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Chapter 353 The Value of Lives

 

 

Ilea tracked down another one, the rogue teleporting one last time before she finally grazed his legs.

Blood spurted as he was plucked from the air. He crashed hard and rolled.

She landed next to him and smashed another ashen limb into his injured leg. “Stop it already.” She said and stopped the bleeding with her healing magic.

He was one of those that ran immediately, at least not attacking her. There had been quite a number who chose not to fight her.

She flew back and landed near the clearing, throwing the man back onto the pile of groaning bodies. Blood and guts littered the whole area, still obscured by steam, smoke and ash. What’s that?

Ilea listened and heard steel against steel. Valery? “Stay here, or you die.” She said and blinked twice, appearing past the clearing and close to the cage.

A woman in full plate was slashing her daggers at the spellblade, slowly but surely overwhelming her.

Ilea appeared between them and grabbed the woman’s wrist, crushing metal, muscle and bone.

[Warrior – lvl 217]

“You’re injured?” Ilea asked and extended an ashen limb to Valery.

“No… I’m fine…,” the woman replied.

“Let her go.” A man in dark red full plate armor said, frost spreading on the floor near him.

Ilea looked around, staring at all the adventurers who had taken hostages. She closed her eyes and let go of the woman.

The warrior teleported and appeared next to the ice mage, holding her arm but not making a noise.

“Let me handle this.” A male voice said, coming from a mage standing near the cage.

Ilea could see the magic in the air, the dust. If he willed it, all of the captives would die, she was sure of it.

“You don’t speak Vincent. You’ve done enough.” The female warrior said before she addressed Ilea. “Shadow. How much are they paying you?” She hissed, still holding her arm.

Ilea didn’t speak, instead crossing her arms and checking on Valery through her ashen limb. She was fine.

“You will come with me to Riverwatch, where you will be trialed.” Ilea replied.

The mage in red put a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “We are with Baralia. Shadow, whatever Riverwatch is paying, we will top it. I don’t think you want to stand on the wrong side of history.”

Wrong side of history? Ilea laughed and looked at the men and women near the cage. “Do you mind if I murder those two?”

“It would be a favor.” The man apparently named Vincent said in a steady voice.

“I hate people acting like they’ve got morals.” The female warrior said. “Let’s kill her, Gale.”

“Did you not see her before? She would rip us apart.” The man said and stepped forward. “I’d like to discuss our leave, Shadow.”

“You kidnapped, tortured and sold people as slaves. There will be no leaving.” Ilea said.

“You self righteous bitch.” The woman said and vanished, appearing next to one of the hostages.

Ilea was waiting for her however, a simple punch without aiding skillsslamming into the warrior’s stomach. Ashen limbs caught her as she flew back and brought her once again towards Ilea.

Another punch slammed into her chest and a third one hit her head. Ilea grabbed her by the throat and lifted her up as one ashen limb lightly lifted her helmet, another one slamming inside the opening.

A gurgle resounded before she heard a noise in her mind, notifying her about the death.

The body dropped to the floor.

The rogue adventurers to her left dropped their weapons, letting go of the captives.

“She was always a little too impulsive.” The mage said. “Never had the power to back it up, like you do. Now, I for one would like to live. I can offer information on what happened here, about Baralia and…,”

“Don’t listen to him.” The dust mage spoke up once again. “He will run the moment there is a chance. Trust me, Shadow.”

“It’s your word against his then.” Ilea said. “I think the most reasonable solution is to kill you both. You for threatening these people and you, for being orchestrating all this.”

“I am merely securing my imminent survival. You’re friends with that guard aren’t you? Captain Dale… Langston. You came here a year ago to help, did you not?” He said.

Ilea noted the Baralia man tensing up. “Why are you so nervous?” She asked him.

A wave of frost suddenly shot out over the whole group of adventurers and captives, the man vanishing before he appeared twenty meters to the east, magical wings spreading.

Stupid. Ilea appeared behind him, her ashen limbs extending before she released her Heart of Cinder, the spell having heated up throughout the whole ordeal.

A beam of condensed energy, heat and fire slammed into the man from behind, his teleport not ready to use again and his shields and armor melted through near instantly.

Fly first, teleport to dodge. Ilea noted, watching the remaining hunk of molten metal and flesh fall to the forest floor. The sight was bad, the smell even worse. A ding resounded in her mind.

She spread her wings and flew back, happy to find the group of people had remained. “I’m going to heal them, don’t make a move or you die here.” She said and spread her ashen limbs to take care of the captives as well as the adventurers. Some had a pretty bad case of frostbite but the mage had left them alive on purpose.

Smart. He thought I’d prioritize healing them. None had died in the end.

“He gambled and lost.” Vincent said. “I would have thought he might make it. To Riverwatch and into a hideout.” The dust mage seemed more intrigued than anything else.

“Your situation isn’t much better, Vincent Halligan.” Valery spoke up, anger in her eyes. Her purple flame blade was still alight and held in a defensive stance.

“I am alive, he is not. Thank you. Ilea, was it?” Vincent asked.

“You’re from around here. You know Dale and me?” Ilea asked in turn.

He nodded. “I am. Couldn’t properly thank you for killing the Serantis mage but I suppose I can thank you for killing those two.”

“You were here too, part of the operation. Why should I let you go?” Ilea asked.

“I didn’t ask to be let go. For now, my life is all I ask for. The captives will let you know more about what happened here and I am willing to share whatever I can as well. I never approved of the kidnapping and slave trade. At least me and my men could keep the numbers low.” Vincent explained.

“Why not kill them if you were so against them?” Ilea asked, raising an eyebrow. The captives had been healed again, she noted. The dust was still in the air.

He chuckled and spoke, “It would be a lie to say we didn’t have the numbers or the power. I took it as a necessary evil. In case Baralia overwhelmed the empire and expanded this way too. While I had a chance of killing them, I had none at toppling Alistair.”

“So you let them take people, sell them?” Valery spoke up.

“I did. And I will live with that decision. A wrong one it turned out. Still, once everyone talked it will be apparent that I did all I could to slow them down.”

“Except outright attacking them.” Ilea added.

“Except that.” Vincent admitted. “I wish to take your offer. Be trialed in Riverwatch and talk to Alistair.”

Valery moved towards him. “You will die for what you did here. Ilea, you can’t be seriously considering this pig?! He’s been a known crime lord in Riverwatch for decades.”

Ilea stepped through the dust, ignoring the woman, the captives and the adventurers. “Is that true, Vincent? You’ve been a crime lord for such a long time?”

He nodded. “I have. Never have I sold people nor tortured without reason. There’s a difference between the free cities of the west and the savages from the northern kingdoms.”

“Melian would disagree.” Ilea said. “I want to talk to you. Come on.” She walked away from the cage.

“I refuse. These captives are my lifeline. I trust your word, Shadow. But not with my life.” Vincent spoke.

“Take one with you then. That girl there.” Ilea said and pointed at a young girl.

Vincent nodded and walked over to the black haired girl, crouching down and grabbing her hand. “Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be alright.”

None of the other captives made a move to stop him.

“Valery, bind and gag the adventurers. Take care of the captives and check on the survivors I left near the clearing. They all chose to run instead of fighting.” Ilea said, watching Vincent step out of the dust, the cloud condensing and swirling around himself and the girl instead.

“You’re not my officer…,” Valery said, not looking at her. “He will find a way to get out of this if you let him get to the city.”

Ilea glanced her way, saw how hard she was clenching the handle of her sword. “Fifteen lives.” She said. “Fifteen lives were saved today, because of me.” She pointed at the cage. “And thirty six were taken. They had friends, some perhaps even families. Dreams and wishes. Their decisions and actions have led them here. I killed them, murdered them. Don’t pretend this was anything else, Valery.”

“I draw the line at slavery and torture. If he really didn’t do those things here, it hardly makes him any worse than myself. Can I trust you to do as I asked?” She finished, looking at the woman with icy eyes.

Valery gulped and nodded. “I will do as you asked.” She said, dejectedly.

Ilea didn’t trust her fully to not kill any of the captive criminals but then again, it wouldn’t be a horrible loss either. She motioned Vincent to walk, following a couple meters behind.

“What’s your name?” Vincent asked the girl with a warm voice.

“R… Rose.” The girl said in a quiet stutter. She glanced back at Ilea with uncertain eyes, a smile on her face nonetheless.

“You live in Riverwatch?” He asked.

“In the… Cookie Bakery.” The girl replied.

“Far enough?” Vincent asked.

Ilea nodded and stopped, crossing her arms in front of her. “The cookie factory, what’s that?” She asked the girl.

Vincent replied instead, “An orphanage owned by Lilith, one of the few non Riverwatch investors that has retained their gold here.”

“Did you know about that?” Ilea asked, keeping the question somewhat vague.

His helmet vanished, revealing a close to fifty year old man with black hair and gray eyes, similar to Kyrian’s. A hard face. “I did not know she was an orphan. Nor where she lived.” His gaze was inquisitive but he didn’t inquire further.

“I think you hold partial responsibility for what happened here. I also think Valery is right and that you will weasel your way out of your sentence somehow, should I let you go back.” Ilea said.

He squinted his eyes lightly. “And yet you asked to talk. Was it simply to reduce the number of casualties?” He asked.

“What do you think, crime lord?” Ilea asked.

“I think you don’t want anything to happen to Rose here. Nor do I. Yet we both wouldn’t hesitate, would we?” He said. “What do you want?”

Ilea chuckled. “Rarely does the opportunity present itself, to talk to someone like you.” She started. “A friend of mine has gotten herself involved with people she probably shouldn’t have.”

“You want to trade her life with mine? My reach is far but with the war, it might be difficult to accomplish.” Vincent said.

He’s getting nervous. “She was killed quite a while ago.” Ilea added. “I want to find out who did it and why. I want to talk to them.”

“Get to the point.” He said.

“The Golden Lily.” Ilea said and felt his distress rise instantly. She noted that nothing on his face revealed anything about him otherwise. Impressive composure. He knows about them at least. Will you lie to me, Vincent?

He chuckled. “The Golden Lily. Of course. Someone of your power. Killing level two hundred Baralia spies with single blows. What else could be a mystery to you?”

“You know them.”

“I do. I was forced to cooperate with one of their operations a long time ago. And I learned, certain things.” He said. “You might not like what you find.”

“Tell me what you have.” Ilea said.

He glanced at the girl next to him and back to Ilea, considering. “Rose. If you want to live, you should forget this talk ever happened. Now go back to the others, talk to Valery, the blond lady with the sword.” He said and let go of her arm.

Rose looked at him and then at Ilea. “Ok.” She said and walked by. “Thank you, for saving us. Lilith!” She smiled brightly at her.

Ilea’s ashen armor moved back, her bone helmet vanishing as she revealed the smirk on her face. She patted the girl’s head as she passed. “Sure thing, little one.”

Vincent started laughing. “Of course you are.”

“You let go of your lifeline.” Ilea said, thinking on the absurdity of the expression being a thing in Elos.

“I don’t trust you with my life.” Vincent replied. “But I trust the Lily even less. The fewer things this girl knows, the higher my chance is at surviving.”

“They’re that dangerous, huh?” Ilea asked.

“Not exactly. The Golden Lily isn’t an order like the Shadow’s Hand or my own organization. They’re simply incredibly powerful humans occasionally working together. Each has their own influence, their own organizations, their own countries.”

“Countries?” Ilea asked.

“I believe some do, yes. Or their influence and wealth is simply equal. First and foremost, they really don’t want information about them to spread. Even uttering the name can get you killed in the wrong areas.”

“Do you have names, locations?”

He shrugged. “Nothing from the past ten years. I suppose you could simply look for the richest and most powerful men and women of the empire, of Baralia, of Dawntree. Many keep themselves hidden, less prominent than the nobles and kings flaunting their power. It’s the only way to survive and thrive in this world for longer than a few years.” He explained. “Lilith. That alias might get you some time before you get in trouble.”

“In trouble for what?” Ilea asked.

“Bringing gold to buy institutions, stores, influence? As soon as get involved in such things, eyes will start looking.”

“How do I find them?”

He smiled. “They will find you. If you go looking.” He replied. “The only name I have is of a man long dead. Killed by nobody lower than Empress Alyris of Lys.” He paused. “Brynden Longhawk was his name.”

Ilea frowned. “So she stands above them?”

“Above? No. Killing a member of the Golden Lily doesn’t have anything to do with their order. I told you they are simply individuals occasionally working together for common goals. I suspect most of their cooperation involves mercenaries, trade and investing in politicians.”

“Just a group of powerful people cooperating?” Ilea asked. “What’s their goal?”

Vincent shrugged. “Who knows. Each has their own but perhaps there are overall rules, a code maybe? Brynden wasn’t that forthcoming with information.” He paused and looked past her. He opened his mouth and closed it again.

“May I. Suggest something? And ask a couple of questions?” He asked.

Ilea motioned for him to continue.

“Thank you.” He said. “Lilith. I commend you. To use your gold to help orphans. I grew up as one too. Was beaten and abused. I hear that the stores, restaurants and the… Cookie Bakery are good places to work at.”

“What are you getting at?” Ilea asked. “I don’t care about your past.”

He smiled. “You do. If only a little. I can tell.” He shook his head. “I killed them myself, with my own hands. I am not looking for pity. I’m long past that. How far does your name reach? Lilith that is?”

She shrugged. “I don’t see a reason to tell you.”

“Farther than Riverwatch then.” He smiled. “I suggest you wait. If your influence expands, the Golden Lily will contact you. I suspect your position will be more favorable than if you look for them through investigation and murder.” He paused. “Even if you are powerful enough to challenge their members.”

Ilea considered it. I wouldn’t have to look for them at all. If he tells the truth, it would be difficult to pin them down anyway. “I’ll think about it.” She replied.

Vincent nodded. “It is what I would do.” He said. “Now. I have told you what I know. Will you bring me to Alistair and honor your promise?”

“I didn’t promise anything to someone who threatens captives.” Ilea said. “But I also think you’re better off living than dead.” She added.

“We are in agreement on that. Did you kill everyone else?” Vincent asked his glance was questioning, evaluating.

“The men and women? Not those that fled or dropped their weapons.” She replied and turned around. “Come.” She said and stopped once more. “Vincent. I’ll check in on Rose. If I find her dead or gone, I will find you.” She pointed at him.

“I will get away with mentioning the name of the Lily.” He said. “I give you my word. I won’t hurt, threaten or kill her.”

“That still includes quite a lot of possibilities.” Ilea said, glancing back at him.

He smiled. “I plan to talk to her. Maybe offer her a job, an apartment and whatever else she would like.”

Ilea had her suspicions but funnily enough, she trusted his word.

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Rhaegar

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