Chapter 208 The Journey South
The fire started to take over the bigger logs, the group gathered around the fire, sitting on big stones Ilea had gotten from the cliffs below. Two Taleen greatswords had been rammed into the earth next to the fire to balance a Taleen spear atop them. The gutted and skinned boar would be placed on it as soon as the flames had been reduced to hot embers.
I could save that time if I had Ash and Ember Creation instead of just ash. Ilea thought. Perhaps staying a fire enhancer would’ve been the better choice for utility skills but she didn’t regret it of course. Perhaps a suitable skill to heat things up or a usable flamethrower would pop up in the future. For now she had her necklace to store a high amount of food anyway.
Not that she needed much in the first place. Do I even have to eat? The thought made her smile under her helmet.
“Why isn’t anybody talking?” She asked after a while. Not that she disliked silence but having a group of people sitting quietly around a fire wasn’t exactly fun. More appropriate for the last meal before a mission or war, not for being saved and returning to a city full of opportunities.
“What will be the conditions for our new… employ?” The woman asked, her eyes intently staring at Ilea’s who looked into the fire.
“No idea. Claire will handle that. I’m sure you will be adequately paid. Ravenhall’s population was slaughtered upon the demon summoning and with the war in the empire there will be tons of people coming to the city. Your skills will be in high demand.” Ilea explained. “Perhaps you’ll be working in Eregar’s Haven to produce crops for the population.”
Christopher snorted at that but looked down again quickly, averting his eyes from Ilea who looked at him. “What’s so funny?” She asked.
“Please forgive me my lady. I didn’t mean no offense.” He actively trembled, Ilea looking at him in disbelief.
“Wow.” She said. “Arthur really was a cunt wasn’t he.” She added and took off her helmet. “Look, I’m not that man and I won’t hurt you just because you say something I don’t like. Not badly anyway. I just didn’t get why you snorted, is it weird for the Hand to grow crops in the Haven?”
The man looked at her and then on the ground again. “It’s a sacred place… with an important purpose to be sure. I… I heard of it only from others and from history books. It’s said to be magnificent. To think it would be used to grow crops…,” Christopher said and now it was Ilea who chuckled.
“Well tournaments and training sessions for members of the Hand were held in there. I think growing crops is an upgrade for its purpose.” She said and smiled. The bald man started laughing then and even Christopher smiled a little at that.
“Thanks for getting us out of there.” The middle aged woman said and looked at Ilea with a smirk.
“Thank Edwin. I wouldn’t even have known about the man otherwise.” Ilea said.
“Still, you came and you fought. For your own reasons to be sure but now a dozen or so people will have a better life thanks in part to you.” The woman said.
“And even more lost theirs in our assault.” Ilea added, looking at her. The red haired mage looked to the ground at that. “I think the embers are good, what do you say?” Ilea asked and the bald man nodded.
She got up and took the spear with her armored hand, the metal sizzling lightly at the touch, having been heated by the fire. Walking over to the boar that had been hanged up on a tree, blood still dripping down, she aimed and smashed the spear through the animal. The spear was placed on the greatswords’ handles carefully as it started to roast, some of the flames still licking on the flesh.
“If you want to go to a city between here and Ravenhall I’m happy to drop you off too. I just think you’ll have the best opportunity with us.” Ilea said, turning the spear offhandedly.
“Just think of it… Eregar’s Haven…,” Christopher said. “I hear it’s massive, it’s supposed to have its own dungeons, whole herds of animals and even its own artificial sun.” He said, nearly glowing with excitement.
“It’s pretty impressive.” Ilea said, remembering the first time she entered the big cave.
“Can you imagine how they built it? How they power the sun… the mana density is probably enormous.” Christopher went on.
“Probably slaves.” The bald man said and shrugged. “Most impressive things were built with slaves.”
“Or machines.” Ilea added, making the group look at her.
“Mana crystals in insane numbers would be required. Or mages fueling them. Slaves are less expensive, easier to get.” Christopher said.
“How do you explain the Taleen machines then? I’ve fought hundreds of them and they didn’t seem to run out of battery power.” Ilea suggested.
“What’s a battery? I agree, the Taleen are a mystery. Not even the dwarves from today have reached their technological levels. Yet they do have machines but mostly to enhance their own bodies and amplify their strength.” Christopher explained.
“Batteries are machines that store energy. Like mana crystals but instead of mana, they store lightning.” Ilea tried to explain.
“Lightning is volatile and dangerous. Not as stable a source of energy as mana crystals. Are you suggesting then that the Taleen have found a way to store mana or another form of energy inside machines? It’s certainly possible… as you say, their Guardians are active still and we have records dating the Taleen back for hundreds if not thousands of years…,” Christopher said.
“Another thing for you to figure out. Can you imagine the impact if mana sources could be produced that work independently of mages operating them?” Ilea asked.
“It would certainly change a lot. Still, I doubt the extent would be too drastic.” Christopher said but Ilea doubted that. If it was only about weapons, it was the equivalent of handing a rifle to a peasant compared to only long and hard trained veterans being able to fire a bow efficiently.
Then again, a peasant wouldn’t have the skills required to enhance the damage. Perhaps it would be enough to kill a boar like they were about to eat but certainly not enough to stop someone like the ice mage Ilea had fought the day before. Or herself for that matter.
“For city defenses maybe. Or to power transportation machines.” Ilea suggested.
“True. Neither of which we’ll need if a teleportation gate can be developed.” Christopher said with a smile.
“Perhaps.” Ilea said.
“What if the machines themselves could be replicated. Having Taleen Guardians produced by humans?” The boy said, his voice trembling.
“That would be cool.” Ilea said and smiled. “Let’s just not develop Skynet.” She added and laughed at her own joke. None of the others understood it of course but they were intimidated enough not to ask.
“They are extraordinarily complicated.” Christopher said. “The power source alone is still unknown to us and restraining and examining a working machine is impossible.”
“Why?” Ilea asked.
“They shut down, just cease to work if sufficiently restricted. We tried, Arthur tried.” Christopher said.
“Well I’m sure you’ll figure something out that he didn’t.” Ilea said. “Claire might be able to help as well. She’s a two hundred rune mage after all.” His eyes lit up at that and he smiled again.
“Incredible… how did she reach such heights I wonder…,”
“Lots of explosions ripping apart monsters instead of tinkering in a safe place I suspect.” Ilea suggested and watched him lose some of his enthusiasm.
“The laws of this world are sometimes infuriating…,” He murmured to himself and Ilea couldn’t agree more. Her lifestyle she had started to follow here in Elos, the constant fighting, exploring, live threatening situations. The laws of this world made her powerful through all of that but someone like Christopher, who could’ve been an esteemed genius working for a big corporation was limited by the fighting he did to enhance his classes. Fighting he likely didn’t like to do.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to work together.” Ilea reassured him and left it at that.
They continued to talk and eat, Ilea storing the remains of the meat in her necklace. It would even stay warm. Another four hours of flying passes afterwards, the weather taking a turn to the worse as it started raining quite heavily. Her healing supported the group throughout the flight and would likely prevent them of catching a cold. Another quick break came and went before they continued, this time flying for seven hours straight and coming out at the top of the mountain with a view of Ravenhall in the distant valley stretching before them.
It was night still but dawn would soon come. One of Elos’ moons was visible between the clouds, shining onto the lake stretching a couple hundred meters before Ravenhall, its light reflecting off the water. The forest following the shoreline on their side of the lake was still partially destroyed by the demon whale’s attacks and it didn’t look like a restoration was in the works. To the east of the city lay the lake and forest, beyond another mountain and even further that way lay Ilea’s house and the ocean. To the west was the big valley, stretching far and down along the mountians towering above it, still covered in snow. They would likely remain that way throughout the year but Ilea hadn’t seen a summer in Ravenhall yet. The city itself was barely visible for the group except for Ilea. Its walls were higher than before and she could even spot the second and third sets of walls furhter inwards.
The buildings and fortifications looked like a proper medieval fortress to her, pumped up to eleven by builders using magic to elevate the size and form. Just like with Virilya, Ilea wasn’t sure humans on Earth could actually build something like that. Knowing how it looked after they had dealt with the demons, Ilea coudln’t help but feel a bit of pride. She had a role in retaking the city and investing a bunch of gold into it. It was out of her hands now mostly but she’d be hardpressed to believe even a group of elves could take it down.
Well they couldn’t even conquer Dawntree… how would they get through this? The thought made her smile but she pushed it away not to jinx it, otherwise some oversized demonelf would be summoned to destroy it in a single spell. They certainly did what they could though. Ilea also liked the darker looking tone of it all, as if the Hand had given the city its own personal edgy touch.
The defensive capabilities would come down to the people manning the walls of course, the people fueling the runes and barriers but if the Shadow’s Hand proved anything in the retaking of the city, then that their personnel was second to none. None Ilea knew about at least but Virilya certainly came close. The damn near laser weapons they had used to attack the Baralia troops had looked nasty.
Perhaps Claire is already planning on building such weapons herself. Maybe Christopher can be handy there as well. Ilea thought as she looked at the group, most of them exhausted from the traveling. They were faring better than on their first stop and now it was a matter of fifteen minutes to get to the city.
“We’re nearly there. Come on guys, you’ll be in a bed in an hour’s time.” Ilea said and clapped her hands together. The groaning from each individual member made her sigh. I hope they’re getting some skills out of this suffering at least.
She wasn’t going to slow down completely for the group but she couldn’t deny the worth they’d bring to the city. After the Hand being somewhat responsible for the demon summoning it was the laest she could do. The consequences to the elder’s actions were terrifiying but she didn’t think about it too much. She had murdered people herself and would do so again in the future. Burdening herself with guilt over another’s deliberate actions wasn’t going to be in her plans for the future.
“Two minutes then we’re leaving. If you want to stay here then you’re welcome to do so.” She added and sat down in the snow, storing her helmet and rubbing her face with some of the cristalized water.
The whole group stood ready to leave when she got up again, her helmet back on before her wings spread. They held onto her and her wings flapped, taking them upwards and then towards the dark city in the distance.
The group landed near the center of the city, coming from straight above after Ilea had skipped over the first two sets of walls. They were quickly greeted by a group of flying guards and even a squad running on the roofs towards them.
“Let me talk.” Ilea said and summoned her Shadow’s Hand badge, waiting for the guards to arrive.
The flying squad landed, surrounding the group quickly and readying their skills. “Identify yourself.” One of them said but another looked over and talked.
“Captain, I know her. She was with the Hand when the city was retaken.” The woman said and nodded towards Ilea. They were wearing black, just like the Shadow’s Hand.
“Shadowguard. Good to see the city’s reaction to a night landing is finally existent. Here’s the badge.” Ilea said and threw the thing towards the supposed captain who caught it casually.
“Alright. You’re good. The imperial guard will want to get their silver.” He said and pointed towards the guards still running on the rooftops.
“And you don’t?” Ilea asked, catching the badge again.
“No miss, we’re paid directly by the Hand. Some mercenary work is available as well if you need it. That would cost you though.” The man said and bowed lightly. It seemed being a full member demanded some respect from the guards.
“Interesting. Well if I need something I’ll be sure to hire you.” Ilea said and smiled under her helmet. All of them were above level one twenty at least, quite a capable force for the simple task of guarding a city. She didn’t quite know how Sulivhaan and Dagon managed to fund something like this but it seemed to work for now.
“Halt, for entering the city through forbidden means you’re under arrest.” A new arrival said, the man in light steel armor, some red paint on his breastplate as he unsheathed his blade.
Ilea just looked at him while the rest of the guard squad surrounded the already surrounded group, the mages with her and Christopher taking a step back.
“I wasn’t aware there were forbidden means. Must be a new law.” Ilea said, locking eyes with the man.
“Indeed. Security has been increased, the empire is in a state of war.” He said.
“Interesting, well then pardon my intrusion, I’ll be glad to walk my group back to the gate and enter from there.” Ilea said.
“You will come with me Shadow. One way or the other.” The man said, pointing his sword at her.
Ilea looked around the roof, cocking her head to the side when she met the Shadowguard captain. “Is he for real?” She asked but the man just shrugged.
“Mate, I’ve fought in Virilya and fought in retaking the city you’re trying to protect.” Ilea said and took a casual step towards the man. Their levels ranged from sixty to eighty and their demeanor didn’t suggest them to be veterans, one of them already taking a step back at her approach.
“Think carefully what you’re going to do now Shadow.” The captain said when another person landed, with the same silver armor. There were more symbols on his arms and legs.
“Officer.” The captain said, not looking away from Ilea.
“Captain. Please explain to me what is going on.” The newcomer said, taking a step between the captain and Ilea, his gait casual and his posture relaxed.
Good move. Ilea thought and relaxed her posture as well.
“Sir, this Shadow has entered the city through flight, an action forbidden by martial law.” He stated.
“Yet the Shadow is not acting hostile. It seems she did not know about said law being enforced.” The man said. “Is that true?” He added, looking at Ilea directly. She nodded in response.
“May I see your badge?” The officer asked and she threw it towards him. “It’s genuine. I’ll deal with this captain. Do return to your posts.”
“Yes sir.” The captain said and turned around, jumping to the ground and his squad following.
The officer waited for a while before he turned towards Ilea. “Please excuse the hostile behavior.” He said and walked towards her. “Officer Tarken.”
“Lilith. Nice to meet you officer. Martial law hmm?” She asked, curious about this newfound information.
“Indeed, the capital of Lys is under attack.” He said but she waved him off.
“Baralia, yes. Seen them and fought them. It’s gonna take them a while to break through the defenses though, if they even manage it. The central district looked rather formidable.” Ilea said and watched his eyes go wide.
He shook his head and looked up at the one visible moon. “Not everybody shares my views on the Hand and Ravenhall. It would be easier on everybody if you tried to follow the martial law as long as you’re here and not in Viscera. I’d, well I’d appreciate it.” The man said and chuckled before he awkwardly clapped his hands together.
“A good night to you all.” He said and turned around but stopped again right after. “Ah, I nearly forgot. It’s ten coppers each to enter the city.”
Ilea flung a silver coin his way. “Keep the rest officer. And have a good night too.” The man jumped off the roof and left the group to their own devices.