Chapter 108 Tactical Defusing

More and more black ash formed around her as she started punching the beast's head, focusing on its eyes and beak first to further disorient it. The cries still came out even though most of its throat had been cut through and Ilea heard any nearby harpy cry out in turn to create a deafening concert of voices. She turned down her hearing before she would get hurt and simply continued her attacks, more and more mana flowing into the beast and destroying it from the inside.

It would only be a matter of time before the beast fell. Combined with the black veins coming from Eve's dagger Ilea estimated it to be a rather quick thing too, still she summoned her elven armor in case of resistance. The queen's cries slowly softened, its head a swollen mess of blood and broken bone as Ilea's fists continued to rain into the beast. The first harpies started to arrive then and clawed at her veil of ash but the Azarinth hunter had formed a thick mist of ash around her, making it hard for the birds to find her.

In their haste to help their queen they even managed to injure her further with their sharp talons. Ilea just clung to the monster's chest and continued her relentless assault while ignoring the damage she herself sustained. Some claws from the now numerous harpies around her managed to get through the veil but none had actually drawn blood so far, unable to breach the elven armor.

Some damage was of course still being done but Ilea's healing skill was easily countering that and with her newfound strength it was quite simple for her to hang onto her target while delivering more and more blows. A sickening crunch resounded through the whole cave when Ilea managed to break the queen's beak, finally killing her.

Silence swept through the cave and Ilea saw all the harpies around her slow down and look around confused. 'They must have lost their frenzy with the queen's death...' Ilea thought and dodged a clawed foot going for her back. Sneaking back, she stored both the dead queen and Eve's dagger in her necklace and made her way towards the exit. Eve should've been long gone to avoid entering a skirmish like the one Ilea had just been a part of.

With her full speed and blink's capability, Ilea ran out of the cave. Dozens of bewildered harpies were strewn around the tunnels, trying to find the intruders. To Ilea's surprise some of the harpies even started attacking each other, apparently lost without their deceased leader. As Ilea got further out, the harpies seemed to follow the same goal as they simply ran or flew next to her, croaking loudly into her ears.

The run continued as Ilea sometimes dodged one or the other attack coming her way with a blink or quick movement, most of them didn't seem to be intentional and simply a circumstance of the small space they had found themselves in. With a burst of speed and three quick successive blinks, Ilea appeared outside of the cliff side and around thirty meters above the beach they had started on. Her wings spread as she twirled and dived downwards, avoiding any escaping harpy on the way until she landed with a thump on the sand, digging deep into the ground before another blink brought her behind some nearby rocks to hide from the swarm above.

The croaking was all that filled her ears by now as she danced across the rocky landscape. Luckily the beasts were too occupied with each other to notice Ilea or perhaps they simply felt her strength and avoided her thus. The reason didn't quite matter to the woman who was still moving through the rocks until she saw the rest of her team, standing under a nearly white shield, conjured by Claire while curse runes were placed in circles a couple meters away from the shield. Trian was standing inside as well, the air around him crackling with red lightning. There were dozens of dead harpies spread around them but with the queen's death it seemed that the rest now completely avoided the trio, and with that a sure way to die.

Ilea walked closer until she felt the curse take effect on her, quite a bit weaker than when she had set food into one of Kyrian's runes before. Not as weak as she expected either, must've come with his class upgrade as well. She didn't want to know the effects without any resistance to the magic. The dome of light came down as the curse' effect weakened and then vanished, marking the end of the mage's runes.

Ilea figuratively knocked on the dissolving dome of light as she checked through the messages that started appearing in her mind midway through her walk on the beach. Truly a vacation in a foreign land.

'ding' 'Your group has defeated [Queen Harpy – lvl 205]'

'ding' 'Ash Creation reaches 2nd lvl 5'

'It's gonna be less and less if I don't go and attack masses of higher leveled beasts alone isn't it?' she thought as Claire greeted her. Eve wasn't yet outside it seemed or she chose to stay hidden for some reason. 'Maybe masses of higher leveled beasts with this group?' she mused the thought when a couple dozen meters away Eve slowly came into view. Ilea summoned the woman's dagger and threw it towards her, the piece of metal easily being caught.

“So you did it? Is that why they're so bloody disoriented?” Trian asked as he looked at the two women.

“Yea, have the body stored away. You wanna go back to the city?” Ilea asked.

“It's barely been two hours... did you find the location of the harpy?” the guard captain asked, a grizzly old man. A ranger at level 130 as Ilea identified. Claire motioned outside where they had left the carcass and the man was quickly cursing with delight as he exited his office.

“You damn motherfuckers. Great job, you cost a damn lot but it's damn worth it.” he went and touched the body with glee in his eyes. “Damn monster that one. Over two hundred?” Claire nodded to his question as he let go of the corpse.

“Well come then, we'll pay you and you can be on your way. Of course if you want to stay in the city? I'm sure a lot of adventurers would gladly thank you for the service.” he grinned at that but no reaction could be gleamed from the shadow squad, stoic as their reputation. Under the facemasks and helmets the reactions were rather different of course but the man likely didn't know that.

“Two done, one to go. And we're still on the same day.” Kyrian said as the group waited for Claire again. This time it didn't take quite as long, likely because no execution of a blood magic cult had taken place in this mission. Hopefully this would stay the same for the last one.

'Should've taken those water fighting lessons...' Ilea thought a little worried as the group flew over open water near the coastline, Eve and Claire holding on to Ilea. 'I wonder if Aki is bored...' she thought as Eve started humming and then singing a song. Ilea didn't know it but it had a bit of a happier tone to it than her usual musical additions, maybe she was excited at the prospect of exploring a newly discovered ruin or perhaps it was because the group might be able to join the tournament if they performed well on some missions before the two weeks were over.

Nonetheless it was nice to have something else than the waves in her ears, a constant reminder of the unending depths below, just waiting to swallow her. She gulped and concentrated on the song.

“I think that's it. See those formations over there... they fit the description.” Claire said as the group was hovering over the hundreds of rocks creeping out of the water a couple hundred meters away from the shoreline. No city or village was anywhere near close by.

“You mean those gray rocky ones?” Ilea asked excitedly. Claire nodded slightly, the sarcasm shooting right over her head. “Claire I have no idea where, please just guide me...” Ilea said and started flying, following the hand gestures of her team mate holding on to her left arm.

“I can see movement...” Eve said as they got closer to rocks that looked quite the same as everything else Ilea had in her vision. Soon enough she saw it too, a bunch of people moving about a platform of rock, supplies and tents all around them. There was neither a fire nor any boats which made the place a little harder to find. The group landed a couple dozen meters away and made their way towards the adventurer camp.

It seemed in good shape and at least some of the people there had noticed the approaching group, shouting to get the attention of the rest. A quick line was formed as buffs came to life.

“They know who we are don't they?” Kyrian asked towards Claire who was walking closer while the rest of the team stayed back. It was the general approach they had settled on, the rest of the team too socially inept to make first contact with a giddy group of dangerous warriors.

“We're a bunch of people in black armor, could be anyone really. Dunno if they know about a hired squad of the Hand making an appearance.” Ilea commented and spun Aki around to make sure he wouldn't suddenly snore off. She wasn't sure the guy was even with her most of the time in the past days but he did like it whenever there was action.

With raised arms Claire walked closer to the adventurers until there was only a couple meters of water between them. Ilea noticed that a lot of the adventurers were relaxing already, some even leaving the formation.

“Shadow's Hand, we've been hired to help with the exploration.” there were still some doubtful faces but Claire calmly moved her backpack to the front before she got out a piece of paper with the guild seal on it. An additional document they had gotten when receiving the mission. Even the last of the people seemed more relaxed now upon viewing the document and Claire soon waved the group over as she herself jumped onto the plateau of rock where the camp was made. Compared to the stares they had gotten in Damwell, Ilea noticed a lot more respectful nods their way in addition to some smiles and relieved faces.

It seemed that the exploration was going just as well as described by the guild which was confirmed by one of the rangers in the group of adventurers. “Yea we lost two more since the request went out. Didn't know there would be a shadow squad hired but the report we sent to the guild was quite detailed. I assume you read it?” the woman asked.

“I did, poison, arrows, rusty spike traps. No monsters discovered so far.” Claire summarized. She had talked a little more about the report on their flight here but to Ilea it didn't seem as dangerous.

“So how will you go about it?” the woman asked and Claire just motioned to Ilea.

“Are you sure about this?” Claire asked.

“Oh yes, I'm the trap buster 3000.” Ilea said in a completely serious tone before a veil of ash formed around her. She then unceremoniously put her pack down and got a piece of paper and her pen out to draw out a map. Eve smiled and Claire shrugged as Trian sat down on a stone nearby.

“Don't take too long, and get us if you find anything interesting. Don't touch anything.” Trian said to her which made Ilea grin from ear to ear.

“I'll touch everything mate...all of the things...” she giggled and vanished into the cave.

“Y... you sure she'll be alright?” the ranger asked Claire, obviously not intimidated by the prospect of a shadow squad. Not surprising with her level being at one hundred and sixty herself.

“She's quite... durable.” Claire said and got out some documents from her backpack, ready to start writing the report for this mission. She liked to be ahead when it came to documentation. Her mood was high though as they had already made a substantial amount of money in just one day. The jobs given to the Hand were certainly profitable. Looking around at the icy rocks, the rune mage smiled. She might have paid back her debt to the Guild sooner than expected.

“Are you serious...” Ilea asked as a bunch of poison darts flew her way, interrupted in their short flight by the ash flowing around her. She kept herself over the water with both her wings and by simply grabbing onto the rock. The traps were well hidden and without her sphere Ilea would've been quite surprised at some of them. Even then none would've likely managed to injure her in any major way. Most of her time was spent drawing out the ruin, at this point mostly a cave with hints of symmetrical influences.

A sudden rock slide above her made some pieces tumble towards her that would've pushed her onto the spikes hiding in the water below but with a well timed blink Ilea simply stood on top of the traps. 'Compared to the Taleen this seems like amateur hour...' she thought but considering the traps here were based mostly on mechanical finesse and less runic, it was certainly impressive. Ilea saw the spikes below enter even the stone itself, speaking for the quality of the metal used. 'And that for a lousy trap...' she thought as she continued onwards.

An hour of trap deactivation turned into two as Ilea chose more often to simply let the mechanisms spring instead of trying to dismantle them. The caves ran rather deep and Ilea was glad she could blink through water as many sections were flooded or even held traps of such nature. Finally Ilea came up on a massive stone door with runes carved into it. Still there was no sign of any life inside the ruins but Ilea had a feeling this would be quite different after entering whatever the stone door was protecting.

She couldn't see through with her Sphere and neither could she blink inside. The attempt even released some poison darts straight from the door which did manage to pierce her veil of ash. An impressive feat to say the least.

'ding' 'You have been poisoned by ???. -100 HP/s -100 Stamina/s'

'Yea I can see this dungeon being deadly to people without healers or poison resistances...' she thought, smiling and activating Hunter Recovery. It didn't even say how long the poison would last and the Stamina part made her a little anxious. Ilea quickly ran back and found a space between a couple rocks to hide and wait out the poison in case something came up while she was healing and out of stamina.

The poison took a total of ten minutes to completely wear off. Sixty thousand health in total were lost and regained as Ilea waited, nearly paralyzed by the lack of stamina, a state she rarely reached through conventional training and fighting. The idea of getting a stamina drain resistance and perhaps a drowning resistance became quite important to her as she struggled to not fall onto the ground which was at least half a meter deep in water.

With the combined effort of Meditation, Poison Resistance, Hunter Recovery and Veil of Ash which doubled the resistance again, the poison was fought off and removed from her body. Ilea thought that not even Trian would've likely survived that one, not even with her help. 'What the hell... some bloody poison darts killing a literal thunder vampire...' it just seemed wrong to her. 'Maybe we should get a full time healer in the group just to make sure something like this doesn't happen.'

She slowly got up and out of her hiding spot, stretching every limb of her body until she felt capable again to fight off some poison darts. A feat now probably close to her survival of fighting the Taleen Praetorians. 'Maybe this ruin isn't quite so far away from the dungeon...' she thought and chuckled as she touched the round stone door. Trying to blink inside again didn't release any more darts but still wasn't possible for her. She didn't want to force her way in as that would likely cause some other problems, problems that now weren't just her own anymore.

Ilea checked around the room for any hidden traps she might have missed and only found two more dart traps that she destroyed without issue. Having no way to safely continue she made her way back to the adventurer camp with the map she had been adding to continuously. There were a lot of side tunnels as well but all of them ended in traps. Whoever built this place definitely didn't want anybody to find a place of safe rest, at least not until the traps had been activated.

Coming out of the cave Ilea sped up, hearing the sound of magic and explosions. She came out to her team and most of the adventurers being engaged with some kind of stone creature.

[Stone Guardian of Karul – lvl ??]

“Oh shit...” she exclaimed and activated all her buffs, jumping into combat with a smile.


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