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Ch083-You Can’t Even Run

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Sylver wondered just how large Novva looked originally if he had managed to bulk up so much in just a few months. The man looked like a bodybuilder when he had been starved several times over, now he looked like he could stop a sword with his muscles alone. His dark grey cloak-covered suit looked out of place in the lush green forest.

Melo on the other hand had gained weight, a fair amount of it, but not in a good way. His eyes looked dark and slightly pudgy. Sylver watched as Novva caught the barely standing mage by the back of his shirt and carried him under his arm the way someone would a small dog.

“41 consecutive, long-range teleportations. Normally I would have-”

“I found Nautis,” Sylver interrupted.

Spring appeared beneath Melo and got ready to catch him, but Novva caught him by the back of the shirt before he had started to fall and gently lowered him into Springs's arms. The dumbfounded grin on Novva’s face made every gold coin Sylver had spent to get the message to him worth it.

“A friend of mine offered everything he had to get his hands on that little shit. But the Cord was uncharacteristically unwilling to bargain for him. We were convinced he was dead until someone let it slip that he had managed to escape,” Novva said. Spring summoned Ulvic and placed the smiling but barely conscious Melo onto him.

“On the bright side, there may be a way for everyone to walk away from this happy. I’ll keep it short because we are pressed for time, but I need your help,” Sylver said.

“Whatever you need,” Novva said. Melo nodded silently.

“I need you to talk to the head priest of the Temple of Ra, Sophia Rala. She and her temple are helping Nautis for some reason, and I need to know why. Having said that, I need you to do so without telling her or anyone that you know about Nautis. If you could do so while remaining as anonymous as possible, all the better. Nautis will be here for a while, but I don’t know how likely it is that he will run if he hears about you being here so everything needs to be quick and quiet,” Sylver explained.

Novva’s brows furrowed slightly, but he nodded.

“If you could make up a story or an excuse for needing to work with them, all the better. And I need to take a sample of Melo’s blood, I have an idea but I need to check a few things first,” Sylver added.

Novva reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a neatly folded handkerchief, originally light grey, but now soaked bright red in blood. Sylver took it from him and put it into his robe for the moment. Novva scratched his recently shaved chin as he thought about it.

“Sherry is giving birth in a month or so, I could use that, but why would I need to speak to the head of the temple myself and in secret… Never mind, I’ll figure something out. It’s good to see you. You look well,” Novva said, as he shook Sylver’s hand.

“It’s good to see you too. I’m sorry to have to call you under such strange circumstances, but you’re the only person I could trust with this kind of thing. Normally I would ask Lola for help, but she’s too close to this, in more ways than one. Sophia is… I can’t quite explain it, I have a bad feeling about this whole thing, so I’m trying to be as careful as possible. Is he going to be alright?” Sylver asked. He pointed at Melo, who had passed out.

Novva turned around to look at the small pudgy mage and placed a glowing hand onto him. Ulvic’s body lost form for a split second because of the healing magic, but he regained it quickly.

“He’s exhausted, between the lack of sleep and the fact that this spell isn’t supposed to be used so many times in a row, he’s going to be out of it until tomorrow at least. I can wake him up if you need him, but I would prefer to let him sleep it off,” Novva offered. Sylver waved his hands in front of him as he spoke.

“No, let him rest, I’m going to need at least 2 days to finish checking what I wanted to check… If for whatever reason Sophia doesn’t cooperate, I would consider it a personal favor if you wouldn’t force the issue. I live here, and she could make things very difficult for me if she wanted to. She knows a certain amount of information about me, it’s only a matter of time before she finds out the rest, and I wouldn’t want her to think I asked you to apply pressure on her,” Sylver explained. Novva raised his eyebrow at this.

“Considering you smashed Thomas’s head in on your first day, I’m surprised you’re being so considerate of a potential enemy,” Novva said. Sylver shrugged as they started to walk towards Arda.

“I like her. And if she were to disappear, who’s to say I would like her replacement? The same goes for her temple being destroyed, another one would take its place, and they might not be as polite and understanding as the temple of Ra is,” Sylver explained.

“Nature abhors a vacuum. I’ll be gentle, don’t worry,” Novva promised. They walked together for a while and caught up a little on the small details of their life before Novva picked Melo up and went to enter through one gate, while Sylver entered from the other side of the city.

*

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*

Sylver gently put the small syringe full of spinal fluid into his bag and took his time packing it away before he spoke. He didn’t need the spinal fluid, he was just trying to make Nautis as weak as possible to stop him from thinking too much or moving. The other drugs Sylver was going to ask him to take would help out with that as well.

“Where I’m from, this kind of curse had a name. Cancer. It’s a soul-based curse, very difficult to heal, impossible in most cases. You’re familiar with how some undead can inflict wounds that never heal, or how a person might lose a limb and healing magic stops being effective after a certain amount of time? Same principle really, this is just a slightly more complex application of it,” Sylver explained. He decided to continue speaking in a fake voice, just to be safe. Nautis was blind, not stupid.

Nautis groaned as he turned onto his back and lay there panting for a while before he answered.

“But you can heal it?” Nautis asked. Sylver’s chair creaked as he leaned back in it and crossed his arms over his chest.

“If you had found me earlier, I would have said absolutely, I could have done it right now probably. But as it is, your soul has solidified, for lack of a better word, it will take a while for me to fix the damage, let alone fully cure it. From what I’ve been able to figure out it’s linked to your mana channels, the more magic you use, the worse the curse reacts. And if the necrosis traveling up your forearms is anything to go by, you’ve been using far too much magic. To be entirely honest, I’m surprised you aren’t dead,” Sylver said. Nautis was almost fine back when he’d seen him with Poppy.

“I’m surprised I’m not dead too. I was…” Nautis’s forearms tensed as he pressed them down against his bedsheet, “Fuck it. What’s the worst she can do? Kill me? I worked for a woman who managed to stop the curse’s progress,” Nautis explained. Sylver reached into his bag and pulled out a notebook that Spring handed him from inside the bag. They were alone, but it didn’t hurt to be careful.

“How?” Sylver asked. His tone was calm, neutral, a healer asking a patient about their medical history.

“We made a deal. I effectively became her slave, and in exchange, she healed me. She said that it would take 7 years for the curse to be broken, but I was desperate and didn’t know what to do. I worked under her for less than 2 months, before she called the deal off and disappeared. I was left blind, alone, and with nowhere to go, so I had the bright idea to go and join a temple. I had given up on being healed by that point, I just didn’t like the idea of dying out in the wilderness,” Nautis explained.

“How did she heal you? Specifically, I mean, I may be able to copy whatever she did,” Sylver offered.

Nautis leaned forward and moved his shirt’s collar out of the way. Sylver didn’t understand what he was doing until he saw the jagged scar covering the back of his neck. With all the damage on him, Sylver hadn’t realized there was something special about it.

It was a bent line with 3 lines going through it at different angles to each other. Sylver gently reached out with his hand and touched it. He spread the slightly sagging skin to make the scar clearer, but it didn’t help. Sylver didn’t recognize it, and could both see and feel that it wasn’t active anymore, but he knew what this was.

“So? Can you make it work again?” Nautis asked. He slumped back into his bed, as Sylver put his notebook away and massaged the odd feeling out of his fingers.

It’s a god’s brand you fucking moron, I would need to be a god to activate it.

“I’m afraid I can’t. I’m not even sure what it is, to begin with. But I can alleviate the pain a little bit for now, while I run further tests,” Sylver said. He placed his hand onto Nautis’s forehead and ever so slightly altered the curse running through his bloodstream. Sylver spent 10 minutes inspecting Nautis’s body with his mana and adjusted the curse in the last 5 seconds to hurt a bit less. He didn’t want to make it look too easy to undo.

Among other things, a lot of the small changes in Nautis’s body suddenly made sense. Poppy was turning this man into an apostle, in 7 years he would have been fully cured and immortal.

It warmed Sylver’s heart in an odd way that even as weak as he was right now, it took the interference of a god to undo his curse. It was also interesting to see a half-formed apostle, in all his years Sylver had never once had a chance to study one in the process of turning, they were always hidden away until they had finished being reborn.

But at the same time, Sylver didn’t like the thought of accidentally touching something and getting the attention of Poppy’s god because of it. He avoided inspecting the area around the mark as much as possible. Nautis was abandoned by her and her god, but this wasn’t a risk Sylver was willing to take. If not for the fact that Sylver didn’t like the idea of someone with a grudge wandering around and becoming friends with his natural enemies, he would have left Nautis alone.

Or just killed him and took his chances with the fallout.

I could do it now.

Stop his blood from absorbing nutrients, and he starves to death with a full stomach…

But how important is he? Would people try tracking me down for revenge? Would the Cats and Novva be enough to protect me? How badly does Sophia need him? Where is he getting his money from?

“How much is your life worth to you?” Sylver asked. He kept his tone as gentle as possible, but it came off threatening due to the wording. Nautis sighed deeply as he felt the ever-present pain recede. It still hurt, but to him, even a 1% decrease likely made a world of difference.

“Ah, I was wondering when we would get to that. So you’re ready to get my hopes up I take it?” Nautis asked as a faint smirk spread on his face. Sylver had proved he could do something, so now Nautis would take him a lot more seriously.

“There are a few things I will need if I am to attempt to undo this curse. I’d like to know how big of a budget I have to work with,” Sylver explained.

“Make a list. I’ll let you know if there’s something that I can’t get,” Nautis countered.

Sylver adjusted the mask on his face and considered how to word this properly.

“I have a… let’s call it strained, relationship with the temple of Ra. Not to the point of animosity, but I couldn’t honestly say I’m hoping they’re going to get stronger and grow. I’d like to know what they’re getting out of this,” Sylver asked.

Nautis smiled a little more at this, and he even turned his head towards Sylver.

“I see…” Sylver couldn’t help himself and flinched from the small snicker that was muted by his mask. He saw Nautis’s smile waver for a moment before it returned to how it was. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you. It’s the kind of thing that loses value the more people know about it,” Nautis explained.

Sylver attempted to extract the information out of him as he continued to take various samples, but Nautis was surprisingly resilient when his face wasn’t being repeatedly smashed into the floor, and healed, and smashed again. There was someone else involved, other than the temple of Ra, but Sylver wasn’t going to get a straight answer out of him right at this moment.

“Here’s my offer… 1,000,000 gold, upfront. And another 1,000,000 after you’re able to see and can walk around,” Sylver said. Nautis started to cough once Sylver had said the first million, but Sylver continued to talk through his coughing fit. It was a lucky thing Nautis had gotten rid of the guard that was here yesterday because now Sylver could just sit here and watch the bastard struggle to draw breath.

“How long will it take for you to cure me?” Nautis asked.

Sylver considered asking for 4,000,000 just to fuck with him, but he didn’t like the idea of Nautis packing up and leaving. He’s worth far more than any amount of gold he likely had access to.

“Depends on how quickly your people can gather the ingredients I need. If I’m right, I’ll be able to transfer your curse onto someone else. If I’m wrong, it will take several months to achieve the same result, but that might be too late. The damage will remain as is, but a competent healer should be able to fix most of it. How much they’ll be able to fix, I don’t know. You’ll also need to pay the person accepting the curse,” Sylver explained.

“Can’t you just force them? Given the people you’re with, I didn’t think you were the gentle type,” Nautis said, in an attempt to goad Sylver.

“It wouldn’t work. The ritual is very finicky, a blood relative would work best for this, but…” Sylver said. He wondered if he managed to sound uncomfortable enough, he knew Nautis’s family tree up and down, there wasn’t any guesswork in this.

Nautis placed a stump against his face and pulled it away immediately as he remembered his lack of fingers and eyes.

“How much will it cost?” he asked after a resigned huff.

“I’ll do my best to talk them down as low as possible, but I doubt they would accept anything less than 500,000. They have a wife, and a child on the way, and this would effectively cripple them for life,” Sylver said.

“Great! Threaten the wife and kid, get them to cooperate, I’m not going to pay that much to a sacrificial lamb!” Nautis said, with a bit more oomph.

Sacrificial lamb... You’re the sacrificial lamb here, you piece of shit.

“As I said, the ritual is finicky. If the person being threatened into it causes it to go wrong, it might kill you and them in the process… You’re a competent man, I’m sure you’ll make whatever this costs back in a year or two. The alternative is spending the rest of your life crippled, blind, and bedridden. And considering how fast the curse is spreading, it very likely isn’t going to be a very long life anyway,” Sylver explained.

Thankfully Nautis pissed him off enough that Sylver could say “competent” without laughing.

Nautis grumbled for a while, his nearly toothless jaws rubbing against one another as a drop of blood fell off from the tip of his crooked nose and stained the already blood-covered bedsheet, further red.

“Fine. Give the list of what you need to the man outside, and I’ll have your gold ready tomorrow morning. I’ll transfer it through the adventurer’s guild, what name should I put it under?” Nautis asked.

“Sylver Sezari,” Sylver said. He was tempted to call himself Mort to see how Nautis would react, but this was a tricky situation as is. Sophia likely mentioned him by name at some point, or Nautis had done his research, there was no chance he could get away with an alias.

“As far as fake names go, that one’s a little too on the nose,” Nautis said.

He hadn’t done any research.

His relaxed soul certainly confirmed it, how many times does one man need to be fucked over before he learned to be careful?

“I get that a lot, but there’s a sort of charm to such a name. And this is just a formality, but do we have a deal? 2,000,000 gold, 1,000,000 tomorrow, 1,000,000 when you’re cured, and an estimated 500,000 to the person accepting the curse?” Sylver asked.

When I’m cured, not if?” Nautis asked, with so much hope in his voice that even Sylver couldn’t help himself and felt glad for him for a moment.

“The first 1,000,000 is for the attempt, the second is for success. And there’s a good chance the person accepting the curse will die from it, so their payment will need to be upfront too,” Sylver added.

“But you’re sure this will work?” Nautis asked. Sylver rolled his eyes behind his mask and held out a hand towards the handless man.

“You have my word that I will do everything in my power to undo this curse on you,” Sylver said. Nautis lifted his stump and Sylver shook the slimy and bleeding appendage.

*

*

*

They sat together on several boxes and used a larger box as a temple, while Sylver’s shades worked in the background and completed one test after another. The packed-up workshop had to be partially unpacked, as Sylver still needed to clean up the one at his home before he moved in there.

“Put it in a trust fund for the child, I don’t care, but I will consider it a personal insult if you refuse to take the money,” Sylver argued. Melo started to stammer another reason why he couldn’t accept the 500,000 gold, before Novva’s firm hand on his shoulder shut him up.

“With that out of the way, there’s something you should know… I think I know what Nautis promised the temple of Ra, but I can’t prove it,” Novva said. Spring came over and gave Sylver a filled-in chart, that Sylver read through and handed back to him.

“Honestly? I think I do too, there’s only 1 thing Nautis has that he could offer them, that you couldn’t,” Sylver said. Melo wasn’t a full-blooded human it turned out, and surprisingly enough Nautis was. The ritual would need to be adjusted, but it was still within an acceptable range.

“I say this while understanding that that look on your face means you’re against the idea, but why not let them have it? Put that accursed cave to good use. They’re priests, they’ll clean it out, build temples and flower gardens everywhere, I would prefer that to whatever the Cord is planning on eventually doing with it,” Novva suggested. They all flinched and looked towards a covered-up tank, that Spring quickly had a shade go over to, to check.

One of the half-dead Krists had moved, but it was just a muscle cramp or something of that nature. Sylver kept all four in one large tank, filled with a slime-like fluid and with wires attached directly to their hearts to make sure the limbless creatures didn’t die.

“I’m going to try to talk Sophia out of it, but regardless of how that conversation goes, no one is getting that cave. If I have to, I’ll fight the Cord for it too,” Sylver said. Novva nodded slightly, while Melo continued to stare at the small table in front of him, and considered what he was going to do with 500,000 gold coins. Novva paid him well enough that this wouldn’t be life-changing, but 500,000 gold was still 500,000 gold.

“If you ever do decide to go against the Cord, I’d like you to know you’ll have my full support. Along with several other high-ranking people. I’m not against the idea of a criminal organization, they’re necessary, as are most things that I try not to think too much about, but I don’t like how big they’ve gotten. The Black Mane used to keep them in check, but now the only thing standing between them and a coup is that the high king would see that coming from miles away,” Novva explained. Sylver put his teacup down and stared up at the ceiling.

“If, hypothetically speaking, the high king was to be killed… Who’s next in line for the throne right now?” Sylver asked. He could feel how uncomfortable Novva became at the question.

“Depends on who you ask. By ability, by birth, by age, by custom, by political power, by wisdom, if you twist your logic hard enough, Melo here could be the next high king, as could I, or just about any noble with a drop of royal blood in their veins,” Novva said, with a shrug of his shoulders towards the suddenly awake Melo.

“But the consensus, if you could call it that, is that the third prince, Ponse, would be the next high king. He’s a direct descendant, has a very similar class and skill makeup as the high king, and his mother has enough political weight behind her to put everyone else into a stalemate, should it come to that. I haven’t had the chance to meet Ponse, but people I trust have called him solid,” Novva explained.

Sylver remained silent and continued to look at the ceiling.

“The high king has lived through more wars and attempts on his life than all his predecessors put together, no one even knows his level at this point, only that it’s well past the 1,000 area. He’s not going anywhere,” Novva concluded. Sylver took another chart from Spring’s hands and looked it over.

“That’s good, immortal rulers that don’t turn into apathetic tyrants tend to do well,” Sylver said. Slightly too distracted by the mental math he was doing to realize what he had said.

“So what’s the plan?” Novva asked, deciding to avoid the topic entirely.

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KingKennit

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