Chapter 195 Detour
“Perfect. This is the missing piece.” Edwin said as he read through the letter again. “I owe you my life and now you’re even giving me this piece of the hunt.” The man added, looking at Ilea.
“Stop flattering me. You’ll be able to repay me one day or the other. I’m sure you won’t sit idle after your father has been taken care of.” Ilea said, sitting casually in her chair.
“Oh I won’t and I’ll be there when you call on me, no matter who or what the target is. That is my word.” Edwin said and Ilea just snorted which made Maria laugh in turn.
“Why exactly is she helping them? I though he abused her?” Elise asked Kyrian, the two of them sitting next to each other while Aliana sat next to Kyrian, closer than he seemed to like.
“Abused her? As far as I heard he just took advantage of her to clear out some dungeon at some point. Ilea was a lot weaker a couple years ago, or so I’ve heard.” The man answered. “Arthur Redleaf is part of the Golden Lily.” He added.
“Ah, now that makes sense. The man is very influential though, I doubt the group of you together will be able to take down the Redleafs, no offense.” Elise said.
“I appreciate your concern librarian. It is not my family that I want to take down, it is merely my father. And that I feel quite capable of doing. At least together with Maria and some other help if they’re willing.” Edwin said, looking at all three of them in turn.
“We’re gone as soon as it smells too dangerous, you know that.” Ilea said. “I won’t risk my life for you, not again.”
“You’ll be happy to face a dangerous opponent.” Maria commented, drinking a cup of tea.
“I am, yes. Still I’d rather face something less intelligent than a human. Easier to predict and flee from.” Ilea said.
“She’s not wrong. Although the opportunity of facing my father makes my blood boil.” Edwin said with a rare smile on his face.
Hey I can actually do that now. Ilea thought, looking at her arm. She had changed into more comfortable leather armor after they had returned, throwing away the ripped shirt she had used to train.
“So you have the location?” Kyrian asked. “I’ll join as well but my own life and Ilea’s have a higher priority than the mission.”
“That is understood. And I appreciate the manpower, I promise to pay you according to a Shadow’s worth. Additional to any favors you’ll need in the future.” Edwin said.
“Should you survive.” Maria commented again.
“Should we survive. Yes. You should be on my side you know?” He added but she just smirked and shrugged. “And yes, I have the location. At least I think I do. An island off the coast near the Naraza mountain chain. The letter mentions the Isle of Garath. The locals might know where exactly that is.”
“We’re going to escort Elise to Ravenhall first.” Ilea said. “Should we join you here again or in a town near the isle?”
“Here, I’m sure the whole city will know why you’re there after ten minutes. No offense.” Maria said.
“I can help sooth the pain of your lost child if you want, no reason to be such a bitch.” Ilea answered with a smile.
“Ah, don’t worry. They destroyed that part when I was a kid. Not good to have distractions as a future assassin.” Maria said completely seriously.
Ilea didn’t retort but nodded to the woman.
“Thought so.” Maria said and finished her cup of whatever brew she was drinking.
“I can find my own way to Ravenhall.” Elise said but Ilea shook her head.
“I’m sure you could but I know people that can get you set up and hidden away.” Ilea said. “Plus I want to see it when you finally meet him.” She added with a smile. Maria snorted and left the table.
“I agree, as much as you’ve helped you’re not the most discreet of people.” Edwin said. “We’ll wait here. How long do you need to Ravenhall and back?”
“A week, maybe longer.” Ilea answered.
“I don’t think I can fly that fast. The skill is barely at level four.” Elise joked.
“I’ll carry you, don’t worry. Wanna join too Kyrian?” Ilea asked and he shrugged.
“Why not, I’d like to see how Ravenhall is doing. Perhaps the imperial influence has lessened now that war broke out.” He said.
“Perhaps.” Ilea said and got up. “See you in a week then.” She said to Edwin who nodded. “Maybe go loot some better armor in Virilya.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The man asked, looking down on himself but Ilea didn’t elaborate, leaving the hideout and breathing in some fresh air.
‘ding’ ‘Arcane Magic Resistance reaches lvl 7’
‘ding’ ‘Arcane Magic Resistance reaches lvl 8’
Neither her Curse nor Health Drain resistances had increased but considering their already high level it was a given. She’d get them higher soon. Perhaps Trian was looking to stay occupied in Ravenhall. She thought about asking both him and Claire to help with Arthur but it didn’t feel right. Going alone seemed like the right thing to do but she wouldn’t stop Kyrian if he wanted to join. He wanted to find out more about Eve’s killers just as much as her. Neither would she stop any of the others if they wanted to join.
The impact that this mission would have on the lives of everybody who was involved would be quite extensive. At least if the powers that be found out who exactly they were. Ilea at least didn’t plan to visit any big human city anymore until she was ready to face the worst of them, except for maybe Ravenhall. The thought made her sigh and take a deep breath of air. Perhaps it was an excuse to get away? It’s good enough. She thought. To go explore again. Maybe with Kyrian as a teammate? Or another team? No, either alone or with Kyrian.
“Ready?” The man asked when he joined her outside, clad in his black armor.
Ilea nodded and looked to Elise. “Hop on.” She said and motioned towards her back.
“I’ll make sure that the next time we meet, this won’t be necessary.” Elise said as she held on to Ilea whose ashen wings spread in the dark forest.
“Do that, try to train somewhere without trees though.” Ilea said before they took off, quickly reaching their top speed on their way to the southern mountain chain housing Ravenhall and Morhill, most of the population in the area completely wiped out by the demon summoning. There were surely still straggler demons around, likely still decimating or completely destroying cities and villages around the empire and beyond.
Their path of travel didn’t bring them close to the fleeing citizens of Virilya but Ilea didn’t doubt they would meet the first ones in Ravenhall soon. Some might’ve fled even before the actual attacks had happened.
The night stretched over the plains of the empire, some clouds visible while the moon bathed their way in a pale light. They didn’t rest, nor did they slow down. Kyrian at some point used a curse on Ilea to keep himself going, reaching the end of his resources a little earlier than her. Metal manipulation was apparently more draining than an actual flying skill like Ilea had. Plus she didn’t need any mana to keep it going. Still, they paused a couple hours later to quickly recover through Meditation additional to some food and drink.
Another one and a half days of travel finally brought them into the southern mountain chain. Snow still clung to the higher parts of the rocky terrain, not ready to leave even with the spring suns shining down on them. Cold winds from the ocean would secure the white veil throughout the year. A cat and her growing kittens played near a snow covered house quite a while away from the city of Ravenhall, their first experiences in hunting small critters carefully observed by their mother.
Three individuals neared the walled mountain city of Ravenhall and slowed down, descending towards the peaks overlooking the city.
“They’ve certainly been busy.” Kyrian said, the noise coming from the city combined with the winds pushing on their small forms nearly drowned out his voice.
“The walls are higher.” Ilea said, noticing that there were more than one wall now. Like Virilya, Ravenhall was now sectioned into more than a single part. Three thick walls now towered over all but the most central area. Hundreds of people, carts, mercenaries and soldiers could be seen on the road leading to the city, craters and fires still visible in the massive field of battle that had decided the fate of the town. Possibly forgotten, a fortress of demons in the now cursed southern mountains of the human plains. Retaken and made into a fortress of human power. While part of the empire, a statement to the mercenaries of the Shadow’s Hand. Ilea couldn’t help but smile when she saw the black flags fluttering in the wind above the city gates.
Of course it was the Hand that brought ruin to not only Ravenhall in the first place. Or at least it was one of theirs who did it. The people coming to the city didn’t seem to care, Ilea and her companions joining the refugees, adventurers and merchants coming from all over and watching their relief of finishing a perilous and long journey.
They got some looks when they landed near the gate but considering Ravenhall was the home town of the Shadows, it was excitement and relief instead of apprehension and fear that they saw in the spectators’ eyes. The guards on the gate greeted them and waved them inside.
“No toll for the Hand.” One of them said and nodded with respect. The influence had certainly increased, that much was sure. The town itself, while many traveled towards it seemed nearly deserted. Compared to the bustling streets and shops, Ilea found many a storefront still destroyed and empty. Merchants put up their stalls in the streets themselves while architects, builders and mages of all sorts walked around, discussing improvements and repairs.
It didn’t look like many an imperial was inside, only the odd soldier showing and they were all running around. News of the capital must’ve reached Ravenhall already but most of the people would remain unconcerned until the city was actually taken. Something that with what Ilea saw in the central district, might take more than a couple days or weeks.
The center most wall held the tallest government and guard buildings, including the main buildings of all the big guilds and to Ilea’s surprise, a massive stronghold of the Shadow’s Hand. As far as she knew, they didn’t have any other buildings in the city other than Virilya. Surely that was still their headquarters but now they were part of the city’s leadership it seemed, compared to the mercenary guild it was known for in the first place.
A guard clad in black armor nodded towards Ilea. The man was at level one eighty, not quite enough to join the order but more buildings and influence definitely required more personnel as well.
“Your badge.” He said before they entered and Ilea summoned the thing and handed it over.
“Thank you. Go on.” The guard said, not asking anything of Kyrian and Elise. They seemed to trust their members enough to let them in with company.
Ilea smiled as soon as she was inside, having checked through the rooms her Sphere could reach, she quickly made out a big office on the top floor, one woman sitting on her neatly organized desk while a girl painted near one of the windows.
“Found her. Follow me please.” Ilea said to the others, switching to more comfortable leather armor as they made their way up the beautiful wooden stairs.
They really made sure to leave a good impression. Or rich I suppose. The thought was confirmed again when they actually exited the stairwell to reach Claire’s office. The furnishing and even the magical lights on the top of the hallway looked expensive. The woman looked up even before Ilea reached the door, smiling and motioning for them to enter. All this completely unknown to Kyrian and Elise. At least Ilea thought Elise couldn’t see moves like that through closed doors.
She entered when Claire got up and went to hug Ilea immediately. “Back so soon.” She said. “I heard about Trian. And Eve. I’m so sorry dear.” She said and let go of her.
“You could’ve come and asked me for help as well Ilea. You know that.” Claire said as she went on to greet Kyrian and Elise before the door closed behind them automatically. She really had made her office her own. The different magic fields Ilea felt around her, even without magic perception, told her that this was likely Claire’s permanent office.
“I hope you’re not mad Claire. I know you have your obligations here.” Ilea said, waving to Cless who just now noticed the newcomers. The girl smiled and rushed towards her, stopping abruptly with a big hug.
“I was mad. Damn near came and looked for you. Trian talked me out of it.” Claire replied. “I assume she is trustworthy?” She added, motioning towards Elise.
“I sure hope so.” Ilea said and chuckled. “You’ll have time to make sure of that. Or Dagon has. She’s a librarian from the Library of Souls, here to meet with him.”
“Very brave. Last I heard the only people possibly allowed to leave the library were men. You’ve left then? A fugitive of the empire.” Claire stated as she approached the woman and shook her hand.
“Well…,” Elise started but Claire just waved her off.
“We’ll find a place for you, new name and all. Your hair will have to be colored and new glasses. Plus some training to raise your levels a little. Destroyed your records?” Claire asked and Elise nodded. “Good. That’ll give us a week or two. With Virilya at war perhaps we won’t have to deal with assassins or hunters for a while. Please. Make yourselves comfortable.” She said, gesturing to the sofa and collection of drinks on the table nearby.
“Thank you.” Ilea said, letting go of Cless.
“Don’t mention it. I’ll have to talk to you alone later. How long will you stay?” Claire asked.
“Just a couple days, maybe even less.” Ilea answered. “Elise will be staying though. Main reason we’re here really.”
“Good, good. Elise… you know Dagon?” Claire asked.
“I.. yes, it’s been. About forty years. I’m not sure he’ll remember me.” Elise said, looking towards Ilea.
“We’ll visit him right after I’m done. Just give me a couple minutes. I’m serious though, sit down and drink something. Kyrian, there’s non alcoholic things as well.” She said, the man nodding his thanks as he went to look at the bottles.
“You’ve gotten better.” Ilea said, looking at the half done painting near the window. It depicted a demon fighting against a warrior in black, ice and fire raining from the sky above them.
“I’m already level thirty! Claire said that’s great for my age.” The girl said with a big smile.
“That’s great. Keep training and in no time you’ll reach even me.” Ilea said.
“I think I’m already stronger than you. But you should train more too, the question marks above your head haven’t changed since last time.” Cless said in a very British accent.
Little shit. Ilea thought but smiled at the girl before walking back to the others.
“Are you alright?” Claire asked between looking through papers, quickly glancing at her.
Ilea sat down on the desk and sighed. “No. It’s been difficult,” she started. “But I’m sure I’ll get there. Don’t worry, I won’t jump into the lion’s den and get myself killed.” She said. “At least not yet.”
Claire just wordlessly put her papers down and walked to the other side of the table, hugging Ilea again. This time she didn’t let go for a while.
“Thanks.” Ilea said, hugging the woman back. “Sorry for not contacting you earlier.”
“I won’t forget that one but don’t worry about it too much. I think we all knew she had this coming for her at one point or the other. I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Let’s take care of Elise for now, afterwards we can discuss Eve.” Claire said before walking over to Kyrian and hugging him as well.
“I appreciate it.” Kyrian said. “What do you think about all this?”
“I’ve started looking into her as soon as I’ve gained access to more records. To find out if she survived the demon summoning at all. I’ve found out that she did when I heard from Trian.” Claire explained. “We were never… close.” She added and let that stand.
“Come with me then. Dagon is back in Viscera.”
“Can I take this with me?” Kyrian asked, motioning to his cup.
“Of course, of course.” Claire answered as the door opened again.
“New walls?” Ilea asked when they exited the building together, all of them wearing hoods to at least keep their general appearances hidden.
“Yes, my idea and I managed to push it through in the end. Like this we can brace against attacks from both outside and inside. Takes more guards to man of course but considering the recent events, the push back was minimal at best. Even without guards. Against the tragedy of the demon summoning by our beloved elder, it would’ve saved thousands if not the whole city.” Claire explained.
“Merchants have been coming from day one and with Virilya I believe the city will be just as populated if not more by the end of this year.” Claire said.
“And is it prepared for that?” Kyrian asked, sceptically looking at the fortifications and guards.
“A broken city on the rise harbors a lot of opportunities. For many. It could go either way but with the name of the Hand and many of its members residing or at least regularly traveling here, I hope the worst are kept out.” Claire said as they exited the central walled off part.
“Well let’s hope your predictions come true then.” The man said.
“At the very least the empire won’t care much anymore if we take things into our own hands a little more. I’d say they’ll be happy for that too. The imperials responsible have been easy enough to deal with so far. There will be push of course for the Hand to assist in defending the capital but the impact on Ravenhall itself will likely be minimal other than a lot of well paying jobs for our members.” Claire added.
They talked about some more of the changes going on in the city, new numbers of surviving members and citizens who somehow escaped the fate of most of the city during the demon attack. Many of them had returned, as did survivors from Morhill and other cities and villages from the mountain chain. The general public didn’t know that an elder of the Shadow’s Hand had caused the demon attack, simply knowing that it had come from Ravenhall. Most of the people doubting or blaming the order had changed their minds when they heard about the retaking of the city and the following systematic extermination of demons going as far as the nearest western kingdoms.