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Chapter 307 The Vineyard Caves

 

 

“King Invalar. My condolences.” Elfie said when they exited, bowling lightly.

“Thank you. Elf, I have heard of you and am willing to answer any question you might have. But not now. I will return in a couple weeks and then we can talk.” Maro immediately shut down the elf but to Ilea’s surprise, Elfie simply nodded.

“Then we shall wait here and train until your return. There are still monsters remaining in this dungeon?”

Ilea waved her hand, “Too dangerous for you lot. I suggest fighting something outside.”

Elfie nodded, “Well there is plenty for them to learn still. I will do my best. Will you be joining us?” His question directed at Ilea and Terok.

“No, we will return with the king.” Ilea answered for both of them.

“Hey why can’t we go too? Aren’t you visiting another dungeon?” Heranuur asked but something smashed into him from above before he convulsed in pain.

“No.” Elfie simply said with a wicked smile. “Until you can remove yourselves from my grasp, there is nothing for you but training.”

Heranuur coughed before standing up slowly, “Terok can’t do it either, why is he allowed to go?”

Elfie sighed and looked at Ilea with pleading eyes before shifting his attention back to the other elf, “He is not behaving like a human child, for one thing. It was a request by the human to have him included in the training. She is the one to decide. For you three, not so much.”

Ilea didn’t disagree, just smiling at Hera as he stared at her. “No fun.” The elf said before vanishing and dusting himself off. “I’ll find other interesting things to do.”

“Don’t fuck the monsters.” Terok said and laughed.

“He already did that.” Seviir commented, vanishing immediately after he had said it.

Cheeky bastard. Ilea chuckled.

“I’ll take care of him.” Heranuur said and vanished too while Elfie just shook his head.

Neiphato bowed lightly to both Maro and Ilea, “Good fortune on your travels. I apologize for the young hunters.”

Ilea smiled at him before Elfie stepped in front of him, “One is enough.” She shrugged in response and spread her wings.

“I trust you know where the go?” She looked at Terok who started floating as well. Maro did the same.

“I do.” The dwarf replied.

Elfie looked their way as they ascended, locking eyes with Ilea before she turned. When they reached the top of the cave, Ilea grabbed onto Maro’s shoulder. “The arcane storms are dangerous. Let’s check first.”

She moved ahead and looked around, seeing some clouds in the distance but nothing immediately around them. “See that crack there?” She pointed, Maro looking up to the sky before she tapped his chest, “The crack.”

“Yes.” He said, focusing in on the distant crevice.

“Move as fast as you can.” Ilea said, her auras spreading through her before she shot off, blinking time and time again, crossing the distance over the barren land before appearing inside the opening. Maro appeared a couple seconds later and Terok later yet again. He moved downwards immediately, Ilea waiting with Maro at the top. “We should move down too. Trust me, you don’t want to get caught up in them. Nearly killed me with a single bolt of lightning hitting dozens of meters ahead, granted before I reached three hundred.”

“Yea! Ilea go, jump into the lightning!” Terok shouted from below, scouting the crevice.

Ilea rolled her eyes, “Are you coming? You can look at the suns from below as well.”

Maro turned to her and nodded, appearing on the ground below. Ilea followed before he spoke, “There are two suns. It’s true then.”

“What do you mean?” Ilea asked.

“Well. When I was still out and about, there were three suns.”

Ilea nearly tripped, staring at him. “You guys coming?!” Terok shouted from a distance.

“I know… I considered that Tremor was moved to another realm or something but it doesn’t make any sense.” He said.

“Neither does the disappearance of a sun. Well I guess there might be some astronomic explanation but…,”

He interrupted her, “It fits with the changes in the north, the event the dark ones talk about. Catelyn and Elana talked about it quite excessively when she was down in the palace.”

“And you didn’t mean to inform me?” Ilea asked.

“Well I did now. I wanted to see it with my own eyes. How would such a fact be relevant to you anyway?”

Ilea shrugged, “No idea. So your city was moved or a sun vanished? What if it was some kind of illusion before?”

“There are several possibilities. Come, Terok’s head is exploding.” He said and started walking, “Moving a whole city like that doesn’t make sense. Maybe something did happen to the sun.”

“But such an event would be talked about for hundreds of years and every scholar would write about it for another thousand years. I haven’t heard of it. Other than the dark ones talking about their event.”

“Catelyn mentioned some versions of the story involving the sun or light being no more. Many of the creatures would have dwelt in caves or underground anyway, not putting as much importance to the stars as we humans do.” Maro rationalized.

Ilea shook her head, “I mean I never really informed myself about religions or important events in the past but I feel like someone would have at least mentioned the disappearance of a sun. I know a bunch of librarians. I can ask about it once I go back south.”

Maro nodded, “That would be an idea. Will that be soon?”

“I still want to go deeper into the Taleen dungeon, see if I can find some old friends.” She grinned. The man seemed to understand as he nodded, “Then maybe? There’s plenty of stuff to do here and while I’m more powerful now, I still haven’t ridden a dragon.”

Terok gave her a thumbs up when he stepped over a small hill, “No to the lightning but yes to dragons? Well I suppose if anybody is allowed to overestimate their own power, it’s you. If we walk in this speed, we’ll arrive in two weeks.”

“I know you don’t care about the elf but I’ll be the one feeling his wrath when I join the training again.” He added and laughed.

“Terok, do you know anything about Elos having three suns at some point?” Ilea asked.

The dwarf stopped and looked at her, “Sounds like cult talk. No. I mean there are many claiming ridiculous things like that. Or that the stars were once butterflies, that the world flowed from the womb of creation, the elder dragon placing the suns themselves. No, truth is, all of that sheit is made up and you’d better not turn into a nut chasing myths like those.”

“Well I know for a fact that Elos had three suns when Rhyvor was not a kingdom of ruins.” Maro said, shutting the dwarf up.

At least for a moment, “What? Well fucking tits. Does that mean the Worldeater Margalon will return and devour us all? By the gods…,”

Ilea rolled her eyes, “Now don’t you turn into a cult member immediately. All we know is that either Tremor was moved somehow or one sun really died out.”

“You mean the great change in the north could be related? The dark ones… well the connections are there. Many scholars theorize that the suns have an influence on how mana flows. Monster activity during the night is more frequent for one thing.” Terok explained.

Maro nodded, “That was the same back in my days. Well we lack information for now. Catelyn for one doesn’t even know how many years ago exactly this change happened. The human plains weren’t affected by it all either which raises quite a bunch of additional questions.”

Hadn’t even thought about that. Just the north? Ilea shook her head, “Well let’s go to Lisburg was it? If it’s the same town that would make the teleportation argument even less likely.”

Maro nodded, “Lead the way Terok.”

 

 

“Should be around here.” Terok said as he checked their surroundings. Ilea started looking with her Sphere and Sentinel Huntress but the dwarf found something before her, “Got it. Down here.” A small cave opening was revealed when he lifted a stone. Ilea didn’t see it through her sphere but when she concentrated, she noticed a faint glow of magic from the concealing enchantment.

Great, now I have to focus on things like that too. It felt the same as when Eve tried to hide from her but compared to shifts in the air, it was like a shift in the mana around her. They descended and immediately came upon a massive unnatural tunnel, hundreds of meters wide and at least fifty high. It simply led downwards, further than she could see.

A couple minutes of running later, they saw light in the distance. “We’ve got company.” Maro said when around ten warriors and mages in various gear and with various levels appeared around them.

Hidden and concealed spaces above and below. Ilea noted the cracks in the ceiling, the weird mana resonance felt again.

“Travelers, welcome to the Vineyard caves. What is your business here?” The being most certainly a dark one, clad in black full plate armor. A massive torso but thin insect like arms reaching out. It carried no weapons.

Ilea was about to speak when Maro took over, “Guardian of truth, we are friends of the Dark Ones, seeking shelter in the Vineyard Caves as well as an escape from these unrelenting lands.”

“You speak truth, ally of the dead. It is an honor to host you then.” The being turned to Ilea, “Healer of ash, it would be most benevolent of you to lend your powers to those in need. Many have fallen in the great war.”

“Of course, armored one.” Ilea said, not able to think of anything else. She didn’t want to repeat the ridiculous title Maro had given the being. It didn’t seem offended in the least, bowing lightly before they all vanished again except for one creature that looked like a floating orb of purple energy.

“Pleasssse folloooow.” It said into their minds, all of them familiar with the feeling it seemed.

The dozen guards near the massive gate relaxed the grips on their weapons when the three approached with the floating Dark One. Ilea noted the defensive structures and small wall that had been erected, as well as the fresh blood still clinging to various parts of it as well as the ground itself. At least an effort to clean it has been made.

“Do beasts wander down here?” Ilea asked the ball.

“If theeee consssider the curssed Feynooor to be beasssts.” The ball cackled, sending sparks of purple energy off to the side.

[Death Wisp – lvl 221]

“It still sounds ridiculous to me that those creatures found intelligence and now threaten an alliance of Dark Ones…,” Maro murmured.

The gates were opened, letting in the three travelers. “If you would be ssssssso kind, the injured are in the tentssss to the leffft.” The wisp said before returning out, the gates closed again by two massive creatures with oxen heads, arms as thick as Ilea’s whole form.

Her ashen armor slowly retracted as she took in the valley spreading before her. Purple, blue, yellow and golden stars scattered the sky, illuminating it all. Crystals or metals. She noted before walking towards the indicated injured. “Do you want to stay together?” She asked.

“We can meet back up here in around five hours.” Terok said and walked off. Maro shrugged.

“I’d prefer some company if you’re not averse to the idea.” The king said.

Ilea nodded, “Sure.” He followed in silence as she made her way to the indicated tents. Fabric of differing quality and colors clad the hastily built shelters, groaning noises from various unknown creatures could be heard the closer they got. A guard stepped up to them and immediately nodded at Ilea.

He looked like a literal squid on top of a human body, “Hek sai liup?” Ilea cocked her head to the side, “Standard… apologies. Are you hear to offer your healing?”

She nodded, “Do you not have any healers here?”

The squid looked relieved, “We do, various kinds. Some wounds need more than life energy to be mended. The mana I feel from you is different. Perhaps some might find your presence comforting. Can you heal the undead?” It looked over at Maro.

“She can do that too.” He simply pointed at her, “I can only heal them once they are under my binding.”

“Truly. Then feel free to walk the tents.” The squid said, “Those in grave danger from the attack two days ago have perished or have been stabilized. There is no rush. Until they attack again.” It produced a farting sound that Ilea couldn’t interpret. The flailing arms at least indicated annoyance.

 

 

Maro watched her as she took care of several dark ones, many of them with broken bones, cursed wounds or simply unresponsive. The unknown biology of most of them brought additional difficulty but her healing skill had been boosted so much due to her recent evolutions that most of the injuries were curable.

She watched in fascination as a small black wisp grew in size as she poured healing mana into it, Maro standing to the side with a smirk.

[Undead Terror Wisp – lvl 183]

“I feel… dead again!” The noise sizzled into her mind as the wisp turned around in the tent before flying off.

“I remember fighting one of them. Never seen a dark one come out of such a spiteful being.” Maro commented as he looked after the flying orb of dark magic.

It took her barely an hour to take care of the ones she could help. There were three beings with wounds her mana couldn’t heal. Curses and poisons still in effect she noted. They wouldn’t get worse if a healer pushed their health from time to time but what they needed was simple rest.

The squid came to thank them when they left the premises. “If there is anything you need, just come to me. I will make sure the dark ones will know of your generosity.” It said and bowed.

Maro didn’t follow Ilea immediately, “Where may we find the oldest Dark Ones in this marvelous town?”

“Hmm… I have not been here for a long time. Best ask around the arena, it is the main focus the Vineyard Caves have to offer. Other than shelter of course.” It said and laughed with a weird gargling noise. Maro got some directions before joining Ilea again who was already strolling off and checking the wares of several street vendors.

“Found anything interesting?” He walked next to her and looked over the wares, an undead with sunken in eyes and dried out face sat behind it.

“I have no idea what any of this is.” Ilea said and knelt down, checking the colorful marbles. Some kind of enchanted stones?

“Prrrr…. Presius stones!” The undead muttered, for the third time since she had stopped near him.

“I think it’s meant as jewelry.” Maro commented, “You know what that is?”

Ilea looked at him and back to the stones, “Of course. Just. I just thought it was more than just shiny marbles.” She said and walked to the next vendor. Poisons. The same lanky insect like being sold food which didn’t seem like a good combination. Ilea smiled when two four legged furry creatures resembling dogs rushed past, one of them apologizing for brushing her leg.

“This is fucking weird.” She said, scratching her head.

Maro stepped next to her, his helmet off before he made a disgusted noise. “Not worth the copper.”

Ilea laughed when she saw the plate of poisoned stew in his hands. “I don’t want to just throw it out now.”

Ilea just took it and handed it to a lich like being walking past, the thing bowing before it slurped up the stew. “They don’t give much of a fuck here.” She said.

“Dark One settlements are always a treat. Rare. I guess it’s nice they finally have a more permanent place now that this area is so hostile to most other sentient beings.” Maro said.

“I mean they had caves and mountains before too. Was there no dangerous terrain before?”

Maro smiled, “No there was but I guess not as much as now. You’re human too. What do you think most empires and kingdoms would do to such a place if they found it?”

She snorted, “Nobody expects a crusade. Or how did that one go? Hard to get a group of people together against a level two hundred settlement of Dark Ones.”

He waved her off, “Funds and armies are often used for a less than a grand purpose. Humans don’t have the right set of priorities most of the time.”

“And what would those be? Oh wise king?” Ilea asked, checking out a bunch of necklaces. This is jewelry. Holding up one of them over her own, she checked herself out with her sphere.

“Teeth and bones. Fits I guess.” Maro commented which made her smile. “I suppose there are no universal right priorities. Though I doubt hunting down people just trying to live their lives is one of them.”

“Nice way to evade my question. How about just letting each other live for once. I came north to get away from the wars and what do I find? Another fucking war. These people are the same as humans. I thought other races were actually different.” She ranted, Maro just nodding in turn.

“It’s sobering to think there isn’t someone better out there. Maybe there is and I just haven’t found them. Well I understand your reasoning but with a lack of funds, dangers lurking everywhere and others looking to take what you have, your idealistic approach of letting each other live isn’t as obtainable as one would hope.” He commented.

Ilea shook her head, “I know.” She put the necklace back and continued on the street, not in the mood for shopping anymore.

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Rhaegar

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