17 The Stone’s Real Worth

'Why do you say that?' The feminine voice asked.

"Well, back on my world, being bonded for life with someone you would not have any intimacy with was the joke definition of marriage."

'That's funny.' The voice chuckled. 'And also kind of sad.'

"Never mind the jokes. Let me get this straight: you were once a mighty artifact, full of treasures and knowledge. Now everything you had and knew is lost. Plus you are diminished to the size of a marble. Am I missing something?"

'No, all your statements are correct.'

"You also didn't pick me because of my talent or virtue. Solely because I possess, and I quote 'the bare minimum magical powers to sustain your life'. That makes me nothing more than an off-brand life support system."

'That is not exactly right. I am now bonded with you until your death do us part.'

"That sounds more and more like marriage." Lith grunted.

'I am no parasite, you can see me as a symbiote. We will both benefit from our relationship.'

"How? Are you saying that if you manage to get your strength back, you will also recover your memories and magical artifacts?"

'No, those are lost forever. I'm just like you. When you grow up, can you spit the food you have eaten in the past back up to pass it on to someone else? No. The same applies to me.'

"Then what's in it for me? The pleasure of your company?"

'At the moment all I can offer you is a pocket dimension.'

"Say what?"

'One moment, I'm looking at your memories to make it easier to understand. It works like a Dungeons & Looting's Bag of Keeping.'

"That's interesting." Lith pondered. "An interdimensional space where I can store my stuff without being hindered by its weight. How big is this pocket dimension?"

'Ten cubic meters big. It can store anything that amounts up to such a volume, no matter the weight, as long as it's something inanimate.'

A cruel intuition flashed in Lith's eyes.

"Can it also store things like lightning, fireballs or incoming arrows? If so, it would be an invaluable tool for both offense and defense."

'No.' The voice killed Lith's hopes. 'The pocket dimension is outside space and time, so it rejects both life and kinetic energy.' Feeling its host disappointment, the voice quickly added:

'This also means that whatever you store will not rot, cool down or warm up. A roasted blinker would be kept hot and tasty, frozen at the moment you finished cooking it.'

"That barely qualifies as a silver lining." Despite how long their chat seemed to take, it was only happening inside their minds. Barely a second had passed after Lith had access to the stone's memories.

"Whatever. At least you saved me from my current predicament. Now I know how to bring the boar back, I just need a decent excuse to explain how I managed it."

The stone mind-shrugged.

'Keep it simple. Drop it at the edge of the woods, and tell Selia that you managed to kite it to that spot before killing it. It should be easier to believe that the truth.'

Lith nodded.

"Resourceful and smart. The fact that our minds are linked still creeps me out, but thanks to that I can see you have no malice or hidden agenda towards me. If you really are what you say to be, I'll keep you.

"True loyalty is too rare of a commodity to turn it down when you find it. So, until I am convinced of your good faith, consider yourself on probation."

Lith put the pouch back around his neck and the boar in the pocket dimension.

"By the way, I can't keep calling you 'you' and 'stone'. Don't you have a name?"

'No.' The voice sounded really sad. 'It's lost, like everything else.'

"Don't be a pouter. A name is just a name. You can call me Derek, Lith, host, CZ DELTA, whatever. I'll always be the same cynic, misanthropic, lying, cutthroat guy I have always been. Would you like me to name you?"

'Yes, please.'

Lith had a name ready since he heard the tower core's story.

"You are supposed to be a great artifact, so I'll name you after the greatest, albeit fictional, magical forgemaster that I always admired when I was a kid. Solus."

'Thank you, Lith. I like how it sounds. I really appreciate that you named me after someone you loved, rather than give me a pet name like Happy or Lucky.'

Lith had the odd feeling Solus was mind-blushing.

They spent the whole time on the way back chatting. Lith was really interested in understanding the limits and uses of his new partner skillset.

After assessing that both Lith and Solus could activate the pocket dimension, he proceeded to pick the right spot. It needed to be close enough to the edge of the woods and covered enough to make spotting the boar from a distance impossible.

"There are countless things that can go wrong leaving a dead animal alone, even for a few minutes. A passer-by who claims it's his kill, a scavenger believing it had lucked out finding a free meal, take your pick. With my luck, I never trust the odds."

'You trust no one.' Solus's voice changed to a flat tone.

"You bet. That's life rule #1. Rule #2 is 'No good deed goes unpunished'."

Lith then used earth and wind magic to mess up the surroundings, mimicking the signs of struggle left by his previous fight with the boar.

"Bah! All this effort and I get such a sloppy result. If Selia throws a second glance at this scene, she'll expose my lie. I can only hope the prize catches her eyes enough to not ask any questions."

He then gently dropped the pouch on the ground.

"As soon as you receive my signal, take the boar out of the pocket dimension. I'll be back in a jiffy."

Without waiting for a reply, Lith started running at full speed towards Selia's house. Once out of their mind link range (10 metres/10.9 yards), Lith could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

'Dammit, leaving her like that was a d*ck move. She surely knows the real reasons why I did it. It's hard to accept someone else in your head, reading every single one of your most embarrassing thoughts and memories.

'Not to mention that in D&L every sentient artifact was usually a bag full of troubles, trying to mind-control the owner or something. I know that it's just fiction, but still… What if I just stumbled into this world's Lone Ring, like in Vasyli Bolkien's books?'

Lith shrugged his head, his body covered in cold sweat.

'I bet that as soon as we are back together, she will have access to this inner monologue too. F*ck my life. No pain, no gain. If she really is what she says, she's worth the risk. At least I'll have someone who finally knows the real me.'

A few minutes later, Selia and Lith were approaching the drop spot, riding the two-horse cart she used to move the heaviest goods around.

"Is it really so big that it requires two horses?" She asked.

"I think one should be enough to move it once it's loaded. The second is necessary to drag it onto the cart easily."

Once Lith and Selia jumped down from their ride, he gave Solus the signal. Selia detached the horses, guiding them by the bridle.

Lith took the thick ropes necessary to make a harness for the boar with him, making it easy for the horses to drag it out of the woods and into the cart.

When Selia saw the game with her own eyes, she whistled with approval.

"Good gods! This thing must be around 300 kilograms (661 pounds)! You weren't boasting as usual."

"I never boast." Lith used spirit magic to stealthily recover the pouch, while Selia was engrossed in sizing the beast up.

"Please, all men do." Selia clicked her tongue. "You are not an exception. With all your magic and secrets, do you want me to believe you do not enjoy your short, dark, and toothless act?" She added laughing out loud.

"It's not my fault I have a lisp now!" Lith was pissed off by her non-stop mockery of his new voice. "Will you ever let me hear the end of it?"

"I'm sorry, I really am. It's just that your tough boy attitude is even more hilarious now that you have a lisp." The first time she had heard him call her "Phelia", she had laughed hard enough to fall from her chair, hugging her belly.

"Judging from its size, it was really close to becoming a magical beast. We could have sold it for a much bigger sum, it's kind of sad." She sighed.

"Yeah, and if it was a magical beast, I would be much deader now." Lith rebuked.

They kept bickering until the boar was safe and sound on the cart.

Only once they got back to her house and started bleeding the game, did Selia get her business attitude back.

"The most valuable piece is the head. If we can find a noble willing to stuff it, hang it over his fireplace, and take the credit for the kill, we can sell it for a high price. The pelt and the meat are nothing special, do you have any plans for them?"

Lith nodded. "All this meat will allow me to skip hunting for a while, so I prefer to keep and maturate it. As for the pelt, it should make a nice carpet for my parents' bedroom."

"Always a family boy, huh?" Selia ruffled his hair, this time there was no mockery in her voice.

"I'm so proud of you being so considerate toward your family that I'll tan it for free. I still get half of the head price, though."

"Perfect." Lith said.

"Good! Our best shot is with Count Lark himself. He is both loaded and very proud of his hunting skills. I must reach out to my contacts in his manor to test the waters. Fingers crossed!"

Lith suffered at the idea of losing so much money, but half was better than nothing. He didn't know how to tan pelts or stuff heads and lacked both the time and the instruments to do it.

Even if he did, he had no way to sell the merchandise outside of his little village.

After Lith left Selia, he and Solus started chatting again, feigning ignorance about each other's feelings.

"Solus, I think that your help will be invaluable to help bring my martial arts training to the next level."

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