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  #76  
Unread 2nd of December, 2007, 07:02
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A wry smile appears on Yavan’s face, but in the cold air no mirth appears on the elf’s face. He considers Rina’s reply, turning it over in his head, and agrees. It is only natural that life will seek purchase in any environment and will seize any nourishment it can, regardless of the source. The same is to be said with any of the civilized races walking this earth. They all vie for dominance with each other. Some are overt in their actions, seeking conquest and subjugation. Others are more indirect, exercising economic power to hold their competitors at disadvantage. They are all but two steps above these corpse-plants, but hubris makes the gap look much bigger.

The gardener, or more likely, the caretaker of the lichyard, is a curious sort. Age shows its hand in his hair, but he still seems hale for all the winters he’s seen. The rings on his fingers have long since lost their luster. That, at least, is to be expected in a hamlet such as this. Jewelers would be few and far between. His robes, once black, have been dirtied with his work. Yet it is the bone braided into his hair and the tattoos that peek out on his leathery skin that give Yavan pause. A villain living within Eastbrook defies logic. As with all small places, everyone knows everyone else’s business. More importantly, they all live and depend on each other. Being cast out into the cold would be most fatal. But that does not mean this man is not stained with past crimes.

Yavan forces a smile onto his face and affects a pleasant disposition. Performers must shine, regardless of the situation.

“You have our thanks,” he says, following the man into his home. “My name is Yavan a’Nyere. These are my companions, Rina Semarkhet and Calliste of Far Gelas.”
  #77  
Unread 8th of December, 2007, 00:00
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Rina trails after Yavan slowly, her feet almost dragging. She was fairly certain the inside of the man's cottage would be as discheveled as himself. The acrobat feels a momentary pang of regret about being parted from the cold, clean mountain air. It is indeed momentary: the prospect of uncovering secrets about this cult and perhaps unravelling some of the mystery of the Pelorite Temple wins out without even the pretense of a fight. Beside her, Calliste is clearly ready for a warmer clime regardeless of the atmosphere. Rina gives her another mischeiveous smile and then joins their host in his dwelling.
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Unread 9th of December, 2007, 06:32
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Calliste follows, grateful for the invitation to come out of the cold. But at the same time she is leery of the old man's appearance. Odd tattoos, tarnished rings, bone adornments in his hair... The words of the Sun Priest come back to her mind:

"...the only one left from the old cult is the crazy old man who lives at the cemetery. ... I'm telling you so that you know to stay away."

Now that they've come out to the boneyard she wonders if it is really a good idea to ignore such explicit advice. There is much that is strange about this place.

"We keep hearing how no-one visits at this time of year," she says before they reach the door. "What do they do in Eastbrook all winter, cut off from the rest of the world?"
  #79  
Unread 8th of January, 2008, 08:30
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"I'm pleased to meet you all" the man says ushering them into the building. Inside it was ill lit and dusty, but warm. The floors were made from some type of highly polished stone. Barely glimpsed on the walls were frecoes and tapestaries depecting death.

"I'm sorry for the state of my home," the man said with a sweep of his arm and a smile. "I wasn't expecting any company until ... but welcome! Do you want some tea? I have some heating right now. Winter? Well they don't have much to do. They do repairs, spend times with the family and then there is the ... tell me are you planning on staying through to midwinter's day?"
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Unread 10th of January, 2008, 02:02
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The interior is considerably less peasant-like than Rina had been expecting - stonework and polished floors instead of dirt and rotting wood. Dusty, yes, but of a quality that suggested this place had once been something more than a gravedigger's cottage. Rina's eyes note the common theme here: death. Appropriate, given their location but if this building predated the cemetary - as she suspected - their implication was somewhat darker. Was this a church of the mysterious cult?

"We are continually told that we will be snowed in until the Spring, so I think it is safe to say we will be here for Midwinter's day."

She meets the man's smile with a broad one of her own.

"Is there a festival then?"
  #81  
Unread 10th of January, 2008, 08:08
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"Well it," the man falters, his smile breaking down and his voice trailing off, almost seeming to talk more to himself then the others present. "I wouldn't, that is to say I couldn't, how could I?. Unless you - no no! The snows! Everyone has a midwinters festive, you even hear that the non-humans celebrate their own version - oh no offence - but I'm sure the town wouldn't want me to talk about their private affairs."
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  #82  
Unread 14th of January, 2008, 15:18
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Yavan listens with feigned interest while his eyes roam across the interior of the hermit’s domain. It is not a home; it is a temple. The floors of any dwelling in Eastbrook would be made of dirt or wood and not cold stone. The grim frescos of the wall proclaim this as Death’s Manse. It is not surprising, given their locale. Here in the long, cold nights of winter in the north there would be a certain appeal. Within the snowy dales of this rugged country, one could feel its chill grasp.

However, he turns his full attention to the caretaker as he listens to the uncertainty in his voice. The timbre of it rings false to the elf.

“Private affairs?” He asks. “We will be staying here until the winter snows abate. Surely you could tell us of this festival?”
  #83  
Unread 15th of January, 2008, 02:37
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Rina nods smilingly at Yavan's request, having picked up on the same strange reticence that the elf seemed to. She adds her own prodding to the request.

"Yes, we are here now and if there is aught for us to know, we would know it sooner than later."
  #84  
Unread 17th of January, 2008, 14:40
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"No, after so many years of failure to have someone come now. You must flee if you can! Mayhap Henrold can help he, he is a good man. No! He is one of them and would not betray the covenant. And the snows! Trapped! If only you had come years before when there was still youth in my limbs, or not at all instead of to mock me in the winter of my failure!"

With the slight provocation of their questions the man rants, seeming to argue with himself while undergoing an internal struggle, torn between two drives that bards can not see. Then as quickly as the man started he stopped, drawing himself tall as if having reached some decision.

"Come," he gestured moving to walk out through the building. "Follow me, you must see! I was not always a lonely keeper of the dead, once long long ago I saw to the spiritual needs of the village. I dwelt amongst them and took care of them, until one day a man came. Tall he was, with a fierce beard and he spoke words that dripped of honeyed promises. Peace, freedom, health, he claimed all these could be theirs if they took to his ways and abandoned mine. I may not speak the name of the one I serve, a god of death but not uncaring, still one not well loved by those of the village. I was young - so young - and I failed them. The village turned from me. In return for their shelter, the blessing and protection the stranger demanded one price."

Throwing open a set of doors, the strange old man lead them into a grave yard and gestured at a series of headstones, falling to his knees at the eldest and beginning to weep. Dozens of headstones stretched out, more then a hundred, each depicting a name and a date of death. Janice, Kramack, Allith, the names go on..

"Look!" the man said through his tears. "Look and know the price, know your danger, look and know why I am cursed."

As the band of bards looked at the gravestones they realised that there was a pattern to them. One headstone for every year, from the near ancient to the very recent. Each bearing midwinter's date.
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  #85  
Unread 18th of January, 2008, 17:44
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The questions seem innocuous enough. After all, they are all strangers here in Eastbrook. Given how few travelers stay in the snowy dale during the long, cold winter there should be little harm in knowing what the festival entails. Yavan recognizes the toll this man’s work has taken on his mind. Spending the long years here, worshipping the aspect of death, could wear on the strongest soul. How lonely it must be to keep this man’s vigil and the duty he believes himself to owe to the village. Solemn, he stands an austere watch over all those that have passed out of this world and into the next.

Yet despite all of this, the man does not react in the manner Yavan expects. The coaxing from him and Rina causes not a reluctant move toward truth, but instead spurs an emotional eruption within the hermit. Madness steals across his gaze and the wrinkles around his eyes deepen. A queer vitality ripples through him and he urges them onward through his abode and into the yard beyond.

Row upon row of stones tell the barest stories of the dead. Sharp eyes light upon an old stone bearing the name Myrddin and the date of one hundred and seventeen years ago. There is no one within Eastbrook who would know Myrddin and keep his memory alive. He is now a name and a date and nothing more. To be forgotten and to disappear with the spring thaws is the worst punishment to Yavan.

The old man’s babbling gains coherence. Yavan takes it in, his mind racing to the connection. In a heartbeat, it all makes sense: the unseasonable warmth and the strange behavior of the townsfolk. Even the odd behavior of the wolves the night prior is suspect. It all points to this. They sacrifice the few for the comfort of the many. Hundreds of souls have been used to keep Eastbrook intact and safe from winter’s grasp.

“Oh,” Yavan says, taking in all of the gravestones. “Shit.”

Last edited by Cadrius; 29th of January, 2008 at 01:44. Reason: Nothing major. Just obsessively cleaning up my prose.
  #86  
Unread 22nd of January, 2008, 02:11
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The realization dawns on Rina even as Yavan's exclamation breaks the silence. That sudden light brings more questions to the ever curious human, despite the shiver that courses along her spine.

"Set and Saibhar," she breathes, "all of these . . ."

She looks at the caretaker squarely.

"Does this stranger not know you and what you stand for? How is it you have escaped the fate of these people? And who is it these folk bow to with their very lives?"
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Unread 23rd of January, 2008, 06:11
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The first thing Calliste thinks as the odd, old man begins his rant is that he missed his calling - instead of a gravedigger, he should have been an actor.

Such drama! "The winter of my failure..." A good line. He falls to his knees beside a grave stone, and Calliste can see in her mind's eye how the scene would play on a stage. Oh, the pathos! She knows some players who could milk that speech for all it is worth. There wouldn't be a dry eye in the house!

She is so caught up in her own thoughts that she doesn't catch the implication of the dates on the markers... until Yavan's exclamation.

Then the horror dawns on her.

The villagers offer a sacrifice in return for their unseasonably mild weather. A human sacrifice. They give up one of their own to Death. Willing or unwilling? Does it matter? The practice is barbaric either way. Do they choose a child? An old one? A virgin? A criminal?

Or an outsider, when there is one available?

And we are trapped here by the snows...
  #88  
Unread 25th of January, 2008, 00:34
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"The stranger knew me and my measure and did not care, his dark power protected him from me as mine protected me from his. He won them as I failed them and in the end I was cursed to not know the touch of my lord until I save them once more, cursed and protected."

Gesturing again out at row after row of gravestone the man continued, seeming almost to be relieved to finally be talking about something he had undoubtedly kept silently inside.

"Janice was the first, but more each year come, in the aftermath, torn with guilt and self loathing they bring the allotted victim to me and I give them what peace I can.

"I tried to save them," he blurted out suddenly, turning to face the bards with eyes tinged with panic. "I tried! I spoke, pleaded, reasoned, threatened but they would not hear me and threw me out, alone to this place where my god still holds sway! I tried for years beyond counting, none now in that village remember days before the darkness, and then alone and all but forgotten I gave up.

"And then you arrived," the old man continued, calming down again. "Impossible for you to be here, sent by my lord to torment me no doubt. I know not what to do about you. Not cursed you are a part of the village for tommorow's sacrifice. So long as they think you ignorant of the truth you will be safe, maybe you could hide - not here where they would think to look - but somewhere else. The forest or the old mansion? I need time to think, to think!"
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Unread 29th of January, 2008, 01:45
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Guilt overwhelms the caretaker of lost souls and he confesses his crimes and his shame. His voice quavers, breaking with emotion. Here, it’s an impassioned shout; there, it’s barely more than an urgent whisper. The story is told in fragments. He says names and tries to tell himself, more than the bards standing before him, that he’s still a good man and does what he can.

“If they do not claim us, they will find another,” Yavan says. “Hiding will save our skin, but one will take our place and blood will be spilled.”

But part of him hesitates at suggesting anything more. Like as not, the magic protecting the village will vanish when its thirst for blood is not slaked. Winter will come crashing down in an avalanche. Some will die, more than those that were sacrificed, and life will never be the same.

Rina or Calliste will want to end this. They will want to break the cycle of death for life. Yet Yavan isn’t certain if he can condemn the town. The face of the little girl he had spoken with haunts his memory. Would she survive when winter’s bite came? Yavan isn’t willing to let him or his be harmed for Eastbrook, but he isn’t ready to say that the rest should die.

“We will need provisions,” he says. “Winter wool and thicker blankets. How will we get them without drawing attention?”
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Unread 5th of February, 2008, 07:36
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"Yes!" the elderly man said. "You could hide in the woods, or the mountains. You don't have to go all the way, just far enough to be not be counted for the sacrifice! They'll try to stop you but if you run and hide you could make it for long enough! I can go to the village, I'll get you blankets and food. You can't wait here but maybe ... yes you could hide at the abandoned manor. If you want?"
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Unread 5th of February, 2008, 08:09
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"And then what?" Rina demands, bristling.

Her blazing eyes sweep over the others as her fists clench at her sides.

"Come back when it is safe? When they have harvested human lives like wood for the winter fires?"

She pins the crazy old priest with a steady gaze.

"We must break this unnatural cycle. Now."
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Unread 8th of February, 2008, 08:34
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Calliste is mostly confused at this point. A crazy old priest - extremely old and, apparently, unable to die - in the service of a Death god is at odds with the townsfolk because he opposes their sacrifice to ... who? The Sun god? Surely that cannot be right.

But aside from the Who and the Why, the last thing that Calliste would be willing to do is interfere with the worship of any god in his or her own precinct. The crazy priest's suggestion to leave Eastbrook and hideout somewhere sounds like the best plan. Yavan seems to agree.

But Rina evidently has another idea.

"Break the cycle?" Calliste asks putting on her calm and reasonable face. "Rina, think about what you are saying. They've chosen this. They weren't forced to accept the terms. And even if they were, we're talking about a god here. We should not meddle. A sacrifice is a sacred thing."

She turns to the priest again with a question. "Are they all willing? Do the chosen go to the sacrifice consenting?"
  #93  
Unread 8th of February, 2008, 09:18
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"A god?" the old man interjected, seeming to regain some of his wits. "Nay, not a god. The thing which holds them is dark and terrible, and may deem itself all powerful, but it is not a god. The what? Willing sacrafices? Not at first, but those who doubted, who resisted were overcome and killed until I alone remained, cursed and protected. As to now, if any held doubts where would share them? How would they show them?"
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Unread 8th of February, 2008, 15:09
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Rina’s eyes flash with anger and the indignation that only the righteous can claim. The high ground she stands upon is understandable. It is neither fair nor just that these villagers sacrifice one, or more, souls upon the altar to maintain their utopia in the frigid north. It would be the good thing, the noble thing, to end this blood magic. Yet he does not move to agree and join Rina in her fervor. Yavan is ever-thoughtful and slow to arrive at conclusions.

“We would be wise to know the terms of this contract,” Yavan says at last, meeting Rina’s burning gaze with a cool one of his own. “I doubt that this creature, or spirit, will simply walk away. In all likelihood its wrath will be terrible and we know little about it. What will we do? How will we survive?”
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Unread 12th of February, 2008, 23:35
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Instead of answering Yavan she turns to the old and not quite wise priest. For all her fiery indignation, she was well aware the man had told them very little about who or what they were actually up against.

"You must speak plainly if we are to help. Who holds them in such sway and what is his power? What weapons have we to fight with, and what will happen should we succeed?"
  #96  
Unread 13th of February, 2008, 23:31
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"I-I can't speak the name of the power they worship," the man stammered. "It hides under a mask of the sun, dazzling with false light. It is a thing from outside this world, latching itself to the village and sucking life to sustain itself. Its name has been forbidden from me, but it is more demon then god. Even here in this, the last remnants of the truth faith its power can be felt, stealing the warmth from the air, keeping these people trapped, stealing their will and fate."

Taking a deep breath of the cool mountain air, the aging man looked around well kept graveyard, almost seeming to absorb up some of the strange peacefulness that emendated the place.

"It is no foe of flesh, to be slain by sword or songs. The gods themselves struggle with such creatures, not mortals such as you and I. I spent years trying to find a way to save the people in spite of themselves, but it was only late upon the eve of my failure that I was granted knowledge. If they broke their covenant, if the selected victim was saved despite them all, the convent would be broken and the being would be cut loose into the void. If there is another way, I've never found it.

"Then, life can return to normal. People will be free to seek their own destiny, no longer tied by the murderous bond."
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Unread 16th of February, 2008, 05:53
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"Then things are not so hopeless as they have sounded."

She flashes a look at Yavan as she says it - triumphant, but determined rather than amused. Still, there was much they did not know.

"Tell me of the sacrifice: how is this person selected, when are they taken, where are they kept. And the ritual - what are the events leading up to it, where is it held, what time, what guards are there, and how might an escape be effected. Perhaps there is something we can do."
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Unread 16th of February, 2008, 23:22
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"They," the old man says cocking his head to the side as if he could hear something on the wind. "They select the sacrifice with a, a raffle. Each family receives a piece of paper one of which has a black mark, and then the family members each pick a piece of paper. They do this at midday on the day of the sacrifice, the moment before the sacrifice in the town square. After the victim is selected, they are turned on. Neighbours, friends ... even family. There are no goodbyes, the person is selected, pushed into the centre and then stoned to death.

"The only way they would let you take part without being bound and weaponless, would be if they thought you remained ignorant of their secret, there are no warriors among the villagers but even they ... they ..."

His voice trailing off into silence, the old man's eyes refocus upon the trio with a look of horrified realisation.

"No. Oh no, oh no, oh no! If you stay, if you are in the village and don't manage to stop the sacrifice, without being protected by my curse ... you could be bound by the Covenant! You could be compelled to stay, compelled to take part in future years! Your freedom, your very destiny stolen from you! You can't leave, can't get past the snows, but you can't stay!"
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Unread 17th of February, 2008, 09:15
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Her face flushes with victory. To Yavan it seems the petty glow of a triumphant child. They should save the sacrifice, if it is not already one of them, of that there is no doubt. Yet meddling with demons an elder spirits is madness. They have neither the arms nor the arts to deal with the fiend that protects Eastbrook. The old man confirmed it with his own words.

Rina does not listen. She never does. Her nature is dynamic, ever changing, and prone to impulse and flights of fancy. Does she really expect to survive this? This being’s numinous power will overwhelm them all. Despite the fact that Yavan sees this path as sheer folly, he does not grow cross or snap. He is far too stolid for that. His mind is placid and calm while he assesses the hermit’s words.

“What is to stop them from sacrificing another?” He folds his arms over his chest. “Do we trade one life for another?”

In his minds eye he sees them steal into a house in the dead of night, subduing the victim, binding his arms and legs with thick rope, and dragging him out of Eastbrook and into the snowy hills outside. He sees Calliste struggling in the deep snow drifts, the landscape so unfamiliar from her home of Gelas. He sees them dying. If winter does not claim them, then surely the townsfolk will upon their return.

He isn’t ready to die. Not yet. There is still so much work left undone.

“You speak of the covenant this fiend has made with the villagers. How will we take one from the town if they are bound?”
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Unread 19th of February, 2008, 03:52
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So the entity which requires a sacrifice is not a god, but a thing from outside of this world. "It hides under a mask of the sun... " the old man says. Again Calliste is reminded of her dream.

Not all light is good.

Is it possible that the one that sent the dream to her - Biate - brought the bards here to Eastbrook for the purpose of disrupting the ritual? Iakchos had seemed to endorse Biate. Would she be doing Iakchos' will if they attempted this thing?

Just as she is beginning to think that stopping the sacrifice is the right thing to do after all, the old cultist suggests that remaining in the village and failing to stop the sacrifice could bind them to Eastbrook and the villagers' fiendish covenant permanently.

Calliste is not sure that she is willing to take that much of a risk. But is it what Iakchos wants her to do?

“You speak of the covenant this fiend has made with the villagers. How will we take one from the town if they are bound?” Yavan asks.

"Maybe we need not take the intended victim out of the town at all."

Calliste surprises herself by suddenly speaking up. Both Yavan and Rina look at her.

"I just mean that the disruption itself may be enough to break the covenant. We could likely hold the villagers off long enough so that it would be too late to offer the sacrifice, and that would send the.. whatever it is.. back to the void."

There. It is done. She has made her choice. Determined now, she turns to the old man. "Is there anyone in town that might be willing to ally with us? Who is this Henrold person you spoke of earlier?"
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