Beneath the Dragoneye Moons

by

Selkie

Chapter 272.1 - Major Interlude - Iona - Sigrun I

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A note from Selkie

Hey all!

 

Another Iona interlude!

 

If you'd like to get a sneak peek ahead, the rest of the Iona interludes are up in their own side story, Valkyrie's Dawn!

 

It's marked complete for a reason...

 

I'd love it if you could drop a rating over there for me!

Iona looked up at the Immortal healer, and felt sick.

She’d tracked rumors of the healer to The Great Tang, aiming to put a stop to her before the war got too out of control.

The ability to grant Immortality was absurd. The exact flavors differed. The most common, by leaps and bounds, vampires. They jealously guarded their innate racial ability, demanded huge prices, concessions, and most of all - loyalty to the Exterri Empire. On rare occasion, a vampire would be coerced into granting Immortality. The rest of the vampires came down hard on such instances, knowing that if one of them was allowed to be blackmailed and threatened into giving up their power, they all were vulnerable. A single monolithic block, working in tandem.

After that, came the numerous mortals who’d somehow seized Immortality for themselves, and not only for themselves, but for anyone their skill allowed. A painting that wilted and faded instead of the subject. Golden apples, halting the march of time. Water, granting eternal youth. The cultivation methods of the Auspicious Mountain Sect. Dozens, hundreds of variants, each one as different and as unique as the wielder in question, as many differences as there were different skills in the System.

As many stars as there were in the sky.

That was before the "natural" methods of gaining Immortality came into play. Consuming the flesh of a mermaid was one. Requesting a boon from a deity, or finding one of their divine treasures was another. Finding the genie, and making a wish was a third, and countless more were scattered and hidden all over the world.

White Dove cursed them all. They didn’t care how Immortality was obtained, simply that it was. Cruel, capricious, bizarre. Sometimes her curses would be on-point, directly targeting and striking at the heart of the poor fool who dared defy her. Other times, they were stranger, weirder, seemingly having no connection with the new Immortal. Rarely, the curse was hardly a curse at all, more of a minor inconvenience. There was no rhythm nor reason to her curses, no pattern that [Scholars] could discern.

Each element could seize - and grant - Immortality.

Healers, ever fighting against Black Crow, had the option of seizing Immortality, and granting it to others, on average over a thousand levels before other classes and methods could. They were watched more closely than other Classers were, as healers could reasonably get to the levels needed to seize Immortality before their mortal lifespan wore out, unlike other Classers. Part of why nearly every mortal nation restricted healers from surpassing 256 - in public.

Any mortal that seized Immortality, and who could grant it to others, was on their own. Vulnerable to coercion, threats, blackmail, bribery, and more. There were no monolithic groups protecting them. The only friends and allies they had were those obtained in their short, fleeting, mortal lifespan before the moment they obtained it. They were exposed, and the world knew it.

For some reason, the ability to grant Immortality was never granted to Immortals. Perhaps it was simply the System recognizing the inherent Immortality of said Immortals, and denying "useless" skills to them.

The end result was the same. Powerhouses. People who ended up at levels far, far above everyone else, who could single-handedly turn the course of a war.

Who could - would - single-handedly start a war.

Old age eventually took mortals. There was only so much wealth and power a single mortal could get, before Black Crow came for them in their old age. Immortals had no such restrictions. Their wealth and power would - barring accident, sabotage, or plain incompetence - simply grow and grow, until their interests collided irreverably against someone else’s.

Diplomacy would be tried at first, and sometimes it’d succeed. But inevitably, there’d be another clash, and eventually one wouldn’t be resolvable with peaceful means.

Then there’d be a war.

It was the rare Immortal who managed to restrain themselves, who contented themselves to live a simple life. Many said they would keep things simple for themselves. They wouldn’t be like the other Immortals.

The lure of safety and preservation was usually their downfall. A few extra coins, in case of an unexpected expense. A spare barn, to hold food through lean times. Rebuilding the wooden home with stone, so it’d better survive the seasons and passage of time. Owning the land they were on outright - who wanted to pay rent for eternity?

Small things. Forward thinking things.

Then the Immortal woke up one day, practically a small lord in their own right. The fear of losing what they had tended to set in next, and, well…

The rest was history.

Naturally, the mortals who managed to seize Immortality always claimed they weren’t Immortal. Immortals living in mortal lands violated any number of treaties and agreements, the biggest one being the Treaty of Kyowa.

Ironically, due to survivorship bias, the rare Immortal that managed to restrain themselves were in the majority in mortal lands. They tended not to flaunt their existence, staying low-key. Out of the way.

But they were there. Old monsters, a king’s uncle thirty generations ago living in a little cabin, a favored knight who’d never want for anything, with levels no mortal could easily stand up against.

Even Sigrun, as ridiculously powerful as the Valkyrie leader was, would be crushed by such an existence, if she provoked them into coming out and taking the field.

They rarely did. An Immortal openly using their power ended with far, far too many eyes on them. As such, only when a country was on the brink of extinction, when total war was declared, did such figures emerge from their hidey-holes.

It was why the nations that existed had existed for hundreds of years, and would likely exist for hundreds, if not thousands, more.

It was part of why Nime was so aggressive with Forbidden Four Classers, in defiance of the Treaty of Kyowa. They were a new country, as these things went. The belief was they didn’t have any Immortals, and were resorting to more desperate means.

A kingdom would empty their coffers just to make one new Immortal guardian.

The ability to make dozens?

Nations were going to war over the chance, both to have their own, and deny the chance to their enemies.

Some were aiming to capture the healer, and force her to turn as many loyal retainers Immortal as possible. Rarely did the king, elder, prime minister - or whoever the leader of a nation was - get turned themselves. No, it was too obvious when such a thing happened. The power behind the thrones, the quiet movers and shakers, were usually the recipients of such a blessing. Them, and anyone proven loyal enough to the country.

Others were more pragmatic. Capturing the healer gave others a chance to capture her in turn. Simply killing her ended the entire ordeal.

Yet more saw it as an excuse to move their armies. Nothing quite granted riches like quick plunder in a justified war, like ransoming a noble back to their family. Nothing granted levels quite like battles and bloodshed. One perfect engagement could turn a mediocre army into a hardened core of elites.

Like the Valkyries. They were already elite units to begin with, but they’d been distilled, honed, tempered. Each surviving Valkyrie was a force of nature in and of herself.

Sadly, they didn’t have a fresh batch of recruits to fill in the holes left by the fallen, unlike a lord who seemingly always had a fresh batch of serfs to pull from, and plug the gaps.

Naturally, there was a fourth party. The Immortal healer herself, and the people who rallied to her. Those who didn’t quite fit in the current world order. Disgruntled lords, too low in the peerage to ever be granted Immortality, given the chance to throw their lot in with the healer and have the clock turned back for them. Adventurers, fresh off delving some deep and ancient ruin, flush with riches and wanting to be preserved in the moment for all eternity. Mercenaries, who could be granted the boon and sell it again, commanding a price that would allow them to retire in luxury for the rest of their life.

The end result was the same. An Immortal healer showed up, and let her skills be known. She was a foci, a pivot, pulling the world around her.

Nobody should have that much power.

Nobody should be able to cause that much death.

And yet.

Iona was late to the party. It was over.

Iona stared at the body, hoisted high by a spike impaling her. Her head had been cut off, replaced by a tiger’s - presumably her companion.

The healer’s head was on a second spike next to her body.

They’d horrifically tortured the poor woman, and Iona sent a long prayer to her patrons, asking that they help guide her soul to the afterlife. Even with Iona’s long experience, with all the carnage she’d seen and dealt, the sight of what had been done to the poor healer turned her stomach.

Even in death, she was afforded no dignity.

Various fluids covered her, and a passerby threw a rotten tomato at her, the fruit adding its noxious juices to the mix, then falling down onto the rest of the vegetables.

Abstractly, Iona had wanted the healer dead. One life, one person, who knew exactly what they were doing and what chaos they’d cause, weighed against the millions of lives unended and ruined as a result of her actions.

Seeing the end result though? Iona wasn’t a cold, heartless killing machine. She could empathize. She could imagine the torture and agony the poor woman had gone through.

They’d clearly drawn it out, and made it last.

With one last shake of her head, Iona turned and left.

Next on her list - Return to the pirate hideout. Loot every last scrap. Report back to the Valkyries, and see what the next hotspot was.

Iona shouldered her way through the crowds, people and races of all sorts having congregated in Xi’an. Most wore the robes of various sects, long flowing things that should be impractical in a fight, yet they somehow managed to pull it off.

To nobody’s surprise, the sect with the largest representation by far was the Tang sect, who ruled the country named after them.

Iona warily eyed a group of people loitering around, wearing yellow jacks with black stripes on them. The Hornet’s gang. Well-known across mortal lands for being [Hired Thugs]. If a merchant wanted to put a rival out of business? Hiring the Hornets to torch their warehouse and storefront, mug them in an alley, or just plain old extort "protection money."

Once hired though, they stayed vaguely loyal, in a criminal sort of way. This group was loitering in front of a major branch of the World Bank. The local [Beancounters] had done their own strange brand of math, and determined that hiring additional muscle on top of their guards with the level of unrest and risks was worth it.

Since they were somewhat legitimately employed, Iona let them be. There was a time and a place to fight with one of Pallos’s three major gangs, and this was not it.

Iona was near the exit of the city when the crowds started to part. Iona let herself go with the flow. This wasn’t her place or her territory, why make a fuss?

Her stomach clenched in a cold knot as she saw who the crowd was parting for.

A pair of Wardens were entering the city, their pointy elven ears and curled horns sticking out from behind their faceless silver masks. The Immortal enforcers had left their domain, presumably for the deceased healer.

Wardens were the reason Immortals didn’t rampage freely across mortals lands - well, not for long. Iona was forced to admit that the Immortals races did have their own set of rules - however esoteric - abided by them. Didn’t mean she liked them much.

Iona took a quick peek at their stats and levels, her divine blessing bypassing any resistances or protections they might have to mask themselves.

Level 2885.

Level 3381.

Either one of them could level the city with a thought. Iona would be helpless before them, [Vow]-boosted stats or not.

Interestingly, they were bonded to each other. A pair of companions, likely lovers, working as Wardens. It explained why there wasn’t a pair of creatures working with them.

There was something about the weapon the higher-leveled one carried. Somehow, power, with a whiff of divinity, was emanating from it. Objects just didn’t do that. Not unless…

"The Woundspear." The moon goddess Selene whispered into Iona’s mind.

"If you could get it for us…" Lunaris, the other moon goddess breathed in anticipation and desire.

Iona would’ve given them an incredulous look if she could’ve. Sadly, they were in the divine realm, and Iona was forced to stick to witty remarks.

"Yes, let me commit elaborate suicide by Warden. I didn’t realize you were so eager to meet me again in person." Iona quipped, then got a hair more serious.

"I’m not going to wrest away a divinely granted weapon from elves with thousands of levels on me. Alone." Iona frankly replied.

"Ahh, but just imagine…" Selene said.

"Yes, I’m imagining. Me. Dead, in a shallow grave. Assuming more than a matchbox’s worth of me is left."

"We’ll make you an angel!" Lunaris seemed positively cheerful at the idea, which included Iona’s untimely demise.

"You’re going to make me an angel anyways! Right!?"

The two goddesses of the moon laughed at Iona’s outraged remarks and expression, and she felt their light touch leave her.

Crowds parted before them, and they passed, entirely inscrutable beneath their masks.

Iona forced herself to move once they’d left, noting a maple leaf over a house. They were going to be extra-busy.

She traveled back across The Great Tang, her heart breaking at every trampled field, at every burned farmhouse. She shared her food when she could with people who’d been displaced by the war, who were already starving even before winter hit.

The Great Tang wasn’t particularly far north, and the [Weather Witch]es were predicting a harsh winter. The unknown healer was dead, but her legacy was going to kill millions in a famine.

Iona mentally corrected herself. It wasn’t just the healer. She was the spark, the excuse, but every count, every sect leader, every great general and clan leader was also to blame. They’d mobilized armies and moved out, when they could’ve sat home, focusing on peace and securing their own borders.

Iona missed the hypocrisy entirely. She was a Valkyrie, and could’ve been spending the time fighting monsters and raiders, instead of making the trip down to The Great Tang.

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Selkie

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