Chapter 267 Treasure Hunters
Shaking the healer a little, she suddenly gasped and opened her eyes. “Baron…,” Her voice spoke weakly. “The crawlers… I fell… what happened?”
“The stranger intervened. We’d be dead if not for her.” He said, turning to flash his light at Ilea.
Ilea smiled as she looked into the yellow feline pair of eyes, full of wonder. How young is that one? She wondered, the roaches now thinning out behind her, heated up and killed by Embered Body Heat and her reversed recovery. The latter of course dealing the majority of the damage. She had at least another ten minutes worth of this in her before she would want to get some distance between them. Ilea wasn’t about to run out of mana with a bunch of strangers standing next to her. The dwarf seemed sincere enough to her but one never knew.
“My harmonica…,” The cat said, Ilea summoning the thing and throwing it toward her. She had picked it up after she had thrown the healer.
She caught it with a swift movement, starting to play a melody immediately. Ilea felt her body relax a little, her mana recovering just a bit more quickly. A bard? She cocked her head sideways and looked at the cat who held her stare. Bard and healer. They continued through the tunnel, casually walking while the roaches died behind them. With the melody ringing through the caves one could almost wonder if it wasn’t the bard luring the insects into an ashen death.
Five minutes later, Ilea stopped walking. She recovered some more of her mana while the last dozen roaches worked their way through the wall of ash. “Want to get some of the action too? The experience might actually be worth it for you guys.”
The dwarf lowered his arm, the healer hopping off to let him through. Smashing his massive two metal fists together, he changed into a more aggressive stance. “It would be. My joy.” His massive form stepped past Ilea, the head nearly reaching the ceiling of the large tunnel. Walking to the healer, her form was swiftly wreathed in ash, expecting more than a little gore to come their way.
The wall crumbled when Ilea severed the thin connection she had remained, around ten roaches, more or less injured rushed towards them. Most of them focused on the massive form of the metal machine, the heavy plating groaning against their teeth. One heavy arm came down, the roach splashing against the walls while the others crawled onto the armor, looking for weak spots or ways to enter. The dwarf fell backwards while trying to get one of them, squashing two others in the process.
Three of the beasts suddenly turned and came at Ilea and the healer, the cat immediately moving behind her. Ashen limbs shot out, piercing all three of the beasts. Two of them had lunged at her, now hanging in the air. Blood dripped down, the ashen limbs moving up as the corpses slid away, landing with a wet sound. The healer stumbled a step further back, Ilea noticing the light in the distance had stopped moving.
“Are you alright?” She asked, the dwarf screaming and shouting as his huge mech suit turned in the mud, blood and guts. He slipped but still managed to hit one of the roaches, injuring its jaw in the process. Two of them were still alive but another frantic movement squashed them against the wall. The last injured one was stomped to death by the massive steel foot.
He stomped again and again, blood and intestines covering a big part of his armored suit. He turned towards them, the floodlight turning warmer, “What?!”
Ilea couldn’t help but laugh. Her sphere let her see the grin on the healer behind her. When the dwarf took a step and slipped, barely managing to keep standing, both of them couldn’t hold it. “You dumb fucks! I swear if I get to you!” The dwarf shouted but his chuckled were indication enough that he wasn’t serious.
The charge that followed made the healer stumble back before she fell on her ass. Ilea just stood there, the massive form of the war machine stopping a meter before her. “Didn’t think so.” She said with a grin, a little disappointed that he hadn’t at least tried to slam her away.
The dwarf laughed, “No offense stranger.”
Ilea moved her ash to clean away the guts that had landed on her from his charge, “A little offended in your lack of trust in my stability.” She said and covered him in ash before cleaning off the blood and guts. He didn’t move throughout, either trying not to anger her or understanding what she was doing. “Your friend stopped or dropped his torch.”
“Not friend, more… dreadful company.” He said after she was done, “Thanks for the cleanup. Not necessary.”
Ilea snorted, “It stinks. Do you guys know how to get to the fourth layer? Might as well help me out after I saved your sorry asses.”
“Aye… we know. At least if his map is to be believed. So far it’s led us into that.” The dwarf said and pointed to the gore filled tunnel, some parts still twitching. “Friends call me Baron. I’d be glad to help you to the fourth layer. If his map is junk I know some other more conventional ways but I’d think you want some of the treasure as well.”
Ilea watched the cat look at him and then her, her eyes squinting just a little. Not enough to be noticed without her sphere and heightened senses, “Nice to meet you Baron. I’m Ilea. Depends on the treasure really but I’d be happy to join you for a while.
The healer bowed, “Seath. Thank you for saving our lives.” She said. Ilea wasn’t sure if her fur was brown or if she really needed a shower. Seath was a little smaller than her and definitely thinner. The coat was ripped in parts but still holding up. Ilea checked her notifications while they slowly walked towards the torch. It seemed like nobody was particularly concerned about the man who soon started shouting for help.
‘ding’ ‘You have defeated [Monster Roach – lvl 184]’
‘ding’ ‘You have defeated [Monster Roach – lvl 194]’
The messages turned to team notifications soon after. Ilea assumed it was considered a team effort as soon as Seath had started her music. She thought about it for a while but came to the conclusion that it was only fair. To decide on becoming a bard and healer without much combat potential was already a dangerous decision. Having an easy time in battles, just standing behind one’s group and playing some tunes certainly sounded nice but when you couldn’t defend yourself against even a single enemy, it didn’t sound just as enticing.
‘ding’ ‘Your group has defeated [Monster Roach – lvl 178]’
‘ding’ ‘Your group has defeated [Monster Roach – lvl 183]’
‘ding’ ‘Embered Body Heat reaches 2nd lvl 16’
‘ding’ ‘Embered Body Heat reaches 2nd lvl 17’
Ilea grinned at the level ups. Of course the bugs had been much too weak to give her classes a substantial boost but for Embered Body Heat it had been perfect to shine. Some of the kills might have even come from the burning hot ash. “Oh thank god you survived.” The man said, stuck in one of the small trenches, his left shin pierced by one of the poop sticks.
“You left us to die.” Baron said.
The man smiled, “Nah, I knew the stranger could handle it. Hello by the way, Austin the name, best ranger in town. Your armor looks fierce, Shadow’s Hand perhaps or a dark one?” Ilea was at least impressed by how little the man seemed to care about his injury, blood continuously seeping into the pit.
Two of her ashen limbs moved under his shoulders and gave him a lift, “Wait wait, don’t move me so suddenly the…,” He yelped and cursed when his leg came loose, the wound opening wider in the process. Ilea set him down next to Seath who quickly gathered mana in her hand before his wound started closing. Opening her eyes again, Seath sighed.
Austin leaned back, his head resting on the ground, “Aw man. Thanks Seath. Glad I brought you along.” The woman tensed up a little at the mention, not noticeable to the eye alone. “And you, fierce warrior.” He said and jumped to his feet, dusting off his brown coat and getting back his very inappropriate hat. “Thank you for helping out. We will move along now, back to camp to recover.”
He was obviously lying. Even Ilea knew it. “I’m not exactly a fashion guru but why the hat?”
The man just grinned and walked past her, trying to tap her shoulder. An ashen limb intercepted his move, a second time when he tried again. “I’m coming with you. You’ll lead me to the fourth layer.”
Austin groaned, holding his hands up into the air, “Baron you fucking idiot. Oh well. One more then. Yea alright. Alright. On the condition that you help us fight.”
Ilea shrugged, not having a problem with that. Identifying the man, she was surprised to find him the highest of the group.
[Ranger – lvl 210]
“You’re human.” Ilea stated after they had walked in silence for a while, the three of them staring at the dozens of roach corpses on the ground. The sound of Baron stepping on them was so unpleasant, Ilea had started to walk ahead, moving them out of the way with an ashen wedge hovering in front of her.
Austin looked her way, checking something on his crossbow. The weapon he had picked up from further down the tunnel, before Ilea had even shown up. “Yea, red blood and a single heart pumping in my chest. You’re one as well? Did an expedition actually manage to get this far north?”
Ilea shook her head, “Came here alone. You’re the survivor of one?”
He nodded, “Got slaughtered a week in. Feynor. Probably on an expedition to explore the south. We killed a ton of them but they had the numbers. The blood attracted one of those massive snakes and that was that. I loosed a couple shots and then advanced through the north until I came here.”
Baron snorted but didn’t comment on it. Ilea had an idea about what might have actually happened but she had no desire to get him on the defensive. “Where are you from?”
“Virilya, born and raised.” He said and grinned, “Lovely, the empire.”
Ilea laughed, not quite believing anything coming out of his mouth. His green eyes were sparkling, similar to the king she had met earlier. His jawline was smooth and his grin not unattractive. Still, there was something sleazy about him. The way he spoke, looked at the others. “It can be.” She simply said, the group advancing through the dark tunnel, a torch and Baron's floodlight illuminating the way. “So what's that treasure you have on your map?”
The man nearly stumbled upon the mention, flashing a glare at the dwarf and then the healer, “Alternative way into the warded section of the fourth layer. Nobody has been able to crack it from the outside so now we're going in from the other side.” Austin said with a grin.
Ilea was pretty sure the dungeon had been there for at least a couple decades. To think there was a known section closed off and not yet broken into. “Are you sure nobody's been in there before?”
This time it was the dwarf who spoke, “Of course there might be but the red church was crazy, they enchanted nearly every room and hallway. To even get past a single section you'd have to work for years and whatever was found hadn't really been worth it so most people have stopped. The traps and monsters don't really help with this.”
Ilea wondered if Terok had been there, tried to get in. Maybe working with her allowed him to dedicate himself to the work. “Red church?”
“You're new here. They're the only name we have of whoever ran this city and the Heroes' Descent. Obsessed with the relics found within the deeper levels. You'll find enough writing and left over books and records if you're interested. Most scavengers don't care.” Ilea would at least have a bunch of history to trade with the elf.
Austin held up a hand, “Trap ahead.” Ilea couldn't see it yet through her sphere but she smiply kept going, the other three looking at her a little confused, “Hey, I'm a ranger, I can take care of it in a minute.”
Finding the enchanted plate, Ilea checked for the connection and found a spear waiting to be shot out of a dug out section in the wall. She activated the trap, catching the spear that soared towards her a moment later. The others just looked at her, Baron chuckling while Seath just shook her head in disbelief. The thing wasn't even coated in poison, a simple wooden shaft tipped with a sharpened stone. “Were the goblins always here?”
“Yea, bloody plague. No money to be gained in hunting them down either. Especially with how extensively they booby trap their dens.” Austin explained.
Ilea just nodded. She wasn't interested either if the one she had met was an indication of their overall strength. May the roaches and goblins kill each other in this world of dirt. Reaching the end of the tunnel, Baron looked at Austin. A dead end. Ilea knew there was something waiting behind the wall but she waited with saying anything.
“Now wait a minute before you smash me to a pulp Baron, I told you I'd pay you back. Show some trust.” Austin said with a grin, taking the bow from his back before he selected one of the arrows out of his quiver. “Should do the trick...,” he said to nobody in particular. Drawing it back, he loosed it, a whirlwind of air smashing into the earth and mud, digging deep and taking quite a bit of mass with it. The passage was revealed and he bowed. Seath actually clapped at that but Ilea wasn't sure if sarcastically or not.
“And the map says to go down there?” Baron asked, looking up to Austin who didn't seem quite as confident anymore. Ilea stared down the stone shaft, the thing long enough for neither her eyes nor Sphere to reveal anything about the bottom.
“Well I didn’t draw the bloody thing. Just didn’t seem as big of a deal on paper…,” The ranger said.
The thing was barely big enough to fit the dwarf in his massive armor. Ilea looked at Seath, “You and me go down first.” The cat person looked around but it seemed neither Baron nor Austin were about to offer help. “You can heal, come on, don’t be a wuss. Third layer down there?”
Austin got out the map form his pack, “Yea… well not really. It’s supposed to pass through the third layer entirely. Only way to get where we need to go.”
Ilea nodded, appearing next to him and grabbing the map, “I’ll be taking this with me as collateral should this be a trap in some way.” Ripping it out of his hands, she rolled it and handed it to one of her ashen limbs.
“Hey what the fuck?! Give that back lady, you wouldn’t want to anger us, right Baron?”
The dwarf looked at him and then back to Ilea, “I’d rather deal with you Austin, no offense.”
Ilea appeared next to Seath and grabbed her with three ashen limbs around the waist and back, “Just follow a minute or two later.” She said and spread her wings, jumping down before they could delay any further. She wanted to get to the fourth layer, likely the place where monsters in her needed range resided. Whatever treasure it was they were looking for, she couldn’t imagine a lot of things being particularly useful to her. At least here in the north. Gold was always welcome of course. Free falling into the hole, Ilea was surprised Seath didn’t so much as yelp at the dangerous maneuver.
Her sphere would inform her about anything long before it would be too late to react. She could of course not blink due to hanging on to the healer but it seemed like a sure way to know if it was a trap or not. The map was really just to irritate Austin. They fell for quite a while, longer than she had expected. Should’ve thrown down a pebble. The thought passed through her mind when the ground suddenly appeared at a very high speed below her. Ilea’s wings spread out, magic surging as they came to an abrupt stop, hovering a meter or two over the stone floor that had carvings etched into it.
Seath groaned, Ilea sending some healing mana through her. The sudden stop had bruised some of her muscles and she was about to puke before a combination of her and Ilea’s healing calmed her down. “Know anything about those?”
“What do you mean?” Seath groaned, still held up by Ilea’s ashen limbs.
“The etchings on the ground. Might be enchantments of some sort.”
Seath looked at her, “I can’t see well in the dark. Austin will have to have a look.”
I thought cats didn’t have that issue…, They waited for a while, Ilea trying to make sense of the etchings. A couple minutes later the others joined them, the sound of Baron grinding down the chute unmistakable. Austin was simply sitting on one of the dwarf’s massive shoulders with an annoyed look on his face. “Stop guys!” Seath spoke, grinding growing louder before they came to a stop right above them. “Don’t want to get squashed…,” She said, looking at Ilea with an accusing look.
Ilea was somewhat confident she could’ve stopped them with a hand but this worked as well. “We’ve got etchings in the ground. Your passage is closed.”