Chapter 128 Family Dinner
“We can make camp in the woods later, it’s safe enough.” Sulivhaan suggested to the man who quickly went over to Ilea, talking in a whisper.
“Sure, Sulivhaan you guys can stay at my place as well. I have plenty of food and everything.” Ilea shouted towards the mage who was a little confused as to where that place would be. The woman of course had only been in the proximity of Ravenhall for a couple months, already she had made herself a home. He didn’t dare expect anything special, perhaps just a cave. Not that the woman didn’t have any class but he thought she’d definitely sleep in a cave should the circumstances require it.
He was not wrong of course but in this case Ilea’s offer brought a massive improvement. The three of his team mates unable to fly reacted quite differently to Ilea’s suggestion to carry them down. Navalis skidded down the cliff side, occasionally holding herself to reduce the speed of her descent. Senia grudgingly agreed to being carried by the woman and Rock was laughing, continuously joking about his weight and her inability to lift him. Obviously he was wrong. They all landed quite safely on the rock extending from the cliff side, the house built on it harder to make out from a distance than its owner thought.
“So you built this?” Rock asked, the skepticism quite obvious in his voice.
“Nah, had it built.” Ilea answered, reappearing in the cave nearby and coming out with a swordmouth tiger she then tightly hugged. The beast was wild and didn’t seem enthusiastic at the encounter but Sulivhaan just thought of small cats some people liked to keep in their homes and shrugged, thinking that they also didn’t seem to enjoy their predicament. With the woman being at over level two hundred, the comparison was less abstract than it seemed at first glance.
“Rich as well, you have a suitor yet?” the big man asked, Sulivhaan noticing the glance coming from the quiet metal mage traveling with them. He thought not mentioning anything was the best course of action and followed Ilea into the weird looking home.
“I don’t really have any beds other than my own… well you can stay downstairs I guess. We’ll find something tomorrow.” Ilea said, thinking on anything that might be usable as a pillow. The kittens had grown in the cavern but probably not enough for this and they would be scared of new people.
“That’s quite alright, we have our packs.” Rock said, stepping into the house with lightly cleaned boots. Ilea nodded to that as she saw Kyrian going downstairs and checking on Cless who was staying in the showroom slash armory. He would probably cook for the others, she had yet to thank him for saving and taking care of Cless. The story would be an interesting one but knowing the man his retelling of it would be as dry as the winds in the Mongolian tundra.
The mind weaver was staying high up above the location of the house, his horde of demons not something Ilea wanted in close proximity to the house. Considering his life in the salt hells, he agreed immediately to her proposal of staying up there, the trees and snow as exciting to him as they were to a one year old puppy.
Ilea quickly blinked upstairs to find her bed neatly made, her intention to quickly get a book interrupted by the sweet gesture. She smiled and got one of the books she had planned to read and blinked downstairs again, changing her juggernaut armor to a more comfortable one and sitting down on the table. Trian changed into clothes as well and sat down.
Ilea looked at the new group who had joined them, her eyes opening wide. ‘I forgot to build in a nice bath...’
“Fuck...” she said and opened her book.
“I think Kyrian’s cooking. I’m not sure about a bath but the ocean’s close?” Trian said.
“Thank you.” Sulivhaan said and bowed his head.
“I’ll go help.” Rock said while smiling, his helmet neatly tucked under his arm. Navalis nodded and walked to the door and back outside. Senia sat down on the table as well and started playing with her dagger.
“Don’t cut the wood, it’s expensive.” Ilea said, a stern look shot towards the rogue who glared back.
“How long of a rest does everyone need?” Trian asked the other team leader, the role of Claire automatically shifting to him with her absence.
“Two, four and six hours respectively. Our ranger even less but I’m not sure how much.” the other man answered, sitting down as well.
‘This just isn’t super cozy...’ Ilea suddenly thought. Seeing all the people sitting on the table looked more like an uncomfortable family meeting compared to the inn atmosphere she would’ve preferred. A thing she would change in the future, at some point.
“We have similar rest patterns, although I believe the highest is at four hours. Not sure if Ilea even Needs sleep.” Trian said, the woman ignoring him quite proficiently. She liked sleeping, nothing wrong with that.
“Then I suggest everyone with less rest needed and an ability to escape easily or fly should go out to hunt in the night as well. Who is the fastest among you all?” Sulivhaan asked, Trian looking at the woman already lost in her book and sitting in a relaxed manner on two chairs.
“A message or reinforcements?” Trian asked and the man nodded.
“It might be too early but as soon as we have a comprehensive scout report of the city and its surroundings. The number of enemies and possible weaknesses. I’m sure we can convince some if not all of the remaining members of the Hand and some adventurers or even the empire to help out.” Sulivhaan explained but Trian seemed skeptical.
“You’re an optimist. I’m sure they’re busy enough with all the demons that spilled into the lands. Where are they located?” Trian asked.
“Virilya.” the answer made Trian nod.
“Shouldn’t be more than a night to and back with her speed. Worth a shot at least.” the man nodded and then summoned a map, continuing to discuss specific approaches for their group with the other team leader. The smell of food coming from downstairs made more than just one stomach rumble. In the end Senia went downstairs as well, leaving only the team leaders and Ilea in the big living room.
“Alright, then I’ll ask the demon how much rest he needs. Otherwise we’ll work with the proposed teams.” Trian said to Sulivhaan, food being placed on the table around them. The map and notes were put into the noble’s storage ring a moment later before he vanished to go see after the demon. Ilea put her book away a moment later and everyone appeared from downstairs, Cless hiding behind Kyrian and looking towards the new mage.
Rock patted Sulivhaan on the back, motioning to the girl, everyone else sitting down in the meantime.
“Hello there, my name is Sulivhaan.” the mage said as he knelt down next to his chair to be on her eye level. “I like your shirt! Did you chose the colors?” he asked and the girl giggled, emerging from behind her protector.
“Let’s eat.” Ilea said and started, the others following suit a moment later.
“That was delicious Kyrian, I might hire you as a cook if we don’t find Keyla again.” Ilea said, giving him a thumbs up. The compliment made him smile awkwardly as he hid his face with the action of eating, the reaction quite obvious to the more perceptive members of their party.
“So I’ll leave with Navalis and Sulivhaan. You and Kyrian go out later, what about the others?” Ilea asked, looking at Trian who had explained the plans beforehand.
“They’ll join us at noon when we go out together.” Trian answered, Senia concentrated on the plate before her, perhaps a little embarrassed at the additional sleep she needed to function properly. Ilea nodded.
“Alright, maybe we can find some beds somewhere. We’ll check out the villages and towns to the west as well. Maybe Morhill is still standing.” Ilea suggested but the doubtful look coming from Trian dulled her enthusiasm a little. At least there would be demons to hunt down.
And demons there were. The night was a dark one, the moon clouded by heavy snowfall as Ilea floating effortlessly above the white layer below her, the gravity defying ability of hers to fly not something she even thought about anymore. Seeing Sulivhaan float behind her made her own skills seem even more reasonable. Navalis was nowhere to be found of course. Outside of Ilea’s sphere but close enough to lodge an arrow between enemy eyes whenever necessary, a comforting thought.
The small group had traveled through the mountain chains, hunting down any smaller groups of demons on the hunt for the more and more scarce populations of animals, monsters and humans in this terrain, their hunger insatiable. A group of dead demons lay in the snow right outside of the forest line Ilea had found herself in, proving that not all of the wildlife bowed to the new predators.
“Wanna investigate, hunt down whatever did that?” she asked Sulivhaan in a whisper, her breath forming a mist in front of her mouth, the mountains still clinging to the cold of winter while the lower altitudes slowly rid themselves of their white and freezing mantle. She only wore some comfortable clothes combined with her Juggernaut armor, her resistances and general vitality making the weather as comfortable as a summer breeze.
“It’s no concern to us if it kills demons. Not for now at least.” Sulivhaan answered. If it killed demons it could kill men but Ilea wasn’t in the mood to argue, their goal was definitive and any distractions would lead to less killed demons. Whatever did this had already helped them out.
The city of Morhill was located another two mountains further but while there was a little hope left, both Trian and Sulivhaan had talked her out of the likely misplaced optimism. It was one of the closest larger settlements to Ravenhall and would’ve been one of the first to be assaulted by the demon hordes initially leaving the city. Of course there was reason to believe some of the members of the Hand had reached them early and warned them of what was to come. Many likely would’ve refused to leave either way, their homes and security too much to give up on a strangers word, even if it was the Shadow’s Hand.
The group traveled over the remaining mountains, ignoring the common paths. Ilea had asked the mage before if Navalis didn’t want to be carried but he had only chuckled lightly as a response. Floating in the falling snow and strong winds, Ilea clenched her fists at the sight before her, the town in ruins just as Ravenhall had been. No fires or smoke could be seen from the distance, a bad sign for the human population once occupying the fortress city fitted with high walls.
“I’ll go in and check for survivors.” she stated and looked to her companion. “You better stay here, I don’t think you’re fast enough to flee should worst come to worst.” the man nodded, knowing of her durability and speed.
“Be careful, we’ll support you from a distance should you need it.” the man answered. It was a risk of course but while Ravenhall was teeming with demons and at least some mind weavers they had seen from far away, Morhill seemed relatively quiet in comparison.
The walls were reached in under a minute, the dark winged figure landing quietly on the stone as her sphere scanned the surroundings. There were figures stalking in the dark, just down from the wall. Two demons, looking for food. Lucky for them Ilea didn’t plan on engaging anything for a while, she wasn’t as proficient in sneak attacks as others in their group and the risk of alarming the remaining demons in the city wasn’t something she wanted to take right away.
Switching her heavy armor to a leather one that would produce less noise, the woman blinked quietly from the wall to the next rooftop, inside the house and then to the next one. There weren’t many of the monsters in the streets and even fewer in the homes but so too were the buildings lacking in human life. Compared to Salia where the streets were full of corpses, Ilea was downright creeped out by the lack of bodies, the city more a ghost town than anything else. She had found suitable beds and some other necessities for her new guests rather soon and stored them in her necklace, to be distributed later.
The search continued for the good part of an hour, until finally she perceived movement that didn’t come from a demon but from people. A closed up cellar at the bottom of a nondescript house held several individuals sitting below blankets, cold and quiet. Ilea made sure to check the surroundings but found no demons in the near vicinity, before she blinked in front of the closed up door, hidden below an entrance that was covered by a massive rug. A good hiding spot, its existence questionable in any other situation than this.
She knocked on the door, three times and then waited. The people inside stirred, one man starting to cry as a woman went and held him close, reassuring him that everything will be fine. One of the people came closer to the door and put his ear close.
“There’s no demons nearby. I’m going to come inside.” Ilea said and watched the people through her sphere. This was as much preparation as she was willing to give before she blinked inside. Her dinner nearly came up the moment she appeared, her sense of smell toned down to the minimum as she took in the rugged appearance of the people inside.
“Good thing the fuckers aren’t exactly dogs.” she said out loud.
“You’re human!” the man at the door walked to her. “We’re saved then, you’re with the Hand?” his look was pleading. “Is the city saved?” the bloodshot eyes stared at her and Ilea found herself a little annoyed that she even bothered coming down here. Saving people was a hassle but still she wouldn’t just let them die.
“No, the city is fucked. And I’m afraid you’ll have to stay down here for another while but we’ll get you as soon as the streets are cleared. Not sure how long that will take.” she said, walking over to the buckets filled with shit and piss. The remaining food was hidden in a blanket in the corner, not enough to last them the week. The buckets vanished into her necklace and a bunch of food materialized on top of the blanket. Enough for a month at least, maybe longer.
Before any of the people could react, Ilea blinked above and a couple houses over, dumping the content of the buckets before she went back, placing the emptied containers in their previous spot. The smell issue couldn’t be solved quickly, not with them staying here for another month so she didn’t bother trying to do so. She filled the water container up again and was about to leave when she turned around again, four sets of eyes focused on her, fear and confusion in their eyes but also gratitude and hope.
“Was this your house?” she asked and the woman nodded, tears forming in her eyes. Ilea blinked upstairs and checked the house for books and personal looking items, some empty pages and pens included she went back downstairs and put everything on the small table in the room. It was cold but they had a lot of blankets and now they had new things to keep their mind occupied and food to keep them alive.
“Thank y...” one of them started but Ilea was already gone, to the next house and looking for more survivors. It would take hours if not days to look through the whole city and she was sure there were many more, both here, in Ravenhall and in and other settlement nearby. The question was if it was more beneficial to help them survive or to destroy the demons who caused them to be hidden away.
Ilea concluded that both would be necessary and she would propose cleaning out Morhill and nearby settlements before tackling Ravenhall itself. With no mind weaver so far and the erratic movements and savagery she had seen in the demons here it was more likely for people to have survived here rather than in the Hand’s stronghold.
Ilea did go to the noble part of town, finding shelters in nearly every house but all of them empty, the people likely either fled or were strong enough to fight back. Still they either died or left in the end it seemed. The main hall of the local lord was impressive, the lack of people and light lent its splendor an eerie touch but Ilea wasn’t bothered by it, no rather she felt strong. To stand inside the ruins of an abandoned city, its highest governing members having given up on it yet here she was.
Time enough had passed and Ilea’s search would have to continue later that day, perhaps with a less subtle entry. She smiled at the roar behind her, one of the demons having found her inside the government building looking more akin to a palace.
“Did you think I’d leave without at least saying hello?” she asked before her leather armor was replaced by the dark full plate protection she had grown to trust. Still with her back to the demon she blinked right before its massive claws reached her, a multitude of skills activating at once as she appeared behind it, her hand reaching out around its throat, stopping the monster in its tracks. Her hand closed before a crack could be heard, its spine broken at the top, the monster dead in her hand.
The noise in her head notifying her about the low leveled monster she had killed was thoroughly ignored, most of the fought demons in the past day a mere trickle to her experience. Her skills would level but she was growing a little bored with these beasts, their predictable actions and fighting skills barely itching the more and more experienced warrior. The only exciting thing they had was numbers.
She tossed the demon corpse into the street below before she loudly started to sing. Snow was falling around her as more and more monsters were attracted to the noise coming from the stairwell leading to the main palace of government in Morhill. A once busy place, hosting diplomats, merchants, warriors and mages from all over the empire, now empty, a lone warrior sitting on its steps, missing her headphones and the sound of her favorite tracks.
Perhaps she would somehow get back to the demon realm and from there to earth, just to get a solar charger, her phone and some headphones before coming back to Elos. Standing up Ilea stretched, her bladed gauntlets replacing the juggernaut armor on her arms, ash forming and moving around the blades before the first demon appeared, screeching at the newfound source of food it may find hard to digest.
Like a beacon of light in a stormy ocean, more and more demons came and went, slashed through by the untiring warrior in black, her movements efficient, practiced and deadly. The mostly rather low leveled monsters were still dangerous but Ilea knew them by now, knew their tricks and movements, their hyper aggressive approach to fighting now used against them as the woman danced through the masses, each move both dodging an attack and delivering a kick or slash.
Four minutes into the fight she noticed streaks of gold flashing in the distance, punching through skulls of nearby demons. A smile formed on her lips as she went into a trance of fighting, becoming one with her body and her abilities. No ash was created around her to let the ranger see her enemies and to let the two members of her team see should she get into a desperate situation, not that such a thing was likely. Her veil was pierced a couple times but the demons were too vicious and aggressive to specifically target weak spots in her armor.
Her resources were running out a while later. Not sure how much time had passed, Ilea’s wings burst out from her back as she jumped upwards, kicking at a demon that tried to hold on. Projectiles rained against her veil, some piercing through to be stopped by her armor as she slowly rose up. Her bow appeared in her hand as she targeted specifically the ranged monsters, the massive arrows punching through their flesh and into the stone ground or ceilings below. Soon her stamina too reached a low as she blinked higher and flew towards where the golden streaks had come from, soon slowing down to meditate and get back her energy.
She landed next to Navalis who was still shooting her incorporeal arrows into the masses, sitting down next to her and watching the demons confused and screeching in the distance. There were hundreds still, if not thousands. Her skills weren’t suitable to deal with numbers like that efficiently but tomorrow would be different, tomorrow the demons would find themselves back in hell.
“I want to check on a village nearby. A friend of mine lives there.” Ilea said to Sulivhaan who appeared soon after. Her reserves were growing steadily, nearly full again she was glad her Meditation skill and general regeneration was percentage based and not simply number based. Otherwise it would take hours or days for her mana to grow back.
“Did you find any survivors and the supplies we needed?” the man asked her and she just nodded.
“I think we should clear out this city tomorrow. Then check surrounding villages and finally assault Ravenhall.” she said.
“Yes, that was the plan. Trian agrees as well although I think we should focus on Ravenhall first and foremost.” the mage answered, motioning for her to lead the way. Ilea nodded again and got up.
She looked to Navalis and spoke. “Let me know if we need to slow down.” she said and started flying towards Indur, the village where Balduur Birch had his little smithy.