Chapter 105 Don't fear the old blood
The whole group of armored combat veterans in the room looked forlorn towards their healer and tank who was happily eating the soup in front of herself. Glances were exchanged before Claire was left with the task to hold the interrogation, a burden of the team manager.
“So you’ve been listening to us?” she asked the man who looked at the scene with big eyes. These people were a squad of the legendary Shadow’s Hand. They had come to his village and now he was caught spying on them. One misstep could cost him his life.
“I have...we...we’re sort of the guardians of the village...me and a couple o… others...” he managed to stutter out, not looking at any of them. Trian placed the unconscious woman on a nearby table.
“Why spy on us then, we’re here to find out what happened in the village nearby, not attack you.” Claire’s question was asked with much more confidence than the first one, seemingly committed to the interrogator role she was pushed into.
“H… high level adv… mercenaries like you c… can be a threat...” he was sweating by now, answering the question. Ilea looked at the man and though him to be younger than even herself.
“Why would we be a threat to a village in the empire?” Claire asked, leaning towards the man.
Ilea had finished her soup and held up the empty plate to the innkeeper who was watching on with focused eyes. He noticed her and nodded before he came and got the plate.
“Th… there are rumors… about the h… hand I mean.” the man said, shaking a little by now.
“We’re not going to hurt you if you just tell us why you were spying on us?” Eve interjected in an annoyed tone.
“I… I s… said already...” the man covered down, trying to protect himself with his hands against the masked mage next to him.
“Oh man this is bloody useless.” Eve said, getting up and walking towards the door. Ilea blinked to Eve and whispered to her.
“Can’t you fuck with his mind or something?” the woman asked but Eve just stared at her with anger in her eyes. She quickly calmed down again and shook her head.
“You obviously don’t know better but no. It’s unreliable and destroys the brain most of the time. People have tried. People still try and it’s fucking disgusting. I swear whenever I hear somebody say it works they just destroyed so much whoever they’re interrogating just isn’t there anymore. No.” she turned around and opened the door but Ilea blinked in front of her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know about that.” she said and locked eyes with Eve. “I know I can be a bit dense sometimes...” she said, mostly meaning her lack of common knowledge about Elos. She had five hundred intelligence points and believed her humor to be on point, either of those things must at least mean something.
“It’s...” Eve started but then shook her head. She lifted her hand to put it on Ilea’s shoulder but stopped half way there when Ilea just hugged her. Eve’s hands were hovering behind Ilea before she embraced her too.
“What is this, did you two realize you came from the same gutter?” Trian asked as he walked up to the two. “Don’t look at me like I pissed in your drinks.” he switched to a whisper as he got closer “This feels wrong, something’s wrong here. What do your guts tell you?” he asked and Ilea definitely agreed.
“The hand has a reputation but I’ve never heard of it having a bad one. High level people can certainly be problematic, I have to agree there. Maybe they’re just a suspicious bunch?” Eve suggested but Ilea didn’t quite feel the same way.
“Maybe but the way they were staring out of their windows after we landed. Plus they could’ve just come into the inn, declaring that they would have an eye on us. No reason to be shady.” she explained. “The guy is needlessly afraid. We’ve not been hostile towards him and our strength alone doesn’t warrant that reaction… at least not in most cases… I think. He has something to hide.”
“I agree, Eve don’t you think so?” Trian asked catching the woman a little off guard.
“Maybe, let’s find out then.” two clones of her emerged and ran out of the door.
“I’ll check around too, back in fifteen minutes or so.” Ilea said and nodded to Eve who walked out of the door with her.
“I’ll stay, shout if you need something blown up.” the lightning mage said and walked back to his seat. They had no intention of torturing the two people they had caught but there was no reason not to check the village quickly before they went to their actual target.
Eve was out of sight rather quickly and Ilea didn’t invest any concentration on tracking the woman any further. She simply looked and felt her surroundings. Both Hunter’s Sight and her Sphere let her perceive irregularities, hidden traps and pathways but nothing had come up after the hidden library sector in Salia when she had actually gotten the skills.
The village consisted of less than twenty buildings, all of them mostly wooden. Most of them were covered in snow at least to an extent. Ilea walked through the muddy streets while the inhabitants went their usual business, her plate boots squashing into the wet ground. The woman was wearing her helmet again, no reason not to wear it now that she wasn’t eating anymore.
Everyone that came across her path tried very hard not to stare at her. They would turn their heads or glance at her whenever they thought she would not be able to spot them. Ilea did see them however and she tried to read their expressions and what they meant.
After walking around for twenty minutes, Ilea had checked every single house but none of them showed anything different than what one might expect from a home in a village like this. Hearths, food and beds mostly. Tools for farming and fighting with some rare books and staffs. Neither did Ilea’s senses alarm her of any hidden pathways but she wasn’t very sure about how that part of the skill really worked.
Hunter’s Sight at least was amazing at finding people, not particularly good at finding something unknown. Either that or there simply wasn’t anything here. There was of course a possibility that the man had told the truth and they were simply worried about the squad coming to the village. Ilea shrugged and made her way back to the inn to check with the others. The suns pushed through and made the winter day rather splendid to look at.
‘I wonder how this whole season stuff makes sense with two suns...’ she thought. Winter was slowly coming to an end and while it had been rather long it was nothing extraordinary compared to the ones she had experienced on Earth. She took in a deep breath of fresh air and thought about spring. It would mark the first full cycle she had been in Elos while not trapped inside of a temple basement.
Ilea reached the inn a moment later and blinked inside to find everybody else sitting on the same table. The two people they had caught sneaking around weren’t anywhere to be seen anymore. Kyrian looked towards Ilea and nodded.
“So everybody’s back then. Did you find anything Ilea?” Claire asked but received a shaking head from the approaching woman.
“Same as everybody then. Well we’re already wasting time and let’s be honest, we would’ve gone to the other village one way or the other.” their team manager said and got up. Ilea noticed that the innkeeper wasn’t in the inn. A shame for the lack of food but probably instigated by one of her team mates. The Official couldn’t be seen either.
“Some more information would’ve been helpful.” Trian said and sighed, getting up in the process “But you’re right, let’s go then.”
“Eve you’ll scout it out with your clones. Let’s take some time to make sure we’re not walking into a trap.” Claire said, the group prepared to leave and stored their packs at the inn. At least everybody but Claire, who was quite reliant on the prepared runes in hers.
Ilea couldn’t see anybody near the windows and the villagers walking around were trying hard not to look at the group. “Let’s go on foot, it should be that road.” Claire said and nodded towards one of the dirt roads leaving the village, quickly covered by snow again. The others followed as they walked and then ran along the road. The slowest members with Claire and Kyrian ran on the road itself while the others hid themselves a little in the forest next to it.
Fifteen minutes of sprinting later they could make out houses in the distance. Claire stopped them with a gesture and went to the side of the road as well. At this point the road was so small the trees above touched, even with the snow weighing them down.
“Ilea take us up, we’ll get an aerial view first. Eve send in some of your clones. Try to turn every stone you can.” Two copies of Eve appeared when Claire had stopped talking and started making their way through the forest and towards the village. The actual team flew upwards and out of the trees to get a better look at their target.
Coming out, the suns painted a rather clear picture of the small village that consisted of five houses only. One of them was rather big and built mostly with stone instead of wood. “Is such a size even sustainable?” Kyrian asked and Ilea thought about it.
“As long as they get necessities from the other village or further out, they’re fine. Not like these forests are very dangerous.” Eve explained.
“I though any forest is dangerous...” Ilea mumbled and got a look from Eve.
“Well if the villagers go out alone and unprotected, then maybe. Most monsters around here wouldn’t invade a human settlement. The meter of stone wall around the village is deterrent enough.” the explanation of Eve made sense but considering they were here because no info came from the village it probably wasn’t as safe as Eve made it sound.
“I’m entering the village now. The wall is similar to the one in the other village. Houses are barred and I can’t slip in anywhere.” Eve commented what she saw with her clones.
“Can’t you try to open the doors?” Trian asked.
“No, I can’t go through solid objects and I can’t interact with them either. The door of the main building is a little open, I think I can get through the slit….” she paused for a couple seconds before continuing. Ilea tried to spot what was happening in the village but it seemed the door of the stone building in the middle wasn’t visible from this angle.
“Alright I’m in… there are corpses there. One… two… five or six. Shredded apart, I would say a clawed beast of some kind but then again aren’t most?” Ilea stared at the woman that was holding onto her arm and then looked back towards the village. What had she seen that she can talk about a scene like that so calmly? Of course Ilea had seen her fair share as well since coming to this world but Eve seemed downright resistant.
‘Maybe Mental Resistance has something to do with it?’ she thought when Eve continued.
“Found a somewhat hidden pathway in the cellar. All doors were open. Pure stone at this point and a lot of runes on the entrance. I assume the… they’re activating. The runes are glowing red. I think I triggered something.” just then the air around the stone building started fluctuating a little.
“What’s that?” Ilea asked.
“A barrier of some kind.” Claire answered. “Is the clone still there?”
“They are, I’ll go further in to see. The other clone is hiding upstairs, maybe I can find out more if whatever is in there comes up. The barrier seems to be around the full building.”
Trian flew a little closer as his eyes started glowing red. “That’s bloodmagic.” Ilea looked around at the different reactions but didn’t really know what that entailed.
“Explain.” she said and Trian turned back around.
“Well it’s magic fueled by mana, blood and life energy. Generally frowned upon but somewhat common in the noble circles. Why it’s not completely outlawed. You can use your own blood but you can also use other’s to fuel some spells and rituals. Less effective but if you have enough corpses...” the man explained.
“It’s going in pretty deep, that’s not just a hidden cellar or anything. There are several levels. Oh that’s disgusting...” Eve chimed in again between Trian’s explanation “Yea someone’s been rather liberal with their sacrifices.” her voice turned cold, something Ilea hadn’t heard from the woman before. “Animals and people, at least a dozen in total. Still no enemy in sight. There are cages but all of them open and empty.”
“Down another level...oh here we are...ok that’s one clone gone. Some sort of wolf and human abomination. Can’t use identify with them so that’s all I got. They’re fast but it took a while for them to notice me even though there was only one way to go and they were looking at me directly. Wait...yea they’re already in the main room upstairs. Furry, around two meters tall, long arms with clawed hands. They’re trying to sniff me out. Good luck with that.”
“Scouting done then.” Claire said. “Let’s go and find out what else is in there.” The others nodded and the group flew right into the village, landing in front of the house.
“They heard us and went down again. Wait let me check...” Eve said as the group approached the barrier around the house.
“How do we crack that open?” Ilea asked, trying to touch the barrier.
“I wouldn’t do that, we have no idea how it will react.” Claire said and unslung her pack before she looked through her runed plates. “This one maybe...” she thought but then put the thing down again. “Blood magic...” she took a bunch of plates and handed them to Ilea. “Distribute those evenly around the house please. First one of those and then at the same place but further away from the barrier these.” she showed her the different plates and Ilea nodded, taking them and blinking around the building to place the runed plates as instructed.
Coming back to the group a mere ten seconds later Trian gave her a look. “Gotten faster? From the mine yesterday?”
“Yea, hit 200 on my second class. You’re gonna be fucked in our next spar.” she said and smirked below her helmet as ash came into existence around her, forming a sinister whirling cloud around her.
“Congratulations, then I won’t have to hold back anymore.” the man said but Ilea was quite sure he hadn’t been doing that, except maybe for some spells that he thought would’ve endangered her.
“Make yourself believe that sparky...” she said as another barrier thrummed to life around the house. This one golden, nearly white in color. One of Claire’s defensive barriers to be sure.
“We have to get in you know, not make it even harder...” Ilea said jokingly, smiling at what was to come. A dull thrum resounded from between the two barriers as the space was filled with fire. Another one followed and another.
“How do you know yours won’t break but the blood magic one will?” Kyrian asked, looking towards their rune mage.
“I have preparations for different magics. My own explosion magic I know the best, thus my barriers for that are the best.” Kyrian nodded at the answer.
“Yea, remember that one time she nearly fried me?” Ilea asked and saw Claire gulp. “I told you it’s fine. That was an impressive barrier, at least against your own explosions.” the thrums didn’t stop until a louder sizzling noise could be heard.
“It’s down, let’s go and find out if we can take them. I’ll keep the barrier ready and if they overwhelm us we go out and close it.” Claire said as Ilea walked to the door, kicking it open with one smooth movement. All her buffs were at the max and her Veil of Ash formed around her.
The stench immediately hit her and the downright shredded people were not a pleasant sight. She stopped for a second and gulped down before walking onwards, her eyes glowing an icy blue below her helmet and the smirk vanishing from her face. She could perceive the way down into the cellar perfectly and made her way there, the team following in formation. One step on the now white stone staircase followed the next before she came out into a room painted in red.
She didn’t have time to really take the view in as two massive werewolves immediately were upon her. Ilea stood still before in the last moment she blinked in between the creatures to grab their arms, stopping their movement and knocking them together in the now empty space where she had stood. Trian teleported further into the room while the others spread out as well. Ilea started pumping destructive mana into the beasts, making them howl.
[Wolfbeast – lvl 183]
She didn’t let go of the animals even when they started clawing at her with their free arms. Two spikes of metal entered their chests then before lightning came down on the creatures, quickly ending their lives. Ilea wasn’t phased by any of the attacks, only the lightning damaging her slightly. She let the creatures fall down as the fight messages came to her mind. No level ups to any skills or classes as expected. More importantly Ilea perceived something else in the room.
“Someone survived.” she said and blinked towards a pile of flesh and corpses. The stench was disgusting but Ilea ignored it, grabbing a corpse and throwing it to the side.