Chapter 258 Cake
Odin looked at the female depart towards Hallowfort. Was she the one who killed the Blue Reaper…, It had to be, she had presented a corpse after all. Bowing as much as his bulky body allowed, he turned back to his group. “We will not be using this path.”
“Why not? Who says she spoke the truth?” The friend of shadows said. Odin smiled under his helmet, the stone cracking on his face.
To doubt and deceive was in his nature, “She is a wielder of ash. A powerful warrior to be sure, one I could not identify. We should listen to her words and seek an alternative path.”
“I agree with Odin. We should listen to anybody capable of killing Reapers.” The moth mage said.
“A reaper, single. Maybe she found it dead. We could take her together, the storage item she has would sell for dozens of gold.” The Shadow mage insisted.
Odin smiled again, speaking in a calm voice, “And who would buy such a thing from the likes of us? It would be stolen or taken by force. Come now, we should find a way to descend. The longer we dwell the more energy we waste.” He walked on, ready to smash the shadow mage to pieces should he try to betray him. Alliances forged by need are not to rely on. Odin remembered his brother’s words. Perhaps in the second layer they would forge the bonds necessary to survive. It would be a difficult journey.
Ilea had seen the look in the mage’s black eyes. Was it her storage necklace, her armor or the corpse of the Reaper perhaps? Still, they had let her go without any further questions. Her level was high enough to justify as much, at least compared to theirs. Some must have debated if it was worth fighting her. Might be better if I try to avoid any random groups down here. If there was a group of five level two hundreds with varying abilities countering her own, she might be in trouble. Probably not as she could still try to flee but if they followed her and attacked when she was injured.
Shaking the thought, annoyed that her hunting and fighting was again being influenced by people. Greed doesn’t seem to be a human exclusive. At least only one of them had looked at her that way. The big warrior had even bowed to her when she was walking away. Likely a gesture towards her ash. She was pretty sure he had been a dark one of sorts. Most of them so far had reacted in some respectful way to her magic. On the way to being powerful enough not to fuck with. She grinned at the thought but knew it was a mere dream. Even if she were, people devious enough would find a way to challenge her. If not through fighting, then through lies, blackmail or hostages.
Ilea reminded herself that the world wasn’t out to get her. The enemy in Elos was nature and the monsters living around her. It was however hard to shake off the distrust she had learned through Edwin, Alice, the nobles in Virilya as well as the Golden Lily. Focusing on the task at hand, she spread her wings and flew up through the corridor that led to the Abyss.
Coming out on the top, her wings disintegrated, the guard nodding as he let go of the sword on his back. It was still the same warrior she had met when going down. Music played from within the bar, this time less alien than what she had heard the last time. The instruments looked like more intricate guitars and the sounds reminded her of old samurai movies she had watched. A serene kind of atmosphere. The masked priest person was still around, talking to two patrons on a table, trying to convince them to join the great war, whatever that was.
Ilea reached the counter and nodded to the cat waiter. He sniffed at her and frowned, “Exactly. Room and a bath?” She asked and he put a silver key down.
“Thank you for taking care of the Reaper. The room is on the house. For three days. Water runes for a bath are inside. Last one on the first floor.” He explained, Ilea taking the key and twirling it on a finger.
She was curious how he knew it was her to kill the Blue Reaper. Either he smelled it somehow or the markings on her armor outed her. “Thanks.” She said and put down five copper, the cat person sliding a bottle of ale her way.
The key slid into the lock and a click resounded when she turned it. Entering, she locked it again and pushed mana into the runes near the door, knowing them to be intrusion barriers against sound and teleportation. Blinking out and back in revealed them to be of somewhat low quality but hey, it was something. More than she had expected from a place like this. The furniture was dark blue and black, leather mostly. A blueish light shined from the middle of the room, an intricate metal sphere with rings and floating pieces surrounded the magical bulb, forming a mesmerizing pattern on the stone walls around her.
There was a bathroom with a tub, big enough to accommodate most creatures she had seen in the bar below. Runes would gather the water in the air and ground before filling the carved stone bath. Ilea questioned how the runes gathered enough to fill the whole thing but she had seen similar feats in human inns. Even Earl had a bath with runes like that. Touching the intricate patterns on the metal plates, water soon started flowing. Ilea put her armor into her inventory before dumping it on the ground next to the tub. Moving a couple of her ashen limbs into it, she quickly heated it up to a boiling temperature before stepping in herself.
A sigh left her, continuously heating up the water, steam filling the bathroom as the runes gathered and brought the water back into the tub. Ilea took her time to rub off all the dried blood as well as pieces of remaining muck. Sighing, she went under, the boiling water bubbling around her. A bubble bath for cheap yet resilient people. Certainly enjoyable.
Her armor pieces came in half an hour later, the boiling water taking care of whatever was left on them. She noted that the lightning cracks on the coating remained, burned deeply into the metal from a heat quite different than boiling water. Ilea found she liked the look of it now that she saw it with her own eyes. Putting the set into her inventory, she put it onto her body before heating herself up to dry it off. Steam rose from within the thin slits connecting the pieces.
The main room had several sleeping options, different forms and sizes. Ilea turned her head a little when she looked at the cocoon like blankets hanging from the ceiling in one of the corners of the room. Definitely peculiar but considering the varying patrons and their species it was only to be expected. She wouldn’t be happy to find only that in her room either.
The bed creaked a little when she sat down, the thing not quite as soft and comfortable as she liked. Standing up again, she summoned her own. There was enough space for it, just barely. Lying down, Ilea planned to sleep for an hour or two, thinking of magical lightning sizzling in the dark. Meditation helped her fall asleep as quickly as if she were completely exhausted.
Putting the key on the counter, Ilea waited for the cat person to approach her. “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”
He nodded and took the key, his ears twitching once. “I’m Ilea, thanks for the room.” She added.
“Haiden. Fortune on your hunt.” He bowed his head a little as he said it, eyes closed.
Ilea didn’t plan to go down right away, instead wanting to sell all the dead Blue Reapers she had acquired from her exploration. I really have to clean out my necklace…, perhaps she could sell some other things she had with her. Leaving the Abyss, she made her way up to the top of Hallowfort. A group of cloaked warriors and mages walked past, one of them glancing at her with what looked like human eyes. The first one she had seen in the north. Neither of them initiated conversation. If the woman was anything like her, she was glad there were so few of their species around. They were all below level two hundred, scavengers most likely.
Maybe a survivor from one or the other expedition. She thought, walking up the stairs to the highest floor of the small town. The small square after coming up was in the center of the statue. Ilea spotted the building likely to be the store she was looking for immediately. A big stone house with a long edged roof. Moss grew front the top, reaching down on the walls in some parts. Ivy as well as dozens of pots with varying herbs and plants finished the mostly green picture. It was situated close enough to the edge to overlook the crystal sea below. The door was wooden, a dark brown that nearly vanished in the gray of the stone around it.
Hunter’s Den, Ilea read the sign hanging a little crookedly from the roof right next to the door, a small lantern right next to it, its light brightening the black letters. Few people were around but it was definitely one of the busier places in Hallowfort. Her sphere only detected a single occupant inside the shop, Ilea quickly entering, curious about the shape of the person.
A jingle resounded when she entered, the door connected with a string to a small assortment of blue crystals that hung next to it. There were even more pots with plants here, small glass cages with what looked like full ecosystems trapped inside. In the back of the store big shelves filled with monster parts, books, trinkets of all sorts as well as weapons covered the walls. Much of it was laying around in boxes all over the floor with no discernible system or structure. A counter was placed somewhere in the middle of the whole cluster of things, a small bell the only thing placed on it.
Behind it there was a big table, more a work bench really with how wide and sturdy it was. Pale wood and covered by mortars, bowls, glass jars and tubes as well as knifes, cutting boards and an assortment of plants, herbs and meat. Ilea wasn’t quite sure if it was a meal that was being prepared or some alchemical tincture. The fox dozing in the middle of it all didn’t seem to know either, head resting on its front paws as it calmly dreamed.
Walking up to the counter, Ilea tapped the bell once, a clear ring resounding. Her sphere revealed no other being than the fox but it had been deceived before. Eve wouldn’t be the last, of that she was sure. The fox opened its eyes slowly, a yawn escaping its maw as it stretched its paws forward, reminding Ilea more of a cat. “Yesh…yes yes. Welcome.” The fox spoke, its voice distinctively light and female. The lack of a penis was what tipped her off though.
Ilea held up her hand and smiled, her helmet vanishing into her necklace. Orange red eyes opened wide as the fox sat up, “A human… and at such a high level. Remarkable. I wouldn’t flaunt that thing so openly, the wrong people will get interested. Especially knowing your weak species.”
Ilea was pretty sure she was talking about her storage necklace. She had hoped with going north things like that finally ended but she had obviously been wrong, “I’ll bear the consequences.”
A light giggle resounded, not a noise she would’ve expected from a fox. “I’m sure you do. I’m Catelyn, owner of this store and it is my joy to meet you, bearer of ash.” She bowed her small head a little towards her.
Wisps of the element were dancing around her armor. It was a conscious effort now to keep the ash hidden and away from her with the third tier of ash creation, not needed here where being an ash creator opened doors. Not that she would care if it were otherwise. “Greetings Catelyn, one blessed by fire. I’m Ilea. I was told one can sell monster corpses here.”
Another giggle, the fox standing up on all four legs. It wasn’t taller than a normal fox from Earth but her presence was nearly graspable, a glint of fire dancing around the small vulpine eyes.
[Mage - ??]
Above her in level too but Ilea had no idea just how much. “You flatter me. To think a human honors the customs of the reborn. Rare to see one of your kind here, rarer that. You may sell and buy, with gold and silver as well as other… interesting valuables.”
Ilea summoned one of the Blue Reapers and held it up, “A Reaper… so you were the one to silence it. Bring it here, before it grows entirely cold. I assume your storage device keeps them fresh. Wait with the others if you have more.” Ilea nodded and walked around the counter, avoiding any rogue boxes and containers on the ground before she put the thing down. Catelyn had made space with her two tails, expertly moving everything out of the way as if they were arms.
Ilea could’ve sworn there was only a single tail before. “Don’t mind it. I can grow more than just two. Without thumbs on must find other ways to handle a knife.”
Carefully opening the broken shell, the fox filled an empty vial with the blood of the creature before putting a cork on it. A knife was lifted up a moment later, cutting through some of the creature’s throat before the mantis head was ripped off. Ilea raised an eyebrow at the strength and quality of blade that must have required. Don’t fuck with the fox. The mental note was made was Catelyn cupped the head in her paws before slurping out the dead eyes.
A long sigh left her after, Ilea just standing there and waiting while the fox consumed the second eye as well. “Excuse me. They’re just so fucking delicious. One gold coin per corpse, just pile them up Ilea.”
Aren’t foxes supposed to be kid’s friendly? Putting the other ten dead reapers down, Catelyn opened one of the table’s drawers and rummaged around before handing over eleven pieces of gold, one of the coins tumbling down before Ilea’s ash extended to catch it. All of it vanished into her necklace a moment later.
“Mmmhm, I’ll have a feast with all these later.” Catelyn purred before the corpses vanished. “Anything else you are willing to part with?”
“You’re an alchemist?” Ilea asked as she went through her necklace, mentally scrolling through her possessions.
“Among other things yes. Are you interested in trying some of my tinctures. I have always wanted to test them on humans. Few agree.” Catelyn said, resting her furry head on her front paws as she lied down on the table. “Isn’t it weird for you to see a talking fox?”
Ilea was caught a little off guard by the question, summoning some green moss she had gathered back in the Taleen dungeon, “I’ve seen weirder things, like mind magic electric bugs burning my eyes out.” Ilea replied and held up the moss with a questioning look.
“Isn’t that the stuff growing in Taleen dungeons?” Sniffing on it for a moment, one of her tails grabbed the moss before it vanished as well. “I’ve yet to have any survive in another location… maybe it’s the metal in the air, or something about the green lamps they used.” The fox mused. “It’s not rare but I’ll give you one silver coin for it.”
“I don’t suppose you’re interested in moss from the Penumra dungeon?” Ilea asked, the ensuing groan from the fox answer enough.
“I still have some cakes… for whatever reason they take up a lot of space.”
“What are cakes?” Catelyn asked, sitting up and cocking her head to the side.
Ilea summoned one, the plate appearing on the table with the heavy strawberry and cream goodness on top. The five cakes she had used up as much space in her necklace as her four hundred meals from Keyla did. Ilea tried not to question the logic of it all and was simply glad she could carry so much food. “It’s food, take a bite. Decide what you want to pay for it after.” She said with a grin, hoping that sugar was as addictive to the dark one as it was to humans. She had never even heard of cakes.
Catelyn was a little suspicious but still lifted up the knife. A quick blazing flame enveloped the metal and vanished again before she cut out a piece. Ilea’s ash had gathered a little around her but condensed again when the flame was gone, “You first.” The fox said after bringing the piece towards her mouth. Ilea shrugged and used an ashen limb to cut off a piece for herself, lifting it up before separating a smaller piece and eating it. It had been a while since she had eaten desert and Ilea couldn’t help but smile at the taste.
Fresh as if it was made today…, Really one of the best features of her necklace.
“They probably take up more space because you store them individually. Put them all in a big box and it will take up less…,” Catelyn said while taking a bite, her eyes opening wide before red flame surrounded her, heavy mana pushing against Ilea as her Veil wrapped itself around her, ash flowing to defend against the powerful magic. Catelyn’s eyes glowed a deep red, her teeth more vicious and longer as they smashed into the piece of cake, following up with the rest until not a single crumb was left.
The fire calmed down again quickly, an embarrassed looking fox avoiding Ilea as she licked the side of her snout. Some of the herbs on the table were singed or completely burnt but she noted that the table itself was unharmed. “What kind of wood is that?” Ilea couldn’t help but ask.
“That’s a secret. Maybe I’ll tell you for another cake.” The orange eyes met her blue ones.
For a moment they were both silent, “I’ll take the money.” Ilea finally said and put the other four cakes down. Catelyn put them in whatever space magic item she had and put down ten gold coins, Ilea putting them away. It was understood that this wasn’t to be mentioned and that an urgent request for more cakes was put out unofficially.