Chapter 277 Mist and Ash
She reached the entrance to the Tremor dungeon and refocused on the tasks at hand. Either way, returning to the human plains or staying here in the north, she would want to get strong enough to face her enemies or anything that might pop up. She wanted to be able to face the kingsguard and not have to hide from some leathery shit birds. Having to flee from a bunch of mind magic bugs didn’t sit well with her but with time and focus, she’d get there. That was the beauty of this world.
Maybe I’ll find some time to have a bout with Elfie. To get some of that frustration out. Ilea knew of course that another challenge would always show up but there was a difference between an imposing monster like a Taleen Praetorian and some small birds or weird mist beings, neither particularly intelligent nor dangerous looking. It felt like she was a bug hiding from spiders, not an enhanced powerful human hiding from monsters born from magic itself. Her wings dissolved when she landed in the cathedral, having shot through one of the open windows before she came to a stop, crouching. Standing up, she looked around and found Elfie tapping his table, looking at her with an impatient look.
“Good mood mister Elf?” She asked, staring back at him. The elf didn’t reply, just continuing to scratch into the wood with his long claw like nails. “I’ll check out what they’re doing and update you.” She said, walking towards the dungeon entrance. He was likely fuming, to be so close to talking to ancient royalty and yet so far away. “I could check your health when you go in, heal you if it really is dangerous for your body.” Ilea commented offhandedly, noticing his scratching stopped but he didn’t call out so she went in.
Several pathways to the palace were cleared of knights, the only dangerous part being the actual building itself and the underground structure still occupied by the Kingsguard. Ilea blinked through the wall and into the throne room, waiting for the patrolling knight before she appeared behind him, down into the underground right after. Terok’s noise canceling and visual disturbance enchantments were still in place, enough apparently to not alert any of the undead knights to the new activity in their vicinity.
Appearing inside, the sound of drilling immediately came to her ears, Ilea finding Terok working while Elana waited next to a sizable hole in the wall. “Welcome back.” The queen said, giving her a quick look.
“Hey. Drilling out under the palace to get out?” Ilea asked, looking inside the hole to find Terok at the end, the drill stopping as he cursed at the marble.
“He has to repair his drill every other minute. It’s going to take a month or longer and Maro says the enchantment reaches around too. The dwarf will hit it soon and then it’s back to deactivating it.” Elana explained.
Ilea looked back to the door and frowned, “It’s open though, is the enchantment still in place?”
Elana shook her head and took a couple steps away from the opening in the wall, “The door itself is special. Neither me nor Terok managed to deactivate the whole enchantment, just make an opening to slip in and out. The door allows it because there is supposed to be an entry.”
Ilea frowned, “We can probably find an easier way.” She thought about it but Elana waved her off.
“Don’t mind. As long as Maro can’t leave there isn’t any big reason to get out anyway. I do want to see what has happened to my kingdom, to the capital. And I’m interested to meet the elf he has talked about. They’re rarely willing to talk to humans, I’m not letting that chance slip by.”
Ilea chuckled, “You’re already thinking about political advantages the information could bring you.”
Elana had an unreadable expression on her face, “Maybe I am.” She said after a moment.
Looking at Terok bending back the metal on his drill extension, Ilea crossed her arms, “Why did you never try that?”
“I tried. Lack the punch sadly. This isn’t normal marble, of course it isn’t.” She said and glanced back to where the king resided in his machine, “He wanted it to be noise canceling for his festivities as well as durable enough to stand against high level explosion and light mages. Just in case.”
“So he didn’t just think about himself after all.” Ilea said but Elana just rolled her eyes. “You’re a mist mage right?”
Elana looked at her, a whirl of mist forming around her. “Care to train it a little against me?”
Raising an eyebrow, Elana gave her a sly grin, “You’re working on your resistances? I assume your pain tolerance is rather high. Maro was never willing to tell me what the second stage does but I’m sure he got it at some point.” She looked at Ilea with her silver eyes but she tried to give nothing away in her blue eyes, her black helmet still covering her face. “Good thinking.” Elana said eventually, “If you can heal it will be quite efficient training for the both of us, though I have my mist skills at their highest already. Might be good to train these old bones again however. Let’s use one of the side rooms. Just in case anything goes sideways.”
Ilea waved at Terok who gave her a thumbs up before continuing. Following Elana into the room, she stored away her armor and got on clothes, the shirt’s middle section already destroyed from previous training. “Focus on the stomach.”
“It’s mist, no need to target anything in particular.” The queen replied, the element forming around her before it spread in the room. Ilea felt it damage her immediately upon touch, as if an acid burning into her skin. It didn’t leave a trace but her health was going down. She watched blades form around the woman before they floated at her and passed through. It felt like a part of her soul was cut out and taken, Ilea gasping at the feeling. Of course only her health had been taken but the sensation was highly unpleasant.
Elana looked at her, silver eyes visible in the mist that swirled around her slightly distorted form, “Not even a scream… have you experienced an attack like that before?”
Ilea didn’t reply, simply healing back her health, “It’s just health or is it damaging something else?”
“Some have speculated the soul itself is reaped but I’ve found that to be sadly just superstition.” She said, her smirk visible through the thin mist.
Ilea nodded slowly. “You’ve certainly got your intimidation down. I don’t want to imagine all the experimentation you did on the subject.” She replied, watching the mist whirl around her arm, like invisible needles plucking away the life in her body.
“You don’t.” The reply short and final.
Ilea left it at that, “Ever heard of the Azarinth Order?” She carefully watched the queen’s body and her face through her sphere, finding no major reaction at the name.
“A healing order? I think I recall the name.” She thought on it for a moment before she continued speaking, “The far south… I think we had one of theirs try and recruit in Tremor. I don’t think they were particularly successful. Something about a high risk initiation but a bunch of orders and organizations had that. Probably linked to blood manipulation or some form of elixir.”
Been a while since I heard about that, so the order was around whenever Rhyvor was a thing. “What about the Red church and the Descent dungeon? It’s not too far away from here.” Ilea changed the conversation towards her more recent discoveries. This time there was a visible change on her face.
“The red church? No, though I can see it being a fitting name linked with that dungeon. One of the only established cities in the wilderness near Tremor was the independent city of Eravor. We tried to incorporate it into the Rhyvor empire many times and were it not for the war I’m sure it would’ve taken only another ten to twenty years. Many of their leaders were interested and trade as well as contracts basically made them a part of us already.” Elana explained.
“Why the reaction?” Ilea asked.
She looked at her and smirked, “Dungeons can bring a lot of resources, both materials as well as stronger people living in a city. The Descent was different, a dungeon that led further and further down, never ceasing in discoveries and powerful monsters. An adventurer’s dream. I remember it having dozens of layers, some speculated it went on to the core of the world.”
Ilea tapped her leg, continuously healing the damage she inflicted with her magic. “There are level two hundred monsters in the second layer. Do the layers not increase in powerful monsters?” She quickly checked the message popping up in her mind.
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 8’
This time it was Elana who was surprised, “Two hundred? No, the second layer was level twenty at best… that was why it was such a lucrative place to own. Adventurers could train to their hundreds or even two hundreds in that dungeon alone. Maro would know more about it, he went there a couple times to test himself and his group.”
“You weren’t part of his group?” Ilea asked in response, thinking about the implications. Of course Tremor had changed as well. The city above the Descent was now part of the dungeon and Goliath had spoken of a great change befalling the north. Maybe it’s all connected?
Elana shook her head, “Not then, not anymore. I had a country to govern. Most of our original party had gone their own ways by that point.” She explained and was silent for a while, lost in thought.
“What could’ve made the monsters so much stronger then? Same with this one, if you say the kingsguard were nowhere near this level when Maro raised them.” Ilea asked, getting a hard stare from the woman.
“King Maro… his majesty…,” Ilea just stared at her and let the blades of mist flow through her, the sensation now ignored that she knew it to be harmless. The queen apparently calmed down again, “I don’t know… higher mana density usually leads to higher leveled monsters… either deeper down underground, higher up in the mountains… other possible extremes like an especially cold or hot climate, experimentation by powerful mages. Perhaps it has something to do with the cities having been big population centers… long ago.” The last two words were barely audible.
Ilea nodded, “Maybe. Doesn’t explain the change in geography.”
“I’ll be the judge of that once I’m getting out of here.” Elana said, sending another set of mist blades her way. Ilea checked with both her sphere and healing skill to see what exactly happened. The mist didn’t pass through but neither did it bounce off and go around.
Maybe something like a pocket dimension? Like my necklace? But then it could damage something we don’t know about. Ilea was pretty sure it wouldn’t suddenly kill her, not after mind magic, curses and more conventional elements and attacks hadn’t managed to. The main reason she wasn’t concerned was the fact that not all mages were casting mist magic. “You don’t want to stay with your king?”
“I will be able to travel through freely. We… we’ve been married for decades young warrior, this is nothing.”
Ilea didn’t believe her, didn’t believe that her time alone down here hadn’t damaged her in one way or the other. Neither was it her concern. Perhaps if she ever became her friend but she wasn’t looking for more people to care about right now. Hearing the queen call her a young warrior made it quite clear the woman wasn’t exactly open either. “What are you going to do once you can leave?”
Elana looked at her and sent out another set of attacks, not answering her question. Ilea had some ideas. Maybe she doesn’t believe us and thinks we’re some sort of spies or enemies of her country. The woman had been holding out for so long, it was possible she just wanted to drink some of the famous wine her country was known for. “You can hit harder, I barely have to heal.” Ilea added.
“You have good healing, coupled with the offensive power. The Azarinth order… I believe they were warrior healers of sorts. Are you part of the order then?” Elana asked.
Ilea let her healing mana flow through her as the mist magic intensified, burning away at her health, “No. Stumbled upon a ruin where I managed to learn their class. Not that I had a choice.” She said with a smile. It was definitely lucky. Wolves or a random Drake would’ve likely killed her without a class. There was a chance she would’ve gotten something more generic but likely not something with a healing aspect.
Elana looked skeptical. Not something Ilea could fault her for. If she had been the queen of a country, she’d question everything people told her, thrice. “They weren’t anything special, otherwise I would’ve known about them. Must have been a small chance for you to stumble into it.”
Ilea smiled, “I appeared nearby when I came to this realm. With what I found I’m not quite sure the Azarinth order was always small and irrelevant but any librarian I’ve met hasn’t heard of it. Some rare people do, you included.”
“You seek someone to train you?”
Ilea shrugged, “Might be worth hearing from a more experienced warrior but honestly, I think I’m beyond the point where many could guide me.”
Elana looked her up and down, “Truly. You passed me in level as well since the last time we met.” A smirk on her face, the queen seemed to be considering something but she didn’t add anything. “If you level your skills as high as you can and gain a lot of resistances I’m sure you’ll be just fine once the class evolution takes place. Humans at three hundred are rare as it is. Even Maro only reached it a couple years before the war.”
Ilea raised her eyebrows. So the king is at three hundred.
“You will be able to learn some things from him I’m sure. He is definitely closer to your spirit than myself.” Elana said with a smile, mist continuing to whirl around her. “If you ever want to govern a city or country, I’m willing to counsel you.”
Ilea smirked, “If it ever comes up I’ll make sure to seek you out. Or perhaps the wiser thing would be to avoid you entirely, have you assassinated perhaps.”
The queen laughed, her smile turning vicious, “To quote an ash creator I have met not long ago, I would like to see you try.”
Ilea winked at her, thinking that perhaps Claire would benefit from Elana’s experience but as it stood the woman would try to take over and if she was anywhere near as capable as she sold herself as, the empire would be under her control in a matter of years or few decades. I don’t know the current empress though. “Don’t cause a war.” Ilea said, leaving out her thought process. Elana looked at her, a flash of understanding in her eyes.
“I’m sorry.” The woman said after a minute, for what exactly Ilea didn’t know. The wars she had caused, the war Ilea had seen and fought in or perhaps the wars she would inevitably cause if she got out of Tremor and seized power somewhere else. The words weren’t meaningless, spoken with intent.
Ilea didn’t reply, thinking about what was happening in the empire right now, likely in more countries she didn’t even know about. It had been easy to ignore back on Earth, where she would just be another human in a complicated conflict. Here she could already make a difference, at least force people to not murder random citizens. The conflicts of course were still complicated. Until she could walk into the palace and slap the leaders to sanity, there was nothing major she could do to stop the wars at least. Human nature wouldn’t budge either way and she couldn’t be everywhere at once.
The worst part was that Ilea barely cared. Her human self was aware of the responsibility that came with her growing power. She could hunt down murderers and slavers, influence the very law towards a more modern and educated baseline learned on Earth. Already she had saved dozens if not more people from certain death or at least slavery. Still, it meant little to her, the only emotion she could find when she thought back to Virilya, to the demon hordes in Ravenhall was anger. Distant anger as wherever it had been back then, only a dull numbness was left.
The new side of herself she had discovered in Elos told her to look out for herself, to find stronger and more exciting things to fight, places desolate of people to explore. They should be damned and left alone with their wars and politics, forever circling around their struggles for power and dominance. Elana standing before her seemed like a personification of it all. Perhaps she had tried but what did it lead to? Her country was still ravaged by war, still destroyed and forgotten by time. Lost in ruins somewhere in the north. Ilea sighed, only now noticing the ash around her, swirling and protecting her, her limbs stretched out and cutting into the marble and the wooden table. Elana had stepped back, out of the range of the black whirlwind pushing away the mist in the room.
Looking at her hand, Ilea found the red glow of her Azarinth runes, the fiery lines of her embers. Calming herself down, the ash slowed, her limbs resting near her back. The black mist dissolved, Ilea walking out of the room and past a silent Elana. “We will resume the training later.” Ilea said, offhandedly.