Chapter 100 Mission
After having released the tiger, Ilea went back to her reading spot and continued where she left off. For the first time in three months she had more than just an hour or two to invest in reading and to relax. It was incredible how much the team had progressed and tomorrow they would have to prove themselves against an actual threat. Ilea was definitely more excited than nervous which left her not quite in a state to relax and read.
In the end she decided to eat in bed and maybe visit Viscera at a later point to enjoy some live music. She did miss the existence of headphones or even a radio but couldn’t find anything remotely capable of producing music that wasn’t alive. ‘Perhaps they have record players somewhere… maybe ask the librarian about it...’ the thought was interrupted by her enjoyment of the food. One of the reasons she considered the past months to be some of the best in her life.
The training was effective but her skill growth had been slowing down steadily over the past couple weeks. She was ready for some adventures again and tomorrow would see a start to them.
A cold wind was flowing through Ilea’s hair as she stood on top of the wall near the north gate of Ravenhall. The guards nearby seemed to avoid looking at her, likely a cause of her black elven armor and more importantly the black wisps of shadow occasionally flowing from it. They had no effect other than visual and Ilea was informed by the enchanter that one could easily disable it so the movement wouldn’t reveal one’s hiding place.
Her head was covered fully by the black helmet and the metal horns protruded a little to the side and then towards the front. The armor was heavy but Ilea didn’t notice much of a difference compared to the usual leather armor. She felt safe, safer than she had ever felt before when going out into the wild of Elos. When she calmed herself down with the knowledge that she could probably flee, she was now confident that she could at least give her team mates some time before they would have to retreat, even against something like the Basilisk.
Her level was of course nowhere near a monster like that and she had no illusions about killing one but her reflexes, her perception and resilience were nothing to be easily bypassed. Adding the rare juggernaut armor on top and Ilea made quite the convincing member of the Shadow’s Hand. Something to be looked at in awe by most of the population. She remembered that Jirayu the fire mage had been an impressive sight, nothing comparable to any member of her new guild. The top of humanity, at least officially.
Ilea was sure there were secret societies and noble houses holding some quite impressive members themselves but this was the general pinnacle of humanity’s strength and she had reached it. ‘Now to go beyond...’ she thought as a dark rogue with a black face mask landed softly next to her.
Eve had a smile painted on the mask in white and Ilea couldn’t discern any holes or a slit for her eyes. The woman wore black leather armor with metal pieces guarding vital points but she was certainly geared much lighter than Ilea. Both had a small pack on their backs that had also been dyed black. The few resources they took with them was a testament to their enhanced bodies, needing little to no sustenance to work for days and weeks.
Claire and Kyrian walked up to the gate, the man looking downright scary with his spiked armor now completely black. Some of the guards veered back a little even with their high levels. The Hand went out there and into the unknown. There was quite a difference between them and a high leveled guard.
Claire was wearing an armor Ilea hadn’t seen her in before. It looked somewhat heavy and had a long armored skirt that went further than her knees. With her sphere Ilea could see a lot of hidden pockets for runed plates, disks and stones inside the skirt. Her pack was the biggest, likely holding similar items within. Claire’s head was only covered by a hood and cloth, revealing only her eyes.
The last to arrive was Trian. He couldn’t resist putting up a show again and flew high above the city with his bright red wings of lightning, only to land next to Ilea and Eve on the wall, bending down in an exaggerated pose that wasn’t quite necessary considering the fall. Ilea knew that but the guards didn’t. She heard them whisper about him being the leader of the team while wondering about who they were exactly.
The noble wore an impressive looking black full plate armor that seemed both light and sturdy. Perfect for his high mobility but more geared towards defense than Ilea had expected of him. His helmet was black as well and reminded Ilea of a Greek warrior. Wisps of black smoke came out of the slit for his eyes as he moved himself to an upright position. Ilea would’ve clapped and joked about his dramatic entrance but she had to admit that they looked pretty scary.
She couldn’t help but be a little proud of the team as well. They had worked hard and today all their training will be tested. Considering it was labeled as a level one mission it likely wouldn’t be too much trouble but Ilea had learned before that an overwhelming advantage could quickly turn into a downright massacre.
Ilea looked down on Trian and couldn’t help but chuckle a little in the end. He had actually gone and put blood on his armor to get some red in there. ‘We’re not even on a mission yet...’
“I can smell you.” she said to the noble, motioning to the blood. “I hope you wash that off as soon as there’s nobody to see you anymore.” she finished and looked towards Claire. “Where to?”
Trian looked down on himself while Claire and Kyrian walked up to Ilea. “West over the mountain chain until we come to the Isanna desert. As soon as we meet the next chain of mountains we’ll have to slow down to find the specific town. It should be about a third of the way across the first mountain chain.” her explanation was easy enough. Ilea knew more or less where to go, having studied her own and some other maps along the way.
“I hope you know not to fly too high.” Claire said and continued, not getting an answer from Ilea “The skies do not belong to us. Never forget that.” she finished and Ilea took the advice as fact, knowing that Claire wouldn’t warn her about something trivial.
“Let’s go then.” Trian said and started hovering.
“How’s your flight Kyrian?” Claire asked the man and in response four metal spheres hovered out of his quiver that hung next to his pack. Two of them formed disks which he stepped onto while two of them he grasped with his hands. Slowly he started flying as his magic control of the metal pushed him upwards.
Ilea wondered why he didn’t just control the metal in his armor, she knew it was metal he had bonded with as he called it. She shrugged internally and decided it had likely to do with stability or speed. The man quickly flew to where Trian was waiting and twirled around in a steady maneuver, showing his apparent expertise.
“Alright you two?” Ilea asked and extended her arms a little.
“This is so embarrassing...” Eve muttered as she came to a stop next to one of Ilea’s arms. Claire stopped next to the other and nodded to Ilea.
“Then try to get a flying skill. It’s actually pretty rare to have three people in a single team able to fly.” the explanation did nothing to quell the feeling of Eve as they both grabbed Ilea’s upper arms. Dark gray ashen wings with lines of red fire in between formed behind the woman and started moving quickly thereafter.
The three people ascended slowly as Ilea got used to the weight. She would be slower but not by much, as long as the two didn’t move a lot. “Claire, hand your pack to Eve, I’m unbalanced.” she said, having her orders followed quickly.
“Why don’t you put everything into your ring?” Kyrian asked the noble hovering next to him but didn’t get a response.
“I wouldn’t want him to have my stuff...” Eve said as the three people carried by Ilea came to a stop next to their male teammates.
“Come.” Ilea stated and started flying westwards, her speed increasing steadily. Five minutes of flying later she found the sweet spot and continued on as Trian flew next to her, nearly at his top speed. Kyrian didn’t seem to have a problem keeping up but Ilea quickly noticed that any turns she did made him fall back a little. ‘Good exercise for him...’ she thought as she continued, concentrating on balancing the weight of the two people she was carrying.
The mountain chain both Ravenhall and Morhill were built on was left behind just two hours of travling later, a rocky but much lower terrain opening up before them. Ilea followed Claire’s notion and went down a little lower. The barren hills and rocks went on for another hour until they were slowly replaced by dirt and sand. Ilea could now see the supposed mountain chain in the distance but it would take a while to reach it.
The team was mostly quiet through the travel, either concentrating, excited, nervous or embarrassed. All of them had mostly fought alone up until this point and though they knew each other somewhat there was little actual trust. Especially towards Trian. Eve had outrightly despised the man and was now close to tolerating him. Ilea didn’t know how exactly she felt about the others but was confident enough in her own abilities to escape should worse come to worst, hopefully while carrying some of them out with her.
Three hours later the team finally reached the first mountain and paused to quickly eat and drink something. Trian had still not cleaned himself of the blood and Eve didn’t like that one bit.
“Fuck off, I’ll clean it when we’re there.” several illusions of Eve appeared after the remark was uttered, making some red lightning spark around Trian before the others intervened.
“Keep the heat for your actual enemies sparky.” Ilea said to the noble as her buffs flared up, the slit in her helmet shining with a subdued blue and red. Claire calmed down Eve in the meantime while Kyrian stood a little helplessly to the side.
“Let’s just move on. Nobly I’m sure you have water with you, nobody in that mining town will even know your family so give it a break. The smell of blood on you is gonna be a problem and you know it.” Ilea said, reasoning with the man who slowly calmed down. Glass bottles of water were summoned by the man including a cloth to wash off the blood. ‘At least he was smart enough only to put it onto the metal parts...’ Ilea thought as she watched the blood flow down and into the sand below.
The heat had increased a lot in the small distance they had traveled. It wasn’t an issue for any of them, heat resistance being one of the skills they had worked on at least a little but it was still noticeable. “The town is near the fourth mountain from here. We should be able to make it in half an hour or so.” Claire said, one of her hands resting on Eve’s shoulder.
Ilea couldn’t see below any of their helmets even with her sphere. A handy byproduct of the shadow enchantment but a little detrimental for her at the moment. At least there were no more comments for the rest of their journey but Ilea felt emotionally more drained than at any time in the past three months. Any tension they had was easily resolved by fighting each other, something a little ill advised in their current situation.
‘At least we’ll get something to fight soon enough...’ she thought as she slowly landed, seeing the supposed town in the distance. It was located in the valley between two of the mountains, surrounded by rocks and sand. Barely any green was visible from the elevated position they had landed on.
“That the town?” Eve asked as she stretched her arms and legs after hanging on to Ilea for the flight.
“It should be. Let’s find out.” Claire said, jumping down the slope and speeding up into a run. The others followed quickly, forming a vague formation with Claire at the front. The walls of the city weren’t very high and looked flimsy compared to something like Ravenhall. The guards visible on top of the wall formed a line as more and more of them appeared while the group got closer to the town.
A couple hundred meters around the walls was nothing but sandy rock. Claire slowed down to a jog and stopped around fifty meters before the wall, all of them clearly visible to the guards on top of the wall.
“They’re a… afraid.” Kyian’s comment was a little unexpected. They weren’t close enough to the city for the guards to be able to identify them.
“Why? We’re here to help them.” Ilea’s question got a condescending chuckle from Trian.
“They don’t know that. I’ll go talk and you wait here. If anything happens wait for my signal to interfere.” Claire said and slowly walked towards the gate of the city.
“What’s the signal?” Ilea whispered to Eve next to her.
“An explosion and flying bodyparts I assume.” Eve answered her in a similar whisper while shrugging.
The four people watched as Claire approached the gate and came to a stop around ten meters in front of it.
“The captain will soon be here. Wait until then.” Ilea made out the words of one of the guards even from the high distance.
“What are they waiting for?” Trian asked, obviously impatient. “They should be happy to receive us for fuck’s sake.” Ilea tended to agree, especially because the town had sought help from them and should know about it. She remembered how Aaron, herself and the group of adventurers who were trapped inside the Calys mine had reacted to the group of the Hand they had encountered.
“They are but they also aren’t.” Kyrian said, getting a quick look from Trian.
“Stop talking in riddles.” The noble said with a calm voice.
“The Shadow’s Hand appearing anywhere near you means they’re needed there. It’s a bad fucking sign.” Ilea explained, making the man shut up and wait. Ilea had missed if any further communication had happened between Claire and the town because of her teammates.
Two minutes of waiting later a new armored man appeared on top of the walls and promptly jumped down, landing in front of the gate and walking up to Claire. He shook her hand and talked too quietly for Ilea to hear.
Claire nodded a couple times before they shook hands again. The captain walked back to the town again, a blue fire exploding below his feet, propelling him to the top of the wall while Claire ran back to her team.
“Another team of adventurers went in two days ago and they haven’t heard back anything. The mine is in that direction, half an hour and up the mountain. We just have to follow the rails.” Claire finished, motioning towards a mountain side. Ilea couldn’t see any rails nor any other signs that there was anything nearby but she nodded nonetheless. No questions were asked and the team started running towards the indicated spot.
Five minutes later they came up on an iron railway, likely used to transport metal with a mine cart or something similar. Dust and sand was shot up as the team ran up the mountain, following the metal tracks until they passed some high rocks followed by an opening in the mountain. The sun was high and burned down on the armored squad of mercenaries.
“Let’s get some shade...” Trian said and took the lead, walking into the mine.
“What is he doing?” Eve asked and shook her head.
“Trian let Eve scout ahead, you’re here to deliver lightning and death, not die by going in alone.” Claire said, impressing Ilea with the subtle manipulation by complimenting his skills. He did in fact stop and motioned to Eve.
The woman walked up to the entrance as several illusion copies of herself came to life around her. Quickly they ran into the mine one by one. The rest of the team closed in on the girl and strained their ears to hear anything inside. “Stop the shadow enchantment.” Claire said, becoming unusually talkative when she gave commands. She had never led the whole team before but Ilea found her instant reactions and instructions to be the main reason whatever team she was on had won most bouts.
The others knew that as well and though this was their first actual mission together they all knew that Claire was good at it.
“The cavern is huge… I haven’t encountered anything so far but the illusions had to split into three different tunnels. Not a single torch is lit… it’s cold inside. Very cold.” Eve commented as her illusions advanced through the tunnels, going deeper and deeper inside.
“Dead end on the left…” she said “… what?” suddenly there was silence as Eve shook her head. “There is a corpse. It’s facing towards the exit with a pained expression on his face. He is armored, no weapon to be seen. He’s curled up as if he was in pain. I’ll go further in...” she continued.
“Death...” Eve said and staggered back a little. “My illusions in the central tunnel have faded, a last impression of death came to me...”
“Explain.” Claire asked.
“My illusions were sighted and attacked by something that caused death. I have no idea what it means, I’ve never encountered this impression. It’s… odd.”
“Spirits.” Kyrian said from the side. Liam had talked about them before but little was known about the creatures, only that they had a strong mental attack and were sighted in seemingly random places.
“Let’s go then. I hope your attack is stronger than theirs.” Ilea said and put a hand on Eve’s shoulder, grinned and walked into the mine.