Chapter 276 Dark Ones

“Gratitude and love? Seems like an interesting story. Any chance you’re willing to tell it to a human?” Ilea asked with a smile, storing her helmet and starting to eat. She offered some to the fae but it just looked at the food curiously, not willing to touch any of it. Ilea made it a game to try and force feed it with several tendrils of ash holding small pieces of rice or vegetables. The fae dodged and teleported around her body to avoid it, the pieces that got through hitting the barrier and lighting up in white flame. Ilea ate them before they disintegrated, the fire not an issue against her Heat Resistance. It reminded her of Viper’s attacks but she had no way to communicate with the fae.

The smith crossed its arms, done with her chest piece that left bruises on her she healed away quickly. “To a human, no. It is not a story lightly shared. You on the other hand, have proven a friend to me, to us. To the darkness, the depths of magic and the arcane itself.”

Taking another bite, she waited for Goliath to get to the point. “Few is recorded, for lack of fingers, tools and ingenuity. Stories told with feelings, emotions transferred through thought, paintings or sound and magic itself. Know that much is lost as I translate into words, spoken in sound. In the time before, before me and most of those alive or dead in this age, many creatures, races, machines and forces too abstract to put into words fought for superiority, for power. It is said that the birth of the dark ones was one accompanied by fear and confusion by many of the knowing creatures.”

“Hunting, killing, destruction. It was only logical to respond to the unknown with fear and aggression. For many so it was. Fae, spirits of old, though some likely not older than you, they were some of the first dark ones, some of the most powerful. Never did they intervene actively, yet shelter they provided to the injured, the broken and the newly born of our kind, be it shadow, wisp, beings of any shape and kind born to conscience through the arcane. The fathers and mothers, protectors to many a kind that would otherwise have been rid off this world.”

Ilea flicked the magical shield of the fae now sitting on her shoulder again, eyes fixated on the smith before it looked at her, “Nice job little one.” Goliath had a confusing look in his eyes at the gesture, “Weren’t dark ones born all the time though? As far as I understand you were once monsters that found conscience. Was there some catalyst that suddenly had you appear or form? And why can’t they talk or communicate if they’re dark ones too?”

Goliath thought about her words for a long moment, “Perhaps there was an event. A question many have sought and I believe many will seek until time is no more. A more appropriate explanation is that the races of blood expanded and dug far enough to find and challenge the dark ones living peacefully. I must admit many of them are not, peaceful that is. Hunters, deceivers, evil beings seeking goals not quite differing from those of many a human, elf or dwarf. History is fickle, even written it is a subjective telling of the past. Young human, you must understand how difficult it becomes when it is mere emotions, a fleeting feeling or a song without words that depict events passed a thousand years ago.”

Ilea nodded, at least sharing some sort of respect now for the little fae. “It’s below level one hundred, do they have abilities that would allow sheltering against hunters of the elves for example?” She asked, thinking of the most powerful race she could.

“They are peculiar. Ashen warrior, I have not the answer you seek though songs of old speak of them in the same reverie as the beasts of the north and the high mountains beyond.”

Ilea blinked, “Beasts of the north? Aren’t we in the north? What are the high mountains you speak of?”

Goliath closed its eyes before looking at her intently, “Perhaps we are. Though you are in the lower regions as far as I am told. I have not traveled the above in… a long time. The farther you travel north the higher and more hostile the mountains grow. Creatures far beyond anything you have likely ever faced occupy those parts of the world. Perhaps they have all died out and some other race has taken over yet it is for you to discover such.”

“You don’t seem to doubt my abilities…,” Ilea commented. She couldn’t wipe out the monsters in this area already, how was she supposed to fight even stronger ones higher up.

Goliath made a guttural noise she was pretty sure to be laughter at this point, “You have rescued a spirit of old, have searched the dungeons and fought the beasts within. It is your ambition I do not doubt Ilea, human blessed by ash. Your capabilities? We will see. If I have learned anything of value about your race, it is that your potential for growth is just as limitless as for anybody else. To start as weak as you do, with no advantages, affinities and with malice among your own people… I believe it forges you into something special.”

Ilea snorted, “We don’t have it harder than anybody else. Most people just don’t want to fight and kill monsters to get to a higher level.”

Goliath shook its head, “To ascend to your strength, struggle and danger are always necessary. The same is not true for a dark one or even perhaps other races. I might be content with my power but what I see in your eyes tells me you will never be. Do return with stories of your exploits, it is all I ask.”

Ilea couldn’t deny it completely. Any member of the Hand had at least a certain amount of combat experience. Of course someone like Austin had reached level two hundred. Others managed to somehow get to the level as well with surprising lack of combat experience or skill levels but at least no human randomly and without killing and fighting got to that point. Were elves born at other levels? Dark ones apparently were… they struggled as well, just before they became conscious. That was at least her understanding. The thing she was sure about, having trained for the past months was that reaching level three hundred was not something anybody could do without sufficient experience and combat.

“When do you think I could face a Dragon?” She asked, smirking at the smith. The fae turned its head to her and cocked its head sideways, the most expressive reaction she had noted from the little fellow since finding it.

Goliath didn’t reply with a laugh like Elfie did, “The Feynor are a more likely source for the answer you seek. I believe they revere those terrifying forces of nature in some way. Yet they are secretive and not kind to outsiders. Yet I believe you are not ready.”

Ilea nodded. That much was clear. “I think I saw one in one of the arcane storms. Huge wings but I couldn’t identify it or see more of the thing.”

“Perhaps. A monster like that is bound to seek the most powerful magic it can find.”

Ilea tapped the armor on her leg, “They’re dark ones too then? You guys like dense magic don’t you?”

“Perhaps. I have not met a dragon, only heard songs and stories, neither quite as favorable as those about the spirit sitting on your shoulder.” Goliath explained.

Another set of steps suddenly appeared inside the sound proof area, Ilea’s sphere picking up the familiar man. The white dragon like mask didn’t give up anything about his face, the black coat and darkness within pointing towards a dark one. “Word travels quickly. Warrior blessed by ash, savior of the spirit.” He greeted and bowed, being quite a bit more respectful than before.

“Great smith, I will be departing in the span of a cycle. Have thee deliberated the offer.” The dark one said, his recruitment apparently not only focused on the Abyss.

Goliath made a noise Ilea interpreted as a sigh, “Mage of Void. I have no desire to join your efforts of war or to meet the Protector you speak of.”

“So be it.” Ilea was surprised at the respectful acceptance of Goliath’s decline. Looking at her, he seemed to be thinking of his words, “The offer stands for thee, warrior of ash. I will be talking of your exploits. The Dark Protector will be sure to repay you in kind for what you have done.”

Ilea rolled her eyes at the name, “Where can I find this dark protector?”

“Northwards. In the City of Dawn. Find a guide. Any cost to hire them will be compensated by me personally.” The dark one answered, bowing to her again. “I will not be intruding in thy business any further. Prevail and ascend.”

Goliath made an angry noise when the mage left again. “Why the dislike?” Ilea asked, summoning the gear she had found in the fourth layer. Rusty armor and the daggers as well as swords that were still in good shape.

The smith immediately hovered over to her and took some of the pieces into his big hands, “Prevail and ascend. I believed once that the dark ones are beyond such primitive philosophies.”

Ilea huffed out some air, smiling to herself, “There’s good and bad. In any species.”

“Perhaps.” Goliath said, moving one of the pieces in his hands, trying to bend it.

“Haven’t met all of them but so far it’s true. Humans, dwarfs, elves, dark ones. I doubt any being capable of thought is purely evil or good.” Ilea suggested, “What is it?”

“Red gold… and… something more rare. May I forge it?” Ilea just nodded, “There are those more strange, not as individualistic or quite as intelligent. I have heard of many a strange being living in this world. May your judgment and understanding grow with time human.”

“Prevail and ascend.” She said, grinning.

“Understand and grow.” The smith replied, having understood her sarcasm. “The red gold will be of little use to you, at least as armor. I have made some progress with the armor you have asked of me, if you would still like me to continue. I will implement it if you would allow it.”

“Sure, whatever makes you happy. Maybe Terok would like some of it too.” She said. If the dwarf is still alive. She was curious what the smith would come up with for her armor. Goliath thought her stonehammer steel sets as mundane but she doubted it understood practicality, at least not after the dark one had shown her some of its creations.

“I appreciate your addition to my tasks.” Goliath said seriously, starting to fire up the forge.

“What should I do about the little guy? Will it stay with me now, forever?” Ilea asked, looking at the fae who was hovering near the forge now.

Goliath put in one of the daggers and turned towards her, “It must have gotten lost, their kind one prone to travel and explore. It will wish to return to where they dwell.”

“And I have to bring it there?”

“No. If you wish to help, you may bring it to the surface. Once in the light of the sun or stars, it will find its way.” Goliath explained, Ilea nodding. The one she had found in the cave with her team had stayed with her until they exited as well. Was that the same? The thing had flown off and vanished right after.

Taking out the glowing dagger, Goliath hammered on it a couple times before inspecting it. “As I assumed. Dark Silver. A rare metal yet again. May I use it in your armor too?”

Ilea nodded, a tendril of ash intercepting the floating fae coming back to her. “Sure. Hey, is there gear to protect against mind magic? The blue reaper nest is full of them.”

“Perhaps enchantments might lend what you look for. Metals with bad mana pass through combined with mana intrusion will be your best bet, warrior.” Goliath explained.

Ilea sighed, “Enough to ignore five of them attacking at the same time?”

“No.” The answer simple and spoken with confidence, “Not even a single one. They are feared for a reason.”

“Any ideas about the Penumra dungeon then? Or the Mist stalkers? The fourth layer of the Descent is pretty empty and I need something to fight.”

“Prevail and ascend after all.” The smith mocked, “Even the best blade needs to be wielded. Against the savage beasts of these lands I can only lend you a layer of protection, a weapon that may cut through their skin.”

Ilea smiled, “What about the dwarf? He’s wearing a full suit that makes him faster, stronger.”

“And he has the necessary classes for it. Ask him if you seek something of the like but I can tell you already it is not worth your time.” The smith told her.

She frowned, getting up from her sitting position, “Can you add an assortment of interesting weapons as well, maybe I’d like to pick one up at some point.”

“You lack the skills and classes. To kill the monsters you hunt it is paramount that you focus on your strengths.”

“I don’t mean to hunt with them. More use them as a hobby maybe, for fun. I have a general skill for archery.” Ilea said, the smith looking at her with confused eyes.

“Humans… you are truly peculiar. So little time to your life and yet you stray from your given path for… fun? You have reached strength far surpassing mine, as well as likely most of your own kind. Perhaps your peculiarities would benefit them after all. I will prepare some weapons I have seen, the use of each however, I will not be able to teach.” The smith explained.

Ilea motioned for the fae who latched on to her shoulder again, “Thanks. I’ll be on my way then for now. Anything else you need? Apart from rare metals and stories of my ludicrous adventures?”

Goliath lifted a hand and then looked around, “I have. Heard from a friend. An interesting thing really. They have asked me not to mention it but if you were willing to share a cake with me…,” The smith looked away, a little embarrassed about the question.

“You’re friends with Catelyn?” Ilea asked, walking towards the exit, “Sure. I don’t have any here but when I return to the human plains I’ll bring some for you. Whenever that will be.”

The stars were bright that night, lakes of mist in the distance when she emerged from the caves, passing the Penumra entrance and flying up through the cracks in the stone. Landing on the ground, Ilea looked at the Miststalkers dancing a couple dozen meters away from her, “You’re out. Do you want to return to your home now?” Ilea asked the little fae on her shoulder.

She smiled at it when it released her, floating ahead and twirling in the air. A moment later the creature appeared before her face and bumped her helmet a little. The wind brushed against them when Ilea found herself alone in the desolate land. “Return safely.” She murmured, happy to have shared some time with the silent companion. An uncomplicated being. Ilea hoped she’d meet it again someday, perhaps changed enough to communicate with it. And find out they’re racist supremacists… who knows.

Spreading her wings, she sighed and started rushing towards Tremor. She had some questions for the king and she needed some advice on where to go. The Descent hadn’t proven to be the gold mine of levels she had expected. There were of course more layers to explore but maybe Terok or Elfie had some better suggestions. Some Mist magic resistance could make the difference in facing the Miststalkers as well. Not having entered their melee range, Ilea had only gotten Health and Mana Drain resistances when facing the creatures but if she wanted to kill them, the queen might be of service. With the golden key she had found, Ilea could at least skip to the fourth layer of the Descent whenever she felt like it.

The way back was interrupted by a group of Famine Crows intercepting her, forcing Ilea to move down into one of the crevices in the stone to hide and avoid the dangerous creatures. The things had suddenly crossed a lot of distance, teleporting in short bursts before they had reached her. Ilea had responded with her own blink, getting to safety. She noted her stamina was draining more quickly, the feeling of a curse coursing through her body. The birds at least didn’t follow her down into the crack, some smashing into the ground and the walls before they vanished again, the swarm flying away as silently as it had appeared. Hiding from some bloody birds…, Ilea sighed and continued through the cracks, making her way towards the dungeon she was familiar with.

In all corners of these lands there were creatures just above her ability to hunt. Something familiar might be nice at this point. There was always the option to just blink back to her house near Ravenhall but Ilea refused to go back without having managed a significant increase in power. There was no doubt she’d get involved in the city again, the war, a friend asking for her help or the inevitable search for the Golden Lily. Ilea wanted to make sure she was prepared.


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