Ch090-Hen In A Foxhouse
Red-Eye shut the door behind himself.
The room used to be a house before most of the interior dividing walls had been torn down, leaving only 3 pillars to stop the roof from falling. The floor was made of wood, and Sylver could see half-assed attempts at turning some of the wooden boards over to hide the blood that had soaked into them.
The barrier-creating device was in the very middle of the room, and Sylver could see a very faint wispy light moving upwards from it as if it were smoke from a small candle. The air was extremely dry, and the smell of ozone overpowered whatever else it might have smelt of. The device hummed with a very tense and loud wurr.
“I genuinely do hope you don’t take this the wrong way… But what’s an undead doing all alone this far south?” Red asked. Sylver continued to look at the device in the middle of the room and kept his back to Red.
“Was it the accent?” Sylver asked after a short sigh.
“You don’t breathe very evenly, and when you do it’s far too shallow for a man of your size. Your shoulders don’t move when you walk, which is very common with undead that aren’t used to having muscles. You don’t look where you’re going, meaning you’re mostly relying on your mana sense, as opposed to your eyes. And uh… There’s no real way of saying this politely, but you reek,” Red explained, as Sylver turned on his heel to stare at the man.
“Of what? I’ve been using the same scent suppressing spell for years now, even monsters can’t smell me,” Sylver asked.
“It’s not a smell per se… It’s uh… One of my perks allows me to judge the… What’s a good word to describe it… Freshness? Zeal? I can sort of get a sense of how good someone’s blood is. And the stuff flowing through your veins just barely registers as blood. Going by smell alone, I would have more luck drinking holy water, than I would trying to drink your “blood.” It’s not rotten exactly, but I wouldn’t call it a pleasant smell either,” Red said, doing air quotes over the word blood.
“Could you describe it? The smell or feeling or whatever?” Sylver asked.
“The most noticeable is this disgustingly sharp stench of metal. Like I’m snorting iron shavings. Under that is a very faint scent of lime and orange. And at the core of it all is a smell I can’t put into words. But it smells old and dense, even if it’s faint. Like a tiny piece of one of those extremely expensive dry-aged cuts of meat, you know?” Red asked. Sylver turned around and went back to inspecting the extremely compressed framework that made up the barrier’s core.
The device was the size of a large barrel and was roughly the same shape. A gigantic piece of dark blue quartz, cut and polished into a perfect icosahedron, with all 20 faces filled with barely readable framework carved into them.
“Given the direction you came from; I take it you’re on your way to Urth?” Red asked as Sylver walked sideways to see more of the framework.
“Urth?” Sylver asked. He remembered what it was right before Red started talking.
“I guess not. It’s a necropolis, one of the few that hasn’t disappeared without a trace. It’s a nice enough place, if you can handle feeding on whores and cripples,” Red explained while Sylver sent a pulse of mana through the floor to see how deep the metallic structure went.
Going by the concentration of mana in the ground, this town wasn’t taken over for the fun of it. The presence of an undiscovered leyline certainly explained where they were getting all the mana for such a powerful barrier.
“Not your cup of tea I take it?” Sylver asked absentmindedly, already working out the framework he would have to use if he wanted to do what he wanted to do.
“Please. Did you know that even if every single precaution imaginable is taken, there isn’t a way to feed on someone without leaving a trace amount of saliva? Our biology has a built-in marker. If one vampire feeds on someone, another will be able to taste it. That’s on top of some sort of psychological block that prevents us from drinking from a bag, or a cup, or a bucket, or what have you. The moment a person’s blood leaves their body, it becomes useless and revolting, even if absolutely nothing changes about it,” Red explained, as he walked over to Sylver and stood next to him, half looking at the barrier device, half looking at him.
“You’re being extremely open about this. To a stranger no less,” Sylver said, while he took another step to the left and Red did the same.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak to my own kind in nearly 4 years. If you don’t mind me asking, what are you? Given that you asked for both food and rest, you’ve got a physical body to take care of. My guess is ghoul. Or a zombie variant. Then again if I’m going by the way your blood moves in your body, beating heart and all, you’re possessing the body you are in?” Red guessed, while Sylver moved another step, and had to scrap his prior work and start over.
“It’s a long story. Suffice to say I’m neither fully undead nor completely alive,” Sylver answered, half honestly.
“Oh, you’re one of those. Sure, whatever. Being undead is a state of mind and all that bullshit. You tell yourself whatever you want,” Red said, with a mixture of disgust and mockery in his tone.
“There’s no need for hostilities. I didn’t mean to offend, you asked, I answered. You mentioned whores and cripples?” Sylver asked.
He didn’t bother looking up or away from the barrier device, despite feeling Red’s glare at the back of his head. The device was protected by its own barrier, but Sylver felt that he could break through it if he had a few minutes. Or reinforce it.
“The non-undead that live in Urth. You’ve got the whores who share their blood with whoever pays them and cripples to sell their flesh and heal as much back as they can until they build up too big of a tolerance for healing magic to grow it back. A lot of the cripples live like kings for a few months before they piss all their money away and have to start selling their flesh again. And more often than not they end up with so much debt that they have no choice but to allow something vital to be sold,” Red explained while Sylver nodded along, more so to the framework in his head, as opposed to what Red was saying.
“And the whores?” Sylver asked.
“They either die because someone went feral while they were feeding, or they marry someone and eventually become undead themselves. Or disappear without a trace. A lot of undead are relatively loaded, you’d be surprised how large of a chunk the living have to waste on food and shelter… No offense,” Red quickly, added as Sylver nodded along.
“I was told there was this beautiful period where a bunch of unmarried women fell in love with the idea of vampires and practically threw themselves at anything that had fangs. Some book or something, I can’t remember what it was called. I missed it by a mere 9 years, vampires stopped being sexy when a bunch of bards saw one of those women get torn to shreds by a group of feral vampires. But get this, I heard from a trusted source that the “vampires” that killed the girl weren’t even vampires. They were zombies that put on makeup and made themselves fake fangs,” Red continued, as Sylver finished his circle around the barrier-creating device.
To say it would be annoying to deal with was an understatement.
“I see… I’ll be honest with you, I’m a little thrown off by the fact that I was allowed in so easily. And that you’re letting me be in the same room as something so vital to the camp, let alone letting me inspect it,” Sylver asked, as he stood up from his crouch and faced Red.
Red had removed the mask that had covered his face, and Sylver saw the small bumps behind his lips that hid his fangs. His eyes had a slight glow to them, that stood out against his oddly not that pale face.
“You’re in here because Bonny told me to be nice to you. And I mean… First of all, you’re not really a threat. And even if you are, you don’t have a chance against all the fighters we have inside,” Red explained, showing his sharpened teeth as he spoke.
“What makes you think I’m not a threat?” Sylver asked. Red gave Sylver an odd look before answering.
“You’re below level 100. I don’t know if you’re level 4 or level 99, but I know for certain you’re not level 100. I know some perks can fake a person’s level, but this can’t be faked. Someone below level 100, doesn’t stand a chance against someone who’s managed to increase their level past 100. And that’s one on one, there are at least 70 people here who are well above level 100. Not to mention I’m not exactly a pushover myself,” Red explained. Sylver decided that since he’s being perceived as weak, he might as well further weaken himself in their eyes.
Sylver pulled his mask off and saw Red do a double-take.
“Nothing… I just didn’t expect you to be so white. And what’s wrong with your eyes? When was the last time you’ve seen the sun? I’ve seen wights that have more color on them than you do,” Red said, looking at Sylver as if he’d just grown a second head.
“Do you believe in impossible coincidences?” Sylver asked. Red just stared at him without saying a word.
“What if I told you I am a necromancer who can partially cure vampirism?” Sylver asked. He’d let his heart work as it wanted before but took care to steady it as much as possible to sell the lie. Even if he wasn’t lying right now.
“A necromancer? As in you can raise zombies, skeletons, and the like?” Red asked. He crossed his arms over his chest, and Sylver saw the tips of his fingers extending slightly as his nails slowly grew.
“Somewhat. I’m a researcher, the class is combative in name only. Do you have any idea how much time it takes to raise a zombie? Not to mention that it’s hard to find a dead body in good enough shape to be of any use as a zombie. I was with a group that was traveling to Urth, but we were ambushed on the way there. I’m not… I can’t enter a proper city, one with a teleportation node, so I was more or less hoping to hire a few of the fighters here to escort me there. For a good price of course. I know how I look, but there’s a great deal of money waiting for me at Urth,” Sylver said.
Sylver did his best to look a bit shy and frightened while wearing a mask of false confidence on top of that.
“Cure vampirism how?” Red asked, taking the bait.
“Partially is the keyword here. I have a cure for lycanthropy, and I make most natural-born zombies as alive as possible, but I’m still in the process of finding a proper cure for vampirism. It’s a biologically transferred curse, I’ve been studying it for years. I even contracted it myself for a very short period of time,” Sylver explained, as Red looked less and less convinced.
“And you just happen to run into a vampire in the middle of nowhere? I can tell you’re doing something to your heart, so I can’t trust that to check if you’re telling the truth. Have you been following me? Did Stellas send you?” Red asked, as he took a step back and lowered his hands to his side.
“Which is why I asked about impossible coincidences. Look, I can prove it to you. How recently have you fed, are you at all hungry?” Sylver asked. Spring and the others were already in position.
“Not even peckish. Why?” Red asked. His face softened slightly. He looked proud of himself.
“I have a way to reduce the negative effects an undead might have. In the case of zombies, I can help them move faster, skeletons become tougher and stronger, and vampires get relief from their thirst for blood. I’m not sure if it will work if you’re not even hungry, but it might make the feeling of fullness last longer,” Sylver offered.
Red scratched his chin and stared Sylver right in the eye. Red’s red eyes flashed a deep crimson for a moment, before returning to their normal hue.
“I don’t believe you. But I’m struggling to understand why you would tell me this if it’s a lie. Are you worried that we wouldn’t let you leave? Is that it?” Red asked, half speaking half mumbling, and trying to figure out Sylver’s angle.
“At the risk of sounding gullible, I didn’t even consider the possibility of being unable to leave. There’s nothing to be gained by killing me, and I didn’t get the feeling Bonny kills and tortures people for the fun of it. I have a good eye for people, and the guards seemed quite reasonable,” Sylver explained, as Red started to laugh.
“Doesn’t torture for the fun of it…” Red said as he wiped invisible tears out of his eyes. “I half believe that the whole reason she and her group joined the resistance was to have a justifiable excuse for killing people! But in her defense, she did try and talk. But as someone who can see other people’s blood flow, every single time the town chief told her to fuck off, I swear on my unlife she got turned on,” Red said, slipping back into his gossiping tone.
“Not exactly reassuring, but I’m undead. I don’t feel pain, it wouldn’t be fun torturing someone if they don’t react, would it? And I guess it’s too late to ask now, but I can leave, right?” Sylver asked. A curled smile appeared on Red’s face, and Sylver could tell he wanted to mess with him. Red seemed to hold in a breath before he sighed.
“You are; we don’t hold people captive. Not like that at least. Having a good public image is important. People wouldn’t be willing to join us if they thought we’re just a bunch of savages. Everything else aside, you really should consider joining. You’ll get a ton of dead bodies to experiment on, or living ones if you’re quick enough. Not to mention we’re serious about sharing everything. We don’t have a lot of mages right now, but I would be more than willing to help you get a bunch of extremely useful perks,” Red offered. Sylver briefly closed his eyes as if he was thinking it over.
This was the sink or swim moment. Or at the very least the moment that would decide which plan Sylver was going to implement.
“You make a compelling case for yourself… In my culture, there’s a certain custom to check if a person can be trusted or not… I know it’s a little weird but would you mind doing it with me? I can’t promise I’ll join, but it would certainly make the offer more appealing,” Sylver said. Red looked beyond skeptical as he took a small step back.
“I don’t… I don’t need to take my clothes off, right?” Red asked. Sylver chuckled as he pulled his hood back.
“No, we just press our foreheads together, and hold each other’s hands, that’s all,” Sylver said. Red rubbed his chin as he stared at Sylver.
“I can make you guys an undead army. If you provide me with a couple of specific herbs and metals. If nothing else they’re good for manual labor, digging ditches, building walls, whatever a person can do, they can do too,” Sylver offered. Red lowered his hands and pulled the sleeves of his robe up to his elbow.
“Could you raise a zombie right now, if you had a dead body? So I could see what you’re talking about?” Red asked.
“Not without a handful of Pot-Licker petals, that I don’t have on me. If everything goes well at Urth, I’ll come back here with everything I need, and we can go from there. I can even make zombies that can make other zombies,” Sylver added. Red walked up to Sylver and had to look down slightly due to the difference in eye level.
“Just touch foreheads and hold hands?” Red asked, holding his hands up as if inspecting them.
“It’s strange, I know. It’s kind of like a handshake, a reassurance that there’s no hostility. I can’t explain it properly without hours upon hours’ worth of stories and context. I have been told it feels too intimate by people who’ve never heard of it, but it would be a small price to pay for the potential of an undead army,” Sylver said.
He raised his hands but didn’t move them towards Red.
Red stood still and thought it over for a while before he nodded and interlaced his fingers with Sylver’s as if they were about to push against each other. Sylver closed his eyes and nodded with his head for Red to do the same. He peaked with one eye to make sure Red’s were closed.
Sylver braced his legs as he leaned back and smashed his forehead as hard as he could against Red’s face. At the exact same time, Spring finished his swing and hit Red on the back of the head, forcing his face and skull to be squashed between the sledgehammer, and Sylver magically reinforced forehead.
Sylver felt Red’s mana try to gather in his hands, and sent a pulse of his own through them, destabilizing whatever spell Red was attempting to cast, and gripping with every drop of enhanced strength that he had to stop Red from pulling his hands away.
Shades filled the room as they shoved a wad of cloth into Red’s open and blood-filled mouth, kicked him in the back of the knees to get him to the floor and stop him from getting enough leverage to use his strength, and piled onto him while Sylver kept a tight grip on his hands.
He felt his bones and Red’s crunch under the pressure. Red tried to turn into a red mist for a moment, which didn’t go as planned as one of the shades continued to point the umbrella at the vampire.
Sylver let Spring hit Red on the head one more time, before twisting his hands, and pushing as hard as he could, until he felt all the tendons in Red’s wrists give out and snap. Finally, Sylver let go of Red’s hands, which the shades quickly grabbed and held, while Sylver placed his on either side of Red’s bleeding and twisted in pain face.
Spring killed several shades in Sylver’s shadow, to provide him with the boost in mana he needed to do this. Sylver’s finger’s glowed bright yellow as they burned through the skin on either side of Red’s skull. Sylver’s fingers broke through the bone and touched the soft bumpy brain inside.
He stared right at Red’s panicked and wild red eyes and pressed hard into his skull until the glow from within Red’s head was bright enough to change his red eyes to dark orange.
After almost 30 seconds of feeling like someone was burning his fingers off, the shades released their hold on Red and let the vampire fall to the ground. Red quietly gasped for breath as he shook on the ground, while Sylver slumped down onto one of the chairs nearby.
“Little known fact about vampirism. It’s a biologically transferred curse but it is a curse. And surprisingly enough the curse is very malleable. It’s… You can’t hear me anyway, I’m wasting my breath,” Sylver said, as he looked down at his hands and saw dark bones where his fingertips and nails used to be.
He mentally blocked the pain and wrapped his fingertips with a dense layer of darkness. He flexed his hands for a few seconds before he stood up and walked over to the barrier device.
The shades lifted Red off the ground and carried him next to Sylver. Sylver stood directly behind the unconscious vampire and placed his hand on the base of Red’s neck.
It took Sylver a full minute to properly force his mana into the vampire’s body. Red’s hands very slowly came up to the barrier device and very gently started touching the framework and dismantling it.
It was a bit like hitting someone’s knee and causing their leg to kick. Except in this case, Sylver was using his mana to force Red’s mana to react and concentrate in his hands, which Sylver maneuvered into taking down the barrier around the barrier device.
It was normally used as an exercise used to help apprentices cast their first couple of spells before they got a proper feel for magic. It would have been impossible to do this, had Red not been a vampire, and therefore undead. Ideally, Sylver would have used [Undead Domination] but he didn’t have anywhere near enough mana to convert Red.
Spring kept a lookout, but the coast was clear, Sylver had all the time in the world.
When the barrier protecting the barrier device was down, Sylver let the shades move Red out of the way, while he made his adjustments. Sylver released the darkness around his fingertips and let a couple of drops of blood fall onto the dark blue quartz crystal.
The blood spread out in the carved-in framework, and Sylver stared at it as he used his blood and magic to change a few small details in the barrier surrounding the entire town and the liberation army.