Chapter 894: Shadow

Deep within a cold and dark mine, with the only source of light coming from the Glowstones that were intermittently placed throughout the cavern, there were several groups of Beast People and Pallums clumped together. All around, there were sounds of combat echoing off the hard stone walls, generally followed by blood-curdling screams. As they were very accustomed to hearing these voices shouting, it was possible for some of these ragged individuals to even identify just which of their former ‘masters’ had just died. Even so, none of them moved, afraid of getting caught up in the chaotic conflict and becoming fodder just to buy time…

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From a vantage point, high in the sky above the mine, Vahn held his [Khryselakatos] in hand, shooting any fleeing Dwarves in the back while eliminating any messenger birds they tried to send out. This time, instead of dealing with all of the enemies himself, Vahn had left it up to Chloe, Shizune, and a team of twenty ‘Shadow Corps’ members. Though their average strength was only Level 2, each of the members had been training hard under Chloe for the last two months. This wouldn’t give them the necessary strength to deal with some of the more powerful Dwarven warriors but, with powerful equipment, the difference was more than made up as their primary focus was stealth, speed, and precision.

Each member of the Shadow Corps either had an Earth, Darkness, or Shadow elemental affinity, which is where they got the name. Most of their members were Cat People but, in order to sneak into small places even easier, there were a number of Pallums in the groups as well. For this particular mission, there were fourteen Cat People, five Pallum, and a single young Chienthrope that had a unique Pure Darkness affinity. He was a peculiar young boy, only fourteen years old, with pitch black hair, pointed ears, a somewhat droopy black tail, and dark orange eyes. Chloe had started training him in much the same way as Shizune, claiming he had a natural inclination towards stealth and assassination…

From one of the escape tunnels at the base of the mountain, Vahn saw a group of three Dwarves wearing grey cloaks trying to sneak out and hide amongst the rocky terrain. Since he was trying to prevent information from reaching the Iron Hills, Vahn couldn’t let these men escape so easily. He deftly knocked a single arrow that appeared to be wholly made of wood, intricately carved in an ornate and beautiful spiral near the arrowhead.

Recently, Yggy had asked if there was anything she could help with and, after understanding the use of her own ‘materials’, she had started to produce a small grove of ‘natural’ weapons that had similar qualities. Since the wood she was capable of growing had greater durability than even Damascus Steel, with an incredible affinity for all natural elemental energies, Vahn had produced a few very useful arrows with a variety of different functions…

When Vahn loosed this arrow, it traced a pale green blur through the air, though this was something only he could see since it was ‘invisible’ as a result of his [Call of the Reaper]. It accurately pierced through the back of the closest Dwarf before curving at a sharp angle and piercing the second. The Dwarf that had been leading the group turned to try and parry the arrow but it snaked around his ax in an instant, piercing through his chest without any resistance at all. Then, instead of continuing forward and striking a surface, the arrow zig-zagged through the air once, doubling back, before returning to Vahn’s hand.

This particular arrow was called a [Wind Chaser], as he could guide the arrow using Wind Elemental manipulation, so long as it was inside of his domain. He didn’t even need to use his bow to fire it but, considering the Abilities and benefits from doing so, Vahn still went through the proper motions. It was certainly very ‘cool’ to be able to manipulate arrows and daggers through his domain, but the power would be drastically reduced. Though it might be a useful ability in the future, it was more important to focus on ‘efficiency’ at the moment, instead of flair.

While waiting for other potential runaways, Vahn kept his focus on the battles taking place within the mines. This particular fortress had been in operation for nearly a century, having kilometers of complex tunnel systems. Fortunately, in order to prevent slaves from sneaking away, a lot of areas were sectioned off and blocked by massive mechanical doors. When the Alliance claimed the mine for themselves in the future, this place would become a powerful stronghold that even had the potential of becoming what the Dwarves referred to as an ‘Undercity’. There were no naturally occurring earthquakes on the Continent of Eden so it was relatively safe to build into the ground, instead of just building above it…

Within one of the rooms where some of the slaves were hiding away, a Dwarf had just broken into the area after fleeing from the combined attack of two Shadow Corps members. He was Level 3 while the two young men were only Level 2. However, even though they weren’t using their [Shadow Visor Mk.1], likely to conserve mana, they weren’t losing out in battle. Dwarves typically had lower Agility than most other races, while the two young men were Cat People, possessing remarkable Agility and flexibility. With their A-Rank shortsword, they were steadily pushing the Dwarven warrior back until he had crashed into the room. Upon noticing the slaves hiding away, the man attempted to reach out to use one of them as a shield, only to find a black ‘spear’ piercing his gut.

Fafnir was something of a ‘mascot’ to the Shadow Corps and, in conjunction with Chloe and Shizune, it had been teaching them the basics on how to use Shadow and Darkness Elemental magic. There weren’t any members who could use it just yet, but their affinity with the elements would allow them to become proficient in a year or two. Until then, Fafnir was helping out in the shadows to protect both the slaves and some of the weaker members of the Corps. Since these two were paired together, it was obvious they weren’t quite at a level to conduct solo missions just yet. Of course, other than four individuals, the other sixteen members were also paired up, so it wasn’t exactly a discredit to their capabilities.

As for these four individuals, they were performing their duties in a commendably, almost as if they were ghosts moving through the mines. Among them, there was the Chienthope youth, Kinan, two Cat People, Charle and Bianca, and a rather peculiar Pallum named Skully. She had light pink hair and strange grey eyes that glowed eerily in the dark. With them, Skully was able to see something similar to the ‘aura of life’, though it wasn’t nearly to the extent as Vahn’s own ability to see and read auras. Still, while her own presence was very hard to detect, Skully could track people down by locking onto their aura and had become extremely proficient in a very short period of time. There was also the fact that, unlike many of the other Stealth Corps, who used daggers and shortsword, Skully preferred using a crossbow and throwing knives instead.

Vahn watched as the auras of the four moved around, quickly dealing with their targets, while Skully would skulk about in the shadows and silently eliminate her foes. There had originally been more than a thousand soldier stationed in this fortress but, after just three hours, their numbers had been reduced to less than a hundred. The fact that none of the Shadow Corps had died, even though Vahn had a hand in that, showed that their skill had developed in an extreme manner over a very short period of time. Though Chloe, Fafnir, and Shizune had taken out most dangerous enemies on their own, before the ‘hunt’ had begun, it was still promising how quickly they were growing…

Remembering how quickly Chloe and Shizune had infiltrated the fortress and eliminated the most powerful warriors in just a few minutes, Vahn couldn’t help but think about methods to prevent other capable assassins from infiltrating their own important structures. He had already done a lot to make sure the security of certain areas was almost inviolable but, if there were entities like Fafnir, Chloe, or even Shizune trying to break in, it wasn’t impossible for them to do so. Fafnir and Chloe could easily move through the shadows while Shizune…well, she was becoming one of the trump cards of the Alliance.

Over the few years she had been training with her [Pactio], Shizune had absorbed the shadows of thousands of monsters. Since she could combine the ‘essence’ of similar monsters together, even the Goblins and Kobold that Shizune could send out would rival Level 2 Adventurers with ease. The ‘scary’ part, however, was the fact that, unless you had Magic, or a means to counter the Shadow element in general, it was impossible to kill her summons. Since Shadows could easily move through magic barriers and formations without any resistance whatsoever, Shizune was becoming a monstrous existence with one of the most expansive information networks in the City.

This was because, instead of just absorbing monsters’ shadows, Shizune was even capable of making shadow summons of animals like worms, beetles, flies, and even ants. These were pests that most people outright ignored, allowing Shizune to have eyes and ears all over the City without any major difficulty. However, these weren’t the shadow summons that made her a terrifying enemy to face, as the true terror of Shizune’s [Pactio] manifested itself in the form of Humanoid Shadow Beasts and things like Dragons, Trolls, and a swarm of Poison Vermis. Using the latter, Shizune could send a swarm of nigh-unkillable monsters that had the average strength of a Level 2-3 Adventurer, each capable of using poison that could rot flesh from the bone…

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It was fortunate that Shizune had become a relatively stable and relaxed individual compared to the past, so long as he stopped by to spend time at the Fox Shrine on occasion. She usually spent most of her time, when she wasn’t in the Dungeon or the Sub-Space orb, just talking with Loki, Syr, and Chloe. Vahn knew they were using Shizune’s network to keep tabs on events transpiring in the City and, even though he felt it was an invasion of privacy, it was undoubtedly very useful. So long as they didn’t start exploiting it for nefarious purposes, which was extremely unlikely, Vahn wasn’t going to interfere with the steps they took to protect everyone behind the scenes…

After another hour, Vahn watched as the Shadow Corps began sweeping the mines to gather up all the slaves while Chloe’s voice entered his head, saying, (“We’re just about finished up here, Vahn. Did we miss anyone~nya?”) Since her ‘trainees’ had reported the mines to be cleared, Chloe wanted to confirm with Vahn to make sure they weren’t already building a habit of making oversights. Vahn, understanding this, cracked a small smile as he responded, (“There were a few that used some secret escape passages, but I managed to deal with them easily. Your Shadow Corps performed very well this time around, Chloe, I’m very impressed…”)

Since it would be necessary to entrust duties and responsibilities to people he could trust in the future, the entire purpose of this exercise was to give the Corps combat experience while also testing the efficacy of Chloe’s training. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that she was a genuine prodigy when it came to the art of assassination and, now that there were numerous proteges training under her, Chloe really was making good on her promise in the past. She was, quite literally, becoming his ‘Shadow’, especially with the Scouts and Shadow Corps. Now, he just needed to make good on his promise in the future by pulling her into the light and giving her a real family…

This was the final fortress subjugation, as Vahn dealt with the other three on his own, and, much like the previous times, he once again extended the same offer to the former slaves. Though some were inspired by the Shadow Corps and sought strength, the majority simply wanted to live free and happy lives. Being able to build a home near the fortress, which would be protected by the Alliance, was something they were more than willing to commit to. Even if Vahn had claimed them as his own slaves, most of them wouldn’t have had any problem with the new arrangement, especially with good food and warm clothing. Now that they were ‘free’, it was possible to see the light of hope reignited in these unfortunate souls once again…

In total, it had taken only six days to wipe out all five hidden fortresses operated by the Dwarves. Since they had only used messenger birds and physical missives for communication, it was very likely that the Iron Hills didn’t even know their plot had been uncovered. This was made obvious by the fact that, even after the first aerial raid had failed, several others had been launched from the different fortresses. Their original plan was to disorient the forces of the Alliance by attacking from a variety of different trajectories over the course of a two month period. The fact their plot had been broken down in less than a week was something their Commanding Officer likely couldn’t even conceive.

Now that these fortresses were dealt with, the Dwarves actually had no practical means of attacking any longer. Their closest fortification outside of these five locations was the ‘Valley of Iron’ located to the south of their Mother Mountain. This was more than 2500km away from the closest base, while being nearly 3500km from Orario itself. It was impossible for them to make a supply line that extended that far, especially with the Elves in a position to easily assault their flank. In other words, the Dwarves of the Iron Hills were stuck turtling in their own territory, forced to stay on the defensive as all their forward operations bases had been completely wiped out.

Vahn could already imagine their stone-faced expressions darkening as their complexion paled upon receiving news of these events. However, it was his next course of action that would truly cause them to regret as, for the last six days, Terra and Yggy had been massing a massive amount of natural energy into an unstable Sub-Space orb. The Dwarves seemed very fond of explosives, completely disregarding the victims who would be affected by these malicious inventions, so Vahn wanted to teach them a hard lesson. He would show them an explosion larger than anything they can even imagine…all while feeding enough natural energy into the environment to make it into a prosperous and verdant landscape in the aftermath…

(A/N: Guys, today is actually my birthday and I didn’t even notice until my Dad called xD… I’m shifting my rest day up to today so there will be the six chapters tomorrow while Sunday will have the standard amount.)

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘So…Ninjas…?’,’Chloe Lolo, Shadow of the Emperor’,’Shizune is scary…’,’Is that what you call just desserts?’)

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