Chapter 91 Hide and Seek
‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ Ilea thought as she ran through the forest, following the obvious tracks in the snow and smelling the air around her. Her eyes let her follow the trail much faster than the smell did but she wanted to have at least another reassurance that she was on the right track. Her buffs were all active except for her shroud and she continuously tried to manipulate the ash around her from the occasionally used Ash Surge.
With her speed it was pretty hard to keep anything with her but Ilea’s control has certainly improved over the past couple days. ‘Some dedicated skill training was certainly necessary...’ she thought but didn’t really blame herself as her ridiculous leveling speed was sort of pushed on her by circumstance. The opportunities she had in the Taleen Dungeon would’ve been wasted if she went away to train her skills, even though it might’ve meant a better class advancement.
Levels were still levels and she still had a couple levels to go until she would reach the threshold for Ash Wielder at level 200. Ilea suddenly stopped as the tracks had come to an end and looked up. ‘At least he’s thinking a little bit...’ she thought and jumped up the tree Kyrian had obviously used to continue on his way.
Ilea’s speed slowed down a little as she had to identify Kyrian’s impact on the trees he had used to travel. Several other trees were marked by his metal attacks but her Hunter’s Sight could tell the difference. Surprisingly easy too. ‘Years and years of training to become a tracker were simply gifted to me as soon as I received this skill...’ she thought and shook her head to focus on the imminent.
“Hey.” she exclaimed, appearing on the tree next to Kyrian. He tensed up a little but relaxed quickly upon seeing her.
“Already...it’s been like two minutes...” he said, obviously disappointed.
“You left tracks in the snow. A child could follow that. Distort them or make other ones like you did with the tree branches. The best way would be to fly. No actual concealment skills?” Ilea asked.
“I have some ideas. Thanks for the tips. I’ll wait at the start.” Ilea nodded to his answer and flew back to the beginning, picking up another scent. There was a third one around that definitely belonged to Eve but it didn’t lead anywhere.
‘Easy one’s first, then they can train together...’ she thought and followed the trail of Claire. Two hundred meters into her search, she held her nose together suddenly and reduced her sense of smell as much as possible through the 2nd stage of her Sphere.
‘Clever...’ she thought and saw the runes carved into the trees and ground around her. Somehow Claire had created an area where scents were overwhelming Ilea. There were so many and they were so strong Ilea thought herself to be a dog trapped in the perfume department of a shopping mall.
‘I won’t destroy the runes. Let’s try another way then...’ she thought. There were no tracks in the snow or on the trees so Claire had used some form of flight or teleportation. Nothing she had used in their trainings before for sure. ‘She does have some control over wind magic at least...’
Ilea walked around the area and five minutes later found something peculiar in her sphere. It looked similar to when Eve had vanished. There was a spherical part of the world missing. And of course instead of a mini black hole, it was Claire. Curled up and surrounded by runes covering the tree and ground where she crouched, Ilea walked up to her.
“The smell distortion was great. I think most not so intelligent monsters with a keen sense of smell will fall for that. And were it not for my perception, the hideout would’ve been perfect. I mean if you were invisible to the eye as well.” Ilea said as the runes stopped their work and Claire got up.
“It’s the best I can do without the magic of the runes becoming too much to feel. A good balance is difficult. Congratulations on finding me, you’re the first actually.” Claire said and Ilea felt there was a bit of pride in the compliment.
“Having such a capable tracker in our team will be invaluable.” Claire looked around “Anybody else found already?”
“Kyrian is waiting at the beginning. I’ll go find Eve, don’t wait on us.” Ilea said and flew back to the start.
“Back already, found Claire then?” Kyrian asked and was answered with a confirming nod.
“She’ll be back soon...now...” Ilea said and concentrated on her surroundings.
‘The smell just...stops existing...’ she tried to find the exact place where the smell stopped. There were no tracks in the snow nor on the trees. Everything looked completely undisturbed. She would swear there were four people here and one vanished with some sort of teleportation skill.
‘She really is amazing...’ Ilea thought and focused on the smell or more the absence of it. Eve had some sort of ability to change the world around her, to make scent appear where there was none but she wasn’t perfect. Ilea’s Hunter skill was incredibly advanced and could detect even the smallest differences in the scents around her. Something felt off about the smell of wood in one specific direction so Ilea followed that.
Five steps later though she lost it again. ‘I have no idea where she is.’ she thought and checked around the starting area for the next thirty minutes. Her Hunter’s Sight advanced a couple times during that so she was sure she was doing, well something but at that point Eve never existed, at least that was what Ilea’s senses were telling her. Claire and Kyrian had started a movement exercise where they tried to tag each other. Really all playground games would be represented in their training, or so Ilea thought at least.
“I think this is enough.” the sudden and close voice of Eve ripped Ilea out of her concentration. The girl stepped out from her hiding spot on a tree. Only Ilea’s eyes and ears let her believe she was there.
“You’re invisible.” she said in both amazement and respect. Someone like that could sneak up on her, even with all her spells active.
“Not quite, look again.” Eve said and jumped down from the tree, landing and walking towards Ilea. The familiar disturbance of the air and scents around Eve were recognizable to Ilea instantly. It was still hard to see but there was something, something disturbing their surrounding.
“You see it don’t you. I simply cannot control everything around me while I move. There is too much change going on. The pressure on the snow and ground, the airflow around me, my scent mixing with the surrounding scent. I was lucky you didn’t just look up to me.” Eve said but it certainly wasn’t an efficient way to look considering there were thousands of trees in the surrounding forest. She couldn’t have known Eve was so close.
“You’re incredibly good though. Is there a way for you to turn invisible to the eye as well?” Ilea asked but Eve shook her head.
“Not yet at least but the mirages certainly help.” she answered.
“The leveling was good, not for you?” Ilea asked.
“Oh no it’s phenomenal, the concentration and combinations of skills I have to use to hide from you are great for getting the skills higher. I simply ran out of mana up there. You would’ve noticed me in the next five minutes.” she said and Ilea counted that as a win.
“What about meditation? I can keep the rest up with the skill activated if I don’t move too fast.” Ilea asked.
“I did keep it up.” she smiled and Ilea realized just how much mana the hiding skills of Eve demanded. The sweat on her face and her stressed breathing didn’t help either. At least it looked like that to Ilea as she was still hiding from her Sphere.
‘She’s beautiful...’ the random thought came to her head as she looked at the reddened cheeks of Eve and her brown eyes that held a tinge of green. ‘I’ll find out at some point...’ Ilea thought and looked to Kyrian and Claire.
“What do you want to do? I don’t think I’d be much of a help if we do the same as them.” Eve commented and Ilea had to agree. As well as Eve could hide, she was no match for Ilea’s speed and maneuverability.
“I don’t know. Mental Resistance?” Ilea asked.
“Sure, give me a couple minutes to get my mana back and we can start.” she answered.
“Can you turn it down Eve? We’re done and wanted to try something else.” Claire commented on the humming coming from the mind mage. Eve stopped immediately and looked towards Claire, both her own face and Ilea’s softening at the released strain.
“Ilea can we just join her and attack you? I wanted to try some things.” Claire asked and looked down on the ground, likely because of her earlier near murder of her teammate.
“Sure. I’ll stay here.” Ilea said and nodded to Kyrian as well who looked at her with a question on his face. Her Shroud of Ash came alive as her three teammates distanced themselves from each other to not get into one another’s ways. The humming started again and cursed needles soon joined the attack. Kyrian seemed to try and move them in the air. He was already progressing quite a bit from just the last day.
Ilea used her Ash Surge again and made the particles move around her. Whenever an attack from either Kyrian or Claire disturbed it, new ash would be produced. All of them seemed to work on their manipulation and clever usage of skills and not on pure power alone. This and the lack of movement made it possible for all of them to use Meditation while they trained and made pauses obsolete. At least for a while.
“How long do you guys need to sleep?” Ilea asked after a couple hours of this.
“Three or four hours is enough for me. I have ways to ignore it for a couple d… days if necessary.” Kyrian said.
“Around two hours. Every four days or so I need more, around six or seven.” Claire said. They looked towards Eve but she didn’t answer and just continued her humming. Ilea looked towards Claire and shook her head before shrugging.
“So we’re all fine to continue then. Want to grab some food soon?” she asked, looking at the setting sun. “Of course everyone should just leave if they don’t want to continue.”
“I’ll join you for dinner then but afterwards I’ll be off.” Eve said, breaking her previous silence.
“Sure. Same place as yesterday?” Ilea asked.
“M...maybe something c...cheaper.” Kyrian said and looked at her with intense eyes.
“Wh...ah...yes, sure. Anything you have in mind?” Ilea asked the man who nodded, glad she had understood.
“Y...yes, I do. It’s nice.” Kyrian said.
“As long as there’s food of any kind I’m fine. Wanna go now?” Ilea asked.
“Sure.” Claire said and the others seemed alright with the idea as well.
Eve excused herself right after finishing her meal. Ilea noticed that she had already consumed a high amount of alcohol before leaving but decided not to pry.
“I’ll have to do some things as well, do you want to meet up again later so we can train some more?” Claire asked, in a careful but excited tone.
“That’s perfect for me. An hour or two?” Ilea said.
“One is fine for me, how about you?” Claire answered.
Ilea nodded and looked towards Kyrian. “I’ll be waiting in the forest. Same place.” he said. The three paid for their food and left the small restaurant behind, going their separate ways while seeing each other off.
“That’s impressive. Thanks again for the deal.” Ilea said and made the prepared food vanish.
“I honestly wasn’t sure if you’d come today. Would’ve been a bloody waste of food.” Keyla said while drying her hands with a towel.
“Why’d you think that, and what do I owe you?” Ilea asked.
“Dunno, you seem like the kind of woman who suddenly vanishes for a month after making a weird deal with a cook. That’s two gold coins worth. Not sure about the advance you already paid though.” Keyla said.
“Keep it, here you go.” Ilea said and summoned two gold coins. “If that ever happens give the food away, it’s too delicious to waste.” she said it in a serious tone and got a nod from the cook, not one to antagonize a crazed warrior with an unknown level.
“I’ll be back tomorrow then if that’s alright?” Ilea asked.
“Sure, the place is pretty slow most of the time.” Keyla said. Ilea smiled and waved towards the woman before blinking away with her treasure safely stored away in her necklace.
Blinking upwards again, Ilea found herself on top of the restaurant favored by Eve and finally checked the notifications she had gotten during the day’s trainings.
‘ding’ ‘Azarinth Perception reaches 2nd lvl 14’
‘ding’ ‘Mental Resistance reaches lvl 14’
‘ding’ ‘Mental Resistance reaches lvl 16’
‘ding’ ‘Lightning Resistance reaches lvl 13’
‘ding’ ‘Lightning Resistance reaches lvl 15’
‘ding’ ‘Heat Resistance reaches lvl 18’
‘ding’ ‘Curse Resistance reaches lvl 6’
‘ding’ ‘Curse Resistance reaches lvl 8’
‘ding’ ‘Shroud of Ash reaches 2nd lvl 5’
‘ding’ ‘Shroud of Ash reaches 2nd lvl 6’
‘ding’ ‘Form of Ember reaches 2nd lvl 12’
‘ding’ ‘Ash Surge reaches lvl 15’
‘ding’ ‘Ash Surge reaches lvl 18’
‘ding’ ‘Ash and Ember Manipulation reaches lvl 17’
‘ding’ ‘Ash and Ember Manipulation reaches lvl 19’
‘ding’ ‘Ashen Wings reaches lvl 15’
‘ding’ ‘Hunter’s Sight reaches lvl 4’
‘ding’ ‘Hunter’s Sight reaches lvl 6’
‘ding’ ‘Eyes of Ash reaches lvl 19’
‘ding’ ‘Ashen Warrior reaches lvl 14’
‘ding’ ‘Ash Wielder has reached level 195, 5 Stat points awarded.’
‘ding’ ‘You have learned the General skill Blast Resistance – lvl 1
Explosions can be an unpredictable and chaotic thing. You have survived quite an impressive one to get this skill. It will help you negate the damage ever so slightly for the next time you chose to stand in one.
‘ding’ ‘Blast Resistance reaches lvl 2’
‘ding’ ‘Blast Resistance reaches lvl 4’
It impressed Ilea again how fruitful a single dedicated day of training could be if she had people to work with. At least speaking for her defensive capabilities. ‘I’m probably the one profiting the most as well, seeing how two to four people usually focus their attacks on me. More resistances and skills to train for me there...’ she thought. ‘I’ll have to find someone to train my offensive abilities on as well though.’
Ilea didn’t go for her room or towards the forest then but decided to fly out of the city and a little around the mountain. Some overzealous guards tried to shoot arrows at her but she simply ignored it. None of their attacks even managed to reach her after all. Clouds had taken over the evening sky and a light snowfall started to cover again what had been revealed by the sun or sentient activity throughout the day.
Ilea found a spot between some high rocks and checked her surroundings for a couple minutes. ‘Let’s see what happens then...’ she thought and mentally activated the 3rd stage of Blink. Ilea gasped as the mana started flowing out of her. She knew instinctively that she could stop the skill at any time but decided to go for it. Steadily her mana left her as the blue runes on her body intensified with light, shining even partially through the clothes not covered by her leather armor. Compared to the quick escape she had hoped for, the spell took a total of thirty minutes to activate. Ilea vanished just like when she blinked normally and appeared on the cliff above the ocean, exactly where she had set her 3rd stage marker.
“Awesome...” she whispered and touched the ground below her. A growl could be heard from near the cave entrance but the tiger quickly quieted down again once it realized who the visitor was. ‘So I can come here from wherever? And it takes half an hour and over half my mana… including mana regenerated. I should use Meditation next time while the spell channels.’
The view comforted her as it did before. The suns were nowhere to be seen but without the high amount of light pollution she was used to on earth, the stars illuminated the ocean in a spectacle of nature. She walked towards the ocean and sat down with her legs hanging over the cliff side. It felt like her whole being was calming down slowly.
‘I could just stay here and live off the gold I’ve already found...’ she thought and smiled. It wasn’t the idea that came to her mind but the simple fact that she was free to chose what to do that garnered that reaction. Ilea liked the new team of mercenaries she had found herself in and she enjoyed the trainings as well, including the change of pace they brought with them. It wasn’t as exciting as exploring the Taleen Dungeon had been but they would get to that again soon enough.
For now Ilea was content to level her skills and specifically her survivability before advancing in level again and exploring the world. Finding Keyla had been a blessing as well and she summoned one of the meals prepared by the woman to enjoy it combined with the marvelous view, thankful that she had stumbled upon the Azarinth temple what felt like so long ago.