Chapter 199 The Island
“How’s Virilya doing?” Ilea asked after a while of silence, her watching the other three talk about food while Felicia tried to subtly squeeze herself between Aliana and Kyrian.
Maria didn’t reply and just stared at the room’s wall for a while. “You there?” Ilea asked, waving her hand before her face. A sudden move of Maria’s hands grabbed her arm and turned it in a motion that would usually break it. Ilea resisted it, her bones and muscles too strong for the move to work, at least by someone like Maria.
“Oh… what. Sorry. I didn’t mean to.” The woman said but Ilea just looked at her with interest.
“No worries. You need a little more strength to use that on me.” She said, their faces rather close at this point.
“What was the question?”
“How is Virilya doing.” Ilea repeated while they both let go of each other.
“They’re holding. Completely surrounded now but they’re holding. Doesn’t seem like Baralia is backing down though. They’re gonna try everything their mages and alchemists can cook up to get inside that barrier.” She explained.
“Interesting. Do you think they will succeed?” Ilea asked. Felicia had finally managed to pry off Kyrian from Aliana, the two of them going outside for what Ilea imagined a dangerous talk for the man.
“Don’t know. They can destroy each other to the last man for all I care.” Maria said.
“Ravenhall will be affected for sure, as well as any city in the empire. They have slaves in Baralia you know.” Ilea said but Maria didn’t react to that. She noticed that Aliana seemed suspiciously quiet, having stopped her cooking.
“Then they should fight harder.” Maria said simply. Ilea didn’t reply. She didn’t really know how she felt about it herself. On the one hand it was similar to people refusing to fight and hiding behind city walls against the monsters outside. The slavers were simply monsters themselves, at least in a certain sense. Still, if Ilea saw someone enslaving people, she’d probably smash their head in just for good measure. Her power allowed for such actions now, at least if the slaver wasn’t at level two hundred as well. She’d probably still do it anyway.
It was different than wild beasts though. People doing this to other people. Really makes you proud to be human. She thought and smiled, somehow happy that she cared enough to think about it at all. A couple weeks ago she would’ve just ignored it all.
Ilea wanted to reply but heard metal falling to the ground, Aliana staring at them with anger in her eyes, tears running down her cheeks.
“Not all of them can fight.” She said and advanced on the two of them.
“No, not all of them can.” Ilea said, remembering the people and kids she had saved in Virilya. The soldiers a hundred levels higher, trained in killing and fighting coming into the homes of civilians who knew nothing but the safety of their city walls.
Maria rolled her eyes when Aliana left the room. She was a slave wasn’t she? Ilea asked herself. A bad topic to bring up with her in the room. Still, she couldn’t shake off Maria’s opinion completely. Her of all people, to hold the opinion that one needs to stand up and fight. In this world, where you could become stronger with discipline and training. Where guns and money weren’t the one and all standing over the weak. People were still people of course and it takes courage and some recklessness to go against the powerful.
Eve flashed through her mind for a moment. A bit too reckless perhaps. She thought, hoping that she would learn from her friend’s mistakes. Ilea blew out air from her nose as she got up. Of the two of them, Eve died because she offended the wrong people? I’m on my way to offend exactly the same people. She thought. At least I know how strong Eve was and if I can’t beat her in my sleep, then I won’t try to go at them on my own.
“What’s so funny?” Maria asked.
“The fact that I’m an idiot?” Ilea asked and went after Aliana.
“That IS funny.” Maria said, leaning back. “Don’t encourage her.” She added but Ilea didn’t listen to her anymore.
A bitter warrior, scarred by her experiences. Same as me. She thought and found Aliana in the hallway, having regained her composure again. Ilea leaned on the wall next to her. But I won’t let them take me down. I won’t.
“Doing better?” Ilea asked, not getting a reaction for a while. “She’s a bit of a cunt isn’t she?”
That made her laugh, a good start. “She is.” Aliana said and turned around. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you two.” She added.
“You didn’t. Speak up when you disagree. Perhaps you’ll convince even her at some point.” Ilea said, debating if such a thing was possible at all.
“You think so?” Aliana asked, rubbing away the tears from her eyes.
“Not really.” Ilea replied.
Felicia and Kyrian returned by then. Back from fucking? Ilea thought but didn’t voice the line for the sake of Aliana. Their reactions would certainly be funny. Perhaps next time.
“Aliana, are you alright?” Felicia immediately rushed to her and hugged the woman.
“Maria?” Kyrian asked, getting a nod from Ilea.
“I figured. She’s like a broodier and meaner you. Less beautiful of course.” Kyrian said.
“I think she’s quite beautiful.” Ilea replied. “I don’t think we’re much alike at all.” She added.
“Did you get permission to ask her out?” Ilea asked after a short pause.
“To what her now?” Kyrian asked.
“To ask the maiden’s hand.” Ilea clarified but the man seemed just as lost.
“Are you not interested in Aliana or have my intuitions become completely incapable?” Ilea asked plainly but in a whisper to not alert the other two. She knew that Felicia could probably hear her but didn’t remember Aliana to be particularly perceptive.
Kyrian actually got a little bit red as he stammered to find a response. “I… I don’t. Ilea it’s…,”
“I don’t mind. She seems to like you as well.” She said and punched his shoulder.
“I… alright. I like her. I do. What about you though, we…,” Kyrian started but she stopped him.
“We had some fun. Quite a while ago actually. And you’ve grown to be a good friend. I trust you and I know you have my back Kyrian.” Ilea said, looking into his eyes as understanding dawned on him.
“Interesting. It still hurts you know.” He said, chuckling.
“If it doesn’t crush you then you know there was nothing serious.” Ilea said and smiled at him. “I’ve got your back too. I’m just not ready for what I think you’re looking for.”
The man chuckled at that and smiled. “I’m not sure what I’m looking for myself. We have a mission to do first anyway.” He said and looked at her. “I appreciate you being blunt though. One of the things I like about you.”
“I might not get in trouble that much if I weren’t.” Ilea said. “But where’s the fun in that?”
“Seems like you’re doing a little better.” Kyrian said and touched her shoulder.
They left after saying their goodbyes to Felicia and Aliana, the two remaining in the hideout until they would return. Ilea was sure Edwin had plans in place should he not make it but the man didn’t share anything with her. Why would he. She thought, watching the man hold on to the flying metal Kyrian so kindly provided.
All parties involved had clearly outlined their priorities in this endeavor. Her own was information on the Golden Lily. The fact that Arthur Redleaf was a horrible parent to Felicia was another reason for her to be there but she didn’t know either of them well enough to warrant putting her life on the line. Kyrian had even less reason to be there.
Edwin was quite aware of that, putting them on the sideline in his plan that mostly put recon on Maria and then hopefully a lot of murder on their part without causing too much of a commotion. Ilea and Kyrian would be the support, healing the group and distracting the enemy wherever they could and if willing, helping them defeat Arthur himself. It was simple enough but without any further information it was all the man could come up with at the moment.
It was at least clear the man understood their positions, utilizing the two Shadows to the fullest without putting their life on the line. At least not initially. Both Ilea and Kyrian knew that they would certainly come close to dying. If they fucked up or ran into a trap, they could die. Just like Eve did.
Ilea reminded herself not to be overconfident, to prioritize her own life above those around her. Looking over at Kyrian made it hard. She knew she would blink to his defense should he be overwhelmed. Still, she trusted him. And knowing that he had recently gained a self healing skill, at least at the expense of others’ life made her feel a little more at ease. The man’s power would come in handy in any fight and him having her back gave her more confidence in their survival at least.
He drifted over towards her a couple hours into the silent journey to point out the lands below. “I think that’s the kingdom of Asila.” He said.
“Doesn’t ring a bell. And doesn’t look any different than any of the plains so far. Your home?” She asked in turn, her wings moving in the wind as they crossed over small patches of forest and sprouting green heralding the might of Spring.
“It is.” He said simply but didn’t elaborate. She didn’t pry any further and neither did he ask to stop or go to any of the cities. Ilea knew some of his past. Child labor or close enough to slavery as far as he told, abusive parents or foster parents. Considering the little bits and pieces she knew about the friends she had made in the Hand, most of them had a much harsher childhood than she herself had experienced.
Hard lives make hard people. She thought. Or at least strong ones. Trian understandably didn’t seem to be handling the recent developments incredibly well. Ilea put him out of her mind again quickly. She had her own demons to deal with, both real ones and figurative ones. And if she lost focus, she would endanger herself. And how would that help with anything?
The group traveled for another six hours before finally, Edwin motioned for them to land, the last stretch to be traveled on foot. It was nighttime when they landed, the weather clear. It would be simple for even an average guard to spot them in the skies. The four of them moved quietly and quickly over the field and towards the ocean in the east.
A group of boulders stood near the cliffs overlooking the body of endless water, illuminated by the moons above and the only cover for hundreds of meters for the group of would be assassins.
Ilea appeared near one of the rocks and sat down in front of it, stretching her arms before she rested her back on the stone. Kyrian sat down near her and Edwin walked towards the edge of the cliff, his eyes focused on the distant islands barely visible to them. One of the small dots would be their target or at least hey hoped it was.
“There’s more than one.” Maria said as she stepped up to the man.
“And that’s very good for us.” He answered. “You and Ilea will fly out to see if there is a good base for us there, perhaps check for villages, towns or castles nearby as well.”
Maria nodded and looked towards Ilea. “Coming?”
“If you ask nicely.” Ilea replied, looking at Kyrian as she said it.
“Don’t act difficult. We’re here for a reason, your petty issues don’t matter.” Maria said in a hiss while Ilea got up.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Ilea said and looked towards Edwin, her wings spreading. He looked at her and nodded.
“They matter to her. And I’m sure that when the situation needs it, this won’t be an issue.” Edwin said. “So please, could you take Maria and scout the islands?” The man added, surprising her a little.
Either he was less stubborn than she thought or more reasonably thinking, he simply cared less about his pride than his ultimate goal of killing his father.
Ilea grabbed Maria and jumped off the cliff, neither of them making a sound before her wings spread in the last moment, the two of them speeding up tremendously as they silently glided over the waves.
The flight wasn’t long, the two of them landing on a rocky beach a couple minutes later and quickly finding cover. “That rules out an army defending the whole group of islands.” Ilea said as they stopped running, hidden behind the rocky terrain.
“Or they leading us into a trap.” Maria said in a quiet voice.
“Or that, sure.” Ilea said, the two of them walking over the barren landscape and scanning their surroundings for movements or any sign of life.
“You don’t seem convinced. Arthur isn’t a fool and I doubt he’d be here alone.” Maria said as they climbed one of the higher hills around them.
“Costs money to hire people. If he’s not paranoid then I don’t think they’d watch the whole bloody island. What are they doing here anyway?” Ilea asked and Maria shrugged.
“I don’t know him well, never really spared much time for his little soldiers and assassins. Edwin doesn’t talk much about him either. What little I know the man’s obsessed with the Taleen dwarves and their technology.” Maria explained.
“That why Edwin was going into the dungeon when I met him?” Ilea asked. Maria was silent for a while when they reached the top of the hill. There were lights in the distance, a different island though but it looked like a port village.
“I don’t think that’s our target.” Ilea said as she stepped up next to Maria.
“No, but they might know where it is. I want you to stay here and wait for me to get back. Is that agreeable?” Maria asked, looking Ilea in the eyes.
“Sure you don’t want someone to have your back?” Ilea asked but Maria shook her head.
“I need a quick lift if someone discovers or attacks me. I know you dislike Edwin and as far as I know you have good reasons for that. So can I trust you to be here when I come back?” Maria asked.
“I told you before I’m not here for him. How long do you need?” Ilea asked.
“An hour. If I’m not back by then report to Edwin.” She said. Ilea nodded and sat down on a nearby rock, watching Maria disappear before her sight. She was not quite as good as Eve had been.
Maurice spat on the ground as he stepped out of the tavern to take a piss. Looking around he saw only a couple people still awake in the shit fisher village he had found himself in. The pay was good of course, second to none he had worked for so far. At least considering the low risks usually involved.
With Zoy in their team he didn’t even have to worry about seeing a single Taleen machine approach him. The damn things terrified him. “But that doesn’t matter to you guys does it?” He asked the raven sitting on the stone next to him, raising his eyebrow. “Nah, didn’t think so.” He said, pulling up his pants again as he looked into the distance.
“Fucking shit village.” He said and turned around, looking to get more of the mead. He wasn’t on duty tonight which allowed him to roam freely around the group of islands. “Come on.” He said towards the raven which happily hopped after him before it fluttered to his shoulder.
“Maurice. Come back for more?” The woman said with a sly smile as she tapped the very silver he had paid her before on the wooden table.
“More ale.” He said simply, going to the bar. Quite decent whores for a backwater place like this. He thought. The ale on the other hand wasn’t anything special, neither were the fighters. He could probably wipe out half the damn village on his own before anybody even noticed.
“The Shadow is back I see.” One of the resident drunkards said, pounding his mug on the table. “Mysterious as always I see, no words for the common folk hah!”
“I’m not one of those damn Shadows. And I swear if you say that to me one more time I’ll have this bird rip out your balls and eyes before I shove all of it down your bloody throat.” He said to the man.
“I meant no offense crow man…,” The man said.
Wearing black makes you a shadow now. Maurice thought as he downed his mug of ale. He hoped the Redleaf would be done with this ruin before the month was through. Now that spring had come it would bring back some life into the nearby cities. And a lot of work for a mercenary like him. Work that paid less but was more fun than guarding a worn down castle.
“Heard the empire of Lys is at war again.” Someone said, his ears picking up the line in the myriad of conversations.
“Ah fuck off, news like that reach us every other month. Nobody can take the Empire, not Kroll, not Baralia and not the damn elves, if they even exist.” Another man said, bringing a stop to the interesting rumor.
War was always a great opportunity to make money. To purchase a castle or two for rather low prices. Lys had some nice parts after all.
“Elves are real, saw one myself…,” Another voice proclaimed but Maurice had lost interest already. Had the man seen an elf, he wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. Even Maurice wasn’t about to face one of those monsters himself. Most of the reason he was working so far east. Time to get the boy. He thought as he finished his second mug. The responsibility had fallen on him, as it usually did. Still, he had his fun for today and it would do the guy some good to be amongst normal people.