teleported to the entrance,” Eliot explained.
“Hopefully?” Sylver repeated.
“Hopefully. We don’t even know who this crypt belongs to. If it weren’t for the elves trying to claim it, there would have been tests done to determine the danger level, the type, the owner, the risk, and the potential rewards. As it is, we went in blind and nearly got killed for it,” Eliot continued, waving with his hands as he spoke.
“Fair enough,” Sylver said simply.
“So, what’s really going on?” Sylver whispered, as he sat down next to Edna and moved closer to warm up by the fire.
“It’s complicated,” Edna answered, staring at the flickering campfire.
“And here I was hoping it was something minor and simple,” Sylver retorted. He noticed from the corner of his eye that Edna had a scar down the side of her neck. Henra had one on the back of her hand, several actually. Only Essa was covered up enough that Sylver didn’t see any new scars. Other than that, they all looked well.
They sat in silence for a while, before Edna took a very deep breath and let her tense shoulders sag.
“You’ve heard about what’s going on in the west?” Edna said quietly.
“Silia declared war,” Sylver answered.
“How much do you know about it?” Edna asked.
“Nothing,” Sylver answered without so much as a hint of a joke.
Edna looked up from the fire and just stared at him.
“I have a hard time with politics, and whenever possible, I try to ignore them,” Sylver explained.
He heard a faint chuckle on his right, but Henra’s face was back to its usual stern shape by the time Sylver turned his head.
“So, you’re saying you just wandered in here, without any idea of why exactly everyone was scraping together to get inside and didn’t think the elves guarding the entrance were any indication to turn back?” Edna asked, with strange neutrality in her tone. Sylver honestly couldn’t tell if there was any sarcasm mixed in, or if this was a genuine question.
“There was something I wanted inside. So, I went inside,” Sylver answered as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Edna leaned down and cupped her face in her hands.
“How are you so smart and so fucking stupid at the same time?” Edna asked, causing Henra to chuckle again. But she was still smiling when Sylver looked at her, as were Essa’s eyes.
“It’s a minor character flaw, I’m working on it. I’m overconfident but at the same time capable enough that it hasn’t been an issue so far. Careless, I guess if you had to put a word to it. No, not careless, I forgot the word for it in Eirish… Selfish? Not quite… Self-assured? Self-serving?” Sylver asked, trying to remember the word.
“Self-centred?” Essa suggested.
“…No… Maybe… Wait… Proud? Proud, that’s the word. I have too much pride to let something like walking into a dangerous crypt, or a few elves, stop me from getting what I want,” Sylver answered, still not fully certain proud was the word he was looking for.
Edna looked somewhere between horrified and about to burst into laughter.
“Well, at least you’re aware of it. You’ve heard about the current duke of Silia passing down his title soon, right?”
“Yes, lady Camilla, there’s a tournament for becoming her bodyguard at her coronation,” Sylver answered, well aware of this given that he’d been asked twice to compete in said competition.
“Did you know she has a certain amount of precognition? Nothing as powerful as the high king, but it would be wrong to compare her to the average clairvoyant,” Edna asked.
“I didn’t know that,” Sylver answered. Ron might have mentioned it, but it was hard to remember properly.
“Well, she thinks, and she is very rarely wrong when she makes big declarations like this, but lady Camilla thinks there’s a [Hero]s weapon at the end of this crypt. Some even speculate that this crypt belongs to a [Hero],” Edna said in a tense whisper.
Fuck you, Poppy.
“And the part Eliot didn’t want to tell me?”
“Right, you can sense that kind of stuff… There’s kind of, sort of, very likely, a bunch of pissed-off elves waiting in ambush in the next room. One of Eliot’s party members has this skill called [Danger Sense], it gives him a sense of danger, don’t laugh, and he checked while having a priest in his party, and while not having one, and concluded that whatever is waiting in the next area isn’t undead or made of darkness. Meaning it is very likely the elves Eliot attacked but couldn’t kill,” Edna finished.
Sylver thought about it for a few minutes and stood up slowly.
“So, Eliot is stopping any elf reinforcements from passing through here, and the elves ahead are stopping everyone else from passing through them. Meaning this is a stalemate, and we could be here for months. Hoping that the elves guarding the entrance are killed by reinforcements from Eliot’s faction, as opposed to elven reinforcements, that will kill their way through Eliot if they arrive first,” Sylver concluded.
“Pretty much,” Edna confirmed.
“You’re wrong,” Sylver said, gesturing towards Sabo and the harpies, waiting patiently in the distant corner.
“I’m wrong?” Edna asked.
“You said it’s complicated. It’s not, it’s very simple. We just need to push our way through the crypt and finish it,” Sylver said.
“We?” Henra and Edna said in sync.
“You’re all in the 60s area, right?” Sylver asked.
Edna whispered 61 for herself, 63 for Essa, and 69 for Henra.
“What do you mean ‘we’,” Henra repeated.
“I mean, I like you three, and I would like your help in clearing this crypt. We split things evenly, but if we find something similar to the [Dead Man’s Last Stand] I get to keep it, I’m willing to pay you for it, if you feel it’s unfair. Also, I guess this should be obvious, but with me being a necromancer, and all our opponents being undead, I’m going to need to be in command,” Sylver explained, looking around at the three women.
“No,” Henra said, barely a breath after Sylver had finished speaking.
“No?” Sylver asked, looking around but seeing both Edna and Essa look down.
“No. Too much of a risk, we barely managed to defeat a monster 10 levels higher than us, going up against elves that give even Eliot pause isn’t something we’re capable of,” Henra explained.
Sylver thought about it quietly for a moment or two and could see something was being left unsaid. Sylver guessed that they didn’t listen to Henra before, and it didn’t go well. And now had no choice but to admit she knew what she was doing, even if they didn’t like it.
“I am going to sleep for a while, and leave after that. If you change your mind, let me know,” Sylver said. He didn’t doubt that Edna had kept what they were up to herself, but didn’t feel like it would be enough to change Henra’s mind. Something had happened, Sylver could feel it, even if he couldn’t figure out what it was exactly.
But they were grown women, they made their own choices and decisions, and Sylver couldn’t force them into going along with him. Plus, what he was planning with the elves would work slightly better if he was alone.