Chapter 107 Everyday Life
Sally had watched the squad of the hand leave the village and felt the gazes upon her heavily. For once it didn’t seem the people watching her were after the money she hid in her heavy coats. ‘I hope they come back alive...’ she thought as she turned to grab her drink that had been untouched for a while. She had left the mercenaries to interrogate the two people they had found spying on them and returned to the inn as soon as they were done.
The innkeeper was acting a little tense now after the squad was through but if it weren’t for the constant bad feeling she had inside of this village, she would’ve attributed that to simply being in contact with a shadow squad. ‘I need to get the hell out of here...’ she thought and finished the drink.
A couple hours later a group of villagers burst into the inn, some of them looking at her but they didn’t seem too concerned by the woman. She was a couple dozen levels higher than anybody in the room but if they would gang up on her it would prove to be a difficult fight. She read the mood and respectfully left towards the top floor and her room, mostly to not end up in a fight.
What the group downstairs didn’t know was that Sally had exceptional hearing, coming from her second more stealthy class. Standing still near the stairway, she strained her ears and listened in, if only to be able to flee should the need arise.
“...they have entered the main hall.” one of the men said in a hushed but aggravated voice, clearly not handling the stress as well as he should be.
“So? Many have done the same and so far nobody has returned. Trust in the Father.” Sally found herself a little surprised at the innkeeper’s words. Except for a little tension she hadn’t felt anything from him. A good actor. She wasn’t quite sure who this father was supposed to be but it was quite clear that this village was the reason for all the missing adventurers who went to investigate the other village.
Sally wondered how the empire had even been notified about the missing people in the first place but shelved that thought for now. She was in danger for sure and the only reason the people likely hadn’t looked for her already was the bigger threat of the shadow squad.
“Yes we know but nobody has entered the same way… they broke the barrier Hollum!” the last part would’ve even been heard by someone without enhanced hearing. It was the same man speaking but more voices skipped over each other now, trying to get their opinions in.
“It was a mistake, a big mistake… I’m gonna leave. You do whatever you want.” one of them said and stormed towards the door but was stopped by one of his fellows.
“Don’t get cold feet now, we’ve been in this together Karl.” somebody else said but then the room fell quiet as Sally heard the door open and someone step in. A quiet step. She could feel shivers form on her back and her skills activated as she waited on the top of the staircase.
“Welcome back. So have you found the...” the innkeeper started but was interrupted by the sound of someone humming. Sally stepped back one step and then two as she listened to the eerie tune, the sound of a blade cutting through flesh and blood dripping on the ground was quickly added, finally followed by the presumably falling corpses that hit the floor. Not a single word was uttered by any of the people downstairs until the humming stopped. Sally had her hand on the handle of her sword when the same humming voice came from below.
“No need to be afraid officer.” it was one of the mercenaries and Sally found herself unable to let go of her sword. Concentrating on it she finally released her tense hand and released the buffs she had cast upon herself. ‘No stupid moves now or you’re dead...’ the thought came to her mind as she steeled herself and walked downstairs slowly.
All seven people including the innkeeper were laying on the floor of the building, dead and bleeding, coloring the brown wood in a dark shade of red. One of the mercenaries was standing in the middle of the room, clad in her dark armor, her face covered in a mask that showed a white smile. The woman was staring towards the ceiling and turned towards Sally as soon as she set foot into the room. She readied all her resolve and all her skills to react in an instant should the mercenary find a reason to attack her.
“Relax.” came the word from the door as another one of them entered. The woman who had presumably found the spies and was constantly eating. It didn’t look as silly anymore now that Sally faced her, clad in black full plate armor with a horned helmet and covered in blood. “We found and killed the responsible. Turns out most of them were from this village. You got all of them?” she asked towards the masked mercenary.
“Seven. There should be five more.” she said and walked towards the door, vanishing before Sally’s eyes.
“Good hunt.” the other woman said and looked at the scene before her, the look on her face unreadable below her helmet. She then walked to each corpse and closed their eyes, a weird gesture. Sally’s eyebrows lifted as the first corpse vanished and then the second one. All of them vanished before the woman walked out the back door. No other words had been spoken and Sally found her curiosity win over as she followed behind the woman.
A couple dozen meters behind the inn, right at the start of a field the mercenary stopped and started digging with the shovel she had gotten from god knows where. ‘Graves...’ Sally thought as she watched the woman dig seven graves for the people who were killed.
“Here you are.” a new voice joined the solemn scene as the mercenary team leader walked up to Sally who turned to look at her. “Would you please come with me to discuss the report.” the woman said and Sally found herself nodding along, following behind as the sound of shoveling continued behind her.
Ilea finished the last grave and summoned the corpses from her necklace to fill the spaces. She felt a slight disturbance in her sphere but continued. “You think they deserve that?” Eve asked as she appeared a couple meters away from her. “After what they’ve done.”
“Maybe not, but we don’t have to become them.” Ilea answered, getting a slight chuckle from Eve.
“I have murdered them all in cold blood. And you would have done the same had I not asked for it.” Ilea stayed quiet, knowing that there was some truth to what her team mate said. Still she refused to give in completely. Foolish maybe but something inside of her didn’t want to let go. Eve scoffed but didn’t leave, instead watching the woman work as she closed up the graves with earth. Three metal spheres hovered into her sphere and expanded into plates, closing the last four graves in one move. A gesture one could interpret in different ways but Ilea knew Kyrian meant well.
“You stopped something before it got dangerous then. Thank you.” the official said and got a pouch from her coat.
“It was plenty dangerous for everybody who died already.” Eve said in a cold voice.
“O… of course, I’m sorry… I meant for the empire itself.” the official tried to salvage her comments but Ilea was quite sure Eve was having none of that. She was enjoying a meal from Keyla and looked on as Claire counted the gold. Eve had simply handed Ilea her pack when she realized that she had a storage item, grumbling about unnecessary weight she had been carrying all this time.
Claire took a while to finish up with the official and Ilea had managed to try most of the different beverages stored in the inn and its cellar. Luckily there was no further blood magic related finds in said cellar. There would be an investigator sent by the empire to determine the involvement of the village in the killings but the shadow squad had already cleaned up rather well. The evidence combined with some last minute confessions made for a compelling argument though Ilea still had some qualms about being the vigilante murderer she had become.
It didn't bother her nearly as much anymore as the first time she had killed and it would bother her less and less, she was sure of it. 'I'll have to visit a priest or something...' she thought as she emptied the last bit of the best mead she could find in the cellar.
“Ilea we're leaving!” Eve shouted from above and a blink later the squad was back together, ready to go onto their third mission together. It had taken a total of five hours to finish up everything in the village and they left in a rather solemn atmosphere. The girl turned out to be related to some of the people in the village who had believed her to be missing in the nearby forest. Eve made quite sure to mention that she would check in on them and if any harm would come to the girl the whole village would be razed.
Ilea believed her when she heard the woman talk, painting a rather different picture of the mage than she had of her before. Then again it wasn't that surprising. They all were at a certain level of strength and Ilea started to form a theory on how Eve had gotten there.
The team was flying eastwards soon thereafter, towards Damwell, one of Lys' cities by the sea. Hopefully this job would be a little less emotionally draining but Ilea tried to prepare for everything as she flew through the empire's lands, carrying two of her team mates next to her.
It took another three hours to reach the city and the suns of Elos were slowly moving downwards on the horizon. Ilea thought of dinner as the group landed near the city gates and soon joined the few travelers nearby, most of which were adventurers or merchants protected by such.
They did get a few looks but considerably fewer than on their first mission. This changed quickly upon entering the city itself where most people weren't part of one or the other adventurer guild, making the group of armored mercenaries quite a scene to behold. One of the city guards escorted the group towards the responsible station where they would be further instructed on the job.
After the initial mention of a queen harpy no other adventurer had even tried to enter the cliffs, the monster too dangerous a prospect. Claire finished up with the city official rather quickly as the team waited outside. Ilea was getting a little sick of the constant attention they got due to the black wisps and heavy armor. 'I could just switch to my leather one... but the others are still here... eh.' she thought and summoned her monster encyclopedia, looking for the Queen Harpy entry. Ilea was sure that at least Claire had looked it up beforehand when they were still in Viscera.
A queen harpy appears in a harpy nest around every other decade. Usually the monsters fly towards a high mountain or an isolated cliff side to build their new nest. When a queen appears the harpies grow more defensive and ultimately aggressive towards the neighboring species. The monster itself usually reaches a level slightly above two hundred. No notable capabilities besides the purely physical have been reported.
She read the text out loud to the loitering team members also waiting for Claire's return.
“So we go there and kill the birds...” Kyrian said.
“They're like half human right?” Ilea asked as she looked at the picture of the monster before the book vanished from her hand.
“Since when do you care, the last job involved killing actual people.” Trian said from the side, looking around at the guards sometimes glancing at the group. Ilea shrugged at the question and thought about it. It seemed comparable to not eating meat on earth but then again if a wolf pack attacked the lifestock of a farm they would probably be hunted down as well.
“We can focus on the queen, less work for us and we're doen quicker.” Trian said.
“Me and Ilea sneak in while the rest makes a lot of noise at the entrance?” Eve suggested and Kyrian nodded.
“The close quarters might not be benefitial for us if there are a lot of them in there.” he said but Ilea wasn't quite so sure about that. They would probably do fine either way and splitting up didn't seem like the best idea.
“Let's ask Claire about it once she's done.” Ilea said and ended the conversation there. The rune mage came back a couple minutes later, and quickly briefed the group on any new information she might've received. There wasn't a lot, other than an increasing amount of harpy attacks near the southern parts of the city. Fishermen and adventurers were avoiding big parts of their usual hunting grounds because of it.
They didn't have to stay in the city for any longer and quickly left towards the south, where the location of the supposed queen harpy was. Claire was ok with the plan of splitting up as long as Eve first scouted out the cliffs to find the queen. Ilea would go in with her to ensure they could actually take the beast down. Eve wasn't sure she could kill the beast quickly enough in addition to escaping without getting hurt.
The group landed twenty minutes later on an empty beach, the stormy waves of the ocean hitting the sand and rocks with cold water. Ilea breathed in the salty winds and looked around. There were many openings in the cliff side and Eve's illusions went towards them at a quick running pace. Sadly her clones didn't have the same chameleon like ability she could manifest herself.
Ilea and Eve went to hide near a rock formation while the others prominently made their stand on the beach itself. Runes were carved and placed by Claire and Kyrian while Trian hovered above, his lightning ready to strike.
“Got it...” Eve said around ten minutes later. One of her illusions had found the location of the queen harpy, apparently inside of an open cave with plenty of water and sunlight inside. She motioned to Claire who was just finishing up carving into the cliff side with Kyrian carrying her up and down the formations. She nodded to Eve as the two landed back inside their defensive rune formations below Trian.
The lightning mage nodded as well before blue lightning formed around his hands and impacted the cliff side. Claire added a couple smaller explosions to the mix and they got the intended response. Loud and angry bird noises came from the caves before the first of them burst out. To Ilea they looked quite a bit different than the ones she had seen before, perhaps a different species but most notable was the look in their eyes.
“They seem crazed or something...” she whispered to Eve who started to assume her surrounding's colors, becoming nearly invisible in mere seconds.
“Come.” the woman said as more and more birds poured out of the tunnels to attack the apparent intruders. Eve started running, masking herself so well Ilea had difficulties making out the woman, even with her perception skills. She tried hiding as best she could with her Embered Body Heat. She also quickly switched her elven armor out with a leather one to make a little less noise while walking.
The explosions resounded through the caves as the two women sneaked deeper into the cave systems while more harpies flew out above them. 'That's quite a number...' Ilea thought, a little more convinced of their chosen method. The beasts were between level seventy and one hundred and thirty so Claire and the others would be fine for quite some time. Maybe the whole colony would be wiped out already when Ilea and Eve exited the caves again but the First Hunter doubted that.
Luckily nearly no harpy was on the ground and all of them were too crazed to notice the two women below. They still had to hide sometimes as they went around corners and deeper into the caves. After a while there were non crazed harpies standing guard to any tunnels that would lead further in but combined with Eve's near invisibility and Ilea's blinking ability the two moved through undiscovered until they finally came into the main cave where the queen harpy resided.
The monster looked a little taller than the rest with horns on its head but Ilea couldn't quite make out any other differences.
[Queen Harpy – lvl 205]
'Just as in the monster book.' Ilea smiled and looked towards Eve. They had decided on an approach beforehand and now executed it. Ilea waited in the small hiding spot between rocks and looked towards the beast which was standing at an elevated position in the cave. Ilea activated all her buffs a moment later when the beast's eyes went wide and blood spurted from its neck that had been sliced.
She blinked twice as ash formed around her, staining the ground black and gray and filling the air with a mist of the magically created substance. It twirled around her as her wings came alive and carried her the last ten or so meters. The harpy was gurgling and screaming with all her power as it tried to remove the dagger from her neck, black veins slowly forming near the blade. It hit around herself but Ilea knew that Eve was already quite a distance away, waiting. Ilea impacted the beast and gripped the blade before pushing it in further, ignoring the claws that scratched against her Veil of ash.