Chapter 286 A Test
Ilea blinked to dodge the thrown spear, appearing with her back facing the doorway. She smiled when she saw the four warriors standing together, Terok although hidden inside his steel mech suit radiating anxiety. Facing a Centurion was quite a bit more ridiculous for his level than for the others but she expected less contribution from him as well. “Welcome. You’ve trained for a week and here’s your first challenge. A Taleen Centurion. Likely in the level range of three o five to three ten.” Ilea said, stepping to the side as she lifted her elbow a little, the spear glancing off before it smashed into the wall of the room.
“You will have to be able to handle them as easily as this before I allow you into the production facility.” She said, appearing next to the approaching machine that was now in the hall as well. Ilea didn’t attack, instead dodging as quickly as she could, the punches of the Centurion easily avoided. When its spear reappeared in its arms, the fight changed somewhat but she was still on top. She made it a game of deflecting as many of the blows as she could, only dodging when absolutely necessary. After a week of fighting them she was confident enough to face one of them with her blink reserved for emergencies only.
She started dodging again, moving around the machine to show its range of motion, speed and ability to adjust. “Compared to Guardians, these ones learn. They move in groups and go after your weaknesses. You will have to do the same if you ever hope to win. Use every advantage you can to prevail.” She finished and blinked up, wings spreading before she rushed behind them and landed. The Centurion stopped. Spear in hand it glanced at the newfound enemies that prepared their blades and magic.
Ilea watched the group quickly move into some sort of formation. Neiphato, the brown haired elf with his curved short swords at the front and left, Goldie and his bone claws at the front right with Heranuur right behind them. The were all close combat warriors. Ilea wondered if not a single tank with several mages flying to the side would be a more efficient constellation. At least they had Terok who could kind of do both. He immediately flew up and sent a metal spike at the centurion, the machine dodging but not anticipating the sudden movement of the projectile.
The fight that followed was as expected not the challenge it had been for the level one fifty Ilea facing a Taleen Centurion. Their tactics consisted of Neiphato and Goldie getting in strikes as well as distracting the machine before Heranuur moved in and used his fire explosion to damage the thing. Terok just sort of flew around and sent in his metal spikes. They did do damage and sometimes even garnered enough attention from the enemy to force a spear throw.
They had to play is somewhat safe, no healer a part of the group. Ilea was pretty sure every single one of them already had a good chance of taking out a Centurion on their own, if they used a similar strategy as she had back in the Iztacalum dungeon. Get in, dodge and deal damage before blinking away. What she was interested in would come in the next couple minutes. How they would deal with the explosion. The centurion was switching to its more aggressive stance, indicated by where it held the spear.
Ilea watched as nobody in the group seemed to change their approach, the elves rushing in just as they had before. Neiphato barely managed to dodge the spear thrust that opened up the machine to Goldie who seemed in a near complete frenzy at this point, slashing into the Centurion with confidence or recklessness. The slap that sent him stumbling to the side before a spear thrust to his chest nearly killed him made Ilea tend to think it recklessness. Terok had butted in, sending both himself and Goldie sprawling to the ground.
Heranuur picked up the machine’s attention by appearing next to it and exploding. Ilea saw the cracks form on its core and sighed, the elf having used his teleportation ability to get in not fast enough to avoid the quick grab by the Centurion. It held onto the grinning elf who continued to explode but Ilea knew it was too late already. Perhaps his damage was high enough to take out the enemy before it exploded but she wasn’t about to risk it. Blinking beside it, her ashen limbs smashed into the Centurion’s arms, Ilea pulling out the elf before throwing him to the side. Locking eyes with the machine, she shrouded herself in ash before the world went white.
Her sphere informed her about her surroundings and her own state as she sighed, thinking about the destroyed armor set. She had gone a whole week without major damage and now she was down to two just to send a message. Tremor as well as Goliath were just a couple hours away but the constant switching annoyed her. I want my pre two hundred fighting back with nothing capable of damaging Niameer steel. She knew she had likely just gotten lucky through it all and she should be grateful to have a capable smith so close by, willing to work for basically free.
The damage was not as substantial as she had expected, the blast being about as close as when she had killed one of them on her own for the first time. The armor was partially melted and cracked, some of it had cut into her body. Her own skin seemed to have withheld at lest the heat much better, only having sustained second to third degree burns. Last time she had been basically toast. Her pain shut off, she started peeling the steel out of her body, aware of the eyes on her throughout the process. Ilea’s health had only dropped by two thousand points, not even getting her to half health.
I wonder how much damage no armor would result in. She thought about it while ripping out another piece, blood dripping to the ground before the wound quickly healed. The burns were taken care of next, Ilea replacing her clothes and armor as soon as the old parts had been removed. Some of the worst damage had come from armor pieces cutting into her but the same could have happened with shrapnel coming from the centurion’s exploding body. Maybe I’ll try it later. She balled her fist, the last piece appearing to finish off the set.
“I think I could’ve taken that.” Heranuur commented. Upon her eyes reforming from the bloody mess behind her helmet and her questioning look staring at him, the elf seemed to reconsider. “Alright maybe not but we destroyed it either way.” He brushed away his wavy red hair.
Elven hair products…, Ilea ignored the message in her mind about the group effort, smiling as she saw Terok’s level grow by one. “What was the plan there? You knew it would explode.” Ilea said after a moment, the three elves and Terok trying to avoid looking at her. They really are just a bunch of teenagers. “Come on. I usually don’t have a plan either but compared to you I can take a lot more damage and I can heal.”
“Should have disengaged and just fucked off as soon as it was going to blow.” Terok suggested, shrugging as the others looked at him.
“Would work, yes. Well you know now that they get more aggressive after reaching critical health. Goldie, way too aggressive there. Any way you can stop yourself from getting so zealous?”
The elf hissed at her, “You wouldn’t understand human.”
Ilea nodded, “Yea that’s why I ask mate.” She shook her head, “You’re going to get killed with that either way. Might be enough to slaughter some level one hundred humans but you’re in trouble against anything stronger. Compared to your not cursed brethren, you sadly don’t have the luxury to pick easy targets.”
“Terok, not bad but I feel like your abilities lie more with close combat as well. Heranuur you did well, other than the last stunt. Be a bit more defensive, you can use your fireballs that way too.” The elf nodded at her.
“I’m aware human. The formation should use exactly that. Me at the back would prevent my immediate offensive involvement, letting the enemy get distracted. If Nephito would… well it doesn’t matter. Well the obvious problem is a lack of ranged attacks, leveling up should give us at least some options. The dwarf was a good help but you know, it was never supposed to be like this. Cerithil hunters fight alone against the Taleen. Team formations would slow down growth and with time, people inevitably die.” The elf explained.
Ilea got more than she expected, “Well you’re a better judge of this than me it seems. I don’t think I’ll be able to add much. Regarding the team formations at least… even if people die, you’ll be more efficient in the time you spend fighting together.”
Heranuur nodded, “Perhaps true but it is not our way. We agreed with the teacher because it was his and your requirement.”
“So you’ll be back to basically fighting in a group but alone as soon as you’re allowed into the dungeon?” Ilea asked, the elf shrugging in response.
Well that’s their problem. Ilea just wanted them out of the production facility, both to prevent them from dying for no reason and to get out of her way. Terok would benefit from the training as well and maybe they would allow themselves to see the added efficiency of working in a team. Of course she herself wasn’t one to talk. She knew exactly what Heranuur was talking about and she probably understood Goldie’s battle frenzy better than she let on. Alas, they lacked a healer and were simply not as powerful as they needed to be. Thankfully. Would’ve been a different first meeting that one.
She didn’t reply, instead shooing them towards the exit. Terok stepped next to her, “So what’d ya find?”
“City, not filled with Centurions but lower leveled Taleen machines.” She said, flying towards the exit with him next to her.
“And you let me fight these lunatics for a whole week? Ilea, the only time I spent sleeping was because I got knocked out. When do I start exploring?”
She snorted, “Might be good. Maybe you’ll get your healer ability if you get injured so often before the evolution. Soon probably. I’ll talk to Elfie…,”
“Teacher? Let me guess, you always wanted to become one but instead were banished, now looking to gather knowledge for the ages.” Ilea said after she had appeared next to the elf.
He scoffed, standing up as he looked the others over, “Did they pass your test?”
Ilea sat down on a big stone, watching the distant purple lightning, “Destroyed it. Heranuur would have died if I hadn’t interfered. Goldie would have died had Terok not saved him. Not quite as far as they need to be. Until the Cerithil hunters can destroy a centurion alone or accept that working in a team is beneficial, they are not allowed in the facility. The city however… I guess they can start exploring, destroying Guardians is what they apparently live for anyway.” She sighed.
“What?” Elfie asked her. Goldie and Heranuur started fighting after having an argument about the Centurion.
He looked at her, “What is it you are hiding?”
“I’m not hiding anything Elfie. The city and the production facility are two completely different things. You know that, I know that and so do they. I don’t think clearing out the city will help with your race’s problem.”
He didn’t say anything for a while, watching the two warriors fight each other. They really didn’t hold back. “Why… do you care human?” Elfie didn’t look at her, eyes focused on the fight before them.
Why do I? She wasn’t sure. Thinking about the war likely still raging through the empire and Baralia, Ilea felt little responsibility. Little connection to the people living there. If they wanted to fight, they could. If they wanted to stand up, they could. She did have a nagging feeling about her power and what she could do with it but a conflict like that wasn’t simple. Perhaps that’s why. “Because they are machines.” She finally said, “Because by simply destroying this facility, fewer beings would suffer.” The Taleen were gone as far as she knew, left behind only the killing machines apparently hunting for elves.
They were the enemies of humans, as much everybody had told her. She had seen it herself, had seen the population of Salia, slaughtered. Roland’s family killed. Still, a part of her yearned to do something, to make sense of all the killing, the hunting and fighting. Her human heart trying to find reason in her self indulgent frenzy, her want for power and freedom. For it to be not just that. It might have been her upbringing, the society she had been a part of, the values and virtues she had learned to be good and right.
A bigger part of her rejected all that, saw little reason to care for anything but herself. She definitely saw the value in that and the past two years had mostly reflected it. To find what she wanted, what made her happy. Most virtues were romanticized, mentioned in stories where good and bad were always easy to discern. Black and white. It would be easy to see all elves as evil, to go out and slaughter them for what they did to the humans of Elos. The fact that there were four of them here made it hard to justify, at least one of them not simply present out of fear.
It would be easy to find and kill the Golden Lily, murder every single last one of them, burn their houses and eat their pets. Perhaps the last part would be a little much but Ilea wanted to know who exactly was responsible for Eve’s death, what she did to warrant the reaction and why she did it. She would find out why and then think about what to do. The elves responsible for Salia were already dead, at least those that had been still around. Other than Roland, Ilea held no connection to the city. Other than being human and that wasn’t exactly a moral high ground, knowing what her race did back on Earth, what they did here and what she did, had done.
“Because while I’m not a saint, I would release a doe stuck in a bear trap.” She added, more to herself than to the elf.
“Even though the doe would kill you… even though it would go and kill other doe or hunt for your loved ones?” Elfie asked, his eyes on her now.
She couldn’t help but smile at the thought of a murdering doe. Perhaps the elf didn’t know what animal she was talking about. Nevertheless, he understood. “If it tries to kill me I will respond in kind. If it goes and kills others that is its choice. If it hunts for my loved ones, it will face my wrath.”
“And you would blame yourself forever after. Or are you hoping to befriend the doe?”
Ilea shook her head, “Let’s leave the metaphors Elfie. I’m not responsible for your people, nor am I for mine. I care for my friends and I will fight for them. I would kill humans and elves to protect or avenge them.I believe so would you. Perhaps helping you out with the Taleen would make your slaughter of humans lessen… I doubt it, nor do I honestly care. Elves, humans, dwarves, dark ones. I don’t think anybody cares. We care about ourselves and what’s happening around us.”
She took a deep breath, “For whatever reason, probably a war that started because of land or specism, who cares, the Taleen left behind these machines. All they do according to you is invade your lands and kill your people. Perhaps I’m wrong, I certainly don’t have the whole picture and you could be misleading me but they are a source to increase my personal power. If I can tack fewer dead people onto it as an additional reason, I’ll take it. You’re at least here, explaining yourself.”
The elf looked at her and nodded, thinking about her words for a while. Terok and Neiphato were taking care of their damaged gear and wounds as well as they could. Ilea didn’t offer to heal them. “I’m not deceiving you human. For your species… I doubt it will be beneficial for the Taleen machines to end. At least like this… it is machines that get destroyed instead of humans.”
Ilea scoffed, “Might be better the other way. Not like we can’t slaughter each other. Plus you said there wasn’t a war or anything… why would your people even care? Do you want land? Power? Money?”
He chuckled, “A human betraying her own species? I believe more elven eyes would look towards human lands but I do not know what they would do. Most seek out a challenge and slaughtering humans, while perhaps entertaining or delicious, is not a challenge.”
“I’m not betraying anybody. Simply being born into the species I am a part of doesn’t give me an obligation. I can do whatever the fuck I want.” Ilea said, “I believe children shouldn’t be slaughtered, not human or anything else. I believe wars suck, hard. Human or other. People should be free to do whatever they please and wherever they please, as long as they don’t restrict others.”
“In this world I could attain that power, the power of choice. I can see how not every being wants or has the ability to bath in the blood of animals, monsters or other sentients to attain this choice. I might be able to help out some at least.” She said, her voice growing louder with each word.