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Ch089-No Smoke Without Fire

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“Good evening!” Spring shouted, as he walked into the open and continued down the packed dirt road. The group of guards barely reacted to him, only one turned away from the discussion and walked towards Spring.

The guard stopped about 2 steps away from where the magic barrier ended, with Spring standing right up against it. Sylver watched from his hiding spot in the form of smoke, hidden inside a dead and hollow tree.

“State your business,” the guard said.

“Food and rest. And I need help navigating, I believe I’m a little lost. Is this the town of Kurska?” Spring asked. Spring told Sylver that the guard made a face at the word.

“Aslan. This is the town of Aslan, and under the authority of the southern liberation army,” the guard said.

Liberation army, why couldn’t it just be a bunch of bandits standing around a campfire and about to kill an adorable orphan or something? Sylver thought as his smoke slowly moved through a small tunnel in the ground towards Spring.

“Liberation army? What are you talking about?” Spring asked, doing his very best to be as polite and courteous as possible. The guard looked away and shouted for one of the other guards.

A guard by the name of Mark came over and had swayed on his feet for a few steps before he took a drink from a small flask and seemed to sober up from it.

“You’ll have to forgive my friend here, he was repeatedly dropped on his head as a child,” Mark said, shrugging off a sour-faced slap from the guard who had initially spoken to Spring.

“The nobility has been using the war with the Karoks as an excuse to squeeze the whole region dry. Tithes that should be going towards soldiers and defenses, are instead being wasted on unnecessarily extravagant month-long tournaments, lavish ballroom dances, and buying up precious resources to later sell at an extremely inflated price back to the people,” Mark explained. Sylver made a hole underneath Spring’s leg, and let his smoke gather inside of Spring’s robe.

“So this is a rebellion?” Spring asked. Sylver materialized inside the robes, a split second after Spring returned to the shadows, the robe and mask barely moved from the switch.

“Rebellion, revolution, coup, call it what you want,” Mark said, as Sylver reached a hand underneath his mask and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“You’re awfully polite and off guard for a rebel,” Sylver noted, as Mark and his companion just smirked.

“Truth be told, we’re all bored out of our minds. I expected to be tearing my way through empire soldiers and cutting my way directly to the high king. Not sitting around and waiting for all the other divisions to finish setting up their defenses,” the nameless soldier explained, while Mark hid a yawn with his hand. Sylver finished rubbing away his frustration and placed a hand on the barrier separating him from the bandit’s turned freedom fighters.

Sylver’s eyes went wide as he sent a weak pulse through the barrier.

It wasn’t just powerful, it was good.

Competent, even by Sylver’s standards.

Weak compared to what he would have considered strong when he was a lich, but compared to Sylver’s current abilities it was nearly unbreakable.

“You’re not going to be able to get in without our say so. We watched a crystal viper spend four hours bashing its horn against the barrier yesterday. As weird as that guy is, you can’t complain about his work,” Mark said, rapping his gloved knuckle against the barrier.

“If you want to come inside, to buy food or a place to sleep or whatnot, we’ll have to confiscate your weapons. You’ll also be surprised to learn that quite literally everyone here is just short of immune to magic, so don’t try anything funny unless you want a spear through the head, and a spike up your ass,” Mark explained, gesturing towards the floor.

Sylver thought it over for a moment and decided that it would be easier to unravel the barrier from the inside after he was done with his quest than it would be trying to force his way in from the outside.

Sylver’s daggers disappeared and were stored in his finger bones, while he reached behind himself and pulled out a large polished ax. He carefully wrapped the ax in a piece of cloth and laid it down on the ground.

“I had you figured for a short sword, but to each his own. But are you sure that’s all? Because if we search you and find something, it’s not going to end well,” the other guard said. Sylver patted himself down and made his caltrops and garrotes disappear as well, storing them in his forearms via [Bound Bones].

“Truth be told, I’m a lover, not a fighter. The ax was a gift from a friend of mine, but I haven’t had a chance to use it yet,” Sylver said. The ax had been polished to a mirror finish, and every time Sylver called it out via the [Rune Of The Defiant Armsmaster] it would come out perfectly clean and polished to mirror finish.

“I just want to be crystal clear here, once you come inside, you follow our rules, or there will be consequences,” Mark warned. Sylver’s bundled-up ax glowed a bright red light before it disappeared.

“What kind of rules?” Sylver asked. Both Mark and the other guard smiled at him.

“The usual, don’t steal, don’t attack anyone, and if someone wearing a dark blue armband tells you to do something, do it. If you’re interested in officially joining us, the pay is good, the benefits are great, and when the high king’s rule is overthrown you’re guaranteed your own land and a portion of the king’s treasury,” Mark explained. Sylver wondered why they didn’t ask him to remove his mask, but could only assume it was either carelessness or an idiotic amount of overconfidence.

*

*

*

Inside the barrier, Sylver was surprised to find the town mostly intact. Some doors and windows were shattered and broken, but most were already partially repaired, or in the process of being replaced.

One thing that calmed Sylver down was the fact that the whole “town” was populated solely by combat-capable people. No civilian women or children, not even a blacksmith that was simply hired to work for them.

Everyone Sylver saw had the telltale signs of training and a certain level of weapon expertise. It was hard to call these people “bandits” since they were far too well organized to be called mere bandits.

Sylver’s question regarding his mask was also answered quite quickly, given how a majority of the people wore one mask or another. It was part of their uniform, and most of the people’s mouths were covered with a wooden mask, with a small hole near the lips, that presumably was big enough for a straw to fit through.

Very few people paid Sylver any attention more than a glance. He walked around the town unimpeded and stopped over a large wooden platform. He had wondered what exactly had happened to the dead bodies the chief spoke about, and now Sylver had an answer for that too.

The relaxed and calm atmosphere had made Sylver partially lower his guard, but the feeling of death beneath his feet brought him back to his senses.

The souls in the ground glittered and screamed in agony, stuck in a loop of pain and confusion as they repeatedly attempted to leave their dead husks.

A lot of primitive necromancers used torture as a way of keeping a soul attached to its body. To their credit, it was effective, if barbaric and inefficient.

Sylver counted a total of 81 souls trapped underground in their impaled and rotting corpses. He looked around and saw a woman staring directly at him. Before Sylver could move a muscle or say anything, the woman was standing a mere inch away from him. He hadn’t felt any magic being used, this was pure speed.

“My men tell me you came for food and rest, and yet you’ve walked past four different inns,” the woman said.

“I’m looking for someone,” Sylver said, after coughing into his fist to clear his throat. The woman smiled at him, with the kind of smile that was normally accompanied by bedroom eyes. Although in this case, her eyes were lukewarm, if not cold.

“I should have introduced myself, my name is Bonny Ann, I’m the head of this outpost. What does your friend look like?” Bonny asked as Sylver took a small step back to get her out of his personal space.

“Sorcha, pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m looking for a man with dark green hair, the last name is Donwall” Sylver explained.

“Oh! You’re a friend of Lawrence’s, why didn’t you say so? He’s over at the training grounds right now, go 3 houses that way, and turn left. It’s a large open area, you can’t miss it,” Bonny said, wrapping her arms around Sylver’s and pressing it against her relatively large chest.

He felt some kind of magic flash nearby for a moment but suppressed the urge to turn his head to look at it. Bonny wasn’t a mage, Sylver was certain of that. And by the way, his skin tingled from the physical contact, this woman could very likely take a fireball to the face and not so much as scorch her hair.

“Since I have you here, I would love to meet whoever created this barrier. I’ve never seen such a solid and extensive framework before,” Sylver said, gesturing with his free hand upwards at the large spherical barrier slightly dimming the light coming down from the moons.

If nothing else, finding the creator and forcing them to turn it off would be easier than sitting around and trying to decipher it.

“Oh that’s Red-Eye, he’s always going on and on about it. Barrier this, barrier that, I don’t understand half the stuff he says myself, but I’m sure he’d love to talk to someone that understands it!” Bonny said as she pulled Sylver along.

*

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*

[Human/??? (Warrior+Bladesman+Swordsman+Warrior+Warrior+Frenzied Butcher+Berzerker) – 144]
[HP-37,950]
[MP-0]

[Human (Warrior+Warrior+Bladesman+Spearman+Warrior+Warrior+Berzerker) – 127]
[HP-29,551]
[MP-0]

The two dulled swords skittered off each other and produced enough sparks to light up the entire arena. The two fighters barely allowed a breath to pass, before their blades were once again bouncing off one another, parrying each other’s blows, and constantly moving in a tight clockwise circle. Sylver let his eyes wander as he used [Appraisal] on all the people here, and found the lowest level to be 104.

And as he had expected, there wasn’t so much as a single drop of mana amongst the small group of warriors. He noted that all the ones with a level higher than 120 had an identical marking on their left shoulder, with a different symbol from the ones wearing blue armbands.

“Lawrence! Baby, come over here, I’ve brought a friend of yours over!” Bonny shouted, waving towards an oddly thin man, with such a closely shaved head of hair that Sylver just barely could see the slight green color.

Lawrence somehow appeared nearby with only three quick steps, practically leaping the distance without actually gaining even a centimeter of altitude. He pulled Bonny off her feet and managed to simultaneously reach one hand down the back of her paper-thin leather-like armor, and used the other to grab her chest, all while kissing her and spinning her around. Sylver noted that most of the warriors here weren’t wearing a mask.

Sylver rolled his eyes under his mask and was careful not to let his posture appear hostile or annoyed.

“Do I know you?” Lawrence asked.

Sylver waited until Lawrence put Bonny down and leaned forward to whisper in his ear.

“Your father is worried about you. He asked me to make sure you’re alright,” Sylver said. A strange look came over Lawrence’s face.

“You can tell that old bastard he can go fuck himself. I’m happy where I am, I’m not leaving,” Lawrence said. Sylver shrugged his shoulders and turned to Bonny.

“I’d like to talk to whoever made the barrier,” Sylver said.

“You’re not going to try and convince him to go home? I would have thought-”

“Why? He’s a grown man, he can do what he wants. And to be entirely honest, I’m not that fond of his father either,” Sylver said, interrupting Bonny’s question. The grim expression on Lawrence’s face brightened up and he walked towards Sylver and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Red-Eye is in his tent, right? Come, I’ll show you the way,” Lawrence said, pushing Sylver away from the group. Sylver walked with him for a while and was slightly disappointed he couldn’t feel so much as a trace of mind-related magic.

Either whoever brainwashed him was skilled on a level that made the Ibis look like amateurs, or Lawrence was here entirely of his free will. And going by the way he looked at Bonny, Sylver didn’t have a whole lot of questions regarding why he was here.

“What bullshit did he spin when he talked to you?” Lawrence asked in a slightly quieter voice.

“That you used to work as a guard, helped Bonny Ann escape, and you’ve been working as her number 2 since then,” Sylver explained calmly. Lawrence’s grim expression returned, and it didn’t help that Sylver was well within his reach, and unarmed.

By the time Sylver could unbind one of his daggers, Lawrence would have killed him three times over. [Draining Touch] would have no effect on a man with so little mana in his system, and Sylver wasn’t confident his shades would be enough to beat him.

“He’s always been like this! Manipulating everyone around him! I didn’t help Bonny Ann escape, she escaped on her own and spared my life because she saw something in me! She offered me something that would actually make a difference in the world! Do you know how many people die from a simple toothache, while noble families have four healers on retainer to heal every single scrap and stubbed toe?” Lawrence asked. Sylver paused slightly as he felt that he’d heard this exact phrase before.

“And even if you forgive that, what about all the skills and perks they’re hoarding? It’s not like it would cost them anything to share what they know with the rest of us? It isn’t like they’re finite? What difference does it make if three people know a skill, versus a million? It doesn’t make any one skill or perk any less valuable, or effective. All it does is let the greedy bastards up top stay on top, while the whole world suffers!” Lawrence explained. Sylver felt like the memory was at the very tip of his tongue.

“We share things here. We share our knowledge, I’m halfway there to unlocking my [Berserker] class! And I’ve gained more skills and perks in the last month than I had during my whole life!” Lawrence said with an enthusiastic whisper.

Sylver felt a faint cramp in his stomach, as he listened to Lawrence talk. The edge of Sylver’s vision caught the sight of a large banner with a crudely painted symbol on it. It looked like two fish kissing, and Sylver couldn’t put his finger on what exactly set him off about it.

“And the high king! He’s the biggest offender of them all! The man knows the secret to immortality, and hands it out to those he deems fit like he’s a god or something!” Lawrence shouted indignantly, loud enough that one of the half-asleep guards nearby woke up and glanced at them, before closing his eyes again.

“I was under the impression that was just a rumor. If the high king were truly immortal, he wouldn’t have let so many members of the royal family die,” Sylver said. His knowledge of the high king and the people around him mostly came from the time Novva spoke to him while they waited to be rescued from Tuli’s body.

“That’s exactly what he did! He let them die. So there wouldn’t be anyone to question him or try to overthrow him!” Lawrence said. He brought Sylver over to a very large tent with the same fish kissing symbol sewn all around the cloth walls of the tent. When he opened the tent flap, Sylver felt like his stomach dropped out.

Appearance-wise there weren’t any similarities.

But the way the magic buzzed around him solidified Sylver’s belief that this was either one of Bear’s relatives or his apprentice. The mage was wearing a dark red robe, with a wooden mask that had been carved to resemble a large eye where his mouth would be. Like his namesake, the eye was bright red. As was the man’s actual eyes, now that Sylver got used to the light inside of the tent.

[???/??? Vampire/??? (Mage+Mage+Mage+Sorcerer+Mage+Unholy Priest+Mage+Magic Crafter+Mage) – 159]
[HP-N/A]
[MP-N/A]

“Red-Eye, this is Sorcha, a friend of mine. He’s interested in your barrier, and has been dying to meet you,” Lawrence said with a faint chuckle as he practically shoved Sylver inside of the tent.

No wonder they’re so off guard. They’ve got a mage that renders other mages powerless, all while everyone else is already used to fighting without magic. Sylver thought as he saw the smile in Red-Eye’s eyes and shook his hand. Sylver’s sleeve lost its fluffy appearance and draped over his forearm like a soggy cloth.

He also realized that they all seemed to think he came here to join them, and was playing hard to get or something along those lines. Considering he came alone and had been nothing but polite and courteous to them, it did somewhat make sense.

“Sorcha was it? What an interesting name. I’m Red-Eye, as you might have heard, but you can call me Red if you like,” Red-Eye said.

“Sorcha, no family name, pleased to make your acquaintance,” Sylver said.

Forget C rank, a well-organized militia backed by a mage of Red’s caliber is B rank at least. Maybe even A rank.

Sylver silently cursed himself for not picking the C rank tree bark gathering quest. He would have had to fight off some suicidal moths, but at least he wouldn’t have to fight an army built to literally counteract and kill mages.

Sylver saw a map half opened in the corner and gestured towards it, “Do you mind if I check something first?” Sylver asked.

“Sure, be my guest,” Red said, as he walked over to the map and made it unfold with a snap of his fingers.

Sylver smiled a bit at this, the barrier was impressive, but Red’s other magic was sloppy. His abilities were similar to Bear’s, but nowhere near the same level of skill.

“Where are we exactly?” Sylver asked. Red pointed at a spot on the map that had the symbol of two fish kissing with the number 3 written inside the left fish. There were two more similar symbols labeled 1 and 2 nearby.

He recognized two town names and knew the distance between them from memory. Using that to get a sense of scale, Sylver did the math and found that Aslan was almost exactly 945KM away from Arda.

Meaning that either Nameless and Poppy went back on their word, in which case Sylver is entitled to dealing with this as he damn well pleased, or that Nameless and Poppy aren’t involved with this liberation army business, in which case Sylver could do whatever the fuck he wanted.

“So what brings you here Sorcha? Business or pleasure? We don’t get a whole lot of visitors,” Red said, standing just slightly behind Sylver and looking over his shoulder.

“Hmm?” Sylver asked, turning around from observing the map and letting Spring take notes. “Oh, I’m just here to get some food and rest up, I’ll be out of your hair in no time,” Sylver said with an offhanded tone.

Maybe this might be enough to get him an automatic promotion to C rank? How many people get to say they single handedly stopped a rebellion dead in its tracks?

More importantly, these muscle bound men would make perfect shades.

Sylver suddenly felt a whole lot better about the whole thing, and already had a plan forming in his head. Things had been touch and go when he was dealing with the Black Mane, but Sylver estimated he would be done with all three outposts in under a week.

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KingKennit

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