Chapter 229 Journey through the Night
The suns were going down as Ilea sped through the mountain chain in the southern part of the empire, soon passing the last peaks before the terrain would grow more even. What was supposed to be human controlled country didn’t show any sign of their presence or control. Ilea couldn’t spot a single town as far as she could see nor any light or travelers. The wild lands although mapped were avoided at night except by adventurers and the truly desperate.
Her wings moved in the winds, her destination northwest. Passing through the plains, she could make out dark patches of forest in the distance, stormy clouds passing above. Lowering her altitude, she flew below and close above the forest when she heard a roar that made her veer a little, interested in what kind of beast it was. Another cry resounded as she zeroed in on the direction, hovering over a clearing where the massive form of what looked like a grizzly bear tried to fight off the creatures clawing into its back and side.
Ilea blinked downwards and rushed next to the creature, three of her ashen limbs punching into the demons that threatened to kill the beast. She grabbed the fourth one by its throat, the claws of the rabid monster fruitlessly digging into the ash around her as she stared into its soulless eyes. Her fist smashed into its face, a second and third time before the demon’s skull cracked, a ding resounding in her mind as she threw away the lifeless body, twirling in the air above the injured bear, the monsters recovered from her Wave of Ember, all rushing at the newfound prey.
[Grenoth – lvl 122]
“Not a bear then?” Ilea asked as the several meters long and high beast roared at her and the demons, her blue eyes staring at it before her ash lashed out again, wave of ember sent into the beasts. Appearing above one of them, she grappled it and landed in the earth and mud, the two skidding to a halt as she sent her destructive mana into its body, claws lashing out at her before she silenced it with four ashen limbs and a fist to its chest. Two down. She thought and blinked again, three quick steps later she tackled the disoriented demon into and through a tree behind it, feeling several bones break. Her hand lashed out and ripped out its throat, blood spurting out and onto her ash.
A hard kick to its center of mass sent the half dead monster flying into another tree, its body bending unnaturally before a noise resounded in her head. One to go.
The Grenoth was slashing at the remaining demon with its paw, only able to keep it at a distance as it tried to move with its injured legs, bleeding from several spots on its back, only visible to Ilea thanks to her sphere, the wounds lost in the brown fur of the massive beast. To think something like that can be taken down by a mere four demons.
The demon was just about to slash into the Grenoth’s snout when it was ripped backwards, Ilea grabbing it by the neck and throwing it ten meters into the dirt. The bear like creature moved its clawed paw towards her but Ilea simply took a step towards the demon, avoiding the strike of the injured and scared animal behind her.
“Spawn.” She said and identified the demon to be at level eighty four. Not from the Great Salt then it seemed. Ilea felt personally responsible to shred through any demonic remains she came across prowling the lands of Elos. The monster was screeching towards her and started running again, unrelenting in its wish for blood and death. The monster lacking any coordination, pure instinct and blood lust whipping it towards her was met by a fully powered and perfectly aimed punch that splattered its brain out into the clearing so fast that its legs continued moving for another three steps before its already dead body fell down onto the grass.
The Grenoth roared behind her, Ilea appearing next to it before she carefully touched it. A clawed paw smashed into her defenses with enough force to cut through a tree trunk, her feet digging into the ground as the kinetic force went through her body. Healing mana started circling through the animal as she focused on the worst injuries first. The demons were vicious creatures but she doubted the bear would have difficulties against a couple of them. There were likely more.
Ilea looked into the distance, the bear roaring into her ear. “Calm down teddy.” Ilea said, her ash blocking another wild attack that nearly teared out one of the animal’s claws. It healed quickly as her mana flowed through it, the Grenoth calming down a little as its pains lessened. “See, all better.”
She took care of the worst and then patted the monster on its head, dodging two wild hits as she danced backwards and laughed. “You’re welcome.” She sped off running into the direction where the demons had likely come from, her Hunter’s Sight helping her focus on the trail the fighting monsters had left in their wake. Could’ve found this without any skills even. Ilea thought but doubted she’d try to follow the destructive path and massive paw prints on the wet ground if she didn’t have her classes.
She had been right. Three demon corpses were found, one still breathing but so deformed it could hardly move. A stomp took it out of its misery as she looked around for a while to see if she could find any more of them. There were none.
Might as well move through the terrain and see if more of them are around. The thought resulted in her quickly running through the forest, vaguely west and northwards as she carefully looked at any trails she could find. It had rained earlier, making it rather easy to spot all the indicators of animals and monsters living, hunting or fleeing in the forest.
Ten minutes later, she came out onto a patch of open space, wild flowers and grass growing on the field. Her ashen wings formed behind her before she rushed over it, noting the hares that ran for safety at her approach. Another patch of forest followed, the huntress back on her feet and on the lookout for demons and other dangers that might lurk in the shadows.
Hours passed as she hunted, finding a pack of wolves that had killed a deer like creature. The animals ran for their lives when she came rushing in, the smell of blood in her nose before she took in the scene. Her search continued fruitlessly when she decided to continue through the air, unable to spot any demons in the vicinity. The familiar smell of burnt wood stopped her, Ilea following the trail until she saw the light in the distance.
A small camp fire it seemed. Cooked meat and the scent of blood mixed in as she got closer. She noticed the woman in her sphere long before she spoke but still advanced on the fire.
“Who goes in the dark?!” A male voice shouted out, his face visible from the near burnt out fire, sweat gleaming on his brow as magic formed in his hand.
Looks like arcane magic. Ilea thought as she tried to identify the man. The woman was now behind her, a bow in hand and ready to strike. She’d be the first one Ilea would target should the situation demand it, their eyes and ears it seemed.
However she wasn’t in the business of killing random travelers. “A lone Shadow.” Her voice echoed through the trees, the man’s eyes focusing on her as his magic swirled in his hand.
“You are welcome at our fire Shadow.” He spoke, looking towards her as she slowly made her way towards the fire, hands at her side. Ilea was armored and without a pack, definitely suspicious but identifying herself as a Shadow would eliminate a lot of questions.
[Mage – lvl 75]
She saw another two people, one a young woman staring at her with wide open eyes as she clutched a staff with shaking hands and a man clad in several blankets, sweating and shivering with closed eyes. “Is he alright?” She asked, nodding towards the man.
“He is… injured. A monster attacked us on the road, about half an hour north.” The man stopped channeling mana into his spell and answered her. The rogue behind her didn’t reveal herself yet, a smart move Ilea thought.
She walked over to the injured man and touched his brow, checking his body with her recovery magic. “What kind of monster?” The man was about to stop her from touching his friend but the question made him pause.
Claws. Ilea thought, the deep wounds on his chest and belly would bring the man’s death if he was moved. Her mana flowed through him, his breathing calming down immediately.
“Demons.” The man spoke. “I heard what had happened in the empire but to think they’ve come as far as Kroll…,”
So I’m already in the kingdom of Kroll. “Where were they?”
“Half an hour north Shadow. We took down the two that attacked us but…,” He glanced at the forest behind her for a split second, “… I think there are more.”
Ilea stood up and looked at the man. “He is going to survive. You should travel with a healer if you can. Now tell me what you know.” She turned and looked directly at the woman hiding in the darkness. “You too if you have anything to add.”
The rogue tensed up immediately before the man next to her sighed. “Come out. We didn’t mean no offense Shadow. You are alone and we don’t know your intentions.” He said and she could see his muscles tense up.
“Just tell me where they are and I’ll leave you alone.” Ilea suggested, the woman stepping out of the dark, half her face hidden in cloth, a cloak hiding the rest.
“I will lead you.” The woman said, a sharp glance of the man making her shoulders droop. “It’s ok.”
Ilea looked at her and nodded. “I’ll get her out if it gets messy.”
Coughing came from the previously injured man who croaked out a plea for water, the rogue nodding to Ilea before she started moving into the forest, jumping on a tree and Ilea following on the ground below.
Hog you damn idiot. Ilyna thought as she led the Shadow towards the demons they had encountered on the road westwards. Travis was as good as dead and he nearly fucked it up with that monster. All the hairs on her back were standing, her instincts tugging on her mind as the woman silently followed on the ground behind her. Making a lot of damn noise woman.
They had no other choice but to rest and start a fire, hoping that none of the demons or anything else would show up to slaughter them in the dark. To think that smuggling out escaped slaves from Baralia would be interrupted by demons out of all possibilities. And now they had the luck to have a lone Shadow walk in on them. She didn’t know what the woman had done to Travis but his skin had already looked better when they had left.
Maybe he could move now. Maybe she could be a distraction while they fled. Ilyna thought as she led the woman to her doom. Or mine.
“What did you do to the injured man?” She couldn’t help but ask in a whisper.
Expecting no answer or a lie, she continued silently through the night. “I healed his wounds. I told the mage you should get a healer.”
But she’s a warrior? Ilyna was starting to doubt her decisions. Maybe it was a battle healer that lost her team somewhere in the wild or she wasn’t a Shadow at all. Thinking of blowing it off and hope that Travis could walk or even run again, she turned to the woman and stopped. “I th…,”
The Shadow held up a hand and sniffed the air. “Found you…,” A whisper into the dark night before she started walking.
What is she…, She followed and soon heard the noises of ripping flesh coming from the road ahead. Ilyna’s eyes widened when she saw the horrific creatures in the distance, a wagon had rolled to the side of the road.
“I think it’s time for you to leave huntress.” The woman spoke from below, a gray mist forming around her.
And then she vanished, Ilyna’s eyes frantically darting in the dark before she found her again, much closer to the road and the monsters. Again she vanished, Ilyna instinctively following from her elevated position in the trees until she could see the road illuminated by the moonlight.
The Shadow was among them, grabbing them with her bare hands before she smashed her fists into them, appearing around the circle of confused and raging monsters, the gray mist cutting into the creatures. She couldn’t move, couldn’t rip her eyes from the horrific slaughter, limbs ripped and thrown away, the sound of breaking bones and crushed flesh interspersed with screeches before everything was silent.
The woman was standing among a pile of corpses. Get a fucking grip. Ilyna quickly approached the shadow, the smell and sight nauseating but not the worst she had seen. “How often are they still sighted? I thought the empire took care of most of them.”
Ilyna froze again, nearly falling from the tree she was on when the woman spoke to her. “I… I don’t. Sometimes, the empire doesn’t care as soon as they cross the borders.”
“Any cities destroyed?”
“Not that I know of. This is one of the biggest groups I’ve heard about.” She replied as quickly as she could.
“Good. Well be careful out there. They turn people they kill into demons.”
I know. The thought went through her head as she jumped down from the tree, checking the wagon for any survivors.
“They’re dead. There’s some food in there. Good luck.” The Shadow said and vanished. Ilyna looked around but couldn’t find her again, dead eyes staring through her from the ground, a rustling behind her nearly making her jump. It was just an owl.
Get the fuck out of here, move. She told herself and jumped up again, her hiding skills activating as she sped back to her group.
Ilea followed the long trail of the demons, most of them leading along the country road she had come across. The clouds above her hid the moonlight, turning the road pitch black. Why were they traveling at this bloody time? She questioned but decided that it wasn’t her problem. The girl had looked scared but not of the others around the campfire and the man had definitely been injured by a demon. Ilea decided on the benefit of the doubt for that group, mostly because she didn’t have a bad feeling when she had talked to them.
None of the demons had been above level one hundred. Stragglers escaping from the empire. If any originally summoned beasts had made it this far the situation would certainly be different. Even some random adventurers could deal with one or two of them at this level. With great difficulty.
A glint of light was reflected in the distance as she was running. Deciding to see what it was, Ilea quickly reached a group of soldiers in armor and colors she hadn’t seen before. They veered out at her approach and shouted for her to stop. Ilea followed their orders and lifted her hands as she identified them. Barely one above a hundred.
“What is your business in the kingdom of Kroll? I assume you are a Shadow?” One of them asked, his armor looking a little higher in quality compared to the others.
Ilea looked them over and answered, “Passing through officer. If you’re looking for the demons they’re ten minutes down the road.” Some of the soldiers looked at each other at that, Ilea noticing two of them grip their weapons more tightly. “They’re already dead.”
The officer locked eyes with her, “And why would a Shadow care to kill demons on the road?”
“That, officer. Is my own business. Let me know if you have the location of any other groups of them. I’ll be happy to clean up the mess.” She suggested with a smile, the man gulping as he heard it.
He waved for the group to continue, “That won’t be necessary Shadow, good luck on your hunt.”
“And on yours.” Ilea replied and watched them leave, following the thinning trail for another twenty minutes, finding the burnt remains of at least three demons in the forest a couple minutes off the road. She definitely liked the lack of scrutiny even soldiers showed her now that she was wearing black and simply stated she was a Shadow. Who would travel in the wild alone at night, claiming to have killed demons and in complete confidence standing against a group of ten soldiers aiming their magic at them. Who but a Shadow. Or someone just as dangerous.
Giving up on her search, she decided to follow the road until she knew again where she was. The visibility was too bad for her to see anything further than a couple dozen meters. Several hours passed without her encountering anybody as she sped over the road leading westwards through the night, only a single pause necessary to gain back her stamina and mana that started to reach less than a fifth of her total.
Ilea stopped another hour later near a worn down stone bridge with questionable maintenance. Wooden signs with fading writing confirmed she was going towards the west. Most of the listed towns were indecipherable but she could make out the word Karth in the midst of them, the mountain apparently dominant enough to deserve a mention on the fuck off nowhere signs.