Chapter 247 Wingwoman
Knocking on the door instead of appearing inside, Ilea watched the dwarf slowly get up from his bed. He winced as he limped to the door and opened it. A smile spread on his face when he saw her, gesturing for her to enter, “Welcome back warrior… already new things to enchant?”
“Yes, let me have a look at that.” Ilea replied and touched his shoulder, healing mana flowing into him and taking care of the damage. Terok didn’t stop her as soon as he realized what was happening, the broken ribs and the cut on his leg healing up quickly. “Anything to do with that?” She asked, looking at the war machine that had a plethora of new attachments, both in the arms as well as the legs. She saw that some of the pieces were Niameer steel but couldn’t discern their uses.
The dwarf touched his chest with a big grin, “Already forgot you were a healer as well.” He said and carefully sat down on a chair in the small kitchen, “Yea. The pieces were great but I need to train a little longer to get used to it. Mobility and speed have increased quite a bit though.”
“What about the dents?” She asked, referring to the metal plating that was supposed to protect him inside of it.
He grabbed two bottles of ale and handed one to her, “Direct hits. Not much I can do there and I can’t afford most of the smiths. Not while I don’t do jobs.”
“Goliath owes me something still and I just got back a bunch of armor sets. Maybe he can make you the plating out of stonehammer steel. Holds up somewhat well. I wouldn’t suggest direct hits though. Went through four sets in a month.” Ilea said, chuckling at the ridiculous use of armors.
The dwarf took a sip of his ale and looked at her, “What did I do to deserve this? First you heal me for free and now you suggest something as expensive as stonehammer steel…,”
Ilea shrugged and leaned back, her helmet vanishing before she took a sip, “You were in the right place at the right time. And you weren’t an absolute dick.”
The dwarf laughed at that and shook his head, “Well I guess sometimes things are allowed to go right in life.” He said and laughed, lifting his bottle before drinking.
“You can go down and show him the changes you did, he wanted to see it anyway. He should be done with the first armor in an hour or two.” Ilea suggested but he frowned at that.
“Look, I’d love to meet the smith but as I said I can’t enter.”
“It’s just a slight curse and health drain. I’ll heal you through it and soon you’ll get a resistance to it. Hopefully enough to not puke and die immediately.” She laughed and he nodded determined.
“What’s your story? You come here, a human I think? To the north where I’ve seen what… two or three of your kind in my entire life? You travel alone, heal random strangers and walk into a smith’s forge infamous for being deadly.” Terok asked and Ilea told him about some of her journey. There was time enough to spare and she was waiting for new armor anyway.
Six empty bottles were on the table as the dwarf laughed, “You didn’t even know about the storms? Gods… and you survived this far. No wonder you’re so casual about sharing your healing as well as valuables. And I thought I was taking risks coming here…,”
Ilea smiled. She could heal herself, could feel no pain if she wanted to and had a higher resistance to damage than most people she had met so far. If anything she should be taking even higher risks. “I was seeking a challenge and an adventure… without annoying politics and wars. Somewhere far off. This seemed like a good place to start.”
Terok looked at her and shook his head, “There are politics here too, just at a smaller scale. At least here in Hallowfort. Still I agree… compared to the big cities in the south it is nothing. We all know what it means to survive, what it means to live in this ruthless environment. My relatives would have never even thought about coming here.”
Ilea finished her ale, “And yet you are here. Why?”
He chuckled and went to grab another two bottles, “It’s not a story quite as exciting as yours. Perhaps, in some twisted way… we are here for similar reasons. I grew up in a big dwarven city… in the Naraza mountain chain not too far from the human plains. My machines never made the cut, too small they said, too intricate. I didn’t get the financial support needed or an apprenticeship with one of the big guilds.”
“So you went north to get stronger?” Ilea asked and opened the bottle.
Terok smiled, “Not quite. War machines need metal, rare and expensive ones at that. I hoped that in the unclaimed lands in the north more veins would lay untouched. I was right of course but it didn’t come without dangers. The rig I have now has exactly zero parts remaining from what I initially started with. I think from the expedition I joined only two dwarves survived the first month, both returning after we had been saved by a group of scavengers.”
“Scavengers that I asked to join, the dark one you’ve met one of them. Since then I explore the north but for every discovery I make I nearly die five times and my rig gets damaged every single time.” He sighed and then laughed, “I don’t have to tell you that. Four sets of armor? And you’re already back for more. To think you actually fight and kill the things here.”
“You’re close to two hundred as well… I think there might be some things you could fight as well. Especially with a capable group.”
He waved her off, “Few of the beasts here roam alone, most dungeons teeming with them. Even the rare ones below level two hundred can rip you to shreds in a mere moment of lapsing concentration. It’s a death trap, were it not for the ruins and dungeons cluttering it all. Even the city under this very town holds enough riches to make you a noble in any dwarven city to the south.”
“So you’re looking for the big checkpot and then you’re back south?” Ilea asked.
Terok waved his bottle and looked at her for a while with a thoughtful expression, “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m looking for Ilea. I can’t deny that I like the untouched land here… the ferocity of it all. To walk tunnels and halls no living being has explored in hundreds or thousands of years. The chance at riches only adds to it. Maybe if my rig improves I’ll be able to fight some of the things lurking below again. Going back though? I’m not sure.”
“I understand. Well maybe the steel I’ll gift you will help with that.” She said and smiled, “The dungeon below? What can you tell me about it?”
He smiled brightly, either at the question or the fact that she had just gifted him valuable steel, “I’m sure it will. Getting to two hundred has proven difficult with scavenging alone. The dungeon… it’s called the Descent. Plenty of routes lead down, each more treacherous than the next but compared to a lot of other dungeons in the area, like Penumra the one with the roots you must have passed, the Descent has been traversed before. It is a city, built around a dungeon that leads further down into the earth than anything I’ve seen before and trust me, dwarves like to dig deep.”
Ilea grunted at the stereotype, “The city is part of the dungeon?”
“It is… perhaps one day long past it wasn’t but monsters prowl the streets and tunnels. A lot of it is submerged, the underground sea leaking into the lower levels. Groups of scavengers regularly secure some of the better routes but they often get destroyed or taken over by a wild beast. The walls are brittle, a single crack can lead to whole sections flooded in a matter of days.”
“The city is just the way there though. Most of it has been picked clean by the residents of this town or the ones coming before. The true treasure lays beyond. Some of the murals, statues and rare surviving documents written in Standard apparently talk of the Descent as the endless dungeon leading deep into an endless darkness, littered with valuable metal, machines and beasts outside your wildest imaginations. Some few care a lot about the history of the place but just like the more adventurous as well as stronger members of the town, they reside in the dungeon most of the time. Some don’t come back out for years.” He explained, Ilea growing more and more intrigued by the concept.
“Have you been down there?” She asked.
He nodded, “Some of the higher levels. There are trees there… green and lush, as well as wild animals completely docile. A lot of the meat you can get here comes from there. I don’t think we’d be able to sustain such a town if we didn’t have that dungeon. I only explored parts of the first three layers, each held a distinct climate and monsters I had never seen before. They’re strong too, too much for me or any of the teams I’ve had to handle.”
Ilea nodded, “Sounds like something I’d like to check out. It also seems like a better place to build a town than up here…,”
The dwarf laughed at that, “Agreed. It’s much safer here though. There are camps down there but the mechanical gateways, doors and magical barriers the city had put in place between the layers are broken. Beasts capable of slaughtering this whole town can roam up as far as even the city itself. The ones remaining down there are either more capable or just a little more crazy than me.”
“Why don’t the monsters come up here too? If they roam as far as the city below then why not up to Hallowfort?”
The dwarf looked at her a little confused, “They dislike the mana of course. It’s much more dense down there, more so the further you go. You’re human right? Didn’t you notice anything different when coming north? You should technically have difficulties breathing.”
Ilea shook her head, “I noticed it once when standing atop a mountain outside. Neither in the dungeons nor here though.”
“Interesting. Well you are above two hundred. Plus you probably have a resistance of some sort. Monsters born in dungeons rarely roam outside. Well it depends entirely on the beast but usually the like it inside or dislike it outside. Never wondered why the beasts here in the north never came to destroy your plains? Or our cities in the mountains?” The dwarf asked.
Ilea took a sip of ale, “I just thought it was too far away. Animals don’t like it in certain parts of the world. They need food and a climate according to their preferences…,”
“As well as mana.” She added, understanding it now. Perhaps that was also why elves didn’t like to enter dungeons. The higher density was something they disliked. Monsters were just the opposite she supposed, disliking the less dense mana.
Terok nodded, “Exactly. Plus right now I don’t have the coin to pay for a safe route down. Not worth it for me either. Maybe as soon as I get used to my advanced rig now but we’ll see where it will take me. There’s plenty to gain at the surface as well.”
“Well I’ll check it out sooner or later. First want to finish my current location.”
“Any chance of sharing that one with me?” Terok asked with a smile.
Ilea grinned, “Nah… maybe once I’ve stripped it of anything useful for me. For now you’ll stay content with my gift of steel.”
They remained quiet for a while before Ilea spoke up again, “Any idea how people react to elves here?”
Terok raised his eyebrows and grunted, “Don’t think many have a grudge like you humans. Rarely travel north and they care little about the dwarves in the mountains. Why do you ask?”
Ilea smiled and finished her ale, “No reason in particular.” She lied, seeing no necessity to share the elf’s existence with him. She had no idea if she would tell him about Hallowfort and the city below at all but maybe once she’d explored a part of the dungeon. She owed nothing to either but until she could trust the elf completely she wouldn’t let him come close to the smith and dwarf. Their work being the main reason she could continue her adventuring with worthy gear.
Getting up, she summoned her helmet again, her blue eyes looking at the dwarf, “Come now. We’ll talk to Goliath and you can start your enchanting.”
He nodded and went into his machine, the thing closing with a hiss before its eyes started glowing lightly. It started moving a moment later with much more grace than before. “The metal really made that much of a difference?”
Terok laughed, his voice coming from the middle of the machine, “You have no idea. It’s like day and night.” She grunted and opened the door, the dwarf following before they walked down to Goliath’s forge.
Checking if she could heal the dwarf through his machine, she found it possible while a little subdued. “Do you have mana intrusion enchantments?”
“Yes but healing should get through mostly unhindered.” The answer came.
Would you listen to that? Might want to test Destruction on my dwarven friend…, She smiled and started healing him, of course not abusing him as a testing dummy. She had plenty of undead for that after all. He was a little apprehensive as she led him further in, the curse and health drain taking effect before the exoskeleton opened up, Terok puking on the ground while she healed him. “Come on, you’ll get used to it.”
He looked sick and pale but Ilea could tell he was fine through her healing magic. His health wasn’t falling thanks to her healing and the curse would soon get better as well. Getting a resistance skill wasn’t that difficult with a healer after all. “You’ll feel better in half an hour or so.”
“Half an hour… oh fucking hell.” He cursed but didn’t object, either because he would get a skill out of it or because he really did want to meet the smith.
“Truly… impressive work. I will finish the plating as the Ash hunter has requested. It would be a shame to leave such ingenuity trapped in an unsafe casing.” Goliath said, Ilea still holding on to Terok as she healed the damage done to him. Without a health drain resistance and apparently less health than what six hundred Vitality provided, she definitely needed to be there.
The dwarf had demonstrated some of the smaller tools, weapons and intricate movements he could now accomplish with the righe was wearing but she didn’t really understand the difference between what a conventional exoskeleton could do and his. The smith didn’t even ask for payment regarding the plating, her provision of the metal alone was enough coupled with Terok showing off the machine. Ilea had already stored the four armors already done, ready to be enchanted.
“Great, then we’re settled here.” She said as the dwarf thanked Goliath.
He smiled at her and nodded, “Sure. I’ll get right to enchanting. How will I get the remaining armors?”
The smith focused on him and spoke, “I will have someone bring them to you.”
Terok agreed and went back to his house with Ilea, the latter dropping the four finished armors near his work bench before she walked to the door, “I’ll get everything tomorrow. Think you’re done by then?”
He laughed and cracked open another bottle of ale, “For you, I’ll be done in the morning. Thank you again… truly!” Lifting his bottle towards her.
Ilea smiled under her helmet and nodded once, blinking out before she rushed off the side of the massive statue, her wings spreading to avoid walking through half the town. She had a new third tier ability to test and hopefully it would increase her kill speed on the knights a little. The dungeon below Hallowfort sounded very interesting but as long as she could still reasonably grow in Tremor, she would focus on that. At least for a while. The knights were around level two sixty to three twenty, most of them below three hundred.
Rushing back through the night, she checked for flying monsters when she glimpsed a dark vanishing presence in her sphere. Flying low enough to nearly touch the ground, she stopped as fast as she could but whatever it had been, the being had vanished already. At least I wasn’t torn to shreds… She thought and continued, a little more apprehensive of her surroundings. Her eyes hadn’t told her a thing about the monster her sphere had picked up. Maybe the Sphere would be a good skill too for a third tier… so much to learn.
The rest of the way was fine, a couple crows rushing towards her in the last stretch but they were far enough away to provide no danger. Somehow the beasts didn’t like going down into caves or even crevices, as much she had learned already. The miststalkers’ humming didn’t paralyze her anymore, allowing Ilea to use the upper parts of the cracks as hiding spots whenever she traveled through the night or trained with the beings in the first place.