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Ch075-Halfway There

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[Rune Of Infinite Summoning - ??? - Legendary Quality]
[Any item tagged by this rune can be summoned at the user’s will.]
[*Summoned items will retain their original functionality.]
[*Enchanted items cannot be tagged.]
[*Summoned items will disappear after 1 hour.]
[Uses: 1 Item]

[Rune Of indestructibility - ??? – Ancient Quality]
[Any item tagged by this rune will become indestructible.]
[Any item tagged by this rune will lose all other effects until it is untagged.]
[Only the destruction of this rune can remove the indestructibility effect.]
[Uses: 1 item]

[Rune Of The Defiant Armsmaster - ??? – Legendary Quality]
[Any item tagged by this rune will leave a scar shaped like the item on the first person to touch it.]
[The tagged item can be summoned at will by the user.]
[The tagged item can be unsummoned at will by the user.]
[Uses: 1 Item]

“Why runes?” Sylver asked. He looked down at the three small stones in his hand and moved them around.

They were perfectly smooth and appeared to be made out of a pale white material, with only a small sigil on one side differentiating them from one another. Sylver recognized the sigils, but it wasn’t a dialect he knew well enough to understand.

“A giant dwarf guards these. He’s the guardian of the 6th floor, but they are small enough that I could phase them through the floor. We’ll pick up the [Dead Man’s Last Stand] and the Eldar sapling on the way out, I moved them near the entrance,” Bones explained. He sat down again and stood back up.

Flesh was still laying spread out on the floor and was struggling to move his fingers, let alone his arms or legs. At least he could blink and talk, for all the good that did.

“Is everything supposed to be this numb?” Flesh asked. Because of the way Sylver had built his throat, the words came out with a gurgle that sounded wet.

“Yes. Right now if you could feel anything, you would be screaming from pain. If you can’t move, don’t worry about it,” Sylver explained.

“I can move,” Flesh argued. He nearly managed to close his hand into a fist but remained sprawled on the floor.

Bones held onto Spring and attempted to walk. His legs were shaking in the way a toddler’s would, but he managed to take several steps almost entirely on his own.

“We have a bit more time until the connection is complete. Is there a particular reason you want to start a farm?” Sylver asked. He sat down onto the surprisingly clean floor and crossed his legs.

“No reason in particular. It was something I always wanted, but if there was a moment where I realized this, it’s been erased a very long time ago,” Bones answered. His voice had a very hollow sound to it as if he were speaking from very far away.

“What kind of farm? Just wheat and the like, a bit of baking when you have the time, or cows, goats, sheep, cheese making, butter churning, knitting, what strikes your fancy?” Sylver asked. He already had a place for Bones in mind, the southern sector had a few empty spots inside the wall that could be quite easily converted into a decent farm.

“I like cheese. A dairy farm would be nice. Chickens, sheep, and cows. I would wake up and watch the sunrise, and go to sleep as the suns went down… What do farmers do between then?” Bones asked. He tripped but was caught by Spring. He managed to stand on his feet again and continued to try to walk.

“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. Shearing the sheep, I would guess, but that’s a once-a-year thing. Milking cows? Collecting eggs? Cleaning up after them, making sure they have food… Look, I’ll find someone to help you out, at least at the beginning. Teach you what to do and how to do it. Villages get wiped out by goblin hordes and monsters all the time, it wouldn’t be that difficult to pick out a few survivors and offer them payment in exchange for teaching you or working for you,” Sylver said.

Bones managed 10 steps this time, and only paused to catch his balance. He walked in a complete circle around Sylver, while Flesh continued to curl and uncurl his fingers. Not that there was any point in this, since Bones was cheating.

“Are you going to use the runes now?” Flesh asked.

“I’ve got an idea for two of them, but there isn’t any real point to the third one. I don’t use a specific sword, or a staff, or a dagger, I’ve got 16 identical ones one me, and the whole point is that they’re expendable. A good shield maybe? Something heavy enough that it could be used as an impromptu weapon. It’s very rare where I fight anything head-on enough that I need a shield, but it’s the best thing I can think of. If the [Rune Of Infinite Summoning] works how I think it does, I’m going to use it on an extremely powerful explosive and just obliterate anything I can’t handle discretely and neatly. The [Rune Of Invincibility] on the other hand, will require some preparation,” Sylver explained.

“You jump around and use your shades like a distraction. Not exactly a typical necromancer’s fighting style,” Bones said. He did another two slow shuffling circles around Sylver as he spoke, and attempted to straighten his back to walk completely upright.

“Define ‘typical’. And it’s not that uncommon. But it is the kind of thing those with a specialty with flesh or bone tend to use, spirit and shadow are normally long-range,” Sylver said.

“Oh, I remember fighting a woman who used wraiths, it was horrible. Just when you think you’re done, 100 more show up out of nowhere, and by the time you’re done, the ones you killed earlier are already ready to fight,” Flesh added.

“Same with shades. They’re cheap and expendable, and if I only use my lowest leveled ones, I could probably give them enough mana that they would be unkillable. Or at least they would regenerate any damage they incurred fast enough to overcome whatever they’re attacking. I’m waiting on an order for spring-loaded crossbows for them,” Sylver said.

“Crossbows?” Bones asked.

“Daggers are great, but thick armor is an issue. There’s always weak points to exploit, joints, straps, anywhere where the armor has to be thin so as not to get in the way, but the time a shade needs to fully materialize can be more than enough time for someone to kill it. Crossbow is the wrong word, they’re more like spring-loaded needles. Small cylinder, press a button and a 10-inch nail comes out of one end with a considerable amount of force. With how few people choose to wear helmets, one tap on the forehead, and they’re done. Easy monster-hunting too, assuming there isn’t too much skin or scales in the way,” Sylver said.

“People don’t wear helmets? Why?” Flesh asked.

“It’s useful when fighting people but not worth it when fighting monsters. Sure it could save you from a concussion, but when fighting monsters, speed is extremely important. It’s a race to see who kills who, and all the strength in the world doesn’t mean anything if the monster can just dodge out of the way. And the ones who don’t dodge, are too strong and tough for however much strength you have to make a difference. Or at least that’s the way it’s been explained to me. I’m not exactly a warrior, so my understanding of armor and the like isn’t extensive,” Sylver said.

“Where did you learn how to fight? I’ve never heard about you using a dagger, only that you always carried one around,” Flesh asked.

“My master was a close quarter combat expert. If she could lay her hands on someone, they were done, regardless of how powerful or invincible they were. She thought I would follow in her footsteps and repeatedly sent me away to train under various weapon masters. I can use a spear, a sword, a whip, an ax, a warhammer, throwing knives, daggers obviously, clubs, two-handed swords, rapiers, bows, scythes, lances, whip blades, and even good old fists. I’m not a master in any of them, mind you, but I don’t need to be. You can disarm me all you want; I only need a single opening to finish a fight. A swordmaster might be able to defeat me one on one, but I don’t fight one on one. And the rare times I did, I’m creative enough with my magic to create an opening,” Sylver explained.

“I was a master of the two-handed sword at one point. I even trained a [Hero] in how to fight. Rory the Red Light?” Flesh asked. He managed to form a full fist, while Bones was beginning to run.

“I think I killed him,” Bones mumbled to himself as he completed a lap around the room. Flesh didn’t so much as blink at the revelation.

“I think you did,” Flesh said, with much the same confused and uncertain tone.

“So how does it work? You mentioned circumstances or more direct methods, what did you mean by that?” Sylver asked. He didn’t like the idea of the conversation shifting to [Hero] related stories and didn’t want to lie to these two.

“At least from what I remember, I always ended up being ‘evil’ with Flesh being in a position where he had no choice but to kill me. Dark magic is hard to practice without any materials, and it isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can go to the market to find. There was also the fact that I was beyond selfish after a point. A person’s life seems like such a tiny and insignificant thing after you’ve already killed more than you can count or remember. The lines between who you can and can’t kill start to blur and you-”

“The lines only blur if you let them. But I wasn’t in your shoes, so I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing you did. I would rather not hear about the specifics of what you’ve done, and I already said once you need to keep these kinds of things to yourself. I completely understand losing your humanity and doing whatever you had to, out of desperation or indifference, but that’s in the past now. Now you’re a farmer, or you will be. A dairy farmer? Or do the chickens make you just a farmer?” Sylver interrupted. Bones stopped his jog to look at him.

“Really? Just like that? All my sins and crimes are forgiven and forgotten?” Bones asked. Flesh managed to lift his head to properly look at them.

“I don’t believe in good and evil. At least, not in the sense, I think anyone is evil or can be evil. Everything is subjective, I’m sure you have an explanation and a justification for what you did. I’m also sure that if anyone else were to be in the same circumstances as you, they would do the same thing. Not to say something can’t be wrong, but wrong and right aren’t the same as good and evil. What you did was wrong, in the sense killing innocent people is wrong, but it wasn’t evil, because there’s no such thing. At least not from your perspective, you were simply doing whatever you had to do to stop suffering from being repeatedly reincarnated,” Sylver explained.

“So how do you decide who to kill and who not to kill? I highly doubt you were able to achieve whatever level of mastery you are at without having to break a few metaphorical innocent eggs,” Bones asked. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at Sylver who was still sitting on the floor.

“I ask myself, ‘does killing this person benefit me’? Then I ask myself, ‘does killing this person benefit a larger amount of people than it harms’? Then I ask ‘how will their death, or any action, impact me in the future’? On top of that, I ask ‘how does this action impact the people I care about in the future’,” Sylver explained. He continued to speak as Flesh had to lay his head back down.

“A random bandit is an easy example. His death gives me material to work with, gives me experience, presumably saves more than one life with the logic that this bandit would one day kill someone, and I get rewarded by the city. Now look, I do care, I have emotions, more than I want to have sometimes, but even if you removed them I wouldn’t act all that differently. I don’t go around killing and raping random women because there’s no benefit to me from it. I’d go to a brothel if I’m that desperate, I can go out and kill a bandit, I can find a criminal, and I don’t end up being hunted down by the likes of Flesh for it,” Sylver said.

Bones had a strange and unreadable expression on his face.

“So you help people because it benefits you in the long run?” Bones asked.

“Essentially, yes. I hurt people if I stand to gain something from it, but I don’t do it for fun. I could kidnap orphans roaming the streets easily, no one would even notice them missing. But if I do that all I get are a few souls and bodies that aren’t even all that physically capable.”

“So what do you do instead?” Bones asked.

“In the long run, it's better to get them off the streets, give them a place to live and work to do, and give them opportunities to make something of their lives. The dwarf who managed to get locomotives to function was an orphan who was hired by a well-meaning builder. And the whole world benefited because of that builder’s comparatively minuscule investment,” Sylver said. Bones’s face remained strange and unreadable.

“Investment?” Bones asked.

“My friend Lola is doing something similar right now too. The women she has working for her aren’t the best, but they could be. She only needs one of them to become great to earn back every single copper she invested in them. And there’s other intangible benefits. Trust, loyalty, faith, you can’t put a price on that, and you can’t buy it,” Sylver said. He stood up from the floor and his robe ruffled until all the dust had fallen off.

“If I showed up at Lola’s house in the middle of the night, holding the dead body of the local florist, I am certain she would trust that I had a good reason for it, and would be loyal enough to help me in whatever way I needed. In the same way, I’m going to lie directly in several people’s faces when they ask about you, and they’re going to trust that I’m not doing something that will harm them or the people around them, all because they have faith in me and trust me. On top of that, there is a part of me that feels good when I do something good, but it’s a small instant benefit part of the much larger long-term benefit,” Sylver explained.

Bones looked down at Flesh, who was currently trying to form a fist and failing, and then looked back at Sylver.

“I think I’ve met someone like you before. Although he was a psychopath and had a bigger emphasis on killing people for the greater good, but, he justified his actions in much the same way,” Bones said. He stood on his tiptoes and lost his balance. Spring caught him before he fell and helped him get back on his feet.

“It works. Short term and long term. It’s how the Ibis was largely untouched. We kept to ourselves, very rarely attacked first, and helped people in the hopes it would make the world a better place in the long run for us. My master kind of went against that when she took me in, instead of a much more promising potential apprentice, but it worked out for the better in the end. She took a risk, and it paid off.” Sylver said.

“Lola’s doing something similar for the orphans I was talking about, but none of them have any talent for magic, so for now they’re just being taken care of so they don’t end up joining a gang and end up trying to hurt one of our employees 20 years from now. You have to nip that kind of thing in the bud because it's much cheaper to give a small child food and a place to live now than it is to replace a fully trained leather smith in 20 years,” Sylver continued.

Bones looked uncomfortable as he stood on his tiptoes and went back down.

“I don’t know how to put it but… this feels so… clinical? I understand what you’re saying, but it doesn’t sound human,” Bones said.

Sylver laughed slightly at that, a very small laugh that was barely more than a polite chuckle.

“I’m not human. I say I am because it makes life easier, but I stopped being human a very long time ago. And listen, you are more than allowed to have your own outlook on life. I’m me, and you’re you, live your life and find a way to live in a way that you’re comfortable with and enjoy. I’d say do it in a way that’s sustainable too, but that’s all up to you. But this does remind me of something…” Sylver said. He looked down at Flesh who managed to lift his head slightly to look up.

“You two are my responsibility now. You’re under my protection. But in exchange, I have authority over you. Don’t do anything that will cause me any problems. Follow the law, even if you disagree with it. If someone hurts you, defend yourself, but never start any fights. Someone steals from you, tell me and I will handle it. What I’m getting at is, despite potentially being older than I am, I am asking that you listen when I ask you to do something, or not do something. This is the price you pay for being housed and protected by me,” Sylver explained.

“I kind of assumed that was the case,” Bones said. He said it in the kind of tone that made what Sylver had said sound oblivious and stupid.

“One of those unspoken things, that you just put into words. It didn’t need to be said. You’re the closest we’ve been to figuring this out and stopping it, of course we’re going to follow any rules you set. Other than don’t cause any trouble and go along with whatever backstory you come up with, is there anything else?” Flesh asked. He had to put his head back down.

“Don’t cause any trouble includes not telling anyone who you are, ever. Obviously, with your falling in love goal, you’ll have to tell the woman the truth at some point, but I would appreciate it if you warned me before you told her anything significant. The same goes for sharing any information this world doesn’t have. You can talk to Lola freely, but she will be the only one to know the whole truth. If you decide there’s something you need or want that doesn’t exist, tell Lola and she’ll either find it or invent it,” Sylver said.

There was a faint popping sound in the air.

“Who’s Lola?” Flesh asked. He tried to roll onto his side and managed it. Sylver checked to make sure and was glad to see the connection had stabilized.

“My partner, in a solely platonic sense. I’ve told her just about everything, at least everything since I was reincarnated. It would take a lifetime to tell her everything about me, but I trust her more than anyone else in the world right now. In the spirit of honesty, there are certain reasons I can’t trust either of you fully, but until you do something that harms me or my people, I trust you,” Sylver said.

Bones leaned down to the ground and touched his toes, while Flesh struggled to get on all fours to stand up.

“It is so nice to have someone who’s so upfront about everything,” Bones said, as he stood up straight and clasped his hands behind his back.

“I don’t know, I always kind of enjoyed the hush-hush, mystery and intrigue, cloak and dagger thing. Putting everything so bluntly takes the fun out of it,” Flesh complained. It was hard to tell by his tone if he was joking or being serious.

“Proper communication is an incredibly important and useful skill. It took me a while to realize how disastrous misunderstandings and miscommunications can be, but I’ve learned my lesson and life is a whole lot easier because of it. You can negotiate with anyone if you do it properly, and someone is rarely too unreasonable to at least hear me out. Everyone wants something, and very often it is in my power to give them that something,” Sylver explained. He pocketed the three runes and snapped his fingers.

Several shades helped Flesh get up onto his feet and then dragged him onto the back of a wolf shade. Flesh grumbled as tendrils of smoke wrapped themselves around him and glued him in place, but he couldn’t do a whole lot about it.

Bones walked over to the triangular platform and Sylver felt what he was doing. He was able to move his main soul around using the reflection inside of him. The triangular platform made a noise that sounded like metal being scratched against stone. Two pitch-black walls appeared and flickered on either side of the platform, before steadying.

“So first we go see the three elves here, and then we should arrive at the large group of people standing here, and then walk back through the first level until we reach the exit. The [Dead Man’s Last Stand] and the Eldar sapling will be here,” Bones explained. He pointed at Rosa’s group, then the area where Edna and the others were, and then an empty room near the entrance.

“How are you controlling it?” Sylver asked. Bones looked at him, then placed a hand against one of the walls made of darkness. He moved his hand across it and pressed his finger against a certain point. He motioned with his head for Sylver to do the same.

“Can you feel it?” Bones asked as he moved Sylver’s finger to the same spot his was a moment ago.

Sylver sent several pulses of mana into the spot.

“I think so… What is it?” Sylver asked.

“It’s the crypt framework’s vertex. Essentially a weak point, but I took the time to study this place when I first came here. There’s a logic to it, but it isn’t one I would be able to explain. This crypt doesn’t obey me, but I know how the locking and transportation mechanisms work, and I can put enough pressure on them to trick them. My body is frozen, as is Flesh’s, but I can still cast with my soul so I’m not as crippled as him,” Bones explained. Sylver could feel Bones’s soul brush against the point where Sylver was touching and felt the spot strain the tiniest amount because of it.

“You should know that creating a body that is anywhere near what your original is capable of, isn’t possible, not right now at least. I would need your actual souls to create a proper body, but I can’t do that without undoing what you’ve done,” Sylver added. Flesh shrugged, or attempted to at least, while Bones looked slightly apprehensive.

“…” He took his hand away from the wall and Sylver did the same. “Not a whole lot of point being a farmer if I could just wave my hand and solve all my problems, is there? It’s for the better, I might even ask you to make me powerless if you ever manage to undo the curse. Don’t worry about it, I’ve had my fill of being strong,” Bones answered.

“Me too, to an extent, but I’d like to be able to defend myself. If you give me something that can move around, I’ll figure the rest out on my own,” Flesh said from his position on top of the wolf.

“If you can use Ki, it’s more doable than if you use mana. I’ll do my best to find a martial artist’s body for you, to use as a base, but I’m not making any promises,” Sylver said. The triangular platform started to gently hum as Bones continued to interact with it. Flesh nodded.

“You’re giving Bones a farm, what am I going to do?” Flesh asked.

“I don’t know. You want to fall in love, but you can’t exactly walk around meeting random women, they’ll be extremely suspicious if you come out of nowhere and don’t do anything. I think I could get you a noble title of some kind, you’d be looking at noblewomen in that case. It isn’t illegal for nobles and peasants to marry, but I’ll tell you from personal experience that it won’t work if there’s too big of a gap in social standing. It could, love can overcome anything, but it would be an uphill battle unless you happened to meet a countess or a princess or the like,” Sylver explained.

All three of them got onto the triangular platform and the third wall closed up, entrapping them inside.

“A job where I talk to a lot of people?” Flesh offered. The platform lurched upwards for a moment and the wolf holding him nearly fell over before Sylver grabbed it by its hair and kept it upright. Spring helped keep Bones standing.

“A store clerk perhaps? Very little danger, and you would meet all kinds of people, presumably. You could go niche with a bookstore, or be general and sell something everyone would be tempted to buy. A café or restaurant? You need to learn the local language anyway, it might be a good way to practice,” Sylver said.

Glowing letters appeared on one of the walls and began moving upwards, in reverse to how they were when Sylver had come down here initially.

“What do they speak now?” Flesh asked.

“Eirish. Or Eiran, it’s the language of traders, at least initially. The dialect is different from what I learned before I reincarnated, but it’s close enough that I didn’t have any problems with it. It’s really easy once you learn the basics. The grammar and writing system is intuitive, and you only need about 1,000 words to make yourself understood. The rest will come with time and practice,” Sylver said. Ciege’s memories had been enough for him to fill in the blanks, and the rest was solved from listening to people talk.

“I suppose the fact that we don’t share any language means that we haven’t been around for a very long time. If there’s any ancient texts that you have, Flesh and I might be able to read them,” Bones offered.

“How does it work? With memories and languages, I mean?”

“Random, as far as I can tell. When I was born this time I had a very vague recollection of who and what I was. I put it aside as some sort of odd dream, but my mental abilities were far beyond that of a regular child’s. I played along with the people that raised me, and little by little, more of what I think of as my real self seeped in. My best guess is that the goddess purposely removes the memories that would be helpful, and leaves in the ones that will keep us unstable. I can’t remember where I learned healing magic but I remember…” Bones’s shoulders sagged for a moment, “I remember something very bad as if it happened yesterday. And languages fall into that area of ‘I know how to do it, but I couldn’t explain what I’m doing’ category.”

“Do I need to worry about either of you forgetting who I am, and who you are, and what you’re doing in the middle of a farm?” Sylver asked.

“I don’t think so. The whole point of freezing our bodies is that she can’t influence us anymore. Her actions are always the strongest when we’re born, and weakest when we’re about to die. Another part of the reason I froze the two of us, was so that she would starve off if we didn’t die or get reborn. I didn’t put a whole lot of faith into it, but it was something I thought about,” Bones answered.

“She’s feeding off you… Memories and the soul are the same, in some cases. If she can remove memories while you’re still alive, that means she’ll always have a source of sustenance even if you don’t get reborn. There’s likely a reason she has the two of you constantly getting reincarnated and pitted against each other… Souls grow from conflict, they are damaged and repaired and become stronger and bigger, like a muscle. She needs you two to be in constant danger, out of your comfort zone, so your souls keep growing while she takes however much she needs,” Sylver thought out loud, while the platform continued to lightly whir.

“So we’re essentially two tomato plants that she harvests every once in a while,” Flesh asked.

“Maybe. This is a god we’re talking about, they’re hard to predict, especially when you can’t even say her name or hint at who she is. There are a few things I want to try, but it will take me a while to gather everything I need for the rituals. I’ll tag your souls when I make you permanent bodies, but it might take me years to find what I need for the rest,” Sylver said.

His throat burned from speaking demon tongue for so long, but there wasn’t another option. [Auditory Illusion] wouldn’t work for this, the language couldn’t be spoken by anything artificial.

“As long as I have my cows to milk and my chickens to feed, take your time,” Bones said.

“What are the laws regarding humans and other races marrying?” Flesh asked.

“As long as it’s two people of their species’ relative adult age, it’s fine. Other than that, it depends on which temple you go to. I have connections with one of the big ones, so if you do end up marrying, I’m pretty sure I can get a high priest to be the officiator for it,” Sylver said. He had other plans for the favor Sophia owed him, but this would be an acceptable use of it.

“Am I even going to be able to enter a temple? We’re zombies, aren’t we?” Flesh asked.

Sylver gave him a hard stare while the triangular platform sped up and moved slightly to the left.

“You’re not zombies. Right now you’re in temporary containers that just happen to be shaped like humans. I’m not some two-bit hack who promises immortality and then enslaves you to be one of the undead. If you want to be technical about it, the two of you will be demi liches. Your bodies will be your phylacteries, in a certain sense, but as far as the world at large is concerned, you are normal humans. Once your souls have properly settled into their new bodies, I’ll remove all traces of my magic and you can even drink holy water if you want, it won’t harm you,” Sylver explained.

His voice had an edge of anger and annoyance in it, that appeared parallel to Bones’s expression. Flesh nodded and closed his eyes.

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KingKennit

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