Chapter 265 Underground Paradise

Elfie glanced her way when she walked into the cathedral, the double doors closed by ash floating behind her. “Hey there historian.” She said, the elf rolling his eyes before he looked back to the book he was reading.

“Did the dwarf die?” He asked a moment later, Ilea checking her armor for damage. The undead knights had barely scratched her, courtesy of her ash creation’s third tier. If she could somehow make it more durable the stuff could replace her armor permanently.

Never worry about steel anymore. Plus I could fight in shorts and a shirt. Ilea wasn’t convinced of the idea, not without a sports bra. Maybe they had a suitable corset here, Elana’s dress seemed suitably well crafted. “Nah he’s fine, might wind up dead if he keeps being… well himself.”

The elf sat up and looked at her, “Did they key work?”

“Question for question. Why was there an elven armor in a Taleen dungeon? I though you lot don’t go down there?” Ilea sat down, arm resting on the chair’s side, her head cocked to the side.

The elf stared at her with his gray eyes, a color she now deemed rather common among her acquaintances. Elana’s weren’t exactly gray, more a silver really. “Either someone brought it there or a cursed one died in the dungeon.”

“Cursed one?” Ilea asked, “So there are elves who enter dungeons?”

When he didn’t answer, she smiled, “The key worked.”

“That’s all?” He asked with a grin on his face, his tongue licking over his bottom lip.

Ilea shrugged, “Questions and answers Elfie, you’re being a dick, I am a dick. Isn’t that the bargain you had suggested?”

His claws dug into the chair but his smile remained, a spark of joy or madness reaching his eyes, Ilea couldn’t quite tell. Maybe it was just light reflecting in a weird way. “There are those who seek to destroy the Taleen creations. They enter dungeons and are deemed the cursed ones. I believe they call themselves the Cerithil hunters, named after one of the first and most famous among them.”

Ilea listened, writing some of it down in her notebook, “We found two survivors of Rhyvor. King Maro Invalar and his wife, Elana Invalar. He activated a spell, machine or whatever that is considered to defend the city against its attackers. That was long ago though and it seems the attackers never came or they simply left the capital alone. I woke him up but to get him out of there we’ll have to kill all the knights still connected to him.”

The elf stood up and started pacing, “Alive… after all this time… to speak to the rulers… and you believe them? You think them the true royals?”

Ilea shrugged, “Probably. Might be a fake story but the undead he controls are called kingsguard. Might be a prisoner too but it doesn’t make sense. The captain of the kingsguard… all of that would have been fake otherwise. And why leave them in control of the knights if they weren’t who they say they are. I don’t know Elfie. I don’t dislike them personally, don’t really care if they’re king and queen of this forgotten kingdom.”

A curse spread around him, Ilea’s veil cladding her in ash, “I do care. Can you bring them out?”

Ilea shrugged, “He’s stuck I said. Can’t leave without the knights dead. Maybe you can come in and help take care of them if you really want it? Now that I know there are elves going into dungeons it can’t be that bad. Cursed ones… you’re already using curses, would be a fitting name for you.”

He hissed, a powerful barrier rushed at her, Ilea simply blinking through and ignoring the growing curse around her. “You’re right though, with that weak ass magic you’re as good as useless. What’s your level anyway?”

The elf calmed down again, his magic subsiding before he sat down, “You can’t tell yet? Your identify skill is lacking. Did you get to this realm without it?”

Ilea didn’t say anything until he spoke, “I’m level two hundred and eighty. Meaning your identify skill is below level eight. Impressive… like a child given such power.”

She smiled and actually believed him, “I thought you were super old. Did you just fuck with me?”

“I did not lie to you human. I am simply not as inclined to throw my life away in some unknown cave or against an unreasonably strong animal. What you consider a past time. There’s a reason I’ve grown old.” He stated.

“Why do they want to destroy the Taleen machines?” She asked instead, not reacting to his provocation.

The elf tapped his chair with a nail, “Because, human, the dwarves, all dead and gone by now left behind more than ruins to explore for you and your squabbling little species. I still don’t know why they would ignore the human cities, the masses of your people, spreading like an infection as they scout through the vast forests to find and kill every elven child, every warrior that stands in their way. Like a curse placed on us by a dead people.”

Ilea looked at him, really looked at him for the first time. This was certainly something new, something nobody had ever talked about. “They send out machines to hunt down elves?”

“They do. Or they did. Tens of thousands of them. My people welcome them as a challenge, welcome them as the test to reach maturity.” He spat on the ground, his expression turning to horror immediately after. Ilea watched in amazement as he went on his knees and cleaned up the spit with frantic movements. “The cursed ones go into their homes, destroy what they can find but it doesn’t change anything. The machines still come, unstoppable, in greater numbers every year.”

Ilea leaned forward as he sat down again, his face not revealing any sentiment in regards to what had just happened, “How long has this been going on?”

The elf didn’t answer her, “Can you get the queen out then, if the king is stuck?”

“Perhaps, I’m not sure if she wants to go out. Terok will be back at some point, maybe talk to him about it. I’d have difficulties getting her out, she lacks a teleportation ability to get past the kingsguard apparently.” She explained to which he nodded. “Is that why you’re a historian? You’re trying to figure out why the Taleen are coming after you?”

The elf looked at her, “I am over six hundred years old human and even I was only deemed mature after facing down the sea of Guardians, killing my first Taleen Centurion.”

Ilea chuckled, “Guess I’d be mature too then.”

His eyebrows rose at that but he didn’t mention it, “Why not join the hunters then? Bring an end to their invasions?” Ilea asked.

He hissed, “Betrayal. I cannot. Now begone human, leave.I am tired of your presence.”

Ilea just grabbed one of the bottles they had found in the king’s chambers and poured herself a glass. Looking at the elf as she put down the bottle, she took a sip. “No, I don’t think I will.”

His curse flared up again, her very blood poisoned but she just sat there, ash twirling around her as she stared into his eyes and took another sip. Healing mana flowed through her, taking care of the damage as it was caused. His attack was nuanced, dangerous and lethal but compared to the Blue Reapers he lacked the punch to finish the job. He really might be at two eighty.

The elf calmed down after a minute, simply turning away from her as he continued reading. Ilea was at least not annoying him anymore with further questions. So the Taleen army I’ve seen wasn’t made just to defend whatever Iz was. They build robots to hunt down elves. But why? She didn’t know. At least they didn’t target humans, otherwise more people would know about this, or they would all be dead and unable to tell the tale. Perhaps this had something to do with the weird intervals the elves attacked in.

Taking care of their own borders, their own homes would certainly be a higher priority than to fuck with humans, even if they were supposed easy pickings. The comically evil and arrogant elves she had met didn’t really give her a picture of sophisticated decision makers. Is that why most of them use ranged magic? Because Centurions are much harder to destroy up close? The same was true for plain old Guardians but Ilea could’ve hardly seen all of the Taleen’s creations. Cerithil hunters…, She tapped the notebook with her pen.

Terok returned half an hour later, him and the elf quickly forming some sort of agreement. The dwarf’s part was to get the queen out and to the cathedral. Information as well as training was what he would get for it. “I’ll be out again for a while. If we’re ever to clear out this dungeon you two better work on your levels as well.” Ilea said after getting up, “Though I’d be happy to do it myself.”

Terok gave her a thumbs up, “I hope to reach two hundred before you do so, might be able to distract some of them at least.” She didn’t mention the elf’s inability or unwillingness to enter the dungeon at all.

The suns were setting when she made her way back to Hallowfort. Signs of mist started to appear when she reached the entrance to the Penumra dungeon. She knew there had to be another way or even several to reach the scavenger town but she liked to see the dungeon from time to time, to see another goal, another possible frontier to explore. A place to test and strengthen herself once she was ready to battle the beasts within.

Making her way through the dark tunnels, she quickly reached the town. Ilea went for the Abyss immediately, walking through the bar that seemed to look the same both day and night. The guard was someone else this time but the burly warrior ignored her all the same. Finding herself in the dark hallways of the old city below Hallowfort, Ilea this time didn’t hunt for Blue Reapers. Perhaps the Descent had something in store for her that was both as easy to kill as well as a little less ridiculously dangerous.

Terok had talked a little about the different layers but when Ilea finally found a crack leading farther down, she was still surprised to hear the chirping of birds coming from below. A blink brought her into the open space, her eyes adjusting to the crystal light glowing from the pillars reaching down. Ashen wings spread to stop her free fall as she looked around. A lush forest of dark green pine treesspread a couple hundred meters below her. Rivers ran through like veins, ending in a lake that reflected the pale light from the crystal growing down into the space. Looking around her, she realized the rivers weren’t ending but flowed away from the lake before pouring in wild waterfalls further down into the darkness. The lake itself was formed by streams flowing down the distance cliff like walls that looked like mountain chains stretching high before connecting with the ceiling.Ilea refused to call it a cave.

An underground territory but the light, flora and the lake painted a picture she could only compare to the Haven under Ravenhall. The entirely too even ceiling she was now hovering under reinforced the unnatural feeling she got from the place. A shiver ran down her spine. This thing has layers…, She remembered and had to focus not to forget she was in a dungeon, in the north of all places. There was no village near the lake, no houses entirely too expensive for her to consider and no boats enjoying the crystal light or out for fishing.

Ilea spotted what she had been looking for after an hour of flying, taking in the sights and enjoying the serene atmosphere. Compared to the endless lake above, stretching below the statue holding Hallowfort, this place was somehow removed, the dangers of the north almost forgotten when she landed and looked around the dense and wild forest. Taking in her surroundings, listening and smelling for anything that might be a threat, Ilea jumped up and held herself near the top of a pine tree. A couple hundred meters towards the wall, wooden buildings sprouted from the cliffs like mold clinging to an abandoned house’s each and every room.

Terok had mentioned there to be a camp of sorts, for those that sought to venture deeper into the dungeon. Even the highest level held danger enough to force such difficult construction. As far as the dwarf was concerned, the city hallways above held more danger than this place but Ilea would judge it on her own. Visiting the little culmination of houses would likely be beneficial. Maybe they sold maps of the areas already explored or at the very least information in regards to the creatures living here and further down.

Someone appeared in her sphere, making Ilea prepare for a fight as her buffs surged. “Lone hunter. What do you seek in the Descent?” A male voice asked, the creature wreathed in shadow that twisted and turned around him. Four arms by his side, two of them crossed. She noted the four short swords, two sheathed on his back and two on his sides. His face was hidden behind a black metal mask with no eyes, two small horns sprouting from his cheeks, a single line of red pain in between. A black hood covered his head, a coat and black somewhat wide clothes covered the form below.

Ilea jumped down from her tree, noting the slight increase in tension in the figure. “I seek to hunt monsters.”

[Warrior – lvl 252]

He looked her way for a while. Ilea wasn’t quite sure what to make of it but at least he seemed to be alone. “And what is your purpose here, warrior of shadow?”

Relaxing a little, he spoke, “I am the protector of the scavenger camp you see hanging from the cliffs. You are not one I wish to fight but know that should you murder and destroy without reason I will be forced to do so. Tell me know if you seek the death of one among us and we might find a way to prevent unnecessary bloodshed.”

Ilea smirked, “Relax shadow guardian. I’m really just here to kill monsters. If I injure or kill anybody then it’s with good reason. Though I’m not on the hunt for anybody as of yet.” She added and crossed her arms.

“Good fortune to you then, warrior of ash.” He said and gave her a nod.

Ilea watched him turn away before she spoke up again, “Wait a second.”

The guardian turned his head, “Do you wield shadow magic?” Ilea asked.

He turned to her fully now and cocked his head to the side, “You seek to learn? Or simply to test your strength?”

Ilea smiled under her helmet. He hadn’t dismissed her immediately, “I seek to test Your strength. On my body.”

Two of his arms were held up, “I have no desire nor the physical ability to engage in sexual activities with your kind.”

Ilea shook her head, “Not sexual mate, fighting. I want a resistance against shadow magic. Might benefit you too to face someone close to your level once in a while.”

The guardian considered, “No. I have my duties warrior of ash. I will await the tales of your exploits.” With that he vanished in shadow, darkness remaining before Ilea was alone again.

Wings spread before Ilea soared up, quickly covering the distance between the ground and the camp on the side of the cliffs. Sturdy old wood had been used in the construction of the foundations, placed deep into the stone. Either there were no dangerous birds on the first level, or the residents simply didn’t care about the lack of defense. Square and circle platforms interwoven with wooden stairs as well as small elevators operated with chains that reached through the platforms. She noted that one of the biggest elevators had chains long enough to reach the ground floor. Likely the way anybody without a flying ability traversed the camp.

Other than the guardian who had already introduced himself, nobody seemed to care much for her. She got some looks and a couple merchants were already beckoning her towards them, their wares held in boxes around them or distributed on cloth. Any houses built in the camp reminded her more of tree houses built on Earth. They had a magical touch added to them of course, some hovering with dangerously little to hold them up. Not enough to keep up with Earth’s gravity but runes and enchantments likely tipped the balance in the structure’s favor.

Ilea didn’t spot more than twenty buildings but some tunnels leading into the cave suggested more space to be in there. Ilea walked up to the next best vendor, a dwarf with gray hair, leather goggles and a hat that would make Robin Hood proud. His skin was wrinkled and some of his teeth were missing when he smiled at the new customer. “Welcome. Now what will ye be lookin for? Me gots trinkets, potions, poisons, maps, camp gear…,”

Ilea grabbed one of the maps on the ground, it read Descent - 1st layer’

“Maps it be. More detail and perfect scaling than anybody else’s!” He helpfully supplied.

Ilea sighed, “Is there anything on this layer above level two hundred?” She asked the vendor, he himself being below.

The dwarf looked at her and shook his head, “Only the odd scavenger… further down you’ll have to go. The map shows the points of descent, ladders and elevators to lead you down into the second. I’ll make you a deal, layer one and two maps both for ten gold only!”

Ilea just walked away. Ten gold for two maps of a place likely traveled to death? She’d get a better deal.


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