Chapter 230 Back to the Roots
Ilea quickly checked through the remaining notifications in her mind but found none of her skills or classes had leveled from her encounters with the demons. The lone traveler soon came upon a city, its gates closed, guards patrolling on the walls. The sounds and smells that she perceived even from the hundred meter distance made her slow down and walk off the road onto the field of grass. She could see a single mage flying above the wall, following her along the defenses as she ran and circled the city.
Lucky for you I’m no elf. Passing the town walls, she continued on the same road, jumping over a river and ignoring a road leading north. Having looked over her map she had decided to go north from Riverwatch to avoid getting caught up in the war raging through the empire or the constant conflicts in the northern plains she had heard about. Ilea was pretty sure Kroll was smaller than the empire but she had no idea where it started or ended. The suns would rise soon and she hoped to see Karth at that point. Maybe I should learn where some of the stars are to orient myself.
It was an idea she previously had but never actually cared to learn about. A class in the Shadow’s Hand might’ve been the right decision but Ilea didn’t want to end up hidden away in a library like Dagon. The man had of course fought on the fields of Ravenhall to retake the city so she had to give credit where it was due.
The road soon diverged again, several paths leading in different directions. Ilea chose to follow the road to Karth. Running along the neglected road, she soon saw light on the horizon. Her buffs raised to the max when she realized it wasn’t sunlight but fire instead. The scent of smoke soon filled the air, Ilea ignoring the dangerous environment and rushing towards the origin of the fires.
A town? She thought when she passed destroyed walls, looking at the husks of destroyed houses built with wood and stone. All of it looked simple. Her lungs were filled with smoke but she resisted the slight urge to cough, finding it an easy thing. Perhaps her training with William hadn’t just been beneficial for underwater scenarios, although her skill only mentioned liquids.
A big square opened up, Ilea walking out into the open as a massive beam of wood came loose from a nearby building, shattering on the ground as it sent fiery sparks onto the dirt. Corpses. She thought and walked towards the wooden platform, finding several people dead, wounds from both weapons and claws it seemed but the headless corpse bound to a stake confused her a little, an ax biting into the wood above where the neck ended.
An execution? Some of the corpses looked like guards, at least very badly equipped ones. She found the head of the judged lying a couple meters away, eyes open and a look of anguish staring back at her. She chucked it away and continued looking around the burning village. Flying up, she found that the place was much smaller than she first thought, the raging fires hid the village’s ordinary nature, clothing it in a last spectacle.
Sounds of battle made her focus and glance at a patch of forest to the west. Quickly rushing over, she followed a trail of blood, corpses of soldiers, guards and what looked like civilians left behind before she came out into a small clearing, four armored warriors staring down a young woman, black lightning zapping the leaves and trees around her as she clutched the bleeding wound on her belly.
“Let her bleed out…,” One of the soldiers said, his spear pointed at her before he went to one knee, wincing in pain. Lightning cracked and sent the man backwards, smoke coming from his head as he landed close to Ilea. She was about to intervene and at least find out who they were when the woman cried out in pain.
Lightning crackled, scorching the ground around her before she coughed up blood. “You fucking dogs… I will kill all of you.”
The mentensed up. “Careful, don’t let your guard down.”
Ilea checked the soldier lying in front of her but found him dead and gone, instead walking towards the thoroughly distracted group before she spoke, “Who are you?”
Two of them turned right away, the woman coughing again and stumbling against the tree behind her as she smiled towards Ilea. A resigned look, her eyes closing with a pain stricken face. “A Shadow! Good, this one practices dark magics, you’ve seen it yourself. We were sent to take care of them.”
“Them? The dead man on the square?” Ilea asked and listened to the whispers coming from the woman.
“Charles, I will soon join you.”
“Yes, the whole village was corrupted, death magic.” The soldier who had spoken before answered her.
“So you came and killed them all, burnt down the village to cleanse it?” Ilea asked, trying to get a reaction out of him that might explain some of it.
“Exactly. She’s the last one of the wretches.” He said and twirled his blade.
Ilea really didn’t want to be in this situation but she wasn’t as cold as to just vanish without at least seeing it through. “What kind of rituals did they do?”
The soldier looked confused, the other two approaching the woman who seemed to have given up completely. “Didn’t you listen, she practices dark magic.”
Know a guy or two who do that too. Ilea thought and watched them start beating her. “Just kill her and be done with it.”
The man shook his head. “No. She must suffer. An example to those who would chose to serve these kinds of gods.” Quiet moans of pain filled her ears as she watched them throw the woman in the mud, kicking at her side with heavy boots, bones breaking with each hit.
“I said kill her and be done with it.” Ilea said but the man just smiled at her, turning his attention to the others. “Alright, your stupid decision not to listen to me.” Ilea added and appeared between the two men, her fists hitting each of their faces, breaking a jaw and a nose. “Now fuck off.”
The man behind her raised his sword and pointed it at her. “Why would you interfere, are you on a mission Shadow? These are the king’s laws and you stand between them. Would you really go against a whole kingdom?”
Ash surged out, gripping around the struggling soldiers next to her as her mana pushed into them, their feeble resistance cracking before another two tendrils sent wave of ember into them, both of them dying while she walked up to the man, his sword lashing out as he screamed. The blade stopped at her armored shoulder before she gripped his hand. “Why would they care about some shit soldiers like you?”
A kick sent the man stumbling, his hip bone broken. He crawled on the ground in pain before she appeared above him, her armored boot crushing his skull with a clean blow. The woman on the ground was barely conscious when healing mana started flowing through her and took care of her heavy injuries.
“I can take you out of the kingdom, to the west.” Ilea said, the healed woman remaining on the ground as she cried.
Ilea looked away and added, “I’m not going to wait here with you.”
A hoarse voice answered her, “The corpse… on the square. The one they executed first. He had a necklace.Can I ask you to burn them and bring that to me…,”
Ilea leaned on the tree next to her. “Do I look like a charity? I offered to help you come west. It’s that or I leave. Your problems aren’t mine dark mage.”
“I don’t need your help Shadow.”
Ilea nodded once and walked off. Another three men added to her list of humans she had planned not to encounter for a while. Her arm lashed out and punched through a thick tree, the wood groaning as its weight shifted and ripped the whole structure down towards the ground. Flying up above the treeline, Ilea quickly sped up as finally the light of day greeted her, the form of the massive mountain of Karth barely visible in the far distance.
Several hours of flying at her top speed finally brought her close enough to see the town of Riverwatch, her wings disintegrating after she landed on the road leading towards the city. “A shit night finally ends.”
Ilea started walking, greeting a group of adventurers that were gleefully talking in the back of a horse pulled wagon, a massive dead beast Ilea couldn’t quite place lying between them. Frog mutant or something? She thought, their enthusiastic mood taking a big downfall upon seeing the Shadow. Apprehension clearly visible on their faces Ilea decided against trying to join them for the ride and instead kept walking until they were barely visible to her on the dusty road. She came up on the bridge she had crossed many a time before when coming to Riverwatch and stopped, looking towards the faraway walls of the city before she smiled, instead crossing the river and starting to run into the familiar part of the Navali forest.
Seems like the Drakes have repopulated. The thought went through her head when one of them stopped and quickly rushed away when it spotted her. “That’s right bitch!” She laughed and continued her run, her armored boots hitting the creeks and leaving deep marks in the soft earth wherever she passed.
The temple looked the exact same as it had before, rundown and fucking old. My first home in this shit hole. Nah, actually this forest isn’t as shit as the empire. Ilea thought and walked through the stone halls, quickly opening a door and looking at the skeleton still inside. “Hey buddy, been a while.” She waved and closed the door again, not to further disturb the permanent resident.
“Lucky I found this instead of the city first. I might’ve become another ice or fire mage thinking it to be bloody cool.” Her hands brushed against the stone as she saw through the ground with her sphere, blinking into the small hall she had found after her arrival. Touching the wall, there was still no Bluemoon grass but she felt the power within. It would grow again, in time. She felt a little bad about eating probably dozens if not hundreds of years worth of the elexir in just a couple months and alone at that. Nobody else used it anymore and the rate of death was too high for her to spread it with good faith. The guild didn’t linger for long.
“Oh hey, look it’s drake scales.” She smiled and took one of the remaining pieces. What a shit material. Looked badass at least. To think she had lugged tons of the stuff around after painfully cutting it off from the monsters she had killed. Maybe I’ll do that with dragon scales soon enough.
Walking into the library, she smelled the old books and dried shit and piss. Courtesy of your one and only. Her hands grazed the cracks and missing stone on the wall where she had trained Destruction. Walking back, she checked the fountain.
[Fountain of Clarity]
She smirked, “Still as stupid as it was back then.” Drinking a little of the water, she felt its power flow through her. Summoning a cup, she found the effects vanished as soon as it left the beautifully crafted spring. Ilea checked the stone and found several enchantments on its side and within. Runes carved into the well and still active. She couldn’t tell on what exactly it ran but there must’ve been some connection to a man crystal somewhere. Putting her hand into the fountain and directly storing the water in her necklace proved unsuccessful as well.
Again, as soon as she drank it from her necklace the power had disappeared. “What is this? Some kind of system abuse patch they implemented?”
It felt natural for Ilea to talk to herself now that she was alone again, back in these familiar halls that were now clad in complete darkness, her sphere now as natural for her to see as her eyes were. Considering the enchantments and runes she had seen before, the Azarinth Order or whoever had built this place certainly weren’t novices. A healing fountain could be a great asset to a city, an army or really any adventurer. Ilea didn’t know anything about the limitations of building one, of having it powered. Perhaps it required a spell or sacrifice to initially activate. Maybe it was linked to the bluemoon grass or the source of the plant.
She wasn’t about to jot down every single rune on the well but maybe a journey to the temple with Clarie, Christopher and perhaps even Weavy would shed some light on the magical fountain of health. Alchemists would probably kill to see this thing. She smiled, not intending to share it with the world as of yet. Her blink at a much higher level allowed her to blink down into the big hall where she had fought against some kind of guardian golem before. Parts of the thing still remained on the dusty floor, magical lights still illuminating the eerie room.
Ilea walked towards the treasure room where she had found the black cloak she had loved so much. A shame it burnt to crisps in the Taleen dungeon. The thought was interrupted when she felt something weird in her Sphere. Really. Another hidden passage? Ilea smiled and followed the wall, the perfectly ordinary looking stone bricks damn near screamed at her in her Sphere. Blinking brought her nowhere new. Either an enchantment had been placed to prevent overeager initiates to find it or there really was nothing.
Her fists and ash started digging into the stone, Ilea’s weapons damaging the hard surface as if it was drywall, ripping out big chunks with each hit. She waved at the dust, her ash moving away the shattered stone. Right before she started feeling silly for going berserk against a cellar wall, her fist broke through. Ripping at it, a huge crack formed letting her see through. Her Sphere was still unable to see but her eyes told her there was something.
It lacked any light and Ilea continued clearing out stone until she could fit through the opening. Her sphere immediately expanded when she passed the invisible threshold. No dungeon notification popped up as she had hoped but she found a rune on a nearby wall connected to a magical light. That much she understood, her mana pushing into the rune before a dim blue light illuminated the perfectly intact stairwell.
She could make out a single room below, steadily going down as she checked for traps. More lights were activated when the touched the rune at the bottom of the stairs, the big room coming to life before her eyes. A round table with a big map in the middle as well as several chairs, dust and cobwebs clinging to everything they could. The dust made the air heavy, a smell of leather permeating her nose and sphere. Hidden meeting room?
Nobody had used it in their last days it seemed, neither skeleton nor undead prowling the room as she stepped around the table. The map looked much like her own with a lot more cities, empires and kingdoms. Getting out her notebook, she compared the names and found most of them differing from what she had in her hand. Riverwatch and all the cities west of it were not even on the map. The empire of Lys was there but much smaller and further to the east. Ravenhall was on it too, the lone city in the mountain retaining its name through the centuries.
Ilea felt a little pride rushing through her at that but shook her head at the absurdity of the fact. They were no glorious order making the world a better place. They were mercenaries. Oldest bloody mercenaries though and the baddest of ass.
“Wish I had my cellphone to take a picture.” She complained and sat down on one of the chairs, finding it somewhat comfortable despite the cobwebs and the cloud of dust that clung to her armor immediately. Taking one of the chess pieces from the map, she twirled it in her fingers before her eyes fell on the symbol painted on the pawn’s chest. One of her gauntlets vanished before she sacrificed a couple hundred health to activate her third tier State of Azarinth.
One of the runes, the one on the back of her hand looked eerily similar to the one painted in blue on the little figure. Standing up again, she studied the placement of the figures but couldn’t figure out what it meant. Some were grouped up near Karth, some built formations in the forest. Single pieces stood alone near the northern mountain chain or placed in the forest, their dark color quite a contrast to the brown ones all the other figures sported.
Ilea didn’t recognize any of the other symbols, even her State of Azarinth rune wasn’t exactly the same but she couldn’t help but be convinced. Checking them for similarities, she put nine figures into her necklace. Perhaps one of the librarians she had met would know about their significance. The dark figures neither had any discernible shape nor symbols but she couldn’t help but take one and look at it deeply. “Can thou see me dark lord?” A shiver went down her spine, hoping she hadn’t just summoned Morgoth himself to the world of Elos.
“I swear one of these days it’s gonna happen. I’m just gonna doom all of life because of some stupid joke.” Ilea mused to herself, placing the black figure back exactly where she had taken it from. Summoning her notebook, she quickly sketched down another map and took her time to write each name she could actually read into it. Nothing west or north of the now human plains had any writing on it, telling her that even back whenever this was, the forest and northern mountains weren’t charted. At least not by the owners of this hall.