Chapter 324 The Path Ahead
“Hmm.” The smith hovered around the big skeleton, unbothered by the temperature in the facility, the light orange and red from the machines and molten metals interspersed with green from above. “Ah, yes.” He tapped the bones with his knuckles before he turned to Ilea, golden eyes twinkling. “A rare find, ashen… healer? Truly, full of surprises yet it is expected.”
The elves were mapping out the first floor, Maro and Terok remaining with Goliath after they had found him hammering away near his obelisk. The dwarf remained steadfast against the curse and health drain coming from the smith, now that he had reached a higher level. He did extend his steel to Ilea and drained some health from her occasionally to balance it out. “You need light armor. Perhaps I might be of service. It has been centuries since last I worked bones. May I use your mold to establish the dimensions? It will not be as fitting, not without a bone mage.”
Ilea looked over her shoulder but didn’t find the elves anywhere nearby, “Isn’t Seviir a bone mage? Can you ask the white haired elf for help? Tell him I’ll break his legs if he doesn’t.”
Goliath made a dark giggling sound and bowed lightly, “Of course. Yet I do hope threats shall not be necessary.”
Oh you don’t know that one. She thought and crossed her arms, “And it will regenerate after being damaged?”
He hovered around the massive skeleton, looking intimidating still, even without a spirit residing within, “Timeless…it is possible, that the attribute is lost upon completion. Yet I believe success is most likely. We will have to modify the finished mold… to make it light, remove pieces. Protection will be lessened. Are you certain you do not wish a heavy variant?”
Ilea formed her ashen armor, the smith giving off a yelp that sounded more akin to a nightmarish growl, “Marvelous. My services… are hardly needed.”
“Just make sure the torso is a single piece and covers my chest, stomach and back. Also my neck.” Heading off to new adventures without some protection would be brainless after all.
“I shall do as I can.” The smith replied, not even asking for anything in return.
Terok spoke up then, stepping closer to the smith, “I will stick around with the elves, is it possible to help you out in some way? I’d like your help for some of my armor pieces.” He sounded nervous. Ilea remembered how he had acted back when he showed her the way to the smith. Even approaching had been impossible for him.
“Of course. I could use some help with cutting and enchanting as well as simply two more hands. Are you sure my curse is not a worry?” The smith replied but Terok waved him off.
“One of the elves can heal too and I can drain some machines if necessary. It’s much less of an issue than before.” They both sounded rather happy about the arrangement.
Maro leaned over to Ilea and whispered, “You really know the most peculiar people. What else do you have to surprise me?”
She knew it was a rhetorical question but replied nonetheless, keeping her face straight and looking at Goliath, “A demon, mind weaver. Good guy really. Oh, Aki… he’s a sentient dagger I found in the last Taleen dungeon. I guess the spider pet of Trian’s family would count as well. A skeleton necromancer by the name of Neeto Bones, he…,” Maro squeezed her shoulder and shook his head, his face a little pale.
“Please stop.” He sighed and calmed himself down, “Ok but seriously. You’re fucking with me right?”
Ilea gently touched his cheek and smiled, “Maro, I have a charm resistance now. Also, you’re married.”
His eyes rolled so hard she almost thought he had turned undead himself. Terok was talking to Goliath about some specifics and plans before Maro spoke up again, “You were kidding.”
She glanced over, “Who do you think I am? Ilea fucking Spears.”
“You were serious?” His voice was calm again, composed as he too had his eyes fixated on the two talking metalheads.
“You’re goddamn right.” She whispered.
“That is settled then. I will travel with you, for a while at least. If you’ll have me.” The king went to one knee, his eyes looking deep into hers. She dodged his perfect enhanced smile by tilting her head to the side, the steel ceiling behind her sure to blush.
She held a hand out towards him and helped him stand up after he grasped it, “I’m doing random shit all the time Maro. Do you not want to stay close to Elana?”
He smiled, this time in a more sincere way, “Catelyn is a perfectly fine bodyguard. I doubt the Feynor would risk such a costly attack once more, knowing how it had ended. Plus… well I don’t want to bother her too much. She has found something new to work on and this time… she let me get away without being a pawn in it all.”
So much for behind every powerful man is an even more powerful woman. “And now that you’re free to do whatever you want, you ask to travel with me?” She grinned and shook her head, “Maybe you should find something to do yourself. I don’t mind of course, you’re one of the least annoying people I know.”
He smiled warmly before his eyes narrowed, “Then I’m doing something wrong.” Looking back at the smith he continued, “I’ll need some time to figure things out. You remind me of my old companions, before I founded Tremor and became king. Be it exploring dungeons or seeing the cities and civilizations that have formed in the millennia I was gone, I think stayingwith you will be interesting.”
“I don’t mind having you around but I do what I feel like. Also when I fight things I want to go solo. Otherwise I’ll never reach my goals.” She said.
“Fair enough. What are your goals anyway?” He glanced her way and when she looked at him, she didn’t find any of his usual charm or mock there. A serious question then.
She thought about it. Being in the north, helping out the elves as well as Maro and Hallowfort had perhaps changed her views a little. She chuckled, thinking of the Saurian approaching the dangerous group trying to thank them for what they accidentally did with a precious gift to them that turned out to be mostly worthless. “We destroyed the Praetorians, yes. I don’t fear them anymore but I think I just need to fuck some up while alone. To really prove it you know?”
He didn’t say anything, waiting for her to continue, “There are some people I’d like to find and question. A friend that was killed by a powerful organization. Kyrian who got teleported away, maybe the key will help there. Simply exploring new places.” She paused, “While I don’t want to get involved directly too much, maybe I can use my power to shake things up a little.”
The king waited again but she didn’t add anything, his gaze moving back to Goliath whose eyes were sparkling, a noise Ilea knew to be laughter echoing through the vicinity, “Quite the list.” He stretched, cracking his neck, “I’ll help out where I can, owe you as much.” He paused and looked at her, “Shaking things up… well I just hope you’re not too idealistic. Humans are still humans.”
She chuckled, replying in a soft tone, “Way ahead of you Maro. Plus, I have a couple ancient beings to get advice from. You don’t count by the way.”
The man laughed, “Well, I’ll offer my advice anyway, should you want it. As much as I disliked being king, you learn one or two things along the way.” He was serious again. If anything she knew the man needed time. Perhaps fighting alongside her for a while would help. She had been with herself for some time and Ilea didn’t think of herself as the worst company.
She wouldn’t push him either way, he would figure things out. “So what do you say? I think it’d be fun.” His green eyes sparkled as he looked at her.
“I already said it’s fine.” She replied before summoning her black obsidian hammer. The weight felt right in her arms, the balance too. The head had a cylinder like form, the bottom flat and the back narrowing into a spike. All of it looked to be formed of a single piece. While she knew obsidian was more akin to a glass like substance back on earth, this material, while she thought it looked similar, was way too heavy for that. It felt more like steel too but then again she had never felt obsidian.
Maro looked at the weapon with interest, Ilea stepping over to Goliath before showing him the war hammer. Terok and himself stopped their brooding over the plans as the smith looked at her, taking the weapon into both hands. “What do you think?”
“Truly… beautifully crafted. Simple in design, yet deadly. Some of my earlier work but it holds up. I rarely make weapons in this day and age. It has found its way to you, that at least is reassuring. Quiet was its name… was it not?” He asked and chuckled, handing the weapon back.
She had thought the smith might offer some improvements or critique but to think he had made the weapon himself. Well he was there before Hallowfort even existed if the stories were to be believed.
Storing the hammer, she looked at Terok, “Ready to leave for Tremor?”
The dwarf nodded, “Sure. Goliath, we’ll continue later. I think we’re onto something.”
Goliath nodded when Niivalyr joined them, hissing when he entered the smith’s domain. “Ilea. You are leaving I suppose?” His eyes glanced over the people present, resting on her.
“I am.” She said and stepped towards him, “Though I’ll be back for some armor again.”
He opened his mouth and closed it again quickly, glancing at the others before he summoned a small book, “This is the diary you have given me. Translated so you can read it.” Again he looked at the others, Ilea just grasping his shoulder. He went rigid at the touch but didn’t push her away.
“Make sure you guys don’t die to something stupid. There are dangerous machines down here and I didn’t save them twice for them to learn nothing.” She smiled, letting go of his shoulder.
He gulped and nodded, regaining some composure. “I will train them. They will learn with time. Seviir and Heranuur are young still, their temperament uncontrollable at times, it is in their nature… in our nature.” He paused, looking for words to say before he spoke, “Good luck Ilea.”
“The same to you my friend. Come look for me if you need help.”
He grinned, licking over his teeth once again, “I doubt we would find you. At least you know where we are, should you require our assistance. Assistance we are very willing to provide.” He paused and turned before glancing back, “Friend.” It sounded like he was tasting the word, shaking his head with a smirk before he vanished.
Ilea crossed her arms and smiled, Maro clapping her on the back as he joined her, “Proud of him are we?”
She ignored the mocking tone coupled with his grin and nodded, “Yes actually. I am. Come on, let’s crack open that treasury.” They said their goodbyes to Goliath who assured her a week was enough for him to get her armor done. Ilea was reminded by looking at him that she still hadn’t tested out the Armaments of Trials since getting to three hundred. Too much had happened too quickly for her to really bother with it. Now maybe, she could at least figure out what to do in it. After the treasure.
It was night, the mists flowing softly over the northern lands as the three finally returned to Tremor. It hadn’t been more than a couple days but Ilea felt exhausted, despite all her resources being full. Not getting involved in wars and politics hadn’t exactly worked out in the north. At least she made her stance clear and didn’t join any cults. Even here in these desolate lands, the monsters and people competed in violent manners for one reason or the other.
She felt protecting places like Hallowfort or Lisburg was worth it getting involved, at least as far as fighting off attackers. “Are other sentients born at higher levels than one?” She suddenly asked, thinking on the Feynor and all the level two hundred warriors they had mustered for their attacks.
Maro looked her way, flying next to her, “No. Not if they are born sentient. Monsters do form at higher levels depending on the mana density, race and other circumstances. They can turn into what is commonly known as Dark Ones, reaching sentience with a certain level of Intelligence. That’s the theory at least.”
“Hmm.” She replied and flew on, her wings moving behind her. They were flying slowly to allow Terok to keep up.
“Why do you ask?” The necromancer said, the three finally reaching the mountain under which Tremor was located.
“Was just wondering how many high level Feynor there are.”
They entered and flew to the cathedral, landing casually amidst the wooden benches and worktables Terok and Niivalyr had put up, “You’re worried about the towns around here?” Maro asked.
She nodded, “There are capable people defending them but Catelyn might have died without us there.”
“True.” Maro said and looked around, “But you can’t always be everywhere, prepare for everything. I’m sure they’ll make some arrangements after the attack. Didn’t you say Ravenburg was doing the same?”
“Ravenhall.” She corrected, glancing at him.
He shrugged, “Well you trusted your friends there to take care of it. Trust Catelyn to do the same. As much as I think highly of my wife, that fox certainly has brains for such a small head.”
She shrugged and thought about it, “Ravenhall’s enemies are human, just wanted to make sure the Feynor aren’t going to run in everything once we’re out.” It was only partially true. She had simply not cared when she had left, burnt out by the missions, losing Eve, seeing the horrors of the demon summoning as well as participating in Trian’s revenge. Her decisions were her own and she didn’t regret any of them, neither could she deny the impact it all had on her. A couple years ago she was thinking about what to study and now she had slaughtered hundreds of people, thousands of monsters. Some of it was hardly justified.
“Well if they could, they would have already done that in the last hundred years.” Terok commented, “This ain’t a fresh conflict lassie.” He glanced her way and shrugged, walking towards the cathedral exit.
Maro punched her shoulder, “It’s alright. This isn’t your war, neither is it mine. Didn’t you talk about not getting involved?” He laughed, “Slaying monsters is more fun anyway.”
She could certainly agree with that and smiled, “I didn’t say anything about getting involved in a war. Investing in defenses might already do the trick. Doesn’t hurt to learn about the local warring tribes and peoples.” She didn’t even know what the empress of Lys was called, who the king of Baralia was and why they attacked. More slaves and territory were likely argument enough but a conflict involving two massive countries was usually more nuanced.
“Elana will be sure to deal with that. If you want to throw your gold away, feel free to do so.” Maro added and waved her off, surprising her with his uncaring attitude. She wondered if it was simply because he didn’t want the same thing to happen again.
Well he did say he needed time. Just as I did. She knew it wasn’t really comparable but she had lost a friend, Maro had lost damn near everything. She didn’t count her awakening in Elos, knowing that if it wasn’t all an incredible simulation or dream, Earth was still around, the people on it probably fine. Guess I could visit at some point. Mark would certainly be impressed when I destroy the whole kick-boxing tournament in one punch.
“Well I’ll talk to them again next week at least. Maybe some of the things left in your treasury could be helpful as well.” She said to which he nodded and smiled.
“Let’s hope some of it is left. If not, you at least found me and Elana.” He laughed when Terok looked back and shook his head, quite obviously displeased with the negative attitude.
“Do not curse our fortune Maro!” He spoke and pointed at him, “We already had one empty treasury, another one might just be too much for my old heart to take!”
Ilea laughed too, “Terok, the real treasure are the friends we made along the way.” She tried hard to keep a straight face, Maro nodding seriously next to her before Terok simply vanished, appearing in her sphere outside the double doors. The groan was audible through the thick gate, even without sense enhancements.
“You think that was too much?” She asked, the necromancer waving his hand as he looked at her.
He sounded serious when he spoke, “Terok will have to deal with worse if he stays with the elves.”
“Maybe.” They left it at that, Ilea blinking out followed by Maro. The three wordlessly flying towards the palace.
“Why didn’t we just fly there directly? Instead of going through the cathedral?” Terok asked, him simply having followed them before.
Ilea was about to speak up when Maro answered, “Feels wrong. Tremor is a dungeon now, a good entrance is just part of it.”
The silver rose like decorations on his armor glinted purple in her magic perception, Terok’s floodlights illuminating the dark path ahead. He gets it. She thought and yawned.