Chapter 254 Questionable Cooperation

“You thought they just fought like that for three hours without rest?”

Ilea remembered Taleen machines fighting for much longer than that. Miststalkers didn’t let up with draining either. “Plenty of monsters can do that.”

Terok grunted, “Aye, emphasis on monsters. Well I can tell you that these are definitely great if you want to train your skills and learn to fight against swordmasters. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve not seen a better one than those either.”

Ilea didn’t feel like being a smart ass and just nodded, “So they’re like me in a sense. Durable and self healing? I never felt anything through my skill though and it allows me to understand the state of someone’s body.”

Terok shrugged in his exoskeleton, “I suppose that could be said. Though I think they’d do more damage to you.”

“I feel personally attacked.” Ilea said but she knew from experience that it was true. Her fists weren’t blades and had no way of cutting or heavily denting their armor. Neither of her gauntlets had that ability either, her heavy ones too slow to get a clean hit anyway.

“You shouldn’t. You’re not an undead. They’re unfeeling, single purposed in fights and equipped with high quality gear.”

Ilea was all that as well when it came to fighting but she wasn’t about to get into that. “Something’s fueling them then. Is that normal in a dungeon?”

Another shrug, “Guess we’ll find out. Necromancer might be part of the dungeon, any idea where they might be?”

“The palace. It’s in the lit up part of the city but the knights there are much more nasty than anything else I’ve fought here. I don’t feel safe with engaging them.” She explained.

Terok thought about her words, “Maybe I can sneak in?”

“Getting in isn’t much of a problem. Teleporting gets you there but if we alert even one of them it might be over and I’m not dragging your corpse out of there.” Ilea said, “I’ll explain the layout and everything I know. You think about places for us to visit where I can fight non regenerating enemies.”

“Does ash blind them?” She asked, tapping on the notebook with her pen. Terok was working on his rig a couple meters away, both staying in the cathedral at the highest point of Tremor. The dwarf’s metallic eye swirled and zoomed in on the steel plate he was scratching into, part of the previously destroyed head. Night had fallen and the two were sitting in warm magical light provided by the engineer. Ilea had spent most of her nights outside with the Miststalkers, the lack of light in the dungeon never becoming an issue.

Terok had put up the two repaired lamps on the railing of the first floor, overlooking the big hall on ground level. “We tried smoke before, freezing, fire, dark magic. They seem to rush into whatever magic they can find. You’ve seen how big they are haven’t you? Once they notice anything intruding the dungeon, they group up, more and more appearing. Your high poison resistance might be enough to battle them but combined with the ranged monsters I doubt you’d be very effective. At least I don’t believe they can heal themselves.” The dwarf explained. Ilea put a question mark next to the hastily sketched Drop Saurian inhabiting the Penumra dungeon.

It would’ve been the closest to Hallowfort, next to the Descent of course. “Levels unknown?” Ilea asked and saw him nod through her sphere, a small white spark visible in the corner of her eye when he finished fixing another enchantment. “I could try again but it might not be the best start. If they catch me and prevent me from blinking I’d be toast… probably.” Their damage potential was hard to gauge but it likely wasn’t below the knights of Tremor.

“The city leading to the Descent. You said it was dangerous?” The page in her notebook was flipped, the name of the dungeon in question written at the top of the page.

“Ye. People aren’t as nice as they are in town so you have to look out for any random person, dark one or otherwise down there. It’s all very old, different monsters from further down sometimes make their way up and walls break, flooding entire sections. Some tunnels leading along the sea bring the most dangerous creatures inside, other than the miststalkers sometimes wandering in at night.”

“Blue Reapers they’re called. Mind magic supposedly and lightning. They’re pretty small but anybody encountering them drops dead damn near immediately. Fuming at the mouth and paralyzed. Even groups can’t take them down, the monsters just switching to area attacks just as powerful. The only saving grace is that they don’t seem to be interested in the place, likely they wander in from a further away dungeon. Neither do they attack if not provoked.”

“Might be a stupid idea to do so then.” Ilea said, “Mind magic and lightning are some of my highest resistances though so depending on just how hard they hit they might be perfect for leveling.”

Terok laughed at that, waving her off, “Of course the most dangerous magic is what you’re best against. And you struggle with mindless undead swinging swords. Don’t worry though, most everyone in Hallowfort would love to see the little fuckers taken care of. We don’t have guilds here but there are prices for their tiny heads. An easy way to make money as well if you’re looking for that.”

Ilea tapped the notebook and wrote down Blue Reaper below The Descent. “What about further down? You said there were layers to the dungeon, different entirely.”

Terok walked over and gestured for the pen, Ilea handing it to the dwarf who quickly added a couple sections on the page. “The first layer is mostly harmless, to a human it might even be nicer than Hallowfort. Why some of the more nature inclined races rather reside there. The second layer is a big cave with traps and earth magic insects of varying levels. After that comes a big layer filled with water. I never ventured there but came close several times. Further below lies Heroes’ Descent, probably a place built by the city above and those who made the statue Hallowfort sits on. People don’t share information on it but those who can venture there or further either come out rich or die trying.”

He added some information on each of the layers, not many Ilea admitted. If there was a town at the fourth layer called Heroes’ Descent then it probably meant that was the starting point for the initial citizens. “You think it goes much further down?”

“The language of the city is Standard and they liked their statues, murals and inscriptions. It is said that Heroes’ Descent is where the strongest are tested, where they are trained and sent to recover artifacts, magic and technology of the deep. That dungeon was like a religion to them. There is information on more layers there but it’s apparently neither accurate nor plentiful.” He explained, moving a hand through his black greasy hair. “Guess you’ll find out when you go there.”

“Unrelated… did you see the same necromancer connection for the undead knights that nearly killed you?” Ilea asked, switching back to the page about Tremor.

“Now that you mention it… no. You really mean to face them again? One had a triple mark. I doubt you can reasonably fight monsters at level five hundred and higher. Not when they’re so small and specialized.” He said.

Ilea considered it but having fought them she had to agree with him. Even if they didn’t have an ability to recover, the noise and required space to fight had already brought three of them upon her. Maybe I can lure one out… A test for later.

“Why would you even fight them? Just go for something you can kill much easier until you’ve safely increased your powers.” Terok suggested.

Ilea couldn’t deny the logic but it hadn’t brought her to where she was today, what she was. “Doesn’t sound very fun, now does it?” He laughed instead of lecturing her, a trait she definitely appreciated after the treatment most humans had given her.

“I think you should try the Descent then. Maybe… but only maaaybe try to fight a Blue Reaper. Only if your resistances are in the second tier and you have some way to heal damage to your mind. Otherwise I strongly suggest not doing it. The monsters in the descent range from level two hundred to triple marks in the third layer already, depending on how unlucky your are. Or lucky as someone like you might see it.” He said with a smile.

She nodded, “Sounds reasonable. What about the monsters in the lake below Hallowfort? I saw some shapes but decided not to engage back when I was there.”

Terok shook his head, “Nothing that would be worth the trouble. Most creatures are below two hundred even, except the whales. Black creatures lined with bone if the stories are to be believed. Some say they feast on Miststalkers at night. I suggest you wait with finding out until you can survive and kill whole groups of stalkers.”

Ilea grunted but if there was a reason not to fight underwater, she definitely welcomed it. “Any other places or monsters? Not underground maybe?”

Terok scratched his beard but looked skeptical, “None of the beasts are any easier to deal with than what is down here. The few you might be able to kill without getting overwhelmed are either below your level or too elusive to catch, even for specialized trackers. You could go look for dark ones farther north or hunt Feynor but you don’t strike me as a murderer.”

At least I don’t look it. She considered coldly, her mouth a thin line as she remembered all the people she had killed. The faces blurred together. His assumption was right of course, she wouldn’t hunt intelligent life, conscious feeling creatures for her own power alone. Revenge, self defense or at least a highly irritating character would be reason enough but purely for her own gains? That was a line she didn’t want to cross. The human in her, the one born and raised on Earth with modern morals and ideas couldn’t simply shed it all. Perhaps, she thought, if there were a reason standing above life itself. For the greater good or to stop some overwhelming force threatening all she holds dear. Even then it would be a hard choice, one she hoped she’d never have to face.

“Never heard of Feynor. Another kind of awakened beast?”

Terok grunted as another plate of metal floated his way, the dwarf starting to cut into it with a thin black knife, “No. They reside as close to the highest mountains in the north as they can. Sentient and apparently related to Dragons themselves. The look apparently is closer to Lizardmen but I’ve never met any. Everyone who has though reports they attack on sight. A tough people but as long as they stay far away from here I don’t care what they do.”

“Well I don’t care about sentients as long as they don’t stand in my way.”

The dwarf finished another enchantment as he talked, “You mentioned you’ve fought Taleen? There’s a dungeon a couple hours flight northwest but I’ll be honest, that one would be more personal interest. Guardians would hardly make a dent in your experience and any of the higher class machines are few and far between.”

Ilea looked at him, “Fought Centurions before. I think I could trash them easily now. They were around three hundred so if there was a dungeon with more of them…,”

“Doubt it. What I heard was a bunch of Guardians and enough traps to kill a whole expedition of veterans. Then again that’s the usual when it comes to Taleen. Paranoid fuckers.” He murmured the last part.

“Sounds similar to what I’ve seen. I think I’ll go with something else. Definitely plan to face another Praetorian if I hit another power spike.” Ilea said offhandedly, the dwarf just shaking his head.

He continued his work, “Well let me know, their tech is amazing and I’d love to see the inner parts of their production facilities.”

“You think you could replicate anything?” Ilea asked, remembering the teleportation gate Claire and Christopher were working on.

Terok laughed, his voice reverberating in the big hall. “You don’t think anybody has tried? No, I go my own way about it. The best dwarven engineers have cursed the designs as impossible, I’m not going to pretend I’m better than them. Inspiration is what I seek. I’m a metal mage and engineer, not a machine designer. They can try to figure out the autonomous designs of the Taleen for as long as they want to. I doubt they’d have made it easy enough to simply replicate. Not with how many traps and defensive measures their towns are lined with.”

Maybe a teleportation gate might not be in the books then. Christopher would continue to try of course and both Ilea and Claire would likely fund him anyway. Just for the chance of bringing such a technology to humans and the Shadow’s Hand. Travel time and supply lines could be cut significantly if something like a working teleportation network existed and was in their hands. “I’ll think about it. Maybe if all the other options don’t work out.” Ilea said but she saw the chances of that as rather low.

The Descent already seemed much more promising, even the Miststalkers did. If at some point she could overwhelm them with her own magic. “Tell me about the Kingsguard. I won’t be much help in the Descent but I can scout out this palace you talked about and maybe find out how to get in.”

Ilea sighed, “Didn’t we talk about this? I don’t want you to die Terok.”

The dwarf clasped his hands together and smiled, “I think you want to fight by yourself. You don’t want to look after someone and you don’t want to be responsible for people’s deaths. I know how you feel. Trust me, I do. With that said you’re not going to change the way I think, I live. I’m not going to let an opportunity like this go and the people waiting for my debt are not going to wait forever. I’d like to still have a house when I get back. Either you give me ten pieces of gold or you tell me all you know about this palace and I’ll find my own way around and into it. My choice and my fault if I end up as a bloody smudge in this city.”

Ilea grinned, “Are you blackmailing me with your own life?”

“Why not? You obviously care. I’d expect you to do the same. Maybe you should start trusting in my abilities as much as I trust in yours.” Terok said.

Ilea stared at him. He was calm and cocky. A grin was on his face as he waited for her response. There was a reason she liked him, the feeling hadn’t been wrong after all. Despite his abilities he had a drive and he was willing to take risks. Risks that would cost his life if he fucked up. “Yea alright I’ll tell you what I know. Not much by the way. Whatever you find I get first pick. Take any history related things, books and such as well. The elf likes that stuff.”

One of his eyebrows was raised at that but Ilea kept talking, “If I find anything I can easily kill we can at some point go together so you get to two hundred finally. You’re working with me now understand? No secrets. Try not to be useless.”

“I won’t be. I’ll repay the debt I owe you doubly. We can work out the relationship as we go.”

Ilea snorted, “You’ll be dead before that ever happens. The elf I mentioned, he should come back here at some point. Just mention that you work with me and that you help me look for artifacts. I doubt he’d kill you but I’d definitely give it a chance.”

He waved her off, “At least I can work with him if you never return. Only reason he probably talked to you is because he doesn’t want to go in there.”

“Then you know how to bargain with him at least. I don’t think he’s particularly dangerous anyway. Maybe he can train you to resist curses if you find something to trade with him. Then you could visit Goliath without me babysitting you.” Ilea suggested with a smirk before flipping her notebook to the Tremor map. “Come have a look.”

Terok put down the metal plate he was working on and checked out the map she had already worked on. “You’re a lousy cartographer.” washis first comment, Ilea flipping the side of his head before she moved to the next page, a rough sketch of the palace and the different rooms.

“Copy that and go from there. The doors are closed and in this section everything is still powered.” She motioned to some of the rooms and hallways. I think it looks nice. “This would probably be the best place to try and get in. There’s a single guard and he didn’t patrol as far as I could tell. The door is open. I suggest putting something between to allow teleportation to work.”

“This door here has two guards, why I think it’s the most interesting but they’re somewhat close and you might have difficulties getting there depending on how far you can teleport. I’ve only fought one of them, the variant with a single big sword and no shield. They have wind magic or something of the like that could cut through my Niameer armor from fifty meters away. Faster than I could move with my wings so I suggest you don’t alert them.” Ilea explained what she knew so far.

“The elf is still translating the log book of the captain of the guard but he got bored and went to explore other places. Maybe you’ll find something in there that helps.”

Terok nodded, “Not a lot to work with but I’ll check it out. I assume that coloring means you’ve cleared the area?”

Ilea confirmed with a grunt, “You can check the rest out as well but I didn’t find anything other than undead, dust and really… really old furniture.”


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