Chapter 104 Another settlement needs our help
“What do you mean they didn’t give it level three? We nearly died!” Claire was a little lost at Eve’s outburst at the news. The woman had received the money from the guard captain, receiving a thanks for recovering the bodies. The discussion with the Guild had taken her only fifteen minutes but as Ilea heard with her Sphere, waiting outside the room the reason the mission’s level wasn’t risen was simply because the enemy mostly used mind magic.
A one dimensional threat, dangerous yes but nothing that would constitute raising the mission’s level. Ilea was pretty sure whoever rated the missions simply didn’t want anybody to question them but quite frankly she didn’t care that much. Eve was the one who really wanted to get the level three mission so that the team could join in the tournament.
“Don’t worry, we still have nearly the full two weeks to get a level three. Claire did you get us some more missions?” Ilea asked, patting Eve on the shoulder. More to keep her from going in there and murdering the person Claire had talked to than to console her.
“The mission was a success and we’re now all considered full fledged members of the Shadow’s Hand. I think we’ll get badges but Joseph will have to handle that. Honestly I didn’t think you’d want to get another mission so quickly.” she checked the paperwork she had received and looked to all of them.
“Took us a day to finish that one, why not get some more? You guys need the money.” Ilea said, getting a chuckle from Trian but he didn’t seem to disagree.
“Sure, m… might even be better to fight together more before the tournament.” Kyrian said and Ilea shrugged, both looking towards Claire. Ilea wasn’t quite sure everyone thought of her as the team leader but she was definitely the team manager already.
‘Thank fuck for that...’ she thought, looking at the stack of paper Claire was carrying in her arms.
“We won’t be able to just get a level three mission. I can look for anything located in Lys that is level one or two. Maybe we’ll be able to get some missions.” Claire said, the papers nearly falling out of her hands when a metal disk hovered below the papers, expanding to hold them in place.
“Thanks.” the woman holding the papers said and glanced towards Kyrian.
“Get more than one mission, three to four then we don’t have to travel back every time.” Trian said and continued “More training before she’s done? Blasting spirits isn’t quite as satisfying as attacking humans.”
“Fucking psycho.” Ilea said in a mocking tone, only getting an eye roll from the man. It was getting harder to annoy him every day. Maybe he got a direct Resistance skill to her comments, or perhaps it was classified under Mental Resistance. A mystery that Ilea likely wouldn’t solve in the next months or years to come.
“Let’s go then. Same place as the last two weeks. Claire come get us when you’re done.” Eve said, still sounding a little annoyed at the whole situation but it was the only solution they had at the moment. “Why are these stupid requirements even in place?” she said as the group descended downwards. Ilea had managed to get some food from the street vendors in Viscera, some of them knowing her already, running up to her with food already in their hands. She would buy, every single time.
“So that the casualties stay as low as possible.” Trian answered the question “I know of more than one fighting ring, some of them noble only. Trust me a requirement like that is good for all the participants.” he said and stared at the moving wall of the elevator shaft. Ilea looked at him but then shook her head.
“Makes sense...” Kyrian said “If they would just let us in we’d murder everybody.”
“Did you just make a joke?” Ilea asked and chuckled.
“I’m learning from the best.” this time Trian audibly groaned at Kyrian’s response, giving Ilea a big smile on her face. The day wasn’t lost after all.
Claire pointed at three specific parts on the map laid out in front of her. “These are the locations of the three missions I could get. I’m getting the feeling that we won’t be getting a lot of info on any of these. All of them are level one sadly.” she looked towards Eve who was grumbling under her breath. Ilea chuckled at one of the more original swear words.
“You still think the ratings make sense considering how little they actually know?” Ilea asked in Eve’s stead.
“Somewhat, yes. To raise the level there needs to be an identified threat. If a shadow’s hand team is sent and doesn’t come back it’s immediately level three. If it’s unidentified and in a territory not known to inhabit high level threats, it’s level one. Also why those missions are usually not very popular, even for the Hand.”
Claire continued as nobody else interrupted “The first one is a village nobody has heard from since three months ago. Some people and adventurers went to investigate but they haven’t returned either. Right here.” she pointed again to an indistinct part of the forest a couple hours of flying time north west of Ravenhall. “The second one is likely a Harpy Queen near Damwell. The adventurers who were sent did not manage to advance through the cliffs but reported the high pitches cries of the harpies, indicating a nearby queen. The empire apparently doesn’t want to waste resources so the city sent a request our way.” this time there was a small city painted on the map with the name Damwell underneath in neat handwriting.
The city was at the sea, so quite a while from the first mission’s location. Considering their ability to fly, it wouldn’t be as much of a travel nightmare than it would be for most people. “Last one is a newly discovered ruin close to the coast here...” the map didn’t show anything but water.
“In the water?” Ilea asked, her tone a little more serious than before.
“Possibly but there are massive rock formations going into the ocean. Likely caves, water might be an issue but I have some runes to deal with it. Trian should be quite a bit more effective too. Apparently there are a lot of traps inside, none of the adventurers who went in have managed to find even a single monster so far. Over twenty have died already. The adventurer guild has sent a request in to minimize further casualties.” Claire finished explaining and rolled up the map before putting it into her pack. “No time limits or anything but the sooner we leave the sooner we’re back.”
“Well let’s go then.” Eve said and shouldered her pack. They were all still in the same gear they had arrived in just two hours earlier. Well rested and itching for more.
“The village over there? Is that it?” Ilea asked, looking at the small dots of houses in the distance, surrounded by trees.
“Should be the contact the empire has listed. Or it’s the abandoned village already.” Claire said but as they got closer Ilea could see people moving about.
“Those don’t look like monsters.” Eve said, holding on to Ilea’s right arm.
‘They’re getting suspicious of me...’ Sally thought, spotting at least two people looking at her from the comfort of their homes. The village had treated her as an outsider from the first day of her arrival and it was bloody miserable. They wouldn’t sell her any of the good food and her lodgings were laughable compared to what she was used to in any town with more than a hundred inhabitants.
‘Sometimes this job bloody sucks...’ the woman thought, pulling her coat a little closer towards her chest and grabbing the mug of ale sitting on the table next to her. At least they had alcohol here and a somewhat steady supply of goods.
“How ya doin Sally?” the innkeeper came out into the cold air to talk to her as he had many a time before in the past weeks. “Still nothin? Aventures stopped comin eh?”
It had been six days since the last group of adventurers tried their luck but still nobody had returned. Neither she nor the empire made them stop trying. The pay got up after every failed attempt after all and if one of them managed, the empire wouldn’t have to pay themselves. The guild would. Sally couldn’t care less about who managed to find out what happened to that god forsaken village if only she could leave this place already.
The gold she constantly carried on herself didn’t help in the least to make the uneasy feeling go away. The villagers likely wouldn’t try something but she wouldn’t be the first official to be murdered in their sleep. Why they stopped sending them out in teams was a complete puzzle to her but then again having one person murdered instead of two was a smaller loss. The woman sighed and finished her ale, handing the mug to the innkeeper whose name was still unknown to her. A testament to the level of trust these villagers showed towards an imperial official.
‘The only reason these savages haven’t looted me dry is my high level...’ she thought and smirked at the thought of them trying something. It would be the first time she would be attacked by citizens of the empire but she mentally dared them to try, ready for anything.
In the next moment a group of armored adventurers landed in the middle of the square Sally was overlooking. Snow and earth was flattened as the people landed from their way too speedy descent and the woman was gulping as she looked at the team of high level mercenaries slowly rising from their crouched landing positions, checking the village while lightning crackled around one of them.
‘Menacing...’ she thought. This was actually the first time a group of the hand had shown up for a job assigned to her. So far it had been other mercenary groups, independent adventurers or even squads of empire soldiers.
“That’s probably her, she’s the highest level around.” a hooded woman said while nodding towards Sally. She gulped again and slowly got up.
‘They’re like anybody else...’ she thought, looking at the question marks above the people’s heads and feeling the sweat build despite the cold wind flowing through her hair.
Ilea looked around the village and locked eyes with at least four people trying to get a glance at the group from their barred up windows. “Are they hiding?” Ilea asked, honestly confused. They likely hadn’t known about their group’s arrival which made the whole thing a little suspicious.
“Well apparently there’s something happening in the nearby village so it’s only reasonable for them to be on edge.” Eve said and started following Claire who was already advancing on the woman she had talked about before.
“We’ll find out soon enough. Come.” Ilea shrugged and followed Eve after the comment. Trian and Kyrian did the same, the noble’s lightning still crackling sometimes.
‘Is he trying to impress the people here or send a warning?’ Ilea thought but didn’t comment on it. As long as he wouldn’t outright murder random innocents he could do with his lightning whatever the hell he wanted to. The woman had gotten up but looked a little shaky on her legs, perhaps she was already drunk. Ilea looked at the mugs on the table next to her.
“Greetings. You must be the Lys official.” Claire held out her hand and shook the woman’s hand who answered the greeting.
“Greetings back. I didn’t expect a Shadow squad mistress.” she said and even bowed a little to Claire before continuing. “I am the official if you are here regarding the missing reports from the village to the west.” Ilea chuckled to herself at the downright glorification with which the official treated Claire. If she knew their team leader’s social capabilities she probably wouldn’t try that hard.
“You may call me Claire. I’m here with team 34 of the hand and yes, we’re here related to the village. Can we talk inside? And may I quickly see your badge for confirmation?” Claire stood there and followed the woman inside a moment later. Ilea wasn’t quite so sure about her judgment of Claire’s social skills anymore but shrugged and followed. She stopped next to the door and looked at the man who tried to make himself invisible, not quite as effectively as Eve used to do.
“You the innkeep? Do you have food and drink?” the man nodded and Ilea got a couple silver coins out of her pack before she handed them to the man. The others were already inside by that time. “For everybody if you would.” Ilea said before going inside as well.
The inn was illuminated in a warm light by the hearth on the left side of the room. There were only a couple tables but all of them made of good looking wood. Something Ilea still appreciated whenever she saw it even after a year in Elos. They didn’t really have anything else but it still looked very nice. Claire was already talking with the official about the circumstances of the village they were currently in and the one they had lost contact with. The wood creaked as Ilea walked to the table and finally sat down next to Kyrian.
Removing her helmet, she thanked the innkeeper as he put down a couple mugs of ale and some water. “We’re not going to be here for a long time you know?” Trian said but still grabbed a mug for himself.
“The half hour won’t make the difference anymore either. We’ve been bloody rigorously training for months now, let’s at least relax sometimes when we’re on missions.” Ilea said. Kyrian looked at her a little confused from the side.
“Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” he asked in a whisper before Trian waved his hand in front of the two.
“Listen to her, might be the difference between living and dying.” he said and looked back towards Claire.
“So you basically know nothing more than what we already have. No scouts went in to investigate and returned? No survivors coming back?” Ilea looked at Trian before she rolled her eyes.
‘Vital information...’ she thought as she took a deep drink from her mug. The innkeeper arrived with food then. Bread and a warm soup with potatoes and meat, likely bacon by the smell of it.
“Wonderful, thank you.” she said and smiled at the man who returned the gesture. Ilea noticed in her sphere that there were two villagers who had stopped near the walls and now listened in on the conversation. At least that was the only logical explanation, maybe they were just lovers of stone walls or they found a rare insect.
“What about this village? It’s by far the closest other settlement. They must have at least known some of the people. Anything suspicious or interesting there? Did anybody from the other village come here?” Claire asked before Ilea blinked next to Trian, getting close to his ear.
“Look there. Exactly behind that wall. A guy listening in, get him and bring him inside. I’ll get the other one. On three...” Ilea whispered, only Eve looking at the two. Counting to three, Ilea appeared behind the villager who stood outside the wall.
[Mage – lvl 72]
‘Seems pretty high for a small village in the outskirts of an empire...’ she thought and moved in on the man who hadn’t noticed her thus far. Her hands reached around him before she put one of them before his mouth. He immediately tensed up and tried to look around as magic formed around him. Ilea just held him there.
“Think twice before you do something stupid.” she said in a quiet voice. The magic vanished again and with it the heat coming from the red orbs that slowly dissipated.
“Now why don’t we have a quick word inside.” she said “You try to run or shout I’ll smash your skull in, alright?” she asked and smiled at him as she let go of his mouth. He turned to look at her with fear in his eyes. They had seen the squad arrive and he probably knew the risks of spying on them. Ilea motioned for him to walk to the back of the building where another door was located. Trian walked around the other corner with a woman on his shoulder.
Ilea saw with her Sphere that the woman was still breathing. Quite an advantage of lightning magic and a testament to Trian’s control over his powers. The man didn’t just have high skill levels, he was naturally talented at it as well. Ilea had an idea what would happen should she hit someone’s skull to knock them out. Brain damage would be the least of her worries.
“Please open the door.” she said to the man in front of her who shot a glance towards Trian and gulped before opening the door.
“What are you doing??” Claire exclaimed. Their whole squad was standing and ready to fight but quickly calmed down as they saw Ilea and Trian bringing in two villagers. Ilea noticed the innkeeper swallowed but kept quiet otherwise. The official seemed confused first and foremost.
“These two were spying on us. I’d like to know why.” Ilea said as she pulled back a chair and sat down the man, getting back to her own and continuing her meal. All eyes were on her as she started slurping her soup. She stopped and looked up.
“What are you looking at me for. I found them, I suck at interrogating.” she continued to eat while checking the surroundings with her sphere and listening closely to everybody in the room.