Chapter 166 The Next Steps
Ilea woke from her meditative state as a fox suddenly ran into her Sphere of perception, the animal rushing through the underbrush on its search for food, unaware of the hidden place among the bushes and rocks.
She could hear the faint sound of birds chirping outside as the suns were likely rising already. The others were still sleeping, no surprise considering what they had been through in the past days or even weeks.
Standing up, she put up the hood of her leather armor. She had switched to it at some point in the night, simply enjoying the more comfortable armor compared to her battered Juggernaut set. Balduur was somewhere in Virilya, perhaps a visit would be the right decision before they started their search.
Tapping Kyrian lightly on his shoulder, he opened his eyes immediately, magic flowing around him before he realized it was just her. “Could’ve killed you.” she whispered in his ear.
“That’s why I usually sleep with my armor on.” he said, his helmet summoned onto his head a moment later.
“You should get a storage item, one where you can put your whole armor inside.” she said and moved on to the others, touching them softly on their shoulders. “Time to get up.”
‘Now where is that damn spider?’ she thought and looked around the room, checking outside through her Sphere as well. It seemed the animal was out still, hopefully not creating too many tracks that would indicate their presence. The group was already getting up, getting on their boots and checking their weapons and armor. All of them looked terrible, their gear dirty and worn. At least their faces didn’t look just as exhausted as they had the day before.
“We’ll bring you a part of the way there, I think that would be best.” Ilea said, looking at Trian.
“I think so too. South west for an hour or two, the rest of the way they can go on their own. What do you think Orthan?” he asked the man.
“I think we can take it from here but if you insist on carrying us a part of the way I won’t say no. The Hand better make me grow wings as well.” he said, looking at Ilea with a crooked smile.
“I don’t like you.” she said and smiled under her hood, plainly for him to see.
“I know.” he said, mirroring the gesture as he cracked his bones. Literally cracking them apart. According to his frown, he didn’t quite get the reaction out of her that he had been looking for.
The others weren’t up for jokes, understandable considering the circumstances.
“We better get going.” Trian said and opened the pathway outside. Aurelia whistled and out of the thick forest a big spider suddenly appeared, moving with a creepy stillness over the terrain.
“Are they supposed to be this silent?” Ilea asked, feeling a shudder go down her back.
“That was my idea and training.” the girl said proudly, before her demeanor turned serious again.
The group flew upwards but stayed rather low, not to attract attention from too far away as they made their way first south and then west, rushing over the wild terrain as the winds pushed against them. Clouds had darkened the sky overnight and the light rain was clashing against them with their heightened speed and lack of windshields.
Ilea tried to shield her passengers with formations of ash in front of her, more for her to use the skill than to actually protect anybody from the water. Even Samuel was somewhat well trained compared to an average young adult one might meet in a village or small town.
The group luckily didn’t encounter any other people on their way, avoiding any of the scarce roads that linked the cities in Lys together. The rare monsters that didn’t immediately flee at their approach were ignored and left behind. Ilea pushed her speed a little when a rather massive snake started following them. The beast was too high of a level for her to identify but still only showed two question marks. Yet it wasn’t an encounter they planned on having with the two children around.
A couple hours of traveling later, the group landed on Trian’s signal, continuing through a small patch of forest until they could see a crossroads from within the thicket.
“This is as far as we go for now. I want to be back in the city as quickly as possible. We have no idea if Eve will still be there.” Trian said to them as he rolled his shoulder. Hanging onto a flying bar of metal wasn’t as easy as it looked.
“Well then we must thank you all for getting us this far, the rest of the way we will be able to protect ourselves.” Orthan said and clapped Trian on his shoulder.
“You know? Your father would’ve been proud of you.” he said with a grin. “And your ma would warn you not to take too many risks. Be careful out there Trian.” he finished.
Aurelia hugged her brother, whispering some words to him. “Be safe, we’ll be waiting for you in Ravenhall.” the girl didn’t say anything else, nor did she ask for a promise or tried to stop him. Ilea thought it might have to do with the girl being awake the night before.
“Don’t worry too much, even if we get into a bad situation, we’re all masters of escape.” Ilea said, tapping her wings with both hands as they moved forwards a little. It was true, when it came to speed and maneuverability, all three of them were likely in the top, Kyrian a little behind the other two, lacking an actual teleportation skill.
Aurelia checked Samuel’s pack and made sure her own was safely secured before she joined the waiting Orthan. Other than the sword on her hip, the group looked like ordinary travelers. One identification would tell otherwise to any passerby of course but the way to Ravenhall wasn’t long from here.
“Come.” Orthan said, crouching down as Samuel got on his back. “We’re going to make good time. The weather will keep away both critters and people.” he turned around and looked at Kyrian once more. “Good luck kid.” he nodded and started running. Aurelia looked back as well, hesitated and then followed Orthan.
The remaining three stood partially hidden in the forest as the rain dropped from their armors. A minute later, Trian leaned on a tree before he sunk down, the metal of his armor scratching into the tree as he landed on his ass with a heavy thud. He stretched his legs in front of him and sighed.
“Are you alright?” Ilea asked and looked at him. The wind was pushing the rain sideways, making it especially annoying.
“Am I alright?” Trian asked and chuckled. “My family… my family was murdered.” he said, empathizing the last word. They sounded hollow, the man chuckling again a moment later. “Unbelievable… and I wasn’t even there.” he said and shook his head. “Couldn’t even see them. You know…,” he started but didn’t continue.
“There will be time to grief.” Kyrian said as he walked up to the man, crouching down a little and stretching out his hand. “Come.”
The simple word made the man move a moment later as he grabbed his friend’s arm and let himself get lifted.
“We need a rough plan.” Ilea said. “When Claire wasn’t here you were the planny guy weren’t you. So plan.” she said, pushing the task into his hands.
“Right.” Trian said as he tried to wipe his helmet with his arm, confused when he suddenly hit metal. “A plan.” he continued.
“Maybe we can look at the armory? Then maybe the contacts you have at those Guilds you mentioned?” Ilea asked as he continued to calm down somewhat.
“The armory, yes. And the Guilds. We also have to look for Eve, she’s one of the only real leads we have. Invading some random nobles will do us little good, as much as I’d like to just burn down the whole capital right now.” Trian said. Ilea looked at Kyrian who nodded towards her.
“Maybe we can visit Balduur if we find him, the smith who made Kyrian’s armor. I need something new or get mine repaired. Maybe you guys can get something too. I’m sitting at 44 gold right now but we should be fine.” Ilea added, getting a look from Trian.
“Yes, equipment is good. I can check if any deposits are still available. Let’s go to the mansion first then and move back into the city this evening. We need cloaks as well.” Trian said as Kyrian’s metal spheres moved out, forming a small frame for Trian to hold onto.
“Back to the mansion first then.” Ilea said as her black wings spread, the rain landing on the solid ash as she started moving them to ascend.
The way back was faster and in silence, three dark figures rushing over the countryside, turning heads of both monsters and animals. Most hiding away in whatever hole they lived in to not attract their attention.
The building was as they had left it. Beyond the pile of ash sitting in the back, it looked taken care of, yet not as lively as it would’ve normally been. Trian led them inside and walked straight to the main hall, opening a secret door behind one of the bigger paintings. Ilea’s Sphere suddenly revealed another room but she could already tell that it would be fruitless. At least if there weren’t any more hidden passages.
It was surprising that her Sphere hadn’t alarmed her to the passage. Perhaps learning about runes would be a distant study for her as well. Or perhaps feeling mana? She thought about the skill she had exchanged a long time ago, mana sense. Still she felt what she had now was much more practical. If only she could get it as a general skill.
The passageway led downwards but the stairs already were bloody. Finally reaching the vault revealed an absolute mess. Surprisingly a lot of things were still there. No gold of course and any documents had been taken or burnt. Lower quality weapons, clothing and even some pieces of armor were still lying around.
“Some cloaks.” Kyrian suggested, holding up a bunch of clothes.
“That’ll do.” Ilea said, switching to her battered Juggernaut armor and draping the black cloak over it casually. A small metal link attached to the cloth was used to fasten the cloak together around her neck.
“I’ve checked before. But they really took everything.” Trian said, shaking his head.
“Then we’ll take it back, and more.” Ilea said casually, looking at herself in a big cracked mirror, dried blood present on both herself and the glass.
“Are you sure there aren’t any more hiding spots around here?” Ilea asked as she turned around. The man shook his head.
“Even if there were. I don’t want to destroy this place. You don’t feel anything?” he asked but Ilea’s Sphere gave her nothing other than the simple yet large room they were standing in. She shook her head.
“Let’s not waste more time then.” Trian said and walked upstairs. The others followed, heavy armor clinking on the stone steps.
“We’ll move on foot, circle around and go in through the northern gate.” the vampyr said as they came out of the mansion. The sky had darkened even more and while the rain had stopped, the winds were strong. Neither Ilea nor Kyrian had an objection to that and moved out.
The run including the detour took them around twenty minutes, making them faster than even horses. As soon as they came up to the main street leading to the capital, the group slowed down. Even here, travelers going in and out of the city weren’t filling the street. There were adventurers here and there, some merchants coming in late for the day and of course soldiers patrolling. In a couple hours all travel would cease, the night left to whatever may be out there.
“Sure we should wear our armor?” Ilea asked the others as they came up on the gate.
“It wouldn’t make much of a difference. The Hand is a better disguise for us than anything else I could come up with.” Trian said and waved to the guards who tensed up a little, seeing the black armored mages and warrior close in.
“Thought they’d be gone by now…,” one of them said to another guard, looking at Ilea who cocked her head a little, indicating that she had heard the man.
“Shadow’s Hand business?” the other guard asked as they reached the massive gate. It looked the exact same as the southern one did and still managed to impress Ilea. They weren’t exactly there for sightseeing.
“Yes. Ravenhall has been retaken. They’re still reorganizing. Figured we could get something good at the main guild.” Trian said and got three large copper coins from his pouch. The fee to enter the city.
“They’re swamped, the army might be a better paying alternative. Demons are harder to deal with than the usual monsters around here.” the soldier offered and took the money, waving them inside. Noticing the forms stored in a small guard house nearby, Ilea was pretty sure the entrance was usually a little more difficult. Trian had been right about declaring they were here with the Hand.
[Warrior – lvl 81]
She identified the guards, finding them a little lower than what she had seen in the capital so far. Perhaps they were short on personnel as well. Patrols might be a little lower then, she thought as they entered the city. Lanterns and magical lights illuminated the streets in a somewhat dim light. The sound of music and the smell of food pushed through the wet cobbled streets. Just another night it seemed.
The three of them walked through the city for a while until Trian nodded towards a tavern built into the cellar of a big stone and wood house. The entrance was a little hidden and the door a little low. Moss covered most of the building’s side and a singing voice could be heard from within.
Stepping inside, a swath of warm air full with the smell of beer smashed into her as she took in the scene with her eyes. There weren’t many patrons inside and the barkeeper just nodded towards them and to one of the room’s corners. Either he knew Trian or he had at least dealt with people from their order before.
They all sat down and Trian lifted a hand with three fingers outstretched. “We’re being followed.” he said and leaned back.
“They’re standing outside. One hanging around the side street we came from, one went up on a building, can’t see him anymore. The third one is coming in riiiight now.” Ilea said and the door opened right after, a warrior in expensive looking armor entered and walked right to the bar.
“We each check the guilds and return here in, let’s say around two hours?” Trian asked and the others nodded. They had discussed such a possibility and each had been assigned different tasks to look after. Trian being the supposed last survivor of the Alymies would check any remaining connection, bank or guild to see if he could get anything out of it still. Any deposits, favors or information anybody was willing to share.
It wasn’t much to go with and seeing how effectively his family had been eradicated, there was little doubt they had at least tried to dry those sources up or take them over completely. At least if it had been a political move. Kyrian would stay with Trian, knowing that his mobility was much lower to the others. Plus Trian running into a trap wasn’t entirely implausible. Having another man shooting around curses could be rather helpful.
Ilea was tasked to find anything about Eve or Balduur. For now those were their only goals. They set three different inns as meeting points, depending on the time of day. This one wasn’t one of them. Ilea took a sip of the drink that had been placed in front of her and then downed the whole cup, blinking into the opposite house’s cellar and further away from there, her Healing spell having already removed the little amount of alcohol that managed to get through her Poison Resistance.
She smiled as already nobody seemed to be following her. Blinking seven more times, Ilea remained in the latest cellar, motionless and silent, simply feeling everything around her and looking for a hunter. She could only make out one of them, a rat hidden away under a wooden bucked in one of the room’s corners. Like herself it remained motionless, doubtlessly leveling up its sneak skill as it waited for the dangerous predator in its cellar to leave.
Splitting up would allow them to save time, each of them focusing on their strengths. None of them expected a big fight to break out in the capital. The empire had at least enough resources and people to shut the three of them and just as many attackers down. Of that Trian was sure. Ilea not as much, having seen some of the cities strongest defenders in Dawntree and Riverwatch. A fight between her and Trian alone could demolish a shit ton of houses before any reasonable reaction could even be formed. At least she thought as much but she wouldn’t question the noble’s word. He had lived nearby most of his life after all.
Five minutes later, Ilea switched into leather armor, put up her hood and blinked up onto the street. A cat nearby hissed and jumped away. It looked like she had landed in a less lively part of the city, barely a soul walking on the street. ‘Now where the hell do I start…,’ she thought and sighed, looking up at the sky, a black veil of clouds covering the stars beyond.
Deciding to at least walk, Ilea followed the closest noise and soon saw a square in the distance, a fire burning in its midst and stalls still tended to so late in the evening. Eve wouldn’t be easy to find. If she could assume anything about her, that wasn’t even her real name. Neither was the way she looked likely any indication to her current appearance. Like black widow with mind powers. The thought was rather sobering in her current situation. She really could’ve lived her life without a friend’s family being murdered.
‘Come then First Hunter, let me see…,’ she thought and focused on her Hunter’s Sight, thinking of Balduur and Eve. Nothing registered. Still she had a couple hours to walk around. Asking questions about Balduur seemed safer and would create a good alibi should anybody question who she was looking for. A top tier mercenary looking for a top tier smith wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary.