Chapter 266 Scouting the Unknown

“Alright! Six gold.” The merchant said behind her, trying to get out behind his wares but Ilea wasn’t in the mood to haggle with anybody.

Why isn’t everyone like Earl. Just sell me the stuff with your margin and we don’t have a problem. Ilea thought about just stealing the maps but she’d rather trade with someone she could somewhat trust. If he valued his products so lowly to try and swindle her into buying it for nearly twice as much, she’d think of them the same. The next merchant she talked to was a little more accommodating. The claws on his long hands as well as the teeth growing even out of his mouth made the reptile like vendor stand out from the others.

Ilea had no idea what species he was but she assumed a dark one of sorts. A dirty cloth covered his eyes. “Greetings traveler. May I interest you in any of my wares?”

Ilea looked at the wooden boxes, some of them remained closed, the merchant himself sitting on one of them. “At what layer are there monsters above level two hundred?”

The merchant moved his reptile like head to face her, “Ah, a newcomer then. For ten silvers I’ll tell you what I know about the monsters and their levels, though I must warn you. Even after all this time, new things keep creeping up. You might get this information in the tavern from listening alone.”

Ilea summoned the money into her fist and opened it above his palm. The merchant caught the money and continued talking, “On this layer, you will find few even reaching the lower two hundreds. Food and water there is plenty however.”

Ilea frowned, “Why build up here then?”

The merchant cocked his head to the side, apparently confused, “Most of us here are no fighters, nowhere near strong enough nor willing to deal with the beasts that stalk the forest and lake. You may find them mere annoyances but we are forced to be up here. Human, are you not?”

Ilea didn’t reply, “You build your towns surrounded by stone walls do you not? Against what? Wolves, bears?” He chuckled.

Ilea saw the point. “You’ve lived in human lands?”

“That is not information I am willing to sell. In the second layer, mostly treacherous tunnels, filled with traps and nasty insects, you will find most monsters near the two hundred mark. Other than what their corpses might bring you, there is little of value there. The third layer filled with water. You will find valuables there if you can swim and hold your breath for long enough. The beasts are as I hear less hostile but similarly dangerous as the ones in the second layer.”

“The fourth one is the one most want to get to. The Heroes’ Descent, the ruins of a city believed to be build by the same people who built the one above this layer. Dangerous, to be sure and if you are looking for beasts to kill, there is plenty there at levels most avoid.”

Ilea waited for him to continue but it seemed the merchant was done, “What about the deeper layers?”

He shook his head, “Few dare travel there and none would share their findings with the likes of me. Rumors about a silent and dark forest in the fifth and strong winds in the sixth are all I can share but it is not reliable.”

How long have you guys been down here and that’s all you know? Ilea was nearly regretting her decision to come to the camp at all. She was now in territory few humans ever traveled, ever could travel according to all the people she had met so far. Just because other races were around didn’t mean they could stroll into level two hundred and higher dungeons with ease. It was a surprise to find camps here with scavengers and people but Ilea somehow expected them to at least be able to fight whatever was around here. Can humans? Ilea knew the answer to the question. Of course they couldn’t. Most couldn’t even fight and kill the odd wolf or drake living in the forests near Riverwatch.

“Do I really need a map going down or can I just orient myself… well downwards?”

The merchant chuckled, “That will work eventually, yes. I suggest any new delver to stock up on food and water, rope, healing potions as well as an actual healer in the team. Antidotes to common poisons as well as maps providing guidance to the established and most safe routes. You however, you don’t strike me as a new delver, even though you might not have visited this very dungeon.”

Ilea nodded, all of that completely unnecessary for her. “Thanks.” She said and flung another big piece of silver into his hand, giving his wares a last look. Nothing struck her fancy, Ilea instead just letting herself fall off the side of the platform. She could hear a yelp come from someone who saw the maneuver, a blink close to the bottom bringing her safely into the woods and onto stable ground.

So it’s just a matter of going down. She thought, spreading her wings and ash around her, intending to work on the last couple skills yet to have reached the pinnacle of the second tier. Quickly finding one of the rivers, Ilea followed it until she got to it’s end. A waterfall leading down into darkness. Stepping into the water, Ilea’s Sphere already perceived the cracks below, one of them big enough for her to get through.

Jumping down, she blinked through and found herself in a small cave. A part of the water flowing down from the river above pooled in a small basin before it ran down along the tunnel ground, slowly eating itself into the rock. Ilea wasn’t sure if this was already the second layer or if it was merely a cave belonging to the first one.

Reaching the end of the tunnel, she found her answer. The smooth surface of the next level could be distinguished even in the dim light still coming in from above, its colora lighter shade than the one of the cave itself. Ilea saw the water seep into a thin crack, likely formed over centuries. Below was the layer of stone and then what Ilea assumed to be earth. Worms made their way through, unaware of the warrior appearing below them in the damp tunnel below.

Ilea immediately reduced her sensitivity to smell. Bloody dump. She hoped the information regarding the monsters here was true and they held little value for her. Looking down, she found her boots sinking into the moisture that had collected, brown water dripping down from above. Choosing a direction at random, she started walking.

It didn’t take her long to find the first trap. Loose earth with sharpened wooden sticks hidden beneath. Nasty…, Ilea reached an ashen limb down into the earth and ripped out one of the sticks. The thing was flimsy but sharp enough to penetrate through cloth, maybe thin leather. Her poison resistance informed her that there was something amiss with the substance on the tip. A low danger level apparently. Storing the armored pieces of her left leg, Ilea smashed the stick into it. The thing broke on impact, only managing to scratch her a little.

ding’ ‘You have been poisoned by dung broth -10 hp/s for one minute’

“Wow, really?” She exclaimed before getting another one of the spikes, until the trap was effectively dismantled. Ilea had a bunch of scratches on her leg now, her health continuing to drain. The poisons didn’t stack when it came to damage but the time went up with each additional wound. She assumed it was because more of the delicious broth made its way into her blood stream. This would be enough to kill any human on Earth.

Deciding to test out her third tier healing for the first time, Ilea waited until her health reached three thousand. Activating the skill with the intent to heal to her full health, she gasped as a huge chunk of mana was suddenly transformed into healing power rupturing through her whole being. It took a couple seconds but when she checked again, her health sat at six thousand one hundred. Fucking damn…, Her mana on the other hand had gone down by nearly one and a half thousand. It was a better conversion than she had expected. Of course her normal healing magic gradually drained her mana at a much much slower pace while healing rather rapidly but this could be a game changer.

She was rather sure that facing three Blue Reapers at the same time wouldn’t be as much of an issue now. Four or five, she still doubted. The high cost would make it incredibly risky. Wait a minute. A grin spread on her face as she sacrificed a thousand points of health to activate her third tier State of Azarinth. Red runes glowed as she invested a chunk of mana to heal it back immediately. A couple seconds later her third tier faded but with this she could get a pretty good increase in power without the drawbacks of her third tier State. At least as long as she had mana. Another reason to invest in Wisdom.

She sighed and started meditating, down over two thousand points of mana. The fact that her mana recovery was a percentage instead of a fixed number made the whole thing feasible. If only I could get Meditation to the third tier… maybe I could use it while fighting. A hopeful thought, one she put to the back of her mind again immediately. With this, Ilea could sacrifice more health without much worry. In a battle of attrition it wasn’t worth using but against something like the Blue Reaper, it would certainly be effective.

Leaving the now useless trap and the broken pieces of wood behind, Ilea walked on through the completely dark tunnel. Thinking about the reapers, Ilea decided against trying for now. Most of the groups she had avoided had been of much higher numbers than four or five, making her third tier healing simply another buffer before she would burn up. Let alone the mind magic that would likely knock her unconscious long before her mana was used up. Burst healing her brain wouldn’t help either when the damage came in near instantly.

Stepping on the pressure plate after checking out the enchantments, Ilea’s chest plate vanished as the barbed arrow penetrated one of her breasts. She winced when she looked down but felt little of the pain, even without activating the second tier ability. The arrow had penetrated about five centimeters and the poison started taking effect. “Dung broth… who the fuck is laying those?” She asked, wincing when she ripped out the arrow, blood spraying on the ground before the wound closed quickly and her chest plate appeared again. Maybe I should check the next arrow before I just let it penetrate my chest. This is how I’m going to die one day, right after defeating some insane monster. Boob arrow fatality.

The following traps, Ilea first dismantled them and checked before poisoning herself. Half an hour later, she was pretty sure she was lost. Digging down wasn’t really an option with her ash alone but she hadn’t even encountered a single monster yet. Perhaps not buying those maps was a bad decision after all. She rolled her eyes at her own stubbornness and continued onward.

[Mud Goblin – lvl 152]

The little creature had ran away right after it saw her, Ilea blinking to intercept it. The thing screeched before clawing at her with its hands. Are they the ones building the traps? She wondered. Checking around the tunnel with her sphere, she found a half dug hole in the middle of it. “You are aren’t you…,”

The thing continued attacking before a spiked ashen limb smashed into its eye and right through to the brain, killing it instantly. Ilea ignored the notification popping up, the thing too weak to make a dent in her experience anyway. Its blood seeped into the ground while Ilea continued her exploration. Rather blind stroll in a poison and dung cave. A couple minutes later, she came upon another creature, this one looking like a literal monster roach.

[Monster Roach – lvl 192]

“Really?” She asked, looking up towards where the sky would be, somewhere beyond the hundreds of meters of ground. The monster roach rushed at her, its mouth clicking as it opened and closed, dozens of sharp teeth showing below. Ilea closed her eyes and held up her arms before she sacrificed five hundred points of health, her right foot coming down in a stomp that splattered the half a meter long creature on the tunnel walls. “God fuck that’s disgusting…,” Ilea was hyper aware of any traps after that, hoping she wouldn’t somehow fall into their den. No amount of levels would be worth swimming in a couple hundreds of the black bugs.

Ash had cleaned off all the muck on her armor before she continued. The same tunnel continued on for hundreds of meters but at least it was declining somewhat, the third level getting ever so slightly closer with each step she took.

She blinked her eyes at the distant light she could see. End of the tunnel? The thought proved wrong when the light source came closer, identifying itself as a rapidly moving torch held by a running person. Running for their life…, Ilea realized, seeing the frantic movements. The screams coming from the two people behind the man were more of an indication. As was the clicking noise of hundreds of roaches crawling on all sides of the tunnel, like a riptide of teeth and ruin. Ilea sighed and started forming ash around her.

“Run for your life!” The male voice shouted before rushing past her, completely ignoring the possible danger in his flight. His brown coat rushed past, flapping as he held his cowboy hat. His face was distinctly human. Ilea was pretty sure he blinked at her before he was past. A dwarven rig limped past her right after, the only noise she heard was hard breathing coming from within. The last member of the group was a cat person in leather armor and a coat, stumbling when she saw Ilea standing in the tunnel. Ilea watched her hit the ground, the harmonica she had held to her mouth now crashing against her teeth.

Wincing at the impact, Ilea slowly walked towards her, more and more ash forming around her as it filled the whole tunnel. A wall of it solidified right in front of her, the rest of the ash loosely floating further down the tunnel. As soon as the first roaches reached it, Ilea pushed reversed healing into their bodies. She kept on adding ash to her wall as the beasts bit and struggled through the solid black barrier she had put up. The dwarf was resting against the tunnel wall, Ilea slowly walking back towards him as the ash was broken through.

The first roaches started dying, notifications popping up as she pushed more and more mana into her reversed recovery, Meditation working hard to regain her resources. Trying something she hadn’t thought about before, Ilea attempted to shove a higher amount of mana into one of the roaches. Her third tier recovery. Sadly nothing happened, her mana staying with her and the roach dying half a minute later against her normal form of attack. So reversed burst healing is a no.

Reaching the downed cat person, Ilea lifted her up with one of her ashen limbs. Checking on her, she found her knocked out but otherwise fine. The girl was flung a couple meters further back towards the dwarf who was now looking at her, unmoving. “Get her further back. I don’t see an end to the roaches yet.” Ilea simply said. The dwarf sprang to action at that, lifting the cat and matching Ilea’s steps as he retreated.

“You’re a lifesaver. I knew we shouldn’t have trusted that idiot.” He said in a weird accent Ilea couldn’t place. “He’ll run right into the next trap if he keeps going…,”

Ilea looked back and saw the flickering light of a torch still moving away in the distance. A chuckle left her, “Well worry not, your deus ex machina has arrived.”

[Healer – lvl 181]

Ilea identified the cat. At least they have a healer with them.

[Warrior – lvl 203]

The dwarf was surprisingly not a mage. His suit looked savage in comparison to Terok’s. A literal mass of steel, dented and scratched. She was surprised the three meter tall thing could even move, let alone as quickly as it did. It had a thick head without a neck, a single big floodlight burning from its center, the glass cracked on the surface. “There’s hundreds… should I start running or are you as confident as you look?” He asked, the healer held in one hand like a mere kitten.

Ilea was casually walking a little behind him, her back towards the roaches, ash floating and connected to her as if growing from her spine. “I’m fine for another half an hour at least. I’ll let you know when we start to run.” She replied with a smile on her face. “Scavengers?”

The dwarf grunted, “I guess we are. On the way to the fourth layer. Mr. know it all has a treasure map of sorts.”

“And you tell that to the person currently keeping you alive.” Ilea said, shaking her head.

The dwarf didn’t seem to care much, his voice calm and steady, “I’m not one to ignore my debts, not like a certain human. Telling you about it is the least I can do for a stranger saving my life.”

Ilea grinned, “You sound like a dark one. Are you not a dwarf?”

He laughed at that, “Sometimes I feel like one too. I am however born and raised in the mountains of the south. Proud to call myself dwarf.”

Ilea nodded, not quite knowing how to react to that. The clicking noises behind her didn’t stop.


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