Chapter 176 Tracks
“The Alymies. Yes, I’ve heard of that. Would’ve assumed that they pinned that one on me. I have recovered a lot of paperwork and believe your family has been mentioned in some of them. Feel free to look through it. Aliana has them.” Edwin said.
“She’s still asleep, I’ll go wake her.” Felicia said, her mood having improved drastically.
“Any why should I believe that it wasn’t you? You have been going around murdering nobles in Virilya, haven’t you?” Trian asked. Maria stepped a little closer to Edwin, keeping eye contact with Trian.
“I’m sorry for what happened to you.” Edwin said. “As far as I can tell the Alymies never came up in any connection to our own family. Have you seen the bodies? Know anything about the attackers or how many there were?”
“A group, likely more than ten people. Different causes for death.” Trian answered.
“It was always just me and Maria. I know you just have my word but I’m sure you’ll find out more in the evidence I’ve so far… recovered.”
“That is not all.” Ilea said. “A friend of ours was murdered as well. She was investigating an organization or individual called the Golden Lily. We think they are responsible.”
Edwin’s mouth opened a little before it closed again. He looked at Maria and then shook his head. “You should forget about that. At least as you are right now. They are… we’re hunting one of them as well. Arthur Redleaf, my father. I’ve only ever heard the name of that organization twice. I’m sure my father is part of it and I’m sure many other influential nobles are as well. Ilea. I’ve been planning for five years to free Maria and to kill that man. To try and hunt the whole order… I don’t even know where to begin.” he said and shook his head.
“That’s easy. We’ll begin with your father. If he knows nothing, we’ll move on to the next. Until I find and kill the ones responsible.” Ilea said.
“I’m not sure you know what exactly you’re getting into.” Edwin said and sighed again. “But. I will tell you everything I know and will talk to all my sources. And if you help me kill my father, I’ll do whatever is in my power to help you find your target. And kill it.” he said.
“Edwin are you sure, it is already damn near suicide to go against Arthur. To go for the order behind him…,” Maria said but the man waved her off.
“Ilea was barely level one hundred when we met her on the road to Dawntree. That was around half a year ago, if she needs to get stronger, she will. And so will I. We won’t be going in recklessly. And if I know her at all, she’ll be the one going for the kill.” Edwin said and smiled. Ilea didn’t but she’d just come a step closer to finding out something about Eve’s killers.
“Why are you hunting your father?” she asked a moment later. She had Kyrian and Trian to work with, a little unsure if she even needed Edwin and his group anymore. His resources and connections would help, certainly but she didn’t want to waste time on a cause that meant nothing to her.
Checking behind himself, Edwin walked closer to Ilea and whispered in her ear. “There are many reasons, for which you won’t care. However, if I know anything about you at all then you care at least a little about Felicia. She was sold to be married as a mere child to some noble he meant to do business with. It was among other things a reason for my departure, with my sister and Aliana. Ask her about it and perhaps you’ll be convinced to work with us.” he finished and looked at her.
“When did you say the hunters would come?” Maria asked as she looked into the trees behind Ilea’s group.
“Oh that’s not them.” sniffing the air, Ilea turned around and found a presence near the fenced off property. Not in her Sphere yet but her instincts were on high alert. “I think we might’ve alerted whatever left those tracks.”
“What tracks?” Maria asked before they all heard a growl coming from the trees.
“Looked like a big wolf, bipedal though.” Kyrian supplied as they all prepared for a fight. Ilea’s eyes shot up as she spotted a fast moving furry creature going up the trees before it rushed down right at Trian.
Ilea stepped a small step to the side, intercepting the creature as all her skills were activated and a Veil of Ash formed around her. The impact sent her flying, Trian managing to teleport away right after the beast had smashed her aside. The smell of pine needles and dirt filled Ilea’s nose as the spinning world came to an abrupt stop, her armored body rolling on the ground after smashing through several thin trees.
Getting up quickly, she found lightning and metal in the air, the smell of singed hair joining the more natural scents around her. It really was a bipedal wolf, something like a werewolf, she thought as she rushed back towards the hut. The monster was a little over two meters tall on its hind legs, lean and muscular. Its claws slashed through the air, creating a sound with the sheer speed of the attacks before they were deflected by Edwin’s twin swords.
Despite the clear advantage of skill and range, the man didn’t manage to do anything else but defend. The beast’s sheer raw power was too much.
[Beastwolf of Krak Duun – lvl ???]
‘Three, which means this thing could be as strong as the bloody demon whale attacking Ravenhall, but condensed into a much smaller, faster form.’ It reminded her a little of her first encounter with a Taleen Centurion. She couldn’t see Maria anymore but all the other mages were spread around them, flying high in the trees while sending projectiles towards the monster. None of it seemed to impact the beast more than the waves clashing against a rocky beach.
‘Another drake then…,’ Ilea thought as she rushed towards the monster’s back. Her fist landed and a bit of mana left her as both Destruction and Wave of Ember rushed into the black fur of the beastwolf.
‘Weren’t they supposed to only turn at night?’ she thought when the monster’s arm moved backwards, making her blink away a couple steps before she advanced again. Using her ash to distract the monster didn’t seem like the best idea as it would obstruct the mages around her as well as Edwin. She had a feeling that perhaps it wouldn’t be a detriment to the lupin creature either.
Again her fist hit but Edwin was shot backwards, blood spurting out of his mouth from the powerful kick of the creature. A lightning bolt rushed towards its maw as it turned towards Ilea, the monster crouching down slightly to dodge the attack before its claws rushed towards Ilea. They dug into her Veil, leaving her to step backwards to dodge as closely as possible, trying to get hits in between the flurry of claws. Her eyes focused only on the enemy’s movements as she stepped one step backwards after the other, magic attacks raining into the creature from behind, sometimes dodged and sometimes simply ignored as its bloodshot eyes focused on its pray.
Her fist hit the monster’s chest right before one clawed paw managed to nearly hit her. Blinking left as the creature followed up its attack with a kick, she managed to get in one more hit before the beastwolf’s elbow smashed into her chest. All the air in her lungs was pushed out as she slid backwards for two meters, the beastwolf advancing and not giving her time to adjust, leaving her no other option but to blink upwards and away.
The wolf turned and looked at her as her ashen wings spread behind her. Back to full health after a couple seconds of healing, Ilea watched as the beast moved rapidly towards her, jumping up and using the trees as stepping stones to get to her. Even with all the mages’ attacks and her own accumulating damage, she doubted that they could take the thing down before the two hunters of Edwin’s group arrived, if they even managed to do that.
“Kyrian, get Edwin and the others up in the air. It’s best if we get out of here!” Ilea shouted and watched her friend nod and fly off towards the hut. The beastwolf didn’t seem to be much the wiser as it continued rushing towards Ilea who lazily blinked backwards time and time again, leading the beast on as lightning magic singed its fur. After five blinks, the beast stopped as it clung to a tree, its claws gripping into the wood as it creaked and splintered.
The beastwolf looked up to the sun above, snarling at it. And then it howled.
‘You have heard a mighty beast’s howl. You are paralyzed for two seconds.’
‘ding’ ‘Veteran reaches lvl 3’
Two seconds was just enough for the monster to jump off and slash Ilea with one clawed paw before she was able to move again.
‘Fucking bullshit ability…,’ she thought as blood spurted out of her mouth and onto the inside of her helmet, spinning in the air as she flowed healing magic through her own body. Her ribs had been cracked by the hit and Ilea considered herself lucky that the beast hadn’t decided to just grab her and rip off her head. Then again the lack of intellect in a beast like that might just be the only thing a group of humans had going against it.
Wings spread again before she blinked upwards, the beastwolf rushing past her below, clashing through several trees as Ilea flew upwards and out of the forest. Seeing all the others in the air as well, Edwin’s group grabbing onto the metal rods created by Kyrian, she continued upwards and towards them.
“You’re bleeding.” Trian said to Edwin as Ilea arrived.
Ilea wasn’t in the mood for stupid comments and just touched the man’s shoulder before she tended to his injury. Edwin’s gear wasn’t close to as good as her own it seemed. Her armor had been scratched a little by the beastwolf’s attack but Edwin had a gash that went deep into his chest as well. He would’ve recovered, surely but perhaps not in time with both the beastwolf and the hunters behind him.
“You still can’t fly?” Ilea asked, looking over to the floating Felicia and Maria. Mages seemed to have a higher chance of getting a flying skill it seemed.
“Sadly not, maybe at two fifty if I ever reach it.” Edwin answered, looking down at the howling creature.
“How long were you paralyzed for?” Ilea asked, looking at Kyrian and Trian.
“Ten seconds.” Kyrian said and Trian answered with fifteen. Nodding in return, she was glad the beast had focused on her, otherwise someone else might’ve been dead already.
“Aren’t we in the human plains, surrounded by cities and adventurers running around? How is a high level beast like that just strolling around here?” Ilea asked, genuine confusion in her voice.
“The wilderness is dangerous everywhere and for everybody. Something as dangerous as that is rare in these parts, sure. Not unheard of though. Adventurers, even at higher levels like us vanish all the time. Something must be out there to get them. Not everybody goes to the north or to hunt elves.” Trian said, looking at her before he continued. “Where should we go? I have some more save places but perhaps you have something better?” he asked Edwin.
“I’d say your hideouts are the better bet.” Edwin answered and left it at that.
“Alright, then follow me.” Trian said and rushed off, everybody else following behind.
Ilea looked back, not able to make out where the beastwolf was in the forest. Perhaps it would follow them but if it had any resemblance with actual wolves then it likely had a territory.
“We should move further up.” Felicia said as she also looked back, the wind carrying and rushing around her. The group followed the suggestion without comment as they rushed through the clouds above. Whoever had tried to follow them would likely not succeed anymore now.
Ilea looked over to Aliana holding onto the piece of metal before her and nodded. “Ah it’s you isn’t it!” the woman said and smiled widely.
“How have you been?” she asked and Ilea just shook her head, ignoring the question. They had found Edwin and his group and with that likely some answers and some more questions. The proposition of helping him find and kill his own father was likely to be the best bet of finding out more about the Golden Lily. Ilea certainly didn’t trust the man, Maria even less so. She had already worked with him to fulfill mutual goals. This time, she just had to make sure it was in her favor instead.
At least now they had fought together and compared to Edwin she had held her own rather splendidly. Looking at all of them in turn, she found Edwin to be at level two twenty two, just two levels lower than herself. He must’ve gotten stronger in the past months as well but apparently not as much as she did. The woman Maria was at level two thirty one, one of the highest people Ilea had ever managed to identify. Felicia had managed to reach the two hundreds as well, being at two hundred and three. Aliana on the other hand was still quite a bit below that threshold.
They flew in silence for a while until Trian moved downwards again. “Kyrian.” he said as his lightning wings vanished, a rod of metal forming from a sphere flying next to him. “Down, we can walk the rest.” he said.
“Did you find anything?” Ilea asked, summoning a meal on the table next to Trian and Kyrian who were looking through even more paperwork, this time assembled not by Eve but by Edwin and his group.
“Not much so far but a couple hints are pointing towards Birmingale. Not enough to be considered evidence yet but we have some more things to look into.” Trian explained and put the documents down before he looked at her.
“Ilea look. I know you cared a lot about Eve. I didn’t… well I didn’t hate her either but…,” Ilea interrupted him with a flick to his forehead.
“Trian it’s alright. You don’t have to join me on a wild goose chase through the whole empire to avenge her. I know you guys didn’t like each other.” she said and sat down, summoning a meal for herself. Trian looked surprised at the plate, just now realizing that it had been for him.
“Eve, well considering what we’ve learned about her and her targets. She wasn’t exactly a saint. And I’m sure whatever got her killed justified her death at least in the minds of her enemies. I’ve never…,” Ilea started but stopped, taking a bite of her food as she looked up at a beautiful shelf filled with expensive looking books. The hideout really needed a new ventilation system. Perhaps Felicia could do something about that later.
She leaned back and sighed. “I’ve never lost anybody this close to me. I know we weren’t exactly the best of friends but…,” Trian just casually touched her shoulder and looked into her eyes.
“I know how you feel. Trust me, I do. And if. If you ask me to help you then I will. As you know Claire and Kyrian will as well.” Ilea felt her chest tighten at his words.
“I won’t ask you to die for my revenge Trian.” she said at last.
“And I won’t ask the same of you. If it really was the Birmingales then it should be a manageable target, at least with you two helping me along. If it turns out to be bigger than that I’ll make sure to pay you better or make you leave.” the man said as he leaned back.
“I won’t leave you to fight a whole noble house alone Trian. I’m not an asshole like you.” Ilea said and continued eating.
The man snorted. “Was that a joke?”
“Why is that weird?” Ilea asked.
“Well you’ve been kind of down the past days.” he said and smiled.
Ilea just snorted. “How have you been holding up?” she asked.
“It’s pretty bad.” he said, looking at her. Ilea felt the same but she didn’t want to go down this conversation any further.
“I’ll go talk to Edwin.” Ilea said and got up, leaving the two men to their work.
The hideout was similar to the one Trian had led them to after they had investigated the Alymie estate. Walking into the corridor, Ilea picked up the conversation between Maria and Edwin in the next room over. They were of course talking in a whisper but Ilea’s hearing was rather impressive with her constantly active Sphere and State of Azarinth.
“You’ve been working on this for damn near your whole life Ed and now you want to involve a wildcard like her? We’re a team, we know each other and you told me how fucking naive she was in that dungeon. How the hell would I be able to trust her?” Maria said as Ilea stopped her approach, listening in the hallway instead.