Chapter 148 Bearded Follower
Claire just didn’t expect the noble’s hunters to actually follow and confront her. They must either be desperate, under some kind of spell or extremely well paid. None of them were above her level, the closest one being at one eighty. Still with the six of them standing around the shield and her mother within, it would be a difficult fight. The explosion she had sent upwards was meant for the imperials but none of them had even looked in her direction, preoccupied by whatever lay before them.
“Are you sure you want to die here, mage?” one of her enemies said, an older man, his ax laying lazily in his hands. The man didn’t smile, his question not a mocking one but one filled with confusion.
“Protecting a friend shouldn’t stand above your own and your mother’s life. We’re even instructed to pay you, though I doubt that will be an option after this unnecessary pursuit.” the man said as he dragged his ax across her shield, small sparks falling towards the snow before they vanished in the air.
“And really? Trying to alarm the army? Didn’t you realize already that you’re the one against the law?” the man asked and shook his head while another laughed. A sharp glance from their apparent leader shut the man up immediately.
“We’ll wait her out, the trees are covering us but if we make a ruckus...” the leader said when Claire felt something and looked up. A smile tugged on her lips as she saw a silhouette against the sun. A moment later a figure in black landed near their group and stood up. Dark wings of ash started floating away and vanishing behind the warrior, their armor black as the night, scratched and battered, one of the helmet’s horns chipped. Blue eyes locked with Claire’s before the warrior took in the scene with a curious glance.
Claire sighed and felt a weight leave her shoulders as she crouched down to her mother and brushed her hair. “Is she alright?” Ilea asked and Claire just nodded before she looked at her friend with a smile.
Claire stood behind one of her shields, surrounded by six people. The old woman below the blankets was apparently fine, so Ilea put her attention towards the others. A man with an ax walked a couple steps towards her and nodded.
“Greetings, warrior of the Hand. I assume Ravenhall has been retaken then?” he asked and put the butt of his ax on the ground.
“Greetings, warrior of? The city was retaken, yes.” she said as she watched their movements through her Sphere. Claire seemed more relaxed now with her coming as she brushed the woman’s hair. The shield however stayed up.
“You may call me Horrus, we’re here with orders from Dawntree. This woman, a mage of the Hand has information on a dangerous fugitive.” he explained as the others moved a little around Claire’s barrier.
“Horrus then. From Dawntree? That is quite a long way to come for information on a fugitive. And why is it that she is protected behind a barrier?” Ilea asked with interest.
“It is a long way. The woman refused to cooperate, perhaps the persuasion of someone in her own order might help. We will reward you handsomely of course. We’re just here for the information, neither of them will be harmed, that is my promise to you.” the man said. The five others were now all in attacking range, either they didn’t share their leader’s diplomatic approach or he was deceiving her. The annoyed glances he shot towards the people behind her made it seem like the former.
“What are you looking for anyway, depending on the situation I might want more to help.” Ilea said, thoroughly interested in what Claire might know to cause hunters like them to come from Dawntree.
The man sighed and nodded before touching his bushy beard. “We’re looking for a female healer with the name of Lilith. We know this woman has ties to her.” the man said as Ilea tried very hard not to laugh. A big grin came to her face as she stayed calm.
“Lilith… I have heard of her as well. I think she tried to join the Hand a while ago.” she said to them after a while.
“Impossible, she was nowhere near level two hundred.” one of the mages said.
“She said the bitch tried to join, not that she did...” a warrior said, apparently he wanted to be the first one to be killed by her.
“So you know of her, then I will extend the rewards to you. Ten gold coins for information that will lead directly to her, descriptions, information on skills and classes will increase the rewards.” the leader said.
“Hmm...” Ilea said as she scratched her illusionary beard. Not an actual magical illusion.
“I know all of those things, in fact I know where she is right now...” she said and saw the man’s eyes light up. A long search it had been, that was sure. “I want to know something in return though, you may subtract the value of said information from the reward.” she said and looked towards the man.
“What do you want to know? I’ll tell you if we can’t give you the information.” he said, accepting to negotiate.
“Well it’s simple. I just want to know why you’re looking for her, when I met that girl she seemed to be on the run but didn’t want to tell me why...” Ilea said. The man seemed a little reluctant but looking at his men he shook his head a moment later.
“A girl ran away, a girl by the name of Alice. We believe she might be with the woman called Lilith.” he explained, sharing just enough to explain the situation without mentioning any family names or what exactly had happened. Ilea could think of the rest. Finally, the girl made one right choice. Running away from home to find her own way in the world, maybe it wasn’t such a bad decision to be nice to her. Only if she didn’t die of course. Ilea smiled under her helmet, knowing that the noble girl would have to survive in the wild. Perhaps next time they met, the noble wouldn’t be such a fucking twat.
“That’s awful. Well you convinced me. You know, the woman’s name isn’t actually Lilith. Neither is she a healer, at least not anymore.” Ilea started as she cracked her neck. “She did in fact join the hand, and in full capacity.” she said and looked towards the man who had called her a bitch.
“Her skills include mostly body enhancements. She fights with her fists and legs.” she said, as she lifted one fist. “I heard she can crush a man’s skull with her bare hands.” her smile got bigger as she felt the tension around her rise. “She’s clad in black, as most members of the Hand. To top it off though, she has ashen wings that carry her through the skies.”
“You….” the leader said as he lifted his ax.
“Me? Yes, welcome to Ravenhall Mr. Holmes. And now everyone, you’ll tell me what you did to Claire.” Ilea said, her eyes turning cold.
“Who cares about her now, we found you. Where’s Alice? The reward is still up for you to get, depending on what you tell us.” the man said, his ax angled more offensively now.
“Who cares about her? I do. And I swear if you don’t answer me now I will kill all of you. I don’t give a rat’s ass about Alice, she’s ran off from her shitty family, good for her. I hope she’s far away from here now and gets strong enough to fight for herself. And to develop some bloody common sense...” she said as she locked eyes with the leader.
A moment later he relented, looking towards the ground. “So it was you? You got her to leave?” the man said before he looked at her again. “We simply asked her about you, nothing more.” he added, looking towards Claire.
“They threatened my hometown, made me a fugitive and forced us out before they hunted us down and attacked us, several times until now. I would’ve killed them all if it wasn’t for my mother.” Claire said, not looking at them, her voice clear as it rang through her shield.
“Interesting. For you, I didn’t make Alice leave, that was her own decision. As was it your decision to seek out Claire and treat her the way you did.” Ilea said, a chunk of health leaving her as a red glow appeared to mix with her eyes’ blue.
“She’s...” one of them said when Ilea appeared in their midst, grabbing her first target by the throat and lifting him up. He would learn not to insult her, though that knowledge wouldn’t impact his remaining life by much. Blood sprayed onto the snow below, the mage’s throat ripped out as Ilea turned around, facing the incoming ax as a Veil of Ash stopped it in its movement.
“You fool...” the man said as the ax started burning and pushed through her defenses. She blinked and appeared next to a mage who moved further away, surely to attack her from a distance. Aki was unsheathed and stabbed into his heart. She felt his health drain as she grabbed onto his arm with her free hand, using reversed Hunter Recovery to speed up the process, destructive mana flowing into him.
The man was dropped to the ground a moment later, his eyes cold as blood slowly flowed from the wound in his chest. The rest charged, four warriors, their weapons drawn. Ilea sacrificed another two hundred health and advanced, the snow and dirt pushed downwards below her feet as she met the men. A sword was dodged before her knee hit a stomach, a wave of ember and destruction pushing into the man, destroying organs as the sheer force of her attack broke bones.
A dagger scratched at her veil as she grabbed the arm, breaking it with a quick movement before she grabbed the weapon and smashed it in the warrior’s skull. The ax swing of their leader was blocked by her bracers as she stood, moving not an inch backwards to the man’s surprise. Grabbing the blade of his weapons, she ripped it out of his hands and threw it into the forest. Metal clung against wood as the last warrior attacked her with a flurry of blade swings, forcing her backwards a couple meters. She danced and dodged around the weapon before she twirled into one of his attacks, coming face to face with him before a headbutt sent him staggering backwards with more than a broken nose. A hard punch to his chest dented his armor inwards, breaking a bunch of ribs. Blood shot out of his mouth before he fell down, coughing as tears came to his eyes.
A calm came over the surroundings as the leader walked towards his ax and Ilea waited, the warrior she had just fought quieted down slowly, more blood coming to his mouth with each cough before finally, he stopped.
“You will regret going against the Forkspears.” the man said, grabbing his ax from the ground as mana flowed around him, his muscles tensing.
Ilea just shrugged. “You will regret going against a friend.”
The man chuckled, the ax gripped even more firmly as he prepared his strike. “Yes I do.” he said before he rushed towards her, the blade coming sideways as Ilea blinked behind it. A sudden force changed the direction of his ax almost immediately, Ilea jumping upwards to avoid the strike. The momentum of his swing left him open to the kick she delivered out of her jump, sending him tumbling backwards.
His weapon flung towards Claire’s shield and scratched against it before it landed in the snow with a thud. Slowly he got up, breathing heavy as he held his shoulder. His helmet had been flung off as well and he grinned at her. Ilea had considered letting him live, fuck the consequences. She liked the guy. Seeing him now though, she wouldn’t insult him any further.
“I’m Ilea Spears, it was an honor fighting you. Sad to see you as my enemy.”
“As it was for me. Horrus Daemon.” he said, putting his arm towards his chest as Ilea blinked towards his weapon, flinging the heavy thing towards him as if it were a mere toy.
“Good thing I never had kids.” he said and rushed towards her. Ilea equipped her bladed gauntlets and let his strike rush past her veil. When it changed directions, she blinked next to him and slashed through his neck with all her strength, her overcharged State of Azarinth flowing through her.
Her gauntlets vanished again into her necklace as she turned around to see the man falling, his head coming off in the last second, blood coloring the ground. Ilea breathed out and closed her eyes. “Alright.” she said, five seconds later and walked towards Claire who hadn’t even been watching.
The shield cracked and turned to small lights that vanished a moment later, Ilea appearing next to the two. “May I?” she asked and crouched down after not receiving an answer, touching the old woman lightly. She was a little cold but healthy. Her demeanor reminded Ilea of war movies and documentaries she had seen, an unresponsive state it seemed. Something had happened to Claire’s mother but Ilea wouldn’t ever ask about it.
“She’s fine.” Ilea said and got up again. “Ravenhall’s clear but we’re just starting to burn the demon corpses. There’s a bunch.”
“Tell me about it, we just finished burning them a couple days ago.” Claire said. “Thanks.” she added.
“No reason to thank me, we’re friends after all.” Ilea said and extended a helping hand.
“Go burn your demons, I’ll join you soon. Are the others there?” Claire asked.
“I came here to avoid doing exactly that. Trian and Kyrian, yes. And a new friend we made. He’s… well let’s say he’s different.” Ilea answered.
“A demon? Of course...” Claire murmured to herself as she put away the blankets again, helping her mother stand. “We’ll have to burn these corpses as well, can you line them up for me, a concentrated explosion will do the trick.” Claire said.
“Sure, not the beard guy though, I’ll bury him.” Ilea said.
“Are you sure? They might find us that way.”
“They know who you are already and they know their team never came back. I’ll give him the respect he deserves.” Ilea said and she wouldn’t change her mind. “I’ll bury him a while away at least.” she said, throwing together the corpses. Her wings sprouted from her back as she grabbed the remaining head, the rest of Horrus’ corpse and made his ax vanish into her necklace.
“I saw you also got a storage ring, congratulations.” Ilea said.
“It’s not all happy… I guess this is better than what I expected though. I see you got a bunch of levels.” Claire said as she shouldered her mother, throwing a handful of runed stones towards the corpses.
“Yea, not gonna stop anytime soon. See you in the city?” Ilea asked as she flew upwards.
“Will do, after I took care of her.” Claire answered.
A row of five explosions could be heard ringing through the thick forest as Ilea flew high and far, holding onto the two pieces of a man she had killed mere minutes ago. A strange life she had come to live, she thought as she lifted the head up and looked at it. Not a bit of regret or fear on her mind, only respect for the warrior he once was and anger at the noble family that caused him to come here.
At some point she’d visit Dawntree again and she already knew of at least one person who would likely join her. Well two if Alice actually survived and reached a suitable level of strength for an undertaking such as she thought of.
Ilea flew for a couple minutes through the snowy mountains until she reached a small clearing inside of a patch of forest. The snow crunched as she landed and took a couple steps to the middle of the clearing. Holding out her hand, ash came into existence. Ilea thought of it more like mana transforming into the element, almost like alchemy. She let the ash flow for a minute and then concentrated.
First she formed two big walls of ash and solidified them. The thin walls flowed downwards and cut into the snow before they pushed outwards, revealing the frozen ground below. ‘Earth...’ she thought and changed the ash into four separate tendrils ending in spikes. Hovering them over the ground, she used as much force as she could and stabbed downwards. The compressed ash smashed into the ground, breaking in the process.
Ilea lifted the ash up and compressed it again, fixing the broken parts. She saw through her Sphere that the spikes did have an impact. So she repeated it, over and over. After twenty times, the ground was splintering. After a hundred, she cut half a meter into the ground. Soon the patch she focused on was filled with cold but loose earth. Putting the corpse aside, she bent down and took a handful of the earth, moving it around in her hand.
Her ash manipulation skill was marvelous. She smiled at the success and continued attacking the ground with ashen spikes and other forms she deemed good. The spikes had the most success though and she soon found herself in front of a grave sized patch with easy to move earth.
Sneaking a thin layer of ash under the earth, she solidified it and lifted up the earth. At least she tried, finding it rather difficult because of the weight. Ilea’s mana was dwindling fast as she concentrated on the hard magical labor. It took another fourteen tries and three sessions of meditation to move out the earth in one go.
She took the time to continue her training to keep the ash in the air next to her as she moved the corpse inside the hole. Putting the head close to the neck, she closed her eyes and stepped back. The earth moved over the grave and was slowly let down, covering the body of the deceased man.
Ilea stepped away a moment later, her wings forming on her back. Looking down she frowned at the state of her armor. ‘Balduur better be able to repair this...’ she thought. The set of armor really grew on her, even though she already liked it a lot upon finding it. “Aight, back to corpsefield...” Ilea said and sighed. Maybe something else interesting would happen to save her from the work.