Chapter 172 Crash
“We’re looking for a rogue above level two hundred, blond hair when we last saw her. She’s hard to track and even harder to see. She should’ve been in the capital these past months.” he said. The woman lifted her eyebrow and chuckled.
“That is terribly unspecific. Any idea as to her weapons, gear, clothes or skills?” the woman asked.
“Two daggers, light gear of course, possibly a mask. Illusion and mind magic.” Trian said. The woman slowly opened a little box on the table and took out another fancy cigarette, lighting it with the plain looking lighter that lay next to the box. Taking a puff, she exhaled towards the group of people before she spoke.
“There aren’t many that fit a description even close to that. I know of three that get reasonably close but my information on their skills is limited at best. I’m pretty sure one of them has not been in the capital for a while. Of the two others I know for sure that one of them has been here. She visited me actually, asking many questions. Some regarding the demons… I would wager she has something to do with the Hand now that you suddenly show up here. And I believe she is your woman.” she said. “I want five gold pieces for further information on her.”
She had shared quite a bit without even expecting them to pay anything. Now she definitely had them on the hook. Impressive to see a professional at work, Ilea thought as Trian stacked five gold coins on the table before he invited the woman to take them.
The coins vanished somewhere below the table. A hidden pouch, Ilea saw through her Sphere. A pouch with a hidden pouch within. A little extreme, she thought.
“She was wearing plain leather armor, cheap and worn. Short red hair. There was a weird pressure I felt back when she was here around two weeks ago. I believed it to be simply her presence and high level but it might’ve been mind magic now that you mentioned it. I saw only one dagger but she might’ve hidden another. She asked dangerous questions, questions that I won’t be willing to share with you. The woman left this way but she vanished right after jumping off the building.” she said, less than Ilea had expected and little to go on.
Hunter’s Sight was working overtime to catch anything in the surroundings. If the woman was right then Eve had been here two weeks ago. Much too long for any reasonable trace to still be here, especially with how hard Eve was to detect already.
“Any idea where she went or who her target was?” Trian asked and the woman raised a hand with five fingers.
“Another five gold. I might have an idea. Didn’t before our talk and that is why you’ll get this one for less.”
Ilea summoned five gold coins and placed them on the table. “Go on.” she said, continuing to look around the place.
“I’ve heard a woman has died. A dangerous woman with a rather unpleasant hobby. It would be foolish to get close to her and any acquaintances but somebody did and they managed to kill her. Stab wounds from a dagger, cursed as I’ve heard, veins of black running through the corpse. I don’t know the name of the woman but I know where she resided. The place was burnt down last week and with it the secrets held within. People talked as soon as she had died, their voices silenced quickly but not quickly enough to not reach me and doubtlessly many others. Do you have a map?” the woman asked and Trian produced one from his pack.
“Here.” she said and placed the not burning part of her cigarette onto the paper.
“Be wary of both that woman and anybody who might be watching. I would not normally say this to members of the Hand.” she said and put away her money, continuing to smoke.
Trian got up and jumped off the building, the others following behind.
“We’ll check it out.” he said and started running towards what Ilea assumed to be the place pointed out on the map.
What Ilea assumed to be a mansion was actually a massive piece of land in the middle of the city. Where previously there must’ve been luscious gardens, there was only ash remaining. The fire had been controlled, burning only to the very edges of the estate. What remained of the house was burnt out as well, collapsed and destroyed.
Ilea connected with the remaining ash out of habit and started moving it a little as the three of them sneaked into the wasteland. The explosions and bells had lessened in the past half hour, a sign that the city was either getting completely overrun or they slowly got the situation under control.
“We should check the surroundings first.” Kyrian said, the other two looking at him.
“They burned everything inside. Perhaps there are clues where the fire didn’t reach.” he added and Ilea agreed. Walking back, the three of them checked the streets and houses surrounding the estate.
One the last side street, Trian looked up and suddenly walked into the street. The others followed and watched him stop and touch a wall.
“What’d you find?” Ilea asked and checked the surroundings as well. She had the answer before he spoke it.
“Blood. It’s a week old at least. It seems. Familiar. I’m not the best at bloodtracking but I feel like I know this one.” he explained.
“Should we go back and check out the house or follow this one.” Ilea asked.
“We don’t know if the chaos lured away anybody who would be guarding the place. And if she was injured a week ago, there is no urgency for us to find her. She’s either fine or…,” he didn’t finish the sentence as he looked at Ilea. “We’ll find her.” he said, touching her shoulder.
They searched the burnt estate and the house itself. Ilea was sure there had been people burnt inside, the ash felt different to her. Little remained but a ruin. The underground cave they found didn’t help them much either, most of it collapsed and burnt as well. Evidence of something, to be sure.
The effort led them back to the side street where Trian had found dried blood. Him and Ilea worked together to find the next spot. It wasn’t far and not difficult. Easily determined to be from around the same time as the one from before.
It had been cleaned and partially removed but to Trian’s bloodmagic and Ilea’s sphere it was still noticeable.
The track led them to another district nearby but it suddenly stopped. Completely. Ilea knew it. She was here, somewhere here. It reminded her of the weird absence she had used to discover Eve in their early training bouts. Enough to fool most but not enough to fool her the Hunter Sphere.
“Her hideout is somewhere here…,” Ilea said, walking up to the wall of a house, touching it carefully. Her Sphere couldn’t penetrate to look inside. Surely this was the place.
“It’s in here.” she said, stepping away from the wall. Trian looked around and charged a spell, his electricity flowing into the wall and spreading on it like a disturbed nest of ants. The magic revealed a simple wooden door.
“… no.” Ilea said and rushed towards the entrance, a sinking feeling in her stomach as she pushed into the small room, the inside revealed now that the enchantments were broken. The smell of rot and blood filled her nose as she blinked to the bed and flung away the cloth placed on the body. Kneeling down she threw away her helmet and ripped off her gauntlets before she carefully touched Eve’s head.
The woman was dead. Ilea knew it the moment she laid eyes on the pale corpse, her healing spell pushing into the body nonetheless as her shaking hands ran through her friend’s hair. They were red after all. She had looked better with longer hair, Ilea thought as tears started to silently dripp onto her armor. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…,” she said and kept on trying to heal her friend. Her dead friend. Her murdered friend. The knot in her stomach gripped at her tightly as a coldness filled her chest.
A sudden hand on her shoulder made her veer back into reality. She was crying, the hand on her shoulder lending little warmth to the cold inside of her. Pushing the hand away, she kept stroking Eve’s hair. Ilea didn’t know what to do.
‘Get a grip.’ a small voice in her head told her. ‘Would she be breaking down in a mess like that?’ the voice asked.
“No…,” Ilea replied a moment later, lifting her hands free of armor to brush away the tears. “She wouldn’t.” she said and laughed, the sound mixing with the occasional sob that broke through. Standing up, Ilea walked to the other side of the room and punched the wall. She was sad, angry and frustrated. Without any skills active, her fist shattered the stone, forming cracks on it as again and again it landed.
Why didn’t she ask for help? Why did she go at it alone? Why hadn’t she been there? Questions ran through her head as she kept on hammering her frustrations into the wall, blood joining the pulverized stone soon as her fist worked its way further. ‘Get a fucking grip.’ again the voice in her head said. Ilea realized it was her own voice, a part of her just as frustrated and angry as she was. A part of her that was cold. It was her. Not the Ilea who was annoyed at her fastfood job. Not the Ilea who somehow landed in a weird and distant world, terrified of dragon like creatures. Not the Ilea who was used by who she considered to be a friend. No, it was her.
She had faced down Elves, creatures destroying human cities for fun and killing hundreds in their bloodthirst. She had faced dwarven machines thousands of years old, fine tuned for killing. She had traveled to the demon realm and killed thousands of the monsters that threatened to bring down even the strongest human empire. And she had killed them all. She had prevailed. Ilea found herself standing in the room, staring at the ceiling as ash swirled around her, slowly and gently, all her skills running at the max, her health declining as a red glow illuminated parts of the surroundings.
Someone had killed her friend. For one reason or the other, someone had killed her friend. Eve had been a murderer, an assassin, a thief and probably a liar. Ilea was sure of all that. The woman likely had enough enemies already and this time she had done something that had cost her her life. Ilea didn’t care. She would find whoever did this.
The ash slowly came to a stop before it sunk to the floor, Ilea noticing Trian and Kyrian for the first time since she entered the room. The latter was kneeling near Eve, checking her wounds. Trian was looking through the many documents he had found in the nearby dresser.
“Do you have anything?” Ilea asked in a cold tone.
“A lot actually. I expected her to be a spy or assassin but this goes beyond anything I’d have given her credit for.” Trian said as he carefully distributed the papers and letters into piles.
“These are letters and documents from high nobles of Virilya.” he said. “Whatever she was playing, it was as high stakes as it gets.”
“And she paid dearly for that.” Ilea said, walking up to Eve.
“She has a lot of wounds on her body but nothing fatal as far as I can tell. The rashes on her neck and the state of her hands and nails tell me she might’ve been killed here. Strangled.”
Ilea agreed. She had accumulated some knowledge in the past year, mostly because of injuries on her own body. Eve must’ve been injured heavily. For her to leave such easily traceable blood. It needed a good tracker but Eve wasn’t known to be found, not by anyone.
“Someone found her here after the fight and killed her.” Ilea said. “Perhaps she lost?”
“The information seller told us that a woman died. If that was the intended target then she didn’t lose. Not initially at least.” Kyrian said.
“This is all evidence of corruption, rape, murder, treason…,” Trian said as he continued looking through the documents. “That name, the Golden Lily. It hasn’t come up so far.”
“Something tells me it won’t.” Ilea said as she sat on the bed next to Eve.
Leaving behind Virilya, the airborne group made their way eastwards. Ilea carried Eve in her arms, gently landing near the cliff side as the suns started to rise. The waves crashed into the stone below as Kyrian went to cut down two nearby trees with metal magic, moving the pieces of wood into a pile and creating a deathbed for their lost teammember. A spark went up from Trian, striking into the wood and starting a fire.
Ilea waited and watched the endless ocean before her as the wind rushed through her hair. The fire behind her took over the pile of wood, crackling and consuming as the other two stood by. A deep breath filled her lungs and she turned around, stepping into the flames and gently placing her friend into the flames.
She ignored the pain as the flames dug into her skin, touching Eve’s face one last time. A last moment and soon it passed. She stepped back out of the flames, her skin healing as she watched the fire slowly consume Eve Aillan, the mysterious rogue who had joined the Shadow’s Hand with Ilea. She wouldn’t learn about the woman’s past, she didn’t even know if the name was her true one. To her, Eve was her name and she had been a companion for a part of her journey.
Lightning crackled and lashed out towards the ocean, soon fading into nothing. Three strikes were unleashed by the lightning mage as Ilea sent the ash from the pyre upwards and out towards the sea.
They stood there until nothing was left, each in their own thoughts. Ilea sighed deeply and cracked her neck, her helmet and gauntlets appearing with the movement.
“Well she left us enough behind to work through. If she fucked with the highest, we’ll find whoever murdered your family as well.” Ilea said.
“Back to the city.” Trian said, his lightning wings extending behind him as they ascended, rushing back towards Virilya, with their most dangerous mission so far on hand.
Ilea didn’t know how she felt. The food she ate that night didn’t taste like anything. She had experienced loss, most people have, some less some more. To have a friend actually murdered? That was not something she or any of her peers back on earth had to deal with, at least she hoped none of them did.
“It sucks…,” she said to nobody in particular as she read through another one of the letters they had recovered from Eve’s hideout. Whoever had killed Eve had apparently not cared enough to destroy the assortment of evidence. Nowhere did they find the name Golden Lily. The fact that Eve had mentioned the name in her letter spoke volumes and all three of them thought it to be particularly suspicious. Not even in her personal notes did she ever mention the name.
Trian was asleep and Kyrian was in meditation, metal circling around him, sometimes scratching the wooden inn walls and floor. The day had come and passed but Ilea had refused to sleep or do anything else but read through all the documents. Kyrian had insisted she at least eat something.
A knock on the door took her out of it. Three men in armor were standing outside, she saw through her Sphere. Still in her full armor, Ilea got up and blinked outside.
“My friend is sleeping, what do you want?” she asked, folding her arms before her.
“Madam Shadow!” the man spoke and bowed his head slightly. “There are still demons lose in the city, we’re looking for mercenaries and adventurers willing to deal with them. One district was completely run over.” he explained his plea, the man’s armor indicating him to be part of the guard.
“Why would I care? You three are capable enough to deal with some demons aren’t you?” she asked and blinked back into her room. They were all above level one hundred, none of the demons she saw were above that. She had better things to do.
Looking down, she saw the mess of papers she had created and the half eaten food. Ilea held her head and looked up. ‘I can’t do this right now.’ she thought and shook her head. Her body felt numb, her mind was the same. This wasn’t exactly the reaction she expected out of herself from losing one of her few friends she had in this new world, her world. The reaction yesterday, though blurry she did remember. That was more like it. “The anger and… the cold.” she mumbled to herself.
“Kyrian, I’ll be out for a while.” she said and blinked into the common room below, not waiting for her teammate to respond.
“I’ll do it, show the way.” she said to the three men who were already leaving the inn.
“Thank the empress. We can discuss the pay…,” Ilea interrupted the man and walked past them.
“I said show the way.” she said, locking eyes with the one who had spoken through her helmet. He was afraid of her, she felt it. No, she could even see it in his eyes but the thought gave nothing to her. Her rational mind told her that it should have some impact, to be feared. A part of her wanted to apologize but she didn’t. She stepped outside and looked at the sinking sun.
“Fuck this…,” Ilea said and waited for the painfully slow guards to exit. “If you don’t speed the fuck up I will murder all of you.” she said in a monotone voice. She was oh so tired.