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Voldemort

Of Salt Lamps and Sylvan Shadows (To Lose a Star)

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After preparing himself and his equipment, the mutant and his new traveling companion found themselves walking underneath the archway of Inns’th’s southern gate. The sole fortification that blocked off the large encampment from the rest of the nightmarish region of Yh’mi. As they stepped safely to the opposite side, the gate closed behind them with a mechanical clicking that filled Arthur with an odd sense of finality. It was the mage’s first time in Yh’mi proper, and his impressively muscled body was tingling with anxious excitement as the two of them were left alone with the vast stretches of cursed land to themselves. Under his vestments, the mutant was grinning roguishly even as his frame suffered from slight tremors of apprehension. 

“It’s seventy five kilometers south to Furthest Point. That should be two days worth of careful walking,” Arthur told the witch after they were totally alone. When the pink-haired woman hired the black mage, he had practically been rushed out of his pitched tarp and through the gate by Iona’s eager insistence. So it was well worth it to discuss logistics as they walked. ”We’ll walk about eight hours a day, not including when we stop for breakfast and lunch. When we stop for the evening...” Arthur paused as he began their trek, stepping carefully across the ground of the massive rock field. He pondered for a moment on the misnomer he’d just uttered, knowing that ‘evening’ didn’t offer a proper distinction for darkness always fell over Yh’mi. “At the end of our daily trek, we’ll cook at least fifty yards from where we’ll sleep, and we’ll sleep in shifts of four hours. I’ll stand guard first and you after me. We’ll be able to sleep as much as we’d like and replenish our supplies once we reach Bloodwatch base on Furthest Point.....

”But most importantly, we need to keep a light on at all times,” the alchemist finished speaking, walking around a large stone as he unlatched his wax canvas rucksack and placed it onto the boulder. It was a sturdy thing, made of tough material with a bedroll composed of several grey wool blankets and his canvas tarp lashed to the top of the rucksack. A large white crystal with a hollow center was strapped and hanging off the bottom of Arthur’s pack. It was a creation of the mutant’s efforts of transmutation, and hopefully would function as intended once they reached their destination. The mage produced a thick, waxy candle from a side compartment on the pack. He cast a cantrip with a quick gesture that lit the wick with a white and black flame, then placed the candle inside the rune-etched lantern. 

Strapping the rucksack to his back again, the mutant was off again, gesturing to Iona to continue. On his first foray into Yh’mi, Arthur was dressed for adventure and battle. The mage wore a dark blue padded aketon and chausses over his bulky torso and trunk-like limbs. The chausses were tucked into black boots that looked nearly new. Aside from the gambeson he was wearing, Arthur had a scant few pieces of armor. A black-colored jack-chain of steel sections were tied to the sleeves of his aketon. Meanwhile, a blackened bevor was strapped around his neck, protecting his neck and the lower half of his face. A kettle helm of black steel was plopped atop the mage’s head, creating a slight opening from which only Arthur’s nose and eyes could be seen. However, his animalistic eyes were covered in a pair of goggles, its lenses tinted a bright orange. The black mage’s outfit was rounded out by his black fur-lined robes that settled upon his broad shoulders and fell just past his hips. 

@Akako Akari

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There was real doubt when she initially posted her ad on the job board that anyone worth taking on this particular journey would appear. What she needed was someone made of sturdy stuff, someone that wouldn't be cowed by beasts and monsters. Iona knew what lurked beyond the wall. There were whispers of those things that went bump in the night, something that would make Carpathians and Nogitsunes seem practically harmless. This adventurer seemed promising. He wasn't human, which might be advantageous. Still, uncertainty lingered in her. It was rather unlikely that he had been exposed to the nightmarish realm she had stumbled upon years prior that prepared her for this moment. Even so, he seemed sure of himself, confident that they would make it out alive, or at least he would. That intent was promising so, Iona silently prayed for the gods and goddesses to provide for the treacherous journey that lay before them because she knew better than to ask for a safe one. 

The witch stared out at the land before them, just on the other side of the gate. There was an electricity in her bones as her fingers glanced over the bound volume that was attached to her left hip, which was an expansive handwritten plant physiology text. On her right hip, her book of shadows was secured, which contained spells, rituals, teas, and herbal remedies for ailments. She hoped to add to one of the volumes during this trip and collect specimens to experiment with so she may add to the other. 

The hired man, Arthur, she recalled, was already walking, talking all the while to explain their plan of action. Iona patiently listened, matching his stride easily, her boots making hardly a sound as they came down on the rock beneath them. Her long colored hair was left down for additional warmth; however, it was hidden beneath the hood of her cloak. Iona was clad in black and grey, her black lace choker the only thing breaking that particular trend with an oval fluorite stone. Her leather corset was reinforced with a light chain-mail, and she wore plate greaves and poleyn and leather vambraces with small riveted plates underneath. Everything she wore, with the exception of the cloak, clung to her body like a second skin to allow easy movement without fear of being caught by a loose article of clothing. One could never be too careful. 

"I hope you've taken into account the times I will pause to gather plants for research purposes," she added as he stopped at a boulder. Her eyes weren't on him though, she was looking across the terrain for something of interest, but couldn't see anything as of yet, be it the darkness or lack of vegetation in these parts. 

Iona sighed with a hint of disappointment on her breath, despite knowing that they would need to venture further into Yh'mi before she found what she looked for. Looking back to the mutant, Iona stepped closer to him, to peer around to observe what he was doing. Her lips quirked into an amused smile as she watched. The occultist hummed and nodded with approval as she watched. Promising, indeed, she mused. He also smelt nice, unlike her previous company. Another perk, Iona thought. She wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. 


@Voldemort

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The mutant surveyed his surroundings carefully as he continued their trek south, navigating around jutting rocks in an attempt to remain on mostly even ground. Arthur’s sharp eyes remained alert and surveyed the mage’s surroundings with every ten paces. Simultaneously, he kept his remaining senses attuned for anything that drew near. For the moment, the mutant sensed nothing which made sense considering that they were still within sight of Inns’th’s gate. The mage intended to continue his watchful vigil regardless. It would be folly to do away with his discipline so early, or at any point of this undoubtedly perilous journey.

”I’ve set aside a small bit of time in my calculations for that, actually. An emphasis on small. As my alchemy professor at the University used to say during our harvesting walks through the meadow: Gather and move, young Uskglass, gather and move..” Arthur smiled earnestly and chuckled, reminiscing of older and much simpler times when his only worry was the honest acquisition of knowledge. His stroll through memory lane did not last long, however, as his visage hardened and the mutant instantly crouched low like a hunting cat. He gestured for the woman to do the same, moving slowly and behind a large boulder that blocked their advancement unless they preferred to walk the full way around the craggy area. Turning to Iona, the mage spoke again but in a whisper this time. “If you want to study your samples in depth, wait until we reach Bloodwatch or until we get back to Inns’th. 

“Now, there’s no need to be alarmed though. I don’t sense anything but I recognize this landmark from my map. We can travel around it if you’d prefer, but I think we should travel over them. Are you confident in your ability to jump from stone to stone? There’s dolines, deep craters and other assorted dangers between the stones.” Arthur explained, his wolfish smirk slightly visible within the gap between his bevor and helm. His gaze tilted upwards at the boulder they hid behind; the stone’s height rising above the mage’s standing height with no visible holds for feet and hands. “Do you need a boost?” 
 

@Akako Akari

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Arthur and Iona were on the move again. The ground posed to be a treacherous obstacle for them to navigate with random stones jutting upward like jagged teeth. Above them, the sky was dark with clouds that appeared ready to open up to flood the world. The dark mass churned, turning in on itself as if it was a living thing. There was no light to speak of; no moon, no sun, nothing that could illuminate the landscape they traverse with careful footsteps. Layer upon layer of ominous clouds prevented even the most minimal light from piercing their curtain of forboding. 

Iona kept her gaze focused mostly on the ground, but frequently glanced up to the sky and around to her surroundings to be sure there was nothing afoot. Arthur's heightened senses caught something that not even the witch could intuit, and so she crouched low to the ground waiting for the mutant to either explain or make some signal for them to move. Once he gestured, Iona slinked along behind him, moving in something akin to a jaguar's prowl. 

"That much is obvious," Iona's voice was a low whisper, though the ire in her voice was clear as day. "I am not stupid enough to spend my time here researching. My only objective is to gather specimens," she was frowning at him. 

"Over," there was an edge to her tone. Iona wasn't thrilled with the fact that he had her thinking there was something beyond her sensory limits. Her previous experience made her wary, so she always anticipated the worst. Mentally, Iona had prepared herself for a fight, and her adrenaline was already pumping. It was a waste of energy she could have used later. 

"I can manage just fine." 

The woman stood and looked to the ledge. Her eyes closed and she muttered an incantation. Opening her eyes again, they were completely black, not even the whites of her eyes visible. From beneath her cloak, two pairs of gnarled charcoal-colored hands reached out, the nails were yellowed, but appeared impossibly sharp. The arms extended silently upwards until the ledge of the boulder was in its grip. Then, in one swift movement, Iona was yanked upward. 

She landed neatly in a crouched position, and the two sets of arms retreated from which they came. Her gaze settled on the land before her and sure enough, it looked just as menacing as Arthur described, only worse. The ground was uneven as it was before, only now, there were hundreds of gaping crevices that resembled monsters' maws rather than dolines and craters. The witch bit down on the inside of her bottom lip and considered the landscape while she waited for the mutant to join her on her perch. 
 

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“Gather away,” Arthur replied to the pink-haired witch, his eyes rolling slightly in the darkness at the harsh tone that she spoke in. The mage wasn’t particularly upset by Iona, though neither did he enjoy being spoken down to, nor was he used to such treatment. Most would take one glance at his fiery set of orange eyes and realize that it would prove better for their health not to aggravate Arthur. In that sense, the mage was both annoyed and impressed by the witch. “I’ll keep watch while you do. No sense being ambushed while you play with the vegetation.” 

The black mage nodded as the cloaked woman agreed to travel over the rock field, choosing the dangers of the crevasses in exchange for the shorter route. Such daring stoked Arthur’s sense of adventure and brought a wolffish grin to his lips. Arthur watched Iona while she worked her magic, staring with awed interest as shadowy clawed hands lashed out from the confines of her cloak and gripped onto the stone. When she was pulled upwards onto the natural platform, the mage grinned and followed suit. However, he gripped onto the edge of the boulder with his gloved hands and lifted himself onto the boulder with a single flexing of his muscular arms. 

“For future reference, I’ll make this sign if I sense others,” Arthur instructed, moving his fingers into the shape of the rune of Egoth. It would be effective for the mage’s devices as none of his magic required such a hand sign. “I’d hate for you to get scared,” the mutant teased as he hopped across a five foot gap and landed on a smaller boulder. He hopped to the next jutting stone, giving Iona the opportunity to leap onto the stone he’d just departed. “Keep up though I doubt you’ll have any issues with that impressive magic of yours.” 
 

@Akako Akari

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The witch's expression screwed up into one of contempt as Arthur poked fun at her. She didn't know if she should be impressed or considerably worried that he seemed unperturbed given their current environment. The witch tugged the cloak tighter around her body before quickly following behind him, not having any issues with taking a daring leap across the five-foot gap. A small part of her hoped he saw that she could do this much without her magic and rely on her strength. 

While she was human, she'd pushed her body hard to survive in less than optimal circumstances such as this. Iona had strength and stamina that backed up her magical prowess, though she considered herself a novice. Iona knew she had a long way to go, which was why she was always on the move seeking more knowledge from books, people, or the environment. Arthur was obviously a mage, given the artifacts she'd seen in his tent when they first met. Perhaps he could be a source of information, but Iona didn't know if she could trust him, yet. 

 

@Voldemort

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Time elapsed while Arthur lead the way across the broken plains; the movement reminiscent of an alpine scramble which was a form of hiking that the mage loved. However, the important difference being that the current elevation was quite low, though falling down into a crevasse was admittedly quite dangerous as well. That said, the mutant gracefully hopped from stone to stone, or expertly planted his boot clad feet into notches in the stone as he navigated larger formations. As he did so, he periodically looked back to check on his companion who seemed to keep up with the mage’s pace swimmingly. Impressive as he often had to slow down for his usual clients, but it was still early in the first day so Arthur wasn’t wholly convinced. 

“Are you from Fracture? Your accent doesn’t seem local,” Arthur asked in the dark, taking small steps from foothold to foothold as he scaled an impressive boulder. As he waited for a response, the mutant reached the top and paused as he looked down at the gap ahead. His monstrous eyes picked out a familiar shapes in the darkness and his hand raised to halt Iona. It wasn’t a rune so the mage didn’t sense anyone. “Whiteflanged mushrooms,” Arthur explained to the witch, “Apparently, it’s the only edible thing out here.”

The mage whispered a short incantation, his resonance spiking as his arcane energies picked up in the quiet of the Broken Plains. Suddenly, the mutant’s right arm stretched preternaturally, descending to the bottom of the ten foot crevasse like an airborne serpent. As he reached the bottom, Arthur moved to pluck the first mushroom when the ground split asunder, revealing a terrifying maw that snapped at the mutant’s gloved hand. Instantly, the black mage reeled away in shock, pulling his arm away so it snapped back to its original length like a rubber band. 

With his hairs standing on end, Arthur turned back towards Iona and shrugged his shoulders. “There’s a Kraith down there,” he explained again, gesturing with his fortunately unscathed hand to join him on the large boulder as there was enough space for both of them. “Come look if you haven’t seen one, and bring as large of a stone as you can carry if you can spot one. I’ve read about dealing with these things.” 

@Akako Akari

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Iona was careful, making sure each foot placement was precisely where Arthur had placed his prior. Her gaze remained focused on his feet, so she missed the several glances he stole while they moved across the treacherous terrain. One misstep could be fatal; however, Iona didn't even consider death as an option. Iona was confident, but she had previous experience in an environment similar to this. The witch knew how fortunate she was that Arthur was blazing the trail before her. He was ultimately saving her time rather than her trying to find sturdy footholds and moving slowly as a precaution. 

"Alterion," Iona responded immediately, her voice soft, but clearly not winded. 

She glanced up at Arthur as she scaled the boulder behind him. He was already over the ledge, and she was nearly there. With a soft grunt of effort, Iona pulled herself up as his hand raised to stop her. She stilled and looked ahead. Looking back to Arthur, she noted that it wasn't a threat he was stopping them for, but from her vantage point, she couldn't see what he was looking at. 

Slowly, Iona rose and followed his line of sight to the mushrooms that didn't look like much to her, but she wasn't a mutant. She hummed as he told her what he was looking at suddenly understanding why they came to a halt. Food would be scarce, and while they had supplies, stopping for anything edible was ideal because there was no telling when they might need it. 

What was more fascinating was Arthur's magic. She had the sudden impulse to touch his arm, which stretched like rubber. Did it still feel like flesh? Then, it was the sound of the earth moving that drew her attention first, not even a second before Arthur's hand snapped back into place, narrowly avoiding the monster's maw. Iona blinked at where his hand had reached, and sure enough, in the darkness, she could spot distinct rows of jagged teeth. 

Her eyes brightened before she realized that Arthur was speaking to her. Rocks. Yes, focus on progress. This monster wasn't what she came to study. Iona's bright green eyes scanned the area before she bounded off, finding a sizable boulder. She hoisted the thing up into her arms and grunted as she felt the full weight of it. It looked more manageable on the ground, admittedly, but it was necessary. 

She hopped back towards the mage, clearing a small crevice when the part she stepped on cracked a fraction. Her balance shifted, and a slight noise of alarm escaped her, and she felt herself spilling backward. Either, she tosses the boulder she's procured and save herself from possible injury, or hang on to the rock and pray Arthur could reach her. 

 

@Voldemort

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Arthur did a double take, slowing in his climb as he turned his neck towards Iona twice in quick succession. Of course, it wasn’t an answer one heard everyday, and it was quite a surprise that the witch was from such a faraway place. At the same time, the mage felt glad that she wasn’t from Genesaris; a revelation like that would have soured the war veteran’s mood. “That’s quite a ways away,” the mutant replied in astonishment, though only his voice would serve as an indication of his awe for the mage was concentrated on navigating the stone. 

Moments later, the black mage lowered into a squat, studying the Kraith closely with his sharp eyes. He had never seen such a creature before and Arthur found himself scratching the back of his head. They were fortunate that this was their first monster encounter in Yh’mi, too, as the earth-bound beast couldn’t leap from the bottom of the crevasses.

In that moment, the mage nearly jumped out of his boots from the sound of crushed rocks underfoot and Iona’s yelp as she fell back. His fright would prove the witch’s saving grace, however, and the mutant wheeled around and lunged on his right foot towards Iona. The mage’s arm stretched preternaturally, lashing out like a striking python as his powerful grip seized one of the witch’s arms. He reeled the woman back in, standing Iona upright while standing up straight to meet and stabilize her. 

“I’d climb down after you if you did, but watch your step so I don’t have to,” Arthur said, grinning with a twinge of amusement (albeit not at the woman’s expense), though his skin went suddenly hot as he noticed just how close the striking woman was. The smell of her perfume wafted you his sensitive nose, sending his preternaturally slow heart into a faster rhythm. “I’m glad you’re okay and thanks for the stone,” the mage added in a more friendly manner, reaching out to take the stone out of her hands.

“I’m sorry my assignment almost got you hurt,” he apologized as he turned back towards the crevasse with the stone Iona had procured. “But now we can take the Kraith out of commission for a time, so it can’t hurt other adventurers.” 

With that, Arthur tossed the stone into the pit, causing the beast the chomp down instinctively. Suddenly, it was like a utensil stuck in a disposal; the creature struggling to free its maw of its new burden. Without a word and with their job well done, the mage leaped to the next stone  and continued their trek across the rock field. Unlike before the mage now found himself transfixed with Iona’s pretty scent.

 A problem and it was just beginning.

@Akako Akari

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It was a shame that she was distracted by the fall when the mage's arm extended to reach her. Had the witch been focused, she might have observed his arm more closely or better yet, touched him. Instead, she was hell-bent on cradling the boulder in her arms which was what he needed to stop the monster in the pit. While Iona didn't think any others would happen across it, she was still curious to see it taken out, so she tightened her hold of the rock in her arms and allowed Arthur to reel her in towards him. 

Once she was upright again and on solid ground, the woman let out a soft sigh before lifting her peridot green eyes to meet his. Her brows furrowed as she observed the brief look that Arthur gave her and she tilted her head slightly. She wondered what that fleeting look was, and wondered if she was mistaken due to the darkness that seemed to weigh down around them. Iona thought she saw a glint of something and maybe a darkening of his cheeks, but again, the lighting must be playing tricks on her so she moved past the observation without a second thought. 

"It's fine." She chirped cooly. "It was my own fault for not paying enough attention." 

As the rock was tossed into the Kraith's maw, Iona peered down into the pit and watched with morbid fascination. Instinct was what drew her attention towards Arthur to see him leaping away to the next stone. Her brow lifted, then she shrugged to herself before trailing after him.

Iona followed Arthur like a shadow, talking while she did. "I am fascinated by... whatever magicks you use. After this is all settled and we've made it out of here alive, I would like your permission to ... well... observe you in a better lit area." Any other woman wouldn't be caught dead being half as bold as Iona, but she was a student of the arcane arts above all else. 

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Arthur continued to blaze his treacherous trail, carefully moving from stone to stone to determine whether they could sustain the weight of a human and sometimes two. He had to admit that it would have been intriguing to watch the Kraith struggle for longer, but the mutant had to concentrate on navigating the dangerous footholds of their chosen path and look out for potential ambushes. Just like the Kraith, another sort of monster could be lurking the craters and crevasses of the Broken Plains, and they wouldn’t be as mobility-impaired as their toothy-mawed friend. Of course, natural philosophy wasn’t the only distraction worthy of note. The brightly haired witch was becoming a grand one as the seconds past. After catching her pretty scent on his sensitive nostrils, the black mage’s powerful senses tracked Iona as she trailed behind him. His heart beat stuttered into a quicker pace, far faster than its usual slow and inhuman rate, albeit quite normal for the run of the mill human. Then she spoke.

The mutant stopped on his newly acquired perch, a large stone with a rounded topside. Arthur clung to the stone as he froze, unsure of how to react to the woman’s forwardness. He had a feeling that it wasn’t some sexual invitation, and rather born of her curiosity and uncanny need for examination of all subjects arcane. She was braving Yh’mi, of course, and wanted to do so alone before she was made to find an adventuring party. It just seemed like she couldn’t say it without it sounding strange, or carrying the sort of connotation that gave Arthur pause. Thankfully, he was ahead with his back turned to the woman and wearing a helmet and bevor that covered most of his face.

For a brief moment, the mage’s face was flushed with a light shade of pink. An uncharacteristic look on someone known for keeping their cool. The mage elected to seem indifferent as he turned his head towards Iona, managing to grin under the shade of his helm as he replied. 

“That’s an odd way to seduce a man,” Arthur said, chuckling to himself as he leaped off his stone and continued onwards. Internally, however, the mutant wracked his brain as he wondered what the witch’s examination entailed. 

The day went on as expected, moving from stone to stone until they finally cleared the rock field after mid day. Having skipped lunch, choosing to eat citrus fruit from Arthur’s pack as they boulder-hopped, the pair only trekked for an hour more before deciding to set up camp. They found a small gap in some overhanging rocks, and Arthur quickly extended his tarp from stone to stone to create a temporary shelter for the pair of them. An illusion spell set into the tarp made the canvas fabric seem part of the surrounding rock formation. It made for quite the hiding place. 

An hour later, Arthur and Iona was a couple dozen yards away from their camp, sitting around a fire as the mutant cooked their dinner. Leaving most of their supplies behind, the mage and his partner only brought what would be needed. The market wallet filled with Arthur’s food, a day bag with the mutant’s cook kit, and a bundle of wood from beyond Yh’mi’s borders. 

That evening, the mutant was using stones to cook, setting a myriad of rocks in a circle around the fire. Then, he placed a wide, flattened stone across the lip of multiple fire pit stones. This placed the flat stone hanging above the fire, heating the rock and turning it into a makeshift stove-top. On top of which, food was already cooking. Arthur used the extra fire wood and carved out skewers, creating a pair of kebabs out of chopped red and green bell peppers, red onions, cherry tomatoes, yellow squash, and white-flanged mushrooms they found on the last legs of their walk. 

“Today went a lot smoother than I expected,” the mutant made small talk, plucking the individual pieces from a bowl filled with marinade, and skewered the remaining veggies and shrooms onto a sharpened stick with another uncooked kebab ready to go atop his large cutting board. “Those two should be ready to eat. Feel free to eat three out of the four since I’ve still got my steak.”

Arthur pointed towards the kebabs atop the makeshift cooking surface as he finished his prep work. The mage splashed some olive oil from his two-chambered flask onto the opposite side of flat stone, placing the uncooked kebabs on top before grabbing one of the cooked kebabs on the opposite end.

”I’ve never been anywhere quite like this,” Arthur remarked off-handedly, his eyes darting to and fro in an alert manner before he dug in. No longer wearing his helmet or bevor, the mutant bit into the left side of his kebab, tearing into a delectable piece of roasted red pepper. 

“Admittedly, it’s a bit frightening but it’s also magnetic. It’s like the land is begging us to explore further.”

@Akako Akari

Edited by Voldemort

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There was an unsettling quiet that suffused the world around them and the pair of occultists cracked the silence with their rummaging as they prepared their meal. The witch knelt on the opposite side of the fire, the hood of her cloak no longer hiding her features. Her face was downcast as she focused her peridot colored eyes on the herbs that she measured one by one in her palm. Into the pot, they went, rose hips, calendula, borage, sage, and nettles followed by water. She placed the pot just outside the fire before leaning back and waiting for it to boil. 

Arthur was focused on his task, and Iona's mind wandered while her eyes locked on the flames that licked air that seemed oddly still. Her vision blurred as she recalled what happened just a few hours earlier. 

His stop was sudden, sudden enough to alarm the sorceress. If she hadn't nearly fallen earlier, it was likely Iona would have tripped at that moment, but she was far more aware of herself now and her footing. She narrowed her eyes on him, trying to glean anything from his broad shoulders, maybe a twitch or something. Nothing. She couldn't gather any information based on his back, but she assumed that she had surprised him at the very least. 

Her head tilted just slightly at his retort, and her brows furrowed. Lips parted to dispute his claim, but then he was off again. It was a joke. Her lips pressed together, and she took off after him. As time passed and she considered his joke, the stern expression on her face softened into a smile. 

With a hint of the smile she wore earlier on her face, Iona gazed into the fire until Arthur's voice broke whatever trance she was in. Light green eyes rose to meet his, and she stared from over the fire. They were animalistic, his eyes, not human at all. They looked like a wolf's eyes, and she found she liked that. It was familiar, at least. Her observation didn't last long as he immediately went back to what he was doing, and she also glanced down and checked on her kettle. 

"What were you expecting?" she asked as she pulled the teapot away from the fire. 

Iona moved around the fire with her kettle and back to the two clay mugs she left ready. She knelt again then set the pot of tea down. The witch tugged a piece of cloth loose from her pocket, which she'd pulled from her pack that was left back at where they would stay for the night. She covered one mug then glanced up at Arthur, kettle in hand, ready to pour. 

"Thank you. I'll come to grab food in a moment. Let me pour our tea first."

Returning her attention to the tea, she closed her eyes and craned her neck back, so her face was facing the sky. Words, or perhaps sounds, were mumbled from her lips like a prayer. It was unintelligible, only meant to be heard by her and the gods and goddesses she served. A chill rolled down her spine, and she sighed a content sound before straightening herself and pouring the first cup of tea, the cloth catching the loose herbs. Once the second cup was poured and placed within Arthur's reach, she rose to her feet and leaned over Arthur to procure her meal. 

Iona settled back again with her kabobs in hand. She nibbled at her food, calmly observing everything around her with interest. "That is precisely why I wanted to come here. Can you imagine what we might be able to discover? Hardly anyone dares to venture beyond the wall... except The Order, but they are mostly brutish apes. Hardly any of them have the mind to observe nature." 

@Voldemort

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Arthur stared into the flames pensively after Iona had asked her question. What had he expected indeed? At first, the mutant couldn't say for certain what his expectations were, so he remained silent as he contemplated the response he would give. Perhaps it wasn't what he expected, but rather what he knew not to expect. He wouldn't have ever expected that their first day would prove peaceful. As they hiked earlier that day, the mage had acquired the distinct impression that (besides the Kraith) they were the only two people in Yh'mi, and that the frightening place wasn't what it was hyped up to be. The mage wasn't wholly convinced that it was okay to let down their guard, but he was certainly closer to that viewpoint than he had been earlier that morning when their trek had begun. 

"I had a feeling that we'd be fighting just to gain ground in this land," the mutant finally replied, pulling a single kebab from the hot stone, holding it by its wooden spit before bringing it up to his gnashing teeth. He tore off a mouthful of mushrooms and veggies, remaining unbothered by the food's sizzling temperature. It seemed as if such discomforts hardly phased the mutant. Arthur ate eagerly from the kebab, making record time as his eyes and thoughts drifted to the pick-haired witch and the tea she'd been preparing. It was an odd position for the mutant, especially considering that Arthur had said nothing of his distaste for tea. It was dumb to say the least. All he had to say was that didn't want any tea. The mage kept his mouth shut, however. For some odd reason, Arthur didn't want to give Iona a poor impression of himself. So instead, the mutant took hold of the mug once it was poured, and took a bitter sip of tea. Somewhere, far away, Enid was laughing at him. Of that, Arthur was certain.

"What about our job? Is finding Aizus Flint your main goal here, or did you pick this quest off the board because it just so happens to take us to the forest?" Arthur asked, hoping that his tone didn't come off as accusatory. The mutant didn't care if the witch had ulterior motives. After all, Arthur had a set of ulterior motives of his own. He didn't step foot in Yh'mi just to perform quests off a bulletin board. The mage wanted to see what mysteries these dark lands had to offer. He needed to occupy his mind, turning Yh'mi into a new object of obsession. If he didn't, he feared the places that his mind would naturally drift off towards. Lands far away and a romance that died as quickly as it began. 

"I agree though," Arthur nodded, agreeing with Iona's earlier sentiment as he produced a pair of bundles of rune-covered wax paper from his market wallet. "I doubt that Yh'mi has received the level of research that it truly deserves. Inns'th seems more like a military base than it does any sort of research facility. Not that it's surprising. The Order isn't trying to learn about Yh'mi. It seems more like they're waging war against it."

The black mage continued to work on his meal as he spoke. Laying his half-eaten kebab on the far end of the cutting board, Arthur unwrapped the wax paper around one end of the first bundle, revealing a portion of a bar of butter. The runes on the wax paper kept the butter from spoiling or melting in the mage's bag. Arthur removed a quarter of the butter from the bar and placed it on the board. The second bundled followed, retrieving a handful of chives from within which Arthur quickly diced up with his knife. 

"Perhaps we can change that," Arthur brought up as he gently massaged the chives into the butter, making sure that the two ingredients were properly mixed together. "I mean, if this contract goes well, then maybe we should come back together?" 

@Akako Akari

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Iona hummed in agreement at his response. She too thought they would be fighting the moment they stepped foot beyond the wall. It was a pleasant enough surprise that that wasn't the case. They both needed to reserve as much energy as possible for what she assumed was to come. There had only ever been horror stories from Yh'mi and Iona preferred to be fully prepared for whatever they would inevitably encounter. For now, though, the slow start was appreciated while she had the opportunity to bond with the man that dared accompany her on this trip. It would serve both of them well to be able to anticipate the other if engaged in combat in order to fill in any gaps the other might leave open. It was certainly too soon for that sort of connection, but she hoped it would build before they were faced with an opponent that was fatally dangerous. 

His question earned a snort of mirth in response. "My, you are perceptive. This job is merely an excuse for me to see the forest and observe the landscape in Yh'mi. I doubt this will be my last time here... If we don't die of course." 

Despite the severity of her words, Iona was smiling at Arthur, amusement twinkling in her eyes. Her attention shifted and once again she was nibbling like a rabbit on her food. She only got halfway through her first kebab while he spoke and she listened with interest, nodding every so often to agree with his sentiments. Lifting her head and looking at the mutant, her expression hardened into one of fierce commitment. "I have no intention of leaving any time soon. Where the Order lacks in academic minds, I will happily step in and provide those services." Then Iona smiled again, the corners of her eyes wrinkling as excitement shone in them. "I am glad you'd be willing to stick around to assist. I can't say I'm opposed to having a strong man in my corner... even if I can handle myself." 

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They would certainly have to pace themselves if they planned on surviving the terrors of Yh'mi, much less complete the quest Iona had taken so daringly. If the dark land had proved more combative, Arthur surmised that it would either end with the pair of them dead, or returning back to Inns'th in search of more members to adequately tackle the malicious wasteland. However, if they managed to trek across the land unscathed, it was more than possible for the pair of sorcerers to succeed once they came across Aizus Flint with much of their energy reserves preserved for the final battle. The mage hoped for such a scenario, though it was doubtful whether it would be possible to reach Furthest Point without seeing battle, and even more doubtful that they would reach the forest under the same condition. In any case, such travels required quite a bit of fueling and the mage wasn't done with the evening's dinner. 

"You should take your mission more seriously," Arthur commented nonchalantly as he reached into his market wallet and produced another bundle, though this one was quite a bit larger than the rest. The mutant peeled away the wax paper and sat the unfolded sheet on his cutting board with a large cut of faux-filet on top. "Flint is a wizard playing a dangerous game. With wicked intent, anyone could be a monster. But with powers like ours, that monstrousness is multiplied a hundredfold."

The black mage had always been taught that such things were the responsibility of other mages, undoing that bad will mages like Flint generate by ending their rampages and dangerous experimentation. "I can't blame your excitement though," Arthur added as he poured dashes of salt and pepper to both sides of the steak before cutting away a chunk of the herd-infused butter and dumping it onto the hot stone he'd been cooking on. Using his fork, Arthur maneuvered the melting butter over a wide area which approximated the size of the steak itself. It created a flavorful bed on which the mutant laid his steak, the cut of beef immediately sizzling atop the impromptu stove top. "Yh'mi is a fun topic of study to say the least, so I'll do my best and watch your back."

@Akako Akari

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