Chapter 200 The Baker
“Popi, are you done yet?” Maurice shouted as he leaned on the door to the small wooden cabin near the outskirts of the village. He heard giggling in response before the door finally opened and three young women walked out, saying their goodbyes to Popi.
“Strange man. He didn’t even look at my chest.” One of them said when they were a little further away. Not exactly whores but they were willing to spend an evening with Popi for a couple copper coins.
“If only they were…,” He said as he looked after them.
“You are being indecent Maurice Cindercoat.” Popi said as he stepped out of the cabin with a big smile on his chubby little face.
“Seems like you had a good evening.” He said and watched the man nod before he smacked his belly.
“I did. They liked the new cakes.” The man said, looking nostalgically to the village houses in the distance.
“Cakes. Popi if you spend all your money on baking for free you might as well stop…,” Maurice started when he spun around and looked towards the pathway leading to the village.
“Did you find a new birdie?” Popi asked.
“Maybe.” Maurice said and cracked his neck before he whispered something into Popi’s ear.
“Sure, can do!” The man said as his shirt and pants were replaced with heavy red armor adorned with tubes.
Maria stood completely still, all her cloaking skills working at their fullest as she watched the two men before her talk. She had followed the one whose name apparently was Maurice from the tavern in the village to this small hut. Level two hundred and ten and the fat boy named Popi was at one ninety. It might be possible for her to handle them alone but she had no clue about their abilities.
The two of them were so out of place in this village that there was a good chance they were either connected to Arthur or at least knew about his machinations on these isles. The young man suddenly summoned heavy full plate armor with metal tubes connected to his arms and back.
Storage ring. Maria instantly thought and stood her ground, waiting for something to happen. The man in light armor and a raven on his shoulder looked in her direction but not directly at her. Keen senses. She thought before the temperature around her suddenly rose. Magic surged from the armored man as hot air exited from the tubes on his arms, the surroundings heating up to a scorching degree near instantly. Sweat started forming but evaporated instantly as her skin began to melt to her armor.
The damage was manageable so far and she wasn’t about to expose herself. The mission could be compromised and with her second stage of Pain Resistance, Maria could endure this for quite a while, her vitality and heat resistance relatively high as well.
Popi continued his spell for another minute before he stopped and looked at Maurice next to him.
“Are you sure there’s something there? It’s all burnt now.” The mage said. Maria watched as Maurice scratched his unkempt beard, his near black eyes staring at a point very close to her.
“Guess not.” He said, Maria breathing out when two blades suddenly exited from his light armor, starting at his hands and ending near his shoulders. He rushed towards her and spun in the air, leaving Maria no choice but to teleport away. Landing on the stone ground made a noise that made Maurice look at her and smile.
“A little hunter in the wild. Now what are we looking at here.” He said before a swarm of ravens were summoned from thin air, the birds advancing on her position as she turned tail and rushed towards Ilea as fast as she could. She had been found in the first hour of their scouting. A failure they would pay for dearly.
Ilea finished her meal while she watched the tranquil village on the other isle, sitting on her stone and finally enjoying better cooking. At least it’s kind of thanks to Edwin and the others that I have my beautiful necklace. She thought when she heard a noise. The first thing she did was put her bowl back into her necklace. Her helmet on her head, she checked the surroundings with her sphere and sure enough someone entered it just a moment later.
According to the shape, lack of visual and the fact that she knew where Ilea was let her think of nobody else but Maria.
The two people following let her know that something had gone terribly wrong. “You alright?” She asked Maria whose skills deactivated one after the other, her face a complete mess. “Flee, fight or talk?” Ilea asked but didn’t get an answer while she started to heal. A bunch of ravens advanced on the two of them and started attacking, Ilea waving at them with one arm while healing Maria. Either her face was too messed up to talk or she just didn’t want to. The damage wasn’t serious but it certainly looked that way.
“Hey raven guy, stop for a minute will you!” Ilea shouted as she grabbed one of the birds out of the air, looking at it closely. Fucking rabid ravens or what? She thought, the mage stopping after he heard her talk. The second man was still quite a distance away.
“Don’t touch my fucking birds.” He said. “Or I’ll cut the invisible one apart and shove her up your ass.”
“Piece by piece?” Ilea asked, the man’s remark resonating with her somewhat. It wasn’t said with as much hostility as the meaning implied.
“Yes. Piece by fucking piece. Let go of my bird, will ya.” He said and she shrugged.
“If you promise not to be such an aggressive little shit.” Ilea said and let go of the bird. She thought it was the right move.
“Good. I don’t promise anything. Now who the hell are you and why was that one spying on us?” The man asked, pointing at her when the second man arrived in very heavy looking armor. He stopped and breathed heavily, his arms going to his knees as he recovered from his run.
“Here on a job, Shadow’s Hand. Who are you?” Ilea asked, identifying them each.
[Mage – lvl 210]
[Baker – lvl 190]
She didn’t give the man time to respond. “What’s a baker doing out here? Are you like a high level delivery service?” She asked.
“No we’re…,” The man started but Ilea interrupted him and instead addressed the baker.
“Can I buy some bread or a cake from you? Food’s been rather boring.” Ilea said and watched his helmet vanish suddenly. The man had grayish hair and green eyes. Certainly looks like a baker. Ilea thought. Considering he seemed to enjoy his own creations made her even more interested. His face lit up at her request and he summoned both bread and a piece of cake.
“I do I do. You can try for free even. I like to share.” He said in a voice that suggested he wasn’t exactly a high librarian.
“That’s very nice of you but you’ll never earn money like that. I can pay you. That cake looks very delicious.” Ilea said as she finished healing Maria who had activated her cloaking skills again but was still standing next to her, nearly still.
The mage scratched his head and sighed. “Look, can we first clear up why your friend spied on us? After that you can buy all the cake you like.”
“Ah yes. One, that’s not my friend. And two, she’s just very shy. And curious. She likes to follow interesting men around. Why are you on this island anyway and you didn’t answer my previous question, who are you two?” Ilea continued as she advanced on the baker as non threateningly as possible, reaching him and accepting the piece of cake he was holding towards her.
She smiled and bowed her head. “Thank you very much. I don’t have money with me right now but I promise to come and pay you.”
“We’re here to guard the castle.” The baker said and smiled. “You should come visit us sometime. My name is Popi.”
“Nice to meet you Popi. My name is Lilith and I’d love to come visit you.” Ilea replied and started eating the cake, a small part of her expecting to get poisoned. Her judgment of character seemed to have improved though. The cake was delicious and neither poisonous nor paralyzing.
“Popi I told you not to talk to strangers so openly, what if they’re coming to attack us?” The mage asked.
“I’m sorry for burning your friend. He told me to do it.” Popi said and looked down.
“It’s alright. She’s going to be alright. Look, we meant no offense ok.” Ilea said and smiled.
“For fuck’s sake.” The mage said and scratched the back of his head. “I’m Maurice. We’re guards from nearby. You should tell her not to spy on people.” He said. “Come Popi, we’re supposed to be back in two hours. Arthur will get mad at you if we’re out for so long.” He added, Ilea trying hard not to show any change on her face at the mention of the name.
“Let’s incapacitate them.” Maria said to her in a whisper, Ilea noticing immediately how Maurice tensed up, signaling something to the other man.
“Calm down there. Just because they burned your face doesn’t mean we should attack them.” Ilea said out loud and waved to Maurice in a calming way. “You’re crazy sometimes.” She said and laughed.
“Look, I’m sorry we attacked you. Just make sure not to come too close to the Isle of Garath, our employer doesn’t take kindly to uninvited visitors. So whatever job you have just steer clear.” Maurice said and scratched his beard.
“Ah don’t mention it. More importantly Popi, do you have more of that cake? That was fantastic.” Ilea said and went to the man again. “I’m willing to pay you twenty coppers for each cake, or how much do the ingredients cost? I don’t want to rob you.”
“Lilith, forget about the fucking cake.” Maria said in a hissing tone.
“Already healed I see. You’re full of surprises.” Maurice said.
“Fuck off, he’s got great cake.” Ilea said. “I have to go, mission and stuff. Visit me in Ravenhall if you’re ever there.” She said as her wings spread before she grabbed the near invisible Maria and ascended, waving to the two mercenaries she’ll likely have to face in battle in the following days. I do hope I won’t have to kill them. She thought as she sped up, not to her full speed to not reveal anything. Neither did she fly towards Edwin and Kyrian, instead taking a massive detour to throw Maurice off. Perhaps Popi was just playing the fool. She wasn’t sure about it. A part of her wanted to believe he was as innocent as he acted but this world had changed her impressions of people.
“Why the fuck didn’t you attack them!?” Maria said loudly as soon as they were out of earshot.
“Honestly?” Ilea asked. “That cake was dope, I won’t kill a bloody baker if it’s not absolutely necessary.”
“And now they know we’re coming.” Maria complained.
“You’re not exactly the brightest flame for someone calling me stupid.” Ilea said and left it at that. The fact that Maria shut up right after let her know that maybe she thought about what she had said.
“We could’ve forced a search or held them hostage.” Maria said as they walked back to Kyrian’s and Edwin’s location.
“The two of Them? Did we meet different people. They’re expendable mercenaries. If Arthur Redleaf is anything like you say then he wouldn’t care about them. If we had killed them, they would know we’re coming. All they know now is that the Shadow’s Hand is on the isle. If he’s so obsessed with the Taleen, then perhaps we’re here because of that. Maybe we can use it somehow.” Ilea said. While her reasoning was sound to her, she really just didn’t feel like fighting the two of them. Especially Popi.
They soon reached the others and explained what had happened. To her surprise, Edwin didn’t care much about the mercenary encounter.
“He really is here…,” He said after they had finished, withdrawing into his own thoughts as he got a notebook from his pack, starting to write.
“So he has one mercenary team at least. I think it might’ve been for the best not to attack them. Ilea you’ll distract them when we attack, as it seems you already somehow made friends, they might be less inclined to fight you.” Edwin started explaining after a while. “I would assume the team is four to six people, let’s hope for fewer.”
“We’ll easily find the location of the Isle of Garath in the village. Then Maria will scout again, this time alone and from further away. Don’t risk getting spotted this time. We know they have ways to find you now.” He said, pointing at her.
“Ilea, do you think you could take the two of them in a straight up fight?” Edwin asked and she shrugged.
“No idea. I think talking to them might be more effective. How much gold do you have? If they’re mercenaries then maybe we can convince them that way.” Ilea suggested.
“I doubt my father would hire easily bought people. Still, it’s always a possibility. You may offer up to five gold coins per person to abandon their duty.” Edwin said.
“Edwin… are you sure?” Maria asked but he just waved her off.
“We have to use whatever means we can.” He said and nodded to Ilea, his openness surprising her.
Whatever means. She thought, smiling.
“When do we move?” She asked the man.
“As soon as the suns are up. We’ll be able to better scout the isle.”
Ravens spread out to scout the surroundings as they crossed the last hill before the Isle of Garath. “Here we are. Piss poor boring shit island.” Maurice said as he took a deep breath. He wasn’t sure if he was ready for his team, not even after an easy going night out.
The suns wouldn’t be up for another couple hours but the torches could be seen from afar. Their isle was small and technically more a half isle. While not connected by land, there was a narrow stone pathway leading to it from the closest other isle. Guess that makes it one bigger isle doesn’t it? He asked himself and looked back to find Popi a dozen meters further back, looking at something under an entirely too heavy rock.
“Found something?” He asked and walked up to the man.
“Spring.” Popi said and smiled, picking the little flower from near the rock before he let go of the massive thing.
“Spring.” Maurice said before he laughed and shook his head.
“Spring is when we’re done with this job.” He said and walked towards the island. The broken down castle ruin in the center gave the place an eerie feeling, just like most things that led to a Taleen dungeon. A good thing this one had been empty and small. Rare for the fucking dwarves.
“I like Zoy.” Popi said in a happy tone.
“I know I know. You like the pretty girls you big fat fuck.” Maurice said in response as they crossed the pathway to the rocky terrain. Certainly not the worst foundation for a defensible position. Looking down though, the ocean looked back, making him shiver. Why out here.
“You are being mean Maurice. She’s nice.” Popi argued.
“Nice and creepy. Just don’t get too close, she won’t come with us after this is over.” Maurice replied when they came onto the platform on the other side of the path. Welk was playing his harmonica as most nights but knowing the man a little better by now made the hairs on his neck stand up.
“Welcome back. How were the whores.” Welk asked, stopping to play for the remark. He did continue right after, not listening to Maurice’s lack of a response. The fire was still burning, giving off some heat in the cold night. Though it was spring, as Popi apparently found out, so close to the ocean it was still rather cool in the night. Not that anybody at their levels would be bothered much by that.
The fire kept off creatures and some of the inhabitants of the isles, human and not.
“Anything to report?” Welk asked and Maurice looked at him.
“Met some people. Shadow’s Hand.” He said as he sat down, glancing at Zoy who was sitting in silence, her white eyes staring at nothing.
“Shadow’s Hand?” Welk stopped playing. “Why are they here?”
“On a mission.” Maurice said and opened his pack, getting out some bread and dried meat.
“Yea I could figure that one out myself smartass. What mission? Anything to do with Mr. Redleaf or the Taleen dungeon?” Welk asked but Maurice just shrugged.
“Couldn’t tell ya. If they come here we’ll ask. Seemed the girl was more eager to try Popi’s baking.” He said, thinking about that weird encounter. He had definitely met a bunch of eccentric high level people but most Shadows so far had been less than talkative and mostly professional. Why he never thought about joining the fuckers. That and them imitating his style.
She did have some pretty rad looking armor. If they supply that at this point maybe I’ll join. A hundred gold though…,
“Popi’s baking. You should’ve found out more, interrogated them. What if they’re our enemy?” Welk asked as he got up and walked in a circle.
“And how exactly should I have done that? One of them was a rogue, damn near invisible and Popi burnt her… bad. She didn’t seem to care about that and was healed a couple minutes later. Both were above my level and the one who talked was so casual she just walked up to him and ate some cake. I’m here to do my job and my job is to guard this castle and help Arthur explore his bloody dungeon.” Maurice explained.