A note from Rhaegar

Hey all, sorry for the late post :).

I wanted to say some stuff regarding the recent developments and the story overall, tldr at the bottom. I'm aware that the tone of the story has been much darker compared to the first couple arcs and that the focus on traveling/exploring and leveling has shifted towards shitty politics, war and death.

Now I know that some people like this, some dislike it. I just wanted to reassure you that I know. I know I started writing this to have a fun, action packed adventure with a protagonist that wouldn't be the savior of the world. And I want to continue delivering on exactly that premise.

The now included politics and higher focus on side characters and their relationships with each other and Ilea are what I feel is necessary to grow the story and world. To have character growth and payoff, the characters need to see and go through some shit. For power increases to have meaning beyond mere numbers, there needs to be a certain threat, a goal or bigger picture.

I'm an amateur at writing. Some of the feedback regarding Azarinth Healer has been brutal but I really do appreciate it. I mean I wrote in mixed present and past tense at the beginning. Bloody brilliant. I'm also not a planner, I write as I go and scenes happen as I write them. Which means the character of Ilea started out with very little planning. With the things happening right now, the things I'm throwing at her, I want to grow her into more of an actual character. A badass motherfucker that has a reason to murder the local group of drakes. A reason beyond just survival.

I'm aware that the leveling has been pushed back a lot, as has fighitng, abilities, exploring, adventuring, dungeons and many other things. I do hope some of you like the additions of cities, politics, conflict and some drama.

I'm rambling. With me releasing chapters instead of whole books, you're stuck with some chapters that lack what you initially liked about this story. I know that and I'm sorry. What I'm trying to say is just that I know and that I feel like adding this likely less fun stuff because I think it will make for a better experience in the long run :).

TLDR: I'm aware of the tonal and thematic shifts but feel they are necessary to have a better experience in the long run. I have previously stopped reading fun adventure stories when they delved into politics, harems or relationships too much. Keep the feedback coming. And thanks for reading :).

Chapter 174 Following the Trail

“There are many names coming up in the documents. Most of them don’t seem to be relevant or wouldn’t talk without torture or a lot of bribe money. The question is if they have anything relevant on our cases even when they would eventually share it.” Trian said, the three of them sitting on a rather high building’s roof, looking over the vast capital.

“Other than the Golden Lily, which she only mentioned in the letter you got, there are a couple people she seemed to be looking for. One rogue who used the dark element apparently. Eve didn’t have a lot on him according to the documents we recovered but she did know a lot about his fighting style and magic. I think she fought him.” Trian continued explaining. Ilea had read a mention of that man as well when she skimmed through some of the papers.

“Brings us to the one the man seemed to be connected to. Man called Edwin. He was… do you know him?” Trian asked, stopping his monologue after Ilea had lifted her eyebrows.

“Maybe, but the name might be more common. Go on.” she replied and he nodded.

“Well apparently he’s been cleaning up in the capital. Killing dozens of less and more influential nobles. Eve wrote down that several investigators and hunters from the government were looking for him, as well as. Other parties.” he said. “Considering how many people the man killed in the past month, it’s only reasonable.”

“Why was Eve looking for him then? With all the rest we found I think she was here to do pretty much the same thing as that Edwin.” Ilea said.

“I think the same thing. Perhaps because she assumed the man knew something about her targets, or about this Golden Lily. And perhaps, with having a similar goal, she assumed he would cooperate with her, at least information wise.” Trian summarized.

“You think he’s a good bet then?” Kyrian asked.

“I’m not sure. I think this man she describes, the one she fought, to be a good bet as well. Most of the others are criminals in their own rights. Or at least as far as Eve considered it. My family would’ve held a couple of targets for her as well.” Trian said. “Well, no more.” he added.

“So we look for that Edwin?” Kyrian asked.

“We do. Got some locations of his last murders, though all are older than a week already. Maybe we’ll find something.” Trian said.

“Where investigators failed? I’m not so sure.” Ilea said but she still got up and switched to her armor. “Where to?”

“Somebody cleaned up rather well.” Ilea said as the three let themselves into the first noble mansion. “Speaking of, there are people downstairs. Maids according to the outfits.” she added, checking the rooms with her Sphere and Hunter’s Sight. There were some leftovers but it mostly showed because certain parts of some rooms were cleaned more thoroughly than others. If she didn’t know about the fate of the inhabitants, she wouldn’t have guessed anything to be amiss.

“I’ll talk to them.” Trian said and walked downstairs. They had entered through one of the windows which the man had opened after teleporting inside. Perhaps the guy they were looking for entered the same way.

“Don’t people put up any defenses around here? Seems like an assassin could just enter.” Ilea asked while walking around.

“Costs a lot of money to put up runes and enchantments. Or skill. Money that could be spent on other things. I guess the people here were taking a risk?” Kyrian said and shrugged. “Not like I understand the ins and outs.” he added, touching an expensive looking candlestick.

“Guess they wanted candlesticks more than defenses.” Ilea said as she touched the wall where she got a weird feeling from her Sphere. Moving the attached picture frame sideways opened up a hidden room.

“That’s more like it. Smells like death in here.” she said and walked in. The room had been cleaned as well but less thoroughly. Likely because it was hidden anyway. She could see Trian talking to the personnel downstairs as she took in the room. “Hmm…,” she sniffed and walked around. People had been killed in here, recently. Of that she was sure. There were some smells still lingering but she couldn’t really place any of them and they didn’t lead anywhere. Simply confined in the tight space. Trying to put them to memory, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

One of them reminded her of Eve. ‘Perhaps she had been here as well?’ she thought and felt her stomach tighten. Touching her armor above her belly, she smiled a little. It hurt again. “How did it go? There’s always another drake…,” she whispered to herself and left the room again. “Perhaps this is similar…,” she added.

“What’s similar?” Trian asked, having come up again. Ilea shook her head lightly.

“Found a hidden room? Anything in there?” the man asked and she shrugged.

“Can’t find anything other than smells. Nothing that leads anywhere.” Ilea said.

“Did you find out anything from the people?” Kyrian asked as he entered the room.

“One of them was rather talkative. Apparently liked the noble who was murdered quite a bit… or the man’s wife. Both had been killed. She said the government doesn’t care. They stopped the investigation after only an hour and sent in a cleaning team to cover everything up. The noble’s brohter has inherited the mansion and that seems to be that.” Trian explained.

“A dud then. Well we have a couple more places to go.” Ilea said.

“I doubt we’ll find anything useful there either. What we need is a fresher lead. I’ve got some names, investigators. Perhaps they’ll be of use.” Trian said.

“Another report came in sir.” the soldier said as he handed over the letter. This case really was going to be the end of his career.

“You can go.” Roose said as he looked through the contents before the paper shredded itself into thousands of small pieces and flew into the bin next to his desk.

“Yes Captain!” the soldier said and left his office, closing the door behind him.

Getting paid for all the cover ups was certainly good and had earned him enough to finally buy the estate he had wanted for the past five years. The scope of that murderer’s operation was getting out of hand though. A couple more complaints against his investigation and questions would be asked. Questions that would put him in a dangerous situation.

‘Why can’t they finally take him out?’ he continued to ask himself. Whoever was paying him was certainly rich and influential. More so than anybody he had worked with beforehand. Still somehow the murders didn’t stop. Just two days ago an estate of the Redleaf family had been the target. To think the man would go against families of that caliber was making him nervous. He might just be in a game too dangerous for him to play.

Calming himself, the man opened his drawer and got out the scotch and a glass he had stored in there. Pouring himself a glass, he fell back into his chair and relaxed. Another hour and he’d go for lunch. Perhaps a visit to the missus? Perhaps. The thought excited him and his worries were soon forgotten.

“Welcome back Sir Roose.” the maid bowed deeply, as she should. All of his servants knew well not to step out of line.

“Prepare a meal, stuffed duck with a white wine sauce. A regular side dish in addition. I’ll be up in an hour.” captain Roose said as he deactivated the trap rune to the cellar. No mana was used.

“What the?” he asked and activated his spells. Had somebody broken in? Or was it one of his servants again? Odan that old geezer, he really ought to finally take care of the man.

Walking downstairs he activated the magical lights and shouted into the cellar. “Is anybody there?!”

The trap runes had failed four times already in the past two years, not out of the ordinary. He didn’t remember when he had charged it last. Still it was the least to be cautious. Coming to the bottom of the stairs, Roose looked to the right and found the chains opened, his dear wife sobbing in the hands of a dark haired woman.

“You dare touch her!” he shouted. “Filthy bitch!” he added but stopped, unsure of the encounter after identifying the intruder.

[Warrior – lvl ??]

That hadn’t happened in a while. He could identify people and creatures fifty levels above himself. Getting help wasn’t an option, not with what was down here. He had to bet it all on his skills.

Sharpened paper flew out of his pockets and from under his clothes, creating a swarm of projectiles that rushed at the woman touching his beloved with all the speed and strength he could muster.

Roose frowned as he felt his paper impact something hard and his eyes widened as the woman got up, now clad in dull black armor. Light and efficient, her head turning to reveal two icy blue eyes behind the sockets in her helmet. Two horns pointed forward, directly at him. A moment later her eyes were but centimeters in front of his. The air left his lungs, tears filling his eyes before he puked up the rich breakfast he had earlier that day.

He felt himself get dragged through the room, seeing two more people clad in black armor. Had they come for him? But why? Suddenly he was thrown, his back cracked as he impacted the stone cellar.

“Go close the door.” he heard the woman say in a monotone voice. “Are you sure you want to stay?” she asked but not him.

Ilea grabbed the man who looked like a thirty year old in his prime. Luckily she had avoided the puke, knowing that it had been the likely reaction from a mage at level one fifty. A good thing Trian had suggested waiting for the man to go home. ‘Truly, a good thing.’

Metal flew towards the man and pinned him to the wall before a gag forced itself into his mouth.

“I… w… I would like to… to stay.” the woman said, defiant eyes looking at Ilea.

“Alright.” Trian said. “Investigator Roose. It has come to our attention that you are taking bribes.” he said, stepping towards the man. His eyes opened wide at the accusation as he gurgled something through his gag.

“We’re looking for the man you’re apparently supposed to find. Edwin.” Trian said. “Do you perhaps know who we’re talking about?”

The man shook his head as quickly as he could. Ilea walked over to the woman again and prepped her up. All the cuts had been healed already and somehow it made Ilea happy to see the defiant stare she gave her husband. “He’s lying.” Ilea said, having felt his heart rate speed up upon the mention of Edwin’s name.

“You’re lying.” Trian said and sighed. “Look. We’re not here to torture you, we’re not here to expose you to the government, we’re here to find the man you’re supposed to be after. Do you understand?” he asked and watched the man calm down. They locked eyes before the man slowly nodded.

“Good, now tell me what you know.” he said and the gag slowly moved out of the man’s mouth.

“I’ll tell you everything, just let me live.” he said and quickly continued. “The man, Edwin. He has hunted down a staggering number of people in the past weeks. The body count has reached over thirty already. The last news I have came from an estate outside Virilya. To the north, around a day’s travel by carriage. The estate belongs to the Redleaf family.” he said. “I can point it out to you on a map.”

The name Redleaf was quite familiar to Ilea. A coincidence perhaps but more and more it seemed plausible. She didn’t know if it was a good thing or not. It didn’t matter If the man could help her find the killers of Eve and Trian’s family. She sat on the ground next to the wife of the investigator.

“Do you want him dead?” she asked in a whisper, not listening to Trian who continued asking questions. The woman turned her head and looked into her eyes, before she looked down.

“You know… I loved him. He was so sweet at first. The work changed him, awakened something in him. He tortured people there… for the city. It was heart braking… to see him… change.” she said and looked back at the man. He hadn’t heard her and kept talking, sharing information about the case and possible targets of Edwin, as well as all the people he had hunted down so far.

“I think… I think Charles has been dead for many years.” the woman said and touched Ilea’s gauntlet. “I c… I can’t do it myself.” she said and looked deep into Ilea’s eyes.

Ilea looked back to the man and didn’t say anything else.

“We’ve got a location. The attack was two days ago.” Trian said and turned back to the investigator. “Do you know who the people are that are looking for him?”

“They pay me but I don’t have a name, not even a face. It was all done through enchanted letters and money. I didn’t question it. It would’ve been foolish to try and find out.” the man said.

“True. Well you have been helpful.” Trian said and looked at Ilea.

“Do we need anything else here?” she asked and Trian shook his head. Kyrian removed the bindings as Ilea approached the man who seemed relieved. Right until she grabbed him around the neck with one hand and lifted him up, squeezing his throat shut as she locked eyes with him. He struggled, even trying to activate his magic but it seemed being strangled wasn’t the best help to his concentration.

It took a while but he stopped moving soon. Ilea kept on holding him for a couple of seconds, verifying his death by the message she received in her mind. She placed him down slowly and closed his eyes before she walked out. The woman rushed to her husband and cried over his body, quickly switching to screaming and punching. Kyrian stayed behind for a moment and approached her right as Ilea walked far away enough for her Sphere not to reach them anymore.

Some of the servants looked at the leaving figures but nobody shouted, one of them simply moving down into the cellar.

“We have a location then. Do we need anything before we leave?” Trian asked.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be identified as members of the Hand all the time. A bunch of cloaks at least? We can all make at least our helmets disappear.” Ilea suggested and he nodded. They stood there for a couple minutes, waiting in the street as people went by, most of them ignoring the two as best as they could.

They would possibly be deemed criminals now that they had killed an investigator of the city but neither of the two cared about that at the moment. They had enough evidence to prove his treason anyway but the paperwork would be bothersome.

Kyrian stepped out and joined them. “They’re gonna be alright. The servants thank you for killing the man.” he said, not getting a response from the others.

“We need cloaks.” Trian said eventually and walked off.

Three travelers flew northwards through the sky. It was a sunny afternoon around Virilya, their armor not reflecting much light as they sped over the plains and small forests, the wild lands of Lys. The group reached their destination a couple hours later, all of them landing at Trian’s signal, their boots digging into the muddy meadow a couple hundred meters before the estate looming in the distance.

The house looked old. Well taken care of but there was something about it that made the hairs on Ilea’s back stand up. “Enchantments?” she asked and Kyrian nodded.

“Fear, usually used to keep monsters away but it seems more targeted against humans. They didn’t want anybody intruding.” he suggested.

“They didn’t want anybody escaping.” Trian said with conviction as he walked a little closer. “Ilea can you scout it out before we go in?”

The woman moved before he finished his question, rushing over the terrain and blinking from cover to cover as she checked for any signs of life. Other than the insects under her boots and the birds flying by, she couldn’t find anything in the estate’s gardens. The birds being part of someone’s personal entourage was of course always a possibility but so far she hasn’t been met with resistance.

Ten seconds later she reached the wall. A rough stone wall with windows starting two meters further up. Metal bars prevented people from going either inside or outside. Combined with the enchantments, the place seemed more like some kind of mental health institution. One of the creepy ones you see in horror movies. Ilea had to chuckle at the thought. A weird reaction, she thought shaking her head as she checked inside the building.

There were definitely people inside. Butlers and maids as it looked like. Cleaning and preparing food. She couldn’t see anybody else with her limited Sphere of perception.

Blinking up, she checked a part of the first floor. Here she found some people asleep and others again cleaning. Blinking into an empty room, Ilea continued to look around. With the size of the estate it would take some time to look through it all.


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