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Generated: Sep 17, 2022 2:01 AM
Post last updated: Sep 17, 2022 2:01 AM
Fire Knows Fire
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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"I've always got logs outside which need chopping."

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In that case, the Acolyte will finish his tea before heading out, following the witch to her logs if their location isn't obvious. Once the logs are found, he'll grasp his staff again, call up the rending thoughts, focus, and neatly divide all the logs into easily carry-able quarters or sixths, without disturbing the pile and causing it to tumble apart.

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Pogodarastet will follow him out, leaning heavily on her own walking stick for far more mundane reasons.

"Well, that's not something you see every day. Hardly a disturbance in the winds at all. Less than there'd be if I chopped those logs the hard way, I think. Let's get back inside before our noses freeze off, and then I think I have a lot of questions for you." 

"Firstly, how sure are you this Fire of yours isn't a god? That didn't look like any miracle I've ever seen, but gods can be mighty strange when they care to be."  

"Secondly, you suggested purifying tea as a test of your power? What sorts of things can you purify?" 

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Back inside, and possibly another cup of tea if there's more in the fancy kettle. "I am not perfectly certain, I have at times felt as if I have been guided by some force or intelligence, never more so than in the rushing transposition which brought me to this land. It is exceedingly mysterious though, even more so than the knowledge which it has lead to me to and which is the source of my magic. This guide may be Fire itself, but and I believe it may be a manifestation of it some way, but I have no hard evidence for this. As for the purification, it is an application of the same ability that I used to the cut logs, and which I used to shield myself from the cold. It is a separation of substances, such as the remains of the tea leaves from the water in which they steeped, or the grains of wood from their neighbors. I can also separate smoke into ashes and clean air, or air into its gaseous fractions."

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"Hmm. That's concerning. Gods that won't show their faces are not usually good friendly gods that want to give you presents."  

"Can you separate mystical or metaphysical substances?" 

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"I've certainly seen some instances of that. I understand if Fire or my guiding torch seem suspicious at first blush, I have no way to communicate the full extent of the trust which they have earned over many years of knowledge-seeking. And, I have some experience with separating a couple of common alchemical concoctions, or at least common where I came from, and I believe I could learn to do more with time to research local substances of a similar nature, but at the moment I doubt I could do much."

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"Hmm. Well, then. I have an exercise for you, and a warning." She will go rummage through cupboards until she finds a large horn, not entirely unlike to one of a goat or sheep, but much larger. It radiates ... menace, or corruption, or some other force like that. 
"Here. This is Dhar-tainted." The teenager flinches away from it, at that. 
"If your purification magic can remove the Dhar from that, you will be of tremendous, irreplaceable value to the people of Kislev. The taint of Dhar is the curse of the chaos gods and even the waystone network of the ancients can do nothing more than send it back to where it came from."
"Secondly, your warning. You, boy, should leave for this. Go fetch me a hundred pinecones." He will jump to do so, thankful for a reason to get out of the room, even if it does mean rooting through the snow for old pinecones. 
Pogodarastet will turn her focus back to the Acolyte, staring at him with great intentness. 
"You have to understand - Chaos is not just a hostile power, it's a moral hazard. One that I know better than almost anyone in the world. The dark powers aren't just the malevolent forces that we declare them to be. They are ruinous, and they destroy everything they touch and will bring you nothing but pain in the long run, but they do offer great rewards to their followers. There's a reason they still have them, after all. They will, if you let them, try to bargain with you. No good, and a great deal of evil, will come of these bargains, and any step towards chaos will leave you less sane and less able to resist the temptation of the step afterwards, no matter how harmless the deal they offer might seem, or how great the rewards might seem. And those rewards are always tainted. The plague-ridden one will offer immortality, but it is the immortality of eternal rot and sores, for his compassion is for the blight that kills you as much as it is for you; the lustful one will offer you pleasures beyond your wildest dreams, but they will leave you jaded and then fade to pain; the bloody one will offer martial power or a chance for vengeance, at the cost of your sanity and the lives of the ones you love. The tricky one ... you will be most tempted, and it is most vital you resist. He will offer knowledge, insight beyond mortal understanding. It will break you, mislead you, turn you against yourself. You will destroy everything you ever cared for and it will seem like it was the right decision."  
"I tell you this because I know someone like you will be tempted, and so do the dark powers. You will need to be strong of will and pure of heart to resist the temptation to write your own doom in pacts of blood and dhar. And if your powers are as great as you think they are, the doom of the world with you." 
She sighs. It makes her look old, older even than she normally does. As old as the hills, or the forest. 
"I pray I have not made a mistake by not killing you where you stand." 

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The Acolyte holds the tained horn and considers it and Pogodarastet's warning for a long moment. His guide has only ever shown him the way to where knowledge could be found, never simply given it to him, and never bargained. He can only hope that is a good sign. "I will do my best to ensure you don't regret it." He looks at the horn again, attempting to focus the thoughts of protection and purification on the horn's strange and malevolent metaphysical texture and failing to find purchase, as he expected. Looking back to the witch he asks, "Shall I be taking this then?"

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"Yes, yes. I should have no need of any of the things I could use it for, its owner is quite thoroughly dead, thank Morr, so it's mostly just a bit of clutter filling up my house."  

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Morr, another name to hold on to. The Acolyte nods, ties the horn to his back with his sash, and bows deeply. "Thank you for the knowledge you've given me. I can't help but imagine that you have spared me a terrible fate. Hopefully, I will one day spare you of one as well. They unfortunately do not seem rare in these parts. I am to be off then, I assume, but if I can ask for one more thing, do you know where it would be best for me to go next? I know the gospodara headman who sent me here also mentioned a boyar whose army might have use of me, but I don't actually know the way."

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"Oh the local boyar is ... well, he's not bad, as these things go, but he's much more interested in the glory and the joy of the hunt and all that than he is in rebuilding Kislev. His grandfather got the job under old Tsar Pavel, replacing one of the vampires he ousted. I guess if you wish to join Tsar Vladimir on his campaigns, there would be worse people to sign up with. But for my money, your best bet would be to head south to Praag. The Cursed City. If there's anything productive for you to do, it would be there. Especially if you *can* manage purification of dhar. Perhaps you will be the first to survive whatever is inside the Fire Spire and retrieve whatever lost knowledge is inside." 

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Oh man, there's something called 'the Fire Spire' and it's got lost knowledge inside? He nods again. "I believe I will set my sets upon Praag, yes. Thank you again." He turns to leave, though before he does he turns back. "Should I wait for the boy who lead me here? I'm not sure whether I'm responsible for him, and I don't want to leave the burden of handling a young man on your shoulders without at least asking first."

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"A much more mundane word of warning: They don't much like magic in Praag. For very good reasons, but nonetheless inconvenient. They like hags a little better than others. If I give you a token of ... purity, I guess, then they'll be a little less likely to try and have you killed as a witch and a sorcerer. Probably. I try not to go near the place myself, the land is ... bad. And you know how people are."  

She returns to rummaging through her cupboards, eventually pulling out an amulet of bone and feathers. 

"Yes, yes. this will do, I think." She concentrates, and says some words over it. The light in the room flickers unnaturally, then returns to normal. 

"And it'll even make you a bit luckier, too." She hands it over. 

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He can feel the texture of the amulet sharpen a little, and can only assume it's in response to Pogodarastet's investment, especially as he hangs it on his neck. "I thank you a third time, and feel I am rapidly becoming indebted to you. I am to Praag now." And indeed he actually leaves this time. If he spots the boy he'll tell him where he's going, but otherwise he'll just orient himself with the sky and just go ahead and start walking south.

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The boy is digging through a snow-bank within line of sight of the house with little success, and will continue to do so until he has completed his hag-appointed task. The Acolyte can easily confirm with him that he will return the horses to their owner and so forth. 

The wilds of Kislev are not friendly to human life. Over a week or more of walking, the Acolyte is frequently slowed by the difficulties of obtaining food and fresh drinking water, but it is nothing his magic and skills cannot ultimately handle. Slightly more troublesome is the constant slew of threats to his life that the forest produces - a giant spider, lurking beneath the snow, a gang of short green-skinned humanoids of with spears, and trio of beastmen. Still, nothing which his skills cannot handle. The most interesting encounter happens later, when he's finally progressed from goat-tracks to real trails, he hears a deep voice shout: 

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"Yer money or yer life!"  

The voice belongs to a 12ft tall, approximately humanoid figure, it's green-grey skin covered with improvised armour rigged together from a mix of furniture and armour intended for human-scale figures, wielding an crude iron mace of tremendous size, who has stepped out in front of the Acolyte. 

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The journey has definitely been slower and bloodier than an equivalent trek back home would have been, and the violence definitely cuts into time he otherwise would have liked to spend studying the tainted skull and how to cleanse it. Someone who talks rather than just screams and attacks is nice change of pace, even if he's technically still being threatened.

The Acolyte quickly pats the various pockets of his clothes, just in case someone reverse-pickpocketed some money onto him when he wasn't looking, and as expected finds no currency. "Sorry my good fellow, I don't actually have any money to give. I don't suppose you'll accept a favor or service instead?"

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The troll tilts his head for a moment as he parses that.

"Ah! Serve! Yes, you serve!" 

His Gospodarinyi is not very good. He doesn't switch the case endings properly.

 

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The Acolyte bows in mock-deference. "I am at your service, then. What would you like me to do, to pay for my passage?"

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He thinks for a moment.

"Come with me. Fix. Make food?" 

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He nods, "I can hunt and cook, and I can certainly try and fix something broken, though I can't promise I'll succeed." With that, if the troll leads, the Acolyte will follow.

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The troll will lead him via a goat-track to a hollow in the woods, relatively sheltered from the elements, where the troll has made a camp! It's a very simple camp - a lean-to scaled to troll size, made from tree-branches, with a pile of dried greenery for a bed. There isn't a camp-fire, or a sign of one ever having been used. There are several chests, all with broken lids or locks. One contains coinage (not very much, and in low denominations, for the most part), the others contain a variety of objects - various possessions, many broken. There is a setup for butchering wild animals, with half a goat currently suspended from it. 

"Home! Make food now?" 

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"Right, goat it is! And, if you're uncomfortable with fire, you might want to keep clear. It's a bit more effort, but cooking is worth it."

Then, the Acolyte will begin building a basic fire-pit, well away from the evidently skittish troll but not out of eyeshot. It's quicker with Flames and Power than without, but it still takes a bit of time. Being able to expel the moisture out of fallen wood and leaves definitely helps, though. When he finally sparks the fire, he makes sure to watch his host and is ready to put the flame out of it causes him too much distress, but assuming the troll can remain calm, the Acolyte will then strip, clean, cut, and roast the remains of the goat carcass over the fire. If all goes well, he'll snuff out the fire once the roasts are done (but not too done!) and offer them to the troll.

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The troll will require a little convincing that starting a fire is a good idea, and will stay well away from it, obviously highly concerned by it. 

The supply of roast meat the fire produces is, however, highly appreciated. The troll will wax eloquent on the virtues of the food (in a language the Acolyte doesn't understand). 

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He will have to try and learn it some time! Even if he doesn't know exactly he's saying it's good to know his work is appreciated. "Alright! Now, what did you want me to try and fix?"

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It seems the troll has a habit of carefully storing away every broken manufactured good he's ever owned - the camp has a couple boxes full of blunt and rusted knives, broken chainmail, buckets with holes in them, threadbare blankets, and broken wooden cutlery.

"This stuff." He will show the acolyte to the boxes. 

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Well, some of this is definitely more within the Acolyte's wheelhouse than others. First, the knives, which he wields knowledge of Flames to expertly clean and sharpen, basically good as new. For the buckets, he can cut some plugs from nearby trees and force them into the holes while holding the rest of the bucket tight. It's not perfect, and long-term it will probably cause the wood to split further, but they should be usable for now. After that, though, he's lost most of his utility. with his final task being to carve some simple knitting needs from spare wood and attempting to knit the blankets together into something bigger and less hole-y that might be of some use to the big guy. For the broken woodware, the best he can do is make replacements, and there really isn't anything he do to fix the chainmail unfortunately. Probably it's significantly later in the day by the time that's all said and done.

"I think that's all I can do for this. I hope my service has been satisfactory?"

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"Ah! You are hag!" Exclaims the troll at the sight of magic being used. "Mother was hag." He says, by way of an attempt to make conversation. 

The troll is very pleased by the Acolyte's service! "Yes! Very good server!" 

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Hm. Mother was a hag, eh? "A hag sent me down this way, a human one, though I don't know if she expected us to meet. If your mother was a hag, maybe you have a bit of talent. Would you like me to try and teach you a bit of the magic I used?"

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"Don't see winds, Mother checked. Hag rare and ... expensive? No, wrong word. Valuable? Don't know human hags."

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The Acolyte nods some more. "I don't see the...winds, either. My magic is different, though, it's hard to learn in its own way.."

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"How is different? How is learned?" 

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"I'm still learning all the ways it's different. My magic is knowledge, thoughts, that you can think to make things happens, or to change how they happen. As for how it's learned, let me try and show you..."

The Acolyte will recall how he himself first learned knowledge, how it was both the culmination of many long mercenary campaigns as well as sudden epiphany which came to him on the battlefield. In the present he has a deeper and broader understanding of Flames, of division, though, and it's what he used to clean and sharpen the knives and cut the wood. He guides the troll through imagining all the times he's seen or heard or felt things being cut or separated or divided or anything like that, and provides examples via his own knowledge of Flames, as well as attempting to describe the sort of sublime moment when all these facts, this information, clicks, and becomes knowledge, becomes real, and how once you know it, you can find it in your mind, retrace the steps, and bring it out into the physical world.

It's a lot to take in, especially with the language barrier and doubly so if the troll isn't used to this kind of intellectual gymnastics. But, there's always a chance that he can figure it out. If he does, it will start small, but it will be real.

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The troll does his best! He understands how powerful magic can be and is eager to learn. They study together for the rest of the day, and the rest of the night, and then into the dawn. The troll mindset towards injury and fire is certainly strange - fire is a danger, the only thing that stops the regeneration they apparently have, but that regeneration makes injuries, especially things like clean cuts, generally a non-issue to the troll, something he can take many of in a battle and still emerge hale and hearty. The Acolyte can even learn a thing or two himself, having to reframe his Knowledge for that mindset, and produce definitions for words he normally takes for granted.  

And then, eventually, in the dawn, the troll gets it. A single moment of clear insight, the memory of a cut taken in a past battle, and he slices open his own hand. And then is extremely concerned, since the wound is healing slower than he expected it would. Not failing to heal at all, though, so it's probably fine. After a few more tries, he manages to externalise that same cut into a piece of wood instead, leaving a long score into it, less than even a single axe-stroke. Still! Magic! 

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Magic! By the good in men's hearts the Acolyte knows no joy that is quite as sweet as raising a pupil up into magic. "Wonderful, wonderful! This is cause for celebration!" He has no idea what sort of celebratory traditions trolls have, but he does know food is always good, especially since he barely ate yesterday. Perhaps the two shall make for a remarkably strange hunting party?

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Food is indeed the basis of any good celebration! Of they go to hunt, and hopefully it does not take so long that success at the hunt needs to be it's own separate celebration! 

(It does not; a deer can be found and magically dispatched in good order, and they can have roast venison!) 

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Delicious! Boy does eating your fill of roast meat after not eating for almost a whole day of relatively strenuous work feel good. Once their celebration is complete, the Acolyte will clean himself roughly, and speaks to the troll before he goes. "You are a fine student. Before I take my leave, I'd like to know your name, if you have one. I do not, but I am known as the Acolyte of Fire."

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"My name is Klomm. You are good. Meet again?" 

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"I hope to find you again, once I've completed my current quest. I don't know how long it'll be, though. I am headed to Praag to challenge the Fire Spire there, so if you have need to call on me, go to wherever you spend your coin and pay to send a messenger to there, tell them it is for the Acolyte of Fire, and tell them where I should meet you. If nothing runs afoul and I receive that message, I will make haste to wherever you've decided to meet."

As the Acolyte does a final look around the camp before leaving, he notices the knives from earlier. "One more piece of advice. As you practice your magic, you probably won't be needing those knives for much longer, since you'll be able to cut with magic instead. You might be able to trade them for coin or other tools once you get to that point."

After that, barring further interruptions, he will find the proper trail he encountered Klomm on, and then onwards, south and towards Praag.

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The Acolyte continues on his journey! After just a day or two (and only one encounter with a forest-monster that wanted to eat him, this time a snow leopard), the forest starts to thin out, and he finds himself on the steppe. Another half-day of walking, and he finds himself on a road, running from the north-east to the south-west. 

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Roads! Amazing what a week of hiking through the rough will do to a man's opinion of roads. This isn't the first time that he's returned to civilization after a stay in the wilderness but you never really get used to it.

Praag is allegedly south, so he'll go ahead and take the road south-west. He's faster than a man ought to be on his feet, especially now that he's on flat ground, so it's possible he might catch up to a carriage or cart ahead of him, particularly if they happen to be stopped or taking it slow.

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After a day of thusly walking, the Acolyte finds himself catching up with a set of caravans moving slowly down the road, flanked on either side by a force of men with long-guns and halberds. When they notice his approach, these guns will be pointed in his general direction, and after a word in a tongue that is not the local tongue, someone will move towards him and shout "Who are you and what is your business on this road?" 

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He quickly comes to a stop and raises his hands in a placating gesture. "I am the Acolyte of Fire, and I am traveling to Praag to challenge the Fire Spire which I've heard tell stands there."

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The person who shouted will translate this into Cathayan, and then translate back the reply - "The Caravan master has heard of the Fire Spire! We are also traveling to Praag. He wishes to consult with his astrologer." 

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It's good to hear that the stars of this strange land are as gossipy as those back home. "I will await your caravan master's decision," he replies, lowering his hands and leaning on his staff.

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After ten minutes, a nervous-looking man with arms full of star-charts will report to the caravan master. After a few layers of transmission of information, the translator will report. "Apparently, you're good news. The caravan master has invited you to dine with him tonight when we make camp!" 

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"Excellent!" He'll go ahead and join up with the caravan then. There's maybe another hour or few of light in the day before they make camp, and during that time the Acolyte will happily chat with anyone who speaks Gospodarinyi or tolerates his just-functional Cathayan, about himself, about his journey, about Knowledge especially of Fire, as well as about where this caravan is from, what it's carrying, other news, that sort of thing.

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People are happy to talk as they walk about a variety of matters, though the caravaners are reluctant to discuss their cargo in any but the most general terms - spices, porcelain, tea, and unspecified other things, but everyone is happy to talk about thier own stories. Some of the people here are Kislevites, locals hired as guides or people from Praag or Erengrad who signed on with the caravan when it was last here, doing a round trip for rich pay, while the core and many of the works are from the distant land of Cathay, ruled by a god-dragon-emperor and his many descendants. The talk of knowledge of fire reminds many of them of the Fire Mouth, a volcano-god worshiped by the ogres whose territories must be navigated to travel between Kislev and Cathay, or of the dark magics of smoke and flame used by the evil chaos dwarves, which this caravan chose it's path carefully to avoid entirely. One of the guards armed with a rifle brags about how he shot and killed ogre cultist of the Fire Mouth - they were apparently three times the height of a man and could breath gouts of fire that would destroy an entire platoon at once, though this is clearly somewhat exaggerated, based on the looks on his friend's faces.

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There is still quite a lot for him to do here in Kislev, the Acolyte thinks, but once he is done here those all seem like valuable places to visit. If they're going to brag about combat achievements, though, the Acolyte will revisit the various fights he's had since his arrival here in Kislev. While the Acolyte can't breath fire, he will also be happy to demonstrate his Flames, if the caravaners have challenges or tests for him.

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They will put his flames to all the normal challenges of marksmanship that they would put a bragging marksman to - people will take turns to point out distant objects, and ask them to be destroyed with precision. There is some discussion about how they might test his capacity for mass destruction, but in the end, nothing worth destroying in such quantities is in evidence ("- even destroying the grass would antagonist the local nomads", says one kislevite marksman). 

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Distance is no real object to the Acolyte, so long as the given target is resolvable within his (good, but not impossibly so) eyesight, so he'll cut them all down, though if they want him to carve finely detailed shapes into them he'll have give each cut some real focus. He does not have a solution for mass destruction though, not unless the caravan happens across another Vargov horde anyway. Hopefully the various caravaners are suitably impressed by the time they all stop to make camp and the time comes for him to speak with the caravan's leader.

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They don't ask him to do anything which can't be done with the best of their guns (After some argument, it is agreed that the finest guns are made in Nuln, half a continent to the south of here, but the finest powder is made by the House of Secrets in Cathay, most of a world away). Naturally, then, he can succeed at every test they put him to, with flying colours. 

Eventually they make camp, with a good bit of daylight still left. The carts are circled around, and pickets put up between them, creating a rough fort that will keep off anything that bumps in the night for long enough for people to get their guns. People will be sleeping with loaded guns anyway. Cooks get out large woks and set to cooking - here, they're making the same camp stew of rehydrated vegetables and hastily hunted game that travellers everywhere come to tolerate as a hot and filling alternative to walking on an empty stomach. At least here, it's well-spiced, with each wok getting a brick of tallow or lard stained red with chillies and studded with spices added for flavour. The leader of the caravan makes a show of eating the same food as his men, spoiled only a little by the obvious wealth of those sitting at his campfire, and the high quality of cushions on which he sits. 

Over the meal, he talks, through an interpreter if needs be, with the Acolyte. He asks the Acolyte about his homeland, his powers, and his interests. Occasionally he will say something to his astrologer, sitting nervously by his side, to confirm details about the local magic, and answer questions the Acolyte has about it. 

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Given the fare that the Acolyte made due with on his long hike to the road, the spiced soup might as well divine nectar. If they couldn't already, other caravaners can definitely tell he's been roughing it for a while now. He'll try to not eat with too much gusto, at least while he's talking with the caravan leader.

He'll explain what he can about his homeland, its varied geographies, the numberless ruins of times long forgotten, the many traditions of magic and the Knowledges at their pinacle, his quest for knowledge and the powers of Fire it has earned him, and his general interest in the gathering and propagation of knowledge. He will also gladly learn all he can of the local (and not-so-local, given the distance to Cathay) magics, and presuming the astrologer has the time and stamina for it, the Acolyte presumably greatly grows and firms up his understanding of the winds of magic.

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Well, the astrologer has a theory that actually the Sigmarite Astrological tradition (while obviously inferior to the Cathayan one) operates on basically the same underlying principles laid out by the nature of the stars and the wind of the heavens, he's hoping to try and buy books on the subject in Erengrad with which to write a paper when he returns home, though the generally secretive nature of wizards and Sigmarite wizards in particular (He's not even allowed into the Sigmarite Empire itself without being executed for illegal magic) is expected to be an impairment.

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Oh, illegal magic sounds like it would probably apply to the Acolyte as well, so he'll have to consider that if he's ever near these Sigmarites.Still, fascinating. The Acolyte wasn't even a little bit an astrologer back home, like many knowledge-seekers he's still had a small handful of encounters with entirely accidental celestial visitations, all of which were infuriatingly cryptic even by a knowledge-seeker's standards. He hasn't had any here yet, though, so he's interested in what ways the stars make their thoughts and opinions known here? He can only assume it's related to the aforementioned wind of the heavens.

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Illegal magic applies to all non-divine magic cast by someone who hasn't sworn eternal fealty to one of a handful of institutions with specific charters permitting magic! It's very annoying! The stars themselves are not very opinionated, though there are several major gods whose coming was associated with specific astrological phenomena. (He coughs, as though slightly embarrassed, at that). He supposed you could describe Morrslieb (the second of this world's two moons, given to glowing green and looking very evil) as opinionated, though what it mostly does is appear at random and drive people to madness or mutation. It's not wise, for an astrologer to consider it's behaviour in greater detail, he says. 

That said, the Acolyte is correct that the wind of the heavens mediates astrology in many respects - it's theorised that some of the phenomenon they study are directly caused by it, while others are mediated in appearance by it, and the cognitive process of astrology is best done with insights gained by the use of spells that wield the wind to augment mundane calculations and observations. He's not actually what you could consider an ideal astrologer - he leans a bit too heavily on the wind (which he isn't even particularly adept with) to do divinations quickly for the caravan, rather than the masters back home who spent their lives studying the stars to guide Cathay forwards. And of course, the wind of the heavens has many other uses besides those, being also the wind that relates to intellect, wind, cold, and lightning - he has peers who have barely studied the stars at all, preferring instead to practice casting lightning and blasts of icy wind. 

He hasn't heard of the stars sending entities to contact individuals, and if he did, he'd worry that was a demonic plot of some sort. He's heard tell that the Old Ones came from the stars, though.

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That definitely sounds annoying! The Acolyte is glad that his guiding force whisked him off to here rather than there.

The Acolyte doesn't think there's anything wrong with tempering pure intellect with practical aids, especially since the astrologer is out here on the road with all the distractions and complications of the world. He also finds the other powers of the wind of the heavens interesting. Some of the acolytes of Lightning he knew wielded similar abilities. And while the stars back home were certainly frustrating, he wouldn't go so far as to say they were demonic, or at least they didn't match up with the descriptions of Chaos that he's received so far. He will definitely be on the watch for Morrslieb, or, avoiding the watch he supposes.

As always, spreading the knowledge is always on the Acolyte's mind, and the astrologer here seems like a kindred intellect, so he'll make sure to offer lessons in the knowledge of Flames within earshot. It'll be a challenge to try and bend his command of the language towards this purpose.

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The astrologer demurs, saying that he can't afford to split his attentions or his practice of magic like that - he's also tolerably comfortable with his capacity to defend himself with the wind of heavens, should the matter come up, and the knowledge of flames seems to be mainly good for that, until you are a true master. The more esoteric uses sound like the sort of thing the alchemists back home would kill for, though to be fair the alchemists back home are not the most stable bunch at the best of times, and would kill for many things. 

Several other people from around camp are interested in learning, though, including the interpreter - More self-defence capacity is always a good thing. Nobody believes the Acolyte's claims that it's safer than the local magic, there are just people who would be happy with the risk budget of an order-aligned magic tradition who happen to have no magical talent whatsoever. 

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He won't try and prove anything here and now. Once they manage to pick things up they'll have all the proof they could ask for.

Caravaners are probably a bit more mentally mighty than Klomm to begin with, but this teaching session is much less fervent and the Acolyte is dividing his attention to between many students. It would be stunning if any of them found their insight tonight before everyone goes to bed, but the Acolyte will be happy to continue the lessons every day as they continue their collective trek to Praag, whenever he and the aspiring acolytes have time.

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Then travel will proceed! By the time they arrive in Praag, the interpreter, one of the chefs, and two of the guards, have achieved the basic insight - about a third of those who were determined enough to continue studying for the remaining week of travel it takes to arrive in Praag. Once the city is on the horizon (even now, it's ominous, though - high walls that appear even in daylight to be streaked with dried blood, at night screams that can heard even from so many miles away.), all magic practice stops - even the Astrologer packs away all his star charts into a heavily locked box and pretends to be a mundane navigator. 

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Well, that certainly is a very cursed city! Assuming this is the result of previous mage's malevolence or mishap, he can hardly blame the locals for having a negative opinion of magic in general. He'll follow suit on the pretending-to-not-be-magic thing, or at least keep his use of knowledge to private times and places.

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The citizens of Praag thank you for enabling them to better identify the mad sorcerers, cultists, demons, and vampires in their midst. Or possibly just for making them less visible. The caravan enters through the mountain gate, and travels down the main gate to the merchants district, where a fast rider has been sent ahead to negotiate a place to stay. Some trading will be done here, but for the most part it's just a chance to rest and resupply on the way to Erengrad or Kislev city. 

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The Acolyte will gladly take advantage of collective bargaining power when it comes to negotiating for lodgings, but once that's all sorted out and maybe after he can have as close to a good night's sleep as he can get, eat some breakfast, study the tainted skull a bit more and in particular how it has changed with the now greatly denser mien of dhar, do some meditation to mentally prepare himself, and then walk out and find his way to the Fire Spire.

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The amount of dhar in the skull might have increase slightly? It's hard to tell. The skull's Dhar fades into the higher background levels - it was never particularly high to start with. 

The Fire Spire is easy to find - not only is it still one of the tallest buildings in the city, even with its upper floors destroyed, it's also on the corner of a major intersection in the merchants quarter where he's staying. 

Someone has put up a stone wall to keep out trespassers (for their own good, given what the Acolyte has heard), but it's not that high - easy to climb with mere determination, let alone the Acolyte's powers. 

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Assuming no one tries to stop him (and with more than just a shout), up and over he goes! The Acolyte is in ruin exploration mode, so he's ready to fight, ready to dodge, ready to loot, and ready to run all on a hair trigger.

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One person shouts a warning, many others shake their heads sadly, but nobody tries to stop him. Praag is not the sort of place where you stick your neck out for the good of a stranger, and the merchant's quarter even less so, preoccupied with their livings as the locals are. 

The doors of the Fire Spire are hanging loose on their hinges. 

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He dashes inside, light on his feet and quickly glancing to and fro, covering all sides.

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The entry-hall is empty, but for a few corpses. One even looks like they were on their way out, when they died, though if so, thier hands are now empty of any possible treasure. The ceilings are high, and the walls are well-finished stone. Every room the Acolyte visits has bloodstains, burn marks, and other stranger forms of damage. In one room, the stone of the wall has been twisted into the visage of a screaming face, totally petrified. In other, every surface is stained a multitude of iridescent colours. The air is thick with dhar, strange and disorienting to the senses. 

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Determination is the most mysterious of Fire's aspects to the Acolyte, but even so a part of him clings to it like a cloak against a cold breeze. He does not stop to catalogue the horrors he finds, only giving them enough attention to consider what sort of danger might have created them and how to best avoid sharing the victims' fates. He moves with speed and grace, and mercilessly cuts through any obstacles which cannot be moved around quickly.

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"You're on the wrong floor, you know? The library is on the next floor up."  

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Has he spotted any stairs or other upwards passage? He'll double back for it if he has or else be on the lookout for one, but he doesn't think cutting through the ceiling is warranted yet.

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There are several large stairwells placed in logical locations - the Fire Spire is a pretty many-storied building. 

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Up he goes! Quick, quick, but careful of traps or ambushes from above, and of pursuers from below.

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No ambushes, No pursuers, just more ruins. 

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"Yes, yes, this way. The next left." 

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Left he goes, hasty and powerful and seeking seeking seeking knowledge.

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The library is cavernous, grand and ruined, many of the shelves toppled or empty or burned. Those that remain would certainly hide an ambush well. 

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"Forward! You don't want these books, mundane as they are. The real stuff is hidden in the sealed vault. Here, let me show you the way..." 

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The Acolyte will pour his Power into his body, pounding through the aisles hopefully faster than potential ambushers might expect. His staff is held in white-knuckled grip, his mind aflame. Anything that moves wrong in his passing will be less than shreds.

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As he reaches the location of the vault, hidden behind a great stone-carved mural of the five great gods of Kislev, a pair of Pink Horrors will leap out from their hiding-spots, each a mess of limbs and claws and teeth spitting alien pink flames at the Acolyte even as they charge him. 

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They are more than flesh, more than substance. Flame meets flame, a battle is waged beneath and behind reality. The Horrors are mighty, but the Acolyte is mightier. With great effort and fever the Horrors are sundered. In the next instant, the Acolyte turns his attention to the vault, feels its strength in his mind, and sharpens the sundering thoughts to sever it from the wall and open it's mouth of hidden treasure.

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Behind him, each fragment of pink horror reforms as it falls to the ground, turning into a set of four Blue Horrors, no less twisted, and no less capable of spitting fire at the Acolyte's back. 

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The Acolyte's protective flame spares him the burning for long enough to notice, though he's singed with sizzling, fizzling, buzzing ashes of chaos. Trickery! He leaps into the air with power and height unbecoming of a man of flesh and bone, unleashing sundering flames upon the horrors again before smashing into the Vault at an angle, vibrating with Power.

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This time, the demons merely dissolve into the aether, as is right and proper. 

"You know, if you want to get into that vault, all you need to do is draw on the power of the dhar... Here, let me tell - Oh. You seem to have that in hand." 

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The vault wall is well-warded, even after all these years, but they fall before the Acolyte's exertions. Inside, is a small room walled in obsidian, quite clear of dhar until the door was opened. On pedestals, also obsidian smoothly carved, there lie three books. The first is bound in human skin and bone, as old as dirt, and written in a spidery hand is "The Carrion Book of Shyish". The second is a huge codex, made from rough parchment in large sheets, with a title written crudely in dried blood and a hand larger than any humans, titled simply "The Gods". The third is a simple book of cheap paper and cardboard binding, the sort that could be found by the thousands in any city, with a printed title declaring it to be "The Architect of Fate". 

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Wow! All three of these seem they might be chock full of forgotten knowledge and magical secrets, just the sort of thing the Acolyte came here for. Still, this was pretty serious vault and he didn't exactly come in through official channels, so he'll toss a loose leaf of paper on to each, and then tap each with his staff, and give them some consideration with his knowledge of Determination before handling any of them directly. It wouldn't do to have gotten this far only to be taken out by some curse laid on the books.

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An excellent plan, because and all three pedestals shine some form of occult radiance at the first thing to touch their pedestals and The Carrion Book of Shyish is in fact cursed with a fairly serious lifedrain curse that gives up after a minute or two of scrabbling at the edges of The Acolytes Determination. 

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Well if it doesn't want to be read and have its knowledge spread, he will have to oblige it! He can always come back for it once he's more familiar with the local magic and developed some more nuanced countermeasures than tanking its malevolence directly to his soul. If The Gods and The Architect of Fate are more peaceable, though, he'll go ahead and wrap them in his sash, held against back, right underneath the tainted skull. The added weight is considerable, especially the larger tome, but nothing he can't handle.

This looks like it'll be a lot of reading, especially if either of the two have passages in languages or scripts the Acolyte is less familiar with, and one thing he's learned well is that the midst of a dangerous ruin is not the place to take a seat and study. With his modest haul, the Acolyte will make for the exit.

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A few more demons make attempts on his life on the way out, but the worst of them is some kind of giant screaming manta ray that attempts to ram him through the doorway of an empty classroom. Nothing serious. 

He can return to the open, and somewhat less intensely corrupted, air of the Praag merchant district in good order. 

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That was still quite a bit of a workout, even for him. He can understand why it'd be considered a death sentence for someone without magic, or magic less well-suited to high-intensity combat than his knowledge of Fire. It was pleasant to have a bit of guidance, though it seemed a little...naive, almost? Perhaps whatever spirit was haunting that place had grown unused to visitors after so long.

Regardless, he'll climb back over the wall, exult in the late morning air, before finding somewhere reasonably quiet (perhaps his room back at the inn, or a less-cursed library) to open these tomes up and get to studying.

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Praag doesn't seem to have a library, or at least, no public ones - asking around will get him directed to bookstores, or a little embattled temple of the god Verena, whose bronze-armoured knights tell him their libraries aren't open to the public here but he should visit the ones to the south, they're excellent (and then peer suspiciously at his backpack). 

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"I'll add that to the list of potential destinations to consider..." He looks from the knights to his loot and back. "Something amiss?"

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"Would you happen to have some interesting books there?" Asks one of the knights, her tone halfway between "cop who wants to strip-search a perp" and "curious fellow book nerd" 

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Well, if she wants to take them away he’ll just ask why, and if he doesn’t agree with her reasons he can just take them back. “Indeed, I freed these from the Fire Spire just earlier today.” He shares non-chalantly as he unties them from his sash.

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Her eyes are filled with a hard look. "Are you aware that The Architect of Fate is considered classified material of the blackest kind, and owning or reading it is heresy subject to immediate execution?". A gesture has one of the other guards going into the temple, presumably to obtain reinforcements.

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"Not at all. I haven't had time to look at the law books since I arrived here and I didn't anticipate needing to so soon. Can I ask why it's classified?" The Acolyte remains relaxed, albeit through a conscious effort. He'd really rather not have to fight, and running off when he just got to the city yesterday would be rather disappointing, so he's really hoping they've got a good reason.

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"It contains heretical material relating to the chaos gods. We are obligated by our faith to prevent such knowledge from being spread to those who would misuse it." 

Yep, here are the reinforcements. A dozen men and women in the same bronze armour and spears, plus another dozen who've clearly just grabbed weapons and jumped to it. 

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Chaos gods. He's had them explained to him before, twice. The headman and the hag both took an absolutely serious tone when warning against them, and the former was very careful to speak of them only in whispers under the cover sanctuary. That's enough to make him give some credence to their worry. He doesn't personally think he'd misuse such knowledge, he has a rather high opinion of his ability to put knowledge to good use, but he recalls Pogodarastet's words on a particular god and his potential vulnerability to it. He'll pull the smaller book from his back and ask as he hands it over, "Would you happen to know which of the four it describes?"

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The guard-templar thinks for a moment, not about the fact, but about if it's wise to communicate that fact, as she takes the book. "It is a book about Tzeentch. Would you like to come with us? You have been cooperative, and while your other book is not known to us, if it was stored with a known book of such calibre, it might also contain materials that should not be allowed to the public. You will be duely rewarded for your contributions on this matter."  

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That one, oof. The Acolyte practically drops The Architect of Fate into the guard's hands in disgust. As a seeker of knowledge, there are few things that he dislikes more than those who hide the truth, but those who twist it certainly make the cut, and that seems to be this Tzeentch's entire deal, more or less. He's also revising his opinion of the whispering spirit he encountered in the Fire Spire as well. It may still have simply been unaware, but an association with Tzeentch introduces the very real possibility that it was playing some kind of trick.

"With this new information you've given me, that sounds eminently reasonable. Please, lead the way."

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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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He's not especially bothered by cold or wind or rain, so yeah he'll probably just surreptitiously climb up onto some building's roof (maybe Salyak's Arms so that he isn't technically trespassing, assuming they've got a roof that's flat enough to sleep on). With money more or less assured, he can return to his research every two or three days and work the rest of the time, which should also hopefully let him start saving up just a little, day by day.

Once he does have a good bit of cash, he might try going somewhere a bit more expensive to eat, especially after a long couple weeks of work and research.

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His use of profound arcane knowledge to avoid needing shelter allows him to save up a good bit of cash, in reasonable time, and he's able to treat himself to a meal of roast lamb with nice gravy and roast vegetables, soft white bread, plenty of butter, and wine in good order.  

After a couple of weeks, a teenager will come up to him, asking if he's the Acolyte, because he has a message for him if he is.

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Ooh, maybe news from Klomm? Or perhaps the veranites want a word with him. He'll certainly take the message regardless.

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It's from the Veranites; they've finished copying the book he left with them, and would like the discuss the matter with him. The message is terse and vague. 

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Well, off he goes to the temple then. Hopefully it won't be all day. Assuming he's got the cash for it, he'll also makes sure to tip the messenger before heading off.

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He does, and the messenger is very grateful! 

The Acolyte will be welcomed back, and directed to the library, where the same templar he has talked to previously is there. 

"We're prepared to remand your copy of On Gods back into your possession, with a few warnings. Several of the gods it describes are proscribed under the laws of civilised nations. In particular, you should remember that cannibalism is illegal in all civilized nations. A list of gods which are proscribed here in Kislev has been left inside the binding; the laws are similar in the Empire, though often stricter. I would recommend reading this book alongside a description of the gods written by a more neutral source, however; the author of this book was not a good or reliable sort."  

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That makes sense. Seeing other people as potential food, especially outside of extreme situations, can have some unfortunate consequences. He shivers a bit as he remembers some of the events of his mercenary years. No mercenary company is truly good, in the Acolyte's opinion, making killing your business simply cannot lead to good, but some of the ones he's had the displeasure of encountering seemed to make a competition of being utterly despicable.

He'll shake those memories off for the moment and ask the templar, "Would you happen to have any recommendations for any such more neutral sources?"

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The templars can recommend several books about the good and virtuous gods of the old world, but their sources for the more esoteric gods in On Gods are lacking. Not that any of those gods would be good or trustworthy, of course. They can piece together a couple of sources on the ogre gods, though, that're not totally worthless. 

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Today was a research day anyway, so he can tolerate spending it collating these resources and comparing them and the contents of The Gods. As with before, he'll be looking especially for anything sounds like it might relevant to purifying dhar, or at least isolating it from the environment.

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On Gods is crudely written in a inhumanly large script, in crude Gospodarinyi contains two sections - "Foreign Gods" and "Sensible Gods". The former describes the five main gods of Kislev, and the seven main gods of the Sigmarite Empire. Elves are mentioned tangentially, as having gods what don't do much, and dwarves are described as worshiping their ancestors. The chaos gods are mentioned as "very bad news", and a god named Hashut is mentioned as being more interested in enslaving you than being worshiped by you. Some gods worshiped by "greenskins" are mentioned - Gork and Mork, gods of cunning brutality and brutal cunning, and the creeping death, a god of spiders "what are only good for eating.". All of this information can be balanced with a better perspective from the Acolyte's other books, though the information on Hashut or the greenskin gods is limited only to verifying they exist and are illegal to worship. 

The section on "sensible gods", however, is much more detailed. It first covers The Maw, an ogre god of hunger and eating, who is worshiped, apparently, by eating anything and everything, with various ritual praises and seasonings provided for eating everything from human flesh to the highest peak of a mountain, to your own fingers, in a tremendous amount of detail. preparations for dealing with chaos-flesh and corrupted material are included; the Maw's blessing will apparently allow for the safe consumption of even incredibly corrupted materials, by the sufficiently faithful. A ritual is described for devouring a small portion of the flesh of a penitent, and concentrating all of the corruption or disease in their body into that part; presumably this functions only with the intervention of The Maw. A few other ogres gods and spirits are described, though the only one who gets remotely close to the same level of attention is The Fire Mouth, a volcano-god whose acolytes move from eating spicy food to eating embers and eventually even molten lava, gaining immunity to fire and the ability to conjure or spit flames. These gods aren't described as abstract entities of power - they're described as places that physically exist; there are rituals for pouring food and offerings into the literal physical presence of The Maw, and for drinking lava taken from The Fire Mouth itself. 

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Of course gods are physical things. Are the other gods not physical? He supposes he's never actually heard them described as such. Maybe they just don't reveal their physical forms often, he knows some gods back home liked to secret their bodies away and use their magic to influence the world from afar.

As repulsive as the Acolyte finds the Maw's overall philosophy, and lacks all interest in implementing it in a general sense, he can almost feel the potential knowledge to be gleaned from their purification process.

Today's spent, he'll go and get dinner, practice purifying the dhar from various detritus and trash that it doesn't seem like anybody would miss, then find one of his usual roofs to sleep on. The next day is dockwork, but in the evening before dinner he'll explore this Ogre Quarter he's brushed past but never deeply entered and see if he can find somewhere to learn more about the Maw's style of dhar purification.

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Some of the gods are possibly physical! Sigmar, the patron-god of the great empire to the south of Kislev, was def a mortal human once upon a time - it's even noted that he was a follower of Ulric, another popular god, both in Kislev and the Empire. The elves believe their gods to be both historical figures and metaphors for the state of the human mind. The Dwarves worship the polycule of their first king, his wife's brother, and their children, though none of them have been seen for millennia. But actually seeing or meeting a god is unheard of in the human realms; gods send miracles and very rarely servants, but are not themselves seen. 

The Ogre's quarter is a brutal mish-mash of buildings poorly modified to fit the stature of their inhabitants, and harried and terrified (but surprisingly well-fed, compared to elsewhere in the city) human service-workers scurry back and forth on errands. The centrepiece of the quarter is a great building, with the sign of an iron cauldron with teeth around the rim, and text proclaiming it to be "Butcher Bigfeast's". It appears to have once been a tannery, the industrial scale and down-wind location providing an excellent location for Ogres to be as noisy as Ogres are wont to be. The noise of their merriment is almost deafening, even from outside. By the door, at human-eye-level, there is a sign proclaiming: 

No skinnies
No stunties
No twigs. 

 

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The Acolyte certainly doesn't think of himself as skinny, stunted, or twiggy, and due to not having spent very much time in the Ogre Quarter completely misses the context for these things, and thus finds no pause before entering Butcher Bigfeast's.

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The interior is that of a great feasting-hall, filled with the huge bodies of ogres, dressed in a wide variety of ways, ranging from little more than a loincloth and a gut-plate to complex outfits in bright colours to pirate hats and braces of pistols; the only unifying themes are piecemeal individualism and prolific grease-stains. The ogres are eating constantly, each one of them possessed of a roast - often as much as half a cow and a bowl of stew, and often a variety of other sides. Halflings, smaller even than humans, dart in and out, bringing platters of food and mugs of drink that look comically large when carried by their small frames, from a kitchen where iron bars protect still-roasting pigs and vast iron vats of stew from the hungry ogres. There is singing, arguing, shouting, and even an impromptu wrestling match going on in one of the corners. 

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After a moment, the Acolyte is noticed by an ogre sitting near the door. 

"Hey! What's a skinny doing in here!"

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The Acolyte has just got done from a day of hard labor in the docks, utilizing his robust physique as much as his magical powers. He's maybe a bit more brash than normal at this hour of evening as well.

"Who are you calling skinny?!" He asks with challenging bravado, sliding his blouse to hang from his sash and baring his chest..

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The Ogre menaces forwards, twice the Acolyte's height and not particularly physically exceptional by the standards of the ogres around here (which is to say, heavy-set in a way which would indicate on a human severe obesity, but which on an ogre indicates the vigour of your prime). 

"I'm calling you skinny! Because you are! Skinny little fool who thinks he can eat at our tables!" 

This is starting to get the attention of the ogres around the place, who are starting to holler, cheer, and heckle from the sidelines. 

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The Acolyte snorts derisively. "You insult my body and my mind?! What is your name? I must know who I am delivering a beating to tonight, because those are fighting words."

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"I'm Geak, and I'm the one who's gonna be beating you!" 

Geak raises his fist to deliver a overhead smash. It's a clumsy move, made viable only by the ogre's size and strength. 

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Big and tall isn't an uncommon build among some of humna tribes the Acolyte has encountered back home, and thus he's not unfamiliar with their fighting. He ducks and slides in and around Geak's opening blow with unsightly speed, and strikes out with his own Power-filled fist to back of his opponent's knee.

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Geak will loose support from that leg, stumble forward onto his knees, and do his best to grab at the Acolyte behind him. The crowd is moving from cheers to amused boos. This is interesting! 

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Hmph. That might not have been a sufficient show of simple, pure strength. The Acolyte redoubles the Power coursing through his body, grips Geak's reaching arm painfully tight, and with a great heave drags the ogre in a half-circle around himself and then swings him over his head, slamming him back down onto the floor in front of him.

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Geak does not get up. 

The crowd laughs and cheers. A chant of "Eat! Eat! Eat!" goes up. The Acolyte might remember a note that ogres use ritual cannibalism of (sometimes small parts of, sometimes large parts of) defeated opponents to count coup. 

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Ugh. He's hungry but the idea of actually eating a part of Geak makes his stomach revolt. Hm. What might be an acceptable alternative...? Assuming that Geak is as dhar-tainted as the rest of Praag, maybe carving a bit of flesh out of somewhere not-too-important with his Flames (which takes a moment of real concentration to limit the sundering), a pinky maybe, and then setting it darkly ablaze by ripping the dhar out of it will satisfy the crowd?

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Geak is actually noticeably less dhar-tainted than the rest of Praag!

Carving off a pinky-finger seems like a reasonably normal choice; Geak is in fact already missing the top joint of one finger presumably to such a match previously. 

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Maybe another joint of that finger then, since he's already used to working around it. If the dhar-flame isn't enough to ash the finger-chunk on its own he'll let the sundering thoughts turn the remnants into a smear.

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The crowd seems broadly speaking appeased by that, if maybe a little bit disappointed. One of the better-dressed, more heavily scarred ogres, will come up to the Acolyte and give him a friendly slap on the back that only Power can prevent from knocking the Acolyte to the ground. 

"You seem like an interesting fellow! How about you and I have a bit of a snack together, talk about things." 

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"That sounds like just what I came here for." He replies agreeably, and will follow where this grizzled ogre leads.

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The smaller tables in the shadowy corners, with backs to walls and good food, seem to cater to the more sophisticated set of ogres. At the table next to them, a pair of ogres with gigantic pirate hats are comparing and discussing the merits of their various braces of pistols (which, at the size of an ogre, are larger than many rifled longarms) in Tilean. As the Acolyte sits (or otherwise finds accommodation with the oversized furniture), a halfling will pop up and ask him for his order.

"Ah, I'll pay. Just this once. It wouldn't do to let someone like you go hungry!" Laughs the ogre. 

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The Acolyte isn't completely strapped for cash, but seeing the prices he'll definitely appreciate it being covered. He'll laugh along with his new potential acquaintance, and taking note of the waiter's stature, will ask for chef's recommendation in the hopes it'll reduce the likelihood of getting a dish that has any human meat or blood or what-have-you in it, and willing to accept the risk that this might lead to a rather large portion. He did just lift a whole-ass ogre, though, and has had a long work day prior to that, so he can probably put away a good bit of food if he needs to.

"I've got some questions myself, but since you're paying it's only fair to let you ask yours first."

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The waiter returns with what appears to be a (large) meat pie of some kind, filled chunks of meat and vegetables in a rich gravy, with a flaky and delectable golden crust, served with a mugful of kvass the size of his head. 

The Acolyte's new dining companion will wait to let him have a bit to eat before they get to talking (taking the time himself to eat two roast chickens, bones and all, and a large slice of pork shoulder with a mustard sauce), but eventually, he's ready to ask some questions. 

"So, where'd you learn to do a thing like that? Ain't often that you see a little thing like you able to throw around even a piss-weak bull like that." 

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The Acolyte eats with gusto, at least for a human. It's good pie, and he can appreciate good pie. The kvass is good too, though he does still split the small fraction of alcohol from the drink with his Flames, as he is wont to do.

"I first learned of Power on the battlefields more than a world away, on the disputed plains of the Sunnicast Heart, as a mercenary in the service of the Farrabãdes, recent conquerors of that land." He shrugs. "I have no idea if that means anything to you, though. I came to these lands of Kislev through unknown means, and know not how far from my home I am. Honestly, it seems to me that I have been thrust into a new world entirely. Regardless, if you wish to know my Power, I'd be happy to teach it to you. I am absolutely certain that you would be fertile soil for it to take root within."

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"Ah, hmm. No, I can't say I've ever heard of there, and I've been damn near everywhere, or met someone who has at least. Another world, what a thing. Good to hear there'd still be work for me, if I ever found my way there. If you want to teach, then I'd be happy to learn. You don't live long without being willing to pick up a few tricks, and that's a damn good trick." 

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The Acolyte chuckles agreeably, and will happily launch into his spiel about the nature of Knowledge, though it follows a somewhat different trajectory from his explanations to Klomm or the caravaners since he's emphasizing Power here rather than Flames. Plus he's still digging into his pie, it's quite large and he's not going to let it get cold. He'll keep on the explanation going as long his acquaintance will listen, though after they've eaten their fill (presumably a while after the Acolyte's finished his own meal, given the nature of an Ogre's appetite) they might head to somewhere where the ogre start doing some physical exercises while attempting to reach that initial spark, to help the thoughts flow and really call to mind the ogre's likely already-robust understanding of strength and flesh and force and flow.

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Instead of eating until he's full, the Acolyte's would-be student suggests taking a "few snacks" for the road, and leaves with a hemp bag containing an entire roast sheep, dripping mutton-grease on the ground as they go to a courtyard that has grown to tolerate the presence of ogres doing drills in it. 

he is not exactly the Acolyte's best student; he takes the conversation off onto tangents about the way things are done in various places he's travelled to or heard about, martial arts he's studied, and so forth. There's already a lot of lower-case knowledge in his head, and not all of it is conducive to Knowledge, in this case. He doesn't manage to achieve anything in the day of practice. 

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Honestly not unexpected. The Acolyte does need to sleep eventually, but before he heads out he'll ask for the ogre's name and see if they can work out a time to continue the work tomorrow or another day. If the fellow wants to know how long it'll take, the Acolyte can't give a precise guarantee, but can say he'd be surprised if it took more than week with the current pace. He'll also warn that the Knowledge starts pretty small, but that'll grow fairly well even if he doesn't dedicate time to expanding it, especially if he puts it to use in his line of work as the Acolyte imagines he intends to.

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The ogre is "Duc Fernslayer, Renowned Maneater" when he introduces himself. He's happy to keep training under the Acolyte until his company gets another contract, and he doesn't think the boss has even started looking. He understands that he will not be a master with his first lessons; he certainly wasn't when he was learning swordsmanship from an Estalian Diestro, but that doesn't matter. Just has to be knowledge that nobody expected you to have. 

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Well, he's taught barely a handful of people in this world any magic at all (this is magic, by the way, at least as far as the Acolyte can tell,, albeit of an utterly alien kind), and Duc's the only one who he's taught Power to specifically. Speaking of, if he wants another magic in his back pocket, he can teach him Flames as well. It's a bit more dangerous initially but not by much as long as he's not worried about shallow cuts.

During this period of training, the Acolyte will probably be hanging out in the Ogre Quarter more than before, and will continue practicing dhar removal and isolation, and studying dhar itself. One thing he'll try and do is see if he can talk to any Butchers (the priestly kind specifically, though he's uncertain if there's much of a difference as far as ogres go) about how they're able to concentrate the dhar of someone they're cleansing into just one part of their body, and maybe observe them destroy it when they devour it. Another thing he's hoping to do is learn how to safely remove dhar from things, with a bit less noxious dark flames, so that he can remove it from people who are suffering from it without burning them alive, but it's slow going with out a test subject. Once he's a bit more of a known quantity to the ogres he'll see if he can talk one of them into letting him try it, though only if he's confident that it won't kill or permanently maim them.

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Ogres don't have a sense of a professional role of meat-workers outside their priestly caste; mostly people just butcher their own meat, or they get a non-ogre to do it - this far west, there's a terrible paucity of gnoblars, but they make do with hired humans and such. He's not personally acquainted with any Butchers who might happen to be moving with mercenary crews currently, but since this is Praag, there's Butcher Bigfeast himself, the only non-ogre Butcher, who owns and runs the establishment at which they have been eating. If anyone knows the Butcher secrets of dhar-removal, it'd be him, having grown up in a city like Praag. 

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The Acolyte will definitely try and find a way to get some time to talk with Bigfeast, if he can. Maybe he can help the Acolyte find a volunteer as well.

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Bigfeast is a very busy person, but he's a very busy person with a fairly predictable location, so it shouldn't be too hard to meet with him, if you have a good enough reason to spend his time. Duc is reluctant to have any of his own company be volunteered for dangerous experiments, but he acknowledges that if you're willing to pay enough and the food is good, you can find an ogre who'll suffer through damn near anything. 

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Well, the Acolyte is working on applying his magic to eliminate dhar from things, especially people, and also how to keep it out. He admits that might not be the most relevant to ogres from what he's seen, but if it's done in association with Bigfeast the notoriety might be helpful? Mostly though, the Acolyte is just willing to be patient and wait for an opportune time to ask.

The Acolyte will also start saving up from dockwork to put together a proper reward for whoever decides to volunteer, plus some free magic lessons if the test subject wants.

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While the Acolyte is waiting and labouring his days away at the docks, someone notices his experimentation. 

A woman in dark robes follows him into a quiet alleyway, and says "We need to talk. You're being too conspicuous." She has a knife, but that's not what's dangerous about her; that would be the higher-than-ambient dhar concentration filtering through her body like poison in her blood. 

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The Acolyte cannot deny that he is quite conspicuous, or at least has not been putting any effort into being discreet. "Here, or do you have somewhere else we might take this discussion?"

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"There's a bar with a backroom we can use, if you'll come with me." 

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He will indeed come with this mysterious possibly-nercomancer. Even if this is some kind of set-up, he doubts that the backroom of a bar will be as dangerous as the second floor of the FIre Spire and he got out of that mess well enough.

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The bar isn't too far away, but it is outside the 'safe' districts of Praag. Not somewhere constantly infected with demons and such, but still, no longer a place where the dangers are merely ambient corruption and your fellow humans. Far too close to the walls of the new town for that. A sullen-eyed bartender will wave through the two of them into a backroom that's lacking in fine furniture but surrounded by solid walls that will presumably keep away prying eyes and ears. 

"What on earth were you thinking?" snaps the pale and sickly woman. 

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"I've done a few things that could prompt someone to ask me that, you will need to be more specific."

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"Why. Are. You. Practicing. Dark. Magic. In. Public." 

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The Acolyte scratches his chin in consideration. "I suppose I could imagine an uncharitable interpretation of what I'm doing seeing it as dark magic. I'm developing a technique to isolate and remove dhar from objects and, hopefully, people."

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"Firstly, that's impossible, secondly, when it comes to dark magic, there are no charitable interpretations." 

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"Well, I've absolutely figured it out for things that we can tolerate being scorched as the dhar exits. I can demonstrate if you like?" The Acolyte gestures to any suitable piece of debris that he could excise the dhar from, if there is one.

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The woman will watch a demonstration (on, say, a barmug, or a human skull she just happens to have with her) with the wariness of someone who has received an offer to see the nice bit of plutonium a stranger has in their backpack. 

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The Acolyte will proceed to tear the dhar from the skull (never waste a good mug). He’s been practicing and experimenting, so it’s not the black conflagration that it once was, now more of a dark smoldering that nonetheless still expels the taint, and still leaves the skull scorched (though not reduced to cinders).

”It is a work in progress.”

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"... nonetheless, you are making progress on an impossible goal. How?"

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“I am acolyte of the principle of Fire, whose Flanes are division. Or more simply, I am applying a kind of magic that seems foreign to this land, perhaps this entire world.”

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"This is not a feat of Aqshy. Tell me more about this god of yours." 

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"i don't know if it is a god, at least not as they are here, but.."

The Acolyte will expound on Fire for as long as this person will listen, whether about its philosophy, the limits of its magic as he knows them, the limits of his own expressions of its aspects, and so on, so forth.

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She will listen quietly, happy to listen to someone discussing their power without having to give away any of her own. Obviously they're holding stuff back, but who wouldn't? With that in mind, this guy is pretty terrifying, though.

"So, uh. You're pretty strong then. What're you going to do when they come from you? You still can't beat them all." 

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"Call me an optimist, but I am hoping that people will see the value in what I can do, and even more in what I can teach, and find it worth what I understand appears to be considerable risk."

He scratches his chin and chuckles a little. "That, or to run very quickly."

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"When all the forces of the so-called righteous and pure are at your heels, I do not think you will like the places you can run to very much." 

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He considers it for a little longer. "I do have a friend who seemed reasonably out-of-the-way, a ways north and east of here who I might be able to stay with, if trouble comes soon. Still, I spoke of Fire with the Veranites not long after I arrived here in Praag and they seemed not too bothered by it."

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"Did you mention your experiments with Dhar to them?" 

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"Ah, no, I suppose not. I assumed that working towards a means of purifying it would be acceptable at the time."  He pauses to think again, "I suppose I'll head back to their temple and ask them about it after we part ways."

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"I would not, if I were you. They will assume you are already corrupted, and mark you for death." 

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"Hm." They didn't seem that over-eager, when he last visited them. He just hanged over his books and it all seemed to go quite well honestly. "I've had a positive experience with them already, so I'm somewhat doubtful, but I'll take your piece into consideration."

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"Never underestimate the ability of religious fanatics to kill and burn and destroy with the goal of 'purifying' the world." 

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The Acolyte nods and frowns noncommittally. "very well. Is there anything else you wished to speak or learn of?"

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"Just like. Have some circumspection. If you get a blood inquisition called down you're not the only one they're gonna hurt." 

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He nods again. "Alright. I'll try and be a bit more discreet."

Then, unless he's stopped, he'll head out, get back to work, and take some coin from his pay for that day to send a message to the temple of Verena, mentioning that he's developing a technique for dhar taint mitigation and he'd like to have it examined and checked against any records or standard they might have for such a thing. If this draws their ire as quickly as the mysterious woman thought it would, hopefully having it be a message would give him time to run.

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She will not prevent him leaving. 

The Venerans will respond with a message saying that they have no such standard because that's impossible and if he thinks he has a tactic for doing so he's probably being lied to by something and should stop interacting voluntarily with dhar in any way at once (because it's a cognitohazard that encourages further interaction and further corruption), and if he does not, he might be declared a chaos sorcerer and dealt with appropriately. 

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He'll send another message (never forget to tip the messenger, also) that the special magic he mentioned to them earlier seems to make the problem tractable. He is not in communication with any entities he's encountered so far, he's arrived at this technique through his own experimentation. He'd like to demonstrate it for them, if they're willing to prepare a testing stage that they think is safe, and if they find it unacceptable he'll naturally stop this line of research.

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They would want to have a miracle-worker watching at a minimum, and ideally a whole bunch of properly guaranteed magisters (left unspoken how this is what they would want, to take the acolyte out if they had to do that), and there aren't any Veneran miracle-workers in the city, and doing such a test would violate (or at least, come within spitting distance of violating) the oaths sworn by magisters of the imperial wizards colleges. Really no point doing this study without someone capable of actually perceiving and analysing dhar, though. 

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Fair enough. He'll send one last message that he'll table that line of research until they have the resources and organizational will necessary to put such a test together, and that he understands if that won't happen for a long while, if ever.

He will still see if he can get a chat with Butcher Bigfeast and observe a dhar taint cleansing in the ogre tradition, but in the mean time, he will switch to meditating on Determination and see if he can make some progress from that direction instead. Maybe he can find some people who are new to Praag (other than himself, relatively speaking) at the docks or one of the city gates, and attempt to observe how they resist the city's curse.

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Their response comes, instead of a messenger, but with one of the bronze-armoured templars, here to make sure he keeps to his word regarding ceasing this line of research. 

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He does! This is convenient. "Hello! Given I've stopped my prior project, I was wondering if I could ask about an alternative I've come up with to see whether it's a more acceptable possibility to pursue?"

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Well, it will be convenient for the moment, but having a templar follow you around indefinitely to make sure you're not doing dark magic may prove inconvenient in other ways. They're happy to listen to other project proposals, though. 

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So, people (or at least, humans and ogres?) have some amount of natural resistance to the influence of dhar. So what if the Acolyte used his bullshit alien magic to just, take that natural resistance and turn it all the way up, all the way to total immunity if he can figure out how to do it?

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That does not seem, per se, to be an issue, but there's the problem where finding people to test this sort of thing is hard. Witchsight is rare and it corresponds pretty much 1:1 to spellcasters. Hags and hedge witches can't be trusted, Ice Witches are assholes, and the Imperial Wizard's Charter forbids this entire class of speculation and experimentation. Maybe some elves could be found to help? But then you'd have to deal with elves, who are nearly as bad as the Ice Witches, and foreigners to boot. 

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That is a problem. The Acolyte has a rudimentary sense for the texture of dhar taint, and it would probably get a lot more precise if he pursued that, but having to get everyone to take him at his word in this atmosphere of fear (and not an unjustified one) would be a massive hassle. He supposes he could try and research an expression of Determination that would let him give others his own sense?

Paladin, what if the Acolyte first developed his magic in such a way that it would let him have a refined sense of dhar, and then further developed it so that he was able to provide this sense to others?

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Verifying that his capacity to perceive dhar is a correct perception of dhar sounds relatively easy to do (especially if he can perceive the other winds as well?), since imperial wizards are allowed to look at the stuff without violating their oaths, though when it comes to teaching his magic, they're still considering how to safely test what teachable knowledge he already gave them, so further teaching beyond that would also need to wait on that. 

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Alright, that's understandable. He can't really distinguish the winds at this point, though he does have a general sense for magical-ness? And he can tell that apart from dhar. He'll need some time to refine both of those, so maybe in the mean time the Verenites could help him find a trustworthy mage who's willing to verify the accuracy of his dhar perception? Hopefully one who won't want to kill him, naturally. If there's more to do that they know of on the 'become legibly safe to various magical bureaucracies' front (other than foreswearing Knowledge, of course) he'd greatly appreciate at least knowing of it.

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It would be possible to hire an imperial wizard or an ice witch to do the verification (expensive), or an elf-mage (very expensive, but much more skilled also). All much easier in Erengrad rather than Praag, since Erengrad is the trade city at the centre of the northern half of the continent and Praag is sort of just a waypoint on the silk road. Unfortunately most of the magical bureaucracies verify non-corruptness by watching members of their own tradition extremely closely and then trusting each other to be non-corrupt on the institutional level; there are lots of smallish untrusted or semi-trusted magical traditions throughout the world. If he performs a legendary deed saving hundreds of thousands of souls from the clutches of chaos, that sort of thing tends to go a long way. Also the more gods like him, the better. Magnus the Pious managed to have magic legalised in the empire at all by being the greatest emperor in the last millennia and having the direct and legible favour of the three more important gods of the empire (The Acolyte might have seen the Magnus memorial gardens in this very city, built to commemorate when he used all of this greatness of his to unify the peoples of the old world to save the world in general, and Praag in specific, from the clutches of the Everchosen). The college of elementalists was also granted a lesser charted by Dieter IV while he was in the middle of making all his other mistakes. It's worth noting that this involved dozens of their members being tortured to death in search for hidden corruption. 

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How long would he need to save his dockwork earnings to afford either an imperial wizard or ice witch's verification, or should he work on finding some other work that is a bit more lucrative? Maybe he can talk to whichever ends up being easier to contact about working with them to build some institutional trust. Performing a legendary deed is maybe possible, if the opportunity arises, but going out and searching for it sounds more than a bit foolish, so doing things the slow way will probably be necessary.

Or he could go out into troll country or wherever and start his own petty kingdom, but the Acolyte doesn't have a tenth the talent or a hundredth the tolerance for leadership he'd need to make something like that work.

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He'd have to save for years, probably. There are very few wizards and they're mostly hired to do specific jobs by aristocrats. There are plenty of people who go out searching for legendary deeds to do, though it does help to have a network for it; when there's a province-depopulating disaster (and several averted disasters of similar magnitude) threatening the empire every generation (and about the same rate of problems for every smaller state), it's not absurd for someone who tries and has the ability to find themselves staring down a waaagh or chaos warband, and medium-sized famous deeds lead to chances to do big-sized famous deeds. Starting your own petty kingdom for fame and power is traditionally done among the border princes, far to the south, if he ever wants to give it a go; Norscans are traditionally considered ungovernable by anyone who does not share their abominable faiths; even other chaos worshipers have trouble. 

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Yeah he isn't actually seriously considering the petty kingdom bit, and that makes sense. Minor magic was pretty common back home but major stuff like Knowledge was not, and that seems to hold true here as well. Maybe it'd be efficient to trade magic for magic? But that gets back around to verifying the safety of his magic.

Well, it was pretty similar to what he was doing back before his tutelary brought him to this place. Adventuring seems like the most practical option yet again, somehow. Would his Verenite handler be willing to patch him into such a network, if possible?

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Many people consider the safety of the magic to be much less important when it's aimed at the forces of chaos and destruction. The Verenites would be happy to set him up with a list of horrible gribbly things that their order would like destroyed, or to give him letters of introduction to one of the local churches or government institutions which are likely to be engaging the darker forces of the world. They'd do the same thing for Imperial, Southland, or Bretonian institutions, but the Acolyte doesn't seem likely to want to visit any of those, even if many southlands states would probably kill for the aid of one with his (claimed) skills. 

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Well, as much as he is interested in making the world a better place, he's also trying to interface with its societies, so solo adventuring, as tempting as it sounds, is probably not the right choice. He'll take the letter of introduction, though he's nor really familiar enough even with local institutions to determine which would be best for quickly progressing to notable feats and subsequent recognition.

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Unless he wants to join a religious order, probably he'll have a better time finding recognition with a secular ones. Does he want a letter of introduction for the local court (who are relatively powerful but also corrupt), a nearby boyar who actually gets stuff done but who isn't very notable in the grand scheme of things, or one aimed at letting him join the main force of Tsar Vladimir's campaigns to clear Kislev of monsters, where he will be one of many contributors to any battle he finds, but also beelining systematically for every major problem in the country? 

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Hm. Working for corrupt courtiers does not sound like a good way to cultivate trustworthiness. The local boyar could work, but if the Tsar himself is already looking for monster-slayers that sounds the best shot of proving himself. He's not after personal glory, or at least not only glory, but also to prove himself an ally to those who fight Chaos. He'll take the latter of introduction, and also some instructions on how he might find his way to the Tsar.

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There are numerous institutions with which he could ask in order to be filtered into, but this particular set of letters is intended for a boyar of Verenan faith who has an appointment as a commander of a regiment of the Tsar's guard, who will be able to see him set alongside whichever other mages are deployed with the guard, wherever the Tsar next chooses to campaign. If they're not on campaign, they're barracked in Kislev (the city), the capital of Kislev (the country), which is pretty much directly to the south of here, and if they are on campaign then that's still a sensible place to head to in order to link up with them. 

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Alright! Finally, the next step forwards reveal themselves. The Acolyte will thank his Verenite liaison profusely, and then leave the city (with or without the liaison, if they choose to follow)...from the eastern gate?

He's going to try and find his way back to back to Klomm's camp let him know he's headed away from Praag. It might take a few days to get to the right area and then maybe another couple days to find his student, assuming he hasn't moved.

If he can't find him in that time, he'll head back to Praag, probably rest for a day, then actually head down the southern road towards Kislev City.

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Klomm is no longer residing in his camp, but he is nonetheless easy to find, following the trail of crudely-destroyed trees showing marks of damage quite unlike the axes of the local humans to a small, crude, fort made of dragged-together trees alongside a small bridge similarly reinforced and blockaded with a single tree-trunk, positioned to be trouble for a human to move, but presumably not so for the greater strength of a troll. The top of the fort is decorated with half a dozen heads, mostly of goat or sheep-horned humanoids, but one is of a human, still wearing a helmet of the local sort, and another of a greenskin of some kind. 

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"Klomm! It looks like you've been doing well!" The Acolyte shouts from just outside the fort. "Do you remember your teacher?"

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Klom will wrench open his crude and heavy door. "Ah! Yes! Teacher! Good to see! Flames have been very good!" 

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"I can see! I am proud of you for putting your Knowledge to so much use. Show me what you've been using it for these past few weeks, and let me speak to you of what I have done with my time in Praag."

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Kolm has mostly been focusing on improving his flames, improving their strength and range as a weapon, and has reached the point where, with focus, he can slice through a sturdy pine-tree in a single cut, though sometimes it takes him a couple of attempts. He has also mastered the art of using flames for butchery, accessing a slightly more esoteric form of division by cutting animals he finds into parts, useful cuts, without the need for careful tracing of his cuts down the paths a knives or cleaver would take. This has also allowed him to build up a stockpile of pelts and skins, each removed more or less intact from the animal, which he lacked the finesse or patience to do previously. 

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That's good progress! Perhaps not remarkable for a month of high-frequency usage in the early stages of development, but his dedication to it is commendable. The Acolyte will likewise exposit on his adventures in Praag, offering to give Klomm some tutoring in Power when he gets to the part where he teaches it to Duc. He also explains that, after he's done with this visit, he'll be headed south again, much further, and for probably quite a long while, because he's seeking to impress the Tsar, the leader of the humans in this land, so that the Tsar will help him teach more students and help him cleanse this land of dhar.

While he's explaining this, the Acolyte thinks about all the pelts Klomm is gathering, on top of the bridge taxes he's collecting, and will ask what Klomm's planning on doing with it all.

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Klom doesn't really understand what the big deal about dhar is, but he does understand the impulse to get famous and have lots of respect and minions, so it makes sense the Acolyte is going to try and do that. 

Klom does not really have a plan for selling his loot. He has vague intentions to try and convert them into luxury goods at a local town, but none of them like or tolerate him, so that's a trial at the best of times; it took several months of threats and bargains to get his armour made, even as rough as it is. For now, he has plenty of shiny objects and a comfortable-ish house, so it doesn't really seem urgent. Maybe he should try and get a minion? There are goblins in the forest it'd be pretty easy to bully into working for him. 

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The Acolyte try and explain his issues dhar, but he honestly hasn't really thought about how to put it into words. It is mostly an intuition, built from how he's seen other people think about it. He'll have a better idea of how to word it once he's done more research, probably.

That makes sense, the people, or humans specifically he guesses, don't seem to especially like other races, at least going from how the ogre quarter interacted with the rest of Praag. Still, with work it should be possible to start building trust with the locals, and once they do trust Klomm, trading with them, and thus acquiring luxury goods, will be much easier and faster. Trade and the profits it brings are a big part of why humans group together into villages and cities, after all. In particular, the Acolyte has also been recently informed that the Tsar is putting together a large and powerful group of fighters to start clearing the land of 'monsters', and while he's sure that Klomm could defend himself from a smaller group seeking to slay him, as evidenced by the heads he's decorated the walls with, he's worried that a larger force, especially one with experienced battle mages might be too much for him, even worse, that the group the Acolyte is joining himself might turn this way and they'd have to fight. He would be very sad if he had to fight Klomm.

So, overall the Acolyte is hopeful he can try and come to more harmonious terms with the locals and maybe absorb them into his little domain, especially now that he's got a little fort out here. If Klomm is willing to try, maybe they can both go out into the village and the Acolyte can mediate between them and Klomm?

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Trolls, it seems, are unworried by dhar in as much as it's one of a pallet of dozens of natural forces that can corrupt and twist them. See, Klom's skin has been picking up rough green patches since he's been living in a forest for the last couple of years, which is sort of annoying, but is what it is. 

Klom agrees he probably couldn't fight a larger force, especially if they have guns. He's been shot a couple times, and while he can regenerate fine, it'd be pretty bad if there were a lot of them. 

Klom will let the Acolyte try and do some negotiating for him, if he thinks it will work? But he's not very optimistic. 

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Hm. More reasons to look deeper into Determination. The Acolyte's new adventure will have him developing his knowledge of Determination quite a bit, so he'll see if he has anything to teach Klomm the next time he visits, whenever that is.

And, he'd be happy to give it a try if Klomm can point him towards the village. He'll come back to the fort and let Klomm know how it goes.

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The nearest village is an hours walk down this road! but they don't like him very much at all (because he's robbing the travellers going to and from them), so when he wants to sell stuff he goes cross-country to the village on the other side of this patch of forest, which is about a day's hike even for a troll, and maybe twice that for a human, who merely hate and fear him for being a forest-beast and creature of chaos. 

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Hm. It would be tricky, but would Klomm consider alternative work to highway taxing? Obviously it would involve a bit more labor on his part, so the Acolyte understands if he's not interested, but with his strength and Flames, he could help the locals cut down trees and build things from the wood. Helping them build like that, and reducing the amount that he taxes travelers on his road, will help increase trade through the town, which will both mean that taxing he still does will be a bit more profitable, that the villagers will be able to pay him for help, and that they'll have better things to buy with the money and pelts he has.

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Klom's not particularly opposed to doing that work, but he has - a sense that if he did that he'd be much restricted in what he could do and his reputation would be poor nonetheless. He likes his freedom, and he likes doing work which at least would be respectable to his family, if not to anyone around here. 

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The Acolyte strokes his chin contemplatively and nods. That's fair. Hopefully as Klomm's magic grows, it will let him win some glory for himself.

He heads off to the village that Klomm's taxes aren't impacting then.

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A few days walk puts him in a small town, wooden palisades protecting farmers from the terrors of the forest that pushes against their fields from every direction.

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"Hello there!" The Acolyte shouts over the walls. "I've heard you make some trade with a troll friend of mine?"

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People had been merely concerned, when a strangers walks out of the woods, but now they're alarmed. Children and animals start being hurried away and men rush to grab bows and axes. 

"That. Bandit. Yes, you could call it trade, I guess." says a hastily-elected representative of the group. 

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"Ah, yes, that's actually part of why I'm here today. I'm worried that this bad habit of his, disrupting the local economy with his raiding, is going to get him killed at some point, I know he's got more animal pelts than he knows what to do with, so I was wondering if I could talk you all into buying some, to help encourage him to take up hunting instead of banditry."

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"... it's a troll. I'm not sure it can tell the difference." 

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"His accent isn't great but he's not that stupid. I talked to him about it and he said he wouldn't really mind focusing on hunting or helping with construction instead, but that he feels like he'd be looked down upon and not respected, and that he wouldn't be as free to make his own choices. I don't think he's very free at all given he's on track to get killed, so I think I can talk him around on that part, but I'd need your help with giving him a place in society since I can hardly do that on my own."

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"Trolls are creatures of chaos. That one is smart enough to avoid being hunted to death, but they're still fundamentally monstrous and corrupt. Trusting one is like trusting in thin ice; even if you don't die immediately it's still a bad decision. And probably you do die immediately." 

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Hm. He did have a lot dhar taint, though the Acolyte isn't sure that it was actually that much more than most of the humans around here. "What if I could help him stop being so chaos-tainted? I'm working on a way to clear the taint out of people, I could talk to him more about it."

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"... for that matter, we have no way of knowing that you're not a cultist either."   Bows go from in hands, to drawn and pointed at the Acolyte. 

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Gosh, this problem just wouldn't stop rearing its head, would it? "I'd save your arrows, for all the good they'd do you. I'm not here to fight regardless. Is there anything I can do here and now to prove that I'm at least not interested in hurting or converting any of you to chaos? If not, I'll leave you be."

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"Do we look like witch-hunters? No, begone, and take your tainted bargins with you." 

A man at the back speaks up. "If we had a priest of Ulric we - " Before one of his fellows slaps him and tells him to shut up. 

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Well, that was a bust, though he'll remember that last bit if he ever encounters a priest of Ulric who has the temerity to talk with him.

Back to Klomm's fort to give him the bad-but-not-unexpected news. Perhaps he'll stay another day just to give his student a proper farewell, and maybe ask if Klomm wants to give learning Determination a try, since it seemed like the villagers' biggest issue was that he was dhar tainted and if the Acolyte's right about it then Determination might let him get rid of it.

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Klom is indeed quite unsurprised by that. Klom doesn't think of himself as being particularly chaos-tainted, but he will entertain a pitch for why he should also learn Determination; learning Division was certainly worth it. 

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Well, Determination doesn't just protect you from chaos, it can protect you from magic in general, probably at least. It's also useful for applying other knowledges in a way that acknowledges the seeker's self? It's hard to describe at the highest level, not the least because Determination is the Acolyte's own weakest aspect of Fire, but he knows that he grounded the theory he uses for his protective Flames in his Determination, and his understanding of Power draws from his Determination to know how to amplify the force of his body without tearing it apart. Honestly, even if Klomm's completely unconcerned with taint, learning Determination and developing it right might give him a much better chance of surviving the next time people come to kill him, at least for long enough to flee if he chooses to.

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A stupider troll might not recognise the value of additional toughness, having certain faith in their regeneration, but Klom recognises the compounding value of additional toughness for a regenerator, hence his piecemeal suit of armour. He'll study Determination with the Acolyte.

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The Acolyte, as always, is an eager teacher, though his lacking familiarity with Determination will probably extend the teaching period, even if Klomm's knowledge Flames helps shorten it as well. If they take breaks, it might be another couple days, or longer if something unexpected happens...

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They study for a few days, considering matters of the self and determination, and eventually, something clicks. Klom's face lights up with insight - and then he screams. 

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Ah! The Acolyte guides Klomm through a meditation to quiet his mind and turn it away from the knowledge, since something is clearly wrong. As he does so, he focuses on his own Determination, trying to feel for Klomm's. It's there, but it's...fighting, sort of, with all the other various stuff that's worked its way into him, and that process is evidently quite painful. Once Klomm's gotten his mind back under control, the Acolyte will explain the situation to him. He's confident that, if Klomm chooses to, he can feed his Determination and suffer through this to find the benefits of Determination on the other side, but that it's understandable if it's not worth the pain.

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It burnt like fire, like a taste of the path to death. Klom is not enthusiastic. He's very annoyed about it, though. 

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The Acolyte will apologize effusively. He's genuinely never encountered a reaction like that before, though that may only be a symptom of his rushing into Determination without doing more thoroughly preparations. He feels bad having talked up the value of Determination only to encounter this stumbling block before most of its benefits can be reaped.

If Klomm wants, the Acolyte can try and figure out a way through this, but even if he does, the best the Acolyte will be able to find is that Klomm's 'progress' towards the other side of this of painful stretch isn't lost, at least not quickly, so if it's easier, he can take regular breaks from it.

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Klom will consider it, as something effortful and productive to be done, on days where he has little else to do. But for now, he will let it lie. He accepts the Acolyte's apologies, though. 

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Klomm is an excellent student, all things considered, and the Acolyte will let him know it. With that all settled, the Acolyte will set out on his way the next morning, south to Praag, and then after restocking provisions, further on to Kislev City.

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The road from Praag to Kislev (the city, not the country, for all they have the same name) is well-kept and well-travelled, as it winds its way through the steppe and then low forested hills, the acolyte still has to fight off a few ambushes from monsters of various stripes who would like to prey on a lone traveller. Eventually, the broken and forested land gives way to farms and pastures, the land growing less corrupt, warmer, and more populous as the acolyte heads south, though those are all very relative terms; the land is still corrupt, cold, and sparse. 

Eventually, the great walls of Kislev, unbroken even by the forces of chaos, come into sight, and the domes and spires of the temples and palaces visible above them. This is a rich city, as befits the capital, for all that the walls outside the gates have slums and shanty-towns built up against them, filled with crippled ex-soldiers and impoverished peasants. It speaks to the danger, and the militarisation, of Kislev as a nation, that some of the shanty-towns also have walls, albeit rickety wooden ones. 

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He really should figure out some way to express the threat he is able to pose to would-be attackers at some point. It's not much effort on his part to defeat them, but even when he has the time and energy to temper his counter-attack, it's still a rather unpleasant experience. He can't really afford to just give every wandering bandit all his money though, since he doubts worming his way into the Tsar's good graces is going to be cheap.

Given that is his goal, he also probably isn't going to make much progress hanging aorund the slums longer than is necessary. He'll ask someone around which to the city gates, give them a reasonable tip from his lingering dockwork wages, and then try and get inside.

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Greenskins, Beastmen, and forest spirits are not exactly attacking for his money, anyway. 

Getting to a gate isn't any trouble; the main road leads right up to them, for all it travels through the shanty-towns first. The guards at the gate will ask what his business in the city is. 

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"I am looking to enter the Tsar's service as a fighting-man and war-wizard." He explains simply.

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The guards look vaguely shocked. One of them spits on the ground. The other asks "... you an imperial then? You don't look like one." 

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"No, not at all. I'd rather expect an imperial mage to even be offended at the association, from what I've heard of them. I'm from...further away than you'd believe, if you have any good sense, and I practice a tradition of magic that's as foreign to the empire as it is to the lands of Kislev."

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"Do we have any reason to think you're not a sorcerer?" says one. "We should call in a witch-hunter." says the other. 

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"What kind of sorcerer would just go and say 'I practice a tradition of magic that's as foreign to the empire as it is to the lands of Kislev'? Could someone that stupid actually become a sorcerer in the first place? Regardless, I'm willing to subject myself to whatever tests you can think of."

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"Who knows what sorcerers think, they're sorcerers. They're all insane." "I'm going to go get that witch-hunter." The guard runs off. 

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The Acolyte will wave off the guard who leaves before attempting to make some conversation with the one who stayed while they wait for the other to return with the witch-hunter. "So, I heard the Tsar is putting together some sort of monster-hunting army?"