Chapter 335 Catching up
The food was marvelous, truly. Ilea couldn’t finish it all but stored the rest in her necklace. “You’re a goddess, Keyla.” She said, cleaning her mouth with a napkin.
“They’re getting there.” Keyla said, having tried most of the dishes too, “Not quite perfection but I don’t manage it with every dish either.”
They had told each other about the major things happening in the past year, Ilea talking most of the time due to her vastly more dangerous lifestyle. Keyla had mostly just cooked, though the rebuilding of the city as well as the new festivities were a subject too. “Come on, tell me at least what class he is.” Ilea pried but the cook was stubborn.
“Of course you care about his class…,” Keyla rolled her eyes, the two having moved on to red wine. The cook was a little tipsy but Ilea didn’t feel anything, alcohol a poison that didn’t affect her anymore. She didn’t care much. The taste of the beverages was still nice. “He’s tall, strong and handsome. Yet when we’re alone he is sensitive and vulnerable, Ilea. He’s such a dear friend. I see the way he looks at me too but still he hasn’t asked me out. I’m beginning to wonder…,”
“Don’t wonder, you ask him. I’ll have a dress made for you, get some flowers or a sword, whatever he would like and just ask him. Life is too short to worry about it. Trust me, most men would love to be asked out.”
“How do you know? You’re not a man.” Keyla said, defensively.
“Oh?” Ilea raised her eyebrows, moving closer to the cook, “Are you afraid too then? I know because every time I asked a guy out, he either said yes or told me he had no interest. What’s the point in wondering when you could know?”
“You make a compelling argument.” Keyla said, Ilea appearing behind her as ash slowly formed around the two, her mouth moving to her ear.
She spoke in a whisper, “Just think of him… wrapping his arms around you, holding you, taking off your clothes, piece by piece. Kissing your neck…,” She was pushed away with a yelp, the dragon like being red in her face as her heart thrummed in her chest.
“Ok… alright, I’ll… think about it.” She said, Ilea sitting back in her chair, pouring herself another glass of beer.
“You should.” She said and raised her glass.
Keyla needed a minute to calm down, tapping the table, “I was thinking of opening more restaurants. They proved it today, at least three of them could be chefs.”
“Then do it. Talk to Claire about the money and locations.” Ilea said.
“Really?” Keyla asked, exceedingly happy. “That’s going to be a lot of work… then again, it’s been a little boring lately.”
“Talk to her in a couple days, she’ll have more funds than now.” Ilea said, the cook giving her a mischievous look.
“Now, if only I could take out that baker…,” The cook murmured to herself, Ilea enjoying her beer as she turned and looked out the window, the top floor of the Golden Drake having a view over most of the city. Many of the distant buildings seemed new to her but with the walls standing, the people had no way to build but up or down.
Could add another wall…, She wondered about the logistics and nearly got a headache. Leave that with the builder brains. Focus on punching and healing things. She smiled, finishing her beer. Noon had passed and she had a couple things on her list that she wanted to do that day. “It’s been wonderful Keyla, I’ll have to check in with Claire soon, otherwise she’ll have me hanged.”
“I won’t keep you. I’m very happy to see you alive and well, Ilea.” The cook said and got up, walking over to her and grabbing her in a hug. She rubbed her back harder and harder, Ilea raising an eyebrow at that, “Oh, sorry.” Keyla said embarrassed, “You just, your muscles are like steel. No kidding you improved your power in the north. Make sure not to get caught up again this time, let me know if someone pressures you, I’ll deal with them.” She said and let go, looking at Ilea with fierce reptile eyes.
“I’ll be back in a week or so for the food, don’t overwork yourself.” Ilea said, the cook just waving her off before Ilea vanished and appeared above the restaurant. The black flag with a golden drake head in its midst was flowing lazily in the cold winter wind, the suns shining down onto the city.
Claire was finally done with the new permits, an additional chunk of their Haven restructured for food growth. At least the population is finally stabilizing, took long enough. Refugees were still coming in but compared to the initial flood of the first four months, it was barely a trickle by now. Sulivhaan wanted to keep Eregar’s Haven Hand owned, imperial mages still not allowed inside. Which in turn meant the Hand had to hire nature mages or train them to take care of all the fields and growth.
Overseers had to be added to make sure they didn’t do anything stupid as well as water mages, earth mages, a couple fire mages as well as anything else that might be useful. The fact that they were allowed to sell to businesses directly made the whole ordeal more than profitable, the surrounding lands would require quite a bit more mana to make even remotely fertile and yielding. Some of course still tried, private organizations as well as some imperial operations. The latter struggled much more, needing their constant permits and licenses from the empire.
The offices had been absent for the first three months and since then they were simply overwhelmed. To think Sulivhaan’s clause in the initial contract to allow the Hand to offer permits and buy grounds on their own to help rebuild and revitalize the city had paid off ridiculously well. The officers involved in the negotiation luckily didn’t think much on the long term. Claire didn’t have the numbers, the war preventing the empire to even collect them but she had no doubt Ravenhall was already one of the economic strongholds in all of Lys.
With Virilya under siege, perhaps even in the top three. With the size and recent history it was more than she had hoped for. I should really train some more with Trian. She reminded herself, her personal power lagging behind due to all the work. Claire had hoped for it to slow down a little once things were running smoothly but opportunities just kept presenting themselves.
The same was true for the other leaders at least. She was glad for Trian’s help with the nobles, especially those coming in from the capital and nearby. As long as none of the remaining Birmingales show up. The Shadowguard didn’t just protect the city against monsters. Baralia agents still made it to Ravenhall from time to time. The bounty the kingdom had put out had been lowered a couple months after its inception, meaning their resources were running low. Raiding imperial treasuries isn’t going to hold up forever.
She knew that slave trade and labor was the main economic power of the kingdom and with the war they had a massive influx of people but they hadn’t managed to overrun the capital, hadn’t built enough lasting bases in the empire’s lands and many of the cities south of Virilya had barely been bothered. Same with Ravenhall. People had been murdered, yes. Some abducted as well as food vaults burned but nothing to damage them with any lasting impact.
By now the guard and people were so well educated and prepared, most agents or rogue adventurers avoided the city altogether, found and executed in the span of mere days. She knew some remained but the Shadow’s Hand wasn’t feared for nothing. Nearly all their members had been part of not only monster subjugation quests. If anybody made too much trouble, a squad of their own was sent out to deal with them. Meeting with Dagon too later, She looked over the calendar in her notebook as she ascended the stairs to her office.
The plan had been to relocate to Viscera at some point but she simply felt more in touch with the politics and economics of the city while being near its center. Flipping the page, her eyes went wide. The book was put away, her steps speeding up as her armor appeared around her. What is that power? Did Verena come back yet again? Cless was still in her office, painting. Her runes informed her that the girl was fine, for now at least. Could it be that remaining demon?
The door swung open, Claire stepping inside, ready to activate all the defensive enchantments in the building to protect the girl. She looked at the intruder with her mana sight and tensed up, feeling the pure arcane exuding from the woman.
“Relax Claire, it’s me.” The voice was familiar, her mana sight deactivated before she looked at the familiar smirk of Ilea. She wore brown simple pants and a white shirt with embroideries near the chest and shoulders, her hair hung loosely down her back, black as a raven. The blue eyes were piercing as always but somehow she felt calm, looking at them. Ilea was sitting on the floor, her legs crossed as she watched the girl paint.
Matured? Deadly…, Claire couldn’t quite place the look, relaxing when Ilea turned her attention back to the painting, Cless was working on. Turning her mana sight back on, she put her work onto the table, seeing the familiar glow around the paintbrush and canvas, the girl’s magic growing by the day. Ilea on the other hand was covered in runes, shining bright. A spot near her back shined in a dark red glow. “You’re back.” Was all she managed, unable to identify the woman.
[Healer - ??]
She evolved. Two fifty? Three hundred even? She gulped, feeling inadequate with her own growth, her higher level being at two twenty. Only thanks to the demons that were still birthed or summoned in the lake down in the Haven. She stepped closer, the painting showing a man in spiked armor, needles floating around him as he faced down a horrible winged creature with a hideous distorted face. Gargoyles… he’s still in that castle.
“Quite the talent our little painter has developed.” Ilea said, her gaze focused on the depicted mage, the girl smiling as she heard the praise. Still, she focused on her magic, wanting to add more details before her mana ran out.
“Scrying. It’s a powerful ability, rare and usually reserved for old wrinkled oracles.” Claire replied, standing next to the sitting woman.
Ilea grunted her affirmation, “Quite something you made out of the city.” she said, “Less people on the streets, nearly all the shops filled and bustling. The very opposite of what you expect from wartime. The war is still going on, isn’t it?”
She’s really been away completely, “It is. A stalemate for the last four months but it looks like Baralia is spreading itself too thin. The winter hasn’t been good on them.” Ilea huffed some air out of her nose, a smile tugging on her lips, its meaning lost on Claire.
“Sounds wonderful. How are you, Claire? How’s Ravenhall?” She turned her way now, looking up.
Why does it feel like I made a pact with a demon when I took that money? Back then it felt like robbing a noble girl of her father’s money. “I’m well, busy most of the time but well.” She made herself calm down a little. It’s Ilea. “What happened to you in the north?” She couldn’t help ask.
The healer smiled, “Trained mostly, killed a bunch of monsters. I’m at three hundred now, Claire.”
“I don’t know if I should be proud or scared.” She replied honestly, chuckling at the circumstance. “Are you going to share something or will you be the same as Verena, deeming the knowledge only for those worthy?”
“I’d appreciate proud.” Ilea replied, “Can Cless paint the future or past? And do you know if it’s true?” The woman asked, not replying to her question on knowledge.
“We tested it with some others she knows. It’s the present time, or close enough.” Claire said, summoning one of the paintings depicting Ilea, fighting a knight with two short swords. The armor looked terrifying and otherworldly, not too far from her previous gear but the ghostly feeling Cless had added made her question if it really was Ilea.
“The kingsguard. That’s me alright.” Ilea replied, “Oh speaking of king, there’s a necromancer in town near by level. He should be alright, just so you know he’s not a danger.”
“You don’t sound completely convinced.” Claire said and immediately started writing some notes, putting them into the steel tubes coming out of the wall behind her desk. Closing the lids, she activated the wind magic enchantments to send the messages to the relevant people in the guard, shadowguard and Hand.
“Is that a message delivery system? Neat.” Ilea said, patting Cless’ back when the girl had ran out of mana. “And yea, I’ll deal with him if he does anything too out there.” She laughed, “That’s a beautiful painting Cless. Kyrian would love it, I’m sure.”
The girl looked down, embarrassed at the praise. “Don’t overdo it, she knows how good she is. Cless you have school soon, ready in ten minutes?” The girl nodded, a bright smile on her face, mischievousness in her eyes. Children. Claire thought and smiled, turning away when she realized Ilea had been watching her.
“I’m glad you’re taking care of her, Claire.” Ilea said.
“I know you felt responsible but we found her together, you know? It’s nice to have someone around that doesn’t talk about laws and permits all the time.” She said and smiled.
Ilea seemed to accept the answer, hopefully not feeling bad about going on her own adventures. “I have a little more to share than just the three hundred evolution.” She said a minute later, Cless already ready to leave. “I’d rather inform everyone instead of talking to each of you separately.”
“Who is everyone?” Claire asked, straightening the dress Cless was wearing.
“I don’t know if they’re still around. Sulivhaan, Dagon, Elise and you.” Ilea replied.
“If it concerns them, I would suggest adding Trian to the list. He’s been dealing with the nobles coming to the city. While much of the gold and investments are with us, as in the Hand, new investors helped a great deal too.” Claire added, “Oh and you now own a large chunk of the city. The first months were crazy. New investors were scarce, even the merchants who instantly jumped on the idea didn’t go all in with their gold. I kept a sum back, if you want it but most of the gains I immediately reinvested. Your rules actually helped too, word spreading quickly that Lilith owned places paid well and had fair conditions. It snowballed and well, now you…,” Claire was just about to start when Ilea gestured her to stop.
“Thanks, we can talk about that stuff later, I have some questions and ideas too. For now, I’d like to get to the talk with the others, it could be detrimental in regards to the Hand’s future actions.” The healer said, surprising Claire.
“How so?” She asked, writing more notes before adjusting the pipes and putting them inside, the wind magic taking them to where they needed to go. Part of the system was that the writing was illegible until passing through the exit piece associated with the sending one. That part took her four months to develop after the initial idea was set up in a manner of days. Security wasn’t important at first but as soon as Baralia agents came into play and the city’s population grew again, it became a necessity.
“I have information on the Elves, Taleen, Feynor as well as the Dark Ones living in the north. Some of it directly or indirectly concerns humanity.” Ilea replied.
Claire had a blank stare as she looked at the woman who was braiding her hair into a single plait. “I’m ready!” Cless said, pulling on her armored skirt, Claire still in her fighting gear.
“Elves?” She blurted out after a couple seconds, “What did you find out?” She felt her heart rate accelerate. If they could learn about those creatures, their motives, weaknesses. Sulivhaan was obsessed with them, constantly allocating resources to scan through the western lands, trying to make sense of their movements and attacks. The past year was quiet, only a couple attempts to break into Dawntree reported.
“As I said, I’d like to not repeat myself five times. Do we meet here?” Ilea replied, making Claire feel a little frustrated.
Perhaps I’ve grown too accustomed to get what I want instantly since becoming the Head Administrator. Claire smiled a little, patting Cless’ head, “Alright. We meet in the library, I have to bring Cless to her class with William. The others are informed. I think everybody is in the city.”
“Good.” Ilea said and cracked her neck.
“Who is your necromancer friend?” Claire asked, the three of them walking towards Viscera. She didn’t assume that was part of the things she wanted to keep for the whole group. The sky was clear, the last weeks of Winter were upon them. What will Virilya do? She wondered.
Ilea was looking around like a tourist in a newly discovered marvel of a city, checking the different shops and restaurants that had sprung up, “There’s so much to see.” She said, “He’s the ancient king of a lost kingdom in the north. Excited to see the cities built in his absence.”
She says that as if it’s a normal thing. Claire decided to prioritize, trusting Ilea and her assessment of that king. If he was anywhere close to her in personality, she would look at damages and reparations of at least fifty gold. Not a problem. “You also own most of these. Restaurants and shops were first on the list. I was pretty liberal with your gold afterwards.”
“Wouldn’t want it any other way.” Ilea replied with a smirk, “Are there orphanages and schools as well?”
Claire glanced her way, “Some, yes. I do hope that question has nothing to do with the necromancer you brought.”