Chapter 352 Azarinth Sentinel
“I suppose that is true.” The governor said and chuckled lightly.
The blond woman spoke up next to him, “I can vouch for her Alistair. She saved me and some survivors in Salia. At least I’m reasonably sure it was her.”
Ilea had a hard time remembering her name. “You the one who helped out the expedition, right?”
[Warrior – lvl 179]
“Valery Stormbound.” The woman said and bowed. “I’m impressed at your growth, healer.”
“I can also vouch for her.” Dale said, looking up once more.
Alistair lifted a hand. “I did not question her abilities. I was merely, surprised.” He said with a smile. “We can share most of the details to the jobs here. For two of them we know very little in the first place.” He added and shook his head.
“Sure.” Ilea said. “I know you too.” She pointed at the old man, “Barrier and light right? Saw you in the tournament years ago.”
He chuckled. “An honor. To be remembered by a Shadow. I did indeed participate in the tournament. My name is Esteban Cain.”
[Mage – lvl 110]
Ilea wondered how such an obviously important and old figure sat at such a low level. Maybe participating in tournaments was literally all he ever did. Then again, going out and fighting monsters all the time likely didn’t lead to an old age. Definitely not to an old look.
“We can continue, Dale.” Ilea said. “Do inform me about the jobs in the meantime. If you can share that stuff around here.” She added. “Start with the monster hunt.”
Dale looked at the governor and read out the next name upon receiving approval.
“I don’t see a problem with that.” Alistair said. “Not with the monster hunt or the rogue adventurers. It’s been going around and I’d like to avoid misinformation among our own people.”
Ilea’s ashen armor reformed and the next recruit started slashing into her.
The governor seemed surprised at the ferocity but after so many failed attempts, the guards didn’t hold back anymore, not for a second.
“The closest of the abandoned cities in the west, Stormbreach. Are you familiar with it?” He asked, watching her ignore the spear thrusts.
Ilea nodded. “You mean abandoned because the population was slaughtered by elves?” She asked rhetorically. “I haven’t been there myself but yea, go on.”
“A big chunk of the population. Not all. Many are here in Riverwatch, many more yet fled farther east. We’ve sent scouts into the area but have failed to gauge anything. Most didn’t return at all. Those few who did spoke of demons and other monsters patrolling the forests nearby.” The governor explained.
“Demons? Patrolling? You’re suggesting someone is controlling them?” Ilea asked, starting to attack the recruit with slow movements.
The governor watched with interest. “Perhaps. We don’t know for sure but no demons have come to bother us here. I don’t believe in ignoring potential problems however and would like for a Shadow to investigate. Few of our own can reliably deal with demons, let alone groups of them or the Mind mages they supposedly have amongst their ranks.”
“Most mind weavers are dead but they do have them. I’ll check it out. Kind of the Hand’s fault anyway that the demon invasion happened in the first place.” Ilea said, curious to see Valery’s eye twitch at the suggestion.
The governor didn’t seem particularly bothered by the comment. “I would appreciate it. We can provide a scout that knows the area.”
“A description of the city would be enough. I’m sure I’ll spot it from above.” Ilea said, grabbing the recruit and throwing her a couple meters away. “You froze up.” She said and appeared over the woman. “You’re doing it again.” An ashen limb smashed into the ground next to her head, digging half a meter into the stone floor.
“Next.” She said. “What about the rogues in the area? Bandits?”
Alistair glanced at the recruit and back to her. “Partially. If my information is correct, then it was you who took care of Melian Serantis.”
“Who?” Ilea asked, turning her head to the man as spears of ice shattered against her armor.
“I asked you to investigate.” Dale chimed in. “A year ago, I think.”
“Ah, that bitch. Yea. What about her?” She nodded.
“She was just one of many. The west had enough organized crime but with the destruction of their cities and the refugee issues, Riverwatch as well as the closest eastern kingdoms became prime targets. We managed, in part thanks to you. The deterrence of those murders was helpful. Many ignored Riverwatch and went elsewhere instead. Of course in part too because they expected it to fall to the elves.” The governor explained.
“With the war starting, Baralia got involved as well. A group of rogue adventurers, mercenaries, crime lords as well as deserters from both the empire and Baralia have made their nest in the forest west from here.”
Ilea glanced at him. “Why don’t you go out and murder them?”
“They have several level two hundred people.” Valery said, stepping forward. “They kill and loot merchants coming to Riverwatch. They take the women and children to sell them in the east or just to rape and kill them.” She got louder with each word.
Always the same, isn’t it? Ilea frowned. “What’s the point? Why are they here?”
The governor put a hand on Valery’s shoulder and stepped ahead. “I suspect Baralia initially paid them. To spread dissident against me and our governing body. Fear is rather effective at that. By now, they might have just settled. They know we can’t or are unwilling to do anything about them but they also know that they can’t take the city.”
“Sounds like they’re not very ambitious.” Ilea said in a bored tone, switching to her attack mode.
“They’re torturing people, right now!” Valery spoke up and walked up to her. “Do you not give a shit about anything!?”
Ilea stopped her attacks, the mage wholly incapable of even dodging her. “Next.” She said. “And you.” She pointed at Valery. “Didn’t I save your asses back in Salia?”
The woman opened her eyes wide but didn’t relent. “Then you should understand how I feel. But you’re playing with recruits while they’re out there, an hour away while the families of those abducted and murdered grief and cry.”
“You know where they are then?” Ilea asked.
The woman glanced at the governor and back to Ilea. “I do, what’s that supposed to change?”
“How many level two hundred, how many below?” Ilea asked and walked over, ashen wings forming behind her.
Valery took a step back.
Alistair answered for her. “At least three above two hundred. Ten or more close enough. We want them gone, one way or the other.”
“Then let’s go right now.” Ilea said and smiled. “Dale, I’m getting hungry. Can you organize some food for everyone while I’m taking care of this?”
“Ehm… I’ll… of course.” The captain said and gestured a bunch of guards towards himself.
“There are probably close to a hundred people out there.” Alistair said. “I don’t mean to question your ability but perhaps some preparation would be in order.”
Ilea looked at him and stepped over to Valery, grabbing her arm. “You want to get this done. Then let’s get this done.” She said to the woman before glancing at Alistair. “I can tell you’re speaking from experience but Alistair… may I call you Alistair? There’s a reason I was allowed to take these jobs on my own.”
The man smirked lightly. “You may. I will wait.” He said and looked at the two men that had come with them. “Can you get some cooks as well? And do help however you can.”
They nodded quickly and rushed off.
“We will continue shortly.” Ilea said to the waiting group of recruits, government officials and officers. Her wings moved, sand sent flying to each side as she ascended, holding on to Valery with three ashen arms.
What the fuck is she doing?! Valery’s thoughts were in a turmoil. Why is nobody helping me? I’m being kidnapped! She felt the familiar sensation of healing magic flowing through her.
Ashen limbs held on to her body, her own arms tightly gripping the strong elemental manifestations as the ground quickly moved farther and farther away.
“Don’t freak out. Where is the rogue camp?” The armored healer said, floating above the city as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
“Don’t freak out?” Valery asked in a dry tone, gulping hard as she looked at the houses and walls, so small in the distance. The forests and fields spread out as if she was looking at a map. She was most certainly freaking out.
“Where is it?” Ilea asked once more. “You wanted me to take care of it, didn’t you?”
Take care of what? We’re so high up…, She felt the cold winds flow over her. The rogue camp… Clarissa. Forcing herself to calm down at least a little, she pointed towards the patch of forest she knew the camp to be at.
Valery had stalked it several times in the past weeks, tried to find a way in, past the guards and to the captives. She had failed, each time.
Ilea nodded and sped up.
It was so fast that Valery’s head whipped back. She forced herself forward and kept her muscles tense. What is she made of?
Smoke and fires were visible in the distance, just a couple minutes of flying later. “They will spot us…,” She whispered.
“That’s the point.” Ilea commented and rushed downwards, landing in the middle of the camp with a deep crouch.
Valery stumbled to her feet, the ashen limbs let go as she stabilized herself on her knees. She had to concentrate not to puke from the insane descent.
“Who are you!” A man’s voice resounded.
“A healer?! Sound the alarm!” Another voice spoke.
The ringing of bells resounded, steps and shouts of dozens of people audible all around them.
She’s killed us both… she’s… mad. The thought came over Valery as she looked at all the powerful adventurers converge upon their position.
Dozens of them, all dressed in various states of gear. Some naked, some in pajamas and others again in heavy steel armor. The only thing they had in common was the fact that they were armed.
[Warrior – lvl 152]
[Mage – lvl 187]
[Rogue – lvl 128]
[Cook – lvl 59]
[Smith – lvl 81]
The various classes and information flowed into her mind, Valery overwhelmed as she activated her skills, Meditation most of all taking over. She kept her sword sheathed, ready to defend herself immediately, should the situation escalate.
I will die here… who am I kidding. She kept herself steady nonetheless, focusing on not letting the panic take over.
‘ding’ ‘Fear Resistance reaches lvl 16’
The sound startled her but the eyes of the people around them quickly made her focus again.
“Welcome!” Ilea spoke and lifted her arms. “Now, I heard you’re a group of horrifying criminals prowling these forests. Selling people into slavery, raping, murdering and looting. The usual boring shit you lot seem to revel in. I’m a Shadow, here to bring an end to this. Any of the charges made up?”
They were looking at each other, some of them chuckling while others looked nervous and ready to ditch.
Valery knew Ilea wasn’t a pushover, she knew many would die here but it was simply impossible. A single Shadow without support, with no preparation and surrounded had no chance of standing against all this.
“The charges are true but we’re just trying to make a living here. Even if we weren’t, so what?! You’re just better paid than we are.” One of the rogues shouted back, brandishing his wicked curved blade.
Ilea laughed at that. “Maybe. Doesn’t change your situation. Put down your weapons and come with me to Riverwatch. You will be questioned and judged.”
“And executed. We know how this works, Shadow.” One of them said with a grin.
“Why the fuck are we even talking to her, she’s alone and a healer. Even if she’s level three hundred, what the fuck is she gonna do? Let’s kill her before her team arrives.”
They’re ignoring me completely. Valery thought and gulped.
“Don’t underestimate her, she’s not faking that confidence. Ranged first. Let’s keep casualties low.” A warrior above level two hundred spoke up.
Many of them nodded.
“Just trying to survive?” Ilea asked and walked around, looking over a nearby ledge. “Ah, there they are. A cage made of wood? Really?” She turned and shook her head. “You still have the choice of course. Drop your weapons and avoid conflict or die, right here, right now.” She spoke with intense words.
Valery felt the hairs on her neck stand up. Something changed. She saw that some of the watching group had noticed too.
More were still coming, some still putting on boots or readying their weapons.
“Kill her.” The warrior said. “Try not to damage the blond one.”
“Your choice.” Ilea said, her voice cold and without the mockery she had talked with before.
It felt like the air was standing still, everyone ready to spring into action. Valery saw their eyes, their fear, their anger, apathy, excitement. There were too many. Simply too many.
Cold air moved by in a gust of wind, the smells of a nearby bonfire, sweat and fear mixing up in the early morning light.
Valery’s eyes moved over the men and women. And then she tensed up, her hand moving to the blade on her hip. Magic surged through her body as it strengthened, her senses accelerating, her breath more steady.
Colors of spells lit up, arrows loosed and daggers thrown.
Her blade flashed out, lighting up with power as she deflected the arrows and dodged to her right, a bolt of lightning flashing by.
Ilea was gone. And then she appeared. A wraith in black, too many limbs of ash to count. They flashed in and out, ripping through shields, armors and skin alike. Blood and brains spread out, guts ripped out of bodies as people were flung around.
Notifications started to come to her mind, Valery unable to take her eyes from the healer.
She wasn’t the only one, no more spells or attacks coming her way as she stood in a defensive stance.
Ilea moved nearly too fast to track. Lances of ash formed in the air, independent of the quickly moving woman who ignored all the spells, swords and arrows that crashed into her impregnable dark armor. For every enemy spell that hit, three of them were slaughtered.
Dust, fire and mist rolled over the clearing, obscuring her view more and more. Still, she heard the screams, shouts and running steps. Some of them had fled immediately, when the fight had started, gauging a part of the healer’s strength that even Valery couldn’t discern.
She’s… a monster. The wet sounds of skin being torn and ripped was overwhelming, familiar and terrifying. Focus. Do something. Valery felt the power flow through her, the shock and awe of Ilea’s display shaken off. The captives.
The spellsword turned and rushed towards the ledge Ilea had looked over. She jumped and landed in a crouch.
The steam and fire hadn’t reached so far yet, slowly rolling overhead.
The sounds of fighting were still loud in her ears. Her blade flickered with a purple flame, her hands steady as she concentrated on her breathing. We could survive this. She focused on her goal, ignoring the small voice in her head telling her to run. Monster. It whispered.
“Not a step farther!” The man in front of her shouted, stuttering and nervous. The glistening sweat on his forehead reflected the raging flames. A blade was pressed to a young girl’s throat. Blood slowly rolled down from the shallow wound.
Four more people stood nearby, each holding on to one of the captives.
Reasonable. Valery thought. Their only chance. She wasn’t sure if it was true. If the Shadow would care or if she would slaughter everyone here. Run. Shut up.
“Your only chance is to drop your weapons. You heard her.” Valery said with a steady voice, her eyes focused on the men and women before her.
Eyes darted over her and the chaos behind.
I can only take down one or two with my teleport. I need to stall them.
“Are you fucking kidding me? Do you hear that?!” One of them shouted.
“That’s Thane…,” another said.
A deep voice screamed and was silenced. Barely a minute had passed and an uncanny quiet returned to the camp. Nervous steps and rushed breaths were the only sounds that remained.
Valery, the rogue adventurers and the captives were waiting together, each hoping that somehow the monster they heard would ignore them.
Someone in gray full plate armor appeared and casually stepped over to the cage, nearly a dozen people still remaining inside. A thin mist of gray suddenly formed around the cage and all the people present.
Valery jumped back and prepared her blade.
“Did you bring that upon us, Stormbound?” The man said, slowly stepping through the confused adventurers. “I was so close.” It was clear he was agitated and not just by the fact that they were getting slaughtered.
Two more people appeared, both in better gear than anybody present, both above level two hundred, same as the man in gray.
Valery didn’t know any of them and simply waited. The gray mist worried her but she didn’t move.
“It was you, Vincent. I knew you’d turn on us sooner or later… but to involve the Hand? I would have expected more.” A woman said, twirling her dagger, her eyes darting around as she moved closer to the waiting group. She completely ignored Valery.
“I didn’t involve her. If you move closer, I’ll ignite everyone here.” The man in gray said, his voice steady and sure.
“This is Baralia property, you will not move rashly. Do I have to remind you of the consequences?” The man who had appeared said, frost forming near his feet.
A stalemate. Where the fuck are you, Ilea? Valery hoped the two wouldn’t focus on her. She didn’t feel particularly safe with how the woman was glancing her way.