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Ch099-Goodbyes and Hellos

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Shawn looked slightly frazzled and oddly sheepish as Ging opened the door for him and gestured for him to enter.

“And here I was worried you were trying to avoid me,” Sylver said as Shawn looked around the emptied-out room and began to sweat even harder than before. “Calm down, I’m not going to hurt you. Just a bit of spring cleaning,” Sylver explained.

The “office” that Sylver had stepped in maybe 3 times since acquiring this house used to have a shelf full of books lining one wall of it. On account of Sylver spending most of his time in his underground workshop, he had all the relevant books moved down into it, and had the rest added to the library.

Other furniture was deemed too ugly by Sylver and had been thrown out, but hadn’t been replaced by anything yet. And while he didn’t tell Misha, Masha, or the rabbits this, he was certain the leather furniture was all made of one very specific kind of leather.

It was very well crafted, and actually looked quite nice, but Sylver was iffy about keeping books that were bound by human leather so sitting on a chair that was made out of the skin of little girls was completely out of the question. The chair Sylver was currently using was made out of wood, and he had checked about 3 times that it wasn’t filled with teeth or something.

As such the only other furniture was a desk that had its secret compartment ripped out and destroyed, when Sylver ran out of patience trying to find the right combination of hidden latches and buttons, and two wooden chairs Sylver had borrowed from the dining room for his guests to sit in.

Shawn looked like he considered bolting out the door and running for his life for a moment, but the urge seemed to pass and he very calmly walked over to the chair on the opposite side of Sylver’s desk and sat down.

A pale white blur appeared around Shawn for a moment and left behind a platter full of freshly brewed tea, biscuits, cakes, and what looked to be some sort of cream-filled pastry.

Another blur appeared right after that and both Sylver and Shawn had a cup of steaming hot tea sitting in a neat saucer in front of them.

“Maul has a thing for mixing and matching herbs, I can ask for regular black tea if you want, but try it first, you might like it,” Sylver offered, as he picked up his cup and drank from it.

Shawn reached for his cup and lifted it and finished the whole thing in three quick gulps. By the time he put it back, it had already been refilled.

“You would think those ears were purely decorative, but apparently they can hear someone calling their names from miles away. Ging can sort of use it like a sonar to get a feel for his surroundings, but from what I understand he’s the only one who can do that. He’s teaching Benny and Chloe how to do it too, but it’s more natural talent than skill,” Sylver explained, as his cup was topped up before he finished putting it back down.

“So they can all hear us?” Shawn asked.

“Not right now. I made all the rooms soundproof, but I made it so Ging can bypass the enchantment whenever he needs it. Just pretend he isn’t here. It is ridiculous how fast they can move. But sadly the restrictions their class imposes on them makes any kind of fighting impossible,” Sylver said, as Shawn looked around the empty room again.

“You’re probably wondering how he can open a door so fast that I can’t see it, but doesn’t cause a sonic boom to occur from the movement, right? I’ve looked into it, as much as they allowed me, and my best guess is that it’s some sort of inborn energy manipulation magic. Same reason he can pour tea while moving faster than the human eye can see,” Sylver explained.

Shawn turned back to look at him and cleared his throat.

“About… regarding Marshal…” Shawn said, while Sylver just looked at him and nodded for him to go on. “I don’t know how he did it, but he turned all three judges to his side,” Shawn explained.

“He probably bribed them. Or did a favor for them. Or god forbid threatened them,” Sylver said, while Shawn just stared at him.

“I can still fix this,” Shawn said.

“How would you fix it?” Sylver asked, completely hypothetically at this point.

The assassin had already been paid, and if Raba was to be believed Marshal would be dead within 2 days.

And that was 2 days ago.

“We have another 26 days until the time provided by the treaty of red horns runs out. If the temple will be able to successfully provide evidence of an actual demonic threat, the time can be extended indefinitely,” Shawn explained, getting calmer by the second as he took another sip of his tea. Sylver leaned back in his chair.

“What does the law mean to you?” Sylver asked, completely throwing Shawn off with the question. He took another sip of tea while he thought it over.

“I take it this is one of those questions that has a very specific answer that you want to hear?” Shawn asked.

“Not specific, but I’ll know if you’re lying. And I hate repeating myself, but I want to make sure you understand that no matter what you say here your safety is guaranteed. Aside from the fact that I genuinely do like you, I also wouldn’t want Shera to turn against me, so you’re doubly safe. You’re a lawyer, so it should be a simple question to answer,” Sylver explained.

The chair was stiff and uncomfortable, but Sylver’s robe lifted him up for a moment to form a cushion under him.

“It’s the closest thing we have to real honest justice. A way for a morally complex situation to be looked at through an objective lens and labeled either black or white, good or bad. It’s how we determine what is right and what is wrong,” Shawn explained, as Sylver’s face sank with each sentence.

“Even if you had all the money in the world you still wouldn’t stand a chance against Marshal. Because he understands what the law truly is,” Sylver said. Shawn perked up at this and took his hand off the teacup's handle. He looked as confused as he was angry, even if his face didn’t show the anger.

“What is it then?” Shawn asked, without so much as a hint as to what Sylver could feel with his soul, what was going on inside the curly grey-haired man’s head.

“It’s a tool. A tool Marshal turned into a weapon in an attempt to bludgeon me. A tool he used to threaten me. A tool he gives the same attention and respect I give to one of my daggers, but nothing more,” Sylver said simply.

“No, it’s not. Well, it is, but it's more than that. You wouldn’t call your magic “just a tool”,” Shawn argued.

“I would. Magic is nothing more and nothing less than a tool. The way a sword is a tool. Money is a tool. Even people can be tools in the right circumstances. And I don’t mean that negatively. Tools by definition serve a function. And the difference between you and Marshal is that he recognizes that the “law” is just one of the many tools under his disposal,” Sylver said, as Shawn’s eyebrows furrowed.

“If I stoop to his level, I’m no better than him. This can be done properly, he’s already being investigated, it’s only a matter of time until we’re able to find a judge he can’t get to, and then he’ll face justice for everything that he’s done,” Shawn said, while Sylver picked up one of the small biscuits and bit into it.

“And in the meantime? I’m supposed to just hope he doesn’t do any further damage to me? To my friends? To my house? I’ve got eight defenseless rabbits under my care, I can’t just leave with a threat like Marshal looming over them. And what do you mean by “no better than him”? Why does that even matter?” Sylver argued.

“Because it matters! Because I want to be a good example of what a good man is for Anton and his children! Because when I’m old and looking back on my life I want to look at it without feeling any shame,” Shawn almost shouted.

Sylver finished chewing his biscuit before speaking.

“I think I get it; you believe that the ends don’t justify the means. You know I had a feeling about you when we first met,” Sylver said, as he took another sip of tea to wash down the biscuit.

“And what feeling was that?” Shawn asked.

“I’m not sure how to put it into words. I had hoped I was maybe seeing the persona you show to people, while deep down you’re as… something as Marshal. Ruthless I want to say, but not quite? Willing to get your hands dirty? You know what I mean. Marshal bends the law like it’s nothing, but he’s clever enough not to actually break it,” Sylver explained.

“Why didn’t you hire him then if you like him so much?”

“Genuinely, if he had come at me from a slightly different angle and hadn’t caught me in a bad mood while I was in a rush, I very much might have. But he didn’t, and I’ve since learned that he’s a piece of shit, so it’s almost a lucky thing he chose to threaten someone close to me,” Sylver explained.

Shawn didn’t say a word while Sylver removed the glass cover from a slice of cake and started to eat it.

“So now what?” Shawn asked after Sylver was almost done with his cake. He no longer sounded irritated, just tired.

“Now you go back to doing whatever it is you do, and I find someone else to help me in my future legal disputes. I’ve heard good things about Harlot? Herlot? Starts with a H. The woman has been described to me as so dirty that she should be working in a whorehouse, as opposed to practicing law,” Sylver explained, as Shawn’s face turned beat red and he sort of flinched in his seat.

“Merlot? You’re going to hire Merlot?” Shawn asked.

“I was so sure it started with a H. But yes, Merlot, if she’s who I’m thinking of. I’ll still ask for your assistance with things that don’t involve my supposed criminal activities, but the next time I find myself stripped to my undergarments and being threatened with a life sentence in the labor camps, I’ll be calling Merlot for help,” Sylver explained with a confused look on his face as he tried to figure out where the H came from.

“She slept with a judge to win a case! Why would you ever associate with someone like that!” Shawn asked, a little too loudly for how barren the room was.

“Because I like dirty women. And frankly, she sounds ideal, if a little short-sighted. Look Shawn… I don’t care about the law. I don’t care about doing things “the right way”. I am willing to get as dirty as I need to get what I want. Think of it this way… Imagine if Shera was in my position, and she was being investigated and interrogated by Marshal? Would you trust in the legal system to stop Marshal from throwing her in a dungeon cell along with 10 men while the guards just happen to all be absent?” Sylver asked.

Shawn seemed genuinely lost at the question. Sylver had enough time to finish his cake and even started on another slice when he decided he’d had enough.

“I very rarely manage to change people’s minds in things like this, so we’re more or less done here. If you ever feel like you’ve realized that there’s nothing wrong with doing whatever it takes to defend yourself or your family, come see me. If not, I’ll just be sending you paperwork to handle, to pay back the 3,700 gold I paid you. Since I ended up having to handle Marshal myself,” Sylver said.

Shawn turned even paler as he looked up at Sylver.

“Handle yourself how?” Shawn asked while Sylver finished his cup of tea, only to find it refilled again.

“You’re a good person Shawn. Shera is very lucky to have you. But I’ve been around long enough to know who I am and what I am, and I would very much rather win while covered in shit than lose but stay squeaky clean,” Sylver explained.

Shawn just continued to look at him with every moment robbing him of what little color his face had.

“Ging will show you out. Give Shera my love,” Sylver said as he turned into smoke and disappeared down one of the many pipes hidden near the floor.

*

*

*

“3 days? Are you sure you’re going to be able to slow it down when you’ve found the right combination?” Sylver asked, as he poked the spherical egg with his finger and watched the tiny creature inside react to the movement.

There wasn’t any light inside the barn, partially by design, but mostly because of the multiple layers of webbing covering every accessible surface.

In hexagonal holes’ large head-sized eggs sat comfortably inside and slowly swam around while spider-like creatures the size of large dogs crawled over them and added paper-thin layers of webbing around them.

“It’s a recessive gene, I made sure of it. Once I’m close enough I’ll introduce the 90-year variant into the mix, and they should naturally breed to the point where they become adults in 3 days, and die in about 90 years,” Bruno explained, as Sylver sent a very weak pulse of mana through the egg and felt something disturbing.

“Please don’t tell me you-”

“I needed a sample of a long-living race’s blood, and I don’t know any elves well enough to ask for it. Lola’s would have been overkill. But this actually helps, some of them recognize me as their patriarch and they’re very submissive. I’m genuinely thinking of creating a subspecies that they’ll all recognize as their leaders, but I need some very specific tools for that, and I’m not entirely sure they exist here,” Bruno explained, as Sylver looked at him with a mixture of awe and disgust.

“So bees, spiders, and cows? I’m not seeing any mammary glands anywhere,” Sylver asked as he pulled one of the fluffy yellow spiders away from the wall and turned it over to check.

“That’s for later, right now I just want to get a functional base working. Every third egg is a stillborn, or has some sort of critical defect,” Bruno said, as Sylver put the buzzing spider back on the wall and followed Bruno while he touched one egg after another, and found what he was looking for 5 eggs later.

Sylver placed his hand on it and sent a pulse of mana through it.

“Huh, missing legs… What do you do with the dead ones?” Sylver asked.

Bruno gestured at a piece of spider limb on the floor and then gestured up towards the ceiling where a bright yellow spider with a single black ring around its back was in the process of eating something small and similarly bright.

“Cannibalism, just when I managed to improve dark magic’s reputation a teeny bit,” Sylver said sarcastically.

“It’s either this or burning them, which is just wasteful. This way at least all the future generations will have a natural poison immunity. It might even give their milk healing properties,” Bruno explained, as he followed Sylver to the next area, with slightly larger and more colorful eggs.

“Don’t ask. I think one of the kids gave them a boiled egg, but they’ve all refused to confess. At least they stopped fighting each other and crying themselves to sleep. I genuinely didn’t think they would get so comfortable with these things so fast. They treat them all like they’re puppies,” Bruno said with a small annoyed smile tugging the edge of his lips.

“On that note, how’s your love life going?” Sylver asked.

“I’m actually meeting a friend of yours for drinks tonight. Tera, the alchemist,” Bruno said as Sylver’s expression soured the slightest amount. “What?”

“Nothing, but she can be a little intense sometimes,” Sylver explained, as he remembered the smile on Tera’s face as he fixed his arms.

“Intense is good. After lifetimes’ worth of apathy, I could go for something intense. Sorry, I got sidetracked, you were telling me about that priest and the teleportation expert? How’d that end?” Bruno asked, as a very uncharacteristic grin formed on Sylver’s face.

“Considering he was half dead anyway, I just told her he died during the ritual. He was wrapped to shit in bandages, so I just altered a corpse to look roughly like him and then made it explode into little chunks. Faked his death more or less,” Sylver explained, as he poked a bright green egg and saw tiny teeth swim up against the shell and try to bite his finger.

“That’s some real old-school necromancy. How’d the priest react? Did she eat you alive for it?” Bruno asked, as he consulted the page in his notebook and used a weird curved knife to cut open one egg. A tiny curled-up spider fell out of it and into Bruno’s hand. It sat still for a few seconds before it jumped out of his hand and crawled up the wall towards the ceiling. Bruno made a note.

“In a certain way, she did. But I ate her alive too, there was a lot of back and forth eating going on. Which brings this conversation to a topic I would normally prefer to avoid and not think about,” Sylver said, as he reached into his robe and pulled out a ring slightly too large for his fingers.

“I’m not a child, I know more contraceptive spells than all the whores in this city combined,” Bruno said indignantly, while Sylver just kept the ring where it was.

“What do you know about miracles?” Sylver asked.

Bruno’s eyes widened at this and he very gently took the ring out of Sylver’s hands. He turned it over in his hand and seemed to find the sweet spot to see the 2-dimensional image in just a few seconds.

“It’s very specific… They’re normally never this specific… Lola made this, but why is it… I’ll look into it, but I can’t make any promises… This isn’t the one you-”

“No, no, no, no, Lola made two, the original is inside my collarbone. I just barely have enough mana to put it in there or take it out,” Sylver explained, as he gestured at his left shoulder.

“Good, because I might have spent the morning helping a spider give birth, but this would be gross on a personal level,” Bruno said, as he pocketed the ring and went back to walking around the barn, inspecting the eggs and spiders.

“Don’t tell Lola about it, she’s twitchy with gods as a concept, I don’t want her to know she might have been in direct contact with one. What’s going on with Faust? I go to his work, he’s gone home, I go to his house, he’s not home,” Sylver asked.

Bruno rolled his eyes.

“Remember how you said you might be able to get a high priest to officiate? You might want to make sure you’re on that priest’s good side when you come back because Faust is just head over heels for that woman. I can’t prove it, but I’m all but certain she’s got succubus blood in her. I’m half tempted to get a sample just to burst his bubble because he does not shut up about her,” Bruno said through partially gritted teeth.

“He’s young, leave him be. He might even learn a lesson from this. But probably not, succubi are genuinely fantastic when you’re young. Although they do eventually leave when they realize they can grab your soul all they want, but never in a million years will they be able to pull it out of you,” Sylver said with a somber note. Bruno looked up from his notebook and just stared at him.

“How many of the stories Faust has heard of you are false?” Bruno asked.

“I mellowed out a lot after Nyx disappeared. And frankly, too many people have preconceived notions as to how a lich is supposed to look and sound, so that marred a lot of the stories,” Sylver explained.

“Disappeared? Faust said she died?”

“No, I would have known if she died. I had a few theories as to where she went and where she was, but I didn’t believe for a moment that she was dead,” Sylver said.

“Are you going to find her? A 10th tier necromancer could solve a lot of your problems. And our problem by extension,” Bruno asked.

“I don’t know if she’s alive now. And if she’s hiding, there isn’t a single person in this whole entire world who would be able to find her. She could even hide from gods, even when I was a lich I couldn’t find so much as a trace of her. And if I’m being completely honest, given that she didn’t come to help me when I needed it most, I sometimes think that the way through which I knew she was alive was faulty. But it helps to pretend that everyone disappeared all at once, sort of blunts the individual pain,” Sylver said.

“Like a bed of nails.”

“Exactly,” Sylver said, as he wrapped his arms around Bruno and hugged the gangly-looking elf.

“Take care, my friend,” Sylver said.

“I’ll save you my first batch of cheese for when you return,” Bruno said in turn.

*

*

*

The front of Ron’s helmet opened up slightly and he poured the contents of the cup into the created hole.

Sylver had decided to wait until after he came back before he spoke to Kitty, given that there was very little he could do if she did let Sophia find out about him on purpose.

“Can you even taste anything?” Salgok asked as he filled Ron’s cup again.

“That is a very difficult question to answer. But I’m enjoying it, if that’s what you’re asking,” Ron answered, as he drank from his cup a little slower than before.

His words didn’t exactly slur, no more than usual at least, but the smoke-like veil that showed the edges of his face seemed a bit less solid than before.

“So I’m finally going to see my long-awaited apprentice,” Salgok said cheerfully and with a grin, as Sylver finished his glass and waited for him to pour another.

Ron’s inn was relatively quiet this time of night, most of the guests were either sitting in small tight groups or were in their rooms. Bottles of various liquids as well as foods floated out from the ceiling and descended onto whichever table had ordered them without Ron leaving his seat even once.

“Speaking of, I’ve heard that Patell’s apprentice recently died while traveling. I’m sure that once she’s done mourning she-”

“This! This is what I’m talking about,” Salgok interrupted and gestured at Ron, who at best looked confused.

“What?” Sylver asked, while Salgok just looked at him.

“The way he said it! He just talked about the woman’s death as if he was talking about finding a silver on the floor,” Salgok explained, gesturing at Ron all the while.

“He doesn’t have a physical body, meaning no limbic system, meaning a different psychology and different understanding of what is and isn’t “normal”. You don’t hear me complaining when you check how “fresh” an ingot of iron is by licking it,” Sylver argued, while Ron nodded along.

“That’s… a fair point actually. But maybe try to phrase it differently next time?” Salgok offered.

“I was happy that your apprentice’s wife wouldn’t have a hard time finding a master to learn under. The death already occurred, it’s in the past” Ron tried to explain, but Salgok wasn’t listening to him.

“Anyway, we’re among friends, and we know what you were trying to say. Patell… She’s the one with the giant golden scissors above the entrance in the upper east side, right?” Sylver asked as he tried to remember the exact location.

“But seriously, tone it down a bit. If it weren’t for Syl I never would have come here,” Salgok explained, with a slightly rosy-colored glow to his cheeks.

Sylver reached for the bottle Salgok had been pouring them their drinks and turned it around. Going by Salgok’s smudged handwriting it was supposed to be a very strong whiskey.

“But I am starting to see why everyone I’ve talked to felt uncomfortable around you. You’re not undead, I know that much… Some sort of parasitic spirit?” Sylver guessed. Ron turned away from Salgok and looked at him.

“Why parasitic?” Ron asked.

“Call it an educated guess. Am I in the ballpark at least?” Sylver asked.

“I would prefer not discussing this,” Ron said in a slightly tense tone.

“Fair enough… I’m going to have one of my rabbits bring you a chest to store. There are documents and a couple of letters inside, it’s enchanted and cursed to shit so be careful to store it somewhere where no one can accidentally stumble upon it,” Sylver said, while Ron smiled and nodded.

“How’d the exam go anyway?” Salgok asked as he remembered why Sylver had invited him here in the first place.

Sylver smiled and reached into his robe and pulled out a small bright orange bronze adventurer’s tag with a very visible D carved into it.

“It’s only temporary, I’ll likely get it upgraded to C or B when I return,” Sylver said.

“Still, it’s quite an accomplishment. Aside from the fact that they did a shit job polishing it as always, three cheers!” Salgok shouted as Sylver and Ron toasted with him.

*

*

*

“So this is it?” Lola asked, as she gently unwrapped the parcel Sylver had handed her.

“For a bit. There’s still a chance she doesn’t show up, or she really has nothing to do with me. But I’m feeling… something,” Sylver said, as he tried to put the emotion into words.

“Maybe there’s still some of Sophia’s-”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Sylver interrupted as he saw Lola giggle as she continued unwrapping the paper. Sylver had made it while drunk, but couldn’t understand why he used so much paper.

“She came over yesterday and had trouble sitting down. I never knew you were so flexible, I thought with all the muscles and stuff getting in the way you can barely bend down to tie your shoes,” Lola said, with a tone that implied that she had had a very long chat with Sophia.

“I might have pulled several muscles in the process, and I dislocated my hip about four times, but that’s one of the very many benefits of being undead and a master of the dark arts. And it was worth it, it’s not every day I get to do the things I’ve thought about doing to priests for centuries,” Sylver answered, as Lola seemed to remember something.

“Marshal is dead, by the way. His house burned down, but they found his body hanging from a chain, with no signs of forced entry or struggle. It has been labeled as a suicide. Miraculously a chest full of extremely incriminating documents managed to survive completely unscathed. A lot of people who could be considered Marshal’s allies are about to find themselves in very deep shit,” Lola said, ripping through even more wrapping paper.

“Funny how these things work themselves out like that,” Sylver said and continued to watch Lola struggle with the wrapping paper. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it, I think if I tinker around with it a bit I’ll be able to make a normal ring, the kind that goes on your finger,” Lola said.

“No, I mean for everything. I don’t know where I would be right now if I didn’t have you here holding down the fort,” Sylver added.

Lola was very quiet for a while, as the wrapping paper kept getting smaller and smaller.

Lola very suddenly looked up and stared directly behind Sylver.

“I’m not falling for that again,” Sylver said sternly.

Lola got up from her chair and backed away from her desk, all while staring directly behind Sylver.

“My age is likely measured in millennia, I’m not falling for the oldest trick in the book,” Sylver repeated.

Lola flicked her hand and made a staff appear in each one while she stood with her back to the wall.

Sylver nervously tapped his foot on the ground as Lola didn’t once blink and kept staring behind him. He stared Lola right in the eye, as he quickly turned his head and saw nothing there. He turned back to see Lola on the floor struggling to breathe from laughing so hard.

“Well now I don’t even feel bad about all the wrapping paper,” Sylver said, as he couldn’t help himself and also started to laugh.

They calmed down after a while, but Lola had tears in her eyes and kept giggling to herself.

She finally managed to get through all the paper and saw a small silver coin with a silvery chain going through a small hole in the coin. Sylver picked the chain up and the coin ever so gently swayed towards him. The coin appeared to catch fire, but the fire turned a golden color and didn’t produce any shimmers above it, or burn Sylver’s hand.

“If it turns red, I’m dead but my soul is still in place. So if you decide to send someone after me, make sure they’re ready for a feral zombie with all the know-how of an 11th tier arch necromancer. If it’s yellow like this that means I’m fine. I’m not sure about the range, but this is the best I can do right now,” Sylver explained, as he handed Lola the coin and chain.

She turned it around and saw a small bird with a very long and thin beak carved into the back of the coin, and a skull carved into the front.

Lola undid the clasp in the chain and pulled her hair out of the way to put the coin necklace around her neck. It stopped burning but felt oddly warm regardless of the fact.

“If you ever lose it, don’t worry about it. It can’t be used against me, and someone would need your explicit permission to use it,” Sylver explained. Lola adjusted the chain so the clasp was at the very back of her neck, and hid the coin inside of her robe.

Lola had non-laughing tears in her eyes as she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Sylver.

“Be careful,” she said.

“I will. I’ve written down everything I think you could use and hid it inside my house. Talk to Ging if you ever need help with your research. And seriously, you’ve done more than I ever could have asked for. Thank you,” Sylver said through about as many tears as Lola had in his eyes.

“Just come back safe,” Lola said, with a grip around Sylver that almost matched Novva’s.

“I will,” Sylver promised.

*

*

*

Sylver left as the suns started to rise.

He had everything he needed hidden inside his bones and had a small chest full of bones strapped to his back that contained even more ingredients and tools.

He had a good night’s rest and had his hair cut before he left. The [Dead Man’s Last Stand] was in Sylver’s hand the moment he saw Ciege’s village.

He landed near the outskirts.

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