Certain types of Exploration

Izaneus Phortea

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A quiet thrum of energy hummed in my ear. The feeling of magic comforted me in a time this trying. Dark tendrils of fear and painful memories licked at the sides of my vision, my surroundings began to blur.

Tentatively I made steps forward, to push on through fear and pain is the path my father taught before the event that caused his untimely end, and I respected him. Follow in his footsteps. He is the type of man I wanted to be.

A cry of pain escaped my throat. My chest tightened, the pain was getting worse.

Ever since that day in Dante's Abyss, some... Being. Something, monstrous, has been plaguing me, ailing me with thoughts I wouldn't normally allow to surface. Aches I'm unable to force myself through, and nightmares of memories not my own.

I'd heard of rumors, spoken by... The less reputable society of my wonderful world. That there served a cure for any type of illness or ailment, pain or ache.

"-y!"

What? The sound barely caught my ears, I slowly flicked my head around, fastening my scarf around the bottom half of my face. The last thing i needed was someone recognizing me. My family-

Nay, my mother. Had put a bounty on me. To bring me back, and force me into that... Mindless routine. Serve, eat, sleep, serve, study, sleep, serve. Repeat.

"-ey!!"

There it was again. The searing pain in my chest grew more fierce, burning a hole through me. Or so it felt. Was this what the unfortunates on the end of Roy's flame felt?

The thought was cut off by that same pain now entering twofold into my skull.

Unnerved and unprepared, I clasped my head in reflex, my vision, once blurred; now began to fade. The darkness crept in quickly, too quick. The fear gnawed at me more ferocious than it ever had as I gently lost consciousness.

Thus began my rather strange adventure, told from my view. I should be able to make it fairly interesting for you dear reader. Please enjoy yourself fully to the silly adventures of one Izaneus Phortea.
 

Izaneus Phortea

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The dreams were frantic, as they usually were nowadays. However, they'd gone from Dante's Abyss, and the things I'd witnessed since going out on my own, to... My mother.

Her eyes, warm and genuine, the warm glow of fire from our fireplace, illuminating her, and my father, and I sitting across from them, enjoying the moment as family. This is... More a pleasant memory, one I'm quite happy to grace my dreams. Instead of the turbulent nightmares I get most often.

Then her eyes shift to me. Recognition, a flash of my potential clear in her eyes.

I understand why she used me. To bring us into our former glory, allow us a chance back into the "high society" our Phortea name, our beautiful title held in such high regard...

But none of that mattered to me, or father. We were content with our lives, and those we lived with. I simply wanted to study magic, possibly attend the academy... Of my own volition at least.

Father wanted to keep living the way he was, watching me grow, and growing himself with mother. Till...

This was all getting... Too emotional for me... I was getting overwhelmed quicker than I'd like to admit...

Mother's mouth formed into a grotesque smile, looking at me as though i was a prize for all the tribulations she'd endured, as though I was nothing but a ticket to her comfortability. To use my talents, passion, and powerful connection to magic in a way that only benefit her, and burnt me out.

It was torturous.

This is torturous.

Horribly so. Reliving this memory hurt me in ways i couldn't fathom at the time.

Fortunately. It would not be long before i finally awoke.

As my eyes opened i shot up in a bed not my own. Not even the bedroll and supplies I'd packed were near me. No, i did not recognise this room... It was quaint, but cozy. There were toys, a wardrobe, and other little furnishings and decorations. Seems a childs room. A bit dark however... Was it night?

Spotting a candle across the room, i quickly set it alight with a wave of my hand, and called it to me using my telekinetic prowess.

All to the shock of the young girl who'd come to check up on me.

"Ah... Um... Hello-" I began to speak prompt on greeting her cordially, before she dropped a small towel, and a bowl of water, and sprinted off. Either she hadn't witnessed magic before, and was afraid, or curious

Or she simply was shocked to see me awake.

Both were entirely possible. I certainly still felt as though I was among the dead.

It wasn't long before a separate set of footsteps approached the room. Scouting the room for my clothes, my mood soured upon them not coming into my view.

Upsetting. Extremely so. My possessions, as little as there were, held great value to me. Sitting up, and waiting patiently, the footsteps revealed themselved to be a middle aged man, excited to see me.

For what reason? Hopefully as a good samaritan, who's simply happy to see me alive if nothing else. However, i had more pressing concerns.

"Where are my belongings." I questioned sternly, crossing my arms as I coldly gave him a gaze of steel.

He quickly became more nervous. Seeing as our first impressions of each other were likely me passing out, and waking up, and questioning him in such a way. In retrospect could understand why.

Bandits were in no short supply, at the time, and attacks had been made several times on that town, though i hadn't quite understood yet.

It was probably terrifying.

The thought you just brought one such ruffian into your abode. With no true insurance to defend yourself against any possible attack.

"Ah... We're cleaning your clothes.. But the rest of your belongings are being closely guarded by our resident watchmen." He stated, a playful tone in his voice.

A small boyish "Hurrah!" echoed down the hall.

I understood. And couldn't help a smile from crossing my face.
 

Izaneus Phortea

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Having been graciously given some spare clothing at this point in time and graciously being given dinner. I slowly found myself basking in the relaxing, cared for atmosphere. The same type of peace I hadn't experienced since my conversations with my commander. Despite the situation, the people I'd met made my decisions more than worth it.

I had the feeling the same was happening now.

A dangerously unknown circumstance with perilous side effects that would eventually build me into a better version of... Me.

Well, provided i survived.

"Mister?"

A tiny female voice called curiously. Snapping me away from my thoughts.

"Ah, Yes?" I replied, mildly surprised it was her to break the silence of the newcomer, seeing as she bolted the last time we'd seen one another.

"Why were you asleep for so long..? Dad said he found you passed out on the side of the road... Are you sick?" She asked, her voice growing more timid by tbe millisecond.



"Ah... Well you see, Ive been travelling a while for a powerful panacea... I'm not necessarily sick. But I am a wizard, and if I could replicate its properties, many could be saved an uncessesary death."

I quick lie. Whilst I was searching for this cure. It was not to the benefit of others. I simply needed this... Whatever it was away, no matter the cost...

..But I suppose if i were to find said cure, it would most certainly be of intrigue to try and replicate it.

If i was able to...

"You know magic!?!?" The small boy "watchmen" shouted enthusiastically, his eyes brimming with a wonder i hadn't encountered.

"I.. Yes, a fair bit. I'm not exactly any expert-" I stated, trying to explain.

I was promptly cut off before I could even attempt.

"Show me!! You gotta show some!" He exclaimed. His face dripping with excitement.

I turned toward the parents with their authority, silently requesting aid of the immediate variety.

I was promptly ignored.

Surrendering myself to my tedious fate i sighed. And nodded my head.

With a flick of my wrist, I silently cast a small illusion, playing my mother's lullaby. A simple tune that allowed me to relax moreso, and not pay much attention to the illusion i wad casting, seeing as how I've memorized it by heart.

I looked at the boy, who's eyes were brighter then the sun on a clear summers day. He seemed to have a true interest in magic. Something i could appreciate.

"Teach me!!" He nearly shouted.

"Nope." I replied.

And I hoped, that was that.

I was delightfully surprised, that it was not.
 

Izaneus Phortea

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The next few days passed without much fuss. They consisted of me helping around their house, cleaning. Repaying their kindness. I'm simply not one to leave without doing something in return... It would gnaw at me like an infected wound.

Pff- maybe I am a bit too soft Shiki.

But, I do mean to put the emphasis on "much" fuss. And would like to make it extremely clear that, the kid. (Who I'd come to know as Rean) had continued to pester me over being his mentor in the arcane arts.

To provide context. In an elaborate and intricate speech.

Ahem.

I CANNOT TEACH. NADA.

Tried once. With Shiki. Didn't end well. She couldn't understand my explanations.

At the time, she became depressed she couldn't enjoy a passion of mine with me, as well as feeling inferior to me. Something only made known to me the night I ran away from my home, and all its "wonders", as one could call them.

But ever since learning that little... Tidbit. I suppose i could call it. I'd truly learned how difficult magic truly was, and though i loved it all the more for its challenges. It dawned on me the things I did... Simply weren't things others could replicate as easily.

Not without extensive practice and training.

So as Rean pounded on the door to the guest shed for the fourteen millionth time. I was once more prepared to scold him for waking me up so early in the morning, and tell him to get to bed.

Only to be greeted with his face furled into the most excited face I'd ever seen since I'd revealed my initial wizardry.

In his palm, sat a small flame, akin to a tiny candle.

Fascination kicked in before sense, and i berated the poor lad with questions, analytics, hypotheses, and explanations.

After I'd calmed down from my self induced frenzy, I'd seen how confused he was at my questions.

"Uh... I made a fire-" he stated.

I was quite aware. Shiki too had been able to create a small flame. Like anyone, all it took was the right practice. But still, the speediness of his comprehension was nothing to scoff at.

It was... Refreshing. Seeing someone else so determined in magic as I was.

"Rean... I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, seeing as your determination at least warrants that." I began preparing the small speech.

"I'm no teacher, my own comprehension and magic could sorely differ from your own, and by attempting to teach you, i could give you habits that would hinder your own growth. Or expectations that would drag you into depression, or self loathing.." Small it was. And to the point.

"I don't want that to happen to you, you're earnest, hardworking, and I do not want to ruin that. Are you sure?"

Without skipping a beat, the boy nodded.

So began the story of my first (technically second but shush) apprentice.
 

Izaneus Phortea

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Watching quietly as my recently appointed apprentice pulled wisps of impotent power to his hands, I shook my head. How long had it taken him to simply conjure the tiny flame he had before?

"Focus Rean, don't force it. In your state that would only lead to disaster, for now, just let it all come to you. Give it a gentle tug if you must. But don't.."

I was cut off as the wisps of magic congregating in his hand formed into once more a tiny candle fire. There it was. Finally

"Force it.. Very good. Can you make it larger?" I asked curiously, wanting to know the current limits of his capabilities before I went on to teach anything.

Without answering, Rean took in a deep breath. Willing his magic be larger, lest he upset his newly acquired "master"

I on the other hand, had never thought myself close to mastery in the arcane. In any regard.

I simply didn't. How could I? Since Dante's Abyss I hadn't made any kind of progress, not in sword or mind.

Much worse. Something was actively plaguing me, making every day a struggle. Forcing myself in the direction of... Something that lurked nearby.

It worried me greatly, as he felt that whatever this was, was beyond sinister. I couldn't help but feel useless.

Depression had long since found its way to his heart, a feeling i could do better... But wouldn't, or couldn't for some reason.

Why couldn't i just be bette-

"Master!!!"

The joy filled cries of Rean drove dark thoughts from the mind of Izaneus, who whipped his head in the direction of his apprentice.

"I made it bigger! See!?" He exclaimed excitedly. The flame was indeed larger than before, about the size of his hand. Which was a major departure from his previous candlelight.

"I see... Well done Rean, practice on how you feel magic. Experiment a little, but... Be safe. I'm very impressed."

With that, I left the small hut that became their training ground.

A few hours later, I found myself watching the sunset.

So many thoughts forced their way into the forefront of my mind. Inferiority, Perfectionism.

I was more than aware of these flaws.

What was wrong with me?

My thoughts turned themselves to words of my father, reminding me of something crucial.

"Darkness bides it's time, for time's most peaceful, as that's when you're most able to fight against it."

Does that mean I've been carrying all these thoughts with me?

How foolish was I? To be worrying of inferiority, of being perfect, while so many others were facing threats much more dire?

When I last saw Roy, he was fighting the unmaking quite literally destroying his world.

Who was I to worry about things as unimportant as progress when people were losing their lives?

Who was I to determine I was worth my own time?

Who was I...

...

I needed to stop.. Just... Stop thinking for a few moments. Potentially the rest of tbe day..

Rage, uncontrollable despair were building up at a rate I couldn't fathom, and I needed it to stop.

I would deal with these later... Maybe... Maybe not.

For now.

I needed sleep... Badly..
 

Izaneus Phortea

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(--Trigger warning: This post makes frequent mentions of depression and it's effects-- )

We, as mortals, often think on our worst aspects. Our flaws as defining traits that make us each unique from one another, whether you practice magic, whether you find solace in the blade, or if you found some deeper meaning in the chaos we call life.

The true meaning to grasp here. Is that we're all making it through in our own separate ways, our actions paved by mistakes, failures, trauma, and events so small we don't even recollect them. Yet significant enough that we form our beliefs, and thoughts. On experiences.

We all at one point or another, struggle with some invisible force some kind of darkness that forces the worst of us out in the open, or causes doubt in an otherwise infallible faith.

This was a time in which I was dealing with mine. So, dear reader, if by chance you'd rather skip my soul searching, and instead take to the magic lessons of my former protege, or my descent into the ruins that lurked nearby. Please ignore this, and continue on.

If you're still here.

Thank you.

As stated before, at this point in time, despite everything with the Unmaking, with collisions of powers beyond my current comprehension. I was grappling with a myriad of previous trauma congregating in a consistent effort to demoralize and destroy me, that even today I still fight.

It began with the trivial matters.

"Iza! You've been in bed all day. Hurry up sleepyhead!!" exclaimed the ball of childish excitement. Oh, I meant Fatah, the timid daughter who'd only recently begun to warm to my presence in the humble home.

Yet her excitement did nothing for my energy, which was drained from an unknown source...

Speaking frankly, I couldn't bring myself to lift my head off the spare cot I'd been given. After all what, frankly, was the point? To live another day battling my own existence? While those dark tendrils nipped at my mind? Looking for any sign of weakness? Was this not already weakness? Just... Take me already...

Somehow those were the sorts of thoughts that were floating around in my brain, and despite how much I tried, nothing helped, I couldn't find the inspiration to draw, like the normalcy of... Well, here. Could top the wonders I'd witnessed in Dante's Abyss.

I'd already drawn everything that fascinated me in some way...

Grabbing my Artbook, I flipped it to the pockmarked form of Ridley, The frighteningly intelligent being me and my comrades fought against during the tribulations of the abyss. I thought of the fun I had back then, with my friends, the lesson Mustang taught me, about flame.
The Joy Mirage brought to me in my shocked form.

...

"Come to think of it... I only saw two real battles there... Was I of any use to anyone...?"

The first real battle I'd fought ended in Victory yes... But others were fighting far more gruesome fates back then. And when I finally got a chance to show my mettle against those... Behemoths. I'd blown it... Barely being able to take down one before I was promptly dispatched of.

'Wait... Was it because of me? Or Unjak? I... Ugh..'

Faint memories of the Blackness that took me after my demise reminded me of how.. Animalistic I'd become, unhinged. My spirit embodying my anger and regret in that moment...

'Was that what I truly was like? A barbaric excuse for a noble..?'

I gently set the book to the ground, and lifted my arm over my eyes Today could wait.

I needed to rest. Thinking sapped any energy I thought I had.
 

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"...and he's almost entirely useless, just sits around our house all day drawing, eating our food, and occasionally washing some dishes!" the man grumbled.

"Sounds rough."

"My wife says we should have him around until he can get back on his feet, but he seems perfectly healthy to me!"

"Sure, yeah."

The man took a long drink of his ale, and Elise gazed longingly at the bulging carotid artery pulsing under his jaw. Alcoholics like this always got their blood pumping when they were pissed off, and it was practically causing her to salivate. Hopefully, by this point, he was drunk enough that she could coax him somewhere private and get her dinner over with. The middle-aged guy...Elise was pretty sure his name was Ulrich or something...slammed his mug back onto the countertop and breathed a heavy sigh.

"...and worst of all, this guy is trying to teach my kids magic of all things. Magic! Can you believe it? Next thing you know they'll want to go to the Academy in Arcadia and--" Ulrish blubbered, but Elise had stopped paying attention.

Dammit. A few months ago she wouldn't have given two rats about this guys stupid kids, but ever since her time among the refugees in Dante's Abyss, she had suddenly started feeling something resembling a conscience again. But then again...maybe there was some opportunity here.

"Magic huh? Well, you may not like this but...I'm a bit of a spellcaster myself. Nothing major...but maybe I could get this guy out your hair without stressin' your lady. Feel?" Elise smiled dastardly. Ulrich blinked for a moment, trying to parse the subtext of her words. Elise continued to lament at how delicious and stupid he looked in the warm, flickering torchlight.

"That's not really...what I had in mind for my evening." Ulrich frowned, looking at Elise with new apprehension. Perhaps her offer had been a bit too forward, but the farmer was pretty tanked and she could work with that.

"Aight sure, but let's just hope she's not at home given this magic boy a job without a resume." Elise shrugged, feigning a sip from a glass of some stupid, overly fruity drink Ulrich had ordered her. She had hated this kind of appletini garbage, even when she had been alive.

"Maggie would never-" Ulrich started fuming, but Elise raised a predatory eyebrow, and touched the dope's arm with a cold finger.

"No? And what'choo doin' here talkin' to me?" the vampire taunted. Ulrich seemed to turn this over in his mind for a moment, before swiftly killing the last dregs of his artisans IPA or whatever.

"...I just want to get back to normal, quiet business as usual." he breathed. Elise did her best to seem sympathetic.

"Let me help. We'll call it even." Elise smiled softly, nodding towards her almost untouched liquor.




Elise sighed bleakly as she exited the passenger seat of Ulrich's beat-ass truck. She hadn't necessarily wanted to make a lot of noise after getting back to Erde Nona for the first time in, what, seven years? She had told Strazio, Luka and Nico that she would just be gone for a month or two while she found native speakers for the ancient languages spread across Hammuzi's vault. Failing that, she could try and track down the old archivist's tower somewhere out here in the Hinterlands and try to jack his notes directly.

Luckily, it was unlikely that she would be tracked all the way out here by her old vampire coven. The last thing she needed was to try and get a runback of the last time they had rolled up on her. That remote possibility became less remote, however, if she started making a ruckus like merc-ing some deadbeat mage out of the local yam shed.

Whatever. If she couldn't bring herself to snack on Ulrich, then some rogue mage would be a perfect alternative...maybe she'd even get a couple of potions or arcane knick-knacks out of it.

Elise stood patiently by the front door as Ulrich unlocked it, stepped inside, and hesitated.

"He uh...sleeps in the storage shed out back. It would be better if this whole mess didn't come in the house-" Ulrich started, but Elise sighed impatiently.

"Uh huh, and what if he's shacked up with your boo?" she drawled. Ulrich grimmaced.

"Just...fine. You can come in if you have to, just make it fast." the father groaned. Elise smiled and nodded patiently. Perfect. That was all the invitation she needed for both the main house and his stupid turnip shack in the back yard. Ulrich slipped into the quaint little white-washed farmhouse and closed the front door with a barely audible click.

Time to get to work. Greenstripes poked his eyes out of her backpack expectantly.

Get to the roof and keep your eye out for our man. I'll head out back.

The terratopus obliged and began to shlip-shlap his way up the side of the brick chimney. Elise hunkered down low and began creeping through the vegetable patch. She wasn't picking up any signs of magical wards or abjuration magic...this deadbeat was either careless or a novice, and she was feeling better about her odds every second. Greenstripes informed her that everything was still clear, but even still, the vampire allowed a cloud to roll across the waning moon before stealing across the farm's backyard.

The shed was a fairly simple thing; a single room wooden shack with a single-pane window covered in the grime of decades. It's roof had a generous carpet of lichen and was starting to sag slightly, and frankly looked a bit chilly for a night this far north -- not that she could feel such discomfort anymore. Well, if she had the time, then it might be worthwhile to get things properly set up.

The shack had one entrance; a wide double door in the very front. Elise crept like a shadow around to the baseboard and began scrawling and Ephemeris sigil in the dust. The magical circle pulsed with purple malice once when the spell was set, and the vampire immediately went around to the window to spy on her prize.

The darkness of the shed was no barrier for her as her burning red eyes pierced the darkness. A slumbering humanoid form was stretched out on a mattress pad, and old woolen blankets were pulled over his head. The only thing truly visible of her prey was a lock of sandy hair. Again, no magical protection or wards seemed to be guarding the little mageling.

Good.

Elise slipped back under the windowsill and around to the front of the shed again, and checked in with her familiar. Greenstripes said everything was still clear, and that the house had four humans inside -- Ulrich, presumably his wife, and two kids, all of whom appeared to be sleeping...although Greenstripes suspected Ulrich was faking it and keeping his eye on the back yard.

Whatever. It was now or never.

Elise knocked on the door to the shed, and wove a small illusion to pitch her voice up to sound like a child's.

"Hey, are you awake?" a child whispered outside Izaneus' door. The young nobleman heard it distantly through the veil of sleep, and rolled over with a sigh. Somewhere, deep in the voids of nightmare, he was trying to avoid thinking of his father again.

His father, endlessly searching for a way back to the front of his mind like a burning eidolon.

"Hey, wake up! Something is wrong!" the child's voice came again, with a bit more urgency. Izaneus sat up slightly and suppressed a yawn.

"Rean? Can this wait?" Izaneus grumbled. He sat up a little straighter, and pinched at a headache growing between his eyes. There was a noticeable pause before the kid spoke again.

"I think...I did some bad magic. Mom and Dad are hurt-"

Izaneus slammed through the front doors of his shack, dressed only in a pair of evening slacks and a thin shirt. The outside night air seemed to be unnaturally cold as a dry breeze blew across the cluttered back yard. The young wizard looked around wildly, but didn't see any sign of the boy.

He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as he instinctively went into a defensive stance. The nobleman uttered a short oath, and conjured a magical shield, held at the ready. His gaze swept across the yard again, but nothing moved.

"Rean...?" he called with slight hesitation, taking a step forward. Phortea stepped directly into the awaiting Ephemeris circle, which enveloped his body in a violent, ghostly swirl of silent flame. The shield spell went off, surrounding him in a veil of arcane protection, but it was too late. He could tell that some strange curse had taken hold of him.

"Oh, it's you." came a familiar voice from behind him. Izaneus whirled around and looked up, only to see a cloaked silhouette against the half-clouded moon. Gleaming red eyes sized him up and down before the assailant dropped to the ground with barely a sound. Did he recognize that voice? The memory was distant and brief.

"...you have three seconds before I conjure your death. This house is under my protection." Izaneus half-lied.

"Oh please. You can't front with me." The figure chuckled darkly, and drew its hood back. Izaneus squinted in the dim light of the glimmering shieldlight before letting out a disgusted sigh.

"Lieutenant Elise...is this the best way to say hello? If you wanted to kill me, you should have done it while I was sleeping." Izaneus hissed. Elise rolled her eyes, and her posture relaxed slightly.

"My methods are my own...but you got bigger problems, sweetheart. What if I told you that some folks didn't want you 'round here no more?"
 

Izaneus Phortea

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The weight of her words struck a cord in him, one he didn't want to show in such a disadvantageous position. Instead, he would think logically, and come to a logical conclusion.

"Why? Thhheres no point."

He shook the voice away, all to familiar with it's owner despite their brief introduction.

He was aware Ulrich had some doubts and feelings towards Rean being trained in the Arcane arts. But the boy had come to him, with an already conjured flame. He was going to explore it with or without his tutelage, at least with guidance the kid would know his limits, and what not to do in a situation where emotions were high and he had magic at his side to cause some true damage.

"Who sssssaid that matters? They want you gone. GONE. Ggggooooonnnneeee..."

The dark tendrils came back with a fierceness Izaneus couldn't put into words, he shook his head once more, grasping his head for a moment before realizing once more he wasn't alone. Flicking his head in the direction of his Vampiric captor. He watched as she looked on in satisfaction.

"Awww, poor baby got a headache?" She taunted, resting her chin on her hand.

The chill of the night air rose goosebumps on Iza's skin, intaking a deep breath, he spoke.

"I can't imagine you'd come here without a reason, us wizards always have ulterior motives, what pray tell, would be yours?" He spoke, from experience, understanding know, in the light of Elise's spell of protection she'd entrapped him in, that he'd been using these poor folk.

They didn't deserve this.

They didn't deserve the harm he wrought.

"And for Arcadia's sake why couldn't it have waited until I'd put shoes on? This is rather uncomfortable I'll have you know." He jested. Finding a joke the only way to keep calm with his anxieties rising.

Meanwhile, he took a look at the spell. He was well placed, well constructed.. Nary wisp of magic escaped from it. Let alone a growing teenager like himself. He truly had been growing shabby.

If there was ever to be a lower low than his previous. He'd reached it. He could do nothing. Spell creation, even for him, took an ounce of time, and while he likely could dispel the magic encasing him, it would simply leave him less than a moment to entrap her in his own defenses before she conjured enough magics to entrap him once more, or even kill him.

He had talent, and smarts.

She had Talent, Experience, Preparation, and the Brains to back it all up.

He was outclassed in every sense of the word.

"Is it because of the ruins nearby? Or because you, simply don't like me?"

"Everrrryoneee just wwantss you dead. You know that~ Kill them first and be done with it."

Izaneus closed his eyes as he attempted to tune out the Ethereal voice, keep the Abyss crawling down his arm at bay. Keep his thoughts in line. He needed to stay calm right now. If they wanted him gone? So be it. He would leave, simple as that.

But he still wanted access to the ruins nearby... Or...


"How quaint! You think death will fffree you. It shan't I promise this here andd nowwww. I'll simply take you back, where you will be but a shrivelling mess of emotions, and send you back not long after."

What had cursed him? What manner of sin had he commit to deserve this... Monstrosity nipping away at his sanity in dire moments like this..?

His face showed his plight, as he waited for the Vampire to answer.
 

Elise

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Elise scoffed, but a faint flicker of concern passed over her face.

"I don't need much of a reason to be sneaking up on people in the dead of night. You know me. What's weirder is finding the boy hero of the golden underpants parade bumming it out in a farm shack." Elise snorted. The magic of the Ephemeris faded and the vampire began to nonchalantly sketch out the boy's information in her grimoire. Most of his witchcraft was fairly rote, although he did seem to have at least one homebrewed spell to his name; that was admirable enough.

Izaneus considered her counter question as he twitched his fingers experimentally. Whatever curse had gripped him seemed to have gone dormant. Did he dare try to retaliate when she appeared off-guard? His instincts and training told him no; she wouldn't leave herself open so carelessly. The darkness that had taken root in his heart encouraged him otherwise.

Elise glanced up at the silent mage after a moment, and quirked an eyebrow.

"You okay dude?" she snapped. Izaneus shook his head slightly.

"Yeah. Fine now, I guess since I'm not on your menu anymore." he said with a dry chuckle. It was a hollow attempt at humor, and he flinched when the haughty vampire was immediately prepared with a retort.

"I never said that."

"Hah." Izaneus laughed hollowly again. He was aware of the fact that she was trying to get under his skin; needle him to see where they stood. Elise, to her credit, could tell that the Phortea kid was rattled in a way that went deeper than her bump-in-the-night routine. There was something else here, too. A ghost of internal leylines that sat perpendicular to the young wizard's native alignments. If she hadn't been analyzing the same phenomena in Strazio for the past few weeks, she may have dismissed it...but it was too familiar to pass up.

"...don't worry about it. The fact that you're currently parasitized by a psychic ghost makes you a fire research specimen. But...I did tell paw up in the house there that I'd get you out his shed, so..." Elise gestured towards the side gate into the garden she had come through. Izaneus squinted at it in the patchy moonlight, and shivered as another breeze rolled through the yard.

"I can't. Rean, the boy. He needs a tutor for his magical talent, I-" Izaneus started, but the gabby witch cut him off once more.

"You finna take him under your wing? Is that what you do now, teach kids sparkler tricks?" Elise chided. She was rapidly getting tired of the young man's indecisiveness. Maybe he would make a better meal than test subject after all.

"I haven't...decided my next move yet, but I figured as long as I was here-"

"...as long as you were here, you'd teach a kid enough magic to be dangerous and fuck off at some point? Cringe." Elise said, shaking her head in a mock display of disappointment. She could see anger swell in Izaneus's chest again, but something clammy and heavy seemed to choke it down.

"What do you want." he said at last. Elise took a step forward, and slapped her book shut.

"I already told you; you're coming with me. What do you want?"

"What the hell is goin' on out here?"

Izaneus and Elise both turned to look at the third voice that had forced its way into their conversation. The back porchlight flared to life in a flicker of bleached, halogen brilliance. Beneath the doorway stood Maggie the farmwife in a pink nightgown. She held a large, oak crossbow that was fully winched and loaded, and was pointing it at Elise.

The vampire glanced at the wizard boy, and gave him a fanged smile.

"Sounds like you need to make some decisions, Izzy. Otherwise they gonna be made for you. Say hi to Rean for me." Elise cackled. Before Maggie could pull on the firing lever, Elise wrenched her hands into an arcane signet and shouted an incantation.

A gleaming arcane barrier crackled into existence between her position and Maggie, who fired the crossbow as the vampire began sprinting towards the side fence. The quarrel slammed uselessly into the ghostly obstruction, and ricocheted off into the tomatoes with a lazy spin. Maggie shouted a curse of fury as she began winching up another shot, but by the time she had the weapon readied, Elise was long gone. The farmwife lowered the crossbow and turned to Izaneus with a dark-faced glare.

"You know that girl?" she hissed. Izaneus put his hands up near his chest, and tried to speak in a calm voice.

"Magdalena, please. Just...put the weapon down and let's talk..." Izaneus hummed. His heart plummeted back to the cackling depths of despair when Ulrich also showed up in the doorway, leaning against it with a drunken smugness.

"Eeeyup. Yeap. I agree. 'Sabout time we all had a sit down, eh Maggie?" he grunted.
 

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Magic.

To be enthralled in its wonders once, is to find yourself studying it for eternity.

To be talented in it, is to find yourself set on a path you hadn't once before considered.

The arcane had done much for Izaneus, but also caused him much strife. For instance, as Magdalena sat with a cold glare for the Wizard, all he could think of was.

I wonder how my life could have turned out if I hadn't discovered my affinity for spellcraft. If I hadn't seen those playful wisps of magic, if they hadn't guided me. Would I be different?

"Talk, magic kid" Ulrich demanded, smug satisfaction in his voice. His arms crossed as he stood

Iza knew his kind. He was going to blame the wizard for bringing Elise here, despite allowing the events to happen in the first place. A fearsome rage boiled as the ethereal darkness coaxed him into actions he was aware he would regret.

Now was the time to come up with an explanation, and there were two options.

1. Dutifully explain to Magdalena that it was Ulrich who'd "masterminded" the events, if the drunkard could even be given such praise. It wouldn't be entirely difficult, he had a way with words. The problem here. Was that their marriage would likely be strained, trust would be broken, and unlike himself, Ulrich was a fool. Who would only serve to worsen their situation.

2. I leave without a fight, Elise would come again if I stayed anyway, she'd somehow noticed the ghastly form that clung to my spirit, but why should he?

"Shouldn't I be given a break? Hadn't I fought hard enough? Why must the only piece of respite I gain be thrust away from me before I can fully recuperate?"

Ulrich should eat his words. The alcoholic should understand what happens when you lie in front of a talented Wizard. All it would take is a simple enchantment.. Iza could probe his mind for but a moment before getting the oaf to spill his darkest secrets, let alone the tale he told.

But what of Rean? The boy would be more than traumatized if he did that...

Who cared? Certainly no one.

...

"It was my fa-"

The arrow flew to him faster than he could finish his sentence, thrusting his hand out, he allowed the material projectile to stop dead in its tracks as his shielding wove itself into existence.

"I'll gather my things." He stated coldly, as she wordlessly watched him go to the shed, tears forming in her eyes, before she pushed her husband aside, and stormed back into their abode.

Ulrich, stood still however, waiting patiently for the kid to exit his shed so he could say a few words of his own.

As Izaneus exited, fully dressed, with everything on him, the father walked plainly towards him, going to grab the noble brat by the collar.

Before realizing he couldn't move that arm. A spectral force keeping it at bay from the mage.

"Tell Rean I said goodbye. At least do me that charity, and clean yourself. You reek of booze."

Izaneus walked away, and Ulrich cursed him, how dare he?

As Iza traversed the road which first led him to their residence, he found the night air become once more infused with the chill of the dark.

"Coming out?" He asked, not wanting to play a game of Hide and Seek.

"Pssh, you're no fun Izzy, finish things up back there?" The voice of Elise sounded behind him, in a mocking tone of course.

"Indeed. Do you mind telling me where you intend on taking me?" He asked coldly.

He was torn inside, leaving Rean and that family so suddenly ripped him. Hurt him more than he expected. He felt betrayed, though he knew it was beyond his control.

"You'll see won'tcha?" His Arcanist acquaintance responded in kind.

Izaneus took one last look at his previous place of rest, and understood he was never to come back... Maybe one day, when he was better.

But he couldn't allow himself to be carried away any longer. He needed to move forward.

With this in mind. He followed Elise to... Somewhere.
 

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In the end, it hadn't taken Izzy that long to make up his mind after all, and that surprised Elise to some extent. She had expected a lot more whining and deliberating before he inevitably left the cozy segue house behind him. But, here they were, standing on a dusty road at the foothills of the Dragonspine mountains. Elise wasn't sure if Izaneus could make out the jagged ridgelines on the horizon under the moonlight, but they struck a sentimental chord in her she hadn't expected.

She was so used to squatting and scheming in her various lairs that she had forgotten how much she loved a good adventure. Languishing in survival mentality was liable to do that to someone, she supposed. Speaking of which...

"I'm giving you a pass for tonight, Izzy, but if I don't find a warm neck by tomorrow night, you gonna make a donation. Feel me?" she said, turning around to face the young spellcaster. Izaneus noted how her eyes flashed like a wolf's humors in the darkness -- predatory, with a surpressed, feral mania behind them. Some time ago he had offered to be a meal ticket, in the halls of the Miniskirt Armada castle.

Now he wasn't so sure.

"I've already resigned to being your test subject. Surely I could avoid being a snack as well?" he sighed. Elise shrugged.

"I guess you just gotta hope someone else turns up."

As if on cue, there came a scrap and crackle from the brush behind them on the road. Izaneus reflexively called mana into his hands, and Elise seemingly vanished into the shadows themselves with a sly leap. A moment passed, and nothing on the lightly forested trail moved. The mage squinted in the darkness, trying to make out any sort of hostile movement.

A moment later, there was the sound of a young kid's squawking and Elise's triumphant cackle. The vampire crashed out through the bush back onto the path, holding a young human by the scruff of his neck. Despite the kid's kicking and thrashing, Izaneus's heart went simultaneously cold and warm as he recognized it as Rean. It wasn't until he swiped at Elise with a magically flaming hand that she dropped him with a manic grin.

That, at least, inspired some amount of twisted pride in the Phortea prodigy.

"Listen, Master, I can explain-" Rean immediately started blubbering. The vampire cackled sharply, once.

"Hah! Master? Is that what you make him call you?" Elise spat. Izaneus ran a heavy hand over his wrinkled brow.

"No. No I never asked him to do that. Rean..." Phortea droned. He took a few steps towards the farmboy, who stood his ground, trembling. He looked as though he had gotten dressed hastily, still wearing his pajama pants and a simple, woolen tunic. He had a rucksack slung over his shoulder, usually used for carrying potatoes, which was now stuffed with an assortment of clothes and adorably misguided 'travelling' supplies. Izaneus also noticed the large kitchen knife strapped to his pocket, and lamented inwardly.

"No! You can't convince me to go back, I...Dad...I mean...Ulrich. He means well but...but I don't want to just become the next farm boss! I have this...thing inside me that you showed me, the magic...and...and..." Rean stuttered. The boy couldn't bring himself to look Izaneus in the eye, but his words were deeply sincere. How long had he been stalking them now? Elise and he had covered almost ten miles already; probably farther from home than Rean had ever been. Was the boy truly that desperate to finish what Izaneus had started?

The thought that his desire to spread this talent...or perhaps curse...of his had uprooted a vulnerable kid shook the wizard, yes. What stung the most, however, was the taunting, knowing look that Elise was giving him. Izaneus shot her an accusatory look, causing her to hold her hands up and back away.

This is all you, master magic man.

"...also..." Rean murmured, shuffling his feet, "...who's this lady? Is this your girlfriend? She's strong."

"Hell no." Izaneus blurted out, more bluntly than he might have anticipated. Elise pouted petulantly at his disgusted tone, and he chuckled in spite of himself; it was the first time he'd ever seen the vamp-witch flustered.
 

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"So... Who is she?" Asked the former apprentice, which threw the young noble into reality once more, how could he describe the witch who'd turned into his compatriot in the days of the abyss?

"She's..." Izaneus began, still unsure of how to describe his... Companion. Of sorts.

"...a person..." He finished, immediately regretting his choice of words as Elise rose an eyebrow in confused curiosity.

"Pretty sure he figured that one out Izzy." The vamp teased, causing Iza to breathe a frustrated sigh, rubbing the sides of his temple.

"She's a powerful spellcaster, but that's besides the point. You need to head back, no-"

"I already told you I don't want to!! I want to learn more!" The boy exasperated, unaware of the fact that he was tearing a larger whole in his "master" with each passing phrase.

"You're talented and foolish, Rean. My negligent desire to instruct you had lead to me tearing you from your home. Your family, your sister, your mother." The wizard explained harshly, his eyes being windows to his true feelings.

Izaneus wanted to keep the boy around, selfishly he knew. But the feelings stayed regardless of what he knew was morally correct.

For the longest of time the only companionship he had were the ethereal, and Shiki, then he met the Miniskirt Armada, which fell prematurely in a coup d'etat, then he met this family, which he considered his own, before being given a harsh reality check.

"Allow me to speak from experience for a moment." He began slowly, staring deeply into his apprentice's eyes.

"Family is more important than you know, without their support you'll need more strength to control yourself, your emotions, than you'll ever be able to truly grasp, you will drive yourself further from your home wondering where, when you'll ever be able to return."

To feel these toils is to understand yourself as a failure. After all, if you cannot master yourself, how are you ever able to succeed? A great many think this way, he knew, he was one of them, and had read quite a few books on psychology.

"I don't know what will happen in your future Rean, I don't know how you will live your life. That is for you to decide regardless of my words. But I can assure you magic will lead you down a strange and wondrous path full of regrets and what-if's."

The young boy looked shaken, his eyes tearing up.. And yet.

"I don't care!" He sounded, resolved.

"You will." The wizard replied simply, doing his best to retain his facade, to show the boy this wasn't going to be worth sacrificing your familial ties.

The boy stood silent, but firm, this was something that he truly wanted, which was why Iza was now trying to save him from it. Any more, and the boy likely wouldn't be able to return to a normal life.

At least with the little magic he'd accomplished, it could be used to simplify everyday life, lighting fires, candles.

But now Izaneus truly realized how parasitic the arcane could be. The urge to draw yourself into it blindingly powerful.

"There's no turning back. If you nurture this urge any longer it won't be simply a hobby, or a pastime. It will be your life."

Clenching his fists tightly he stomped his feet, truly wanting to follow in Iza's footsteps.

A worrying prospect to be sure.

"Why... Why did you learn magic...?" Rean asked quietly, staring down at the ground. His will painfully shaken.

It was the difficult questions that made Izaneus speak. But this one wasn't difficult, or easy, to explain.

"I was drawn to it since the day I was born Rean. I could see the wisps of magic since the day I first opened my eyes, and I could hear magic speak forever, I learned to manipulate it when I could cohesively think." He explained.

"Magic had taken me before I'd been born, it is my past, present and future, and each day I realize it's more costly than the last."

Why wouldn't he just give up, and go home already? Had he not heard enough explanations on how hard this life could be?

"You enjoy it though... Right..?"

What?

"Of... Course I enjoy it." Iza confirmed quietly.

"I do too, so... please let me keep going.." The young boy pleaded desperately.

"Sheesh, You reeeally got to him huh Izzy? I find it kinda funny actually, I'd find it hilarious if it wasn't so dumb." Elise taunted, finding she'd stayed silent for long enough

"I'm trying to show you, this isn't what you want." Izaneus desperately tried to convey the boys future plights. Fruitlessly, but an attempt nonetheless.

"Please." The boy asked once more, the will in his eyes just as strong as they started.

The same could not be said for Izaneus, who found his emotions rather difficult to control for the while.

"...I cannot promise your safety if you come, Rean. I'm not entirely sure of the destination, nor the events leading to it. For all I'm aware, I could die tomorrow, and being completely honest. I cannot deal with the even the thought of your death being by my actions. That's too much for me to bear."

Rean sighed. He truly wanted to continue the path of magery.

He truly wanted to become a wizard.

"I'll give you one. Last chance. Go home. Live peacefully, away from the horrors we wizards are made to endure day by day. Away from the threats at our borders, with the understanding that I will protect you. Silently. From those threats. I will beat them back for your prosperity and peace. So please."

Izaneus now begged the young lad. Who saw his image of his mentor rise with those words, the same man who tutored him strictly so as he didn't hurt anyone, was now pleading him to go live a better life. Away from the daily toils and troubles of someone like himself.

"If I grow... I'll be able to help." Rean promised, unaware of how much those words meant to to the lonely artist.

"Please, Sir."

After a few short moments of Izaneus gathering himself. He spoke thusly.

"I truly despise how you're able to convince me. The last vote leaves itself to Elise then. Do you have any thoughts or wishes to our straggler?" The Phortean Heir asked his Mage accomplice, figuring she would be the deciding vote. As she was also apart of the newly formed "group" if they could be called that.

"Aside from dinner." Izaneus teased playfully, earning a roll of the eyes from the Vampire, as well as causing the young boy to raise an eyebrow in confusion, yet not being answered.
 

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Elise looked the young boy up and down for a moment, analyzing him carefully. He had nearly buzzed-length hair, he was short and had the lankiness of looming puberty. He was also under-dressed for this northern mountain climate, and she suspected there was going to be a lot of whining in the near future. On the other hand, he was a farm boy and presumably could handle a few bumps and scrapes...and Rean also seemed to be credibly devoted to destroying his life, which she could respect.

"You know Rean, I also ran away from my folks when I was young in the hopes of becoming a more powerful wizard..." Elise said, half singing. She had hoped this revelation would inspire some sense of dread in the youth, but instead, he had to go and be disrespectful.

"...uh, not a witch? Because...if you're a boy you're a wizard but..." Rean started to chirp, but he slowly trailed off as Elise visibly stiffened her posture. An awkward pause passed through the clearing.

"Izaneus. Maybe teach your boy here some manners in addition to spellery." Elise said, snapping her fingers softly. Izaneus could see the murderous impulse the vampire was suppressing, and swooped in to save his apprentice.

"Rean, in the magic community...when someone tells you what they are, you just don't question it. Okay?" Izaneus murmured. Elise sucked in a deep breath, and exhaled through flared nostrils.

"I don't care if shrimpy here tags along, but he's gotta understand that no one makin' him do this. You're here 'cuz you wanna be, right?" she snapped. Rean swallowed a hard lump in his throat and nodded. He may not have understood that Elise was a vampire, but he could definitely pick up on the fact that she was dangerous.

"Aight. In that case, there's a little glen up the path there y'all can camp out in. I'll find somewhere else to sleep. I'll find you again by dusk tomorrow." Elise said flatly. Again, Rean didn't think twice before opening his stupid baby mouth.

"We're only...traveling at night? Isn't that dangerous? And shouldn't we stay together?" he asked, looking between the retreating vampire and Izaneus.

"Boys are smelly and gross. Bye." Elise grumbled before disappearing into the brush. 'Master' Phortea watched her slink away, and idly wondered how she knew about the local campsites. Had she hiked the Dragonspine mountains before? Perhaps some form of magical prescience? Maybe her heightened, vampiric senses were even enough to clue her in to such things. He shook his head, and patted Rean on the shoulder.

"Don't worry about her...and normally you'd be right about traveling at night. When it comes to matters of magic, however...sometimes common sense gets turned around." Izaneus said with a warm smile. He gently nudged Rean back towards the trail, and the two men set about finding and building their camp for the evening. Elise, meanwhile, crept through thorn bushes and mossy rubble with barely a sound; she had sent Greenstripes looking around for anywhere for her to spend the day safely. Hopefully he had some results by now.

Find anything yet?

I have. There is an abandoned wolf den not too far from you -- about ten minutes to the northeast, dug into the side of a small rock face.

Perfect. What do you think about the kid?

He is a liability. But, he may also have some unseen utility we're not aware of. We should wait before dismissing him.

Ugh. Fine. Was I that annoying when I was a living tween?

Yes.


Elise snickered softly in the darkness; she could always count on Greenstripes for his bone-dry humor. At length, she found the small pile of boulders the familiar had described, and scrambled into the old burrow on all fours. The entrance faced south, down the hill, so the sun wouldn't be able to get inside the den. It was damp and just a bit smelly, but after wrapping her cloak around herself, she did feel nice and safe, at least. She curled up into a ball and let her body go rigid as she began her unliving sleep of the dead. At some point, she felt the familiar, cold weight of Greenstripes slither up and join her in the ghoulish stupor, causing her otherwise dead facial features to smile softly.




Despite their resolution to only travel at night, Izaneus and especially Rean had a hard time sleeping through the entire day. Thanks to sheer exhaustion, they managed to snooze in their shared, improvised tent until about noontime. The rest of the day was spent waiting for the sun to go down, as well as practicing spellcraft and foraging.

It was immediately apparent that Rean was the master in regards to the latter, and he was quick to show Izaneus how to find edible plants and fungi around the campsite while the wizard supervised his magical explorations.

At some point during the early evening, Rean was playing with his flaming hands before nodding to himself softly.

"I think I have the hang of this fire trick. Can we start working on something else? What kind of magic does Elise do?" he asked, turning his bright eyes to Izaneus. Phortea stopped chewing on the dry granola Rean had shared with him and let out a long, somber breath. It was a valid question, but he didn't want to send Rean down whatever dark path Elise had followed...and to be fair, he had never seen her sorcery first hand, anyway.

"I guess that would depend on how Elise manifests her spellwork. There are many different schools of magic, and methods for achieving those effects. For example, I personally utilize the flow of mana and sculpt it into usable effects that change the world around me. When the spell releases, the mana returns to its neutral, ambient state. Other wizards use the Vancian method, which actually tricks the existing laws of physics into new functions that--" Izaneus began to lecture, but he caught the glassy look in Rean's eye and slowed himself down. These were things that the boy would have to understand at some point, but this was also a child he was dealing with. He could remember how intimidating and, well...arcane the language and theory of magic could be when he was Rean's age.

Izaneus squinted at the sky over the treeline. The sun would go down in about another hour or so; certainly enough time to teach his pupil the fundamentals of a new spell format. He could only hope Rean would be prepared for...wherever Elise was dragging them to. He would have to make a point of getting an answer out of her tonight...
 

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A chip in his ear reminded Izaneus of its Ethereal presence. Serving as yet another guide through his travails. It's understanding and existence brought about another topic of understanding, though the spell was flawed yet, it could be cast without harm, just inconvenience.

"Hmm... Rean?" The newly named mentor called, wanting his apprentice to witness something like this.

The young boy's head popped out of a nearby bush, with Iza being completely unsure how the kid had even gotten in there.

Regardless, Iza waved the kid over, and quickly set him a few paces away from himself.

"As I said before, there are numerous different methods of casting magic, one of the most popular, is to entreat an Ethereal spirit to a material form, so that it may serve you. This is known, as summoning a familiar, though. There are other ways of gaining a familiar. We'll go into those at a later date."

Thus he began his ritual, reciting a thought out incantation, with the spirit gently nudging his magic in the correct direction the few times power was nearly wasted.

A small multicolored glow began to emanate from his form, before exiting his body, and with his will, began to materialize into a small form, slowly shaping into a feathery form.

As the spellcraft slowly began to dissipate, in its wake left the guardian spirit's bird form, it's white feathers and gently glowing eyes mimicking Iza's own.

Rean stood captivated during all of this, and both were aware quite some time had passed, around half an hour. Maybe more. Yet, the magic displayed in front of him reaffirmed his resolve to continue on the path of the arcane.

"Things like this Rean, are why I continue honing my talent, small miracles, that draw me closer to magic than I ever had been." That wasn't all of it, but it was what he knew. The young wizard couldn't quite figure himself out, his feelings, or why he enjoyed certain things.

But that. Was currently besides the point.

"Can i pet him!?" The boy exclaimed excitedly.

"Her, And her Name is Euphemia." His mentor replied.

"Keep the plebian away."

Demanded a voice that... Wasn't sinister, yet familiar.

It didn't take long to understand it was in fact his familiar's connection to himself relaying this information.

"She says she likes you. Now. Onto other spells."





The two spent the last half an hour practicing the basic shielding Iza had taught himself as a child, a good defense served everyone well.

They were interrupted by the incessant cawing of the recently summoned Crow. Informing that something was approaching.

Iza stood attentive, making sure he had the power accumulated to cast a spell if need be.

"It's here, Master." his familiar politely informed him, with him watching the brush attentively.

Until the figure of Elise came into view, which he quickly dissipated the magic, and allowed his companion to venture closer.

The pale visage of his Wizarding equal frowned at the sight of the Crow, which she recognized the magic immediately, seeing as she had created a familiar herself.

"Not Bad, now come on, night doesn't last long Y'know." She quickly informed, giving the two a small enough time to gather their belongings.

"Alright, we're set, now will you tell me where exactly you plan on bringing m- ahem. Us?" Izaneus stuttered his words as they set on the trail to Dragonspine, the chill of the air already seeping down from its snowy hell.

Elise sighed, mentally rolling her eyes as she continued walking forward, not missing a step as they continued on the path.

"I'm looking for the 'resting place' of Archivist Hammuzi, know'im?" She plainly threw the question behind her, catching Iza off guard.

"Hammuzi? But he's-"

"Been missing for more than a century, yep. Did your research. Prouda you." She replied smartly, throwing sarcastic praise his way.

"There's talk flying around that he was buried around his kinsman. Now do I have to spell it out for ya more clearly or so ya think you've got it?"

"No. I understand." Izaneus retorted quickly, realizing now that all was said and done how much time had actually passed. He'd allowed himself to grow stale and stagnant. While others were continuing their endeavors.

The mentions of Hammuzi since his untimely disappearance were scarce, for one reason or another.

"So, what are we hoping to find exactly? Aside from Scholarly remains? Artifacts? Texts?"

This caused the Vampire to smirk slightly. The moon shining radiantly, and allowing her to be in her true splendor.

"You'll find out, Won'tcha?"

Izaneus sighed as they continued. She had a habit of teasing him in mildly infuriating ways.

Still, he had to admit. This was more fun than sitting in bed all day.
 

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The ensuing two days of travel were not pleasant for any vampire, let alone one as grumpy and fussy as Elise. As the terrain became more barren and rocky, there came less ambient wildlife to slake her thirst. Creatures of the night such as herself could last a long time on animal blood, but it tended to leave a disquieting sense of nausea that lingered until fresh, warm, pulsating humanoid blood was trickling slowly down--

Elise took a deep breath and squinted at the horizon as they crested a crumbling outcrop. Small, steaming pools of salty water dotted the landscape, catching the full moonlight like somber ghosts, idling in the wind. Rean and Izaneus caught up a moment later, panting softly. They took sips from their water canteens and took stock of the landscape as the vampire allowed her cape to billow ominously in the breeze. The child crunched towards her through the gravel, and allowed his hands to flicker alight.

Elise immediately caught his fiery palms and snuffed the magic out with a vicious snarl.

"No fires. You want every gnoll and ogre within ten miles to come looking for us?" she spat, causing Rean to shudder slightly. He nodded passively, and slumped down to the ground. Izaneus patted him on the shoulder and approached his magical peer.

"You are...correct about the fire, but, could you be a little more gentle with him?" Izaneus murmured. Elise scoffed, and ignored the request.

"Have you felt it?" she said flatly. Izaneus nodded as Euphemia glittered into existence on his arm.

"Yes, traces of illusory manipulation, increased gemstone inclusions in the rock face...there's definitely one around here." Phortea said solemnly. Rean perked up from his place on the ground, where he was scratching magical sigils in the dirt.

"What's around here? Something bad?" the boy swallowed. Elise and Izaneus exchanged looks, and the Phortean prodigy was slow to speak.

"Dragons are...nuanced creatures. Though-"

"Dragons?! D...Dragon? I...oh man." Rean said, jumping to his feet before abruptly sagging into the dirt again.

"Oh brother." Elise groaned, but Izaneus was already to try and soothe the boy.

"Don't panic, Rean. Just stick with us and we'll get you home...er...out of this safely." the wizard said, stumbling slightly. Elise rolled her eyes, but before any more insults could be exchanged, a long, lonely howl issued from the crags to the south.

"Let's keep moving." Elise whispered, grabbing Rean by the scruff and hauling him off down the sandy escarpment.

"Hey, wait, slow down!" Rean gasped as the iron-handed grip of Elise jostled him around like a mother cat carrying her kitten. Izaneus did his best to dash off after them, and half scrambled down the slope. All of a sudden, Euphemia squawked loudly, and the next thing he knew, everything was a rush of gravel, rocks, and thunderous noise. Elise normally would have been able to react to the rockslide in time, but her bloodstarved agility was hampered severely. She and Rean tumbled down the collapsing cliff face in a series of agonized shouts and nasty crunches.

There was a long pause after the final pebble ceased rolling before there was any further noise. Izaneus was the first out of the rubble, having been able to cast his shield in the midst of his fall.

"Rean! Elise!" he shouted. The words echoed hollow over the nearby rock walls, and only the wind moaned in reply.

"Greenstripes? Hey!" he tried again, beginning to panic. Magic gathered in his hands as he began to shift what stones he could using telekinesis. He shouted loudly as a nearby patch of boulders exploded in a flash of white arcana. Elise picked herself up out of a glowing crater as the detonated particles hung in mid air, carrying Rean on her back like a piece of ruined luggage. He rushed over to the vampire as she laid him on the ground. Rean arm was visibly broken in two places, and he was drawing stunned, ragged breaths.

"I...I can mend this, I..." Izaneus began to blubber, calling restorative magic to his hands, but Elise shrieked in response.

"Shut up! Stop!" she snapped.

"I can heal him, Euphemia can help me-"

"I said...Shut. Up." Elise snarled. Reans lung had been punctured by a broken rib cage...if he was regenerated in this state, the bone would heal itself inside of his chest cavity. "This is more than a basic spell can fix...he needs proper treatment." she said, palming the boy's body and trying to set the bones. A slippery tentacle popped out of her backpack and provided a series of first aid implements as she set to work stabilizing the kid.

Useless as always. This is what happens when you resist what your betters tell you.

Izaneus stood and stared at the bloody scene before him, and felt the despair creeping in. Once again, he was behind the curve. He probably would have languished in a nice, slow spiral of depression if not for the sharp, cracking sound that came from behind him. He immediately conjured his shield and spun around, expecting to see another landslide.

Instead, a pair of gleaming, hollow eyes leered at him from a hollow in the rockface that had opened up. Izaneus took a step backwards as a large, grinding golem began to dig itself out of the rubble. Magical enchantments pulsed through its newly reactivated arcane conduits as it rumbled to life. He searched his memory to try and identify the configuration, but it seemed to be unique. Technically a standard set of oversized animated armor, but...there was a strange fluidity to its movements.

"Uh...Elise...?!" Izaneus called. The vampire glanced up, and made a pained grimace.

"It's a helmed horror, an elite shock automaton. You handle it while I save ya boy's life." she called in response. Euphemia squawked loudly again.

Izaneus! Attack quickly, before it unburies itself! Hurry!
 

Izaneus Phortea

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"You handle it."

She said that so casually, casually enough that Izaneus truly questioned her judgement in his abilities. Surely she'd seen first hand, he wasn't all that great in a fight. Regardless he needed to. Neither he nor Meliora held medical knowledge enough to help his protege.

"Izaneus!!" the familiar squawked once more, reigning his attention to the enemy just ahead of him.

Pulling on the wisps of his ambient reality, Izaneus slowly began forming the binding magic of his homebrewed spell, quietly staring at the automaton as frost began accumulating around the already winter like scene.

Suddenly, he slung his arm forward in a vicious motion, and launched the magic toward his wayward enemy, the fluid energy coalescing on its hand, and immediately transmuting into a small glacial prison with the durability of a boulder. Painfully sticking it's hand to the ground beside it.

The machine lurched upward, or so it tried, before quickly realizing something was obstructing its arm, and keeping it pinned to the ground.

"Don't falter! Continue your barrage!!"

listening, and following his familial guide's instructions, he quickly let loose the motes of energy most familiar to him during the days of the comet, when he vanquished unmade, subdued angered soldiers, and aided in a cause more than himself.

The magic slowly travelled in the air, before Izaneus designated his target. It was then they blasted forward and slammed against the metal beast, leaving sizable marks against it's tempered armor.

"Fuck me is ANYTHING easy nowadays?" The noble cursed, damning etiquette in the face of unadulterated frustration.

He winced as a bit of frost slowly crept up his hand, the blue outline of ice forming on his finger.

He needed this to end fast.

We both know how you can do that~

snickered the sinister presence of his abyssal parasite,

The wizard growled quietly as he threw forth more magic at the mechanical, the whitish blue projectiles hurling threw the air at impressive speeds before striking the same place thrice. Leaving it dented more, and more.

It was the brute force approach, but it wasn't as though he had much else. His neglect of his responsibilities had led to weakness, and one way or another, that weakness would consume him if he didn't overcome it.

But how was he to get rid of something so integral to himself? That task seemed impossible.

His hand was beginning to numb, the frost accumulated had grown to pieces of small ice covering his fingers and thumb.

"Be mindful of your magic Izaneus." his familiar called carefully, not wanting her master to have lasting damage due to a brief moment of despair in the long life he'll live.

"I'm fine Meliora..." Iza retorted, continuing to machine gun the automaton with dozens of missiles formed of pure magic with destructive intent behind them, adding weight to their continuous strikes.

The automaton however, was doing its best to escape its icy encompassing, and began to violently slam it's hand down on Iza's spell. Small cracks forming where it sat, imprisoning the metallic hindrance.

"Let go of the spell Izaneus!!" Euphemia demanded.

The chill of the ice crawling up his fingers causing them to numb and lose feeling, the pestering of his guide, and the feeble image of Rean bloodied and battered caused Iza to finally release his magic, the ice stood firm, until it's metallic prey slammed another fist down upon it, fully cracking it open, and releasing itself

"Great..." Iza droned, readying his defenses.

He hadn't the time to prepare however, as in the time it took for him to pull the magic to his palms, his target had already gotten up, dashed toward him and slam it's fist against his body. Sending him tumbling in the direction it just was.

Iza's body collapsed, and he found himself unable to breathe, the shock knocking the air from his lungs before he could fully comprehend what happened.

It took a few moments for him to recover his breath, and when he did it was a deep inhale of the frigid air they'd been gulping down for the last hour.

He stood quietly, a bit of crimson trickling down his arm, and hand.

Not having the time necessary to perform his small ritual of restoration, he pulled his defenses to hand, the automaton standing idle until he did so.

Before it lurched forward, and slung another weighty fist toward the wizard.

With a hearty cry he swung his shield against it in defiance, the enchantment breaking apart in mere seconds from the collision, sending Izaneus flying back once more, slamming into the icy floor.


"Don't fight it on its terms master, steel yourself, but don't try to contest it's strength." Euphemia warned diligently, watching idly from above, silently cursing her own inability to aid.

"Thanks.." Iza called back in a whisper, diving forward to dodge an overhead swing from his automotive enemy.

"Will you please die already!?" Iza requested, slinging another bout of missiles at it.

As if to respond in kind it whipped it's body around and threw another punch toward the mage.

Following his gut reaction, Izaneus conjured another shield which also broke upon impact, once more sending the wizard into the air.

If nothing else this was good falling practice.

As he landed he quickly threw his spell of imprisonment toward its foot, once more encasing the automaton in an icy demise.

The automaton in question, was mildly damaged at the very least. Two of its limbs frozen solid, one more recently than the last however. It's chest and head sporting several holes, marking where Izaneus's missiles had struck true.

And the limbs hit by Izaneus's binding spell held considerably more damage as well.

The wizard was not doing so hot himself however, besides being flung about like a magical ragdoll, he sported several cuts and bruises that those falls graciously gave.

This was going to be a long day...
 
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