Some minor plot changes in earlier chapters I did:
- Chapter 6: Removed mentions of a third class. Its existence is unknown.
- Chapter 8/9: Changed dialogue and added some lines to the thugs that had kidnapped Alice. Mostly because they were cringe as fuck and just the worst kind of characters. I didn’t know better back when I wrote it but it’s bad enough for me to go and fix it. They lacked any motive and were only there for Ilea to kill. Now at least there’s something more to it, a hint at a job, a reason to kidnap the noble girl or even kill her and a little foreshadowing line in regards to a nation’s preparation for war. Alice has all reason not to talk to Ilea about her nobility as she’s a wild healer she met in the forest and Ilea tries to be considerate, not asking too many questions. I think it’s somewhat acceptable like this. Let me know if you disagree.
- Chapter 10: Removed Alice’s mention of mages that can teleport others. That is neither a common ability nor known by the general populace. Even if the possibility of such an ability exists, we haven’t seen it so far.
Chapter 236 A City of Dust
Passing the meadow, she soon stepped on the stone road that lead downwards into the darkness. Nothing moved in the distance and no immediate knight could be spotted, Ilea carefully surveying the area. The first line of massive houses or rather mansions towered before her after a couple dozen meters already, the city and abyss beyond hidden by the warmly colored stone. If any paint had ever graced the structures, it wasn’t visible anymore.
Everything looked abandoned, forsaken and old. It was obvious that the buildings were crumbling but there was no indication that a fight had happened here. Like the people were wiped off. The knight was indication enough that at least unlife was still around. Ilea couldn’t help but compare this place to the Taleen dungeon or rather city she had been in before. The green lights, machines hiding behind every corner and the utilitarian architecture had made it feel eerie, like an outpost of some alien race abandoned to the machines when the air ran out.
This here felt more serene. Like a place where once an important mine provided jobs and a flourishing market and now it was abandoned, the mine dry. Blinking into the mansion before her, she found herself in a dust covered room. Metal frames remained on the wall, anything that had ever been inside a mystery. The wood groaned when she took a step, nearly breaking under her heavy weight. Furniture remained, all of it barely holding together, Ilea scared it would fall apart upon her touch. It didn’t, not quite yet.
It didn’t look like the room was fully furnished. Here and there it looked like the symmetry was amiss. Perhaps a different style these people had chosen to adapt or what fit more into her theories was that the people who left took what was important with them. Checking through drawers, cabinets, under beds and in every chest, there was nothing of note remaining. Rusty knifes, a sword whose handle broke when she lifted it, the once likely beautiful blade clattering back into the chest she had found it in. Staying quiet for a while, Ilea listened for any noise. Any movement that would indicate she had attracted not quite unwanted attention.
It was quiet. Wind came in between the metal frames where once windows adorned the big apartment. The second and ground floor brought similar results, old and broken down items most places Ilea had visited in Elos stocked their houses with. The height of the doorways, size of objects and the similar culture made her think of humans. The undead she had killed was of course human as well but there was no reason to doubt he had been an original inhabitant. It was possible he was a guard placed by someone powerful exploring the dungeon as well, in which case she had all reason to be apprehensive.
The chance was low. Nobody had yet shown up and the knight hadn’t adapted his approach during their fight, neither had he fled when his death was near. Walking down into the cellar, she found a closed off section, metal grids loosely holding onto the ground and ceiling, rust coloring the dark steel in a coarse orange brown. Stepping up to the lock, Ilea grabbed it and closed her palm. A crunch resounded as the lock was reduced to metal dust. She lifted it towards her face, her helmet vanishing as she blew the particles away.
Helmet on again, she opened the door with a creaky sound. One of the rods came loose, Ilea’s second hand catching the thing before more started sliding out of the frame. Her ashen limbs rushed out and secured all of it, slowly sliding the pieces down to the stone floor. A prison? The house hadn’t looked like a dedicated facility for that. Neither did the structure induce a very secure feeling considering criminals would have classes and insane abilities as well.
Four skeletons were resting in the room, huddled together in one of the corners. The wall behind them showed more defined cracks than the rest of the cell. The size and proportions definitely looked human to her. Quietly touching the skeletons, they vanished into her necklace.
The other two houses closest to the rose garden showed similar interiors, just as broken down and useless as the first one but at least there were no dungeons in the cellars. “Dungeon in a dungeon.” Ilea pushed air out of her nose as she sketched down a small cathedral in her notebook, the garden and three big squares. A small skull was added to the square on the left.
Each of the houses had big empty space around them, indicating gardens or training grounds. Metal poles reaching a couple meters off the ground left her thinking on the possible uses they might’ve served at some point. The three mansions were simply the first one immediately after the garden but the city spread out to either side, more and more until the suns didn’t reach it anymore.
Enough to explore still. Guess I’ll be focusing on the lit part for now. Another mansion was searched before she blinked to the roof, looking over the area. Wings spreading, she jumped from house to house before she found a rather large square, several hundred meters long. What looked like a fountain was placed in its midst, the water that had once added to its splendor was long gone. Ilea squinted her eyes and saw a lone figure enter the space from one of the side streets. His armor didn’t glint, not anymore. Still it was unmistakably a knight. The man looked like a mirror image of the one she had fought the day before.
Jumping down from the house, she checked if any more of them were around but found it as deserted as the part of the city she had explored so far. Guess we’ll be fighting for a couple hours again. A smile formed on her face as she casually strolled towards the knight in the distance. Glad for my helmet, I must seem fucking nuts to anybody that sees me smile at doom all the time.
Walking into and through the fountain pond, the knight finally spotted her. His shield and sword rose the same exact way the previous foe had used his before he started jogging, then full out running. Heavy steps stomped on the old cobbled stone, holding on to the warm color from long untreated exposure to sunlight. Ilea’s consciousness focused, her skills circulating power through every muscle of the warrior healer.
The sword rushed at her. Chipped and bruised, rust eating into the treated steel as it rushed past the dodging form of Ilea. The weapon a ghost of its former self but in the hands of its wielder remaining just as deadly. Her dance began once more. This time she knew the steps.
Punching into the knight’s side, she blinked away as she had many times before. Though it was a similar knight, his slight difference in height changed it enough for her to adjust. Just like before, every step was important, every movement calculated. They danced around, the knight slashing into the stone with ease, his blade whooshing as the heavy piece of steel pushed more than cut through the air. Ilea appeared and disappeared, every opening used to deliver just a little more damage into the undead warrior, its final rest simply a matter of time. Such was her confidence.
Hours passed, Ilea trying different things, overextending from time to time and paying the price with more cuts to her armor, bruised tissue that healed and cost her time and mana. She was used to the weight of his weapon, the speed of his movements and the perfect near machine like accuracy of his counters, thrusts and slashes. Still, she was in control. A single misstep could cost her life, she was aware of it but the fact made her calm. This was something she knew, every muscle burning, ash covering the ground, her arms and armor.
A series of quick attacks from the knight made her dodge backwards and closer to the temple like building that overlooked the big square, the enemy sword smashing into the stairs and getting stuck. Ilea jumped and kicked at his head, his shield taking most of the force while her ashen limbs rushed around his defense to deliver their spells. His sword swished by right in front of her when an arrow entering her sphere made her blink up. Wings spread, she looked towards the source and found two more knights rushing towards her.
“Fuck. You damn fucking asshats. I nearly had him down!” Her shout provoked another arrow, all three now aiming at her flying form. Deciding on the ground instead, she spread her ash and sent it out in a loose cloud before she blinked into the temple. Landing on her feet, she crouched down and listened. It was quiet but she saw one of the knights approaching the temple, turning his head before it came to a stop near her position behind the wall. You have to be shitting me.
The knight was not shitting her, his sword thrusting into the stone as she jumped forward, rushing off into the dark unknown, her sphere showing her the way. Can they see through walls as well? An unfortunate ability if proven to be true, at least to her hiding capabilities. She was definitely much faster than the knights when it came to running or flying so in the end it would simply require more time to get away. That too of course depended on how far and how persistently they would follow. If she had fifty knights running after her at the end of the day it might not be worth the trouble to stay here.
Running through the open space in the center of the temple, she spotted targets that had survived the test of time. Looking back, she only found the high reaching temple walls. A single tree with no leafs, arid and scrawny still stood near the closed double doors that led into the inner courtyard.
Even the mist stalkers sounded like an easier time than two or three of these knights. Blinking through and out of the temple on the other side, her wings carrying her over yet another square, she vanished into the next house. Three more blinks later she was in a spacious attic, appearing in between dusty furniture. Taking a couple steps, she sat down and breathed out, counting the seconds and calculating how long the knights would need to get to her if they were moving at maximum speed and knew exactly where she was.
The math wasn’t accurate but at least she knew they wouldn’t need longer than a minute or two. That time passed as she waited, ready to blink again. Then five minutes passed and then another five. So I can lose them. Good news. She was annoyed that the two new ones had interfered with her fight. Not even a single level up. Valuable information was gained nonetheless. Summoning her notebook, she opened it to the page that read ‘Tremor Dungeon’. She added the fact that there were more Knights of the Rose than the single one.
That they could tell where she was at short distances, a small question mark added to that. They reacted to noise as well as sight it seemed. It was possible that they were patrolling and she had simply spent too long fighting the night at the same location. The first one had walked onto the square on its own as far as she could tell. Should’ve figured that one out and led him back to the rose field.
The two knights varied in size but minimally so. The most interesting as well as dangerous thing she had learned had come from a short glimpse at the second of the three knights that was rushing towards her. Right before she had vanished into the temple. Ilea was sure that one wasn’t carrying a shield. The angle hadn’t allowed for a better look but his sword had looked smaller too. ‘Different weapons?’ She added but was glad that at least no magic had flown her way. The sound of an explosive fireball would be a massive disadvantage for the lone hunter.
Ilea moved the page but had nothing to add to the crude starts of a map. She had moved too far too quickly to even sketch the individual houses and streets. She was back in the unknown. I like it. Ilea stood up and looked out the small window. I like it quite a bit.
A courtyard spread before her, starting after the neighboring row of houses and spreading for several hundred meters. Old dry trees lined a road leading towards a massive building, enough towers and detail to be a city of its own. She counted eight massive towers sprouting from different sections, each not as high as the center most part of the massive structure. Her view broadened when she appeared on the neighboring house’s roof. “Of course.” She murmured and stared at the four cathedrals in the distance that towered out of the city like beacons of interest.
The eight towered building was still the highest and most prominent of the lot. What should I say? Ilea asked herself, blinking down to the dry earth, she rushed towards the line of trees. You’ve caught my eye. The elf could have his lousy fifty meter high masterwork of ancient architecture, she however would have the biggest fucking monument to magical construction she had ever seen. Remembering Iz, she retracted that statement. She did however like the Gothic architecture quite a bit more than the metal tubes and spheres of the Taleen.
Let’s be honest here… that thing will be teeming with knights. Slowing down, she quickly considered if perhaps a boss was inside. Gulping at the thought of the Taleen Praetorians, she nonetheless pressed on. A glimpse would be reasonable considering the chances of treasure. This time she didn’t have an expedition to worry about at least. Nobody to distract whatever’s in there either.
Ilea peeked out from behind a tree, the towers looking down at her, spaced around the complicated central construction, each towering over their own addition to the core, as if fungus growing outwards. It still managed to look linear, symmetric and certainly impressive. A shame that it lay lost and forgotten somewhere underground in the north. The structure was simply too vast to be a single big boss room, at least she was somewhat sure about that. The sections with the towers likely each had their own significance.
Ilea watched over the courtyard and started walking along the trees. The lack of life gave the imposing structure a near divine feel. If anything had survived in this ancient graveyard, it was in there. Nothing intercepted her as she sneaked up on the building. The side entrance was closed, the big metal double doors worn, the silver symbols hanging loosely out of the dark steel. Her sphere could see the hallway behind the door and a blink confirmed there were no enchantments preventing her from entering. Just to be sure, Ilea blinked out again and nodded. If runes didn’t suddenly come to life again, she should be fine.
The halls were dark, only glimmers of sunlight making it through the windows. The floor looked like marble to her but its shine long gone. Checking the doors leading towards the closest part of the facility with a big tower, Ilea found them closed. Again her blink brought her inside. A big dome like room in complete darkness, its shape only apparent thanks to her perception sphere. Standing quietly in the dark for half a minute, she made sure nothing else was in her with her.
Sending a projectile of ash into one of the walls without a reaction confirmed it for her, the woman walking around the room and inspecting everything. No skeletons, no weapons, no paintings it turned out to be mostly just an empty room. There was a counter near the end of it but other than dust there was nothing behind it. Blinking back into the hall, she held her breath when she appeared. Two knights had just walked by, their heads focused forward. Their armor looked less worn than the ones she had seen outside.
One of them was carrying two short swords in his hands, each straight with a broad and sharp blade. A guard protected his hands, the steel nearly untouched by time. Sunlight gleamed off weapon and handle when they moved past a window. The second knight carried a halberd cast entirely in steel. His weapon didn’t look as clean and unused as the other knight’s but still not as worn as the ones she had met so far. Ilea had goose bumps as she stood there, frozen and watching.
[Kingsguard - ???]
Well that explains it. Not just the level but the way they walked and moved their weapons as well. Not something she would want to fight the way she was right now and most certainly not two at the same time. Would love to see a Pratrotian vs Kingsguard melee. The knights passed and she blinked to the next spot, deciding to only teleport for now as it was the most silent movement she could muster. Especially with her battered steel armor that was creaking with every step.