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Sep 27, 2022 7:22 PM
An Acolyte of Fire lands in Kislev
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The interior of the temple is the same cramped dark stone of it's exterior; the Architect of Fate is sealed inside a case of lead and obsidian, presumably made for just such a purpose, and then spirited away into another part of the building. The Acolyte will be taken to a small but clearly well-used library, where a few windows, possibly the only ones in the building, illuminate over-full shelves and crowded reading desks. One templar will take The Gods and start paging carefully through it, while the guard who initially talked to The Acolyte will stay with him. 

"I suspect you will have many questions. We are happy to inform you about the details of what will happen to the books, along with ways you can obtain your repayment from us, as well as anything else you would like to know." 

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Huh, obsidian again, like the vault. He's seen lead used to shield against some lesser magics, and even certain expressions of Light, back home, but not obsidian.

The Acolyte certainly does have questions! He'll ask about what will be done with the books and about repayment as suggested, since it would certainly be nice to have some fruits of that morning's excursion, especially if it can be in kind, as well as about the obsidian, it's sourcing and it's properties, and also if there's anything more he might do for the order while he's in Praag, since he had a suspicion his and their principles might have some alignment.

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The books will be sealed and then transported south to a library with the defences needed to keep them safe and secure in the face of both those who would misuse them and those who would see them destroyed - probably such a library in the Empire, run by another order, but if needs be to their primary chapterhouse in Tilea; the precise arrangements of this transport are secret for operational security reasons. Repayment can be in a relatively modest amount of cash now, or in a promissory note that can be redeemed at a larger temple to the south for a larger sum, or in equivalently difficult favours; access to non-heretical books, for example, or the support of a squad of templars on an expedition to find more lost books. 

Obsidian is magically null; magic cannot influence it, or move through it, and it's a major material for most wards which protect against magic in some way. It's rare and expensive, though - the local supply is obtained with some frustration from Norsca, where there are a few suitable volcanos and it washes ashore on the northern coast. The templar doesn't like to think about what the merchant who bought it from them must have traded for it, but the alternative would be importing it from the southern badlands or worse places, so they'll be grateful for what tools they have. 

Praag has many many problems, and he is correct that this order is well-aligned with him, if he's aligned with the goals of "Serving the goddess of justice, law, knowledge, and science, specifically by retrieving books and other media from those who would misuse them". Unfortunately, few of those problems can be solved by one person. If he wants to go hunt necromancers or cultists, there are a few known to be around the place, and taking them (and their tomes of forbidden lore) out of circulation would be much appreciated, but this order has few resources and chooses to spend them on their specialisation, trusting others to handle the other problems. 

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He's pleased to know they're not book-burners, and he'll definitely take his reward in the form of access to approved books, especially anything about the local magics and, if possible, about dhar and how to get rid of it.

He's pretty sure that he cut through obsidian to open the vault back in the spire, but that's just another piece of evidence for the growing pile that his knowledge is simply something utterly different from the locals' traditions.

That does sound like work he might be well-suited for, though it wiffs just a bit too much of mercenary work to be especially interesting to him at the moment.

These people seem reasonable about their caution with knowledge, rather than simply superstitious, so he'll ask if they might be interested in having him explain his own magic for documentation and security purposes, or if there are any other orders or organizations in the city who might be interested.

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They will write him a letter of introduction which will get him places at any temple of Verena on the continent. Probably. Some orders are more secretive than others, and many of them relate to her role as the goddess of justice rather than her role as goddess of knowledge.

It's not even really mercenary work, it's just a list of assholes who're actively making the problems they have worse. 

They would be very interested in whatever documentation of his magic he'd like to provide! Unfortunately, most magic-users are pretty secretive about how they do magic, for various reasons - he can have what this chapterhouse has on the subject, but it's mostly how-to-fight-them tomes written by the foes of the magic users, with only a few books by the magic-users themselves, and certainly nothing like a how-to guide. 

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Well, he'll see if he can talk some sense in any of these assholes who encounters, and will certainly defend himself if they attack or do something abhorrent in his presence, and he'll let these Verenaites know if such a thing comes to pass.

Oh man, the floodgates are ready to open. He doesn't have any written works on him, but the Acolyte is more than happy to expound at length verbally or to transcribe his knowledge here and now, if they like.

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They have people who can write in shorthand and keep pace with speech; it comes up in work like theirs, sometimes. They will happily record as much as he cares to say about the matter, with a particular focus on asking how to counter such magic, and asking what sorts of problems a student of his arts might experience - what ways it might warp you, what drawbacks or prices are involved. 

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He makes sure to give at least a little bit of a spiel about the philosophy of knowledge and of Fire, and about how to push towards the initial insight of Flames, of Power, and of Determination, but he'll acquiesce to their particular interests and describe what he knows of combating other acolytes (disrupting their concentration, interfering with their senses, even rarely directly struggling against them in the sort of skewed perspective which knowledge reaches through to realize itself), about the risks for neophytes (primarily things like getting overeager with the knowledge they have and using it unwisely, though there are also risks of reinstantiating injuries or traumas that played a part in the neophyte's insight, during the phase in which they are working to generalize the past into portable model rather than discrete and fixed events), and the ways in which the mind changes and grows to accommodate expansive knowledge over time, extending the mind beyond the physical brain and ethereal soul. It's an enlivening, almost religious experience for the Acolyte personally, and it's presence has influenced the path of his life greatly, but he also has known other knowledge-seekers who have a much more pedestrian experience of the knowledge. It requires dedication and time and more than a little luck to find your insight and to advance your knowledge, and like anything which requires such devotion it can leave you with little time or energy for other pursuits, but otherwise it has no costs that he is aware of.

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They will take their records, and also what the Acolyte has to say about learning the magic. None of them will try to learn it - after this has been transcribed and moved to a secondary location for safekeeping, a volunteer might try, with the understanding that they'll be killed if anything goes wrong in order to preserve their soul in Morr's Garden, but for now, they wish to remain clean of alien magical influences as much as possible.

Well, it's Praag.

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Yeah, he supposes he maybe got ahead of himself. His thoughts briefly turn to Klomm, wondering how he's doing, but he thinks better of mentioning him to these folks.

With the dictation taken, he'll ask to peruse the library they have here, looking for books that might be relevant to his quest to cleanse the tainted skull, and if he can find some and this is a permitted place to read (and also a reasonably quiet, peaceful one), he'll go ahead and sit down to study.

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Dhar is a restricted subject, for the most part, since the vast majority of people interested in it are interested in it to wield it; the closet he can get is a description (by a wealthy urban Gospodar who thinks very little of the Ungols he's writing about) of traditional hag witch cleansing rituals as part of a monograph on the culture of south-eastern Kislev. These rituals are difficult, complex, and ambiguously effective - classically they involve washing the person in horses blood, keeping them isolated in ritual sites for weeks or months on end, and drinking a spectacular amount of bear's urine. The locals swear by them, and anyone who was outside during Hexensnacht (excepting Priests of Morr, who have their own protections) or who was subject to a necromancer or chaos sorcerer's magic is obliged to undergo them before they can be allowed to return to the community, but the writer clearly thinks they're a load of bunk. 

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Well, that's unfortunate. You can never tell how much distortion a disdainful author like this sprinkles (or drenches) their work with. He'll at least see what else this chapterhouse has on Ungol magic and see if he can puzzle out the meaning of of the horse blood and bear's urine, or any histories of the relevant ritual sites, if he can find documents of either. If all else fails, any sorts of primers on the winds may be helpful, especially how dhar comes to exist in the first place.

He'll check any other libraries he can find in Praag, but given the distrust of magic here he doesn't expect anything that's open to the public will have a great amount of detail. If he's got daylight left by the time he's exhausted his reading resources, he'll try and find a good place to meditate on the tainted skull to try and directly advance his understanding of it.

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There aren't any other good libraries, only dubious booksellers and this, unfortunately. There are some other sources on Ungol magic - it seems like this is the source of the Hag Witches, of which he's met one before. Hag witches deal and barter with lesser spirits, paying terrible prices and making strange sacrifices to appease or bind them to service. The most common such price is premature aging - hags get old fast, and stay old forever, it is said. The Ancient Widow, goddess of the land of Kislev, has been known to grant talent and skill at this magic to widows who have no other purpose in life after the loss of their family, but the magic is also learned by others with the talent (it's taken as given that boys with magical talent will be killed or shipped south, never to return). Sacred Sites are often so because they are guarded or watched over or inhabited by the spirits which Hags deal with. As to the specific materials: Horses are central and vital to every aspect of Ungol life; sacrificing one is one of the most expensive and symbolic potent sacrifices available to an Ungol of no particular wealth or status (even if the blood is often drawn with non-lethal methods). Bear Urine would most likely relate to Ursun in some way - Ursun being the god of bears and the chief of the gods of the Kislevite pantheon.

The Acolyte can also learn that Dhar is created by combination or corruption of the other 8 winds of magic, and find a brief summary of each of the 8 winds. (Ashqy, the bright wind of fire and passion, Azyr, the sapphire wind of intellect and the heavens, Chamon, the gold wind of metal and logic, Ghur, the brown wind of animals and instinct, Ghyran, the emerald wind of growth and green things, Hysh, the white wind of light and faith, Shyish, the amethyst wind of death and fear, and Ulgu, the grey wind of confusion and shadows.) 

A good place to meditate on a dhar-tainted object would be somewhere not in a city so ambiently tainted, but the Acolyte can find a place where he won't be disturbed, which is not more tainted than the rest of the city. 

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Spirits. Spiritual magics are always utter messes in the Acolyte's experience, and not something any of his knowledge is tuned to help enable. It's something to remember, but he doubts it would be any more facile than simply grinding away at the problem through meditation, which what he is indeed going to do.

(Hey, he remembers the astrologer mentioning something about that second one! Neat.)

The fact that dhar is itself a mixture interests the Acolyte, and once he's figured out how to isolate the stuff he's definitely going to investigate how close the parallel with separating alchemical compounds really is.

He's not sure how easy it would be to get back into the city, as nice as it would be to have less background texture to push through, so this little spot will suffice. First he gets something to eat with whatever members of the caravan are still in town since yesterday, though. Once he's got a bit of food in him, he'll sit and start prodding the tainted skull with his knowledge. He thinks that Flames will ultimately be what lets him excise the taint, but for now it's Determination that gives him the strongest sense for the stuff, and thus the tool which he wields. What does dhar mean to a soul?

He's considered the skull with Determination somewhat already, on his way to Praag, but ironically enough the relative abundance of it here might actually make figuring out more about its nature somewhat easier, even if it makes the skull itself somewhat more difficult to perceive.

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Dhar is of the soul or soulstuff, in the same sense that venom is organic in nature, or that breathing coal smog is breathing in the remains of other life. Beyond that - it's energetic, mutagenic, toxic. When it comes to soulstuff, what it touches, it changes, degrades, corrupts. But it's also powerful. Active. It clings to itself, forming blobs and threads. It creeps and grows. It's not hard to see how this could be a power source, for one who didn't know or care about the consequences of such power. 

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Invasive, corruptive, cohesive. It's got properties, not exactly substance unto itself but seemingly pretty close. The Acolyte's confidence in his ability to remove it eventually grows. For now, his experimentation begins with attempting to find a place between Determination and Flames, to find where the soul of the skull might be, to find the dividing line between it and the dhar which has soaked into it, and the pull them apart.

It's unlikely that he'll get there today, and once it starts getting dark out he'll head back to the inn and socialize a bit more with the caravaners and other travelers, but after getting some sleep and some food the following morning, he'll get right back to testing and experimenting on dhar with his knowledge, maybe on the environmental dhar here in Praag rather than specifically the skull, but keeping at it, for the next day, and the one after that, and so on, until he's uncovered the connections he needs to craft the web of understanding with which to catch the secret (and possibly advanced his knowledge of Determination and Flames along the way).

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A week passes, and some slow progress is made. The caravan he arrived with leaves to Kislev City in the south. Another week, and eventually, the Acolyte will achieve his goal. The Dhar is expelled from the skull, reducing it to ash in a burst of black-coloured flame. The dhar dissipates into the environment, leaving pure ash behind. Well, pure, until the ambient corruption of Praag settles over it once more. 

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Right, that's a bit of an issue, though hopefully less of one outside of Praag.

Also, early in that second week, the Acolyte is forced to decide whether he wants to leave the city on his own to hunt for food in the wilderness, or start actually working for some form of remuneration, despite the time that will take from his research...unless he can find some place that offers food for free? That seems like it's worth at least a quick search around the city.

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Asking about for such things, gets you directed, with pity or derision, to the Salyak's Arms, a massive dark-stone building in the west side of the city that was once, in better times, a great inn, and, in the current day, is a hospital, orphanage, flophouse, and court, in the name of the goddess Salyak. It is horrifically overcrowded with the sick, the wounded, the young, and the destitute, directed and tended to by a bevy of harried-looking and overworked priests and priestesses in white robes. 

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Okay, he can keep that in mind. He's not especially worried about catching ill, like the cold his protective flames generally keep it out, but it still sounds a bit uncomfortable and probably the staff would rather not have another mouth to feed. Maybe he can come back to help them out instead, once he's got his new situation settled. For now, he'll expand his search a bit to places that seem like he can pay for a meal with something other than hard currency.

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People don't seem to be interested in extending kindness or trust in this city, for the most part, so finding a place to stay where he can work for them, is hard for him. Eventually, someone tells him, as a way of telling him to fuck off, that he should go get a job at the docks if he wants to work. 

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Yeah, fair enough.

Actually, that probably isn't a bad idea. He will in fact go to the city's riverdocks and see if anybody's paying for day labor.

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The Praag riverfront is not exactly the most thriving of docklands in the Old World, but it's got enough trade to matter, and Praag has a shortage of strong, healthy, workers. He can find someone who'll pay for a days work from someone who can work hard and who isn't sick. 

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The Acolyte can definitely work hard and is definitely not sick, probably more so than most people in the city at the moment. It's a bit frustrating that this is going to eat into his research time, but he needs to eat into some food, eventually, so it'll have to do.

Day labor! As long as the paymaster for the job doesn't cheat him, he hopefully has enough money to buy at least a modest dinner somewhere, and ideally have some money left afterwards for breakfast and dinner tomorrow.

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The paymaster does not cheat him, and in fact, says he's encouraged to work here any time! He will be able to eat a hearty but cheap meal, of dark bread and sausage and pickles with plenty of kvass, and afford a breakfast of porridge with cream and two slices of sugar-beet, with plenty of tea, and then the same the next day, if he's not worried about finding somewhere to sleep. 

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