Chapter 278 Royal Advice
Looking to her left, there was Terok, working his way into the marble as he cursed. To her right was the machine holding Maro, king of Rhyvor. Ilea sighed, finding herself calm despite the rather embarrassing outburst she just had. It should be embarrassing…, She thought, caring little about the queen’s opinion on the matter. Her emotions had been in a turmoil. Pragmatically, Ilea knew she had been through a lot of extreme situations in the past years. A lot of situations that could’ve caused trauma or resulted in some other form of damage or stress on her mind. She was feeling alright, her healing or meditation taking care of the worst.
She had nightmares, although rarely. She was in control of herself, didn’t shake or had outbursts. At least other than the one that had happened just now. Sighing, she clenched her fists. “Trying to keep it together?” She heard a voice to her right, looking at the king, his bushy gray beard and hair unkempt. Ilea couldn’t help but laugh at the look and her ridiculous situation.
Could be worse. She thought, walking towards the king. “A year, two? I was living a peaceful life in a realm devoid of magic and monsters. Now I’m more powerful than most humans. I could influence wars you know?”
He didn’t laugh, didn’t comment with a joke. Maro looked at her and nodded lightly, “I was made king. Of a country that grew around me, built by capable friends and the queen. Running away always seemed like a lovely option.”
Ilea grabbed a chair and sat down next to him, “Why didn’t you?”
“I did. Several times. Until Elana took over. I was out on my expeditions, in unknown dungeons or fighting monsters previously unthinkable. The deal was that I had to be in Tremor for a week every two months. That was all.” Maro explained. “Though I still wish I hadn’t been king… or as involved as I was. In the end I was here for a month, then I didn’t leave anymore at all. Too many people I knew, too many lives I dared not lose.”
Ilea smiled, “Could’ve been just a warrior… head of the expedition force or something.”
“I don’t know if you noticed Miss Ilea but I’m terribly good looking. How could I refuse the position of king. The humble, charming and strong king Maro.” He said it all with a mocking tone, winking at her in the end. “Don’t make the mistakes I did. Learn about who you are and don’t entangle yourself in a life that shackles and binds you.”
Ilea looked at the machine clinging to his body, “Fitting metaphor.” The man laughed, nodding in the end.
“Can you trim my beard and shorten my hair a little?” He asked, Ilea’s brows rising.
Ilea checked through her necklace but found her cleanup had left her without any knifes, “I’m neither a hairdresser nor do I have the necessary tools.”
The king shook his head lightly, “You’re an ash creator… I think that is sufficient to cut through hair, if your skill is at the necessary level for your two hundred and sixty. Plus you’re a healer and I have a high pain tolerance.”
Ilea nodded, forming something like a blade of ash in her hand, making the element as dense as possible, “You have the second tier?”
“Perhaps.” The man replied.
She chuckled and stood up, taking a couple steps towards him, “Why not tell her what it does?”
The man looked a little hurt before he grinned, “There is enough pain in the world isn’t there Miss Ilea.” Not really an answer but Ilea understood well enough.
Taking the knife to his hair, she started cutting. The blade of ash wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool she had ever used but it did the job with a bit of applied force, “What necessary skill level did you mean?”
His head was bobbing up and down from the forceful hair care, “At least second stage, anybody not human would expect second tier level twenty. Third tier helps, that at the maximum level as well of course.”
“Did you do all that? Heard you’re at three hundred already. Any pointers? Third class?” Ilea asked, checking the symmetry of her work with her sphere. Definitely not a hidden talent in cutting hair.
“I am, finally broke through a couple years ago. Getting all second tier skills up to twenty was definitely worth it for the evolutions. I doubt it’s possible with the third tier skills, assuming you don’t want to train for a few hundred years alone and hidden away. The skills need high level enemies to get higher, same as class levels after three hundred.”
“What are you at now?” Ilea asked, accidentally cutting into his flesh and drawing blood. The wound was healed again immediately.
He didn’t even react, “Three ten. Oh, might be interesting, third tier skill points are rewarded at three hundred and three ten. I think it’s every ten levels after three hundred. Haven’t gotten a third class so far but several sources… all unreliable mentioned having gotten one after three hundred. Through one reckless idiocy or another.”
Ilea knew Terok had mentioned something similar. “I can add another unreliable source to that. What did you try already?” She was already feeling better about not training up her third tier skills to the maximum before advancing to three hundred.
“Not much. There wasn’t enough time and the war had started already. Facing down a Soul Ripper hadn’t done it. Neither had slaughtering a whole company of mercenaries.” Maro talked about it as if neither was worth a mention.
Ilea nodded and cleaned away the loose hair with some ash that formed around his head. “You’ll find something I’m sure.”
Maro laughed, “You’ll be able to tell me about it. I don’t think you’ll be able to clear out the Kingsguard before reaching three hundred. Maybe that will give you another class? I heard they give minor bonuses though. I’m more interested what your evolutions hold. A healer and ash creator. I always though ash was suited more for medium or close range rather than long range. Is it an extension of your body already?”
Ilea felt no need to keep something like that from him, “It is. The only downside is my inability to teleport if it touches the enemy.”
He nodded, “Once your control gets to the point of perfection that will hardly matter. Trust me.”
Ilea smiled, “I’ve been a little unsure how to spend my stats. All of them seem important.” The man had something about him that made her trust him. There’s a reason he was made king. A reason Terok trusted him so easily compared to Elana. “Is it a spell?”
Maro laughed again, his green eyes sparkling. His hair looked much better now. Not well cut but at least not as wild and unkempt as it had been before, “It isn’t if you can believe it. You can trust me however, if that makes it any easier. I believe people have a better intuition than they think. I have no interest in misleading or manipulating you Miss Ilea. You are after all an interesting warrior, one that could free me from this self inflicted predicament.”
Ilea stared at him, trying to discern anything in the mana around her. Without a sight for it it was impossible of course. At least if it was something more subtle. Perhaps it was his smell. Charm or charisma…, A hard to define trait but with this man it was almost graspable. Ilea was annoyed, remembering descriptions in romance novels she had tried to read. She wasn’t attracted to him but she trusted him, for no reason at all. “Are you sure there isn’t anything magical about it? Are you human at all?”
The man smiled again, “Some mages talked about how my mana flows weirdly but I believe its a combination of all my great traits. Handsome looks, peak humor, perfect physique…,”
Ilea interrupted him as she started trimming, “Magnificent beard.”
“Exactly. What about your stats? Vitality and Wisdom are likely most important. Especially facing monsters of greater level and alone. No matter how much Intelligence or Strength you have, you won’t be able to avoid damage or prolonged battles.”
Ilea had done as much, the two her highest leveled stats. “Intelligence boosts all my magic, my auras, creation and manipulation as well as Mana Intrusion spells. Still, Strength is specifically boosted by my auras. Would I get more damage out of my stats if I invested in Strength rather than Intelligence?”
Maro thought for a while, “It’s a balancing act. How many of your skills are of magical nature? How many of purely physical? If your auras… body enhancement I assume, boost Strength, I suggest not leaving it behind completely. Fighting close combat you shouldn’t completely ignore Dexterity either.”
“What about you? You’re a necromancer. A mage. How is your distribution?” Ilea asked.
“Asking the king of a powerful nation about his stat distribution. You remind me of myself Miss Ilea.”
“Just Ilea is fine, Maro?”
He nodded lightly, “I’m at seven hundred Vitality, seven hundred Intelligence, nine hundred Wisdom, four hundred Endurance, three hundred Strength and a little over two hundred Dexterity. I’ve got skills boosting my Intelligence as well as Endurance. Make of it what you will.”
Ilea listened. He was definitely more specialized but not as much as she would’ve expected. Why a necromancer had more than fifty Dexterity was confusing. “Why the Strength and Dexterity then? Wouldn’t fifty or even less be enough?”
“That’s what I did early on. Dodging projectiles when my mana was near empty, shields down and only my body to defend myself against a warrior and his weapons. Let’s just say I found reasons enough to invest in physical stats. Fighting against higher leveled beings, even with the multipliers from my skills, I would never trade one of the few points in Strength that I have for one in Intelligence. The latter is what allows me to kill them in the first place but the rest enables me to survive until then. I do believe my Dexterity is a little higher than necessary but I’ve always been more on the impulsive side.” He laughed, having explained in detail.
“Same here. I found most monsters more susceptible to mana intrusion than pure physical damage. Why I focused on Intelligence more lately. Plus most of my skills are magical in nature.”
Maro laughed again, “You must have had a bad time against my knights then. Stonehammer coupled with the constant healing must’ve made them formidable opponents.”
She just stared at him, “Definitely.” She said, grinning. Ilea wondered how the fights would’ve gone with six hundred Strength instead of Intelligence. With her Auras that value would’ve skyrocketed to over three thousand. Nearly all her other skills as well as Destruction and Wave of Ember would’ve been significantly less powerful. Plus her auras themselves were magical in nature. Wisdom would bring her more mana and mana recovery, more healing and more sustain.
“You’re not entirely wrong by the way. There’s a reason people try to defend against mana intrusion. Same as mind magic or blood magic. I’ve found destructive healing magic part of that list as well.” He sighed, “You make me want to get out there again and I’ve only been stuck for a couple weeks here.”
Ilea nodded, “Soon enough. I’ll be happy to have a bout against you.”
The man smiled brightly, “Something to look forward to, other than the fact that Rhyvor is no more.”
“She doesn’t seem to be convinced completely.” Ilea whispered.
Maro smiled and looked past her, “Elana always confirmed, wanted to see for herself and make sure there was no stone left unturned. Don’t fault her for it, she has shouldered the fate of hundreds of thousands.”
Ilea was aware, cutting off the last part of his beard she was working on. There was still some left, some sections worse than others but again, it certainly looked better than what it had been before. Dissolving her ashen knife, she sat down again, “You mentioned an ash creator you knew?”
Maro nodded, “Thanks for the shave. Not being able to scratch myself has been driving me mad. A member of my late party, Khan. He was working towards the three hundreds but hadn’t reached it yet when this all started.” He said, gesturing around himself with his head, “He used ranged attacks, spears and clouds of ash mostly. Blood enhancer as his second class. Nasty attacks, that’s for sure. He was always complaining that he couldn’t get his ash creation and manipulation to the third tier. I think he refrained from spending his third tier points because of that.”
“You think that was the right decision?” Ilea asked, not mentioning that she had both in her third tier already. She wondered how a ranged attacker would benefit from the third tier manipulation. Might be a different third tier for him?
The king thought about it and then shook his head, “I don’t think it was. Know that this is only one way to look at things but I always thought the reason third tier skills needed certain unknown requirements was necessary to enhance once’s strengths, focus on what you’ve proven to have mastered. Perhaps his talents never lay with manipulation and creation, maybe he didn’t understand the element very well after all. His eyes however were second to none, his ability to spot and utilize enemies’ weaknesses. The man just didn’t want to waste a point in such a skill he deemed so natural and second nature. The fact that he treated it that way would’ve been reason enough for me to chose it before all others.”
Eyes of Ash, Ilea thought. A passive skill she rarely thought about, the second tier usually ignored. To think the man had been so good at it Maro called his eyes second to none. “I always just chose what felt right.”
“Exactly how I did it. And look at me, still alive after likely thousands of years.” He laughed, “I’m pretty sure Khan died in one dungeon or the other. Maybe he’s still trying to get his ash creation to the third tier.” He didn’t laugh, the realization that his friend had likely died a long time ago likely surreal.
“You’ve been to the Descent haven’t you?” Ilea asked, trying to change the subject to something a little less heavy.
“That one still around?” He laughed, “Was harder to sneak into the city than fighting down into the dungeon. The first twenty levels were trivial but then the first level two hundred creatures showed up. The increase after that was ten or more levels fore each level. Wore us down and after three days we left again. I would’ve liked to try again but Elana screamed at me for a full four hours because of the diplomatic problems this brought to the kingdom.”
Ilea snorted, “They found you?”
“Of course. Not too many people at the twentieth layer, let alone the twenty fifth. Some even recognized me, old friends and rivals.” He smiled at the memory.
“There are level two hundred monsters at layer two now. Level three fifty at layer four.” She said.
He looked at her, intrigued rather than shocked, “Interesting. A truly dangerous place then. Terok has told me about the north… the arcane storms and the mists at night. I would love to study either. Get on with it Ilea and get more powerful. When will you try again anyway?”
Ilea thought about it, “Three hundred I guess. Not sure if I’ll win. Depends on the evolution I guess. How much power I gain.”
“I got a pretty solid increase but I don’t want my only hope to die because of my impatience.” The king said.
“You’re aware that your wife has been down here, conscious for at least a couple decades.” Ilea teased and he just shook his head.
“She’s made from a different material. Patience and intrigue. Place us both in front of a wild beast and you’ll see who will face it.”
Ilea rolled her eyes, “I don’t think she’d run. Only if it’s too strong for her.”
“Exactly.” He brimmed with joy.
This time she laughed, “Yea, you really are an idiot. Once I get you out we’ll go hunt monsters together. You need some creatures to raise after I destroyed all your knights.”
He nodded, his smile waning, “Can I ask you for something Ilea?” She gestured for him to continue, “The kingsguard… once you are able to face them. Please keep their corpses. I would like to… see them off myself. You have a storage item do you not? Otherwise I’m sure there’s one or two left in the treasury. We’ll get it open before you reach the necessary strength.”
Ilea nodded. “I have one and I won’t burn them before you’re free. Even if you just want to raise them and use them against me.”
He laughed, “My evil necromantic plan, exposed! Bring me my scheming wife, she must learn of your incredible foresight.”
Ilea didn’t react, instead summoning the dead life serpent she had found, “Any use for this? Supposed to have been a life serpent.”
“A good find.” He commented, looking at the skeleton in her hand, “The machine doesn’t allow me to add more than the designated corpses but I’d love to experiment with it once I’m free.
Ilea put it on one of the counters next to his machine. “The Descent holds a bunch of monsters inside that I believe were changed by something called a Tuner. Ever heard of anything like that?”
Maro nodded, “I heard of it. Security was too tight in the dungeon back then but it was a closely guarded secret in Eravor. Blood manipulation… I tried to get to one but their enchantments were annoying to say the least. Plus any relations Elana had built would’ve been reduced to ashes.”