Beneath the Dragoneye Moons



Chapter 274.1 - Major Interlude - Iona - Sigrun III


It took Iona ten days, moving at high speed, to get from Maral down to the frozen arctic wastes of Modu.

Iona passed numerous tribes as she traveled, sharing a quick meal with some, spending the night with others, and being mistrustfully thrown out of more. The gnolls in those tribes were convinced that Iona was there to steal from them, either their food or their companions.

Iona had basic wilderness survival knowledge, but took every chance to learn from the local gnolls how to best survive the harsh, cold conditions.

In spite of it being the height of summer, snow covered the ground as Iona moved into the tundra, then finally into the permafrost. She got in the habit of wearing her full armor at all times, which had the interesting effect of slowing her down.

Armor was hot and heavy, and between all the layers Iona had and the Mallium covering her, exerting herself too hard risked overheating if she kept going at high intensity for too long.

Iona paused when her feet hit ice for the first time, with the ground disappearing into endless white in front of her.

The frost giants claimed all that which was covered by ice. Iona still wasn’t a fan of Immortals, although she supposed the Treaty of Kyowa disallowed most Immortals in mortal lands - not the reverse. Mortals were tolerated in Immortal lands, as long as they didn’t screw up some Immortal's thousand-year plan.

Or accidentally chop down some tree that was being groomed for its descendent to have the exact right shade of wood for a sculptor, or some other crazy Immortal scheme.

A number of Immortals even liked having a mortal workforce around, although none would ever reach a position of power. Immortals were also known to visit the Maple Orphanages now and then, and recruit a hundred kids for some task or another.

Training up a smith to have a very specific skill was a bit hit or miss. Training a hundred smiths wasn’t that much more expensive, and made the odds of success significantly higher. Orphans needed a place to go, and all in all it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Mostly.

Iona had severe doubts that it was all that benevolent, although Maples was well-funded from former kids who’d made their way in the world.

She chewed on her lip, refusing to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, Immortals could do some good. Sometimes. Even if by accident.

Figuring there was nothing to be gained by just standing in an open field, Iona took the first step into Modu.

It was anticlimactic. Just a soft crunch as Iona’s weight crashed through the thin ice. She put one step in front of the next, slowly ascending the polar cap of ice. Applying her will to the Mallium, Iona changed her boots, adding spikes to keep her stable on the ice.

Life rapidly withered away, choked under the smothering layers of frozen water. Iona was unsure how anything could survive out here.

Yet, as time passed and Iona’s rations dwindled, signs of life she saw indeed. Snowgrass thrived in the environment, the plant having figured out how to survive the harsh conditions when nothing else could. The pet project of an Immortal [Botanist] thousands of years ago, still thriving to this day.

It formed the foundation of the grand food web that gave life to the inhospitable environment. Elk, mice, rabbits, and more grazed on the grasses, foxes and ice wyrms preyed on them, and the circle of life continued.

Iona stayed well clear of any signs of civilization. The ice giants liked their castles made of ice, built large enough to accommodate them while throwing blinding light all over. Iona even saw a few in the distance, deep blue flesh glancing out from white furs as the giants went about their daily lives.

Iona carefully avoided killing anything, instead acting more like a scavenger, or a vulture. When a pack of wolves brought down an elk, Iona brazenly waltzed over. The wolves growled at her, and she growled back.

One of them lunged for her, and she casually backhanded it. She put enough force in the blow to show that she was serious, but not so much as to harm the wolf. It would’ve defeated the purpose of avoiding killing.

After all, if the elk was some prized specimen of a frost giant, it wasn’t Iona who had killed it. It was the wolves, nature itself.

Most of the pack circled her, investigating this strange, bipedal, metal-clad monster that had intruded upon them. Iona stood up tall, showing off her size and attempting to assert dominance, then slowly walked towards the carcass.

Two stragglers were busy chowing down on the elk, determined to get their fill before the rest of the pack made a decision.

The wolves snapped and barked at her, but were unwilling to engage in a life-or-death fight. The two gluttons scattered away from the elk’s body as Iona arrived. She grabbed her trusty axe, and with three sharp swings, liberated half the ribs.

Iona took her prize and left, the wolves descending upon the remains like… well, wolves.

Iona spent time traveling. Following the elk, seeing the southern lights. Encountering rare and fantastical plants.

Seeing the Reverse Glacier. A gigantic block of slowly moving ice, that reflected the reverse.

A beautiful field of summer flowers, with the moons up in the night sky reflected in the glacier. Iona was reflected as an elf, wearing cotton robes with dark hair. Her axe turned into a quill, and her fingers were stained with ink. A gaggle of children surrounded her.

A strange, magical place. The value of seeing what one magical object thought was the opposite?

Questionable. Not exactly worth a full journey on its own, but if it was on the way, well…

A few days later, she encountered the great lake. Somehow, the vast expanse of water wasn’t frozen, in spite of being on a bed of ice a mile thick, and was the second source of life in the arctic.

Iona had only learned of most of the animals recently because of Florence’s Friends. Seals and walruses lounged on the shores of the lake, while penguins waddled in herds.

If Iona was going to find a polar bear, this would be the place.

First was shelter. While the summer wasn’t supposed to have the vicious storms that plagued the area the rest of the year, it never hurt to have a bolt-hole. Reshaping her Mallium, Iona created a crude ice pick and shovel, and got to work.

After securing her shelter - and stocking it with the well-preserved body of a walrus, who’d died to injuries sustained in a fight for dominance - Iona went wandering.

She tracked penguins up until the point they dove into the water. She watched the seals play, their energy infectious. Wolverines slunk around, hunting hares, and lean big cats hunted, keeping herds healthy by preying on the slow, the weak, and the sick.

Iona was warm in her armor, but she knew if she got wet, if she fell into the water, she’d be in serious trouble. Not only would the water steal her heat, not only were there creatures in the water that occasionally caused mass exoduses, but there was a risk of everything just freezing.

Iona was strong.

She wasn’t stronger than Gaia, than Mother Nature herself, and refused to pit herself against the elements that way.

There was no night, not during the summer. Iona was sensitive to the needs of her body - all the better to ignore them in a fight - and slept in her little hidey hole when she thought it was appropriate. She could go for days on end without rest, thanks to her training, stats, and most importantly [Strength from the Stars], but why marathon needlessly?

Iona spent far too long getting breakfast together. The walrus was frozen solid, which perfectly preserved it and made it safe to eat, even if Iona had no vitality. However, it was frozen solid, and Iona didn’t have an easy way to thaw it.

She did it the hard way. Cutting off a piece, and chewing on it until that bite thawed, then moving on.

Iona had her fill, then carefully exited.

There was a new crowd in the area, a herd of wooly rhinos. Iona climbed to the top of a small hill, to better see and not be in the way of the creatures.

Iona was all too aware that they were wild beasts. They could turn on her in a second.

Not an exact temperament fit, but Alruna had bonded with a triceratops. It wasn’t like temperament was the end all be all. The idea of a wooly rhino was tugging on Iona’s heartstrings. She’d spent years around Alruna’s triceratops, and her death at Valkyrie’s End was a harsh blow to her mentor, and Iona. A wooly rhino was close in some respects, and far away enough in others. Both had strong natural armor that the Valkyries could augment. Both were herbivorous quadrupeds, with a business front.

Iona had gotten the vast majority of her training on Trikey, and most of it would transfer over.

Yeah, a wooly rhino would work well. Iona thought she might even go for one of the rhinos here and now, her divine blessing giving her a perfect look at the creature’s stats and skills, and letting her easily determine which creatures were the cream of the crop.

The beasts didn’t look like they were going anywhere in a hurry.

She darted back to her hidey-hole, grabbed her notebook, and headed back to her outpost. She went back to scanning the wooly rhinos, taking extensive notes.

Iona already had two candidates among the younger rhinos. One caster, and the second had unusually high stats for its level, indicating high-quality classes.

Iona was writing down the details of what she’d seen. A shadow crossed the sun, and Iona looked up after finishing the word she was writing.

Too late.


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