Chapter 98 Statistics
Ilea blinked around Kyrian as usual and tried to find a gap in his defensive line of metal. More and more Ash was released to wards the somewhat stationary man, making it hard for him to see the moving target. Occasionally an arrow was loosed both towards Kyrian and the runes on the ground around him. Even with her high amount of Curse Resistance it was a massive detriment to enter his domain. Combined with the high amount of spheres still hovering around him it meant nothing else but death.
An important lesson that every member of their team had learned in the span of the past three months was that Ilea didn’t quite fear death as much as she probably should. ‘There it is...’ she thought and blinked into the curse rune and close to her target. Ash whirled around her foot as her kick connected, the formed spike of ash cutting into the unprotected back of Kyrian’s knee with added Wave of Ember and Destruction spells.
The spheres expanded and cut deep into Ilea’s protections, drawing blood on both her face, leg and side. She ripped away from the metal and blinked backwards in the same time Kyrian buckled on his injured knee, catching himself with an arm on one of his spheres. A mist of needles followed Ilea’s last position but she was already lost in the sea of dark air, heavy with ash.
Her wounds healed in seconds while the shroud of ash around her closed even quicker. Another arrow was loosed towards the man and this time the deflection led the spear directly into the runes on the ground below him. Their effect wouldn’t vanish immediately when the runes were disturbed but it would weaken over time. The curse’s effect on Ilea was already waning as she circled in the air around her defensive opponent whose only attack was the hovering needles and spheres of metal traveling through the ash, trying to find something to connect with.
Azarinth Hunter Sphere combined with Ilea’s speed and perception were too much for such a tactic to bear any fruit. The flying metal was simply a small obstacle course for her to overcome with flying and blinking before she would inevitably arrive again to deliver her deadly payload of destructive mana and physical force. Kyrian had formed spheres around all his joints, making him both more protected but also more immobile.
A tactic he had used against Ilea with more and less success before. Her answer was simple arrows at first but as time went on so did Kyrian’s perception and speed of both movement and manipulating the metal around himself increase. Her attacks would be deflected in the last moments, bringing the fight to a stalemate.
Even though his defensive spheres could take Ilea’s fully powered punch, there was one thing they didn’t quite manage to block. Ilea blinked in behind the man, spikes forming around the spheres closest to her as parts of his armor loosened to pierce her as well. Two spheres moved to intercept her and expanded into discs when a black obsidian gauntlet materialized on her moving fist before impacting on the defensive measures put in place.
A loud clang resounded through the hall as metal spikes impacted Ilea’s shroud of ash, the needles coming from behind deflected by her wings. Some of the metal managed to pierce and draw blood while cursing the target but while Kyrian managed to partially pierce Ilea’s defenses, the heavy fist crashed both metal disks together and landed them right on his back, putting all of her enhanced body’s strength combined with the weight of black obsidian into one punch.
Kyrian remained standing, stabilizing himself on two metal spheres before Ilea vanished again. Seven more of the same encounters happened in the next thirty seconds, each of them ending in more damage to Kyrian while she simply healed the damage done to her. Not enough time was left for the metal mage to orient himself against the assault. The last punch was too much for him and with an awkward angle, Kyrian couldn’t stabilize himself against the force anymore.
The impact of the fist shot the man forward through his own field of metal spheres, one of them impacting his head and ending his flight rather quickly and with another impact on his back. Ilea knew how much he could take but this hit would be the end of their fight. He would still put up an impressive defense even while lying injured on the ground but it was only a matter of time for her to push through, she had proven that many a time before.
“Over?” she asked and got a painful groan in response, all metal clattering to the ground around her. Ilea concentrated and all the ash in the air around them slowly came downwards before the floor was covered in a dark gray carpet. She blinked to the man when his helmet vanished. Iana had added the feature but informed them that the whole armor sadly wasn’t possible with her skills.
Blood came out of his mouth and he looked at her with pained eyes. She touched his face and pushed her healing mana inside of him.
“Well done.” Trian said from the side as everyone clapped for the two. “Another one for the healer.” he said with an added layer of mockery in his tone. Something Ilea gave up on removing, probably too ingrained with his being. She sat down on Kyrian’s armor and finished healing him in the next minute or two. His back was severely injured and she doubted the man could even stand if he wanted to. He was ill suited to fight her but Ilea knew that it came down to her Ash Surge and Curse Resistance. Without either the fights would turn out quite differently.
No Ash Surge meant a more even field and Kyrian had even managed to win a couple of those fights against her. Against Trian it looked a little different, both for Ilea and for Kyrian. Ilea lost over half her fights against the noble but she was catching up slowly, especially since reaching the second tiers of her Ash Wielder skills and Lightning Resistance. Kyrian on the other hand won nearly every fight against Trian. The lightning was easily deflected and Trian had no way of countering the curse, even with his high mobility. Neither did he have a way to shroud Kyrian’s vision as Ilea’s Ash Surge did. And lastly he lost if he simply went for an attack like Ilea did. His vampyrism didn’t quite counteract the damage Kyrian’s metal managed to dish out.
“Nicely done Ilea. It’s still impressive to see someone able to punch through Kyrian’s defense. He might even be a more efficient tank than you are.” Joseph said, nodding to both of them.
“Only until he gets hit.” Eve said from the side and giggled, getting an annoyed grunt from Trian. The noble was likely annoyed at his inability to land exactly that first hit and that a simple punch of Ilea managed to land while his lightning did next to nothing.
“Those gauntlets of yours are still frightening to me...” Claire said. The woman had refused any help offered from Ilea regarding new specialized gear from Balduur. She had at least met with Iana to discuss enchanting and her runes but that was it. The woman usually sat behind her defensive domes while she summoned explosions around herself or tried to trap her opponents in a dome themselves. Everything about her had improved but considering everyone else didn’t stand still either Ilea considered her the second weakest one on one fighter in their team.
Whenever they would split up and fight each other the team with Claire usually won though so there was that.
“Why didn’t Kyrian get that metal?” Eve asked, helping the man up after he was completely healed by Ilea. Claire summoned a bunch of wind to clean the ash away while they talked.
“It’s too heavy. The manipulation skill doesn’t negate weight.” Trian explained, an interjection he likely wouldn’t have made three months ago. Ilea was glad he at least started interacting with them somewhat normally. “The only reason this brute is able to wield it is because of her storage bracelets.” he said, getting a smile from Ilea.
“Aww, are you still mad that somebody else has storage items?” Ilea asked, making him lift his hand but put it down quickly after. He shook his head and visibly tried to calm down. ‘At least he learns...’ Ilea smirked and punched her fists together. “Who’s next?”
“Actually I have some info on your job that starts tomorrow.” Joseph said, calming the mood down a bit.
“Yea I have some questions as well, most importantly we’ll be back for the tournament right?” Eve asked. The woman had been going on about it for the past four weeks already and the others were mostly ignoring it. Claire was the only one sharing the enthusiasm and talked about opportunities for new tactics and seeing other teams fight.
“About that, that’s the reason I’ve been somewhat absent from your trainings in the past two weeks but as you were training outside of the designated time anyway it’s no matter. It starts in two weeks so you should be fine. The job is a simple monster extermination in a silver mine north of the Isanna Desert. About three weeks travel eastwards with a caravan but I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it back in time.” Joseph explained, handing Claire a piece of paper.
“Is that all we have to go on?” she asked after looking the piece over and even checking the backside.
“That’s more than many usually work with. The Shadow’s Hand isn’t called for a weak or known enemy.” Joseph said, crossing his arms in front of himself.
“Four teams of adventurers already went in and nobody came back. One of the teams was twenty people strong, their leader at level 150.” Claire checked through the information again.
“How long you think we need there?” Eve whispered to Ilea, standing next to her.
“Half a day? Not sure, you’re pretty heavy.” Ilea whispered back and got a joking punch to her side, ignoring the whispered threat of murder.
“We’ll be careful and if we can’t handle it we can just leave again or get reinforcements. Pay happens after completion.” Kyrian commented and Joseph nodded.
“We never get swindled?” Ilea asked, smiling.
“Oh they try. We have a certain… reputation when it comes to that.” Joseph said and mirrored her expression, a rather rare sight on his face. Ilea nodded in understanding.
“When do we leave?” she asked.
“You can go tomorrow at dawn. This is also somewhat of a test, not that this is necessary for you but know that half of new teams lose at least one member on their first three missions together.” Joseph said, putting a bit of a lid on the excitement of Ilea.
‘Well 83.4% of statistics are made up...’ she thought and tapped her leather armor. She would wear her elven one tomorrow for sure but still wouldn’t reveal her storage necklace if not absolutely necessary. Thinking of armor she had another question for Joseph.
“Will we get the cool black mist armor everyone has? We’re going out after all aren’t we?” Ilea asked.
“An enchanter will take care of that tomorrow. The armor is your own and we will add the effect to it. Don’t worry any previous enchantments will be unaffected, there were zero cases so far where the enchantment caused any problems. Oh and we will have to dye your armor black. I hope nobody has a problem with that.” Joseph continued. The group looked at Trian who was already chewing on his lip.
“Don’t worry nobly, black plus the blood of our enemies equals one combination you wear every other day, right?” Ilea joked but it seemed to make something click in the man’s mind.
“You’re right. We’ll have to find something to kill quickly then. Wait no, I can just buy blood.” the noble said out loud, making Eve shake her head.
“You shouldn’t worry about style when it comes to actually dangerous situations.” Eve said with mockery in her voice.
“You wouldn’t understand.” came the immediate response but Claire managed to distract the two with another question.
“The runes we saw in Eregar’s Haven?” Kyrian and Eve strained their ears at that.
“I informed the responsible people and was told they were preparations for the tournament.” Joseph said “I didn’t get anything else and don’t look at me like that. I know what you said but even one of the elders is a summoner so he would know what he’s talking about. Perhaps it’s a new challenge for the contestants. There are new ones every other year after all.” Joseph finished, a little overwhelmed by Claire’s worry.
Ilea had asked Claire about it and the answer was simply that she had a bad feeling about the runes. Not quite enough to do anything substantial. Ilea was reminded of her corporate days in the fast food chain and how customer complaints were redirected up into the responsible office somewhere far away and likely straight from the printer into a shredder. A really nice shredder though so the customers would feel appreciated.
“The golden shredder...” Ilea mumbled and got a confused look from Eve.
“I hope there are no shredders...” the whispered response in turned confused Ilea. They hadn’t learned about a shredder in their monster knowledge classes yet after all.
The rest of the day went more or less just like the previous ones did. First the team fighting with Joseph which consisted mostly of bouts and resistance trainings between the members and then team tactics lessons which consisted of more bouts but somewhat more strategic ones. Trian had started joining them after the first month came to an end and his seamless integration into Claire’s planning and trainings left both of them in a positive light.
They had learned to move as a team, at least in practice. Some rare occasions for team fights had presented themselves inside Eregar’s Haven but little had come of them. Every time the fights had to be stopped early because someone got heavily injured. Both in team 34 and the others. Ilea at least was never one of them, proving to be rather resilient even against people of similar destructive power to Trian.
Those encounters were rare as though there was a sizable amount of people in Viscera, the Haven was vast and most teams kept to themselves. With the tournament coming up that would surely change.
“So are you all going to join the tournament?” Liam asked between teaching them about the previously mentioned shredder after Eve had insisted Ilea learn about it. Ilea had to agree that the name fit the descriptions rather well. Little would be left to bury should one encounter such a mass of bladed fury.
“We don't plan to.” Claire answered the question. Though Eve had talked excessively about the tournament that happened every three to six months for members of the Shadow’s Hand, the thought of joining never seemed to come up. Ilea already smiled as she saw Eve’s eyes slowly open, an idea forming inside of her mind.
‘Wha if???’ Ilea thought and chuckled when Eve uttered those exact word a couple seconds later.
“What if we Do join?” it apparently seemed like a revolutionary idea to her and Ilea couldn’t deny that she itched to fight some interesting classes. The only negative part was that she had to hold back. Not because she wanted to kill them but holding back was definitely harder than losing oneself in fury and blood. At least in her opinion. It did help her grow in skill in the past three months and she found some additional respect for Claire and Trian who had the firepower to end any other team member except for her in but moments.
At least that had been true two months ago. All of them had brushes with death but that was nothing new to any of them.
“You really want to join? I sure would like to show them what we’ve got.” Trian agreed with Eve for once. If anything got him to participate it was to show off. He probably even meant his shiny robes and not his skills. Definitely not the other members of his team.
“You won’t be the spotlight you know?” Ilea smirked, lounging in her seat but definitely amused by the situation.
“You don’t think so? At least everyone will be able to see me compared to your black dirt cloud.” he said nonchalantly, only a faint sound of mockery in his tone.
“Good, they’ll know to fear me.” Ilea said and felt like his immature behavior was rubbing off on her. She shook her head and decided not to contribute anything else to the conversation, lest her edge cut through the chair she was sitting on.
The others didn’t seem to take it as a joke. At least until Trian snorted. Eve clapped her hands together before he could retort though. “So it’s three to two! We’re joining the tournament.” she exclaimed.
“We can’t join the tournament.” Claire said, sighing at the whole ordeal. “We have to get permission from Joseph and we have to successfully finish a level three mission.”
“What the hell’s a level three mission?” Ilea asked, breaking her resolution not to say anything else in but half a minute.
“It’s a categorization and we’d never get a mission at that level for our first one.” Claire explained.
“How do they categorize it without knowing what the hell’s in that mine?” Ilea asked.
“It’s math, complex algorithms and complicated risk analysis put together with veterans evaluating the missions.” the explanation sounded like a heated poker player explaining to Ilea why the game had skill involved. Perhaps it did but what she knew after going into the Taleen dungeon’s throne room was that deep caverns in Elos were about as predictable as the success of crypto currencies.