Chapter 347 Steel and Ash



“Should we go outside?” Maro asked, “Stuff here will get wrecked.”

Ilea grew her ashen limbs and held down each leg and sword individually. No hands. At least he can be the most efficient cake cutter. “Aki? Did you calm down. Are you there?”

“I feel… restricted.” Aki replied, “Did I lose it all again… I cannot see anymore.”

“That’s because I’m holding you down and your insect machine face is facing the wall. Try to turn your head first.” Ilea said and chuckled. “Seems like it actually worked. Now this baby dagger just has to learn how to walk.” She commented and identified him.

[Guardian of Akelion – lvl 200]

“Oh.” Aki said.

Ilea rolled her eyes, “That’s your left most arm that you’re moving.”

Maro laughed from the side.

“Don’t laugh you fuck!” Aki exclaimed.

That only made the necromancer laugh more.

Ilea stepped aside, her ashen limbs doing all the work. “Just keep figuring things out. Can you get my hammer, Iana?”

“What’s… what’s his level?” The enchantress asked, summoning the hammer out of her new storage ring, the thing falling down onto the table with a dull sound.

“Two hundred.” Maro replied, “I think he’s categorized as a monster. Hey… Aki right? Think of a status. Do you have one?”

“I’ll give you a fucking status.” The dagger, now Guardian replied.

Ilea chuckled. “Like my very own child.” She grabbed the hammer and moved it around, “How do I activate it?”

“Check here.” Iana said, tapping the hammer as she kept her gaze on the Guardian and the blades sometimes trying to move. “Try to connect your mana, let it flow inside but don’t push too hard, otherwise it might damage the enchantment.”

Ilea tried to follow the instructions, touching the enchantment and gently flowing her mana inside. Something happened, only visible thanks to her sphere. A weird glow surrounded the hammer that looked similar to her own mana, gently drifting around her and her ashen limbs.

“I think it’s activated.” Ilea said, putting the hammer on the table once more. When she reached out and felt the mana, she noticed a connection immediately forming, a thin line of magic between herself and the hammer. When she willed mana into it, the weapon instantly slammed into her open palm. “Holy shit. Nice.”

“You literally saw a Guardian reanimated to life with a conscious dagger thing and you’re excited about your hammer?” Maro asked and shook his head. “Come on Guardian, do you have a status?”

“No, no I don’t. I can still use my meditation like state it seems but I might not be able to level up. We could test it by killing you.” Aki suggested to the necromancer.

“We could.” Maro replied, “But that would require your ability to hurt me.”

“Stop fighting.” Ilea said, twirling the hammer in her hands. “Aki, focus on learning how to move. I don’t want to babysit you.”

“Sorry.” The Guardian replied, his head finally turning to look at them.

Looks different… like the Praetorians.

“The eyes look more like a Taleen Praetorian.” Maro suggested, “Is he Taleen in nature?”

“Probably.” Iana replied, “And yes, it’s a possibility that the dwarfs made more machines like him.”

“Why a dagger though?” Maro asked, stepping closer to the Guardian to inspect him. “Or did they intend for him to be used like this? Maybe a prototype. Or someone tried to copy the dwarfs to do exactly what we did here. Where did you find him again, Ilea?”

She put away her hammer, “In a Taleen dungeon, next to a dead elf. A Cerithil Hunter I think… though Aki sounded like an obnoxious imbecile when I found him, not quite as reasonable as the hunters we’ve met. He’s somewhat influenced by the person close to him.”

“Not anymore.” Iana said in a proud tone. “I’ll get back to work on your armor, Ilea. Let me know if you need anything else.” She walked a couple meters away, one of Ilea’s armor pieces appearing on the workbench before she started.

“It’s going to take a while until this one can move around as well as the Guardians.” Maro commented.

“Yea, but compared to them he’ll be able to learn. Level two hundred is pretty powerful among humans.” She said.

“What do you plan to do anyway?” Aki asked, “I thought I could maybe travel with you again.”

Ilea raised her eyebrows, “You don’t sound very convinced. Well… you’re categorized as a monster so most humans will attack or flee on sight. Those that know the Taleen even more so.”

“Shit.” The dagger exclaimed.

“I’m sure I can find something with the Shadow’s Hand or my new medic organization.” Ilea said.

Maro turned her way, his helmet vanishing again. “Medic?”

“It’s a term for a combat healer of sorts.” She explained.

“I’m not sure how I can be of use with the Hand. They’re all above my level.” Aki said.

“You can also hang out with Iana and Christopher. Your body and runes would surely give them some insights. Helping to train the new medics would be cool though. You don’t really need sleep either and I think the blades are well suited to maim without killing.” Ilea looked at the weapons.

“What the hell kind of order are you setting up?” Maro asked, a smirk on his face.

“Combat healers, similar to me. The goal is to supply adventurer teams or Shadow teams with healers. Basically train people like me and the mission is to help fight monsters. Generally it’s not allowed to join warring nations, organizations or to kill people if not previously attacked.” She quickly explained.

“Sounds like a pain to organize.” Maro sighed, “Have fun with that.”

She chuckled, “Well, I’m not the only one who can delegate dear Maro.”

He nodded in a sarcastic way, “You tell me that in ten years time. Medic Queen.” He smiled, “Though I commend the goal. With your power you could do whatever you want but you choose to found a medic order beneficial to all. Naive perhaps, idealistic maybe. Not impossible.”

Ilea rolled her eyes. I literally killed a man yesterday for being an arrogant idiot. I can see more than a couple missions for manhunts or even elfhunts to be approved. She didn’t voice her thoughts, smiling when Aki once more turned his head around.

“I could learn… fight and maybe help train people. I believe I would like that.” The Guardian said.

“You will probably have to stay in the headquarters though. And we’ll have to give you a different color to make sure nobody attacks you without a second thought.” Ilea said, “You’ll get paid like everyone else of course.” She turned and looked at the smith who was still standing close by. “Bladuur, do you think you could make armor for him?”

He blinked his eyes, “What? I was lost in thought.”

“Armor, for the metal machine? Yes or no?”

“Ah… maybe. It’d have to be very precise work. It’s going to cost you quite a bit too.” He said.

Ilea looked at Aki and then at the smith, “Never mind. I’ll just ask Goliath when I see him. He works for free.”

“I’ll do it. Free of charge.” Balduur said, grinding his teeth.

Maro laughed, “And that’s the guy who should move to Morhill?”

How the hell did he figure that out?

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Balduur asked, arms crossed in front of him.

“I mean.” Maro said, “You’re not exactly the leader type. I just don’t see it.” He said in a dry tone.

“How… dare you. Ilea. I ask you to remove this man from my smithy. Immediately.” He said, “No discussion.”

She rolled her eyes, “Aki. I guess we’ll move out anyway.” Her ashen limbs moved around the machine’s arms and legs, dragging him towards her, “Come on Maro, you heard the smith.”

“Iana, I’ll be back tomorrow morning. Think you’ll be done then?” She added.

The girl looked their way, “I think so, yes.” She focused once again at Maro before a cloud of ash obstructed her view.

“Good. Balduur, I told Claire. She’ll visit sometime soon.” Ilea said and walked up the stairs, trying to keep the Guardian away from the walls but in the end just dragging him up.

She spread her wings and flew off, Maro close behind as they rushed once again to Morhill. The abandoned camp in one of the bigger squares was just the way they had left it earlier.

Ilea landed, carefully setting Aki down. “Why would you say that?” Ilea asked, looking at Maro.

“What?” He asked, “Oh, you didn’t get it? You should really work on your manipulation skills if you want to lead an order.”

“I don’t want to lead an order. I just want to give them the backing to do what I intend them to do.” She replied.

Maro looked at her for a moment before biting his thumb, “Damn. That’s what I should have done.”

“Well, you got married. Too good looking for your own good. Now explain.” She said, letting go of Aki.

The Guardian stumbled around on the floor, blades flailing around as he cursed and sighed. Like a weaponized fish on land.

Maro ran a hand through his hair, “It’s not just good looks. It’s the way I talk, my smile, the way I hold myself, the words I choose, my gear, my magic. All subtly working together.”

Ilea didn’t say anything, just looking at him until he continued.

“Balduur is a stubborn old man. A master of his craft, sure but he’s been sitting around his cellar for too long. Arguing with him would be difficult but questioning his abilities?” He explained, “He immediately agreed to work for free when you mentioned the crazy smith up north. I just lent a hand. If this Claire goes to talk to him, he’s likely going to agree before she even asks.”

“You don’t think he’s a bad leader?” Ilea asked. She knew he didn’t mean the comment but she had a hard time seeing the smith as one herself.

Maro shrugged. “Not as a general on the field, nor an elder. Managing an adventurer town with different guilds and orders having to cooperate. Maybe. I don’t know him well enough. High level smiths like him are rare either way. Why are they always so stubborn?”

She smiled. “Maybe it’s the hitting metals for decades, breathing in all the fumes.”

Her suggestion made him laugh, the man dodging to the side as a Guardian’s blade nearly slashed him.

Aki laid down after that. Unmoving. “This is hard.”

Ilea glanced at him, “Let me help you.” She extended three of her ashen limbs and moved them below his core, lifting the machine up. The legs dangled to the side, the slim torso and head hanging down just like his arms.

She remedied this by lifting up his head with another ashen limb, each of his blades getting the same treatment. “Do you still have your sight from before?”

“Yes. I do but it’s confusing. I have two visual inputs now… and so many new limbs.” Aki said, getting frustrated again.

“Calm down. You have all the time in the world to figure out your body. Do you feel that?” Ilea asked, moving one of his legs.

“I know you are moving one of my legs, yes. Feeling… might not be the right way to describe it.” The Guardian said, green eyes shining at her.

“It’s your front left one. Now, let’s go through everything.” Ilea said and continued with her tutoring.

Maro offered a bunch of comments too.

They did some testing with healing and death magic. Aki had an understanding of how damaged his body was but didn’t feel pain.

Healing had no effect on him but he could repair internal parts of himself with conscious effort. Very slowly but it was better than what the normal Guardians could do. The actual metal forming his body he couldn’t repair.

“Very peculiar.” Maro said a couple hours later.

The dagger was able to stand on his own now. Moving in any direction was still difficult because of the number of limbs and the power he had. Getting a level two hundred mechanical body suddenly wasn’t easy to handle.

Ilea could tell the dagger was getting more and more positive about the whole thing. The initial excitement was back. To finally be able to move and see, after hundreds or even thousands of years as a piece of metal.

“Left swords.” Aki said, the three weapons moving one after the other. “Right swords.” He repeated the exercise time and time again.

“Do you think Balduur or Iana could give me actual hands? These things… well won’t be able to do much.”

“You can slice things.” Maro suggested.

“It’s not like you have to do a lot.” Ilea said, “You don’t need to eat. If you want to read or write something, you can ask someone for help.”

“What if he wants to fuck.” Maro asked.

The dagger exhaled an exaggerated laugh, “Very funny Mr. King. I have legs and sword arms, this is better than anything I ever expected. I don’t think the joys of the flesh will ever be a concern of mine.”

“Not until I move your soul into an undead body.” Maro said in a teasing voice.

Aki turned his head in a smooth motion, “Hers, if she dies.”

Ilea snorted, her arms crossed, “Sure, if I really die.” She replied, “Oh, speaking of undead. How is your skeleton army coming along? Can you use that skeleton we found back in the Taleen dungeon?”

“I’ve used up more bones than I’ve gotten new ones so the army is shrinking if anything.” He said, “I can use it, yes. Takes up a big chunk of my control though.” He dumped the skeleton before necromantic magic surrounded it, the thing standing up on its thin legs. Claws extended.

Ilea could see a green wisp of magic flickering inside its chest, visible in her sphere only. “Want to fight that Aki?”

“It’s probably stronger than him.” Maro said, “Especially because of his movement inhibitions.”

“Sucks.” Ilea frowned. “I would have like to see that.” She created herself in ashen form and moved the thing closer to Aki. “Fight that then.”

Maro laughed, “Just as entertaining.” He commented, “Didn’t know you could make ash clones of yourself. Or is it purely creation and manipulation?”

“It is. I don’t think it will be very strong or fast.” Ilea replied.

The man sent his skeleton off and sat down on a nearby tree stump the imperials had left behind, “It’s getting dark. I sent it to collect some wood.”

“I can attack it?” Aki asked, moving a bladed arm closer to the ashen figure.

“It’s just ash.” Ilea said and joined Maro on his tree. She found it rather uncomfortable and created an ashen couch instead.

The king joined her shortly after.

Hours passed as they watched the machine battle the ashen clone, both moving rather sluggishly at first but improving quickly.

A demonic skeleton piled more and more wood nearby.

When the suns had set, Ilea set it aflame with her runic sphere of fire. Neither Aki nor herself were bothered by the lack of light anyway but the warmth was nice.

“We’re going to attract monsters.” She commented offhandedly, glancing to her left.

Maro seemed unconcerned, clapping when Aki landed a hit. He turned her way and smiled, “Oh, I hope. They can try to fight it together then.”

She shrugged. “I guess.”

Some animals did come closer but nothing attacked. The warmth of the fire was the only desirable thing in the vicinity. Neither Ilea nor Maro used their magic other than the ash.

The skeleton had been put back into the king’s ring. They each ate a couple of Keyla’s meals, fawning over the cook as Aki and Ilea’s Shadow control improved with each passing hour.

“I’m nearly done in Ravenhall by the way. For now at least.” Ilea said after a while.

“I thought as much. Where to after?” Maro asked.

She smiled and spoke, “Riverwatch probably. It’s an independent city between here and the north. You can stay here if you want to of course.”

“Is that were your necromancer friends are?” He asked, “I definitely want to see that.”

“It is.” Ilea replied, “Sure, I can introduce you. I got a couple jobs there too. Monster subjugation, missing people and a group of rogue adventurers making trouble.”

“Sounds interesting. I’ll help, if you will have me.” He said.

“You don’t have to. I think I can handle myself.” Ilea commented.

The king waved her off, “Ah, of course you can. I said I’ll help because it’s interesting.”

They were silent for a couple minutes, the dull noises of battle continuing in front of them. Metal against ash.

Maro shifted before he spoke, “I… I don’t know if I want to go north again. I…,”

She looked his way and nodded, “It’s alright. Would you join me if that Descent problem is still a thing in a couple weeks? Or do you not want to go there ever again? I would understand of course.”

He thought about it for a minute.

Ilea waited in silence.

“Once more, yes. I would also like to say farewell to Elana, to Tremor and to Rhyvor. After that… I don’t know. I liked Ravenhall.”

“We’ll figure it out once the time has come. I’ll come with you if you want. To Elana and the rest. To make sure you don’t get stuck.” She said and smiled, focusing back on the battling machine and ash. I could probably murder a level fifty warrior with that thing. She mused. Ridiculous.

Maro was silent for a while, tapping the ash with a finger, “Thank you.” He finally said, not adding anything. It wasn’t necessary.


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