Chapter 149 Reminiscing and Planning
Sadly nothing big had seemed to have happened to the city or the field. Ilea returned and joined the working people outside Ravenhall. Several holes with burning corpses were spread around the country side and the imperial company had joined the cleanup. Ilea overheard someone grumbling about priests and blessing the city and the field.
She tried to continue her ash training but found the process of moving corpses incredibly slow compared to just chucking them into the holes. So she combined it and moved around the battlefield, falling into a sort of trance as she moved corpse after corpse. Still a mass of ash whirled around her at all times, at least pushing and tumbling the corpses towards the nearest hole as she grabbed and threw them into the pits of fire. Her Embered Body Heat worked overtime as well, now that she didn’t have to keep all the fighting skills active and with State of Azarinth losing its usual cost, she could work on it with a little more focus.
The stink was bad, even with her reduced senses and a cloth bound over her nose. At least the monsters didn’t have a lot of hair usually. That might’ve been a completely different beast to bear.
It took the good part of an afternoon to clean up just a part of the field. Ilea decided to pause for a while and flew to the city to eat. Smoke was still rising in some places and rubble covered many streets. The path of destruction left behind by the whale was a big reminder of what had happened here. More imperial soldiers were strewn around in the city itself, moving corpses and rubble away just like the ones outside the walls.
Ilea received nods from both soldiers and mercenaries as she made her way to the central square, where both the officers of the Scout company and the Shadow’s Hand remained. Fires were burning in the square and several groups of people were eating, talking or sparring. Ilea passed tables with card games going on and bets were placed on two warriors fighting with their firsts, perhaps something to join later.
“The architecture was marvelous, vast. Not something you’d see even in the capital. What did you say you called them? Old ones right?” Trian explained with an interested voice.
“Ah there she is, I’d probably still be there if it weren’t for this reckless fucker. Not sure if I should thank or curse you for that.” the man said and waved towards her.
“You’d be dead and a demon by now Sparkly.” Ilea said as she sat down on the table with Claire, Kyrian and Weavy.
“Ilea, you have returned. We heard you have saved Claire.” Weavy said as he awkwardly lifted his mug of ale.
“Why was I the only one still cleaning up outside?” she asked and shook her head.
“You actually get paid for that you know, I think that’s why so many of the Hand are still out there.” Trian said.
“Really? I just thought I’d help out.” Ilea said and took the meal Trian graciously summoned from his storage ring and handed to her. The man used his ring like a status symbol. The steaming soup was exactly what Ilea needed right now as she removed the cloth from around her mouth.
“Vihal was attacked as well, the reports are still unclear but it seems like a lot of towns and cities have been attacked by demons, not few of them falling.” Claire said as she played with a runed stone, scratching into it with a small knife.
“Creating more demons in the process. I just hope this can be cleaned up without completely destroying Lys...” Trian commented, summoning a notebook.
“Not just Lys, they’ve gone further as well. The impact will be less severe but we probably have the strongest military here, I don’t think the response in Kroll or Baralia came close to what the imperial army managed to do. And with the refugees coming from the west...” Claire stopped talking when Trian showed her the contents of his notebook.
“Are those?…,” she asked and took the book. Ilea recognized the design of the runes.
“From the demon realm?” Ilea asked and looked at Trian who nodded.
“Yea, we sketched most of them down as well as we could. Maybe you can find out something, especially with everything left behind in Eregar’s Haven.” Trian said.
“No, these are different. Intricate, yet simple. I’ll study them, what do you want for this book?” Claire asked as she looked at Trian.
“Take it, it has little use to me.” he simply said as she stared at him, opening her mouth before she shrugged.
“Thanks, it means a lot.” the rune mage said and made the book vanish, getting a raised eyebrow from Trian and a chuckle from Ilea.
“We’re advancing, soon we’ll all be noble families Trian...” Ilea said with a mocking tone and touched his hand.
“Oh god no.” the man said and leaned back. “Speaking of, I’ll go back to my family now that Ravenhall has been retaken. The Hand thing was a nice experience but it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter. You’re all welcome to visit me, even Eve…” the man said.
“Yea, where is she anyway?” Ilea asked and shook her head. “You don’t think she died?”
“That one? No.” Trian said and chuckled.
“I don’t think so, she probably vanished to avoid paying back the Hand.” Claire said in a quiet voice.
“Yea, that sounds like her. Well I guess she’s gone then one way or the other. Guess I’ll visit her at some point.” Ilea said and finished her soup with a slurp, the look on Trian’s face bringing her the crystallized version of joy in its purest form.
“What are you guys going to do now?” Kyrian asked, speaking his first words in the past minutes.
Claire sighed and leaned back a little on the bench. “I’ll stay with the Hand, permanently if possible. Do you guys know the mage and librarian who seem to have taken the lead?”
“I do, both of them. Don’t worry about it.” Ilea said, ready to put in a good word for her companion. The woman was capable after all, if she desired a position in the Hand’s administration or even leadership, that definitely wasn’t outside of her capabilities.
“Me and Kyrian will be at my house for a while and then who knows? Run more jobs for the Hand for a while and maybe go somewhere new. Anywhere dangerous with high level monsters you know of?” Ilea asked.
“Typical. Well if you stay with the Hand I’ll gladly manage your missions.” Claire said. “Randomly dangerous? The north is good, north of the Navali forest and over the Naraza mountain chain. Expeditions try to break through now and then, maybe you can join one. You’re sure to find danger there.” Claire explained.
“I hear none of the ships going east have ever returned.” Kyrian said, a small smile forming on his lips.
“Wait, you and Kyrian? Are you a thing?” Trian asked and chuckled. Ilea just looked at him before the man punched Kyrian. “Good job, if she remains unchained for much longer the nobles will soon appoint their daughters for succession.” he joked.
‘We’ll see who will be in chains...’ Ilea thought and looked at Kyrian who just gulped.
“You know women are in charge already in some provinces of the empire and the northern kingdoms have a long standing history of matriarchy.” Claire pointed out as Trian groaned.
“He was joking Claire, the guy isn’t a tenth the noble asshole he pretends to be.” Ilea said, not getting a response from the man.
“So that’s it then, the team breaks up already…,” Ilea said, leaning back. “I must say it was fun.”
“Well we’ll all be around.” Claire said. “It’s just safer for me and my mother to stay here. As soon as… maybe I’ll think about adventuring again.”
“I think you fit in perfectly here, don’t forget to hone your skills though, you’re falling behind.” Ilea joked and roughly grabbed the woman’s shoulder. Ilea suddenly froze.
“Oh shit, speaking of staying here. Kyrian I really didn’t plan on taking care of a kid.” Ilea suddenly said.
“You’re already pregnant? That was fast.” Trian said, summoning a mug of ale. “Congratulations.”
“Congratula...” Claire was stopped by a gesture of Ilea.
“I’m talking about Cless, the girl we found in that ruin.”
“Ah, yes. I’ll find a place for her if you find a place for me, deal?” Claire asked with a sly smile.
“That sounds perfect, make sure she gets strong enough to rip apart the best of men.” Ilea replied and shook hands with the woman.
“What about the animals?” Kyrian asked and Ilea just kept shaking Claire’s hand whose smile slowly waned.
“What have I agreed on...” the woman asked herself.
“It’s fine, worst comes to worst you have a couple nice meals.” Ilea joked and released the woman’s hand. The suns marked the passing of the afternoon as they moved on the horizon, smoke rising high from outside and inside the city where the pits were still burning.
“What about the demon?” Claire asked.
“I have a place for him, we can go there tomorrow I guess. I’m sure you’ll make marvelous new friends.” she said and smiled at Weavy who was apprehensive at best.
“The elves aren’t your friends you know… speaking of, that’s another dangerous place you could go.” Trian said.
“Nah, I’m not talking about them. And yea, at some point I’ll go there alright...” she said, her eyes turning cold.
“Hey, don’t look at me. Human right?” Trian said, touching his ears.
“You’re not the first who wants to face them, nor are you the last. Just be aware that only few have returned from the western woods. The theory going around that the elves attacking us are mostly just their young seems plausible with the stories from the survivors. I even think they’re let go on purpose to discourage our foraging into their territory.” Claire said as she summoned a portion of cheese and bread, distributing it on the table, hesitating at Weavy but ultimately giving him a piece too that he started studying immediately.
“Yea, so everywhere outside the human plains is dangerous, got it. How come we’re not destroyed already, it seems like humans are bloody weak.” Ilea asked as she looked at her hand, nearly saying here at the end of the sentence.
“That is a good question, though I believe we’re rare in a sense that if powerful enough we’d take over all we could and multiply until barely anything else was left. That’s my theory at least. It doesn’t seem like any of the other species we know of care too much about expanding their territory. Neither do we see a surge in many species of monsters if left unchecked. Some do of course and seeing the demons, some even more aggressively than us.” Claire said, trying to explain the continued existence of their species.
“There are more powerful humans out there than you know. The Hand might be at the pinnacle but individual strength won’t be bound by set rules. For example the guy who was in the same ruin as Cless. Or the Hand’s elders. What I saw of them, some elves or other strong species would likely find it difficult at least to compete with them.” Trian extended as he drank from his mug.
Ilea thought of Earth and how a lot of animal species were pushed to the brink of extinction, kept alive in zoos as humanity worked hard to destroy their own environment for nicer things to have in the short term. Maybe here it would be different where higher leveled humans had a higher lifespan as well. Probably not though. She was cynical already on earth and that didn’t change with her experiences made in this place. In a way she loved it. This place didn’t just lie down against human technology and exploitation, it fought back.
The human nature in her welcomed the challenge. And her individual wouldn’t be enough to destroy the environment, or at least it would be left to her choice to do so. Her decision to chose Elos proved the right one, day in and day out. She smiled and ate a piece of cheese, smiling at Weavy who was putting back the dairy product with wild ferocity.
“What is this made of??” he asked as soon as there was none on the table anymore. It took a while to explain to him that humans made the chunks of godly taste with the mother milk of other animals. A foreign and disgusting concept to him, yet he didn’t reject more cheese.
‘Perhaps our species is even more corrupting than his…,’ Ilea thought as she too continued eating. She hadn’t put on weight at all, on the contrary, she was fitter than ever. ‘I like this new magical ass.’ she thought, smiling as she enjoyed the last meal with all these people on one table for likely quite a while.
“It’s time. If I want to be there tomorrow I have to leave now. Claire I suggest not getting too involved in the politics, not while you have someone like her to care for.” Trian said and got up, the others following a moment later.
“Goodbye Ilea, you will always have a place in my personal royal guard.” the man said.
“You mean your harem? Thanks, same offer goes for you.” she said and shook his hand. Nothing else had to be said. The others said their goodbyes as well before the man took to the skies, lightning flashing around him as he accelerated.
“Well we better get going then Claire, perhaps one or the other is a little drunk now. The best time to go visit and talk about newly appointed leadership. Some of them must’ve died after all.” she said.
“Kyrian, can you bring weavy to the house. We’ll bring Cless and the animals here tomorrow if everything works out.” Ilea said.
“Will do, don’t be too stupid in there.” the man said, his statement entirely serious.
“I’ll try not to.” Ilea answered before the two of them flew off.
Laughter could be heard from a distant room as Eve made her way through the dark mansion. Flowers covered the ground even in here but compared to outside, the species she recognized were poisonous. Adding the high reaching roots with sacks hanging from them, the atmosphere in here was quite different than the quiet yet eerie feeling she got form the place outside.
‘It’s coming from below…,’ she thought as she jumped up to one of the roots, a dagger flashing before one of the cocoons opened up, a slimy substance coming out coupled with a half digested human corpse. Eve knew she had found the right place and moved down again, careful not to make too much noise. Cutting open the cocoon might’ve been too much already but she had to be sure.
Now she had reason enough to take out whoever owned this place already, any further information or an actual member of the Golden Lily would be a prize on top. Eve soon found a staircase and with what she found below, the realization that the whole property was much deeper than expected.
A cave like room opened up before her, the whole place covered in a field of flowers, magical lights coming from crystals above and on the walls. Trees blossomed as it it were spring. Colors from red to blue to green filled the place as Eve stood, invisible to most eyes and ears at the entrance of it all.
The laughter came from deeper within and so she followed. It seemed as if the plants below her grabbed at her feet, brushing towards the unseen invader to their sacred haven.
Moving further, Eve found a clearing at a lower stage of the cave, flowers of all kinds surrounding a small altar with a bleeding corpse on it. Small cuts had completely drained the body of all blood as roots pushed into the openings. A woman stood next to it, laughing. Now that Eve was this close she realized the woman had tears on her face, the laughter was joyous as the flowers around her seemed to move with similar enthusiasm.
The woman was naked, a thin but beautiful frame with a kind looking face. Her smile and the joy of her laughter reminded Eve of a mother giving birth to her child. If only the corpse in front of her wouldn’t be there, the whole scene would change. Eve quietly made her way downwards, trying hard to not be noticed even by the very air around her.
“A visitor, and at such a late hour.” the woman suddenly said, her voice light and clear as she turned around with a spin, the flowers around her mimicking the movement. Her line of sight indicated that she didn’t know exactly where Eve was, just that there was someone there.
“Your hiding skills rival the best. Were you outside my domain, I doubt I would’ve even noticed!” the woman said, her voice indicating both surprise and pride. Eve didn’t know if the pride was meant for her own skills or the woman’s.
“Did you come to play? To kill or to talk?” the woman asked and waited. A minute passed as the flowers around them moved quietly in the wind. Eve nearly forgot that they were underground, it seemed just like outside, even the light from above resembling the moonlight.
“It is not to talk then? So to kill or to play. What will it be visitor?” the woman asked as roots started to come out of the ground, Eve calmly moving closer to her target, her illusion spells removing the impact her steps had on the flowers from the woman’s mind.
Four more steps and Eve found herself in front of the woman. A flash of steel later and her cursed dagger had pushed hard into the woman’s skin and through her heart. The impact felt wrong to Eve and she quickly moved backwards, letting go of the blade.
Tears started forming on the woman’s eyes. “To kill… it is always to kill…” she said, her voice breaking in the end, a sob flowing through her as she tried to rip out the dagger with her hands.
“You disturbed my routine. For that, you will take part in it as well.” she said, her tone changing from sadness to anger, roots exiting the ground in a more furious manner as Eve determined the safest place for her to stand. ‘It’ll start in a moment…’ she thought and prepared herself.