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Chapter 333 The Way Back

 

 

When she returned to the surface, Ilea found Maro near the Penumra dungeon entrance. His hand outstretched and shield gleaming in the sunlight, beams of purple energy fired into the dungeon time and time again. “Enjoying yourself?” She asked, walking up to him.

His gaze was focused on something down in the dungeon, another beam forming. “Very elusive creatures.” He surmised, a smirk on his face when he put away his helmet. “You’re done? Town still standing?”

“It is.” Ilea replied, her armor covering her face again before her wings spread, “I wanted to at least try and see.” She said and jumped down. When she reached a root around thirty meters into the dungeon, she started heating up her Heart of Cinder. The first Drop Saurians were already moving up the walls and nearby roots. The ranged monsters sent their thorns her way but this time they couldn’t even penetrate through her ashen armor.

When the first monster reached her, sixteen sharp ashen limbs greeted it, cutting deep into its flesh. Blood started leaking as it screeched at her, more of the beasts coming. Her limbs moved around her, cutting into the monsters. Their defenses were enough to at least prevent her from outright killing them with single blows but the wounds were severe. Many of them moved back again after their initial approach, Ilea’s Heart of Cinder flaring out as a group of seven were engulfed, their wounds coupled with the fire and heat too much to survive.

ding’ ‘You have defeated [Drop Saurian – lvl 362] – For defeating an enemy fifty or more levels above your own, bonus experience is granted.

‘ding’ ‘You have defeated [Drop Saurian – lvl 391] – For defeating an enemy eighty or more levels above your own, bonus experience is granted.

Not quite as useful to hunt these than the Miststalkers. She noted, a little disappointed at their lack of resistance. When the blast had subsided, the nearby Drop Saurians seemed to avoid her even, some just staring at her from a distance while some injured ones outright fled. The ranged variants continued their fruitless assault, either lacking the sight or understanding of what had just happened. They just attack blindly. She caught one of the thorns and looked it over, her wings spreading again before she flew up, the nearby Saurians who hadn’t yet been injured were clawing at the air where she had just stood.

Maro looked at her after she appeared next to him, “What’s their level?” He asked.

“High three hundreds. Lower than the Miststalkers.” She replied. “Want to try leveling with them?”

He considered, “Maybe at another point in time. Do you plan to come back north again soon? I think I’d have you protect me before I go in there alone.”

“Catelyn and Elana talked about the Descent, something’s changing in the dungeon and the expedition that left before we got you out is missing, all contact lost. I’m open to check it out so yea, I think I’ll be back north again somewhat soon.” Ilea said.

“Bummer. Well at least these seem more manageable to me than those Miststalkers.” He said, “If I can fight them alone, I’m sure to gain more levels somewhat quickly.” He sounded a little unsure about it.

“I’ll be up here to heal you. There are miststalkers around here too so don’t worry. The Saurians have strong poison too by the way, just thought I’d mention it. They just can’t pierce my ashen armor.” She added.

“Great news.” Maro said, defeated. “Worth a try at least. So, southwards?”

Ilea nodded. “Seems like it.” Shegrinned, her helmet coming back on as well as the ashen armor on her head reforming, previously kept free to allow for proper communication. “Now, where’s south exactly?”

Maro looked at her for a whole three seconds before laughed, his helmet coming on too as he started to float, “You surprise me again, Ilea. Going to the frontier without even knowing about the suns and stars.”

She rolled her eyes, “Well, if it weren’t for you, I could just teleport back.”

“Third tier long range?” He asked, “Damn, maybe I should go for that too next time. Oh and apologies for the delay then, I’ll make sure to teach you about the stars at least! Just in case you need to know where you are at some point.” Maro seemed suddenly energized, the prospect of getting out of the desolate north to see the busy cities humans had built in his absence had quite the opposite effect on him than it had on Ilea.

She was happy to see her friends again and restock on food but in the end, she generally preferred the wild and undiscovered lands Elos had to offer. With Maro, Terok and the elves around, there had been no chance of her getting lonely either, the opposite really. At least the last week had been incredibly relaxing to her and she already looked forward to hunting more Miststalkers.

“Should we wait for nightfall?” Maro asked, looking at the storms.

“It’s quite a long journey, even with our speed.” She would have to slow down for him but didn’t mind much. “We can move along the crevices for now. It’s going to be a couple days.” She didn’t know how fast he was exactly but thought it was similar to her pre evolution flying, at least in long and straight lines. Somehow she was more agile than him in the air despite his lack of wings.

“Would you find back alone?” Maro asked, “To Hallowfort I mean.”

Ilea shrugged, “Eventually, yea. The landscape is pretty distinct, especially the area around the Taleen dungeon. Worst case, I go from there. Why do you ask? Planning to ditch me?” She tried to sound hurt.

He laughed, “You wish. I was just wondering, stars could help there too but you’ll figure it out once I’ve taught you.”

“It’s been on my list for a while.” She said.

“Not very complicated. There are only a couple important stars and alignments you’ll have to remember. With your stats in Intelligence, I think it will be a quick thing.”

“If only your charisma wasn’t so distracting.” She replied, the man smirking her way as they passed through open land before entering another crevice. “Intelligence helps me remember things?”

“Hard to say.” Maro replied, the two teleporting past a massive snake hissing their way. “Have you felt no change yourself?”

“Not particularly.” She replied. Then again she hadn’t exactly studied anything during her constant leveling.

 

 

The two flew through the day and then through the night. Maro explained the positions of the suns to her and what it meant, where they rose and set. At night he started with the stars, the sword and wheel as well as the light of the east, a star that was easily distinguishable. Ilea could already somewhat see where they were and the more constellations he pointed out, the more exact her estimations became. At least in her head. So far there was no reference point, neither in the south or north but as soon as she was somewhere she had been before, it would become clear.

All of it was written down into her notebook and when the suns rose again, she determined both started in the east and set in the west, just like it had been back on Earth. When second night of travel came to an end, the two could already see the distant Naraza mountain chain, rising higher than the nearby lands but Ilea was pretty sure they didn’t come close to even the altitudes of Hallowfort or Tremor. “Like a wall.” Maro said to her side, the two speeding towards the snowy mountains.

Looking back, Ilea found her assumption true, the mountainous territory growing higher and higher the way they had come from. Towards the south it sloped downward slightly before once again rising high with the Naraza chain. It took them another two hours of flight to reach the chain, the two landing at the very top as the suns started to rise. Behind them the mists started evaporating over the lands, the arcane storms of the north starting to form, the distant sound of cracking lightning faintly audible.

To the south, the Navali forest stretched as far as her eyes could see, to the west and south. The clear weather allowed her to even see the massive body of water she assumed to be the lake or ocean bordering on Karth. It had been visible from Dawntree but she didn’t inform herself on its nature. It was possible nobody really knew, considering the elven territory as well as big bodies of water and the monsters lurking below.

She felt a shiver move through her at the thought, Maro looking over as he built a small campfire with wood he had taken from his ring. “Scared of going back, or did you think of the Soul Rippers?” He chuckled, Ilea throwing him the fire rune sphere.

“No, I just thought about the monsters lurking under that lake, or ocean.” She pointed out, her bone armor replaced by casual clothes and her ashen armor receding to her back. The cold winter winds flowed through her hair, the woman turning as she moved two massive rocks with her ashen limbs, carefully putting them down near the fire. It was freezing up here, the very ground cracking as she walked over it in her bone boots, keeping that part of her armor on to not damage her shoes unnecessarily.

Snow covered most of the summit, the two having chosen one of the highest points around, a small plateau allowing for the fire and some rest. Two days of uninterrupted flying were quite a strain, at least it should have been. Ilea felt refreshed, taking a deep breath of the cold air. She sat down on the stone. Her hands stretched out towards the flames that started consuming the dry wood, the runed artifact truly marvelous. She chuckled, leaning forward to get closer to the heat. Neither of them were bothered by the cold. Ilea didn’t know about Maro exactly but she could walk through a blizzard unscathed, comfortably even. There had been plenty in the north after all. Even before her evolution it had been a non issue.

“What’s so funny?” Maro asked, the man standing towards the south, looking over the lands stretching before them. He turned and looked at her, his helmet gone too, a casual smile on his face.

Ilea watched the flames dance, persisting in the cool air and high altitude. She had no idea how high up they actually were, in meters that was. The air was thinner but it didn’t feel like it impacted her at all, either a side effect of her Vitality or perhaps some of her body enhancements. “I was just thinking back, collecting small sticks and building a tent, using newspapers to set the bits of wood aflame before bigger pieces could be added. And now I have a magic flamethrower ball.”

“Yea… that’s why you always have a fire mage with you, even early on. It’s not like they’re a rare breed.” Maro said and sat down too, crossing his arms as he breathed in deeply, his eyes closed.

“Not on Earth they are.” Ilea said, “Though I suppose there were easier ways to make a fire too.”

“It’s still quite hard to get my head around a world without magic. I suppose humans would find a way somehow, especially with a lack of monsters.” He glanced at her, “I told you I wouldn’t mention it, your secret is safe with me.”

“Honestly, at this point it hardly matters.” She replied, “Nobody seemed to really care about me being from another realm, I doubt anybody would show up now.”

“There will always be beings out of our imagination. If one is interested in realm travel, it could spell trouble. Being too guarded and paranoid is definitely the safer bet, just… so terribly boring.” He grinned.

“Exactly. Well if it doesn’t come up, it doesn’t come up.” She said, looking over the broad mountain top, the hills and rocks sloping down slightly on either side for hundreds of meters.

She summoned two meals and handed one to Maro, still around seventy of Keyla’s prepared meals remained. Most of them had been consumed in the last couple months, Ilea having focused mainly on her training in the first ten months or so in the north. The man took the bowl gratefully and thanked her. She pointed eastwards, the suns breaking over the horizon, their light shining onto the lower altitudes both north and southwards. Their spot on the summit was still untouched, as if the lands below were flooded by color, the waters not yet reaching this high.

“We will move along the mountains until we hit the ocean. The coastline will be easier to traverse than the plains.” She said, Less shit to get involved in. Maro seemed to understand too, the man looking past her as his smile waned.

“We’ve got company. An ice spirit of sorts.” He said, Ilea turning her head to look at the distant creature.

“Spirit of Winter.” She supplied, looking at the ethereal humanoid a hundred meters back. It was definitely watching them but she simply turned again and continued eating, unconcerned by the monster. “Last ones I killed were early three hundred.”

Maro continued eating too, still having an eye on the creature, “Good to know. I’ve never seen one actually but other spirits. Highly specialized… I wouldn’t be so casual about them but then again, you have a resistance against everything it seems.”

“Not yet.” She commented with a full mouth, the man laughing in turn.

“Do you need to sleep before we go?” He asked, the suns starting to reach over the mountain.

Ilea put the empty bowl into her necklace and stretched, “No. I slept four days ago or so. You?”

He shook his head and stood up, “I’m fine.”

“I’d like to stay a little longer, half an hour or so?” She asked. Maro nodded as he walked past her, helmet back on.

He casually closed in on the spirit, turning his head her way, “Gives me the creeps that one.”

She smiled, turning northwards while she enjoyed the warmth of the flames. A deep breath entered her lungs before she sighed.

 

 

The sound of battle died down a couple minutes later, Ilea enjoying her solitude until only embers remained. Standing up, her bone armor appeared on top of her clothes, ashen armor forming on top of that. Her wings spread and moved, a single long jump aided by them brought her to Maro. The man had frost all over him, standing over the remains of the winter spirit. The snow crunched as she walked toward him, a hand placed on his shoulder, “Oh no, Maro. You killed Christmas.”

“Gave me more trouble than the Feynor. Bloody ice.” He murmured, “If this is Christmas, I hate it.”

She started flying up and twirled around, “Come now, don’t be such a downer. I know you can’t wait to be around a million people again.”

His expression immediately lit up, helmet appearing before he flew up to her side, “Lead the way then, ashen warrior of the north.”

She chuckled and sped up, the two rushing over the mountain chain with incredibly speed. Any animal or monster turned their heads or whatever protrusion they used to see, hear or sense the humans flying over, none moved to intercept. It didn’t take long for them to reach the ocean, both slowing down as they descended to the shoreline. Ilea had a house overlooking the endless sea but it’s been nearly a year since she had last been there. With all her growth, all the power flowing through her, it still somehow managed to make her feel small.

With potential to grow. She thought. The feeling she had when looking out over the waves was one thing that was nearly identical to how it had felt on Earth. The monsters back then were likely much less terrifying but so was her own arsenal of deadly capabilities. Let’s be honest here, I would have just drowned. She steered the thoughts away and focused on the shoreline, her mind flashing back to her cruel trainer William. She had asked for it of course and other than his wish to train his ash magic resistance, there was little that would satisfy her. Even back then she could wipe the floor with the old man.

No, you’re not an advocate of beating the elderly, Ilea. She sped up along the land, Maro to her side, trying to keep up with her. As soon as the first settlements started to be visible, the two of them moved higher. Mages and archers would have a hard time at the distance, even someone like Navalis, the ranger in Sulivhaan’s team. Ilea wondered how she was doing, if she had passed her in levels or if the ranger had somehow managed to keep up. She doubted it but certainly wouldn’t be mad about a surprise.

Hours passed as they flew over the easternmost part of the human plains, Baralia, Asila, the empire of Lys. Ilea had a big grin on her face when they saw the southern mountains rising high over the empire’s lands. “Couple hours and we’re there.” She said to the man flying in silence next to her.

He simply nodded, the two mages picking up speed once again as they crossed the last stretch of their long journey. One she could have done within a single third tier blink, Maro the only reason she had traveled by flight. Now, as they landed on the mountain chain overlooking the clear and frozen lake near Ravenhall, she was happy to have used her wings. Her adventures in the north were far from over but it felt good, to see the distance, feel it. To understand how far she had come.

The suns shone onto the town, the three dark walls rising high, the streets busy in the distance. Wagons and groups of adventurers made their way to the north gate, “Ravenhall.”

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