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Ch089-No Smoke Without Fire

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Sylver finished rebuilding his robe and very carefully checked to see if all the connections were still secure. Apart from a slight delay near the shoulder, everything was in working order.

He walked over to where Lorn was hovering over the dead swordsman’s dried-up corpse and Sylver saw that Lorn was drawing something. At least as far as Sylver could tell by the movements of his pencil, Sylver couldn’t see what was actually drawn or written in Lorn’s book.

“Sorry, just give me a few more moments,” Lorn said, absentmindedly.

“Was he someone you knew?” Sylver asked. Lorn looked away from his book and paused as he stared at Sylver with an expression of utter disbelief on his face.

“Is this a joke?” Lorn asked.

Sylver shrugged his shoulders.

“No, really, are you joking right now?” Lorn asked, now turning his whole body to face Sylver. Sylver quietly looked at him for a while, before Lorn’s expression changed.

“Right, you’re not from around here… What kind of rock… If I said Lamb-Chop, would that mean anything to you?” Lorn asked as Sylver shook his head.

“Kold-Kap? What about-”

“I hate when people do this. Can we just skip to the end of you saying names I don’t recognize?” Sylver interrupted. His guess seemed to prove right as Lorn needed a moment to change his train of thought.

“Lamb-Chop is-” Lorn glanced down at the partially skinless corpse splayed out directly underneath him “-was a very well-known mercenary. He… I guess it doesn’t matter since you don’t know about him you probably don’t know about the people he fought that made him famous. It’s just… I’m glad you won and all that, but it’s such a disappointing end for him,” Lorn said, with such a tone of regret that Sylver wondered if Lorn was lying about being glad he won.

“If you knew who he was, why didn’t you tell me earlier? What he can do, what the woman could do?” Sylver asked. Lorn’s face all but disappeared as Sylver stopped being able to tell where Lorn’s head was facing, let alone what kind of expression he had on his face.

“I was a bit taken aback by you slicing your back off with a wire. And I didn’t know what to say, watch out for his sword? I was going to tell you Kap uses drugs to give herself a physical advantage so you should drag the fight out so she gets weaker, but you were laughing your head off and crawling through the earth before I could gather myself to speak,” Lorn argued.

Sylver crouched down near Lamb-Chop’s corpse and reached out for one of his ribs.

“I’m honestly hesitant about telling anyone about this. No one’s going to believe me that the Lamb-Chop died at the hands of a, no offense, a nobody,” Lorn explained.

“Some taken. Will it make you feel better if I say that in a few years you’ll forget all about Lamb-Chop and Kold-Kat and instead will be bragging about getting to witness me fight someone before I was famous and well known?” Sylver asked, as he gently wiggled the bone until it came loose and he was able to pull it out of the remaining pieces of flesh.

“Lamb-Chop once punched a wild rock gargoyle to death. With his bare fists,” Lorn said almost under his breath, as Sylver inspected the bone and tried to see what it took for [Bound Bones] to activate.

[Shadow’s Agent] took a while to get used to but Sylver barely paid it any mind anymore. It was like discovering you had a third arm and gradually learning to manipulate it as if it were normal.

But until you got used to it you had to poke and prod your mind and surroundings until you felt the opening that allowed you to use the perk.

In this case, Sylver spent a while standing and staring at the long thin bone in his hand, as he tried to force [Bound Bones] to activate. The trick turned out to be pumping the bone full of mana and then focusing on the item you wanted to be bound to the bone.

After a few experiments, Sylver found that he had to have physical contact with the bone he wanted to use [Bound Bones] on. The skin/flesh of the owner of the bone was an exception to the rule. Lamb-Chop’s left foot was mostly intact, save for the leather boots that became glued to his flesh after melting.

Sylver could use [Bound Bones] through the foot’s skin, but couldn’t use it through the leather part. Another interesting detail was that the bone could absorb the flesh around it into itself. And when Sylver chose to unbind it, he could choose whether it appeared in his other hand, or exactly as it had been before. He could essentially remove a dead creature’s blood, flesh, and bones and store it in one of its bones.

Sylver used a leaf he set on fire to see how well the perk worked in terms of food storage. And even after waiting an entire 10 minutes, the leaf was still burning when Sylver took it out of the bone. It appeared that the item’s bound to the bone were suspended in time.

Meaning Sylver could now have a bunch of freshly made and steaming hot food without having to wait for the shades to cook it for him. More importantly, he now had a way of storing and carrying corpses around. But that came with its own set of issues.

First was the amount a single bone could hold. It was hard to put into words, but the feeling Sylver was getting was that a bone provided the space it would if it were blown up like a balloon. Sylver used coins to confirm his theory. When he used an empty bone and put a single gold coin into it, it cost him 3MP. When he added 50 coins and tried to add a 51st it cost him 92MP. The cost was the same until a certain point, after which it increased exponentially.

Adding the coins in batches didn’t change anything, but Sylver found that bigger bones could hold more coins until the mana cost started to exponentially increase. Sylver made a mental note to check to see if there was a difference between human bones, as opposed to elf bones or other creatures in the future.

The surprising thing was that it was possible to bind enchanted items into a bone. Sylver could feel it. He’d tried to put a living worm into a bone and felt that faint buzz behind the ears. With magical items, the issue was that he simply didn’t have enough mana. Sylver felt that he maybe had enough for an enchanted ring, but his umbrella-shaped [Staff Of Infernal Interference] was too big. As was the [Dead Man’s Last Stand].

A few other experiments confirmed that when it came to enchanted items, the amount of mana in them significantly increased their mana cost, regardless of their weight or volume. Sylver also found that the perk did work with broken or shattered bones, but the cost increased well past what Sylver was capable of. When he tried to use a piece of the man’s skull, it cost nearly 1000MP for a leaf. Whole and unbroken bones worked best.

The last thing Sylver checked, the thing he had high hopes for, ended up disappointing him. [Bound Bones] understandably didn’t recognize Sylver’s unbreakable rib cage as a bone. All of Sylver’s other bones were fine, his skull, spine, femur, even the ossicles in his ears, although those could barely hold a small rock.

“I didn’t even see half the fight!” Lorn shouted as Sylver tried to get a bone to absorb an already bound bone. It didn’t work. Normal bones were fine, but not ones already holding something inside of them.

“What’s there to see? I kept them occupied long enough for me to get up top, and then I used my shades to trigger all the explosives nearby,” Sylver said.

“I’ve been trying to come up with a song for half an hour, and there’s nothing for me to sing about! You could have at least taunted them or something, or locked blades with Lamb-Chop once or twice and said something iconic! It was over too fast!” Lorn complained, as he continued going through various chords and kept trying to find a tune to use.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Was me fighting for my life not entertaining enough for you? I hope it doesn’t reflect badly in my report,” Sylver said mockingly as he pulled out a string from his robe and worked to connect several bones into an armband. Even with them being bound he didn’t feel any magic coming out from them, and was worried his robe would accidentally spit them out if he let them freely float around.

“It won’t, if anything even if you fuck up the bandit clearing quest, you’ll still pass. The whole point of the test is to make sure you’re competent, and this is more proof than I could ever ask for. I mean… You killed fucking Lamb-Chop. He was… Fuck me, I’m literally looking at his torn-up corpse and I still can’t believe it. At least take his skull if you’re looking for a trophy,” Lorn said, as Sylver’s robe covered up his bare arm and hid the tied-on armband underneath it.

Sylver moved his arm around to make sure it wouldn’t slip off and decided it was good enough. He walked over to Lamb-Chop’s body and looked down at it.

*

*

*

“Bonny Ann. Her husband Aslan was their group’s leader, and she took over when he died. She and her ilk terrorized the southern pass for a few months until they had enough power to take over a town that used to be called Kurska. They celebrated their conquest by putting all the townspeople that hadn’t managed to escape up on a spike,” the chief explained with the calmness that only came from remaining just short of blackout drunk for several days. His eyes were red from crying, and his voice nearly broke a few times.

“All that in just two days?” Sylver asked.

The chief was a hunched over old man with a giant scar starting at the edge of his mouth and going all the way up to his left eye. It hadn’t healed properly, and pulled most of the skin on his face towards it, giving him an oddly young appearance. His dark green moss-like hair didn’t do a whole lot to help him.

“Two days? She’s been there for over two months now,” the chief said without so much as a hint of worry or concern. Sylver reached into his robe and pulled out the quest page. He reread the page three times and couldn’t find any issue with the date.

“The quest said two days. As in, not enough time for her to prepare traps or build up a solid defense,” Sylver said. The chief took the page from Sylver’s hand and slowly read through it.

“That’s odd,” the chief said. Sylver took back his page and very briefly touched the man’s hand. He looked around for Lorn but couldn’t find him. Sylver could feel he was somewhere nearby, but couldn’t pinpoint his location or attention.

“The adventurer’s guild has very strict rules regarding the quests that they accept and send adventurers on,” Sylver said. The drunk chief just barely nodded.

“And falsifying information to lower the quest’s rank comes with either a harsh fine or a downright ban,” Sylver said with a slightly lowered voice. The chief just continued to look at him with the same unfocused gaze.

“Is this some sort of scheme? Are you working with the bandits?” Sylver asked. Although the chief didn’t so much as blink, Sylver felt a reaction from his soul.

“Not working together. Incompetence? No, you knew what you were doing… Listen I’ll level with you, I’m not in a great mood, my shoulder feels like it’s on fire, so it would be to your benefit to just be honest with me,” Sylver said, all while the chief just stared at him. He barely acknowledged Sylver’s presence.

“I’m going to ask one more time, and then I’m going to cut your left eye out,” Sylver said, as he stood up and brushed his robe off from the dirt that wasn’t there.

“Why did you write two days as opposed to two months on the quest?” Sylver asked as the chief looked up at him. Sylver waited for a good minute before he very gently nodded for Spring to go ahead.

The chief shouted as two dark figures appeared behind him and pulled him out of his seat and forced him to his knees. He made a sputtering sound as the scalpel in Sylver’s hand glinted in the dim light the nearby lamp provided.

“THEY HAVE MY SON!” the chief screamed, as he struggled to pull his arms out of the shades’ grips. The shades didn’t loosen their hold, but Sylver remained where he was.

“Elaborate,” Sylver said calmly while still holding the razor-sharp scalpel in his hand. The chief looked down at the floor or tried to, as a third shade appeared and grabbed him by the remains of his hair and forced his head up to look at Sylver.

“He worked as one of our guards… When Bonny Ann was caught, the adventurers held her here while they waited for someone to arrive to confirm her identity and pay the bounty on her head. There’s over 10,000 gold for whoever brings her in alive. My son helped her escape and I’ve heard of a man that fits his description working as Bonny Ann’s second in command,” the chief explained.

“So you planned to make it look like you want Bonny Ann dead to appease the people in your town, while you purposely lied about the difficulty of the quest so that the adventurers that did accept it wouldn’t be able to kill Bonny Ann or your son? Did I get that right?” Sylver asked, looking the chief right in the eye. He nodded as much as he could.

“Is there anything else? How much of what you told me was a lie?” Sylver asked. The traces of silver in his body messed with his soul sense and made it difficult to concentrate. Ideally, Sylver would just sever the parts of him that were affected, but that wasn’t an option right now. Repairing a limb was incomparable to growing a new one.

Growing a couple of fingers back took him 3 days, Sylver didn’t even attempt to do the math as to how long an entire arm would take. Replacing his shoulder with someone else’s was possible, but it would take more time and effort to prepare the replacement than it would just waiting for all the trace silver to become inert.

“Bonny Ann gave the whole town a choice, she only killed those that refused to leave or fought her,” the chief added. Sylver continued to stare at him.

“Everything else was the truth, I swear on my life,” the chief said after a tense moment of silence.

The small scalpel in Sylver’s hand disappeared, as did the three shades standing behind the man. He fell over onto the ground but didn’t bother trying to get up. Sylver crouched down near him.

“Was that so hard? I understand that you’re upset. If a member of my family was in a similar position, forget sending innocent adventurers to their death, I would kill them with my own two hands to protect them. But on a less emotional level, you were about to send me to my death. I’m half tempted to go the eye for an eye route,” Sylver warned.

“He’s my son,” the chief explained as if that was all that needed to be said.

“I get that. That’s not the main focus here, you were indirectly going to cause my death. But the problem is that if I do what I want to do, the whole town would get implicated and would get banned from posting quests at the adventurer’s guild. With all the wilderness around you, I imagine it wouldn’t even be a year before enough monsters gathered to completely wipe all the people living here out,” Sylver said, as he reached into his robe and Spring handed him a small stack of papers.

Sylver dropped the stack of papers right next to the chief’s head.

“I would like for you to write an explanation for your actions, and for your own sake, don’t leave anything out. When I return I’ll pass it on to the guild, and they’ll take whatever measures they decide are necessary. If I were in your shoes, I would put extra emphasis on how you alone are responsible for the changes to the quest,” Sylver said.

The chief barely moved a muscle, if Sylver couldn’t feel his soul, he would have thought he had gone to sleep.

“Have I made myself clear?” Sylver asked as he stood up from the floor. The chief mumbled a response.

“This is a very serious matter, I want to make sure we understand each other,” Sylver repeated. There was a moment of silence.

“You said “when I return.” Are you going to actually try and complete the quest? Alone?” the chief asked, still on the floor.

“I’m already here, and all the other C rank quests involve monsters or are weeks’ worth of travel away,” Sylver explained. The chief stood up

“I know I’m not in a position to ask this… But please, don’t kill my son. He’s all I have left,” the chief begged. A tear rolled down the scar on his face as he struggled to stay on his feet.

“If I find that he’s being mind-controlled or something along those lines, I’ll do my best. I don’t kill people unless I need to. But if he chose to join the bandits, that’s his choice to make. If it makes you feel any better, I don’t let people suffer needlessly. It will be as painless as any death can be,” Sylver said.

The chief took two steps back and fell into his chair. He started to sob into his hands as Sylver turned around and left.

*

*

*

“If you were anyone else, I would recommend they report the error to the guild and pick a different quest,” Lorn said, as Sylver slowly made his way through the forest.

“But?” Sylver asked.

“But I’m enthralled at the thought of what you’re going to do,” Lorn said. He passed through a tree trunk as Spring drew Sylver a mental map of the surrounding area.

“Because I managed to kill Pork-Chop?” Sylver asked.

Lamb-Chop!” Lorn shouted indignantly as Sylver chuckled slightly. “He… Never mind, you’ve probably never heard of Aslan Ann either?” Lorn asked as Sylver nodded.

“Aslan, let me think, where to start… Fuck, I can’t believe I didn’t hear about his death… Bonny Ann, why does that name sound so familiar? You’re going to save the kid, right?” Lorn asked.

“If I can. My safety and life take priority, above all else. I don’t care if he’s crying while he’s doing it, but if he raises a hand against me, I’m going to defend myself. I’m not… Truth be told, I’m not in a good position to judge anyone for being selfish. Especially when it comes to someone doing something awful to protect their child,” Sylver said somewhat hesitantly.

“I’m not sure I understand what his plan was? He’d sacrifice low-ranking adventurers so his son wouldn’t get killed? Then what?” Lorn asked.

“You’re trying to apply logic to an entirely emotional response. People don’t always think things through when it comes to family. Something that seems like a brilliant idea at the moment you’re doing it, very likely will look downright idiotic once you’ve calmed down and thought about it,” Sylver explained, as the shades suddenly had a giant blank spot in their scouting reports.

“Sounds like you speak from experience,” Lorn said quietly, as Sylver slowed down and walked with a slight crouch.

“I’ll put it like this, I’m a downright hypocrite for so much as raising my voice at that man. I rationalize a lot of my past mistakes with the fact that I did what I could with the tools and knowledge available at the time… We’ll continue this later, please disappear until it’s safe,” Sylver said, as Lorn erased every trace of his presence in the time it took Sylver to grab hold of his daggers.

Sylver turned into smoke and condensed the cloud until it looked like a tiny snake, making its way through the loose leaves and hanging roots that littered the ground. He realized quite quickly why the shades couldn’t see what was going on in the blank area.

Sylver had expected smoldering remains of a ransacked town to be here, with a forest of skewered corpses surrounding it.

Instead, Sylver saw three mages working in tandem to reinforce a tall stone wall, while guards dressed in dark green leather uniforms watched them work and seemed to be deeply engrossed in a conversation.

Sylver double and triple checked the directions the chief had given him. Everything was right, down to the giant boulder that the only road into the town had to go around.

Something was going on here, and Sylver didn’t like it.

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