Chapter 343 A Breath of Air
Ilea started with the crates of loot she had gotten in the Vineyard caves, the collection of the Undying Lord moving on to her. I wonder if in ten thousand years someone will invade my home to kill my skeletal undead remains, taking all my stuff and moving it somewhere else. She laughed at the thought, already excited for the fight. I would probably not be around anyway, looking for something exciting out there.
There were lots of weapons and armors. Ilea had designated the room she was in as the armory and decided to put any not fighting related treasures further down, into the part of the house that was a little more secret. With all the skills people had for finding hidden spaces, she assumed a high level scavenger or rogue wouldn’t have an issue getting it anyway. Luckily, she had sorted the loot already back in the bone mansion.
It took her twenty minutes to fill all the gear onto the hooks, brackets, as well as weapon and armor racks. Her ashen limbs helped tremendously, a certain uncaring attitude required to ignore some of the scratches and rough handling of the beautifully crafted and doubtlessly expensive weapons. Ilea had the opinion that if anything got damaged because of that, it wasn’t really worth keeping anyway.
When she was done, Ilea smiled and crossed her arms, nodding at the sight. The magical lights illuminating the room beautifully reflected off the various metals, a colorful palette of displayed wealth and power. She had no idea what most of the weapons were even called, even dubious on how to use some of them. The only thing she could surmise was that a varied horde of warriors tried to kill the Undying Lord. Or he went out and hunted them down. His skull had sadly been molded into her helmet, otherwise she would have put it up on one of the various hooks.
She grabbed the crates with the treasure, putting everything into her necklace before she blinked one floor farther down. One of the storage rooms was chosen at random, the crates put inside. Ilea added the Taleen shield that had remained form the first dungeon, now not really providing much to her defensive arsenal anymore. Back in the armory, Ilea added the Dark Elf Ranger Bow to the wall. Wasn’t I supposed to give that to someone? Lorcan maybe? She didn’t really remember. If anybody was looking for a bow, they could always ask her. I wonder what he’s up to. Still in Dawntree?
The next item she summoned were her heavy obsidian gauntlets. She lifted them easily now, all her offensive upgrades lately made the weapons useless. Her ash could pierce better than her Blue Steel Gauntlets ever could and with how light the supposed heavy gauntlets felt in her arms, she doubted they would add anything to her ridiculously enhanced body. And they prevent the use of Destruction. The hammer wasn’t something she could wield very well yet but if she really needed purely blunt physical force, the weapon was at least heavier.
She summoned it too and compared, How much fucking Strength did that Dark One have? She shook her head with a smile, placing her hammer back into the necklace. The gauntlets she placed in a prominent spot, each a part of her journey. She added the ax from the Dawntree hunter that was looking for her. Looking for Alice. She noted with a smile, Another one that might be dead by now. It wouldn’t be a terrible loss, she thought. At least her butler was a good guy, James? Jaime? Something like that. I meet too many people. Miststalkers all look the same, same name too.
Ilea laughed when she saw the heavy dark steel bow, reminded of a hobby she hadn’t really practiced in a year. Her heavy archery skill was still at level four. The last thing from her necklace that she placed in the armory was her Ashen Hunter leg, cut through cleanly by the now deceased Kingsguard of Tremor. A testament to her power as well as a reminder of her mortality. I think I need more skulls. She thought, tapping her cheek with a finger.
Blue Reapers weren’t that nice to look at, Miststalkers left no corpse behind and the undead knights were human. Ilea decided to hunt for some aesthetically pleasing monsters to decorate her armory with an imposing atmosphere. The next half hour was spent distributing the gear found in Tremor’s treasury. Ilea ran out of space in the end, forced to place some of the weapons and armors into the storage room below, as well as the treasures themselves of course.
Ilea rubbed the bracelet, the storage item mostly emptied. She had forgotten to give Goliath the destroyed Rose Hunter armor sets but Terok had delivered enough metal ingots that it wouldn’t make a difference either way. Stonehammer steel gear for the healing organization? She smiled at the possibility. Forged by Goliath himself, enchanted by Iana. Talk about incentives to join.
Done in the armory, Ilea blinked down into the library and walked over to her bath, activating the enchantments. Her clothes vanished into her necklace a couple minutes later before she stepped into the steaming water. A deep sigh left her, the woman relaxing as the grime, dirt and sweat was cleaned off of her. Ash did the job just as well but there was just something about a steaming bath that nothing could replace. So far at least.
Ilea spent the rest of the evening reading in bed, the star and moonlight that shone through the big glass window above was enough light for her enhanced sight. She read of werewolves and blood sucking monsters, not the sparkly kind. The sound of the waves that continuously broke upon the cliffs below eventually lulled her into a slumber. Ilea woke up a couple times throughout the night, only a light sleep possible with her untiring body. The ashen blanket at least was incredibly comfortable and Ilea found it didn’t dissolve even during her sleep.
A cocoon of ash, hibernating dragon Ilea…, The thought was hazy in her mind when she woke up, the suns not yet visible on the horizon. She could tell it wouldn’t be long until they rose, dusk upon the land. She rubbed her eyes, her auras flowing through her constantly, lines of fire from her Aspect of Ash visible on her skin. Her Ashen Armor was a small patch on her back. Ilea turned in bed, her ashen blanked moving to cover her. She formed a tiny Taleen Praetorian with her ash, the thing fighting a group of Kingsguard all made of ash, her thoughts given form.
If all else fails, I can become an ash puppeteer. She smiled, willing the Armor of Ash on her back into the form of a rose similar to the one on her bracelet, thorns growing out. She noted that if she gave the armor a little more area to expand, she could flatten the ash enough for it to be more akin to a tattoo than anything else. Possibly less obvious that a skill is actively being used. She thought, the praetorian halving one of the knights, Not that it would matter either way. She thought about Trian’s words in regards to skill testing.
There’s a lot I can still learn about ash as well as the Azarinth. She yawned and stretched, clothes appearing on her before she blinked downwards twice, appearing in one of the lower training halls she had had built into the house. Ilea didn’t trust the construction enough to go crazy down there but it was perfect to hide her training in her Armaments of Trials. Doing so outside was fine too but the tigers would probably claw it up. Maybe I should get one of those cat trees.
The next three hours were spent using various skills inside the big bulky armor while she analyzed every little change, flow of magic and enchantments within. Compared to using her skills freely, the armor helped her focus on the more minute changes. Ilea’s magic sight was still untrained. Of course her sphere skill was at the highest current possible level but that didn’t mean she had nothing to learn about it. Her experiences with her ash creation and manipulation had proven as much.
When she was done with the training, she took another bath for good measure. I have a water rune with me… could just blast the ground somewhere, fill it with water and heat it up with the fire rune or Heart of Cinder. The thought hadn’t crossed her mind yet. This world really was full of possibilities. Storage items with fresh food and a bed inside, magic runes that could collect water and heat from their surroundings. Wings. Ilea still ranked the wings pretty much at the top. Flying was just that satisfying.
Dressed again and fresh from two nice baths, a couple hours of sleep and a hearty breakfast of four of Keyla’s meals, Ilea blinked up onto her roof. Her arms spread wide. Cold air surrounded her. A moment later, her wings spread, the ashen protrusions moving first up and then down, with a strength surpassing most men. Seconds later, she was flying past the cliff side, rushing over the dense pine forest. Her legs occasionally touched the tip of a tree as she twirled and laughed, speeding onward to the only major city for miles and miles.
“And that concludes our morning lesson on the importance of proper preparation. If you have any remaining questions do consult your guide books first or ask your seniors in the guard.” William explained, glancing over at Ilea who was leaning in the door frame of his classroom. His purple eyes not the only ones focused on her. “Again, do not bother the members. More often than not they used unconventional means or abilities to gain power. They were the lucky ones.” He was full on talking to her by now.
Ilea smiled at him, arms crossed in front of her. She ignored the people looking her way, most trying to be sneaky but nothing eluded her sphere. The wooden door frame creaked when she pushed off.
“Fancy seeing you alive and well.” William said, confirming his views on most members. “I see you have attained more power still.”
“I did. How have you been? Teaching the shadow guard I see.” Ilea said, not missing Cless sneaking up behind her. “I wanted to ask how the squad is doing.”
Cless drew something in the air, holding her spell book in the other hand. Focus was apparent on her face. Finally, her magic condensed and formed a small bolt of energy that came to life in the air before her. A smirk. The sneak attack was launched.
Many in the class were watching, some confused why the young girl dared mess with a member of the Hand. Others still were confused as to who Ilea was and why she was even here. Some simply ignored everything.
Ilea watched the attack unfold through her sphere, watched the spell form from the runes in the girl’s book. She could tell the spell was arcane in nature. Slow but precise. The young mage was getting a good foundation. Her lips tugged as she looked at William. Azarinth Fighting told her what she needed to know.
The spell hit. Power spreading through my back, bursting my organs and bones. Heart ripped to shreds and brain powering down. Ilea fell to her knees, her strings cut. It was too late for healing, the spell so powerful, her perception increase hadn’t even been triggered. An attack that bypassed all her defenses. Easily. A groan of pain. The last her punctured lungs would give before she fell to the floor, eyes blank.
Cless fumbled with her book before it fell to the floor. Her little steps were quick. Panicked. “Ilea… Ilea, are you ok? Come on, heal yourself!”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for her.” William said in a deadpanned voice, shaking his head in regret and sorrow. He was not a good actor.
Cless shook her, on her knees now. Blue eyes started to tear up when she was suddenly dragged down by powerful arms.
Ilea hugged the kid, “Fool!” She exclaimed, “You have left your most powerful weapon behind!”
Cless giggled as she was held up and spun through the air. Tears gone, her laughter filled the big classroom.
People shook their heads, some chuckling as well.
“I have been well. Ravenhall is developing splendidly, as is the Shadow Guard and the Hand.” William finally replied, having waited for her to finish the dramatic play. “The squad is well too, on a mission currently but I have no doubt they will return. Hardened and stronger.”
Ilea spun to a stop, the girl in her arms still giggling, breathing fast to calm down, “That’s good to hear. Hey I wondered. Some of your classes, would it be possible for a bunch of healer trainees to sit in?”
“Healer trainees?” He asked, scratching his gray beard. He went on to put his folders away.
Ilea waited for the people to be gone, “Yea, I might start an organization of sorts. Training healers for the Hand as well as adventurer teams.”
“Anybody who faces monsters could benefit from my knowledge. If there is room then of course. I don’t have time for more classes. Just so you know.” He informed her.
“No worries. It’s in the makings anyway. I doubt there will be anybody for a while. Just looking for resources I could use.” Ilea said, putting Cless to the floor. “Grab your book.” She said, “And don’t let it go. Also, make sure your enemy is dead before you stop attacking.”
The girl nodded fiercely and rushed to get her spell book.
“If the elders are ok with it, I don’t mind. More healers would be a good thing either way. It’s a struggle to get one for every team.” William said, crossing his arms.
“You actually manage? I don’t think I’ve seen many healers in Viscera.” Ilea said, raising her eyebrows.
He chuckled, “You’d be surprised how many classes have at least some capacity to heal. Mostly themselves. Treating wounds over time, quickening natural regeneration or just curing poisons or other ailments will already save lives. Still, you’re right. Actual healers are a rarity, at that level even more so.” He explained, “Your healing isn’t exactly normal either. Having to touch those you treat is a big detriment.”
“People usually don’t complain when I regrow their limbs.” She said with a smile.
“Well you were one of the most powerful and best healers we had. Now… well I’m not sure anymore what you are. Your identification is healer now but the feeling I get from you is… well let’s just say it reminds me of Verena.” The man said.
“She did seem similar, charging that massive demon with her axes. I think I would like her.” Ilea said, thinking back.
William shook his head, “I was more talking about the danger I feel from you. She is much more… cold. Distant.”
Ilea nodded, Cless grabbing her hand as she listened. “She was here wasn’t she. In the past year. She killed that demon and came back. Yet she let Sulivhaan and Dagon take over.”
“She did. I don’t know if she killed it. Of those that went with her, none returned. I think she was glad to have the two take over leadership. It was a strain on her, I think.” He said.
“Not one to share her feelings, hmm?” Ilea asked.
The man just shook his head lightly.
If you’re the one saying that, she must be a literal stone. “Do you think she did a good job being an elder? I met Lucas and Adam, Wallace died and the last one is somewhere out there too. Really not the best track record for leaders, gotta be honest there.” Ilea said.
William sighed, “She did her best. Verena is better at wielding axes than she is at managing an order of mercenaries. There was help of course and I think without her there, worse would have happened.”
“Worse than the demon summoning?” Ilea asked.
He didn’t answer, apparently believing that yes, it could have been worse.
“Verena and Pierce are rather young, chosen simply because of their personal strength or so I assume.” William said, “Yet you must know that the elders had a much less powerful role than what the new leaders choose to do. As long as there were missions available, new members evaluated and the few rules we had enforced, the title was nothing more than that… a title.”
“Do you think it’s good what they’re doing?” Ilea asked, unsure if he knew about the circle’s bigger plans.
He considered her words and spoke, “The Shadow’s Hand is old, Ilea. Very old. It survived throughout the ages because it did not interfere with the politics of empires and kingdoms. The same can be said about the adventurer guild. I suppose most members would have ignored a summons either way. The demon summoning changed that. While the attack on Ravenhall was different for the members, I still believe many would follow Sulivhaan and Dagon. Should they ask them to.” He paused, “I suppose it depends entirely on how well of a job they will do. I can however see it going either way. I welcome the change but stagnation is at least, consistent.”
Ilea smiled, not adding anything to his summary. She had been in the Hand for less than two years and certainly welcomed the changes. Adam is a mass murderer, Lucas is lost in the north, Wallace is dead and the remaining two seem to be more interested in battling than the mercenary order. Ilea couldn’t fault the last two at least. Appointing new leaders was likely not possible for them either, seeing how the other elders were around still. The shake up brought by the demon summoning had been the catalyst and Ilea hoped they wouldn’t waste it. I’ll do my part.