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Aug 10, 2022 10:21 PM
An Acolyte of Fire lands in Kislev
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A cat goes where it pleases, and a divine cat even moreso. While searching for possible solutions to his many problems, he comes across a hole in the warp, leading elsewhere. It's not open for long, but it's open long enough for him to trade a load of books buried under a castle in a swamp with the entity on the other side for some aid to be deposited in a place of his choosing. 

A quick search finds a little farming village ensconced in a valley far to the north, where the people are praying to someone, anyone, to save them from the forces attacking their home. It's not his usual haunt, but he directs his new ace to appear there and tags them with the divine equivalent of an apology letter. He still owes the widow and her brothers, after all. It's a down payment, at least. Or a gamble on something more. And who is more suited than him to take that gamble. 

The Acolyte finds themselves, all of a sudden, in a chilly pine forest. On one side is an improvised wooden barricade between two houses, manned by humans with longbows and grim expressions. On the other side, a force of wild-looking men, scarred and tattooed, raise circular shields to dodge arrows as they charge with mindless screams into the arrows. There are enough of them that this will work, eventually, and behind the berserkers, a team is dragging forward a horrific mass of limbs and tentacles with chains, preparing to release it upon their foes. 

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The Acolyte is a tall man, dark of hair and pale of skin, dressed in flowing black blouse and trousers, a thick sash of red across his chest and leather sandals tied to his feet, a sturdy walking stick held in his right hand. Despite his lacking coverage, he seems unbothered by the cold. He's surprised by his sudden deposition, but catches himself with a warrior's grace, orienting between the onrushing screamers and the defenders standing against them in a second. He doesn't know exactly what situation he's just fallen into, but the berserkers don't seem interested in stopping their charge to let him go, so battle is joined.

He places both hands on his stick and plants it firmly, centering himself and calling to mind the knowledge of Fire which resides within him. It's presence blossoms to fill his mind, and from within its grandeur he finds the thoughts which tear and cut. In the next instant, the berserkers' bodies fall to pieces under the invisible onslaught of Fire's claws.

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It is perhaps, a little bit harder to kill them than you'd expect. Just a little. The berserkers die fast, falling by the dozens within seconds. The wiser (or more cowardly) of the marauders behind them take this chance to flee back into the woods, though they stop to release the chaos spawn from it's chains - it escapes just as they do so, leaving the last of it's would-be handlers to be flung by the chain he was holding as an improvised projectile before the spawn begins to charge. The spawn is 12ft tall, covered in tentacles and superfluous limbs, and knows neither fear nor reason before the might of the chaos gods. 

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It will know death.

The Acolyte is well familiar with monstrosities whose bodies shamble with strength beyond their matter, and retraces the sundering thoughts, refocused and resharpened to shear through its flesh and its bones until whatever power motivates it has dispersed.

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When the work of putting arrows in the back of as many fleeing marauders as possible is done, the kossars might have some attention to spare for the Acolyte. 

"Hail! What manner of witch are you?", shouts a middle-aged man with a weather-worn face from the barricade. The others are not actually pointing drawn bows at the Acolyte, but they are not acting like the threat is over either.

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That's perfectly sensible, they don't he's not an enemy yet. Frankly, he doesn't know that he's not their enemy yet either, though he doesn't get the feeling he is.

It's fortunate that he's familiar with their language, or at least a dialect close enough. "Hail!" He shouts back. "I am an acolyte of the principle of FIre!" His accent is not great, but should still be understandable. He looks to the messy remains of the spawn. "Is this sort of abomination a frequent problem?"

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"Acolyte of Fire? Do you mean to say you're a priest of Dazh? Or some southern fire-god?"  

"Hah, you're not from around here, at least. Yes, the forces of foul chaos threaten us every year and then some! Normally, we'd have a bit more warning and could travel south to the proper fort, but that raid caught us by surprise."  

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Chaos. They speak of it as something unto itself, something which the Acolyte is not familiar with. Something to look into.

"Not a priest of a god, no! A follower of a principle. Fire that is the self! Fire that is meaning! Fire that sets apart!"

The Acolyte approaches the barricade slowly, attempting to be as unthreatening as possible given the destruction he just wrought. Now that he's closer, his sharp chin, round beard and mustache, high cheekbones, and bushy eyebrows become apparent, as does his calm, congenial expression. "You are certainly right that I am not from here. I actually don't know quite where we are right now."

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The claim that he does not follow a god provokes mutters from the kossars on the barricade. 

"You are in Kislev! Proud warden against Chaos! First and last stand against the Everchosen! If you stand against the evils of Chaos, we would welcome you!"  

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"If they're evil, which they did seem to be, I will gladly stand against them!" He replies.

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"There is no evil greater than Chaos, which seeks to destroy even the world itself! Come, have a drink of kvass! Today's work is not yet done, we need to clear up all those bodies and have a pyre readied, lest we leave them as fodder for some foul thing of the dead." 

With that, the men will step down from the barricade, and stream out to start moving bodies. Some women and teens will join them in this task. 

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That definitely sounds evil! The Acolyte helps with the clean-up! As he does so, he'll also find time to ask what Chaos is, aside from berserkers and limb-balls and presumably the Everchosen, and also what the Everchosen is.

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Questions will be directed to the leader of the rota, who will say "It is not safe to talk about such things here. In the shrine, where the power of Ursun can protect us from foul attentions."  

The shrine is a low building of stone and dark wood, it's walls covered in bear-skin, with an bear-idol plated in gold. 

Here, he will dare to speak in a low whisper. 

"The gods of chaos are the dark powers of the world. They come from the northern chaos wastes to end the world. All those who live to the north of Kislev survive only by obedience to the four. I will not say their names, lest it attract their eyes to us. Here, I will write them, and then burn the paper."  

The four gods of chaos are:

Khorne, the bloody, god of rage and slaughter. 
Slaanesh, the tempter, god of obsession and suffering. 
Nurgle, the fetid, god of disease and decay. 
Tzeentch, the plotter, god of treachery and madness. 

"Each of these powers is fundamentally hostile to all life, and we must work in every deed to ensure we are ready to stand against their invasions and depredations. We were lucky this time, - what attacked us were mere mortals, with not a single demon or spellcaster. Next time, the only thing that may remain of us is a rider sent to warn the next village. If it were a true great invasion, the sort launched every few centuries with an Everchosen - one of the favoured servants of the chaos gods, granted the right to lead an army of warriors and demons - at it's head, we would not stand a chance. Against such a thing, only all the forces of the old world united could stand. Pray to Ursun that we do not see such a thing in our lifetimes."

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The Acolyte is beginning to get a sense of why his guiding torch may have lead him to this far-away place. Not to bring him to some knowledge only this place holds, or at least not only that, but to also test his Knowlegde, to give him the chance to put it to use. And, perhaps, to share it with this guardian people.

"It is good that I have come, I think. I believe there is much I can do to help."

If they're still cleaning up the battlefield, he can go back to helping with that, particularly since it is partly his mess. After that, though, he will avail his services to the leader of these people.

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They greatly appreciate his contributions to the corpse cleanup. It's cold, hard, work, but they get everything done by nightfall. He will be invited into one of the larger houses, where a sheep has been slaughtered and set to roast in celebration. There is Kvass, Kumis, and Vodka to drink, and every luxury of a tiny rural town has been brought out to relieve the ills of the defenders. Everyone speaks very well of the Acolyte's bravery and power in saving them from the marauders (who are apparently, specifically of the Varg tribe of Norscans, and considered particularly awful for having once been of a blood with the Gospodars (the people of this village, though not the only people of Kislev) before betraying them to Chaos, though this was a millennia or more ago). 

The leader of these people, when not commanding them in battle, is little more than a well-respected headman.

"It pains me to say it, but I think one of your power would be wasted in our little village. You are destined for greater things than mere survival. If you wish to stay for a few months, we can hold your funeral and send you to the boyar with the young men to see battle in the spring, or if you do not wish to linger, I could send you to see Baba Pogodarastet with someone to vouch for you, she's the one who normally handles strange happenings and spirits and so forth. She'd know where you're useful better than I do." 

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The Acolyte happily partakes of the feasting, though with moderation, as a clear mind is the greatest tool of a knowledge-seeker. If he finds the time, he'll do his best to impart the seeds of his knowledge in any who will listen. He doubts many will take root, especially given the alcohol available, but it's always best to try and spread it whenever he can.

When he hears the headman's words, he nods solemnly. "I expect that visiting this Baba Pogodarastet would be the wisest course of action. I thank you for your warm welcome of this stranger, and I hope that your arrows slay any Vargov who meet you."

After that, presumably they take some time to find one who will join him on the journey, and then they will be off.

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There is ten minutes of bickering among the teenage boys of the village as to who would be the most suitable guide, and then another ten minutes of bickering amongst their fathers as to who should supply the loaned horses for the endeavour, but eventually things are settled, and they are to set off in the morning, armed with two horses of good health but no particular breeding, bows, axes, directions through the woods, and a large crock each of pickled beets and of lamb preserved in rendered fat to give to Baba Pogodarastet for her trouble. 

The journey takes most of the day, even on horseback, and occasionally they have to gallop to keep ahead of something lurking in the woods (on time, a pair of glowing eyes leering from the shadows in the bushes, another time, a pair of beastmen with small sheep-horns and long spears that scream incomprehensible profanities and throw javelins at the travellers as they pass). 

Eventually, the forest grows quiet, hallowed, not quite tame, but less something fundamentally hostile to human life. Blessed might be the right word, but blessed by what, exactly?  

"We're nearly at the hag's place." mutters the teenager quietly. He's clearly nearly as nervous about talking to her as he was about outriding the monsters that he passed. 

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It's fortunate the Acolyte is quite capable of reaching his knowledge even on horseback. The beastmen's missiles were no real threat consequently.

He's weaker in his knowledge of Determination, but the inklings he has can still feel the change in metaphysical texture. He nods to the youth. "Yes, that sounds right. Try to be at ease, even if things go awry I will not let you come to harm."

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The teenager nods and grits his teeth, and then, after a few more minutes, they arrive.

Baba Pogodarastet lives in a small cottage with a garden in a clearing in the woods. It would be almost picturesque, until you remember what else lives in these woods. 

The hag herself is sitting in a rocking-chair on her porch, idlily pretending to be knitting rather than waiting for her visitors to arrive. When they do, she speaks. 

"Ah, you're finally here. Took you long enough."  

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It seems he is expected. The Acolyte dismounts and bows to the woman. "My apologies if my lateness has caused you any issue. I assume then that you are Baba Pogodarastet who I have come to meet?"

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"That I am! Now, then, explain to me what business a stranger like you has around here. The spirits tell me whats, but they're pretty shaky on whys, and you've got them all riled up well and good." 

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"I must admit this is speculation, but I believe I've been lead to this land to aid in the battle against chaos. More generally, I am on a quest for knowledge, especially knowledge of my principle, Fire."

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"Hmph. Well, that doesn't sound like a conversation to have out on the porch. Come in, I'll put on some tea." 

She gets up and hobbles over to her samovar, which she heats by berating a small heat-spirit bound into it until it begins to give off heat, and begins to brew tea. With it brewing, she sits down in a large chair next to the sideboard with the tea, sugar, jam, and biscuits. She directs the teenager to put the crocks of food in the kitchen, and then the both of you to sit opposite to her in less well appointed but still. Eventually, there is tea, sweet and strong and hot. 

"So. The Ruinous powers. What manner of madman are you, to think you have a special capacity to fight them." 

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Mm, delicious tea. Always good to have some tea. "At the moment, I doubt I am much more capable than any other veteran mage. However, thus far I've encountered no evidence of knowledge of Fire, or of any of the principles, aside from the subtle hints of their existence which suffuse everything. While I know little of the specifics of these ruinous powers, or of your own magical traditions, I have reason to suspect that combining them with my own understanding of Fire may produce remarkable results." He takes another couple sips of tea. "I'm also capable of teaching what I know of my principle to others, with time at least, even if I am no echoic tutor, and that may likewise prove useful on a larger scale than my own personal capabilities."

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"Magic ain't safe or friendly, you know. It's only barely not a thing of the ruinous powers. Tell me more about this fire - I assume you don't mean the burning stuff we use to keep our houses warm, you'd certainly have see enough evidence of that around the place."

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"Indeed, the combustion of flammable materials is only an echo of an echo of the principle. Would you care for demonstration? Something you would not mind being cut in half might serve, or perhaps I might purify some of this tea back into water?"

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