Chapter 96 Survival
Snow was falling heavily now. Three months had passed since the elven attack on Dawntree had started and the land of Elos was covered in white. Sulivhaan stood on top of a mountain overlooking the city of Ravenhall. ‘Hello old friend...’ he thought as he looked upon the stone walls of what he considered to be home.
The defenders at Dawntree had managed to lure some of the elves inside the city and finished them off at great cost. Both property wise and with human life. None of the highest leveled people in Dawntree or his squad of the Hand had come to substantial damage but as soon as one trapped an elf inside of a human city, it will not fight honorably against the defenders.
Two weeks after his arrival the elves had turned back. Immediate discussions among the Dawntree nobles sprung up as to why the elves had come and gone but Sulivhaan didn’t intend to find out the enemy’s reasons. He had already wasted enough time of his life to figure that out and what he learned was sobering to say the least.
Whatever elf was sent to the front-lines was either a marvelous actor and liar or simply didn’t know anything about the plans behind the attacks. After so many tortured creatures Sulivhaan had come to accept the latter. The elves would not easily be understood and their plans would not leave wherever they had their military bases. If such a thing even existed. Perhaps some of the theories were right and the species was simply fueled by bloodlust and simply lived for the fighting and killing.
The attacks were too coordinated though and with the decades of experience Sulivhaan had he just couldn’t accept something like that. He was tired, tired of fighting an enemy that didn’t seem to take humanity seriously. How could they? Whatever rabble they send to die in the human cities don’t even know anything about their plans. The young sent to test themselves against a worm they didn’t even consider worth fighting.
With the infighting and squabbles over land and policy that color the lands of humanity it didn’t come as a surprise either. Sulivhaan was sure that most people would sell their neighbor to an elven torturer for a single coin of gold. ‘These are dark thoughts.’ Sulivhaan forced himself to smile. He was home and though many of the surviving elves had remained inside the human territories it would only be a matter of time until they were hunted down by elite forces of both the hand, the adventurer guild and the kingdoms and empires looking to improve their soldiers and standing.
Many had declared the destruction of the western cities as unprecedented but Sulivhaan had considered their colonization as risky at best. Many of the cities were built and left behind previously but just as much as an innkeeper doesn’t care about the monsters luring inside dungeons, a pioneer leaving an overcrowded human city doesn’t care about the history behind his next home town. Living in ignorance and safety is something deeply ingrained inside humans and in times of peace this feeling got stronger. People look towards others for safety and find not their own strength and fire to be the one fighting back.
Sulivhaan hoped that through the thousands of dead some will find their own fire. To stand up and show Elos what humans were capable of.
“Getting teary?” Rock had finally climbed the last bit of the mountain and was now standing next to the squad leader. No answer was expected and Sulivhaan was glad that he had his squad to rely on. Even the new member who had been added to their team before they had left Ravenhall for their long mission had grown quite substantially. The rogue was standing quietly nearby, a quality she had learned from Navalis to be sure.
The ranger was nowhere to be seen but he knew she was close enough to fire an arrow should it be necessary. That was who she was and he accepted that. Not one for people.
“Let’s go.” Sulivhaan said and started flying towards the city, the two members behind him following on the ground. ‘I hope you haven’t changed too much Viscera...’
“Do I h… have to?” the pleading eyes of his daughter didn’t dissuade him.
“This is part of getting strong Lily. I’m truly sorry that you have to do this so early but it’s the only way we will survive.” Roland was holding down the dying beast he had fought against for the past twenty minutes. It wasn’t usual to get a class before the age of sixteen but Roland had heard of enough cases to try. It was cruel he knew but he felt it the best way to prepare his last surviving daughter for her life in this cruel world.
Two months ago they had been let inside one of the outer cities in the Kroll kingdom. Luckily the refugees weren’t robbed immediately, mostly thanks to Valery and of course the hundreds of other refugees flooding the town. Salia hadn’t been the only city which was attacked and it wasn’t the only city that held survivors. Survivors who didn’t quite felt like staying inside the now monster infested fallen cities.
“Do it Lily, it’s a monster and it would do the same to you in a heartbeat if it could.” he appealed to the girl with logic and was glad to find she followed through. The blood colored her black dagger a deep crimson as the smell filled her senses. The beast continued to struggle but he didn’t let it slip from his hold. The cut had been thorough and the level 90 horned lion would bleed out in mere minutes.
Roland would find a safe place to sleep for the girl soon and he would hunt more of the lions. Neither him nor his daughter would ever stagnate again. Even if she didn’t get a class early he could teach her to hunt, to fight and to survive. Killing was simply a part of it. Of course he wouldn’t be so cruel as to have the girl fight a human or beast with a high level of intelligence but there was enough she could learn from him.
Staying inside a city filled by refugees with inflated prices for even the most basic of goods wasn’t going to be very helpful for her. Roland slowly let down the dead monster and closed its eyes. Removing the dagger from its neck, he cleaned it on the beast’s fur before handing it back to Lily. The girl was still staring at the dead animal with slightly teary eyes. An experience that would stay with her but a necessary one.
“You did well.” he said and handed the clean knife back to her. A gift from Ilea. He wasn’t sure if they would’ve died inside that hideout or if a stray elf would’ve hunted them down were it not for that squad of the Hand and Ilea herself who knew where they were hiding. He saw it as another chance. To make things better, to not live as carefree as he had before, traveling around with a family safe behind a city’s walls.
A loud growl sounded too close to him and Roland’s eyes blinked open, his hands on his axes and immediately on his feet when the beast was upon them. ‘Couldn’t hold back could you...’ he thought as the monster pounced on him, his axes cutting into the beast’s shoulders as its claws dug into his leather armor. The two fell down, the monster’s weight resting on his axes and its claws ripped through his protection, drawing blood.
The beast suddenly jerked to the left, giving Roland enough control to rip out the right ax and smash it into the lion’s head. Another two hits and the beast lay dead on top op him, bleeding onto his face. He received a couple messages from the fight but ignored the new information in his mind, using his full strength to push away the carcass. A frightened girl appeared behind the dead beast, getting closer to check on her injured father.
Roland reassured her that he was fine, checking his injuries himself. ‘A day at most...’ thinking on the time he would need to heal. Less if he found anymore beasts to kill. He looked back to Lily, who was wishing her hand before her face with confusion apparent on her face.
“Good job, you saved me Lily.” Roland said and got up before he hugged the girl tightly.
“D...dad there is something here, there was a noise and now there are words I can read...” the girl said and he hugged her even tighter, smiling to himself. She would have a head start after all. He hoped dearly that this was the right decision, thinking on their portion of the Salia gold in his pack. A new life to build somewhere far away. First they had to improve, at least enough to fight back against the world.
‘ding’ ‘Lightning Resistance reaches 2nd lvl 18’
The message reverberated through Maria’s mind, ripping her out of her meditative state and reminding her that she was still alive. ‘Another one...been a while...’ she thought, opening her eyes and looking at the mage before her. Blood dripped down onto the cold stone ground below, lost in the permanently crimson colored cell floor.
Her face reacted automatically to the levels of power used in her tormentor’s attacks, distorted in a grimace of blood and pain. Only that there was no pain. She had reached the second stage of Pain Tolerance a long time ago and to her confusion and luck somehow not even the noble houses of Lys knew about what exactly it did. She repressed the smile threatening to show on her face as she did many thousands of times before and simply waited through the ordeal, her only solace being the resources lost in this endeavor.
Another hour or two and an interrogator would join her to ask the same questions she had denied knowing anything about four years ago already. They would learn nothing today either.
“You wanna go to Red’s later?” one of the mages in the room asked his colleague who was currently draining Maria’s steadily recovering Mana. She had become resistant enough that two mages with the ability to drain mana had to be placed in the room at all times. Not a questionable decision considering her abilities. Still she was surprised that nobody had come to finish her off. Four years and nothing. Either they were too scared of Edwin and wanted to have her as a bargaining piece or someone involved in her upbringing still pulled some strings.
Either way Maria was bored most of all. She swore long ago that if she ever got out she’d form a cult worshiping the Meditation skill. The only reason she hadn’t gone nuts in all this time.
“Nah, you know I’m married now Steve, I can’t do that shit anymore. Stop asking me, I’m sure some of the new guys will want to join.” the other mage responded a little delayed, sweat on his face from the constant use of his draining ability.
“Ah you bore...can we switch soon, I wanted to level my attack magic as well.” the first guard said and looked towards the lightning mage standing in front of Maria. He nodded and stopped his attack, motioning to the healer sitting nearby. The last person in the room.
The woman did her job silently as she had many times before with this prisoner and others. Well paid work after all. Maria knew there was more to the woman though, seeing the excited quivering of her lips under the brown hood.
“We can switch, sure. Don’t think you’re gonna be the one making her talk.” the lightning mage said and cleaned his blood stained hands. Some of the attacks had been a little more violent.
“I tell you she doesn’t feel pain anymore...” the first mage said and stepped up before Maria, grabbing her hair and pulling her head up to look into her eyes. “You’re not feeling anything anymore, are you? I tell you she’s been dead for a long time. Good gig to level, I’m gonna join the adventurer guild in another couple months.” the mage said, making another one in the room laugh.
“You’ve been saying that for years. Don’t fool yourself, you’re too much of a coward to actually go out there. Even if you get all your skills to the second stage down here.” the second mage said.
As predicted an interrogator joined Maria soon after. To her delight he was more into hitting her than talking to her. Some quiet after the previous group talking about their miserable lives, the only actual torture she had to go through in this hellhole. Luckily this one didn’t yet decide to rape her as many had done before. Every single one of their faces was engraved in her mind. Every healer, every torturer and every interrogator. And most of all the rare visits by someone better clothed than a beggar. They were the ones responsible for her situation and the ones that would pay dearly should she ever get out.
Just when she thought the interrogation had ended and she would finally be left alone for a couple hours due to staff shortage in the prison, two steps resounded behind her.
“What do you want?” the interrogator asked, wiping his big arms clean of all the blood, wincing back at an injury one of her teeth had caused. She had read him quickly enough and angled her head well enough to cause a bit of pain in return. One of the few upsides in her days.
The person in the room with them walked closer to the prisoner, ignoring the mage draining her mana and the healer standing nearby. “I have a certain interest in this woman.” Maria’s eyes shot open and she fought with her whole will to stop herself from tensing up. Luckily her hair was hanging in front of her face, not revealing the only visible reaction she had shown. Her heart started beating faster and she made it slow down. One of the many things she had learned to do inside the prison.
‘It’s him...’ she thought, waiting with her whole being in anticipation for the next words from the man.
“I’d like to have some...privacy. If you all understand...” he said and the sound of appearing coins could be heard. They were flung towards all the rooms occupants in painful slowness. Luckily the practice was known well enough and Maria had been on the receiving end of the bargain many times before, at least in the first two years.
“Have your fun noble. You know the dangers I hope, this one’s apparently above 200 and dangerous. Not that I’ve ever noticed any fight in her...” the man said, chuckling and moving her head around violently while grabbing her hair.
“How long do I have?” the man said and touched her back.
“Ten minutes max, the spell’s effects lessen after and we don’t want anybody injured.” the mage draining her mana said and stopped his spell, putting the coins into his pocket before leaving the room. The healer followed when the interrogator decided to punch her one last time, removing three of her teeth. Considering the healers they probably had a full room of her bones stored away already.
“Knock before you come in if you will.” the man said and turned, watching the interrogator leave.
As soon as the lock closed, the man walked around her, coming to a stop before her face. He grabbed her hair and hit her hard in the stomach. Maria coughed. Another hit and he closed in on her face.
“Can they listen?” the question came with a third hit and all of Maria’s tension broke. She quivered in her restraints and played her part.
“No, they only watch.” she whispered her reply.
“Foolish, I would’ve put you on watch every second of every day.” the man said. “Are you still in there?” he asked, slapping her hard, moving her hair out of the way. Their eyes locked as her head moved back and Maria’s lips strained to not move upwards.
“Same as the day you left Edwin.” she said.
“I expected nothing less. Someone I met on the road told me about the second stage of pain tolerance. How boring was it?” Edwin asked, testing the restraints around her and continuing to hit her occasionally to keep the image up.
“Like you wouldn’t believe. What’s the plan?” Maria asked, realizing the young man she had fallen in love with so long ago had grown not just in height but also in strength. Level 218 to be exact.
“No runic traps either, just like the sources confirmed… you go on my back and hold on as best as you can.” Edwin explained, making Maria a little annoyed at the fact that he didn’t involve her but considering the circumstances it was understandable. “I’m sorry...” Edwin said and Maria couldn’t stop her tears anymore.
“You will hit me for this. I was never meant to see you cry.” he said and tried to wipe away her tears. “Come, you’ve been bound long enough.” the man said as two swords appeared in his hands, the steel restraints holding her in place shattered in an instant and Maria found herself falling. The world stopped before she was caught. Looking up she was staring at the back of Edwin’s head. Her hands and legs moved around him to secure herself as best as she could. Every muscle in her body ached from being used again after such a long time. What irritated her the most was the smile on her face. It felt wrong but she couldn’t stop it as Edwin got up from his crouch, his swords brandished the man stepped towards the door, a red mist forming around his body.