Chapter 248 Ilea Spears
Black wings slowly disintegrated as Ilea landed in the cathedral. “Hey, guess who’s favorite human is back?”
The elf looked at her for a whole three seconds before focusing back on his book. “Your favorite human.” She added and walked to the dungeon entrance, summoning her notebook as her ashen limbs pushed open the heavy double doors.
The gate closed behind her, a notification popping up in her mind regarding the Tremor dungeon as she flipped to the map she had started. Plenty of buildings were on it already, few holding anything more interesting than dust and old furniture. Plenty of rotting and dusty items indicated the people had fled the city, somewhat orderly at least as it wasn’t littered by skeletons. Still, she had hoped to find a little more things, especially since she theorized the top part of the city had been the wealthier one. Seeing how the log book spoke of a king and queen she assumed the dilapidated mansions had been owned by the aristocracy.
Several sections of the district were already marked as cleared. From time to time she did encounter a knight patrolling into what she had considered safe territory but it was rare. Soon she would be at the height of the palace, the buildings spreading over the broad slope on each side, the massive monument to power remaining in its middle. Today she would take care of the last knight she had marked near one of the bigger cathedrals. She had made it a habit to search areas only once no enemies remained, able to fully focus her skills on searching instead of expecting an ambush of sorts.
The density of undead patrols were unclear to her, some areas holding groups of up to four, others lacking even single knights. Her tactics didn’t change. Lure a single knight with ashen projectiles or tendrils until she would fight them on the big square in the noble district. There was ample space, nothing to annoy them and the sunlight would remain there far longer than further in. Rushing through the buildings, she soon reached a roof from which she could see the cathedral in question. Definitely the building that stood out the most in the area.
Looking left, she saw the palace in the distance. A place she planned to avoid for now. Checking her map one last time, she closed the notebook and stored it. Ilea jumped down from the roof and walked towards the big building, knowing a single knight remained inside, the two previously patrolling around the building had already been taken care of.
The door creaked open, Ilea waving at the knight who noticed her immediately. Her casual demeanor didn’t seem to either imitate nor irritate the warrior as he brandished his sword, shield at the ready. She waited at the door as he started to run, quickly choosing a side street before she rushed off. The knight was on her tail, his steel boots resounding on the dry and cobbled stone. Fifteen minutes the two would run through the dead city, Ilea avoiding certain areas she knew to be unsafe still, not cleared out because the cathedral seemed more enticing at the moment.
Looking back, the knight was on her tail. Speed unwavering, a killing machine ready for an endless hunt. It didn’t scare her anymore. They were predictable and with her skills she could easily escape. Ilea could however imagine how most more conventional adventurers would treat such an enemy. Now everybody was as fast or mobile in a party as she was, perhaps the rogue and one of the mages but otherwise they would have to face the thing down. Even her, with all the defenses, all her skills, healing and Vitality rather avoided blinking away when it did attack. If it had any ability in discerning a healer in a group and didn’t blindly focus on a tank class with a big shield, she could see it being quite a difficult undertaking. Even fighting a single one of them.
Finally reaching the square, she checked if not a stray knight somehow made it there but it was empty. The early sunlight seeped through the small opening high above as Ilea turned and skidded to a stop, met a single second later with a sword rushing past her dodging form. The air howled as it was pushed apart by the strong and true strike, Ilea taking a step past the knight’s arm and shield before her left fist hit. Destruction activated and her mana seeped into the undead, no visible mana being deflected.
A big smile on her face, Ilea blinked away and prepared for the next attack, meditation already active. Her perception of mana was incredibly limited considering her lack of a related skill but she had previously felt how their armor blocked her intrusion. Now, it had felt like she was hitting a plain old Drake. The new third tier didn’t say it ignored mana intrusion measures completely so she assumed at least a part of the attack was deflected but it definitely made a difference. Now it was simply a matter of following the steps of a dance she had damn near perfected weeks ago.
A battle of attrition, the skill of the warriors matching in their respective fields as they focused solely on destroying one another. Sword scratching against steel, fist hitting armor, the two entranced as each movement flowed into the next, the warrior in black appearing thirty meters away quickly followed by the running swordsman, sunlight reflected off his silver shell. A hunt that continued for hours, ending in neither spectacle nor grand finale.
Sweat dropped from her brow, rolling past her eyes and down her cheek. She prepared for the next attack that didn’t come, recovering her lost resources as the knight broke down, as if its strings were cut. Steel shattered on the stone floor, sword and shield falling to his side, each clattering a couple times before silence returned to the square. Ilea sunk to one knee, her veil vanishing from around her armor, helmet stored in her necklace. Silver steel reflected the light on the new scratches and cuts she had sustained, most used simply to deflect his blade or shield, to allow an angle just favorable for an attack to land.
Three of the cuts were a little deeper, feints she had failed to predict.
‘ding’ ‘You have defeated [Knight of the Rose – lvl 318] – For defeating an enemy seventy or more levels above your own, bonus experience is granted.
Three eighteen…, Just a little bit faster than most of them were, just a little more cunning. Even with them being undead, unfeeling and brain dead, still they had retained some individuality. It was what kept her on her toes, in addition to the fact that a single true strike could seriously injure her. The fight had taken shy of three hours, a massive improvement. More than she had dreamed for an enemy at that level.
‘ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 234 – 5 stat points awarded’
A fitting reward. The last two knights had not given her a level but she hadn’t expected another one from this one. Because he was over three hundred. She assumed, cracking her neck before she started unhooking his armor, storing each piece in her necklace before the corpse itself lay before her. Wearing an old and rotting garb, any symbols, stitching or colors long gone with time. He had been strong once, muscles now cold but prominent as they pushed through his clothing. A scar showed on his neck, beheaded by a beast or perhaps executed for one reason or the other. To become a knight of this kingdom, now falling to an invader so long after his true death.
His eyes were black, as was his hair. She crouched down and closed his eyelids before storing the corpse in her necklace, the corpse to be burned at a later time. Perhaps Indra would like the corpse but it felt wrong to her. Both to carry around so many bodies but also to hold on to them or gift them to another necromancer. Whatever worth it held, she would make sure nobody would use their body again. Even if they didn’t care anymore.
To her they each held potential to grow, to level up and to get more experienced with her skills. Each a challenge to overcome, a worthy opponent to face and defeat. Worthy of at least being burnt after their death. The cathedral held nothing but dust, a whole library of books once holding more knowledge than a human could learn in a lifetime. None of the enchantments had held through the ages, empty mana crystals found in compartments of the likely once expensive shelves.
The day continued, Ilea facing two more knights before night fell. Her training continued out in the wild lands of the north, again looking for the smallest pool of mist where the stalkers twirling in its midst quickly focused on her and started draining both her life and mana. Ilea meditated with eyes open, taking in the movements in the sky, on the land far away. The rare hunters in this barren place, interspersed by the dancing forms of an uncountable army of miststalkers.
A quick meeting with Terok the next morning supplied her with a new set of nine finished armors, the dwarf stumbling towards his bed once he had handed over the finished products. Five of the armor sets she placed in the cathedral, in another corner of the hall than the one with old sets taken off the dead knights. The elf didn’t deign to give her any attention, Ilea stepping back into the dungeon. After a night of careful meditation, health drain and recovery, she was itching for another battle. She didn’t check her status, excited simply to meet the next foe in battle. The next barrier as she honed her skills, incorporating whatever new abilities she gained on the road.
Ilea slept every third day, for a couple hours at most. She had chosen one of the houses overlooking her fighting square as her new home, placing her bed inside as well as a shelf from the cathedral that still looked somewhat in shape. It was made of stone, having allowed for it to mostly weather through the ages. Books she had from back in Salia and the selection she had taken from her home adorned it. The lack of windows didn’t bother her, the climate cold and mostly dry. Nothing that disturbed her resistant body, even the cold winds near Ravenhall irrelevant to her.
The roof was used to eat a meal every other day, Keyla’s cooking a highlight whenever it caressed her very soul, whenever the suns started rising and bathed at least a part of the sprawling city in light. Before she would go out again to fight, an enemy long forgotten, occupying a city the intelligent races of this world did not know existed. For the sole goal of her enjoyment, with the added benefit of increasing her personal power. Ever so slightly.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. A life Ilea had never thought possible, sustainable or even enjoyable. Yet here she was, living a solitary life of battle and meditation. Each passing week made her more calm, more sure of every step she took. Partially because she gained more and more stat points, levels in her classes promising better skills and eventual evolutions but mostly because she felt truly free, her whole being dedicated to every strike, every blink and dodge. The only deadline she had were her armors, every strike scratching into it, every messed up dodge or unseen feint creating another dent she could not repair on her own.
She could of course fight in clothes only, or even simply shrouded in ash. There was nobody to see after all, not that it would matter in a battle for life or death. Her skin was strong, her bones durable but not quite enough to shrug off the knights’ blades. Ilea would survive a fight, likely even win but the mana she would have to invest into healing as well as fleeing when her injuries inhibited her too much would stack up, would slow her down so much compared to the benefit of armor. Perhaps one day, when she had reached suitable strength, the added weight and metal shell of crafted gear became unnecessary but it proved such a benefit she questioned the reality of such a dream. A dream not to fight nakedly but to be able to block a sword with her skin alone, her natural defenses outclassing what her enemies could produce to harm her or those she cared about.
She had no desire to hear any snarky comments from the elf about the armors she ripped off each knight she defeated, the process lengthy but to her like a gesture of gratitude. For the fight they had given her, the experience she had taken. For the duty they had served long after it had ceased to be a necessity. As if to free their souls from the shell that kept them trapped in this cursed dungeon, deep within the northern lands and their treacherous mountains. Whenever ten or twenty of the knights had been killed, Ilea would build a pyre, turning them into ash that would find its way into the earth. The elf had been so gracious as to lend his fire cube to her indefinitely, mentioning that he will be exploring on his own for a while, still working on deciphering the log book but too bored to remain in the cathedral at all times.
While many questions remained unanswered or unasked, Ilea felt no rush to please the elf or squeeze every last bit of information out of him. She was here for her own sake after all. He would be back, knowing she would progress. If he survived that is. Ilea had a feeling he wasn’t quite as powerful as she would’ve expected from an older elf. When she had reached her last set of suitable armor, three months had passed, give or take a week or two. The only indication to the time she spent there were the number of knights she killed, writing everything down in her notebook.
Sitting atop her roof, she looked over the city that has become as close to home as any place she had lived in through her life. These months more intense and vivid than any period of time she had experienced so far, barring perhaps her adventures in the first Taleen dungeon or the initial stage of discovery and survival in the forest around the Azarinth temple. A place that still meant a lot to her, having equipped her with the tools to survive in this ruthless land. It might have been drab to someone else, to stay in a medieval looking city all this time but lacking any residents other than the silent undead, the place felt more serene to her.
As if the stones making up the once occupied buildings, each and every one having a purpose in a bustling society were now reduced to something more natural, as if the city itself was as much part of the environment as the mists and storms above and the black abyss lurking below. Urban perhaps but wild, retaken bit by bit by time. The only place she knew held life was the palace still piercing high into the distant horizon. Secrets buried underneath, hidden behind locked doors and guarded by insurmountable warriors that even after all this time would shred her like a Drake would shred a wild deer running in the woods near Karth.
Her map had grown, the area around the palace still empty but in some areas she had gone deeper still, most of the city lying higher than the palace cleaned out and marked as safe. She smiled as her notebook was lifted by ash, the element swirling around the book while keeping it steady and freeing her hand. A thought, not even that. It was as if alive, not even a thought, her explicit will needed to make it appear. The black mist not created or controlled by her but a steady companion, by her side, thoughts and emotions enough for it to respond.
Ilea had reached level 240 in her second class, the third tier skill point spent on Ash Creation. Her efficiency in fighting the knights had remained similar, Wave of Ember still unable to send most of its destructive mana into the protected enemies. Yet the skill had changed. She had become more confident, the limbs of ash moving around shields and avoiding strikes of swords as if sand swirling around fingers running running through. More of her attacks hit and less of the enemy strikes landed, deflected by an emerging part of her Veil or quickly forming ash dense enough to soften the glancing blows just enough to protect her armor from heavier damage.
The skill was the main reason she had been able to stay for so long. Eight of her nine armors damaged beyond usability in the weeks before she had gotten its third tier. Checking through the notifications before preparing to leave, she quickly double checked the defeated undead knights.
‘ding’ ‘You have defeated [Knight of the Rose – lvl 264]’
‘ding’ ‘You have defeated [Knight of the Rose – lvl 281]’
‘ding’ ‘You have defeated [Knight of the Rose – lvl 259]’
145, she wrote in her notebook. Each and every single one of them a fight worthy of mention, the memories blurring together like a sea of blades and punches.
‘ding’ ‘Azarinth First Hunter has reached lvl 241 – 5 stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Azarinth First Hunter has reached lvl 255 – 5 stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 235 – 5 stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 248 – 5 stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Destruction reaches 3rd lvl 2’
‘ding’ ‘Hunter’s Sight reaches 2nd lvl 14’
‘ding’ ‘Hunter’s Sight reaches 2nd lvl 15’
‘ding’ ‘Embered Body Heat reaches 2nd lvl 10’
‘ding’ ‘Embered Body Heat reaches 2nd lvl 11’
‘ding’ ‘Embered Body Heat reaches 2nd lvl 12’
‘ding’ ‘Embered Body Heat reaches 2nd lvl 13’
‘ding’ ‘Wave of Ember reaches 2nd lvl 20’
‘ding’ ‘Ashen Wings reaches 2nd lvl 18’
‘ding’ ‘Ash Creation reaches 3rd lvl 1’
‘Active: Ash Creation – 3rd lvl 1
Create ash in a certain radius around you. It can be used as a surge to blind or as a shroud to hide.
2nd stage: You can control the density of the ash to an extent.
3rd stage: You have proven your dedication. Ash swirls to aid and destroy at your whims.
Category: Ashen Magic’