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Ch138-There’s Only One Solution

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As Pecan walked around the large room, Sylver noticed a few things.

The first was that even the women were wearing pitch-black suits, with the only difference being that they didn’t wear a tie, while the men did.

He also noticed that everyone had a guard with them, and while Sylver had no trouble blending in with the rest of the unarmed crowd, quite a large number of the guards present were struggling to keep their hands away from whatever weapon was hidden up their sleeve, or trouser leg.

After a while, Sylver discovered something that shook him about the same as discovering that “high-elves” looked like humans.

The “high-elves” in this room were all non magical.

It wasn’t quite as powerful as the humans from Earth, but Sylver’s illusions wouldn’t work on them, and even with his abundant mana, he doubted any of his curses would stick to them for more than a couple of seconds.

They were still very much killable via a dagger through the throat. More so than everyone else, given that healing magic couldn’t be used on them.

But in Sylver’s experience, people very rarely managed to live past the age of 10 while having a critical weakness. Sylver noticed it from “accidentally” bumping into people, but they were all wearing something metallic underneath their clothing, that was buzzing, and not just simple armor.

Pecan spoke in English, but Sylver was missing a metric ton of context, and the best he could puzzle out was that Pecan was lending something out to people, and much to their dismay, was asking for a ludicrous amount of money.

Only when he heard his name, did Sylver realize Pecan was setting up fights with his sponsored tower climbers. Sylver was due to fight a woman that was level 163 and used a spear. Sylver’s fight was sold for around 15 million cuts.

The rest of the night passed along surprisingly uneventfully.

Or at the very least, Sylver was too busy thinking about the manaless humans calling themselves high-elves, to notice if something had happened or not. Pecan wasn’t threatened at any point, and all Sylver did was walk behind him.

Sylver was so in his head that he nearly audibly gasped when he saw Poppy Da’Batstoi approaching Pecan.

Just like everyone else she was wearing a black suit, with a very small red flower sticking out from underneath her lapel.

Sylver just stared at her, as the woman led Pecan off towards one of the locked doors and gestured for them both to enter. Still in shock, Sylver just followed along and found himself face to face with Poppy, and a woman who very strongly resembled her.

Sylver missed what Poppy said completely, as Pecan followed after the other woman, and turned around to speak to Sylver.

“Stay here, please. I will be back in a few minutes, there’s nothing to worry about,” Pecan said in Elvish, and quite quickly disappeared behind one of the doors.

Sylver felt a cramp forming in his stomach as he turned back to look at Poppy and saw a smile on her face that looked quite upset.

“Normally I don’t get involved. Lily says my very presence makes all of her predictions less than worthless, but given that you already do that, she didn’t see the problem with my coming here. We met before, in case you don’t remember. I was a scared woman who did everything she could to get you to leave me alone,” Poppy explained, as she sat down on a small chair, and gestured for Sylver to do the same.

He continued to stand and stared at her.

“Remember how you asked me about a mage that wears a perfectly white robe? “A mind mage of some kind,” were your exact words,” Poppy quoted with a grin in her voice.

It was only now that Sylver realized she was speaking in Eirish, and not English or Elvish.

“I wasn’t lying when I said I didn’t. Rose usually wears red. The fact that she’s been visiting a no-name nothing of a village every single year, while dressed in white, was something I only found out about after we spoke,” Poppy explained, while Sylver just stared at her.

She looked down and pulled her gloves off and admired her nails while Sylver just stood there.

When he continued to stand in place without moving a muscle or saying anything, she sighed and started to talk again.

“You’re freaking out because you think I’m an apostle of a god. Or what did you call me? A guide? Valkyrie? I’d like you to know I am none of those things, if anything, I’m the exact opposite. I am the farthest thing there is from a god,” Poppy continued.

Spring all but slapped Sylver across the face to get his attention, but he eventually managed to break him out of his stunned shock. Sylver was very slow and careful as he sat down in the chair Poppy had pointed to, and continued to silently stare at her.

“Surely you have at least a couple of questions for me?” Poppy asked while Sylver’s mind did its best to calm down enough to start working properly.

“The… the… the Ib… Are we safe to talk here? Iris or anything else isn’t listening in?” Sylver stuttered and then caught his breath and spoke normally.

“It’s the little things I like about you. Most people are either controlled by their emotions, or by cold hard logic. They either start screaming, crying, raving, or they barely react and ask an extremely predictable question. You though… Sometimes you’re a cold-blooded overly rational sociopath, other times you don’t even give yourself a moment to think and do what feels right,” Poppy said.

Sylver sat up straighter in his seat and felt his mind slowly catching up.

The woman in white is Poppy’s sister Rose?

And they’re not related to Gods.

“Can we speak freely?” Sylver asked, as he crumpled the mental notes and shoved them out of the way to review later.

“Yes, we’re free to talk. Despite what everyone may believe the surveillance system is far from perfect. There are glitches, blind spots, and let’s not forget sabotage and bribery. In your case, it also helps that the cameras they use to track people through the walls, use silver, and you don’t show up in them,” Poppy continued, as Sylver felt a sudden dryness in his mouth, and a lump forming in his throat.

“The Ibis. I’d like to know what happened to it, and where everyone-”

“Not yet. That you got past level 100 gives us a little bit of wiggle room to work with, but anything related to the Ibis is not on the table right now. The consequences would be… dire,” Poppy interrupted, and Sylver almost leapt out of his chair to force her to tell him, before he remembered who he was talking to.

“However dire they may be, I’m willing to accept them,” Sylver said.

“If I tell you anything, 10 meteorites will descend onto this city, and kill everyone and everything on this planet. And then-”

“I don’t care, tell me,” Sylver said calmly, and saw Poppy look at him with tears in her eyes.

“Rose loves this about you. This unwavering devotion, an incomprehensible level of love for those you deem to be “yours.” I, on the other hand, hate it. That someone with your knowledge and abilities would allow themselves to be so selfish, is heartbreaking,” Poppy continued, with the pity practically overflowing from her voice.

“Tell me about the Ibis,” Sylver repeated, as Poppy leaned down to wipe a tear from her eye and then spent a few seconds fanning her bright red eyes with her hands to stop crying.

“Arda will be wiped off the face of the world. There will be death and suffering on a level even you would struggle to conceive,” Poppy said, as Sylver just stayed in his seat and watched her.

“How does me knowing about the Ibis result in all of that?” Sylver asked as Poppy made a strange noise as she nearly started crying again, but managed to compose herself.

“The worst part is that I truly do understand why you’re like this. Your family abandoned you and you don’t trust blood ties. Enough people that you loved and trusted broke their word to you, that you can’t even trust that. All you have left is your faith that time is the only way to know if you can trust someone or not,” Poppy continued, as she wiped her eyes again and calmed down.

“And it isn’t as if I don’t find that part of you admirable. Once you decide to be loyal to someone, you’re willing to die for them to start. Not to mention how much else you’re willing to do if there's a way to save them and yourself. It’s why Rose is so terrified of you because she knows the lengths you’re willing to go,” Poppy explained, as she slowly composed herself and even the redness in her eyes started to die down.

“Why are you here?” Sylver asked, as the woman wearing a black suit used her sleeve to wipe at her eyes and finally calmed down.

“Like I said, wiggle room. By reasons that are no fault of your own, you’ve been nudged off course. Which gave me enough room to come here and nudge you back into place. But for now, I’m going to give you some advice,” Poppy said.

She leaned forward slightly and spoke in a tone that didn’t match any of the ones she’s used prior. It sounded old.

“Leave Grant alone. You’re a bad influence on him, and if he stays with you, everyone, including you, will regret it. You have Ria now; she is more than enough for what you’re going to want to do. But as I said, it’s advice, not an order,” Poppy said.

Sylver felt Ria tighten around his arm as she heard her name being mentioned.

“The dark elves have a prophecy. It’s not about you, but you can fulfill it. I advise you to do that,” Poppy said.

“Why?”

“When you find the book, wait for 7 days before you destroy it. And when you do destroy it, don’t burn it. Decay it, or what have you, but don’t allow so much as a wisp of a flame to touch it,” Poppy said, having completely ignored Sylver’s question.

“Why?”

“Pecan is going to offer you to go through the Giers trials. My advice is that you accept, and go with your gut,” Poppy continued, as Sylver repeatedly reminded himself he wasn’t going to win this fight, no matter how angry he got.

“I think that’s about it. Do you have any questions that don’t involve the Ibis?” Poppy asked.

“I want to know what you are, and how you’re here,” Sylver asked.

“I can’t answer that.”

“I want to know about the System, and everything related to it,” Sylver tried, but already knew the answer.

“No. Pick something else to ask about,” Poppy said.

Sylver thought on it for a while, and quite honestly was far too frazzled from being surprised at seeing Poppy here.

“Who was here first? The dark elves, or the high elves, or was it the humans?” Sylver asked. It was the only question he could come up with while he thought about a better question to ask.

“Oh, wow. Technically speaking, none of them. They’re all invaders, some are just better at invading than others,” Poppy explained.

“Is this… is this Earth?” Sylver asked, and watched a wide smile spread on Poppy’s face.

Is this Earth,” Poppy repeated as she started to giggle before she eventually calmed down. She pointed at Sylver’s bicep where Ria was.

She is from Earth, but this isn’t Earth, sort of. Her people are partially responsible for the clusterfuck this whole realm has become. They didn’t pull the trigger, but they are the ones who built the gun and loaded it,” Poppy explained, while Sylver felt Ria tighten enough that she started to cut off blood flow to his arm.

Sylver had a million questions he could ask her, the framework the dark elves gave him, why there were 2 suns, why the “elves” had that thing in their sides, why the humans called themselves “high elves,” and why the system played along, why did-

“I think we’re done here,” Poppy said, as she stood up from her seat. Sylver jumped up from his and spoke while waving his arms at her to sit back down.

“Wait, wait, wait, I still have questions, I want to-”

“There’s nothing important that I can answer for you… There is one thing… Ask me the question you couldn’t bear to ask Rose,” Poppy said, and Sylver felt the lump in his throat clog it up, even as he felt his blood run colder than usual.

Sylver just stood there, while Poppy checked her suit didn’t have any creases on it.

“See, there it is again. This duality. Cold-blooded killer one second scared little boy the next. But if you want me to answer you, you’re going to have to ask,” Poppy said.

“Why? Why can’t you just tell me?” Sylver asked. Poppy actually dared to roll her eyes, before she sighed and answered.

“Now that I think about it, you’re likely the easiest person to explain this to. You’re aware that gods have a limited amount of influence? If two gods are vying for an area, and one god helps a certain person with a blessing or miracle, the opposing god is allowed to give a different person a blessing or a miracle to even things out?” Poppy asked as Sylver nodded along.

“Same principle here. The more we help you, the more the opposing group can influence the world around you. But because we’ve all been doing this for a while, we know where there’s enough wiggle room that the opposing group can’t just have a priest get the perfect class, skills, and perks to counter you and kill you,” Poppy explained.

“Who’s the opposing group?” Sylver asked, as Poppy finished evening out the creases and patted her suit down.

“For someone who was in the top 1% in the Ibis, you can be so stupid sometimes. Ask me the question you don’t want to ask, and I’ll be on my way. Otherwise, we’re just wasting each other’s time. When you next speak to Rose, she’ll be able to explain things a little more freely,” Poppy said, as Sylver tried to force the words out of his mouth.

Sylver closed his eyes for a second to gather himself and felt something inside him snap as he forced himself to ask.

“Is Edmund alive?” Sylver asked. He looked up and saw Poppy staring at him with an insulting level of pity in her eyes.

“He isn’t what I would call “alive,”” Poppy said, as Sylver felt his insides turn to stone. “But I wouldn’t call him “dead” either… You won’t be disappointed when you find him, that’s all I can say,” Poppy finished.

Sylver still felt like utter shit, but at least now he knew that he wasn’t doing all of this just to retrieve his best friend’s soulless corpse.

“When Lily comes back, it would be best if you pretended I didn’t speak to you. I’m still going to be in this realm, but don’t try to talk to us, you’ll regret it,” Poppy said quietly, as Sylver could feel and hear Pecan making his way back.

“Thank you,” Sylver whispered and used a bit of magic to seal up his tear ducts so he didn’t start crying. He slowed his heartbeat down to nearly nothing so his face wouldn’t turn red, and made sure his body language was normal.

“I’m surprised you didn’t ask about the coin flip,” Poppy said, a fraction of a second before the door opened wide and Pecan walked through it with a giant smile plastered on his face.

“Great news, great news! I’ve managed to get you access to the Gold Giers trials! Even just showing up will do wonders for your publicity!” Pecan shouted, as he placed both hands on Sylver’s shoulders and started to shake him out of excitement.

Sylver glanced at Poppy and saw her smirking, as she turned away and started to walk away.

Sylver got a very faint wave and smile from the other woman, Lily, before she followed behind Poppy and disappeared.

He turned back at the ecstatic Pecan and looked at his overjoyed face.

“Fantastic! When?” Sylver asked as he did his very best to match Pecan’s enthusiasm.

“Tomorrow! Come, we’re done here, you need to get all the rest you can get. You’ve already been seen by enough people, it’s only a matter of time,” Pecan said, as he grabbed Sylver by the shoulder and just short of shoved him out of the door.

Sylver nodded along and walked with him before his feeble mind realized what he had said.

“Wait, what? It’s tomorrow?”

*

*

*

Sylver could only wonder as to where the fuck they were right now, as his door opened and he stepped out into a lush green field. Trees stretched out as far as the eye could see, with bright blue ponds glistening in the distance, under the scorching sun.

Except the sun didn’t feel anything like the sun outside, it felt like it was at barely 5% strength compared to the real thing. Sylver was fairly certain it was weak enough that he could summon his shades in here.

Sylver turned around just in time to see his door close, and then completely disappear into thin air. He retraced his steps perfectly and expected to bump into the wall, but instead, he just kept walking.

Pecan was very brief with his explanation, given that all that Sylver was supposed to do was enter the “arena” and then leave.

Sylver tried to spread his mana out towards the door, and still couldn’t find it.

From pure context, and Ria explaining some of it, he was inside some sort of “hologram.” Sylver did his best to understand the science behind it, like how they were able to make the “ground” underneath his feet feel like real grass and dirt, to the point his [Chloromancy] trait reacted to it, but it all went over his head.

In the end, Sylver just gave up and accepted this as the technology equivalent of dimension bending magic.

Smaller on the outside, and all that.

Sylver looked up towards the sound of a familiar whirring, and saw a small drone float down towards him, and watched as Rouge materialized a few meters away from him.

“And here we have our youngest contestant! The Silver Sliver! He’s been in the Garden for less than 2 months, and currently holds 3 wins to his name, and 0 losses! He survived a Dandy-Lyon crash, and while he left with one eye, one leg, and one arm, he came back better than ever!” Rouge shouted into the peacefully silent forest and gestured for Sylver to raise his hands up.

With everything going on around him, he hasn’t had the time to find a few hours to operate on his left hand to stop himself from having two right hands.

“Now, let me guess, no one told you how this works, right?” Rouge asked.

Sylver decided that it was Pecan’s own fault for assuming he was going to just duck out two seconds after entering and nodded.

“I’ll keep this short and simple. There are 52 other people in here with you. Very gradually the border is going to shrink, forcing you to run closer and closer to the center. But, here’s where it gets really interesting,” Rouge explained, as she floated around Sylver and pointed at a large screen directly in front of him.

“In a few minutes, you’re going to have to make a choice. The level of difficulty is decided by you. By which I mean, the highest difficulty selected is the one everyone will be subject to. It goes from 1 to 100 and is currently sitting at a measly 17. The higher the difficulty, the more monsters will be allowed inside, and the more difficult the terrain will become. At 50 difficulty and higher, you will be thrown in complete and total darkness,” Rouge explained, as Sylver nodded along.

“Now, you might ask yourself, why would anyone pick a higher difficulty? And the answer to that is the higher the difficulty, the bigger the prize is for the winner! The last person to survive, and I do mean survive, gets the prize! The prize can be anything! From magic items to an upgrade all the way up to the Flower area, even enough money to never have to lift a finger for the rest of your life!” Rouge shouted excitedly.

Sylver could hear a very distant sounding cheering coming from somewhere near Rouge, given how the sound moved around as she walked.

“Now, given that you’re one of the last entries, the difficulty you choose, if you choose to raise it, will likely be the one on which everyone will have to fight. It’s currently sitting at 17 out of 100. Would you like to raise it, or keep it as is?” Rouge asked, as her floating drone came down and was pointed directly at Sylver’s face.

“You said survive, meaning?”

Survive. The environment might be artificial, but the monsters and other players very much won’t be. You’re also allowed to kill other players. They’ve all agreed to be in here, as have you, and are all aware of the risks. In the event you wish to forfeit, simply shout the words. If you pass out, it will count as a forfeit, and you will be pulled out,” Rouge explained, while Sylver calmly nodded along.

“I’d like to raise the difficulty to 100,” Sylver said after a brief moment’s pause.

Rouge was at a loss for words for what felt like a long time before she eventually came back to herself.

“Could you repeat that please?” Rogue asked.

“I would like to raise the difficulty to 100,” Sylver repeated and tried to maintain eye contact with the floating drone’s camera. Pecan said to smile more, so Sylver did just that.

“100. You would like to raise the difficulty to 100,” Rouge repeated.

“Yes,” Sylver answered, and leaned his head to the side to crack his neck.

“100,” Rouge repeated.

“Yes, 100,” Sylver answered, as Rouge’s image flickered out of sight for a second or two, as she just blankly stared off into space.

“100, as in one, followed by two zeroes? Are you sure?” Rouge asked.

“Yes, please and thank you,” Sylver said, as he leaned down to stretch his back and hip.

“So you’re asking for the number that comes after 99? Am I understanding that correctly? You’re going to compete against veteran tower climbers, while in complete and total darkness, while surrounded by an uncountable number of monsters?” Rouge asked while Sylver touched his toes.

Sylver looked up from his stretches and saw well over 100 floating drones circling him.

“This is the last time I’m going to ask this. One hundred. That’s the number to which you want to raise the difficulty?” Rouge repeated as Sylver could almost feel people holding their breath through the cameras.

“Yes, 100,” Sylver repeated and noticed that the faint sound of cheering he used to be able to hear from Rouge was dead silent now.

“Are you sure?” Rouge asked for the final time.

“Yeah, fuck it. What’s the worst that can happen?” Sylver asked, as he swung his arms back and forth and heard a collective gasp from all the various floating drones.

Sylver heard a loud noise before the light started to dim.

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