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Chapter 287 The Freedom of Choice

 

 

“Then what will you do with that choice?” Elfie asked, his eyes locked with hers. Ilea felt like it was the first time he actually looked at her, really looked at her.

Perhaps it was the other way around, “I will fight and destroy Centurions, level my classes and skills here in the north. Be free and enjoy myself. In the process I might be able to provide this choice to others, or kill those trying to take it away. No matter the species.” She was calm again, looking at her hand as she formed a fist and opened it again.

“Choice.” Elfie said, more to himself this time, his red hair flowing in the northern wind. “I…,” He started but his mouth closed again.

Ilea didn’t press him. She would fight the Centurions one way or the other. If it resulted in elves starting actual wars against humans, she would fight them too. Not because she owed it to any human but because she would have been partially responsible in giving them the opportunity. I’ll be the challenge they seek. The last one.

She sighed, not satisfied with her reasoning but not completely unhappy either. Elfie had been silent for a couple minutes now, the two elves still fighting each other in the background. “As to why I care? I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want to be as miserable a cunt as I think I’ve been the past year. Why do you care Elfie?”

Ilea didn’t wait for an answer, waving to Terok as she got up, “I give you a month to map out the city Terok. You better be at two hundred as well. They should work together or at least advance their levels if they don’t.” She said the latter part to Elfie, punching his shoulder with an ashen limb when he didn’t react.

“Yes. I will try to convince them but don’t expect too much. Raising their skills rather than their levels for a while will be beneficial too, especially for Seviir and Heranuur.” He replied, the thoughtful look gone from his face.

“Why not for Neiphato? Seems like he’s the weakest of them by far. I’d bet on Terok in a one on one.” She said, cracking her shoulders, eager to leave.

“Perhaps he will be able to tell you himself.” The elf said mysteriously, his tongue licking over his teeth.

She shook her head, “Whatever. Thing you do with your tongue by the way. Weirds me out.” To her surprise he didn’t hiss, instead nodding lightly. “I’ll be back… might be a couple weeks but at latest a month to see Terok’s progress.”

 

 

Appearing back in the top floor of the production facility, Ilea breathed in deeply. “Ahh, steel.” She said dryly, her ash spreading out as she prepared for the first encounter. It would take a while to clear out the top floor on its own and she wasn’t sure the Centurions would be restocking in the meantime. The machines certainly had the tools to do so. At least in the past week there had been a major change to their numbers, only their approach to hunt her down changing.

She spent her day whittling down the groups of machines fighting her. They definitely didn’t have a way or will to repair themselves, making her somewhat cautious approach viable. After over eight hours, she made her way back out of the dungeon, her health constantly regenerating as she sacrificed chunks of it to keep both her healing and third tier aura going. Ilea didn’t have the opportunity to test her new third tier Form of Ash and Ember, fighting in the middle of a group of Centurions not a time to lose a noticeable multiplier.

Both Elfie as well as Terok and Cerithil hunters were gone from their camp, only the embers of a nearly burnt out campfire remaining. The suns had set but Ilea didn’t know exactly how far along the night already was. She didn’t plan to spend more than a couple hours outside either way. Spreading her wings, she flew upwards and out of the somewhat secluded and protected area. Finding some suitably small lakes of mist in the distance, she descended down the mountain slope and landed close by.

The Miststalkers were already twirling towards her, Ilea greeting them with a wave and twirl of her own. Her mana and health started dropping a moment later, the feeling familiar at this point, her regeneration never letting up as her meditation started flowing through her. “Good evening.” She said, stepping closer to the corporeal spirits dancing through the mists. This time she went close enough to get into melee range, watching the scythe like arms extend and strike at her.

As expected, the feeling was damn near the same as when Elana had used a mist attack on her. She breathed out at the considerably higher power, finding her health dropping by nearly eight hundred. That’s going to be a while until I can fight these guys. Ilea had at least decided to train against them again, the Centurions only able to bring her to three hundred. Compared to the kingsguard as well as any of the other monsters she could face in the North, the Miststalkers were at least slow and very easy to escape from. That was if one wasn’t caught within the mists. Even then, with her level in Veteran their eerie songs had no impact on her and her resistance levels would require at least a dozen or more of them to drain her at the same time for more than a couple seconds.

Enough time for her to make an escape using her blink ability. The two resistances could also be a reasonable testing ground for a third tier general skill, something she still had to ask the king about. Nothing had shown up so far and somehow she doubted there was anything obvious she was missing. Jumping back again, Ilea healed the damage back up and periodically got closer again to allow one of the miststalkers to hit her. She kept her health above four thousand, just in case she got hit by two or three of them at the same time. A real possibility with how close they tended to get to each other.

Two hours passed, Ilea’s Meditation skill making the time fly by, coupled with the excitement of constant danger. Eleven of the spirits had gathered close to her at that point, a little much for her to reasonably keep up with. Her nightly training near Tremor had taught her that the Miststalkers cared little to hunt down prey, mostly dancing around and grateful if something living showed up. Blinking a couple times, Ilea got close to another lake, her mana recovering quickly before the first monster even noticed her.

 

 

Day in and day out, Ilea trained, fighting and destroying the increasingly difficult to fight Centurions, her mana and health drain as well as mist resistances trained at night. She didn’t see Elfie or anybody else for the first five days. In the night of the sixth day, she was sitting near a lake of mist when she noticed movement in the distance, a couple hundred meters down the slope. A creature completely black, as big as a horse and in the form of a wolf. It moved quickly, occasionally disappearing in the shadows, coming back to life a couple dozen meters away. Ilea realized the movement she had noticed wasn’t from the wolf like creature but the birds chasing him, Famine Crows. A whole pack of them. The wolf creature looked to be injured, slowing down before it entered a lake of mist.

The beast slowed down as the Miststalkers gathered around it, the birds rushing down from above, uncaring about the new circumstances. She watched as the wolf entered the very ground, vanishing as a whole flock of famine crows crashed down into the stone surrounded by more and more Miststalkers. The birds started teleporting around immediately but contrary to what she expected, most of them crashed into the ground again or appeared near it, the mist scythes cutting into them as they were drained.

The first of them started to fall around ten seconds later, some escaping upwards but at least half of the flock had vanished in the mist, absorbed into the spirits that completely surrounded them. Smart wolf. She thought, blinking away from the lake she was currently sitting at. It was time to go back to the dungeon, see to the next group of the top layer Centurions.

 

 

Two weeks later she had thinned them enough to make it at least uncommon to find a second group of them while fighting a first one. Ilea had tested her theory about just throwing the Centurions down the massive abyss in the middle of the facility, twice and both times unsuccessfully. They were certainly durable but Ilea rather suspected there was a lake or something at the bottom that prevented their demise. Either that or it just didn’t count their destruction as her work. She didn’t want to think of possible long range Centurion launching as a possible invasion strategy after all.

Having checked out the second layer through one of the many broad stairwells leading down, she had found luring machines from there up and fighting them on the first layer not just possible but probably the best tactic to clear out more of the facility in the coming weeks Still, she focused on the first layer as the top priority. Once cleared she could think again about possibly just destroying the support beams and cables. Ilea had at least found that the ends of the layer were connected to the mountain itself, making the idea likely impossible. The result of getting a whole level destroyed and maybe more made it at least still something to think about.

Each night, Ilea spent a couple hours with the miststalkers of the north, her resistances growing slowly but steadily. When the sun rose that night, she came back to the entrance of the Taleen dungeon, finding the campsite not devoid as on most days. A smile was on her face when she landed, greeting Elfie with a wave. He looked up and nodded. He smelled of blood, she noted.

Summoning a restaurant meal, she placed it next to the papers he was reading through before her own appeared in her hands. Sitting down on a nearby rock, her helmet vanished into her necklace. “How was the hunt?”

The elf looked up and sighed, taking the meal and nodding again, “You have a constant need for conversation do you not?”

She chuckled, “Haven’t talked to anybody in what… three weeks? You consider that constant? How often do you elves talk to each other?”

“Human I was only saying that to indicate my lack of interest in a conversation, not show some difference in our species. My people are just as bloody annoying as yours.”

“Sadly you can’t just eat them, right?” She said, pointing towards the blood on his black coat. The color was flowing seamlessly into the red parts of the fabric.

He scoffed, “Few of your kind up here.” Avoiding her stare, he started eating, “… a wild animal.” He added after a while, Ilea nodding at that.

“If you need a fight, I’m around.” She said, “How’s the exploration going? I’d want a full map by the end of next week.”

Elfie laughed, “Then you will be disappointed. I have heard how big the dwarf thinks the production facility is. The city might be similarly expansive. Filled with not just Guardians but Dark Ones as well as more dangerous Taleen machines and traps.”

She smirked, “Good, then there’s plenty of work to do. What kind of dark ones?”

“Do not worry human. The won’t be ready to disturb your solitary time in the production facility for a while. Might be you don’t have to annoy me anymore if they do though. The dark ones call themselves Saurians and only agree to talk to the dwarf. At least that is what he says but I doubt any of the others would actually like to engage with them in anything but slaughter.” Elfie commented.

Ilea didn’t deny his assumption but also didn’t correct him about her annoying him. She would do that either way. His aggressive, unyielding yet informative way wasn’t exactly unpleasant. At least he seemed to have stopped weighing every bit of information he shared with her. “You want me to get one out to talk to you?”

The elf looked up from the paper and smiled, his teeth showing. “Not for you to eat.”

“I eat whatever I want human.”

Fair enough. “If you go in there and get one. If I bring one, you won’t eat.”

He shrugged in response, continuing to read. “What are you reading anyway?”

“A surviving stone inscription the dwarf copied.”

Ilea stood up, putting away her empty plate, checking out the paper. “You can read their language?”

The elf snorted, “Of course I can. I know you think my level low for my age but I invested in other things than just my classes power to destroy.”

“Impressive.” She said, “Maybe you can teach some of the hunters. Might be beneficial to find out more about the Taleen’s plans. If you’re too much of a wuss to go in there yourself. I doubt any of those idiots would ever think about deciphering and learning an ancient language.”

His face went through different emotions before he finally settled on an angry hiss. Ilea shrugged. He would think about the suggestion, maybe even start teaching them if they wanted. Neiphato and maybe Heranuur would be open to the idea. She was pretty sure Goldie wouldn’t care.

“Do you have another test planned for the end of the month?” He asked instead, keeping the apparently very annoying conversation going.

Ilea shrugged, “Two Centurions?” She laughed.

“Imaginative.” He commented with a sigh.

“I could fight them myself out here so you can judge as well. I think my skill set is closer to the Taleen machines than yours.” She said.

Ilea didn’t miss the small tugging on the edges of his mouth. It must be quite difficult to be so close to an ancient dungeon filled with the secrets of his enemies but unable to actually go in. She wouldn’t stop annoying him about it, that much was sure.

“Well I’ll be off again then. Let me know if you need anything.” She said and made her way back to the dungeon. Centurions were waiting for her.

 

 

The last planned week passed in a flash, Ilea continuously clearing out the first layer. She assumed another month or two would be enough, now somewhat sure they didn’t restock the missing machines. Perhaps something would actually happen once she destroyed the last one but she kind of doubted it. The machines kept on working, melting down metal and sending it down to the lower floors. She had decided not to destroy anything as of yet. Perhaps Terok could find a way to reroute it all and maybe use it. Goliath would have a field day if he came in here but Ilea wanted to make sure it was completely safe before she even asked the smith.

Not that she expected the dark one to move away from its home. Fighting the last Centurion for the day, she reached the ten minute mark and checked her surroundings. Finding no other enemy around, she dodged a thrust of its spear to the right and activated her third tier of Form of Ash and Ember, her arm and shoulder clad in flame and swirling ash before her fist landed with a loud crash on the metal core of the machine. A powerful surge of mana went through it before the Centurion was pushed a couple meters away, its thin steel legs skidding on the metal floor before its core started glowing. Ilea looked after it as it turned and rushed towards the center.

Before the explosion even reached her ears, she made her way back out of the facility and looked through her messages from the past month as shestarted eating a meal.

ding’ ‘You have defeated [Taleen Centurion – lvl 310] – For defeating an enemy forty levels or more above your own, bonus experience is granted’

‘ding’ ‘You have defeated [Taleen Centurion – lvl 305] – For defeating an enemy thirty levels or more above your own, bonus experience is granted’

 

ding’ ‘Azarinth First Hunter has reached lvl 267 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Azarinth First Hunter has reached lvl 268 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Azarinth First Hunter has reached lvl 269 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Azarinth First Hunter has reached lvl 270 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Azarinth First Hunter has reached lvl 271 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Azarinth First Hunter has reached lvl 272 – Five stat points awarded’

 

ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 261 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 262 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 263 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 264 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 265 – Five stat points awarded’
‘ding’ ‘Inheritor of Eternal Ash has reached lvl 266 – Five stat points awarded’

Of the sixty stat points, forty went into Strength and ten each into Vitality and Wisdom.

ding’ ‘Destruction reaches 3rd lvl 5’

ding’ ‘Hunter Recovery reaches 3rd lvl 4’
‘ding’ ‘Hunter Recovery reaches 3rd lvl 5’
‘ding’ ‘Hunter Recovery reaches 3rd lvl 6’

ding’ ‘State of Azarinth reaches 3rd lvl 9’

ding’ ‘Hunter’s Sight reaches 2nd lvl 18’
‘ding’ ‘Hunter’s Sight reaches 2nd lvl 19’

 

Her recovery had leveled three times, the dedicated training showing its marks. Hunter’s Sight was close to the current maximum as well.

ding’ ‘Form of Ash and Ember reaches 3rd lvl 2’

ding’ ‘Ash Creation reaches 3rd lvl 4’

ding’ ‘Embered Body Heat reaches 2nd lvl 18’

 

ding’ ‘Blast Resistance reaches 2nd lvl 3’

ding’ ‘Health Drain Resistance reaches 2nd lvl 15’
‘ding’ ‘Health Drain Resistance reaches 2nd lvl 16’

ding’ ‘Mana Drain Resistance reaches 2nd lvl 13’
‘ding’ ‘Mana Drain Resistance reaches 2nd lvl 14’

ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 9’
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 10’
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 11’
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 12’
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 13’
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 14’
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 15’
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 16’
‘ding’ ‘Mist Magic Resistance reaches lvl 17’

 

Slow and steady. Ilea was growing and she had enough sources to fuel her increases in power. She finished her meal and got up, stretching before she made her way towards the exit. It was high time to explore something else than the construction of Centurions, for a while at least.

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Rhaegar

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