Chapter 62 Survivors
“Will they follow us outside the dungeon?!” one of the mages shouted while they ran through the caves, arcane magic lighting the way.
“They shouldn’t!” the scout shouted back from further back. Ilea was running at the very back, sometimes looking backwards to see if anything was following them. The doors were too small for the Praetorians to follow immediately but she was sure they could break through in time.
“It would be highly unusual...” the arcane mage said. “...either dungeon inhabitants send out raiding groups or they stay inside completely. I doubt they will follow us...although the Praetorians suddenly calling the other machines was a surprise as well to say the least.” he kept on talking through the run. Twenty minutes later they reached the rendezvous location and were greeted by torches and shouts.
“We have more survivors!” a warrior shouted and waved to the group. Ilea came up to the camp and looked around. A fire on its last breath illuminated the dark caves and downtrodden faces. Some of them looked up to check who had come while others seemed preoccupied by other things, be it grief, fear or anger. Ilea did notice that some of the adventurers didn’t seem to care much, likely somewhat used to the outcome of a failed expedition.
‘I need a warm bed and some nice snacks...’ she thought and sighed, before a big hand rested on her shoulder, making her twitch away a little.
“I’m glad you survived Il..Lilith. You’ve seen better days.” Lorcan stated and didn’t mention the twitch for which Ilea was grateful.
“Glad you survived as well Agor...” no further words were spoken as both looked into the flames with unreadable expressions, joining the others in their solemn play. Ilea saw that Jasper had survived as well though he was missing an arm. She made herself stop looking at the flames and walked to the man after touching Agor’s shoulder in a similar gesture as he had done to her.
“Jasper. Your arm.” she simply stated and started healing.
“Thank you, glad you made it out. Didn’t think I’d say that one to you...” his arm twitched as bone, then muscle and finally flesh was reborn through mana. “Thank you for saving them.” he whispered, likely talking about the others in Ilea’s group. He must’ve heard about the centurion or simply assumed.
Not a word was uttered about her armor or necklace, a trivial matter after what had happened to be sure yet one to demand a reaction nonetheless. A testament to the companionship Ilea’s group had learned towards each other in the little time they had spent together.
‘A bond formed by blood...or something like that...’ Ilea thought. Nobody had food and some bellies were rumbling in the dark. Conversations were kept to a minimum as the group waited. Jasper had decided to wait another three hours before they would return to the Root and subsequently Dawntree.
There were twenty two people all in all, eight of them from Ilea’s group. A surprisingly high amount of survivors Ilea thought, having seen the slaughter firsthand. Ilea decided to wait with the others should somebody injured arrive that she could perhaps save with her magic.
The hours passed though and nobody turned up. “We go then, maybe some scouts can return at a later date...” Jasper said and got up from the stone he had been sitting on. Ilea had played the fight in the throne room before her eyes time and time again, thinking of a way she could’ve changed the outcome but nothing came to mind.
The feelings of fear and even guilt were confusing to be sure. Things she hadn’t felt in quite some time and something that sprang up now in combination with her entanglement with the expedition. Of course her near death experience that somehow felt different than surviving some traps played a big part in the fear she had experienced.
‘This world has become my own...’ she thought and remembered earth while getting up and following the group out of the dark cave. It would take a couple hours for them to reach the Root at least but she was in no hurry. For the first time since her first encounter with the drake the danger she’d found herself in felt real. The pain she had experienced in the meantime was certainly there but Ilea found that she had treated the whole thing a little like she would a game.
‘Like a dream...but now I’m awake and I’m still here...’ she thought and looked at her closing fist. The fastfood worker turned battle healer had made acquaintances and met people she would even consider friends. She had grown powerful, powerful enough that a certain responsibility would normally pressure her into action.
Ilea thought about her time in Elos while the group of survivors advanced through the caves, only quickly taken out of her reminiscing at the stretch of water before her. She decided to fly over it and landed gracefully on the other side. Touching her wings, she moved her fingers through the levitating ash and found no residue on her fingers after. ‘Warm...’ she thought and smiled at the limbs she’d always wanted.
Her arrival in Elos had been confusing to be sure, she still had no clue about why it had happened. An ancient magic perhaps, maybe she was trapped in a simulation conducted by the military or some alien life form. What Ilea liked the most though was the simple Idea of an accident. A shift in the fabric that connected her universe to this one. It didn’t feel like she had been chosen after all. No ring to destroy and no deity to ask for her bidding.
For months she had trained alone in her stone chamber, her meditation skill the only thing keeping her from going mad. She smiled a little at the memory, glad she didn’t have her enhanced smelling back then already. Her excrements had been buried under pieces of rock after all, yet there wasn’t much considering her then diet.
Afterwards followed more training and her first encounter with the new world she had found herself in. A world full of magic yet when she had encountered people felt so very similar to her previous one. Mas was man after all. ‘I should find other races then...here they actually exist.’ the elves didn’t seem to be much of an improvement to Ilea though but she knew for a fact that there were others.
Dungeons, monsters, necromancers and a roadtrip later had landed her here. In a dark cave accompanied by a group of survivors who had lost friends and companions to ancient machines guarding their lost city, long forgotten by their likely once proud owners. ‘More interesting than fastfood though...that’s for sure...’ she thought as a slight smile quickly came and faded again.
“What are you gonna do after this?” Lorcan had walked quietly next to her up until the question. He was wearing his helmet, more dents and cuts were showing on his armor than before. He would likely have to give it in for extensive repairs or even get a new one altogether. Ilea’s group were still wearing the dwarven armor, it was the last thing on her mind in that moment.
“I don’t know.” she said and walked on quietly for a couple minutes. “Travel more. Not get caught up in expeditions...” she said to which he nodded.
“You’re not responsible for any of them Lilith. They all chose to come here, knowing the risks.” he said calmly.
“Yet it hurts.” she said to his remark, the man having guessed correctly with his assumption.
“Yet it hurts.” he said before the two joined again in their mutual silence.
“I’ll need some time alone, outside of cities. Maybe try out my wings a little more...” she smiled as she said that a couple minutes later. The thought of soaring through the skies was an enticing one after all.
“Can’t say I don’t envy you.” Lorcan said.
“What about you? What’s your story? And where to from here?”
“Another day Lilith, should we meet again. For now as you I will take some time off. As much as we lost many in this endeavor, we’ve gained quite a wealth of information and goods. Though much of it is still down there we now know where to get it. The Praetorians will likely return to their resting place after a while. It won’t be me going back down there though...” the mention of the Praetorian brought the flash of a scythe piercing her stomach back to Ilea and she quickly closed her eyes, concentrating on her breathing.
“Are you sure you want to continue traveling?” the man asked, a little worry seeping into his voice.
“I’m alright. The settled down lifestyle isn’t really for me, not if I have the possibility to just fly away whenever I want. Besides I’ve not been doing this for long, I think with time...I’ll work it out.” she answered.
“That you might, or you might not. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone though, even the strong need help at times.” Lorcan said.
‘Surprisingly progressive for someone wearing metal armor and using a sword to fight monsters.’
“Don’t worry about me.” Lorcan looked at her for a couple seconds while walking, somehow it felt different to Ilea then. With her sphere she saw a tear running down the man’s face below his helmet but she chose not to pry. Not a tear for her to be sure.
“I’ll visit some friends.” she said after a while. “And I’ll find the people I’ve been looking for down here...”
“Not friends then?” Lorcan asked, seemingly having gotten over his quick sentimental moment.
Ilea gestured with her hand but stopped when she realized that she was still a little shaky. “Not really. Well one of them perhaps...I would like to know where they are though and why they did what they did.”
“Hmm, I get that. Well I hope you do find them then. Teleported away from here?” he asked and she nodded. They were far enough away from others to hear without skills or advanced hearing but Ilea was tired of keeping everything to herself. Lorcan seemed trustworthy to her as well. She chuckled though at her ability to make out someone trustworthy.
‘Well Dale and Walter seemed to be alright so I’m not that bad...’ she thought.
They continued in silence for the next hour. The hardened adventurers were all used to not eating for prolonged periods of time and whatever they had left was given to the surviving aides from the expedition. The smith who was with Ilea’s group had refused all of it though.
‘We’re stopping...’ they had come up on the underground lake, still shining with its untouched brilliance.
“Here is nice...” someone said and nodded, most others were quiet.
“What is this about?” she asked Jeremy who was standing next to her. He looked at her a little confused but then nodded.
“A place to say farewell. Often there is nothing to recover or it’s too dangerous to get what is left...” one of the surviving members shot a firewall above the lake and it sizzled out a couple dozen meters later.
A lance of ice followed, exploding in splinters that reflected the light above. More spells followed after and Ilea saw some people close their eyes, some saying prayers while others simply stood there. All of them respected the ritual though and Ilea too found it to be somewhat cathartic. Ten minutes of silence passed as spells were continued to be released sporadically.
The group then moved on in silence, coming closer to the Root and Ilea already welcomed the food. ‘I’ll definitely try to store done meals...and some milk to test expiration...’ she thought as they came out of the tunnel.
Contrary to the usually lively atmosphere the adventurer village was completely empty. Thinking that she had missed something Ilea looked at the others but they seemed as confused as she was. “Something’s wrong...” a warrior said.
“Keep together.” Lorcan said as they advanced towards the gate.
‘Stripped clean...’ Ilea looked at the shops and streets of the Root as they walked through. Some things were strewn about as if people had left in a hurry. Coming up on the gate Ilea saw more people than before standing on top of it. All of them were heavily armored and spells started to shine as soon as the expedition came into sight.
Some of them faded again as they got closer. “Halt! Who are you?! State your business in Dawntree!” someone on the gate shouted as Jasper stepped up.
“I’m Jasper Horim. Leader of a Forkspear expedition. We’re returning home...” he said and the last of the spells went out at the mention of his name. “...what the hell is going on?”
“Come on in then, you’re more than welcome. Open the gate!” the man shouted and the gate quickly opened. Ilea noticed a mage using some form of magic that spanned all of them as they entered and then nodded to another man in armor.
‘He didn’t change anything on me...so he checked us? For what though...’ she thought as Jasper was joined by the man who had talked to them. He was a level 160 warrior she noted.
“Mr Horim, they have returned. The elves are back and the city is locked down.” he said in a hushed tone yet Ilea heard him as if he had stood next to her.
‘The elves...well it’s just my luck that they attack whatever city I’m currently in...’ Ilea thought, her dream of a nice fluffy bed and some hearty food evaporating instantly.
“Have they breached?” Jasper asked to which the man shook his head.
“Agor let’s go report to Bjorn then, you can deal with the details. Everyone else come to the Forkspear estate, Agor will get you there.” he said and ran off.
“It was a pleasure to meet you Lilith. Until next time then, maybe we’ll have time for stories then.” Lorcan said as a red flame covered him, quickly following after Jasper.
Ilea just nodded and followed too. “Wait, we have to check you guys first.” one of the guards said behind her but she ignored the man and kept walking. He closed in on her but she shot him a glance that stopped him in his tracks.
“Alright alright, you go. The rest though we have to quickly check your wares and gear. Even in wartime the rules apply.” Ilea kept walking. A cold breeze soon reached her, making the torches on the walls flicker.
Soon later the wind brought something wet with it and as Ilea looked down more snow fell on her. She lifted her hands that weren’t covered by armor and touched the snow on her chest plate. ‘It’s winter...’ she thought and continued walking, quickly reaching the second gate guarded by much fewer people.
One guard was ignored as she entered the city. “Miss I need to see your badge please.” but she just pointed to above her head where the man would see [Healer - ??] in his mind’s eye. With his level 103 it was likely not a possibility for him to know her exact level.
Ilea looked upwards after entering the city, a fireball came rushing down from a high altitude before impacting a barrier that seemed to cover the city. Its fire erupted in a massive explosion before it was dispersed by wind and snow Ilea knew to be magical in nature as well.
Some people covered at the sight but more simply ignored it. Ilea stood there taking in the sight and smell as the snow that fell on her was joined by ash. There was smoke coming from several places in the city with even some fires burning. Ilea wasn’t sure if the fires were there on purpose though.
The just a couple weeks ago lively city had turned into something else. People looked around with solemn expressions while others were arguing over who would get which part of the ration that day. Ilea walked through quietly taking in the smells and noises. “Her...” someone whispered to her left when two men quickly closed in on her and went to grab her backpack.
Ilea just blinked away and kept walking, hearing the confused chatter behind her. A dog growled at her as she passed. The healer kept walking until she reached the school she had visited before. The premises were deserted but she found someone still working on the reception desk. The desk she had not even seen before as she had entered the building differently before.
“Hello there.” she entered and waved.
The woman looked at her sceptically “The Academy is closed. And I assure you there is nothing worth to be taken here.” she continued to write on the paper before her.
“I’m not here to take something, I’m looking for a friend. Aaron, he’s a teacher here.” Ilea said as she walked up to the desk. The hall was big, two sets of chairs leading to the upper floors behind the reception desk. All of it was white and spotless, undoubtedly an earth mage’s doing. She wondered at the roman’s ability to build something like this without magic when the woman responded.
“He’s not here. He likely joined the defense or is with his family.”
“Does the city need healers?” Ilea asked but the woman shook her head.
“The corinth order is rather big here so what we need is barrier mages. I don’t know how long they can keep that up...”
“Barrier mages huh...no way in no way out?” she asked the woman.
“Why would you want out, this is likely the safest place to be for hundreds of miles.”
‘Dale...Roland...’ Ilea thought and quickly left the building.
“Tell him my well wishes should you meet him...” she said to the woman as she exited and heard a grunt.
Her wings spread and she quickly started flying upwards. “This does seem rather safe…” she said out loud looking at the city’s defenses and the mages standing on top of many of the buildings. “...then there’s nothing left here for me. Do survive for me Lorcan, I do want to hear those stories...” she said and flew upwards to the rocky side of the city that lead down the mountain, landing next to a mage whose mana she saw was being channeled into the barrier.
She looked downwards one last time, seeing the crowded city covered in snow, magic flaring up here and there. “Any of the scouts gotten out?” she asked the woman next to her.
The woman looked at her and nodded “Several, yes. I doubt the elves have caught them either. As usual they don’t seem to be very organized at their assault.”
Ilea nodded, happy that the burden of reinforcements wouldn’t lie on her. It seemed to her that food would likely be the biggest problem for the city but then again they had the caves within and certainly some magical way to grow more. What she was worried about were the cities that had less of a defense than Dawntree.
Lightning crackled above and hit the barrier with a massive spark but it held true. “Mind if I quickly jump out?” Ilea asked and the woman looked at her for the first time then, confusion in her eyes.
“Will a teleport disrupt the barrier?” Ilea asked to which the woman shook her head.
“You won’t get through though...that’s the idea of a barrier...” the woman said and Ilea nodded.
She saw that the barrier’s magic didn’t continue through the rock below and simply let herself fall before blinking through the stone. Snow kept falling as Ilea flew upwards, passing the mage on the other side of the barrier. Ilea started to fly southwards, to Salia. ‘Don’t you dare dying shitbag.’ she thought and smiled slightly at the figures quickly closing in on her from above. Her body started to glow blue and red below the armor as a horned helmed appeared in her hand. ‘There will always be a drake...’