Ch074-Glitter And Gold
“From what I’ve heard of you I thought you would be… bigger,” the young boy said.
“You know; you aren’t the first to say that. I’m taller now than I was back then, so I think it’s a case of perspective or something of that nature… You said heard not seen…” Sylver said. The small spark of enthusiasm he had felt upon hearing his old name became even smaller.
“I’ve seen paintings, but I know that isn’t what you’re asking. Although those were contradictory, sometimes you were a skeleton, and sometimes a normal-looking human. With oddly pale grey hair,” the young boy continued.
“Some of my magic used to burn through every ounce of flesh I had, it took me a long time to find a solution for it…” Sylver said. The young boy looked too relaxed at seeing him, it was triggering alarms in his head.
“What was the solution?” the old man asked. Sylver was stuck between desperately wanting to ask a question he dreaded hearing an answer to, and maintaining a level of courtesy with the two specters, lest they decide to turn hostile. If the bone creature behind him attacked, there would be very little he would be able to do to stop it.
“Corpse slimes. Or stem slimes, depending on who you asked. I found a species that stripped corpses of flesh and bone, and then I altered their biology so that they would effectively gestate whatever they ate. I fed it pieces of myself until it produced enough skin, organs, and the like for me to simply harvest them and repair any damaged or missing tissue. I figured out how to extract their cores without killing them, and created a small box that would convert dead tissue into whatever I was missing. Not the most elegant solution, but I wasn’t at a level where I could regrow my whole body on a whim then,” Sylver answered.
“Slimes… I see…” the old man said. He reached up with a hand to scratch his beardless face and Sylver looked down and could see the young boy looking slightly sick.
The three of them stood in silence for a while. The old man deep in thought, the young boy slowly removing the words and imagery out of his mind, with Sylver’s eyes jumping back and forth between being two, afraid of asking about the Ibis, and trying to figure out a way to ask about it without really asking about it.
“What’s the point of this? It’s a challenge crypt, I understand that, but what is it for?” Sylver asked. On a solely rational level, he understood what he was doing. He was allowing himself to be distracted so he didn’t have to ask the question. Stalling, in the way a coward would.
“It’s complicated. Or hard to explain, I should say... You can call me Bones, by the way, and you can call him Flesh,” the old man, Bones, said.
“Just so I know, did you build this crypt?” Sylver asked.
“It’s complicated… You knew who Igri was?” Bones asked.
“I did, I recognized his handwriting on the foreheads of the zombies near the entrance. I’m hoping this means you were a student of his?”
“It’s very complicated. Why are you here? I’ll know if you lie,” Bones asked. Sylver was tempted to test this, but decided this may very well be one of the few people who really would be able to tell if he was lying or not.
“A demon told me an item I was interested in was inside this crypt. But when I arrived it had already been taken and used up. I was unable to go back, so I pressed on, with the intention of finishing this crypt and returning home. And hopefully finding some notes that Igri’s student left to figure out how they were able to create those shadow coated creatures out of corpses,” Sylver explained. As much as he didn’t like relying on stereotypes, if this specter was in any way related to Igri, it was very unlikely he would have an issue with someone dealing with demons.
Bones stared at Sylver, in a way that implied he was doing more than simply staring. Sylver felt the faint brush against his soul, but didn’t react to it. Even if he could hypothetically manipulate his soul in circles around Bones’s, it wasn’t worth the risk.
“What item?” Bones asked as he settled his soul on the edge of Sylver’s. Which was great, since Sylver could also tell if Bones was lying.
“The [Dead Man’s Last Stand],” Sylver answered.
“Just that?” Bones asked.
“I’m also looking for a sealed Eldar sapling. Grey-blue, likely in a golden or glass box. But it is of a lesser priority,” Sylver explained.
Both Bones and Flesh looked at him, and then turned to each other. Bones said something and they spoke in a language Sylver didn’t know and couldn’t even guess as to what was being said. It didn’t feel like an argument, but closer to negotiation, with Bones trying to convince Flesh, who was uncertain. Subtle clues in their body language suggested Sylver was the topic of conversation, with Bones asking questions and Flesh answering them. Sylver was all but certain he heard the word Ibis used, but he might have misheard.
While they spoke Sylver watched two more fights occur, one between a man and a woman, both wielding studded gloves. Then two women fighting each other using battle axes. Sylver narrowed down Rosa’s party’s location and wasn’t certain how he felt about the fact that they weren’t moving. He was about to ask how dead bodies showed up on the projection, when Flesh and Bones reached an agreement.
“There are 3 ways to leave this crypt. The first is to find a safe area and sacrifice one of the artifacts you found, which will teleport you and your party back to the entrance. The second is finishing it, which would involve defeating the equivalent of a [Hero] and an undead caster that can use high-tier dark magic. Just to clarify, this isn’t a safe area,” Flesh explained. Sylver silently swore at Poppy when he heard the word hero, but stayed quiet as the young boy-looking specter continued.
“The third is to be teleported to the entrance manually. Which can only be done a very limited amount of times,” Flesh explained. Bones nodded along and Sylver could feel that he wasn’t lying.
“I take it there is something you want me to do in exchange for being allowed back outside?” Sylver asked.
Flesh smiled slightly at Sylver’s question, but there wasn’t any joy in it. He was happy Sylver caught on quickly, but not that he had to do this.
“How familiar are you with fate and prophecies?” Flesh asked.
Sylver placed a palm over his face and dragged it down. He made a low-pitched sound that might have been a hum, or a muffled groan.
I narrowly avoid one rake and then step directly onto another.
“More familiar than I want to be. Just… What do you want, a cursed sword to be delivered to a specific family, a ring to be dropped down a well in a certain area, a book to be hidden in a publically available space, a potion to be-”
“No, none of that, we want the exact opposite. Bones wants to start a farm, and I want to fall in love and get married,” Flesh explained, his ten-year-old-like face painted with genuine concern. He looked his age for the first time since he’d started talking.
Sylver quietly looked at the small boy, and the old man. If this was a joke, neither of them were laughing, but they both looked equally worried despite that. Although the emotion Sylver could feel coming from Bones leaned closer to excitement than confusion. Hope?
“You’re a lich, right? You know how to make a phylactery. Make one for each of us. We’ll give you the artifacts you wanted, and you’re free to go, no strings attached,” Bones explained quickly. Sylver could feel he wasn’t lying.
Sylver stared at the two and turned around to look at the bone creature and the sword-wielding child. He had been in a situation like this before, but it still caught him off guard. Sylver himself had experienced what they were currently going through, and couldn’t help but empathize with them because of it. Wanting a “normal” life, after living through multiple years of an abnormal one.
“I would need to hear the whole story. The why and the how of you two being here, before I could come to a decision. I’m not so stupid as to release two beings I know nothing about out in the world, tell me who you are and what you’re doing here and I’ll decide after that,” Sylver replied. As long as there weren’t any gods involved he didn’t see the harm in-
“There was this god, we don’t know her name, but our tribes made a pact with her. Two tiny tribes that really wanted to be the ones to live on a specific patch of dirt. As a result, the two of us are destined to kill each other, get reborn, and kill each other again. Again, and again, and again, and again, and again until she decides enough is enough. Except she still doesn’t think we’ve had enough. Now you might think, easy solution, kill all of her followers and remove the curse by killing her,” Bones explained.
Sylver nodded. It was a good idea.
“The problem with that is, we are her followers. Not by choice, but we are. I have no idea what’s going on up above with her, but I am exhausted of this. Look at that,” Flesh half-shouted, with a hand pointed at his body in the middle of killing Bones’s body.
“I kill him, then the death magic he has prepared to activate when he dies, kills me. And then we’re reborn, missing giant chunks of our memories, and through some convoluted luck we run into each other, and one of us kills the other starting the whole process over again. On the rare occasion when one of us does manage to survive, they’ve got maybe a year before something snaps and they start losing their minds. Again, and again, and again, I lost count at some point, but I am all but certain we’ve been at it since throwing rocks was the height of militaristic technology,” Flesh explained. Sylver could feel the desperation Bones felt as Flesh spoke.
“We’re in perfect stasis right now, as close we can get to killing one another, without actually killing each other. Anytime we’re not on a path that ends with one of our throats being slit by the other, she nudges us,” Bones explained. The way he said ‘nudge’ sounded like it was anything but a gentle poke.
“Why does this sound so familiar? I’ve heard this before, exactly what you’re describing…” Sylver asked, mostly to himself and barely audible.
“You’ve heard a story about us. Or one of us talked to you, or one of your predecessors, or you’ve found one of our many, many, attempts to figure this curse out. We’re not reborn in the same place, so we’ve been almost everywhere as a result. History is littered with us, and frankly, we’re both sick and tired of it,” Flesh explained. His voice slowly moved away from its slightly strange ten-year-old pitch to as close to a grown man’s as he could manage. It was eerie.
“I don’t know about the falling in love part, but if anyone could figure out a way to break something like this, it would be me. And…” Sylver’s mouth stayed open as he realized where he’d heard of this before.
It fit. Flesh’s face even kind of looked like him… Time magic to freeze the two of them a split second before they both killed each other… Being reborn over and over again, it fits.
“How much do you remember from around the time I was around? What do you know about me, I mean,” Sylver asked. He made the question polite, relaxed, didn’t even break eye contact, and did his best to be casual about it but Flesh flinched as if he’d been slapped.
“You’re asking about the day it disappeared. That wasn’t me, or him, I swear,” Flesh said in a quick and single breath.
“Dis-disappeared?” Sylver stuttered. His breath caught and he felt a lump form in his throat, that had nothing to do with the fact that he had ripped it open to speak demon tongue. Sylver sat down on a chair that wasn’t there a moment ago, and felt his heart begin to race. He placed a hand over his chest and tried to will his heart to calm itself.
Flesh’s face somehow managed to turn even paler than it was a moment ago. Considering he was already see-through, this made him nearly invisible. He swallowed before he spoke. His voice shook the faintest amount.
“Gone. The whole thing. I visited it once, when it was still a tiny tower suspended over a dormant volcano, but from what I’ve heard, there’s nothing there now. Only a volcano, nothing more, wiped clean,” Flesh answered.
Sylver didn’t know what hit him harder. That he was speaking to someone who had been around since the Ibis was a single isolated tower, or that it was gone. He’d gone out of his way not to ask, and now he not only knew, he knew for certain.
“When? How long has it been since it disappeared?” Sylver asked, his left arm was almost vibrating. His normally gloss-like robe became tight around his body and curled into dirty-looking frizzled clumps.
“I don’t know. Sometimes we’re reborn a day after the day we died, sometimes it's 100 years or 1000 in the future. With chunks of our memories being randomly removed, we may have lost entire centuries' worth of time,” Flesh explained. His eyes widened and he quickly added, “but I know for certain I wasn’t involved with the Ibis disappearing. I remember hearing about it, a minstrel was singing about it. I was 50 years old by that point in time and I remember it because the song was brand new.”
“They sang about it?” Sylver asked, his voice barely above a whisper, but with enough anger in it that it caused the two reincarnators to float a step back from him. “Where did you hear this?”
“Arslong? Cheslong, something–long,” Flesh answered.
“Atolon?” Sylver asked almost instantly.
“Yes… I think so. Names are hard to remember, I only remembered yours because of the two S’s. I thought it was… funny,” Flesh answered after a few seconds of thought. He whispered the last word, as if he only now realized it might be a poor description.
Atolon was as far away from the Ibis as can be, if he’s telling the truth he was too far away to get involved.
If he’s telling the truth.
Sylver looked up at the two specters but focused on Flesh.
Still, it fits… Almost… The first question would be why he would bother going after us, if all he wants is peace and being left alone. The second is if he’s lying about being unable to control how and when he’s reborn.
Sylver silently thought it out, and tried to decipher how much of this was him desperately searching for someone to blame. How much of it was him connecting dots that had no connection, and writing off everything being told to him as lies or twisted truths to fit his theory. But there was one question that stopped his frazzled thinking. The question that made everything else irrelevant for the time being.
What can I do?
I can’t leave without their help, I can’t kill either of them as I am now, and unless I kill them for good, they’ll just get reborn somewhere else. It would be best to take them with me so I know where they are once I confirm if they’re involved or not. The alternative is sitting here and withering to death, or hoping someone who can kill them comes down here to rescue me.
I can touch their souls and check if they’re lying, but it isn’t foolproof. And if either of them is the traitor, he would be more than capable of doing something to trick me.
But why would he bother? Why me, am I the only one left and he’s tying up loose ends in an extremely complicated and convoluted way?
Sylver waited for a couple of seconds, for his muscles to stop tensing so hard, before he spoke.
“Why didn’t you go to any of the true immortals? You could have had an ally for all your lives, someone to constantly help you. And if anyone knows how to fight gods, it would have been them,” Sylver asked. He felt a chill in his chest and did his best not to get in its way. He needed to be calm and collected for this, not enraged and screaming incoherently. He could almost feel his heart’s erratic beating being forced into submission.
“And offer them what? A vague recollection from a time so far in the past that there isn’t a single way they would be able to confirm if what I said is the truth or not? I don’t even remember my original name, let alone anything that would be even remotely useful. I’m sure I’ve tried it at some point, but since I’m here it hasn’t worked. Same for appealing to demons, or other gods and deities, it doesn’t work, they’re afraid to get in the way of a god, no matter how weak it is,” Flesh explained. Bones nodded along.
Sylver took a deep breath and slowly let it out through his nose. Pushing emotions out of the way cleared things up a little, he could already see the best way to handle everything. A semblance of a plan was forming, provided he used a very loose definition of ‘plan’.
“How certain are you, that you had nothing to do with the Ibis disappearing? Both of you?” Sylver asked. He didn’t bother trying to insult them by hiding the venom in his voice, and didn’t think he could even if he tried. Sylver was speaking to what could very well be the personification of his greatest regret.
“I would be willing to swear on everything I held dear, if I had something to swear on,” Flesh answered.
“Me too,” Bones repeated. Sylver couldn’t feel a lie from either of them.
Sylver got up from the chair Spring had provided and spent a few seconds using his hands to iron out his robe into a smoothing texture. Flesh and Bones watched quietly, holding their breath, even though they weren’t breathing in the first place.
“First of all, I want to place a marker onto both of your souls. In the event either of you dies, I’ll be able to track you down once you’re reborn. I also want to run a few experiments because there’s a small chance I have an enemy out there that is in a similar position as the two of you, and if I can figure out how your curse operates, I might be able to counteract yours and his too,” Sylver said. His robe ruffled as if he were a bird and it untangled into its normal and presentable state.
“I’ll help you out if I manage to reach you before you two kill each other, and I’ll look into making something more permanent than what you’ve got here. I’ll want every possible detail you can think of regarding the Ibis and what happened after it disappeared,” the word felt like a knife against Sylver’s tongue as he said it, “but it will take me a while to properly help you. I’m in a very odd position right now, and lacking a lot of power and resources. But I can organize a farm and a place to live, as well as money so neither of you has to work easily enough.”
“You’ve been reborn too, haven’t you?” Bones asked. There was pity in his voice, that disgusted Sylver as much as he understood it.
Sylver’s masked reaction gave him all the answers he needed.
“I can smell it on you. I can’t say for certain that a god is involved in your case, but whatever it is, it’s very close to what we’ve got,” Bones said.
“All the more reason for me to have you two around to experiment on, to figure out how this works… I know of a way to stop a soul from reincarnating... permanently… If it ever gets to the point where there’s nothing more I can learn from you, and you both still want to die, I’ll teach you the spell. In the meantime you’ll have a farm, and I’ll do my best on the falling in love part, but I can’t make any promises,” Sylver offered.
“Deal,” Bones and Flesh said in perfect unison. Sylver didn’t like how desperate they sounded, but he would accept it. It boiled down to the fact that he needed them, as much as they needed him. Even if he was careful to make it sound like they needed him, much more than he needed them.
Sylver stared at Bones for a while.
“Were you Igri at some point? It would explain his obsession with souls and soul magic,” Sylver asked. He couldn’t decide how he felt about what he had said. It didn’t sit right with him that Igri would devolve into something like this. Or that a god was inadvertently responsible for fathering necromancy.
“It isn’t out of the question. But I wouldn’t put a whole lot of faith into it, I’m all but certain I’ve met Igri at some point. Names and faces are difficult, but I feel like I’ve met him. We don’t always get reborn at the same time, but there’s never been a time where I’ve met one of my past lives, our souls only go forward, never back,” Bones answered.
“Alright, we can talk more about this later, for now, get me the [Dead Man’s Last Stand], the Eldar sapling, and… what else do you have in this crypt?” Sylver asked. He turned around on his heel as he was in the middle of walking towards the 30 pristinely kept corpses.
“There are a couple ancient and legendary level artifacts here,” Bones said.
Bones stared off towards a wall and his eyes twitched slightly.
“There are 3 that I would be able to remove without defeating the guardians guarding them. Two legendary and one ancient. Someone else was down here, before I took over and set up a trap to catch Flesh and I in a stasis spell,” Bones explained.
“What about teleporting other people to the entrance?” Sylver asked.
“Without sacrificing an artifact, I can maybe do 10 people. There’s a system in place to recognize parties, so 1 artifact gets destroyed in exchange for 1 party being returned to the entrance,” Bones answered.
“What about artifacts of a lower rarity, can you bring any down here so I use them instead of what I have with me?” Sylver asked.
“Won’t work. It wasn’t built with anyone escaping from the bottom in mind, without killing the boss, which I’ve replaced. But if you did that, I’d get reborn with no recollection of who you are, and we’d start over from scratch. Flesh’s memory is better than mine, but I have a knack for magic that he doesn’t. But in exchange my memory for everything else is much worse,” Bones explained.
“How does it work exactly? You said the goddess nudges you towards killing each other?”
“Either through circumstances, or slightly more directly. In this life, I was born into a cult that practiced dark magic, and Flesh was born into a temple full of priests that hunted said cultists. I don’t remember what happened in between, but I was being hunted down by him and then I was making adjustments to this crypt and preparing the trap. Then Flesh came to slay me, and I caught us both in my stasis spell. This close to killing each other, the goddess can’t do anything to us. I was planning on using this to wait for the world to develop more, until there was someone capable of helping us, or stopping us. But instead, you showed up,” Bones answered.
“So you didn’t build this crypt?”
“Not as far as I remember. It’s beyond what I’m capable of, but I can manipulate it to an extent, since it regards me as the master,” Bones explained.
“Alright… Bring all three artifacts down here, and I want to talk to a few of the people in the middle of the crypt. Is that possible?” Sylver asked.
“It will take a while for me to set up, but yes. Where?”
Sylver pointed at Rosa’s area, and where Edna and the other support groups were.
“You said it recognized parties, how does it recognize them?” Sylver asked.
“I don’t know. It just does. If you’re asking about all the noncombatants in the first safe zone, I think I’ll be able to force the walls leading to the entrance to open. I’m going to seal the last safe zone closed, so no one will be able to come here, but they’d be able to return to the entrance, at the cost of an artifact.”
“How many artifacts are there in here?”
“Who knows? Hundreds? Thousands maybe? It might be creating them, I honestly have no idea,” Bone answered.
Sylver nodded and continued to walk towards the 30 corpses.