Chapter 320 Aftermath
The throne room was in shambles, two big craters digging nearly fifteen meters into the white stone, revealing the ordinary rock starting further down. Not even rubble was left behind, most of it simply turned to dust. The gates had been bent and mangled, allowing the Guardians from outside to enter. It seemed though that after the initial wave, those waiting farther back in the great hall didn’t rush towards the throne room anymore.
Now that the Praetorians are dead. Maybe they’ll return to their normal positions. An explosion resounded, the shock wave traveling towards the group of waiting people, Ilea’s black hair moving back, settling again a moment later. Heranuur had downed his Centurion first, the blast sending him flying. He rolled a couple times before crashing into the wall with a wet thud. Still moving, Ilea noted. The laughter was indication enough, Seviir and his Centurion battling each other the only noise remaining in the hall now that most of the machines had been cleared out.
Some of Maro’s skeletons had rushed out of the hall to push them back even more. “Can your summons fight the Guardians?” She asked after a while. Ilea was in high spirits, both knowing she had successfully saved the lives of all present but mostly because she had helped in the killing of two Praetorians. Her contribution had been significant. It would have been interesting to know if herself or Maro had dealt more damage. Probably him… damn range.
Elfie gasped behind them, Terok looking over from his impromptu workbench provided by Neiphato. The elf had formed himself a chair of wood, sitting down with a sigh as he started meditating. Ilea nearly asked for one too before she remembered her own ability to make one out of ash. She was just about to make one when the elf woke, the purple veins showing on his pale white skin. He was already slim but the toll this experience and entering the dungeon had taken on him definitely showed. His cheeks looked a little sunken in and his eyes only opened halfway before he groaned in pain.
He scratched his head before shooting up into a sitting position, eyes wide open as he stuttered something to himself. “Is that normal Neiphato?” Ilea asked. The wood mage opened his eyes and smiled.
“Oh yes it is. Very painful. He’s going to feel that for the next couple weeks. I think it’s a good experience in the end, one to make us stronger in the long term. Freeing too. Finally rid of the horrors of our kind.” He spit on the floor, his blue eyes fierce.
“I… betrayed… everything. All of it.. gone.” Elfie said, holding a hand to his face. Ilea wasn’t sure if he would rip off his face or start to cry. What she certainly didn’t expect was the manic cackling that followed. Even Maro looked away from the fight happening near the gates, glancing at the elf.
“See? Freeing.” Neiphato added, self satisfied as he closed his eyes again and continued his meditation. Terok looked a little annoyed, forming armor pieces with the steel provided by Maro.
As quickly as his manic state had come, the elf calmed down again, his eyes focusing on Ilea. “You.”
Ilea pointed at herself and looked around in a questioning manner. “Hey, your choice mate.”
“Niivalyr Olanis. For many years… I believe, I have known the way. I had not expected a human as annoying as you, to finally bring me here.” His expression was sincere, his eyes showing more emotion than she had seen out of him so far. Other than his fear of the oracles and their laws he had sometimes shown.
“Hey I’m not that annoying!” She retorted, pointing a fork at him as she sat in her newly formed ashen chair, much more comfortable than she had expected. It moved to her will after all. Keyla’s cooking couldn’t be topped by anything right now. Maybe a shower but it was close.
Terok lifted his one eyebrow and shook his head, continuing his work. Niivalyr smiled softly, “Annoying, yes. Also reckless, naive and young. Yet brave and powerful, in spirit and heart. You are truly exceptional, Ilea.”
She lifted her fork and took a bite, noodles in an egg and cream sauce with pieces of bacon. Garlic and cheese were present too as well as some other flavors she couldn’t place. Definitely some sort of Carbonara. “Half of that was negative.” She commented after swallowing.
“Of course. I wouldn’t want you to think too highly of yourself, warrior. It is too easy to think oneself infallible, especially at such a young age.” He said and quickly glanced towards the fighting Seviir. “We all learn in time. Some faster than others.” His tone was bitter before he gulped, his eyes turning a little glassy as he seemed to look past her.
“You took the step Niivalyr… nice name by the way but I need a nickname. Too many elves around now for Elfie.” Ilea commented and thought about it, “Niivalyr… the Ni elf? The elf who says ni? Val? I don’t know.”
“I defied the oracles… broke the unbreakable law.” He looked at her again and shook his head, “This is no time to think on nicknames…,” The words spoken not to her but the general vicinity.
“Calm down, they broke the laws too. I broke a bunch of laws as well.” Terok said and laughed, molding a robotic head. “You’re old as fuck, high time for a teenage rebellion.” He added.
Neiphato opened his eyes and stood up, his face serious as he approached the sitting elf before him. “Master Olanis. You knew the truth, knew that the laws were restricting, shackles binding our people in suffering. Now you are free. Think on the possibilities, the power you have gained through this understanding.” Ilea stopped chewing as he stepped next to Niivalyr and held out a hand, “Now stand, noble warrior. For all the domains, those alive, those long dead and those yet to come.”
Niivalyr’s expression turned serious, a glint of fear remaining but he grasped the hand with a determined grip, standing up before he hissed at the other elf, a broad grin showing his sharp teeth. Neiphato followed suit, hissing too. Ilea looked at Terok, the two of them a little lost. Maro on the other hand was smiling ear to ear. “Are you crying?” Ilea asked him in a whisper.
He kept staring at them, “I think there’s onion in your food.” He said, “This is great. I wish I was an elf.”
That’s not how this works. Ilea thought but just shook her head, smiling at the two elves before a boom resounded behind them, the shock wave traveling past. Moans of pain followed, the clattering of metal falling to the stone floor audible throughout. “My cue.” She said and stood up, taking another bite as she blinked twice to reach the deformed body of Seviir, her healing mana immediately reaching him through her limbs. “That was one centurion.” She said in a low volume, taking another bite and chewing.
Ilea realized most of his injuries hadn’t come from the battle just now, especially his left side being mostly mangled. Heranuur cackled from the side as he stumbled towards them. “I win.” He said and collapsed, an ashen limb landing on him softly before the healing commenced.
Is this what it’s like to have children?
Their injuries were taken care of, the others except for Terok joining her at the front of the hall. Niivalyr spoke up, glancing at the two elves sitting up and finally the wood mage, “Neiphato, now that this is done with. Could you please explain to me why in the name of all domains… you chose to face Praetorians?”
The confidence on the wood mage’s face waned quickly, his gaze averted as he started stammering out a response, Seviir saving him the trouble, “It was a test. To see if we could conquer the dungeon. Once we were inside I suppose me and Hera got a little overexcited. You know how it is.” He hissed, Heranuur hissing his affirmation.
Ilea was surprised she could tell some differences by now, the hissing just a part of their language. “Yes. Well I will add Pain Tolerance training back into the routine for a while. Just in case you get halved like Ilea here. Soon enough we will be able to face Praetorians, don’t rush things. I am nearly seven hundred years old, there is plenty of time. Learn something from these humans. Steady progression will lead you to greater strength.”
Seviir hissed in annoyance, looking at Ilea and Maro, “They are outliers… humans do not…,”
He was interrupted by a barrier slamming his back, “Ilea overtook you, quickly. She knows how to calculate risks, knows when to retreat despite her pride as a warrior. Her healing gives her an advantage but you have two classes as well, it’s your own fault if you can’t keep up. Most humans live a more secure life, with values and goals hard to understand but we can learn from them, as we can learn from any race or people.”
Niivalyr bowed to the humans as he continued, “I haven’t heard of a Praetorian killing in a long time. Though news from the Cerithil hunters is scarce, what elves have failed to do reliably in centuries was accomplished by the people present here. Most of the work I assume was done by the two of you. I doubt someone below three hundred can reliably damage the shields. As you should know.” The last sentence he dedicated to his students. “Now that I can stay in mana dense places I will guide you more strictly, alongside Neiphato who has finally accepted his second class. Congratulations.”
He sighed and looked up to the heavily damaged ceiling. Neiphato stepped next to him and put a hand on his shoulder, “You will find your way my friend. In time. For now, let us focus on this dungeon.”
They’re childish and mature at the same time. Ilea smirked, watching the ancient beings talk about finally being rid of the abusive relationship of all powerful oracles. The idiots rushing in wasn’t a completely stupid thing to do after all. She glanced at Neiphato, questioning if he had anything to do with it. Especially with how supportive he was acting now. The other two didn’t seem to care much, more annoyed about the Pain Tolerance training which was just a fancier word for torture.
“Emotional lot. Come on, I’m sure there’s treasure abound here.” Terok joined, a new machine suit on him that looked much less complex. He had still managed to get one done in less than half an hour, impressive work Ilea thought. The metal was dark gray and somewhat matte. He had added small forward facing horns to his helmet but Ilea refrained from calling him a copy cat. She had gotten that from the original Juggernaut armor in the first place.
“There should be treasure.” Ilea said, “I’ve been inside of a great hall before. Don’t underestimate the traps, nearly killed me back then.” When I was just a wee lass, unable to tank a Praetorian’s scythe.
“Good.” Terok said, pointing behind him towards the shattered throne, only bits and pieces remaining, “Then we can start with the hidden room behind this one.”
Maro laughed at that, “Had to get your armor done first?”
The dwarf chuckled and started walking towards the wall, “Of course, wouldn’t want to get left behind. Although you two deserve most of everything here. Anybody disagree?”
Neiphato waved him off, “Of course not. We would all be dead without them.”
“I do ask to see what we find at least, if it has great relevance to me I would like to offer a trade.” Niivalyr suggested, neither Ilea nor Maro replying in any way.
They’re taking this way too seriously. There’s plenty more dungeons with loot around. She looked at Maro who didn’t seem to care much either. They still had the treasury and armory in Tremor left to open, likely holding quite a bit of stuff as well.
They stopped in front of the wall, Ilea not sensing anything wrong with it. She didn’t know if her old Hunter’s Sphere would have let her sense anything. Considering her arcane sight didn’t reveal the secret either, she doubted it. “There’s enchantments here. Illusion, strong skill disruption, shielding and a bunch more, all defensive in nature. Maro what do you think?”
“I don’t see half the things you mentioned.” The man said, surprising the dwarf as he cocked his head to the side, shrugging a moment later.
Terok turned to the elves waiting behind the group, Heranuur and Seviir punching each other every couple seconds, giddy and apparently highly uninterested. “You two can go clear out more of the Taleen.” Niivalyr suggested, both of them grinning before Ilea interrupted.
“Don’t enter any of the side paths from the main hall. I don’t want to clean off your corpses from a bunch of spikes.” They nodded and vanished, bickering amongst themselves as they left the throne room. Ilea rolled her eyes, Maro watching her with a grin.
“You’re a good mother you know.” He said, crossing his arms as Ilea pondered about punching him. It would only add fuel to the fire so she refrained.
Still didn’t have our bout.
“As I was about to ask.” Terok said, “Do you have runic knowledge or experience with enchantments?”
Neiphato shook his head and Niivalyr spoke, “Only elven.Though I can read the Taleen language if that is any help.”
“Seven hundred years and he doesn’t know his runes.” The dwarf murmured, getting to work.
“Niivalyr. I have something for you that I’d like to have translated and transcribed.” Ilea said, looking at the elf who looked back with interest. She hadn’t trusted him enough but their actions today ranked at least him and Neiphato quite a lot higher than before. She summoned her big crate of stuff and rummaged through, her sphere allowing her to find what she was looking for quickly.
A little leather bound diary, worn by age, any color gone from it. Yet it had survived and now she had found someone that claimed to know the language. “It’s something I found on a dwarven skeleton, Taleen likely. The gearon him was named Legate Guardian Armor. Also where I got this.” She tapped the necklace with the Guardian like head.
Niivalyr smiled brightly, “And yet again I fall deeper into your debt, Ilea. I had been wondering about that necklace but deemed it inappropriate to pry. May I?” He held out a hand before she handed over the small book.
“Did you find that in a Taleen dungeon too?” Neiphato asked, looking at her necklace. She nodded, Niivalyr summoning a table and chair before he carefully opened the book. Carefully moving through it, he grumbled and hissed time and time again.
“Most of it is faded. It is a diary.” He said. Ilea felt like he was missing glasses to top off his look.
“Any of the most recent entries remaining?” Maro was the one to ask.
“Yes. Let’s see… 3rd cycle, the year eight hundred and sixteen… Some of the numbers are faded, it might not be exactly that. Still I am afraid. Questioning every day if it was the right decision to make, even if it had meant our doom. Surrendering control, long theorized yet hardly tested. I fear for my brothers and sisters, their children and those to come after. Still, we must fight, must prevail. My duty will soon be irrelevant, replaced by the Guardians assigned. Either that or the enemy will hunt us down, slaughter each and everyone of us.
May the One without form prevail. I will guard the Tungsten key with my life.”
He looked up, “That is one of the later ones. Some more entries talk about hunger, sleep and death. I suppose survival priorities had sneaked up on the dwarf. Yet still, he had remained at his post.” Niivalyr concluded. He looked at Ilea with sharp eyes, turning on his chair a little, “Did you find the Tungsten key?”
When she didn’t reply he continued, “Supposedly Cerithil hunters have found several such keys, each pertaining to a specific metal. The runework and complexity surpasses anything they had ever seen. Yet these stories are mere legends I suppose. The Cerithil hunters lack resources as well as mages to even start to study such a thing. Yet it was deemed important enough for this dwarf to guard with his very life.”
Ilea nodded, “Well let me know if you find out more about it.” She didn’t mention the key itself but everyone present could guess at the location. Especially her not denying the possession.
Niivalyr nodded, moving back to the book. “It is safer with you to be sure. If it is in fact in your possession. I will let you know once I have found their purpose.” He hesitated, tapping the wooden table with one sharp nail, “You don’t suppose we could see it?”
She sighed, “You said your understanding of runes is bad? Let’s go with this, once you all hit three hundred I’ll think about it. Sound interesting?”
He grinned, “Well I thought more about paying you your human currency. Or perhaps offering anything else you would be interested in. Yet once again you surprise me. Do come back here at some point, we will be sure to meet your requirement in a reasonable time. Likely not as fast as you have but we cannot take the same risks.” He looked over his shoulder towards the entrance, “They don’t count.”
“Of course they don’t.” Ilea said and chuckled, Terok cursing near the wall as a sizzling noise resounded. “You plan to stay then? Clean out the whole place?”
Niivalyr looked at Neiphato then her, “I don’t know yet. There is much to be learned in this place and the Centurions will be enough to let us advance to the next evolutions. You have laid the groundwork.”