Chapter 354 Conflicting Interests
Valery was standing near the group of maimed adventurers. The uninjured ones were nearby, looking at the ground or at the carnage with hollow eyes.
They would be judged. Hope for leniency was slim, none as influential and important as Vincent.
“More made the smart decision than I thought. Good on them.” The dust mage said as they returned.
Ilea didn’t comment on it, instead checking on the nearby freed captives. “I will bring you back to Riverwatch where you will be asked to testify against the men and women who did this to you.” She said.
Rose smiled at her and nodded enthusiastically.
She smiled back. “Let me know now if you don’t want to do that. I will check what kind of facilities and houses I own in the city. I will likely be able to offer housing, work or someone to talk to. If you have nobody or nowhere to return to.” Ilea said. “Is anybody still injured?”
None of them spoke. They neither thanked her nor cursed her. Various emotions flickered over their eyes and faces. Fear most of all.
They will know they’re safe once we’re back in the city. “Rose, do you know if they had wagons here?”
The girl nodded and pointed towards the north. “Hidden away under branches and leafs.”
She smiled and nodded. “I’ll check it out. Thank you.” Ilea said. “Just wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Ilea walked over to Valery and Vincent as well as the survivors. She looked at their fear, their pain and the sorry states they were in. It smelled of piss, shit and blood.
None were about to lose their lives. At least not until they reached Riverwatch.
“Keep an eye on him, Valery. He’s not to speak to any of them or the freed captives.” Ilea said. “Vincent. If you manipulate this any further, I won’t shy away from ripping off your head.” She added, making sure everyone heard her clearly.
“Yes ma’am.” The man replied seriously.
Good boy. It definitely sent a message that he was listening to her. The violent display of her power was one thing. The cooperation of the crime lord was another.
Ilea found the wagons quickly, her ashen limbs moving away the branches and massive dark green blankets. She pulled them with her ash and found the wood moving easily.Light, she thought and stepped between the two wagons, her ashen limbs moving around them quickly before she lifted.
Easy enough. Her wings spread and she ascended, branches breaking as she flew up. Both wagons easily two meters wide and six long. She landed in the clearing a moment later.
Valery and Vincent looked up to her, glancing at each other despite the adversity.
“You can fly?” Ilea asked the dust mage.
“Yes. I won’t be able to help you carry those however.” Vincent replied.
“I won’t need help. I simply don’t want you in either of them.” Ilea said. “Valery, help me fill the left one with the survivors.” Ilea added, her ashen limbs moving out to the scared adventurers, grabbing them roughly before she literally threw them into the wagon. More bruises and some broken bones were the least of their concerns.
“Rose!” Ilea said and walked towards the group of captives. Might be bad if they see all that mess. She thought and instead carried the wagon with her. She placed it near the group and smiled at them. “Your ride is here. Please get in. I’ll bring you to Riverwatch shortly.”
People in the streets as well as the guards and recruits watched the flying wagons arrive, accompanied by the gray armored dust mage.
Ilea landed in the midst of the evaluation session she had been a part of just over an hour ago.
“What… is that… Vincent Halligan.” Alistair spoke when Ilea gently landed the two wagons.
She had covered the injured rogue adventurers with one of the blankets to make the whole thing easier on the captured citizens.
Dale was waving at them as they landed. “Sooner than I expected.” He said. “You just made me a lot of money.”
“Good for you.” Ilea said. “These are the kidnapped people. Can you take care of them? I informed them that they should testify against the survivors as well as talk about what happened in the camp.” Her ashen limbs let go of the wagons, disintegrating behind her. “Those are the survivors that were part of the rogues.” She pointed at the covered wagon.
“Of course.” Dale said and motioned to a group of guards, many of the officers and veterans rushing in immediately.
There were even a couple of healers present that quickly joined them.
Vincent landed and remained quiet as to Ilea’s instructions. If anything, he was cooperative.
Dale walked up to her. “The governor and his officers are in the canteen.”
“Is there food?” Ilea asked.
“There is.” Dale replied and led her and Vincent towards the buildings.
The survivors were taken care of by a group of guards and healers, given food and new clothing. Messages were being exchanged and people were sent out to look for their families and friends.
Valery was talking to one of the younger women, hugging her repeatedly before she joined the group again.
They walked into the canteen together and saw a group of officers turn towards them.
“You really did it.” Alistair said and walked up to her. “Incredible.” He offhandedly gave her a pouch with coins. “Your pay and a small bonus for the quick resolution.”
Ilea opened it and put the coins into her necklace. Twenty seven.
I have no clue if that’s the agreed upon amount. Ilea thought, too lazy to check right now. “Thanks.” If that’s what Handjobs are getting you these days, I’d rather rummage through old ruins. She smirked at her own joke.
“I trust you can take it from here, governor. I have a couple officers to disappoint.” Ilea said with a smirk.
The governor nodded and smiled back, getting quite serious when he looked at Vincent. “You gave up. So easily? To fall that low…,” He said.
Vincent looked at Ilea with an intense glare.
“Brought you here and you shut up until now. Do what you want.” She said and joined Dale. “Nice buffet. I’m going to help myself if that’s alright.” She walked off before getting an answer, her ears perked to listen to their conversations. They even got cake. Nice.
She assumed the buffet inside the canteen was mostly for the officers. There had been food outside too. No cake.
“Baralia was involved. Several officers.” Vincent said. “I expected you to bust in there four months ago but, nothing.” He was getting louder, pointing at Alistair. “Your uncaring leadership will doom this city. Citizens, kidnapped and sold into slavery. And you needed… that… monster. To come and rescue you.”
“We didn’t have the resources. We couldn’t risk it.” Alistair was getting serious again.
The officers around them didn’t seem to know what to do exactly. Obviously familiar with the criminal but not wanting to make their leader seem weak. It might have simply been confusing to see someone talk to the governor like that.
“Don’t give me that, Alistair. I would have gone out there myself…,”
“You were there.” Alistair said, his voice cold. “And you helped them. You supplied them with the information they needed, got them the men.”
“I had no choice. I didn’t know Baralia would get involved.” Vincent retorted. “I could have helped. I only needed you to send some men.”
“I was there. We were there.” Valery said. “Your people attacked us on sight.”
“I set up a contract and you got the healer. You’re as much at fault for this as the Barlia officers.” Alistair said and waved him off.
“She slaughtered half my people…,” He lowered his voice, still obviously angry. “We could have solved this amongst ourselves. We had to get the Hand to deal with the elves already. Now we can’t even deal with a bunch of slavers?! What has happened to us?”
The governor shook his head. “It’s no matter now. They lost. The empire broke out. Baralia is finished. They have bigger problems than Riverwatch now.”
Vincent pointed at him once more. “You don’t understand. There were two officers… two. And you sat here, watching them do what they want.”
“Silence.” Alistair said. “Vincent Halligan. The only reason you haven’t been sentenced to death already is my respect for you. And for what you have done for this city.” His voice was quiet, nearly a whisper.
Nobody dared to make a noise. Except for Ilea, she was happily piling food onto a massive plate.
“I had hoped you were trying to delay them. Had hoped you weren’t actually stooping so low as to work with slavers. We had a city to rebuild, thousands of refugees to handle and your people to fend off. A minor problem. Handled by the Shadow. A stranger perhaps but why does it matter? We have time to build, time to get stronger.” Alistair said.
Ilea was walking back and joined Dale’s side.
“Want some?” She asked and handed a piece of cake to Dale.
“You know what?” He looked at her and sighed. “Why not.” He took a bite out of the piece of cake , chewed and swallowed before he continued speaking. “I just wanted a slow day. And now I have the most famous crime lord of Riverwatch arguing with the governor. Both in my canteen, with pretty much every high officer watching. Thanks for that.”
“Welcome.” Ilea replied, lifting her cake at him. She noted a couple of the people glancing at her.
Vincent looked at the two of them before he focused on Alistair again, getting even more angry. “Time to build?” He asked. “What do you think will happen once the war ends? Do you think your policies will stand? Allowing necromancers in the city? Any random person to take out loans? To own property? Schools to educate the poor?” He was getting louder.
He walked in a circle. “You are insane if you think you’ll get through with it. Kroll and the Nipha Empire won’t stand by, let alone Baralia or Lys. Look at your officers, your guards. They all know it. The war was the only thing keeping people at bay, the war and the elves. Where are they now?”
Alistair nodded, aware of all the uncertainty around him. The truth in the criminal’s words. The trial to bring Vincent to justice had turned into one for himself.
“We will find allies. We have been in communication with Asila and Dawntree as well as Lys.” The governor said.
The criminal shook his head and answered instantly. “Asila are not far from Baralia. Dawntree has been cut off for too long, they’re in a worse state than we are. And Lys… well I’d like to hear what they have to say about Riverwatch when they have dealt with their war, their bloodied claws looking for the next beast to kill.” Vincent certainly had arguments.
Several people around the group were nodding at his words, albeit barely noticeable. It was quiet.
Did he plan all that? Ilea thought and stepped forward, ignoring Dale’s attempts to stop her. She opened her mouth and coughed. Fuck. She lifted a hand and coughed again.
Everyone was looking at her, the healer in bone armor. For some a fearsome Shadow that participated in their fun bet. For others a monster with incomprehensible capacity for slaughter and blood.
Vincent paled as he looked at her.
She coughed again before finally a piece of cake mixed with bile hit the floor. “Oh damn. I was about to rip out my throat.” She said. “Sorry about the mess.”
Some people chuckled, Vincent gulped.
“You’re not taking over, Vincent. I told you, I won’t shy away from killing you.” She said. “Now, I’m not your go to gal for politics but it seems like your city needs allies, governor?”
“Indeed.” Alistair said in a silent voice, arms crossing in front of him.
“Perfect. Well it just so happens that I have quite some pull with the Shadow’s Hand as well as the Medic Sentinels and Ravenhall.” She said, dropping her not yet founded organization’s name in there. “Medic Sentinel Corps that is.”
Vincent gulped again but didn’t say anything.
“How much pull are we talking about?” The governor asked, staring at her with intense eyes.
She smiled and grabbed another piece of cake from her plate. “Enough.” She simply said and continued eating.
He glanced at Vincent, Dale, Esteban and some of his officers before he sighed. “Even if we decide to accept your help. I don’t think we could give you what you desire in return.”
“And what would that be?” Ilea asked, right after gulping down another bite.
“You know Dale and you’ve helped out the city before but excuse my suspicion, I don’t see why you would want to help without significant compensation.” Alistair explained.
Vincent wanted to interject but he closed his mouth again quickly as he looked at Ilea.
“Significant compensation. Well, some sort of veto right would be interesting. As well as some rules for the city.” She said and smiled at their reactions. “More to see if your goals are in line with mine. I can also share with you that I’m also known to Riverwatch as Lilith.”
Alistair smirked lightly but quickly composed himself again. He calmed down the protesting officers and gave Vincent a confused look. “Nothing to say?” He asked in a silent tone.
“He does not.” Ilea said. “Except he would like to talk in favor of my demands.”
The man looked at her but shook his head.
“There you go.” She said.
“A veto right, for an outsider?!” One of the officers spoke up, outraged at the notion. “Unthinkable.”
Alistair clapped his hands together. “Unthinkable? Vincent is right. The dangers are high right now.” He sighed. “I don’t plan to give up the government to a criminal who would see his own people tortured and sold into slavery for his own goals. Neither do I plan to let nations decide our fate. The Shadow’s Hand is an ally that could give us the backing we need.”
“I don’t want an answer now either.” Ilea added. “You may contact Sulivhaan or Dagon of the Hand to hammer out the details. They’re friends and I think cooperation between the Hand and Riverwatch would be very much in everyone’s interest.”
“You are just one healer of the Hand. You can’t speak for their order.” Another officer said.
Ilea shrugged. “No, I can’t. That’s why I said you should contact them and have me sign the request.”
“They have been under the empire for centuries. If Lys decides to pressure us, such cooperation would not be possible.” Someone else said.
Alistair stopped the officers from voicing any more complains and walked closer to Ilea. His height was close to hers. “Do you know something we don’t?” He asked in a whisper barely audible, even to her.
“I do.” Ilea replied. “And I’d like to see Riverwatch thrive. Open schools and all the rest you mentioned seems like the right direction. Trust me, governor. Just write a letter and I’ll sign with my mana signature.” She smiled at him.
“Ridiculous.” Someone said.
It was Vincent who corrected the woman. “She is Lilith, one of the only external investors that remained. I don’t like it either but you would take her words more seriously if you had seen her slaughter those men. She tore through level two hundred officers like a fireball through paper.” He sighed.
Ilea lifted a mug of ale in his direction and smiled. “Even the crime lord vouches for me.” She laughed and took a drink.
“I vouch for her too.” Dale said. “Whatever it’s worth.”
“As do I.” Valery added.
Some people still didn’t seem convinced but definitely more officers looked to be open to the idea.
They don’t even know what’s coming for them. Ilea smirked to herself. Not just the Hand but Ravenhall itself will back them. And they will back us in turn.
“You mentioned influence with not only the Hand but Ravenhall and the Medic Sentinels? I haven’t heard of the latter.” Alistair said.
“Contact the Hand. In the meantime, I’ll take care of your other requests.” Ilea said. “May I talk to you alone, Alistair?”
“You shouldn’t stay alone with a Shadow.” An officer said and looked at Vincent with a scowl, the dust mage laughing out loud. “What? You should be glad you’re still alive.”
Vincent calmed down. “Oh, I am glad. I am.” He had a grin on his face.
“She could slaughter everyone in this room if she wanted.” Valery supplied. “Officers. We have people to interrogate.” She stared at Vincent in the end.
He looked down but walked outside, followed by Valery and the rest of the officers, including Dale.
“The food is splendid.” Ilea said.
“We have good cooks.” Alistair confirmed in a neutral tone.
“What do you plan to do with Vincent? He helped kidnap people, looked away when they were tortured and sold away.”
The man sighed and looked at her. “He has done worse before. What he hasn’t done is give up on the city. His influence is clear and if we use him to control organized crime, we can have a much better grip than any guard would ever have. Spying and destabilization would be much harder for our enemies.”
He laughed. Cackled really. Not loud, as all the words or noises he uttered. “A part of me would welcome it.” He admitted. “The challenge he would pose. I will prevail and bring this city to heights it has never seen before.” He looked into her eyes with a fire in his. “Me personally? I would have him beheaded. As the governor however, I cannot allow it.”