Chapter 125 Ripples
Kyrian soon came up on a battle still going on, a squad of the hand was resisting a large number of demons, pushed back meter by meter, all of them looked weary. A beam of golden light came from far above on the mountain side and struck a demon, its brain splattered to the ground, the gray corpse falling down, its blood coloring the snow below. Kyrian couldn’t see the ranger but his own magic preparation was finished right then, dozens of needles flying out and striking the demons who didn’t even notice the attacks with prey right in front of them.
Kyrian ground his teeth as he fueled the curses blooming inside the dozens of demons before him, seeing them slow down just as quickly as the mana left his body. He stayed for another minute and then left quietly through the forest he had come from, the metal losing its connection soon after. He would come back another day to get the needles back but for now helping out was enough. The man gulped when he remembered the last time he tried to interact with a group of survivors he had saved but he soon steeled himself, concentrating on the snow before him, soon finding the next enemies, these at a low level of eighty, some still wearing pieces of the celebratory clothing they had wore when coming to Ravenhall. Kyrian’s brows furrowed, anger blazing in his eyes as he cut them down.
“What do you think?” Maria asked, looking over the battlefield. Edwin didn’t respond, as he was prone to do, crouching down next to one of the dead demons and moving it around to see its face.
“If the Hand couldn’t stop them I’m not sure anyone can.” Maria commented. She had gained some weight again after being released, having forgotten how good meat and wine tasted.
“You know who could, not that they will.” Edwin said as he got up form his crouch. “They’re getting closer to more cities.” he stated.
“Are you sure about this, they’re gonna be on high alert in there.” she said as she walked behind him.
“Yes, for demons.” the man said, walking back to their hideout nearby, Aliana likely cooking already.
A set of runes was activated in the distance, blazing explosions cutting through the running demons. Not enough to stop them but certainly enough to damage them. “Miss, they’re circling around, we better go back.” the old adventurer next to her suggested.
“Stand where you are.” she commanded and turned around, seeing the creatures of horror moving through the trees. If she knew anything about them then that they wouldn’t ignore a direct target if no mind mage was nearby to control them. There had been no onslaught of magic so far so she was rather sure about her plan. No mind mage she had encountered so far had the ingenuity to not use their skills immediately. Only once, at Ravenhall where the monsters were initially summoned but she doubted more and more that it had been a decision by the mages. Something else was at play but now was not the time to think about that.
Claire focused as she ignored the shivering adventurers next to her, some because of the freezing cold, some out of fear. Their strength was inadequate at best to face what was lurking in the trees before them but their resolve was commendable, choosing to leave the walls of the town to come out with her. Claire’s magic wasn’t very suited to use inside the stone walls of Vihall but out here. Out here she was in control.
Screeches sounded from the trees before her as she took three steps towards them. “Stand fast and you shall prevail.” she said and held out her hand, focusing on the tree line. A moment later the monsters broke through. Gray flesh hanging from bones, beasts made of muscle and bone. Different yet similar to each other. One of the adventurers started screaming next to her but Claire ignored him, waiting for the last moment to activate her magic.
A wall of light formed before her as a big chunk of mana left her body, the woman never stopping to meditate through the whole encounter. The monsters crashed into the line of light, crashing together with their brethren before Claire closed her eyes, an explosion rocking through the ground before them. Five seconds later she opened her eyes and found the blood dripping down her barrier that she soon took down, the guts falling down to the ground.
Some of the demons were still moving, quickly taken care of by some of the adventurers who needed several attacks to finish the already dying monsters. Some glanced at her, different feelings and thoughts present towards the armored angel of death that had come to rescue their small town. The respect for the Shadow’s Hand had gotten her quite a bit of power and influence, having the town prepare for the demon attack much longer before any others nearby. Word would reach them soon that the Hand itself was responsible for the summoning but Claire wasn’t too worried about the peasants and low lords in the area.
Of course it wasn’t the fault of the Hand, they had destroyed thousands of the monsters but it hadn’t been enough, their forces splintered and retreating to save their own lives before saving a lost city in the mountains of Lys. But Claire knew humans, she knew that reason and fact wouldn’t prevail against emotion and anger. Still in a town like Vihal she had little to worry about, even if she thought in a paranoid way.
The way back was quiet, the others only starting to whisper when the walls came into view. It was a nice town and Claire smiled at the memories she had of the place. Winter painted the stone walls in an especially beautiful way, the thick forests around giving it a magical feel. The gates opened when they saw the approaching woman armored in black. She would have to work longer today, preparing more runed plates to use. Luckily the city council had offered to provide her with materials immediately. After seeing her use them there was even more support.
“My lady! You have returned safely. Was the hunt successful?” the captain of the small guard in the city greeted her, a frown immediately forming under her hood.
“Don’t address me in such a way Mack.” she said in a serious tone.
“A come Clairy, for old time’s sake.” he smiled but she ignored him and walked onwards. The man followed behind, a warrior at level eighty, one of the highest in the whole town.
“Lord Felt wanted to meet as soon as you’ve arrived.” he said and continued “The reinforcements you requested have been finished and the inventory of food has been completed. You already have the list of people living here. We’re also gathering water in the tanks you requested to be built. Are we awaiting a siege?” the man asked.
“We have to be prepared for everything. The demons will come, one way or the other. Men will see an opportunity as well, especially with the refugees from the west. Don’t let anybody in for now. Only adventurers are to leave and only for good reason.” she explained as they walked upwards towards the center of the town where the Lord had positioned his guard and all the logistics upon Claire’s request.
“What if they want to flee, I’ve already arrested two of them.” he said.
“They’re of no help to us. Let them go but do so discreetly, we don’t want morale to sink further than it already has.” Claire answered the man’s question, a smile getting to her face, the management task definitely more fun than the one of killing demons.
“Miss Russel. You have returned, how many this time?” Lord Felt asked, the man a mage at the early hundreds in level and early forties in age, at least looks wise. Claire looked at the fancy leather armor he wore with unnecessary embroideries. His eyes were focused and waiting for her answer.
“Forty six, all of the smaller variants but more will come. Let us hope the villages and towns nearby have heeded our warnings.” Claire answered, walking to the central table inside the repurposed inn where a massive map of the surrounding lands was displayed. People were hustling around the room but many glanced at her and stopped to hear the talk between their lord and the member of the Hand who had suddenly appeared a couple weeks ago, followed by the monstrosities now present in their lands.
“Some have come but far too few.” the lord said, finding himself on the opposite end of the table.
“Vihall isn’t the most fortified place around so there’s hope for more people surviving. The first step is surviving the winter, food is more important right now. Are the hunters still out?” she asked. The man nodded.
“They are, are you sure the beasts also kill animals?” he asked.
“Yes, I’ve seen it many times on my way here.” Claire answered before she received the promised inventory. “I will tend to my runes then my lord.” she excused herself, using his title as previously discussed with the man. He nodded and locked eyes with her. Claire had no desire to gain power over the town and the Lord’s fear of her doing just that helped immensely in convincing the man to listen to her advice. Claire was more or less in control, just not officially. Not a bad thing considering the superior education she had received on the relevant topics.
With her notes and the stacks of paper she had received, Claire made her way through the town receiving some nods and fearful looks from people around her. The word was spreading that she was here to defend the town which made the people less distant to her, quite a comparison to her initial arrival.
Reaching a small dilapidated house in a side street, Claire looked around and entered. She put the stacks of paper on the small table in the kitchen and walked around opening the windows to let some air inside. “I’m home!” she said into the rooms in a loud voice. Getting to the last room she knocked and entered.
A woman with gray hair was sitting in a chair next to the bed, her hands in her lap and her back bent forwards. Claire got a pillow from the bed and put it behind the woman’s back and got the second chair, sitting down in front of her.
“Hey mom. It’s me, Clairy. Today I went out with some adventurers to fight monsters and I got the inventory from Mack so I can start planning for the next couple months and the provisions for the families….” she continued to tell her mother about her day and then some. Despite the lack of reaction, Claire continued to do so every day. She had felt guilty for leaving the town to go to the Hand but already she had more power and money to protect and care for her mother than she ever had before. She sighed and got up before kissing the woman on her forehead. “I love you mother.” she said and walked down to get the papers. Today she would work in the bedroom.
Sighting she sunk into her chair, the food situation didn’t look good. Hopefully the hunters would be able to bring some more to at least feed the people at the moment. Grain and other goods that wouldn’t perish immediately would have to be carefully rationed. She trusted the Lord could do so with his employees. A letter was written up informing him about just that before she went to see the smith about her runed plates. The metal plates she had requested to be put around the city had been finished and put in place, all of them holding destructive payloads that could be activated by her and her alone. Only the threat of imminent death convinced the Lord and higher ups in the city to agree to that measure of defense but in the end it did.
Hard weeks and months would soon come but still Claire smiled. She was back, as promised. And now she was in charge.
“Hey look at this one!” one of the men shouted, Eve listening intently to their conversations.
“Oh yea, that one will be valued a little higher. Take her to the wagons, leave the rest.” the man said.
“Shouldn’t we burn them? The demons will take the bodies otherwise.” the first man asked, both wearing full plate armor, the only reason Eve hadn’t slit their throats as of yet.
“We’ll be long gone, let them sow some more chaos.” the second man said. Eve could see the other man didn’t agree, even scum like them showing contempt at creating more demons. Still his professionalism won over as he dragged the woman to the wagons. Eve followed in silence, ignoring the dying people, injured and freezing. The slavers had several wagons with them and finally they were in the same location.
“Do you hear that?” one of them asked, a hum filling the air around them before the first of the men hit the snowy ground, bleeding from his neck, the blade expertly placed between the man’s helmet and chest piece. Four more fell before one of them managed to get out of the trance of Eve’s spell. He shouted about them being under attack and tried to get some of the others out of her influence but five more of them died while he did so.
Three men remained, having at least some ability in defending against her magic. Not surprising considering the quality of their wagons and gear, let alone their training. Eve had stalked them for three days already and found it hard to approach. She had to wait for them to find people to get into range, their attention divided. With the elven attacks in the west and the demons now coming from the southeast, it would be a perfect season for their business. Luckily for her it was rare to find someone in her range of personal power to join a band like this one. If there were any they would be the ones in control of these people.
Eve simply showed herself, slowly approaching the three men who quickly focused on her and activated their skills and magic. Her hum turned more pressuring, not caring about subtlety anymore. They were already dazed and when she pushed even harder right before engaging them, Eve already had an opening on the first man, dodging his blade and sticking her dagger into his face. He was dead in an instant, falling down into the snow, the crunching sound menacing combined with her humming.
“Who are you? I’m sure we can negotiate!” one of them shouted but several of her clones walked out from her own being. She didn’t answer but simply approached the two men. One of them turned tail and ran. Eve threw one of her blades, the weapon piercing the man’s leg right at the knee. He would tried getting the blade out but black runes were already forming around the wound and he was dying moments later, gurgling in pain.
“What the fuck… come on girl I’m sure there’s something I can give you! What about the location of our base? Or money, I can give you money!” the man shouted, all of his dignity and professionalism gone now that he was standing in front of death’s door. Eve stopped approaching and just watched him. The man spilled everything he knew, of course it was doubtful that he was telling the truth but he would die nonetheless. Free possibly good information wasn’t something she would let go. A good thing that someone so inexperienced had still managed to defend against her mental attacks.
A shame that his potential wouldn’t be fulfilled, for humanity. His choices and actions have led to his current situation and Eve would not let him go. The man was still talking but soon stopped when he didn’t detect a change in her behavior. His face changed to become even more pale than before. “You’re not gonna...” he stammered out.
“No. No I’m not gonna.” Eve answered and walked closer, dodging the man’s last desperate strike with his sword, her fingers hitting hard into his windpipe before she spun into a crouch, kicking at his legs, the man already unbalanced fell down. All her strength focused on one point, Eve sunk down and pierced the man’s leather armor, right through to his heart. She ripped out the dagger and walked to the other dead man and getting the second one.
The group of people found and robbed by the slavers was still sitting in the same place, told that they would die should they move away. Some of them looked up to Eve as she approached, noting the black armor and smiling mask. “Do you want to live?” the woman asked them.
Sitting inside an overfilled inn, Eve looked at the man sitting opposite her. Neither of them touched their drinks standing on the dark wooden table. “I have two requests that would match what you’re looking for.” the man said after a while. Eve was wearing old leather armor and a hood to conceal her facial features.
“Though I wouldn’t recommend pursuing this any further, whoever you are.” he said and handed over a letter. Eve took the letter and placed a gold coin in his gloved hand before getting up and leaving the inn. She walked to the next best side street and jumped up to the roof of the building before nesting herself into the architecture. The letter was opened and its contents read. She smiled and burned the paper with a small magical lighter device. “Finally.” she whispered and got up.