Chapter 103 Mission accomplished
Claire quickly checked on the two as did Kyrian and Trian but all three continued to the silver skull still lying inside the still smoking hole in the ground. Nobody wanted to touch either the skull or the stone still shining from its corner in the cave. Eve was smiling so brightly Ilea was about to fall in love when the light around the Fae suddenly vanished and the creature flapped its wings. It quickly flew upwards and booped both Ilea and Eve on their noses, it’s eyes suggesting joy. Quickly thereafter the creature flew at nearly Ilea’s top speed out of the cave.
“There it goes.” Eve said in a wondrous tone.
“You let it go? Do you have any idea how much a living Fae could be sold at? I don’t even know about a sighting in the past ten years!” Trian commented from the side, getting an angry glare from Eve.
“Why would you capture such a beautiful creature?!” Eve shouted at the man.
“Why are they worth so much?” Ilea asked. She had killed plenty of living beings but the Fae did look like it comprehended more than the Drakes had. It didn’t attack her either so she had no reason to fight it. Of course some of her previous killings of animals could be argued to be morally wrong but it was mostly for survival purposes. Getting stronger in Elos was done mostly through killing and Ilea didn’t plan to die because she emphasized with the wildlife.
Trian seemed perplexed by the question. “I have no idea. They’re rare?” he said, getting a laugh out of Ilea.
“I didn’t think you’d be the one worrying about money. Maybe we can sell the skull. Claire how do we distribute what we find on missions anyway?” Ilea asked and walked to the group standing above the crater. Eve was still glaring at Trian but soon sighed and joined them as well.
“It’s not even slightly damaged…” Kyrian said as he looked down onto the silver skull.
“Well let’s see what it is.” Ilea said and blinked down towards it.
“If she’s the one getting cursed...” Trian said and shrugged. Claire didn’t intervene as Ilea touched the skull. Ash came to life around her and shook as Ilea screamed and went down to her knees as she held on closely to the skull. Eve rushed towards her as Claire threw runes into the crater but Ilea’s shuddering quickly turned into laughter as she got up and waved towards the group with the skull.
“It’s alright, it’s just a spooky skull!” she held the thing in front of her face as Eve skidded to a halt in front of her, slapping the woman hard.
“Shit head!” she said and stomped out of the hole and towards the glowing stone, muttering about immature idiots.
“That was in poor taste.” Claire said as she slowly descended and collected her runes again.
“Welcome to Ilea’s wild ride.” she said and flipped around the skull in her hands, looking into its empty eye sockets.
[Skull of the Wanderer – Rare Quality ‘A lost soul wails for salvation’]
“Well that’s helpful.” Ilea said and threw the skull to Claire who caught it with both hands.
“Yea we can sell that. Or we can get info from Dagon. Can you store it Trian?” Claire asked and walked towards the man, handing him the skull carefully.
“At least we can play ball now.” Ilea commented as she blinked out of the cave and towards Eve. “What is it?”
The woman just quickly looked at her and continued to focus on the stone. Ilea identified it as well with just a quick glance, not enough to get a headache.
“Soulshard ore. Well look at that, another thing I’ve never heard of.” Ilea said as she joined back with the others.
“My god can you shut up for fucking once.” Trian said in a tired voice, getting a smile from Ilea below her mask. She did feel a little bad, the man seemed at least somewhat on edge and she could read people enough to know that he wasn’t the only one with that opinion.
“Give me some food and I’ll shut up, I get cranky when I don’t get my snacks.” Ilea said and received a killing stare from the man who summoned an assortment of bread, meat and cheese and tossed it towards her. She caught it all with the help of some swirling ash before walking to the edge of the crater, sitting down and removing her helm. “Cheers.” she said and started eating.
“Do you think this will put the mission at level three?” Kyrian asked Claire who was staring at Eve.
“Perhaps. I’m not sure if the Wanderer qualifies as dangerous enough but I’ll start writing the report as soon as we’re back. To answer your previous question Ilea, whatever we sell is split through five. If we find anything that can help one of us that person gets it through voting. The others get nothing then, an effort for the team.”
Ilea just held up a thumb to the people behind her, the cheese was excellent. “Can you find a cart or something so we can bring the corpses to the city? Finish the food first.” Claire said and got another thumb in response.
“I’ll try to pull some strings as well to get the level three. Not like anybody would be against having us in the tournament. Joseph will put in a good word as well, I’m sure of it.” Trian said and summoned some food as well, teleporting to the other side of the crater and sitting down to eat as well.
“Got some more?” Claire asked.
“Not for you, just to shut up the kid. And as thanks, for getting us out of here alive.” he said, making Ilea choke on the meat she was chewing. He smiled at the coughing but stopped himself when she used her dagger to cut a hole into her throat, breathing a deep breath again. She poked around with the blade until she found the piece causing her so much trouble, removed the blade and healed the wound before putting the meat back in her mouth.
“You’re disgusting.” Trian said and she just winked at him. Claire sat down next to Ilea and happily received a piece of bread and cheese without asking, pulling down the hood and cloth on her face to eat. Kyrian went to join Eve at her inspection of the soulshard ore.
“That was pretty good teamwork today.” Claire commented and Ilea confirmed with a grunt. “Good job everyone.” the rune mage said before she put her pack behind her and lied down on it.
Ilea moved the last corpse they had found in the mine into the mine cart she had gotten from one of the other tunnels. No other enemies were in the mines. Eve had the theory that the soulshard ore was uncovered by the miners and drew in the spirits and ultimately the lost wanderer. Ilea closed the woman’s eyes before her and put a gray blanket over the cart before touching it for a moment.
Kyrian was watching in silence from a couple meters away until she opened her eyes again. “What did that mean?” the man asked her a minute later as they slowly pushed the cart towards the exit.
“A prayer to send them off.” Ilea said simply.
“The corpses? Send them off where?” the question sounded curious rather than insulting.
“I don’t know. Wherever their souls may go, if such a thing exists.”
“You don’t know yet you do it? Why?” he asked as they reached the entrance of the mine.
“My people used to do it. It’s a way to respect the dead. There are many ways to do it. Do you not have similar customs where you’re from?” Ilea asked as she rested the cart in a shaded part of the railway, the sun would increase the stench tenfold.
“I… I don’t know.” the simple answer was just fine for Ilea as the two walked back in silence. Claire and Eve had managed to remove the soulshard ore in the meantime and Trian stored it in his ring. The mine would be safe for any workers from now on. There was of course the question if more soulshard ore was to be found inside but that was not their worry.
The group walked back towards the town in the valley below as Ilea pushed the cart with the corpses. They walked mostly in silence but satisfied with their first finished job. It was certainly a warning but also proof of their strength. Ilea was happy with the team. Although leveling would be slower she now had a bunch of companions to talk to and fight with. Many strong foes she wouldn’t have been able to touch were now at least approachable.
It was fun as well. More so than she had anticipated. She could still fight with her full power. The explosions and lighting around her just added some nice special effects she could enjoy. And it would of course decrease the time needed to finish off a foe. Ilea wasn’t sure where to go after they had finished their half year but right now she wasn’t completely against staying with those people, or at least seeing them from time to time.
As the railroad ended, ash was summoned and formed new rails leading towards the city. A good way for Ilea to get more comfortable with her newfound level of ash manipulation. This time the gates to the town opened after they had shown the guards the inside of the cart. The city life seemed to grind to a halt around them as a group of guards escorted the group of mercenaries towards the nearest guard station. People looked at them as if they were aliens, many focused on the ashen rails created and broken down below the rather huge mine cart. Whispers filled the streets and more and more people came to look at the group but a couple minutes later they were behind another set of walls inside the guard station.
Claire went with the captain to discuss both payment and the circumstances of the mission. A group of guards took care of the mine cart and carefully laid out the corpses before covering them in thin cloth.
“What happens if the team of Shadow mercenaries don’t come back out either?” Ilea asked as she looked at the process. She leaned on the side wall that was around two meters in height, removing her helmet.
“You’re not supposed to reveal you face.” Kyrian said “I heard a member talk about it before.” the second part was added after her got a stare down from Ilea.
“Plenty of places where we don’t come out either. Just considered lost. And if whatever’s in there comes out the nearby town either gets demolished or is relocated. Or maybe it can be held off with whatever authority is willing to send an army.” Eve explained, looking at the scene just as solemnly.
“Enemies like that are rare.” Kyrian said, likely meaning the strong mental attacks that made it nearly impossible for anybody to flee in the first place. A quick reaction isn’t enough against an instant shutdown of one’s processor.
“How long do you think she’ll take?” Ilea had smelled interesting food on the way to the station and was positively starving. It was hard to maintain her secret storage necklace now more than ever.
“Feed the tank.” Trian grunted at Eve’s comment, obviously said towards him.
“We could also eat where the guards eat. Maybe have a drink as well. To c… celebrate.” Kyrian’s suggestion was met with a shrug from Eve and a smile and thumbs up from Ilea. Trian didn’t comment on it but followed Ilea none the less. She was quickly given directions by an intimidated guard but her revealed face probably helped a little in the process.
The four soon sat on a table outside of the guard canteen, shaded from the sun with some ale and food. Ilea was pretty sure the kitchen was closed at the moment but being part of the Shadow’s Hand brought some special privileges. Not like any of the station’s occupants looked to be very busy anyway.
Ilea was happy to get food and the others joined in as well, a happy and quiet dinner. “Hey Trian, have any cool noble house stories for us plebs?” Ilea asked while chewing some dried meat. She was happy to find the place had olives. It lacked some oil and garlic but she hadn’t seen olives in Elos before.
Trian was playing with the mug of ale in his hand. He moved his helmet up to take a sip and let it fall down again. Eve had removed her mask and even Kyrian made his helmet vanish.
“Did you attend balls? Any interesting marriage proposals?” Ilea tried to lighten the mood a little but didn’t expect to make the man choke with the question. “Oh so that’s a yes, do tell. Did she look horrible? Was it a guy?” she leaned in and continued in her best conspiracy voice “You loved her but the house wasn’t powerful enough… your parents said no. Tragic, so now you’re here to gain strength so that you can follow your true love.” she finished proudly and sat back, finishing the piece of meat.
The man just stared at her through his helmet. “But she was captured and is held now by your father, the only way for her to be released is for you to marry someone else...” Eve joined in and grabbed a couple olives. One of the guards brought some cheese as well, getting a quick thanks from Ilea.
“I disliked the balls. You wouldn’t believe how many women there can’t dance. All of it is a political farce, one person trying to impress the other. It’s a game they play while there is a world out here to get strong in. Territory to win back from the terrors that now call it theirs.” the outburst was fueled by quite a bit of emotion and Ilea was quite impressed.
“You feel we should fight back against the elves? Take territory back?” the man finished his ale in a single long drink.
“Not the elves, fuck them. They can keep their forest. We have plenty here but all we do is sit in our walled off cities, living off of magically grown plants when we should be out there.”
“Most people prefer the safety of walls.” Eve said, flipping an olive upwards and catching it with her mouth. Ilea was impressed but quickly remembered that stats existed. She copied the move and was disappointed at how easy it was.
“Most nobles do as well. Killing captured animals to gain levels and classes at an early age. A disgrace. They...” he stopped then, looking around as if somebody was listening in. Eve and Ilea had started somewhat of a competition and the olives flew higher and higher.
“Well you’re doing a good job of being out there already. I’m sure a couple people that saw us will become adventurers soon.” Ilea commented, activating her buffs to catch the thrown olive.
“And die like those in that mine...” Eve said “Walls aren’t bad and most people don’t want to fight every day of their bloody life.” the conversation died again and so did their competition, the supply of olives having reached their end.
“What we do helps a lot I think. The mine is now back in the town’s possession.” Kyrian said and got a nod from Trian. Claire joined the group a moment later and took a seat on the table. The same guard that had brought the cheese put down another mug of ale for the woman.
“Thanks.” Claire said.
“No worries… my brother was in there you know. He died in that mine I mean. Thanks for killing whatever was in there.” the guard said and nodded to the group before he went back inside.
The group didn’t stay for long but decided to remain in the town for the night. It was getting dark and flying back at night wasn’t in Claire’s plan. “At the gate we entered, tomorrow midday.” the woman said and got up “Good job today, I’m glad to be in this team.”
“Same, good calls Claire.” Ilea said and everyone else nodded. It seemed they had settled a little, their personal differences pushed back by the need for professionalism. Anything else meant death and today proved as much again.
“You weren’t half bad either. No idea how I would’ve gotten those heavy guys out there without your help.” Eve said and smiled, getting a chuckle from Kyrian.
“The armor IS very heavy.” the man commented and fondled one of the spikes.
Ilea spent the remainder of the day and most of the night exploring the city. The others had joined her at first but left to do their own things or sleep one after the other. The last to leave was Eve. Ilea felt a little like stalking the woman but even though she wouldn’t have gone through with it she quickly found that Eve had vanished. Impossible to find within the still rather active city. The climate was rather warm considering it was actually winter.
The proximity to the desert likely influenced the weather around the town but it still seemed a little weird to Ilea. It wasn’t that far away from the snowy mountains to the east. She somehow ended up in a theater underground where a bunch of actors reenacted a tale involving bears and a princess. It had some surprising twists in it that Ilea quite enjoyed, combining that with the brutality and dark jokes that were added it was quite a spectacle to her and she tipped them quite a bit for the play.