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 Innocence and Guilt 
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Post Innocence and Guilt
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The old man sat in the corner of the roadside tavern, a mug of ale, still untouched, waited by his elbow as he hunched over the paper in front of him. Laughter from the other patrons ebbed and flowed around him as the other travellers drank their fill and more besides. Few had taken tables near the old man...there was something about, nothing that any could put their fingers upon, just an odd feeling from his presence. It didn't bother him, if they wanted to go and carouse over the other side of the tavern and leave him the warmth of the fireside that was their choice. He'd rather warm his feet and have some peace.

He smoothed out the paper in front of him and tried to decide what exactly to write. Words had never been a strong point of his, it was a fact that had almost driven Father Landon mad when he had still be a child. The good Father had never been able to come up with a way to make the boy learn and even after so many years the old man didn't doubt that he'd still be the worst pupil that the temple had ever had. Some people were good with words, he wasn't, his purpose in life had been to do something other than spend endless hours in the temple's scriptorium, copying books for others to read.

The laughter from the other patrons grew louder suddenly as one among their number said or did something that the others found amusing. He looked towards them for a moment, sadness in his old blue eyes. None of them understood. They were all merchants and traders, people who found themselves taking the trading route from Bayerme to Etony in the south. They thought only of gold in their pockets and a warm companion in their bed. He had to admit that the idea of a warm female body in his bed did have its appeal, the weather had been getting steadily worse as he trudged further north towards Bayerme. Some pretty young thing with hair the colour of...

But no, he was getting side tracked. He had a letter to write, one that would be important if he failed in the venture towards him. The letter did need to be written, otherwise they'd have no warning, no warning at all. Without warning they wouldn't have a chance, even with warning it would be difficult, almost impossible. Perhaps the thought of warning them was a futile gesture but at least it would mean that he'd die content that he'd done all that he could.

The old man finally took a swig of the ale before picking up a old quill that had definitely seen better days and began to write.

[center]---------[/center]

Lord Augutin, I greet you in the name of the temple of Tanmel.

You don't know that name do you? It's just a name on a map now, a pile of fallen stone that even the armies can't be bothered to fight over. But it was once my home as well as the home of one who you have called the greatest of your enemies. You pledged to destroy her but if this letter reaches you then she has already destroyed me. If that is the case then there are things that you must know, things that only I can tell you.

Read well Lord Augutin.

Where to start? It all started so very long ago, not even sure that I know rightly how long it's been now. The sun rises and sets as it always does and as it has always done. I've watched the moons wax and wane, reaching their ripe white fullness and then diminishing till they hides themselves away behind their veils once more. It's happened so many times now that I think it's lost all meaning for me. Days and nights pass but it no longer matters to these old bones any more.

Back in the beginning of this sorry affair Tanmel was a great city, one that stood strong for its faith and for its people. The temple was full of good people, men and women who had heard the calling of the Divine. But it was also full of children as the temple took in all the orphans and bastard offspring of the city. And it was because of that fact that both myself and our mutual foe grew up there. As we grew up she captivated me, I don't think she ever realised it but I loved her. That long dark hair as brown as chocolate and eyes so filled with sweetness that she almost seemed like a angel sent down to live as a woman. Oh yes she was beautiful and sweet and any one of us would have given up our lives to keep her that way.

Don't curse the memory of that young woman Lord Augutin. The foe we face nowadays may wear her flesh and speak with her voice but I cannot bring myself to believe that the same gentle caring soul animates her.

She yearned to become a priestess and devote herself utterly to the cause of the faith. How I wish that she hadn't, I would have married her in a heartbeat if I had thought that she would have had me. It would have saved so many people, stopped so many things from happening. She and I would now lie quiet in our graves in Tanmel if that had happened, not still be walking the lands as we both are.

Unfortunately she got her wish and became a priestess, one who travelled the lands into heathen territory in order to try and convert them. It was a noble quest I suppose but one that inevitably brought her to trouble. In a small border town far from here she risked her life to bring her faith to the people.

Risked and lost.

They murdered her, my lord, murdered her, drowned her beneath the cold waters of the lake and hide her body there. My sweet, sweet Innocence, they murdered her and there were none there to weep at her watery grave or say the last prayers to her troubled soul.

But she did not remain still in her grave and some fifty years after she was put done her flesh rose up, animated by some dark power I'll wager. She walks still as you and I well know, harvesting the dead from the battlefields like wheat. They follow her, the dead rise and follow her, the perfect army for they do not feel pain and do not fear death. You know of her new 'quest' Lord Augutin, you've already tried to stop her once. A lot of good men died on the ice fields of Githga'mel and for a time they stopped her, buried her within the ice.

But she's free again, free to continue. I go to try and stop her. All of Tanmel is ruined and forgotten but once the holy men of that city told me that I was the only one who could stop her. I don't know if that was true but I do know that I'm bound to her existence. For as long as she walks this land then so must I and only with her true death will I finally find mine.

If you have the soldiers, Lord Augutin, ready them, for I got to do battle with the dead and I do not think that I have the strength to best them.

Your friend,

-Guilt

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Thu Nov 11, 2004 11:01 am
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The old man sat back from his writing and watched the ink dry slowly, drinking the rest of his ale as he did so. He felt so very old, well he supposed that he was very old. White hair fell about his shoulders, merging into his long beard so that it was almost impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. People always seemed to look at the beard and imagine that he was some great and wise man. The truth was that Guilt had never really got the hang of being old. So long as he didn't see his reflection he felt the same as he had when he was younger, old just seemed to be too awkward to adjust to.

A wench ambled over to his table, her short skirt and low blouse giving him plenty to watch. You want another, traveller? She asked, gesturing towards the empty ale mug. A copper will buy you another, two coppers for something better. Innkeep gets nervous when he sees people without a drink to hand.

Yes, yes I suppose that it does. Well then I shall aid the innkeep's nerves and buy another. He fished about in his pouch and handed over a tiny coin, one of the last of his remaining supply. Wealth had never come his way, indeed sometimes it seemed as though it was deliberately trying to avoid him. He would have blamed their priests in Tanmel but they'd taught him too well to not think or speak ill of the dead. Well...save for the dead that got back up and started walking around again, apparently it was ok to speak ill of them.

The girl pocketed the coin and began to turn away when the old man suddenly blurted out the question, Have you ever heard of Tanmel? It was a question that he asked often on his travels. Though the city itself was gone to know that some remembered it was comforting to him. As the last living soul to come from Tanmel is was important to him that it wasn't forgotten. No great tragedy had destroyed the city, it had fallen to invasion certainly but then others had invaded and driven out the original attackers. But then they too had been driven out and others had fought over the city. Eventually the people all died or fled for their lives and Tanmel had been left to the wilds and the slow passage of decay.

Tanmel? The serving girl paused, running her finger along the edge of the copper coin as she thought over his question. Ain't that the little village down near Yerden way? Next to the river Rake?

He shook his head sadly, No, no, that's not it, it doesn't matter, don't worry over it. All too often the response to his question was negative, more and more so as the years went by. He had began to fear that the only people who knew the name were musty old scholars, his foe and, of course, himself. Tanmel was just a name in a book, a place of the past that no one cared for any more.

The girl patted his shoulder gently, I'm sorry I couldn't help you. Is that where you're bound to? I think you're in the wrong part of the world mister... She trailed off, not knowing what his name was,

Guilt. Though none of this "mister" business, I don't hold with it for the likes of me. It's alright for those who've got rank and position but not for me, I'm just plain old Guilt.

It's an odd name that one, didn't your parents like you much?

He laughed, his gloomy mood disappearing, I dare say they didn't lass. My mother left my on the steps of Tanmel's temple when I was only a few days old. The temple took me and cared for me, they were the ones who named me. They were good people but they were set in their ways on how orphans should be named. Girls were always named for the virtues that they should have, things like Purity, Charity, Hope, Care, all that kind of thing. But the temple didn't have such high hopes for its boys, called us all by the darker things in life, by the sins too. Guilt, yes it is a funny name, but I've grown into it over the years.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Thu Nov 11, 2004 11:36 am
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You come from this Tanmel place then? The serving girl asked as she returned to his table carrying an ale. It might have been a trick of the light but the old man would have sworn that the glass she gave him was cleaner than the previous one. Even the ale looked as though it was better, there were certainly less bits floating about in it. Did she feel pity for an old man out on the road? Was that was she was being nice to him? Maybe. He wasn't about to complain, any companionship on his road was welcome, even if it was borne out pity.

Guilt smiled and nodded. Sit down lass and I'll tel you about it. I'll strain my neck looking up at you like this. The wench looked back nervously towards the bar itself where the innkeep leaned. The barkeep was stereotypical of his kind, a big burly man capable of dealing with troublemakers whose face clearly showed that he was not above partaking of his own bar's wares. For the moment the innkeep's attention was firmly focused upon his louder customers, mainly because he appeared to be sharing a drink or two with them. He'll not pay any attention to you, he's too busy drinking the coins out of those travellers pockets. I dare say he'll make a fine profit from them.

The girl slipped into a chair next to Guilt, the chance to rest a welcome one from the look upon her face. I'd say that you're right there, mister...I mean Guilt. Martus gladly takes the coins and the drinks from any who stay the night at his inn. Apparently there were some who called him a fool for setting up an inn on the trade road but he's proved them all wrong several times over. She was a pretty little thing, a little worn down by working in the tavern and dealing with those who thought her as easy to buy as an ale, but pretty nonetheless. The old man hoped that she would find herself a good man some day, one who would take her away from the life that she seemed resigned to. Perhaps if he was a younger man...

No, when he was a younger man his heart had been given to another. If the truth was known his heart still belonged to her, to his murdered love. But there was no love in her heart to return to him. She was cold thing now, a cold dead thing that walked the lands in a most unnatural manner. His murdered Innocence was a force of winter now, a servant of that which wished for unending bitter winter.

And love...love was forever a force of spring.

A trade road will always bring in thirsty customers of a night, merchants and the like don't fancy bedding down outside if there's a warm, friendly inn nearby. I think though that its the lure of the ale that draws them more than the promise of a dry, soft bed. Guilt smiled, his eyes twinkling as he put the thought of old love and winter behind him. There would be time enough in the future to deal with that, in a not-too-distant future if his thinking was right. It was always like that, just a glimpse, just a hint of what would be, never really enough to tell him everything he needed to know. Just the quickest glance at what would be, at the future that had yet to be lived. For now though he was with a pretty young thing who was content to listen to an old man talk and that would do.

The serving girl settled back into her chair, relaxing by the warmth of the fire, Come on then, you said you'd tell me of this Tanmel place. You must be far from home if I've never heard of it. What with all the traders that come through here I'd swear that I knew of every town, village, hamlet and farmhouse in the region.

And I'm sure you do, but Tanmel is far, far away, not just in terms of distance but also in terms of time. You see Tanmel is dead, destroyed by the endless wars that ravage these lands. There's no need to be sorry about it, he said, raising a hand to silence her before the girl had the chance to speak. What happened, happened, nothing can remain as it was, everything has to change in time. Sometimes that change is for the better, sometimes for the worst.

How long ago was your home destroyed?

Are you really sure you want to hear the answer to that one lass?

I'm sure, I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know now would I?

Guilt leaned back in his chair and appraised the girl. If he was right - and he normally was about such thing - she'd need to know. She'd need to to pass his words onto Lord Augutin, she'd be the bearer of all the words that he didn't dare commit to mere paper and ink. There was no point in telling her what he had glimpsed of the future, she wouldn't understand it. And it was better that she didn't know anyway. Alright lass I'll tell you. Tanmel was destroyed when your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother was still a lass. Approximately speaking of course.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Mon Nov 15, 2004 10:20 am
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The girl looked at him strangely for a moment and then laughed, it wasn't surprising really considering what he had just told her. People didn't tend to believe him when he told them that he came from Tanmel and that the city had been destroyed generations before. It wasn't the kind of thing that ordinary people came across every day and as such few could manage to take such news in their stride. Oh that's a good one that is. Go on pull the other one and all that. If Tanmel was destroyed all those years ago then there's no way that you could have grown up there. No human can live that long. We've got our years, four score and ten if you're lucky, and then that's it. If you'd grown up in Tanmel you'd be hundreds of years old.

Two hundred and forty-three to be precise, Guilt interjected quietly.

Two hundred and forty three? You can't honestly expect me to believe that, no one lives that long. Not unless they're turned into a vampire or something and you most certainly aren't one of them. You came in from the road while it was still light, I know, I saw you. And vampires can't stand the light. The wench continued to laugh for a moment or two and then began to recover her composure. She wiped the smile from her face and tried to take on a slightly more serious and solemn air. Patting his hand gently she said, It was a good tale Guilt, but no one's going to believe you if you go about telling them that you're almost two hundred and fifty years old. No human lives that long, we're not meant to.

She had a point even if she was wrong; humans weren't meant to live that long. Though Guilt might not pay much attention to the passing of the days or even the months he did try and keep up to date on what year it was. Years somehow seemed important, not to mention that they were easier to keep track of than the smaller units of time. Minutes, hours, days, they just seemed so small and fiddly after a time. Years were substantial, they were solid, you knew where you were going with years. He should know, he had lived two hundred and forty-three of them, give or take a year or so.

But the girl was right, no human was meant to live that long. His body had been designed in the womb to deal with the strains and stresses of a normal span of years, nothing more, nothing less. He had never been born to live out the centuries as elves or their like were. Guilt had lived for many years and each year had taken its toll upon him, each line and wrinkle that he wore was a badge of honour that he had earned by simply continuing to exist.

At least he didn't look his age, that was something to be thankful for. He looked old, he knew that well enough, but he didn't look like a man who had lived two hundred-odd years. That was something to be grateful for at least, he wasn't sure what a two hundred and fifty year old human looked like but he was fairly certain that it wasn't pretty. His white hair and bald head definitely made him look old but he doubted that anyone would think him more than seventy or so. And a healthy seventy at that if they saw him travelling.

He took a sip from his ale, noting that he had been right about it being of a better quality. Guilt wondered if the girl was regretting her decision to treat him well now; she probably thought that she was dealing with a madman. You can believe what you like girl but as the Gods are in Their heavens it is the truth. If you'll sit a while longer I'll tell you how it happened and why death hasn't touched me. Why he won't touch me...not until another finally goes to her rest.

The serving girl seemed to be torn in two by indecision for a moment. On the one hand she thought him mad and no sane person sat around talking with a madman for too long. But on the other hand..well she'd have to deal with the more rowdy customers if she left his table. Besides listening to an old man's story wasn't all that much hard work, she didn't have to believe it. Guilt could imagine all the arguments for and against running though the wench's head as she slowly came to a decision. Alright, I'll listen, she said finally, though a look of wariness had entered her eyes.

That's good, very good. Maybe you'll believe me by the end of my tale, maybe not. All that matters will be that you've heard it and that, hopefully, you'll have remembered it. You may think I'm mad, lass, but trust me when I say that there may come a time when you need to tell another of my tale. And I for one don't want you messing up the story of my life, he chuckled to himself, though the girl didn't seem to find his joke all that amusing. Ah-hem, alright then, I'll tell you my tale.

It all started back in Tanmel, nearly two hundred and twenty years ago...

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Tue Nov 16, 2004 9:23 am
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Tanmel, city of wonders.

Guilt smiled mischievously, Well perhaps not.He'd always had more than a touch of the showman about him. When he'd been younger, much younger, he wanted to run away with the travelling players that had often visited the city. Their lives had seemed glorious and wonderful to his young eyes. They had appeared to have everything that he had ever wanted, fame, excitement, adventure, freedom. What more could a young man have wanted except perhaps a young woman to share it with. Of course back then he had thought that he knew exactly which young woman he wanted. He had been so sure, so very sure, that their future was set in stone, that they would be together.

He'd had it all planned out, a romantic walk in one of the city's finer parks, a picnic meal for the two to share in some secluded copse of trees. There would be a startling sunset viewed from some wondrous angle that would have appeared as though it had been made such for them. Then he would have asked her to be his and all would have ended happy ever after.

Of course it would probably have helped if he'd ever actually approached her in that way. And it would most certainly have given him a better chance if he'd told her how he felt about her. But he hadn't, he'd let her slip away out of his grasp and now they were both stuck. Though somehow he doubted that she saw it that way, but there again he doubted that it was truly her soul that controlled her body any more. Guilt couldn't bring himself to believe that the woman that he had once loved was capable of...it was too horrible to think about.

The barmaid was still looking at him, her curiosity piqued but as yet left unsated. There was nothing he could do for her except to tell the story that he had promised to, to tell her how it had all started. We were both orphans in the care of the temple, she and I, we had grown up together, I had seen her change from a gangly young girl to a most beautiful woman. It almost seemed like it happened over night too, one day she was all knees and elbows, the next she was a woman, a beautiful one too, though she never seemed to notice it.

But though I loved her it was from afar and I never took the chance to tell her how I felt.
The wench sighed, not with impatience but rather in sympathetic regret for his youthful mistake.

While I could do nothing but watch her she grew further from me, committing herself more and more to the path of the priesthood. Before I had turned around it seemed that she had rushed on ahead of him, taking the holy vows and giving herself over to a higher purpose. I wish she hadn't done that, I really do. This time he was the one that sighed as he looked back through the passage of time to his younger and more foolish self. He'd spent so many years imagining what might have been and regretting it, but it never seemed to get him anywhere.

She took up the life of a lone missionary of a sort. The entire isle was her church and the borders of kingdoms or religions never seemed to bother her. She travelled and preached what she believed in, trying to convert those who had been blinded by other faiths. I bet she was good at it too, I never saw her give a sermon but I know she would have been good at it. She had the sort of faith that you could almost see, it was as if it was about to shine out through her at any moment. That kind of thing's infectious in a determined person and no one could deny that she was determined to spread the holy word.

But in this isle, as I'm sure you're aware lass, people take differing religions seriously. She travelled too far, into lands that did not want to hear her message, into lands where they were most devoted to their own church. Her words enraged them and they turned to violence.
Guilt paused and swallowed hard, trying to hold back the tears that he could already feel welling up in his old blood-shot eyes. Father Landon brought us the news that she'd died, that she'd been murdered. His squeezed his hands into fists as the old grief and the bitter rage fought for supremacy.

It took a while for him to calm down but he managed it in the end, taking a good drink of the ale before he dared trust himself to speak again. Never did find out how the old priest knew about her murder. The people who killed her hid the deed well but somehow that wily old priest knew. He always seemed to know things that he shouldn't have done. I remember the time when I was just knee high to a grasshopper and he marched up to the cupboard with all my personal belongings in and knew just where I'd hidden those sweets that I'd taken from young Persistence. The old man chuckled to himself, Oh he was a good man-

That's a lovely tale of lost love and all that, the barmaid interrupted his brief trip down memory land. But it doesn't really explain how you can claim to be over two hundred years old.

No it doesn't lass, it doesn't. But every story ha to have a starting point and some history. You've just heard the history for my story, now stop fussing and I'll tell you the rest.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Fri Nov 19, 2004 9:33 am
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Guilt settled down further into his seat, warming to his tale. He'd had precious little chance to really tell it over the years, few people tended to stick around long enough to hear the entire thing. For some reason his audience usually wandered off at some point, sure that they were listening to the words of a madman. But he wasn't mad, even though he probably had the right to be after so many years and after all that he had seen. Unfortunately though he might wish for madness it had never come to him and so he was left with his thoughts as clear as crystal, unshakeably sure that what he remembered was truly what had happened.

He wished that things were different. But if wishes came true he would have died long ago by the side of the woman he loved with a gaggle of grandchildren nearby. Wishes didn't come true though, they were things of childhood and he had left his childhood behind him a long time ago. He had to face reality, however strange and twisted that reality might be. It would have been nice to have lived a normal life but that hadn't been his fate. His fate had been to live beyond a normal man's years, to grow old and yet to still be charged with ending a great...

Well he couldn't really call it a great evil now could he? He couldn't think of her and call her evil, not even if it wasn't her soul controlling the actions of her body. No it wasn't within him to think of her and call her evil, he still remembered how sweet and innocent she had been, how utterly without sin or crime. Even after all that had happened he still couldn't think of her as evil, so what was it that he had been charged with stopping? A great injustice, yes that was better, even if it didn't quite have the same punch to it that 'evil' did.

He scrabbled about in his memory for the rest of his story, pleased that the wench hadn't fled by that point. Guilt was right, he knew he was, she would be the one to tell Lord Augutin if he failed in his journey to the northern ice fields. Well let me see, now where was I? Oh yes Father Landon somehow knew of her death and told the rest of us about it. The old priest was never quite the same afterwards for some reason, always blamed himself for what happened apparently. Never understood that myself but there again I don't know all of the story, just those parts of it that relate to me.

I mourned her, I really did. I hated that I had let her go out into the world by herself, not that she would have let anyone go with her. Innocent she may have been, but there was a will of steel to back up what she believed in underneath all that.
She had believed more than any of the temples orphans. The rest of them had grown up in the same situation as she had but none of them had had the same devotion, the same unstoppable faith that she had had. Even Guilt couldn't claim to have had the same strength of faith as she had and he had given his life to the temple. I didn't know what to do with myself after her murder. Probably without the support of the temple I would have quite happily lost myself in drink and found my way into an early grave that way.

That wasn't what I wanted to do though, oh no. I wanted to kill them, I wanted to take revenge on those who had so brutally murdered her. The temple took that, they took my anger and my rage and put it to good use, enrolling me in their militant order. Though,
and he chuckled as he spoke, As I recall I wasn't best pleased with that idea as they dragged me from the tavern and away to the barracks. Pleased? No he'd been furious and there had been more than a few guardsmen who had carried the bruises to prove it. He'd caught a beating and a half for that and no mistake, once they'd managed to sober him up first of course.

Once he'd calmed down he had settled down to the life of a temple guardsman with an ease that had surprised even him. From the moment that they had given him his first dulled practice sword it had felt as though the hilt had belonged there, fitting to his grip as if it had been made from him alone. They said that everyone had their skills, abilities that they were born with, Guilt had never thought that his would be awakened in the worn practice-rooms of the temple guard.

I spent my life, well my best years at least, first training and then defending the faith and the church. It wasn't so bad, it was probably the best that a man like me could have hoped for with the start in life I had. But I never forgot about her, in my dreams night after night I seemed to see her, floating beneath murky waters, calling out to me to avenge her.

Every night, the nightmares came. Every night I'd hear her call.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Tue Nov 23, 2004 7:15 am
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He looked down at the parchment on the table in front of him, the one that he'd written the letter to Lord Augutin upon. Was he really doing the right thing trying to warn Augutin? Guilt thought it was the right thing to do and those glimpses of the possible future that he'd been allowed seemed to suggest that if he failed Augutin would need to know. After all the lord had been the only one that Guilt knew of, beside himself, who'd ever tried to take the fight to the home of their common enemy. Most people tried to stay as far away as they could, not that it had done those who'd run into her any good.

Of course even if she hadn't been there most sane people would have avoided the glacier fields of Githga'mel. The freezing temperatures, the great glaciers and ice plains, not to mention the white-furred bears and their hunger, all were good reasons to stick clear of Githga'mel, her presence had just made an already inhospitable environment get that little bit worse. What sane man ventured willingly into a land of snow and ice? Well apart from the trappers but Guilt had met their sort before and had to wonder if they really were sane to take up such a profession. he most certainly wouldn't have spent his days frozen to the marrow and trying to lure the white bears into deadly traps.

But none of that had put Augutin off. He had gathered up a great army of men and sent them off to Githga'mel, attempting to put an end to the troubles there. It was said that not one man came back from that battle alive. But there again such things were always exaggerated, Augutin had at least got back alive. Either way, the vast majority of those who had been sent to Githga'mel had met their ends within that icy place.

Guilt shook his head, Augutin in some ways was such a fool. He had wasted a good portion of his realm's youth upon that battle, not to mention a goodly portion of his best tacticians and mages. But still for a time it had looked to the outside world as if he had succeeded, as if he had managed to destroy the things in Githga'mel. Guilt had known otherwise, he had known that they were not dead, but no one ever listened to the words of an old man.

But he was getting ahead of himself, Where was I? Oh yes, the nightmares. Had them for years, they still trouble me now and then but now I don't feel the hatred for those that killed her, no it's the one who brought her back that's earned my ire now. His hands were screwed up into fists and he brought them down with a bang upon the table top. The sound wasn't loud enough to disturb the revellers on the other side of the tavern, but it certainly made the serving girl jump.

Brought her back?, the girl said, the words coming out just a little too quickly as she tried to cover her sudden fright. Her next words were just a touch scornful as she regained her control, No one can be brought back from the dead, everyone knows that.

Do they indeed? Well I suppose a young lady as worldly as you would know all about that kind of thing, wouldn't you?, he said back in his chair and looked at her for several long moments, keeping silent while she squirmed under his intense gaze. Finally though he relented, taking a deep breath and sitting forward to resume his story once more. Truth is that you're wrong. There are powers in the world that do allow the dead to be brought back, but not properly, there's always something wrong about them. What's dead is dead, but there are those that don't let them sleep in their graves as they should.

Anyway you're making me get ahead of myself again. I was telling you about when I was younger. My life was nothing truly spectacular, I lived, I worked, I slept and dreamt of her. I grew old as we all do, not that it seems that way to the young like yourself. Looking back I suppose I had a good career, I did what I was meant to, I tried as best I could. My life was...well it was ordinary, right up until the day that Father Landon died. We all knew that he was passing on, there was no denying it, but he'd lived a good long life and we could all be thankful for knowing him. One night he sent for me, told the messenger that he had to speak to me before he went to judgement, that there was something that I had to know.
he laughed, I must admit I had sort of hoped that he was going to tell me where he'd squirrelled away some money.

Wish it had been. I could have done with a drink or two after what he told me.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Thu Nov 25, 2004 10:16 am
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Guilt let the silence stretch out between the two of them, saying nothing, not even looking towards the young barmaid. It was only in the silence that he realised that he had no idea of her name. It was hardly a polite thing to do but somehow it made it easier to tell her everything, without a name to put to her she was just another young soul, one of the many that he had met over the years. How many had he encountered over the years? Too many to count probably. There always seemed to be young people, just springing up all over the place, and with each year that passed him by the young people seemed to grow ever younger. He knew it was just a trick of his mind, but it seemed that way all the same.

Well, the girl said eventually, a slight snap to her voice as her patience wore thin. What did Father Landon tell you on his death bed? What was so important? The old man smiled to himself slyly, it didn't matter how many years passed something's forever seemed to remain the same. A good tale would always draw a person's attention and an unfinished one burned within them till they had all the answers. If he had just told the tale plainly the girl would have probably lost interest within a short span, relegating what he had to tell her to the back of her mind.

You want to know do you?

The girl sighed, drumming her fingers upon the wooden surface of the table in frustration, I wouldn't ask if I didn't, would I? He had her in the palm of his hand even if she didn't know it. Guilt had spun out enough of the tale that he had her hooked, she wanted to know the rest, she needed to know the rest. Admittedly she had no idea of the latter reason for the telling.

Alright girl, alright, let me wet my palate and I'll tell you what Father Landon told me all those years ago. He deliberately took time in taking a great long swig of the ale, wiping his mouth with the edge of his sleeve and settling down once more. There was an art to it, making the audience - even if it was an audience of one - wait just long enough to bring their minds to a peak but not so long that they would grow too irritable. An irritable audience was no use at all, more often than not turning upon the hapless storyteller and taking out their anger on him.

He took a deep breath, looking out of the corner of his eye at the young woman. There was a glint of anger just starting to show in her eyes, yes she'd been made to wait long enough. Much longer and she would probably have flounced off in a rage, prefering the company of the drunk traders over the other side of the tavern. Well I took myself to his chambers as soon as I got the message that he wanted to see me. I knew that he didn't have long left before he was called home to the heavens. He wasn't looking well, he seemed too thin, too pale, too...well just plain worn out from all that he'd been carrying around over the years. You see, our dear Father Landon had known more about what would happen to my poor murdered Innocence than anyone else could ever have guessed.

It seemed that just before she took holy orders the good Father had taken her out to visit someone, someone who had told her of the future. She had been offered a choice of what would await her in life. One future held the promise of a long life, a devouted husband and a whole gaggle of children and grandchildren. That life ended in a peaceful death, surrounded by those that loved her dearly. But the second future...that was the one that would happen if she chose to take holy orders and pursue a life given over the God rather than one given to people. That future was short and painful, ending brutally and in violence.


She chose the second, the girl said, interrupting him.

He nodded, Exactly, and I told you she did indeed die violently, a death that none should suffer. But there was something else that Father Landon knew, he knew that death wouldn't hold her, that eventually the grave would turn her loose. He told me that he'd felt power at work, power directed at her murdered corpse in its watery grave. The good Father didn't know exactly what would happen but he knew in his heart that it was wrong, that when she arose she would have to be stopped. And more than that...he knew that I'd loved her.

I hated the thought of her rising from the dead, an unholy abomination of nature, just as the Father did. He offered me a chance to be the one who would seek her out and put her back into her grave, to set her to rest there. I must admit that I didn't give the offer enough thought, I should have asked some questions rather than just blindly jumping at it.
Guilt laughed, a touch of bitterness reaching his voice. Oh he most certainly should have asked Father Landon exactly what the offer entailed, but he'd been younger then and far too eager for his own good.

As he lay upon his death bed Father Landon worked an act of faith, pouring every fibre of his being into it. He acted as a sacrifice himself, giving himself over to the Lord entirely, offering his soul up to the waters of the bowl in return for giving me the gifts that I would need to thwart her rising. As the last breath left the Father's body the pact between the two of us with the Lord was sealed and there was no turning back from it.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Mon Nov 29, 2004 8:29 am
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The girl leaned forward in her chair, hanging on his every word, waiting for more, yearning for more. Guilt didn't doubt that she probably still disbelieved him, probably thought that it was just an old man's tale that had been blown out of all proportion by time. After all it was exactly what he would have thought in her place, heck he had thought just that as he had grown up, listening to the tales of first the priests and then the guardsmen. The past always seemed to gain epic proportions when retold years later, he's discovered that early.

Perhaps the same had happened to him. After all his tale had had more years to grow, more ages to gain amendments and changes. But, no, in his heart of hearts the old man knew that the words he spoke weren't embellished. What he told the wench was exactly what had happened all those years ago in Tanmel. His tale needed no changes to make it more otherworldly, it had contained enough of that to begin with.

Faith, love, death, murder, choices, fate, the undead, the joining of souls; what more could his tale possibly want? What could truly make it even more unbelievable than it already was? Some fantastical mage throwing spells perhaps? The very Gods involving Themselves in Their divine flesh? In his opinion it would not have really added anything more to the story, sometimes his history seemed so strange that even he had trouble believing it. It was difficult to disbelieve his own past but there had been times...oh yes there had been times.

Yes Father Landon, with his own death, bonded by soul to hers, fixed my fate to hers. From the moment she rose from her watery grave I would not age nor die, not until the moment that a true and final death reached her. I would have to seek her out and put her down, destroying her and in that moment destroying myself. It was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make, I was quite happy to give up any remaining years that I had left to me for the chance to give the woman I loved final peace.

But there was a problem wasn't there? If the Father was a fully fledged priest when you were only a child... you couldn't have looked like this, the barmaid gestured towards his apparently frail and aged body. You couldn't have been this old when he died and bound your soul to hers.

Guilt grinned as he lifted the ale mug to his lips, he had feared that he would have to lead the girl through that bit, it was so much better that she had figured it out for herself. It was always so much easier when the audience put some of the pieces of the story puzzle together for themselves. You're right girl, I was no longer a sprightly youth but neither was I old enough to be looking towards death myself. But at that time she had not risen from her grave either.

For a long time I aged as a normal man, watching every line appear, every wrinkle crease my brow and knowing that she still slept in the embrace of the grave. In some ways I was glad for that, glad to know that nothing disturbed her. But in other ways I feared the onset of age, with every piece of new evidence that I was aging I feared that I would weaken and no longer possess the strength needed to commit her to the grave again when the time came. What greater fear could I have other than that I would fail? I had set myself to a path that age itself might steal from me. And every time I thought too much upon it I worried...what would happen to me if I could not kill her? What would happen to me if she never gained the sanctuary of a final and true death?


That thought had consumed him and his thinking a number of times after Father Landon's death. It was still a thought that worried him still. So far he had never actually confronted her in the flesh. He had worked upon her minions and plans, stopping them where he could. But he had never actually tested himself against her. What if after all the time that had passed he did not possess the strength or the will to kill her? And what would happen if he lost? Well that was partly why he had written the letter to Lord Augutin and why he was telling his tale to the girl. They would jointly ensure that his purpose was continued, but what would happen to him if he failed? Could he truly die within his quarrey dying first?

I must have been, hmmm, he paused and tried to think, In my seventies when it happened. The night was like any other but a cold dread seeped into the very marrow of my bones and I knew without any doubt that death no longer held her.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Wed Dec 08, 2004 8:15 am
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Oh indeed he remembered that night well.

Guilt had been huddled in his chamber, no longer the great warrior of his youth but instead a tired old man. They had allowed him to remain within the barracks, advising the commanders of the temple guards and teaching a little now and then of tactics to the younger men. Nothing too much that might have strained him or tired him out unnecessarily. Enough to allow him to feel as though he was still earning his keep. They had whispered behind his back, that the next winter would probably kill him. They had thought he hadn't heard their words, it was funny how many of them had assumed that just because he was old he was also deaf.

It had made him wonder though, in later years; what would have happened if he had died before she had risen from the grave? Would the oath that Father Landon had put him under still held him? Even in death? Would he had risen from his own grave in order to combat her? Combating like with like, the dead against the dead, it was an unnerving thought and one he didn no want to dwell on for too long.

I knew she'd risen just as surely as I knew my own name or that Intop would rise again with the dawn. She was...well I can't really say 'alive' now can I? Some people call things like vampires the 'undead' but I hesitate to call her that either, for she is not at all like them. She is dead, there's no two bones about it. She's as dead as they come but decay has not touched her and her body does not lay in eternal sleep. Dead yet walking, moving, acting, thinking.

My heart sank as I realised that what Father Landon had told me was coming true and even as I thought that I felt the pact that I had made with the Lord setting its chains upon me. Strength flowed back into my old flesh, my sight cleared and my breathing became easier. It was as if all the troubles of age fled from my body, except for the outward signs. I look as old as I did then, a youthful seventy if I may say so myself, but at the same I have the strength and energy of a much younger man. I dare say I could hold my own with any of those young bucks,
he said, gesturing towards the noisier part of the tavern where the traders were still attempting to drink themselves into a stupor. They were on their way to being rather successful at it as well.

So? Then what? You'd got your strength back, no need to worry about facing her as some withered old man, what did you do next?

He looked down at the dregs of his ale, pondering about whether to send the girl away for another before telling her the rest. No, it probably wasn't a good idea. His supply of coins was not infinite and there was still a long way between the tavern and the ice plains of Githga'mel. Besides, the girl might get angry and flounce off if he tried to delay the rest of the tale. She was a feisty one and no mistake, not at all like his quarry when she had still been alive and most certainly nothing like her now that she was dead.

Guilt nodded to himself, the first longings for a warm bed stirring in his mind. What did I do? I gathered up what was mine and set out for the place where I knew she had been murdered. It seemed the obvious thing to do. The sooner I dealt with her the sooner I could be released from the pact and continue on to my proper rest. The problem was that when got to the place she wasn't there anymore. No one was.

The town had been deserted?

He squirmed in his chair, uncomfortable at what he was about to tell her, In a way, yes.

The wench waited for a moment, and then said, Well? What do you mean by 'In a way'?

None lived there anymore. When my poor Innocence had risen from her grave she had...brought others with her. All the dead and buried of that town rose up and followed her, leaving their graves behind and following her into the town itself. They killed every last man, woman and child in that town, no one escaped, no one at all. The living weren't prepared to deal with their own dead coming for them, creatures that didn't think or feel, but rather just obeyed. Creatures who didn't care if you hit them about the head or plunged a blade into their chests. He hands had formed into fists as he spoken and it was with a reluctance that he sighed and relaxed them.

Worst thing though wasn't that, it was that...well when they'd killed the townsfolk they didn't stay dead neither. They got up, moved my whatever power had brought my Innocence back from the grave, following her away. Can you imagine that girl? Can you imagine an army like that? One that doesn't need food or sleep, one that doesn't complain or care, one that only obeys.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Fri Dec 10, 2004 8:57 am
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The serving girl paled at his questions, her hand flying to her mouth to stifle the gasp that tried to escape. It was a horrifying thought, the dead returning to make war upon the living but it was a reality that he had had to live with for a long time now. Death was meant to signal an eternal rest from the labours and troubles of life. It was supposed to put a person beyond the reach of his enemies, safe in the arms of his God. What more horrifying thought was there than to think that the final slumber of a loved one was disturbed, that there was no gentle rest for them?

Guilt had seen that army of the dead. He had seen how they had arisen from the misty battlefields, following the silent call of their mistress. Only once had he seen it but for any normal man that once would have been enough. The dead had risen up as she had walked by them through the mist, they had clambered to their feet, their eyes staring ahead blankly. It had been a terrible sight, soldiers of all ages and all faiths rising up to follow her, the battles of their lives forgotten. Each of them had still carried the wounds that he had suffered before death. The simple stab wounds had been the easiest to bear...there had been far, far worse.

It tore him up inside to think of his poor, sweet Innocence, or rather the thing that wore her flesh, walking the battlefields of the isle, harvesting the dead more easily than another would gather wheat. What wickedness had possessed her soul? What horror had taken something so sweet, so pure and imbued it with the power to wake the dead and bind them to her will? Guilt did not believe that he would ever know, after all the pact that he had made with the Lord had ensured him life only until Innocence died for the final time. He had never made a pact with the Lord to gain enough time and strength to punish whoever was responsible for the sorry state of affairs.

There are rumours of such a thing, the wench said quietly, her voice so soft that the old man barely made it out over the clamour of the traders in the tavern. Her skin was pale from the story that he had told her and he could just make out how her hands shook with nerves. I have heard some of the merchants that have come this way talk of an army of the dead, one that takes the newly dead from the battlefields and the old dead from the graveyards. But I never thought it was true, I never thought...

Guilt nodded as her words trailed off, yes this was the one, this was the right one. He'd known that she was the one that had to know the tale, the one that would need to know. Aye, you do know the tale don't you? Of Innocence, the dead Dardenite priestess who walks the lands and takes the dead. You know her, you've known of her for a while.

The girl swallowed and looked fearfully around her, checking the shadows as if the walking dead might arise from them at any moment. A moment before the shadows cast by the flames of the fire had been comforting, familiar. But now they were something else, a place for nightmares to hide, a darkness that could contain all manner of unspeakable things. In truth the shadows themselves had not changed at all, just the girl's fear, that was all, nothing more. They say...they say that she gathers the dead and that she longs to see all the living banished from the isle. They say that she can't be killed, that you can't kill what's already dead. One man swore that he'd seen a soldier put a blade right through her belly and she didn't even blink.

Steel alone can't kill what's she's become, it'll take more than that, the old man said, sitting back in his chair and nodding gravely.

So what are we meant to do? What can we do against a creature like that?

Nothing.

Nothing?, the girl's eyes had grown wide with fear.

Guilt smiled softly, sadly, There's nothing you can do girl, I'm the one that's got to stop her. He got up from his chair, gathering up his things and placing the letter that he had written earlier in one pocket. Go, get yourself to bed, dream pleasant dreams for you never know what tomorrow may bring you.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Mon Dec 13, 2004 9:32 am
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Joints popped and cracked as he rose from the crude pallet that had been his bed for the night. It wasn't much but Guilt had learned long ago not to expect luxury from road-side inns. There again it wasn't as though he had ever been one who had rested in comfort, wrapped in silks and satins. others might live that life, but not him, not the orphan boy from the temple who had grown up to be something more. His standard of living was by no means at the level of beggars but neither could he thrown his money around as if it came from an endless source. Well some might call it endless, the temples were often thought to possess great stores of gold and it was the church of Darden who saw to it that he was kept above the level of poverty.

Not that there was any certainty in that source of funding. Rumour had it that the old temple at Tanmel wasn't the only one that lay in ruins. From what he had over-heard from the drunken traders many temples, of all faiths, had joined his childhood home in ruin. A puzzling thing that, worrying too, but he had no time to think on it for now. Not when his steps had led him so close to the path to the ice plains of Githga'mel.

Guilt washed quickly, splashing the cold water on his body and drawing in sharp breathes as he did so. I'm getting too old, he grumbled to himself without thinking as he towelled himself dry. Too old? Too old? Oh that's a good one, he chuckled to himself as she dressed himself and checked his belongings. The innkeeper had seemed a good sort, but sometimes it was impossible to judge another by that alone. Everything seemed present and correct, untouched. As if I could get any older than I already am. Ages may pass but I'm just as old as I was back when she woke up.

He hobbled down to the public area of the tavern, ordering a simple breakfast of bread and mutton. There was no sign of the rowdy drinkers from the previous night, they were probably still sleeping soundly in their beds in the rooms above. It would more than likely be a few hours as yet before they dragged themselves from their beds and moaned at the state of their heads. Young people today, just can't hold their ale, he mumbled into his breakfast, nodding as he saw the young wench who had been his audience the night before. She smiled in reply, though there were lines of worry marring her soft features.

Finally finished, Guilt sought out the tavern owner to settle his bill. He had agreed to pay half the night before and half in the morning, better that way, better than handing over all the money the night before and finding a knife in his chest in the morning. It didn't happen often but he had stayed in enough disreputable places in his years to learn to walk with caution even in the most clean and apparently law-abiding establishments.

He counted out the small coins directly into the innkeeper's hand, taking a care not to show just how much was left in his purse. Nineteen...twenty...twenty-one...there I think that settles the bill now doesn't it?

The innkeeper grunted, his blood-shot eyes suggesting that he had sampled a few too many of his own wares the night before. He picked up one of the coins at random and bit it, checking to see if it was false. It seemed that the tavern-owner could be as cautious as Guilt himself. Yeah that'll do, it's all there. Well fair travelling to you, sir, and be sure to visit us again when next you walk this road. He mouthed the pleasantries, barely paying any heed to the words. Turning away from the old man, he made to go out into the backroom.

Actually, worthy innkeep, I was wondering if I might be able to strike a little business with you. I'll pay well I assure you, Guilt said, dropping his pouch of money on the tabletop meaningfully.

Always glad for a little business, the tavern-owner said quickly, hurrying back to the counter. What might I be able to do for you?

I was speaking with one of your girls last night...

Tersi? Yes I saw. Now look, if you're 'interested' in her we don't do that kind of thing here, this is a respectable establishment. Besides you're old enough to be her grandfather-

Guilt waved his hand to cut off the younger man's words of outrage, No, no, no, I mean nothing like that. I am, as you say, old enough to be her ancestor. What I would like would be for you to look after this letter for me, he placed the sealed letter to Augutin next to the pouch. There may come a time when it must be delivered. You will know that time, trust me you will know. If, or more likely when, that time comes I want you to send Tersi to deliver it, no other.

Deliver it to who?, he asked suspiciously.

The old man smiled, When the time comes, you'll know. But it must be Tersi who delivers it. No harm will come to her, on my word of honour you have that, the one who the letter is intended for will see her richly rewarded more likely than not. And I'll give you, three times what I paid for the room last night if you agree to do this for me. Three times, that's not a bad price I think you'll agree.

The tavern-keeper licked his lips a little nervously, seeking to find the catch or deception that he feared might exist in the deal. Just look after a letter and possibly send Tersi off to deliver it if the time comes? And for that you'll give me three times the cost of a room? That's all you want for that price? Just that?

Guilt nodded.

You've got yourself a deal then, old man, he offered his hand and the old man gladly took it, handing over the money and the letter a moment later. All was ready, all was prepared and set in order, now all that remained waited for him at Githga'mel.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Wed Jan 05, 2005 8:37 am
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The old man pulled his head down further over his ears as he trudged along the side of the road. It was muddy at the edge of the road but there was no helping it. If he tried to walk in the middle where the ground was still firm he'd only end up risking being trampled by the passing wagons heading to or from Bayerme. Though the weight of all his years could sometimes hang heavily upon him, Guilt had no wish to end it all under the pounding hooves of a trader's wagon. If indeed his existence could be ended in such a way before the task set upon his soul had been fulfilled. It wasn't something that he really wanted to discover. And besides either way he had no real wish to experience a wagon driving straight over him. It hardly seemed like it would be a pleasant thing.

Wagons seemed to move along the trade road every few minutes, some taking their wares to Bayerme, some, heavily laden, carrying them away. The trade road to the northern city was a busy one, filled with men and women eager to make their fortunes. Bayerme was a trade centre for all manner of goods in the region. Furs were what it was best known for, the trappers in the north truly knew how to do their job. The coats of many a savage and wild creature had found their way through the hands of the trappers and down to Bayerme for sale in far off provinces.

Gold, coal, silver, gemstones, all the bounty of the deep earth could be traded for in Bayerme. The merchants in the city kept close links to the miner and mountain folk to the north and west, ensuring that there were always supplies of such things. And then of course there was the city's steel. Bayerme steel was known all over the place and much in demand for weaponry and armour. The great burly blacksmiths of the city kept their smithies working hard every day to churn out the products that would be used on battlefields that they themselves would never see.

People went to Bayerme. They went and sold what produce they had brought with them. They went and bought the goods that the city was famous for, hoping to sell them for a profit elsewhere. Yes people went to Bayerme, they went to the city...they most certainly didn't go through it. But that was exactly what Guilt planned to do. The trade city wasn't his destination, it was just the easiest way to get to the north. Using the trade route might not have been the most direct route, as the crow flew, to get to the ice fields of the far north but it was most certainly the easiest.

Going to Bayerme would be easiest on his old feet. Not to mention it would give him the chance to stock up on the supplies that he would need for the north. The cold didn't seem to harm him so much since his deal with the Lord had come into play but that still didn't mean he was about to venture towards the ice fields without warm clothing. It might not hurt him to do so, but it would certainly draw more than a little attention and he wanted none of that on the trip. The last thing that the old man wanted was some curious trapper following him into the ice fields. It was bad enough that he was likely to get himself killed on the venture, it wouldn't sit well on his soul for him to drag someone else into it with him.

At first Bayerme appeared on the horizon as little more than a smudge, a black mark that could have as easily been a forest as a city. A forest clothed in its winter frock, all its green summer finery stolen from it admittedly, but a forest nonetheless. It had taken a good day's walking before he found himself standing before its stark stone walls. Bayerme was a trade town, true, but that didn't meant that it didn't find itself caught in the middle of more bloody exchanges.

Sometimes the walls kept out the wild animals out, creatures driven close to the city by the difficulties of the winter months. At other times the walls stood strong against the nearby folk when some foolish merchant thought to cheat them. Cheating the miners or the trappers was never a wise idea and was never something that a man tried twice. More often than not the men of Bayerme would find the merchant in question and throw him from their high walls to the angry people below. That often solved the problem they found.

And of course there were always the times when some petty lordling thought to steal Bayerme from Augutin's grip. Though Augutin might prefer to live in Etony to the south he always ensured that there was a ready garrison to protect his more northerly interests.

At the moment though the walls were doing something else, they were keeping Guilt out.

The old man picked up a stone from the road and used it to rap on the closed doors, Open up in there, the old blood in this body is freezing in its veins.

Quiet down there, a voice called down from the walls above. It's nightfall, we don't open the gates after dark for anybody. You'll have to wait for morning if you want to enter Bayerme.

Wait for morning? Wait for morning, why you young whipper-snapper, Guilt shouted back. What kind of thing to do is that? You'd leave a poor old man out in the cold all night? What would you do if it was your own grandfather out here? Leave him to freeze to death too? A fine attitude from the good guards of Bayerme's this is.

Just let the old man in Wilf, another voice called, Some of us are trying to get a bit of shut eye in here before our shift.

Alright, alright, the first man - Wilf - called out in answer. Stay where you are old man, I'll get the gatekeepers to let you in. He continued to grumble to himself as he went about his job but Guilt only smiled to himself. Sometimes playing the cankerous old man to the hilt got him exactly what he wanted.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Fri Jan 07, 2005 9:11 am
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He didn't spend long in Bayerme. Just a few days, enough to pick up the necessary supplies and put to rest the worrying rumour that he had heard on the road. Winter supplies for the journey north had not been a difficult thing to sort out. The mountain men and winders that traded with the merchants of Bayerme more often than not had little use of gold in their hidden villages. They prefered to be paid in goods, selling furs and the like for bags of grain, tools or the like. What use were bags of coins in the isolated villages of such men? Bags of gold might as well have been bags of plain coal in such places...or more likely bags of stones, coal at least had a purpose. Gold was just a way to track wealth, what did a man care in the high cold villages if his neighbour was wealthier than him? All that he cared for was being able to feed, cloth and keep his family warm.

A few of the traders gave him odd looks, as unusual as it was for people to travel north it was even more unusual for the traveller to be as old as he appeared to be. Even stranger for a man of my actual age to travel this way I should think, he had chuckled to himself. Of course all that had done was get him even more strange glances from the traders.

But they were all far behind him now as he bounced on the wagon whose owner had offered him a ride to one of the more northerly villages. The wagoneer had taken pity on the old man as he had walked away from the walls of Bayerme, offering to take him the the village in return for a bit of company. It had been a trade that Guilt had been only too glad to make. Although the city had provided him with everything he had needed to make the trip on foot, it would hardly have been a pleasant task. The wagoneer hadn't been overly concerned with exactly why such an old man was heading north alone. That suited Guilt just fine. He had told his tale to the girl Tersi at the tavern but he didn't intend to spread it any further. There was no need to start spreading rumours about Innocence in the north just yet, it would only cause a panic.

Not to mention that his trip to Bayerme had left him with a worrying problem. One that he hoped the wagon trip would give him time to turn over in his mind.

The rumour that he had looked into in the city had been one concerning the temples. A passing trader had mentioned that no temples to the Gods remained standing, that they had all gone, fallen to rubble without warning or sign of heathenous foul-play. Bayerme might not have been the most religious of cities but it fell within Augutin's domain and so had always had a handful of chapels to the Lord Darden. They were nothing fancy but they had always given the people a place to pray and the priests a place to live. In the harsh lands in and around Bayerme people didn't tend to have a great deal of time to turn their minds to the salvation of their souls, but the chapels were always there for those that did find themselves in need of spiritual aid.

Or monetary in Guilt's case.

He had planned to visit the largest of the chapels anyway in order to gain a few more coins. His trip to the ice-fields and Innocence was fast removing the coins from his pouch. But when he had gone to the temple it was, just as the rumour had said, gone. Men were scrabbling about in the ruins, transporting the stones away to other places where they would be used for other buildings. When he had asked of the other chapels all the old man had gotten was a gabble of rumours and whispered tales. They said that the temples had all fallen suddenly one night, that the priests had died in the destruction. The men had feared an invasion, but it had never come. There were other stories that they had imparted in fearful tones to Guilt, rumours of death on a massive scale to the south, of armies attacking one another even though they flew the same banner, of the Prophet himself moving, sending forth armies.

Guilt shook his head, wishing that he hadn't gone in search of the truth of the rumours. He would rather have lived in ignorance than have the memory of the men of Bayerme's tales. of their scared voices when they whispered to him that "Darden has left us". That brought a fear to his old heart that he had never known before. Could he be true? No, no, the God had to be out there...somewhere. Gods didn't just disappear, it didn't happen that way. And what would you know of such things you old fool, he muttered into his white beard.

But hadn't he made a deal with Darden? Wasn't it Darden's will alone that kept him alive in order to see his Innocence put to rest in her grave once and for all? But if that was true and the God had gone why hadn't he died? If the God had truly gone why did Guilt still live? So many questions, so many fears, so many worries that he had long since thought put aside. He was too old to doubt his faith and yet that was exactly what he found himself doing. As the wagon trundled along the crude road north from Bayerme all Guilt could do was worry and wonder:

Was Darden truly gone? And what did that bode for him?

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Mon Jan 10, 2005 8:16 am
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The village of Tussle had never been destined for greatness.

It had been destined to be nothing more than the tiniest speck upon a map of the area, and then only if it was exceedingly lucky. There were only twenty or so buildings in the whole settlement, each of them huddling close to the others as if for warmth. Snow-covered and ice-bound, the village might have easily been mistaken for a grouping of low hills if a traveller didn't know what they were looking for. Indeed such a thing had happened before. Tussle's single claim to fame, if it could be called that, was that Augutin's tax collector had once frozen to his death less than fifty paces from warmth and safety because he couldn't see the village for all the snow.

The men of Tussle all followed the same profession in one form or another. They were trappers and hunters, venturing onto the nearby ice-fields in search of the great white bears that made the place their home. The women of the village saw to the tanning and storage of the furs, ensuring that their husbands catches were well preserved by the time the spring traders first made their rounds. Out of necessity the women had become quite expert at cooking bear meat as well as the strange, large-eyed fish that could be caught in places. Away from the main settlements people couldn't afford to be picky over what they lived on. Normally they didn't ask what was for dinner, it was better not to know.

Guilt had been dropped off in the village the night before, the wagoneer accepting the old man's thanks gruffly. The wagoneer had disappeared into one of the low buildings, the smoke rising from its chimney the only sign that the place was inhabited. Luckily for the old man a matron of the village had peeked out of her house curiously and had then proceeded to bundle him inside. The woman's house was cosy and thick with the smell of tanning furs. A fire crackled merrily in his unexpected hostess's home and over it a pot of thick, rich stew bubbled and boiled.

His hostess was a good woman, one who had been only too glad to give an old man a touch of charity. He hadn't expected to have a warm bed to sleep in one more time before he struck out for the ice fields. The thought of a hot meal had been a dream that he had not thought would be reality. But the kindly woman saw to it that he had both, clucking and fussing over him like a mother hen. Perhaps, Guilt thought, he reminded her of her own grandfathers. Or maybe she was just a lonely woman, trapped in Tussle, knowing that her husband was far from home in the ice fields of Githga'mel.

He had done his best to be a guest that did not bring her any trouble. It was the least that he could do for such a rough diamond of a woman hidden away in the northlands. That and remember her in his prayers. Although he was no longer so sure that there was anyone left to listen to his whispered words of faith, not since he had seen what had become of the chapels at Bayerme. Still, that was no reason to stop praying, he thought to himself, trying to bolster his own spirits and throw off the darkness that had troubled his mind since the city.

As morning came he packed up his few belongings and readied himself for the journey into the wilderness. There would be no more helpful wagoneers once he left Tussle, no more friendly women to ensure that he had a hot meal in his belly and a roof over his head. After Tussle only the seemingly endless ice-fields awaited. And in Githga'mel, somewhere in the ice and snow, his Innocence, his dear, sweet Innocence.

While he prepared his hostess brought a few things to him, insisting that he take them if he planned on travelling to the ice-fields. She would not take no for an answer and so Guilt felt obliged to take her gifts. Parcels of cured bear meat that would see him through the worst of hunger. A thick warm coat, lined with fur that her husband had managed to rip on his last journey. And last but not least, a pair of strange constructs of wood and thick twine that were meant to aid him in walking on the snow. He could barely figure out how to put them on with out her help but had to acknowledge that if she said they would help him they most likely would. His hostess undoubtedly knew more of travelling in the snow than he did.

Outside the pale light of Intop threw its early means down upon the unspoilt snow. The heavy white covering took the light and reflected it back brilliantly, threatening to blind anyone so foolish as to look at it for long. It was breathtakingly beautiful even though he knew the dangers that such an environment contained. He could not afford to be drawn into long contemplation of that beauty, not if he wanted to have any chance of finishing what started so many years before.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Tue Jan 11, 2005 10:48 am
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The icy lands of Githga'mel were a breathtakingly beautiful place, the old man had to admit to himself. It was a strange and cold beauty but a beauty nevertheless. He could not imagine that any could stand and look into the snow and ice and not find it oddly beautiful. It was an unearthly beauty, otherworldly, almost as though it had never been meant for a world of men and mortals. Somehow it seemed out of place to see it, as if his eyes were looking upon something that the Gods alone should have witnessed and watched. Guilt felt almost ashamed to see it, as if he were doing some wrong by looking upon Githga'mel.

He had not felt anything similar since he had been but a young boy and had snuck into the holy chambers where the relics of the temple were kept. The chambers had been supposedly out of bounds for him, a place where only the highest of the temple's priests were allowed to go. Yes that's exactly it, he said to himself, his breath coming out in great white plumes. It's like looking upon some holy thing and knowing that I should not be here. As a boy he had been caught and beaten for entering the relic chambers. What would happen if he were caught in Githga'mel? Worse than a simple beating that much was for sure.

The actions of the endless wind had sculpted and crafted the snows and ice of Githga'mel into all manner of shapes. Tall graceful spires of ice competed for the attention of his eyes with low curving collections of snow. The landscape was a work of art, nature at its more dangerous and yet most lovely. In other parts of the isle men and women would fight over the possession of green and pleasant lands, destroying the very thing they sought in their battling. But few would battle over Githga'mel, few would seek to possess it even though it was perhaps more beautiful than any place Guilt had ever seen.

It was better that way, he told himself, better that they leave the ice-fields. To have destroyed Githga'mel while warring over it would have been the greatest of sins in his mind, worse than destroying any relic or holy temple.

In the distance one of the great white bears of the ice lands slowly meandered across the snow, sometimes stopping to sniff at the air. Once, as he watched it, it rose up on its hind legs, towering far taller than any man, and let out a great bellowing roar. The sound echoed across the vast expanse of ice but there was no answering call. A section of ice, perhaps disturbed by the sound, fell from its perch, tumbling to the ground with a muffled crash. Although sound carried well in the clear, cold air of Githga'mel the fallen ice had been far from where Guilt stood and took in the white world before him.

Finally he trampled carefully down the low snow-covered rise that he had stood upon. The strange constructs that his hostess in Tussle had given him helped a great deal, stopping him from sinking where the snow had piled up high over the frozen ground beneath. When he reached the relatively flat ground at the base of the rise the old man squatted down, shifting through the snow. He was fairly sure that there was some sign about the area, it was just that finding it might prove a little difficult. Githga'mel was vast and the destination of his journey was deep in its cold heart, Guilt could not afford to be in the least bit uncertain of his path.

For an hour or so he moved around and scrabbled in the snow, fingers feeling the bite of the cold even though the fur lined thick leather gloves that he had procured in Bayerme. An hour of scrabbling and all he found was more ice and more snow, occasionally hard, deep brown earth beneath it all, earth that had not felt the touch of the sun in many long years, if ever.

Then, as he dug further, throwing up the snow and disturbing the smooth purity of it, his clumsy hands felt out something beneath him that was not snow or ice. He worked at it furiously, his energy making a mockery of both his apparent and real ages. Slowly he dug the object up, cradling it in his arms once it was free. It was a sword, a plain and worn thing, the type of weapon given to any common infantryman by his lord. There was nothing about the weapon that would have caught the eye if it had not been found in Gathga'mel. No trapper used a sword to go after the white bears, so how had it got there.

Guilt knew. He knew of how Lord Augutin had sent a great force of his men to the north to counter the threat that he knew to be there. Soldiers had gone to the ice-fields, travelling through the snow and the cold to put an end to that threat. To put an end to Innocence. They thought they had succeeded, even though it had cost the lives of many thousands of men. They were wrong, they had only forced the threat to retreat and be still for a time. But even if they had not succeeded still their earlier passage through the ice would be a series of path-markers for the old man's own trip. No army could move without leaving some trail of their passing, Lord Augutin's army had left a path of bits and pieces that would take Guilt straight to the heart of Githga'mel, straight to the place where Innocence waited.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Thu Jan 13, 2005 8:26 am
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He trapsed through the snow and the cold, not daring to sleep in the ice fields. Sleeping in the cold would be an easy way to find out if it was possible for him to die. Age might not take him but the bitter bite of the eternal winter of Githga'mel very well might. He wished, and not for the first time, that he had been given the chance to talk to Father Landon about the deal that the two of them had made with Darden. Was it only age that could not take him until his task was done? Or could he die before then by violence or disease? He couldn't know and he didn't dare experiment in order to find out. It would be all very well walking through a leper colony and discovering that sickness could not touch him. But if he walked through that same colony and contracted their disease...well it would not give him much chance to stop Innocence's actions.

The same was true of violence. He'd cut himself since the bargain had come into its power but they had been little things. Tiny cuts on the edges of paper or through an accident while preparing food. Nothing life-threatening. The cuts had bled as they were meant to and after a time they had healed in the way that such things normally did. Did that mean that if someone thurst a sword through his heart he would die as a normal man would? Guilt couldn't say and again he dared not risk it. After all who else was left that knew the true tale of Innocence? Who else was there left who might try and coax her away from the cold path of death and back into her grave?

The dead were not meant to walk the lands and yet Innocence did, drawing up those that had met their ends to follow her. It made the old man shudder everytime he thought about what she had become. The dead were meant to sleep quietly in their graves as their bodies were given back to the land. It was the way of nature, that the dead shells were given back to the earth while the souls moved on to find judgement or peace or some heavenly paradise. It all depended on what each person believed of course, but it generally boiled down to the same thing.

What the dead were not meant to do was get up and settle in the barren north, forming an army that sometimes came forth to kill. Not to take land or steal gold but to kill, plain and simple.

Guilt had heard the tales that the soldiers told around the campfires. He'd heard them talk of battles they'd seen, women they'd loved and comrades that they'd lost over the years. But sometimes, when the campfire was burning low and the alcohol had run dry one would whisper of Innocence, of the dead Dardenite priestess who came to claim the dead no matter what their allegiance. The tale would only ever be whispered, never spoken louder for some nspoken fear that it would conjure her up out of the darkness. Some more fearful general would not put their armies into the field if they saw thick fog drawing up. They would dismiss the battlefield as unfit or the soldiers too tired. But the truth was that they had heard the stories of Innocence, of the dead Dardenite priestess who walked out from the mist to take her due.

Isonian, Foretian and Dardenite, the soldier of many armies and many faiths marched in grip of her spell. Soldiers and commoners, nobles and peasants, all were said to be found in the legions of the dead. Fresh dead and age-old, they had all answered to the strange call of the dead priestess if common rumour was to be believed and from what Guilt had seen, he did.

A great glacier rose before him, a giant of its kind. It seemed like a vast thick uneven block of ice upon the horizon, here and there rising in graceful peaks that were apparently trying to scratch the sky itself. The frozen trail of the lost army of Lord Augutin was leading straight towards it. Even from the distance that he was away the old man could still see that the glacier was markedly different to its fellows. And not just because it was so much bigger.

At the base of the glacier a great black hole had been burrowed into the ice. Or rather out of it.

Dark figures scurried and slouched and moved purposefully at base, though what job they were tasked with Guilt could not have guessed. He wasn't sure he wanted to know even though his path led straight towards them. The old man knew exactly what the figures were a part of, he knew what they heralded.

The end of his journey.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Thu Jan 20, 2005 9:19 am
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He managed to sneak around and closer to the black hole and the figures at the base of the glacier. Hiding behind a deep bank of snow, Guilt caught his breath and fumbled at the ties that held his snow shoes on. The gift of the woman in Tussle had proved most useful while he had been travelling through the unmarked plains of Githga'mel. However he doubted that they would be of any use now when he was so close to her. Besides the feet of other 'people' had already packed down the snow around the entrance hole.

The old man hesitated to call them people. They had once been that, there was no doubt of that in his mind, but now? The creatures that waited in Githga'mel for their time were no longer people though, he couldn't let himself think of them in that way. They were nothing more than the living dead, raised corpses from who knew how many battlefields and grave sites. Not people. No just the unquiet dead, bodies that should have been laid to rest in the earth instead of moving around under the power of their strange mistress. Well it was up to him to set things straight, to change it so that the dead could finally remain dead rather than threatening to plague the living.

Guilt gave up on loosening the snow shoes for a moment and dared a quick peek over the top of the bank. He could make out a couple of dozen figures, some moving as easily as if they were still living, others more jerky and uncoordinated, and all manner of others in between the two states. Their ease of movement was as varied as the state of their flesh. Luckily the snow fields ensured that the process of decay was slowed or stopped altogether, however some had already begun the slow rot before they had been taken away from where ever they had lain before. A couple at most could have been mistaken for the living in poor light. Most though existed in various states of decay. Some were only missing patches of flesh, others were barely more than animated bones.

The sight of them so close brought up bile, its acrid taste washing over his tongue for a moment as he choked it down. He had seen Innocence's army before, but never so close, never so near. The old man had watched the dead rise and traipse off after her, disappearing into the mist, but to see them close at hand...it was all he could do not to empty the meagre contents of his stomach.

And to think that his Innocence had been the cause of it all. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes, turning to ice before they ever had the chance to fall.

He turned his attention back to the knots that held the snow shoes to his boots. It was better to concentrate on simple things like knots than the monstrosities that existed over the snow bank. But to call them such, even in the privacy of his own mind, was it right? They were no more to blame for what had happened to their flesh than Innocence could be blamed for her own murder. They were unfortunate victims, not monstrosities, they had once been people and he could never allow himself to forget that.

Never.

The snow shoes came free and lay in the snow, discarded and forgotten. There would be no more use of them. He would not be returning to the lands beyond Githga'mel, one way or another it was to be ended. The ice fields would see the end of it, for good or for ill. Either way his existence would end and death would finally claim him for its own, drawing him down into a sleep from which he would never awake. Were there regrets? By Darden, yes, he whispered to himself. He regretted oh so many things. There had been so much that he had never had the chance to see, to experience, so much that he had misused and squandered. But it was no longer the time for regrets, there was no time left for such things. There was only time for endings, for the final loose threads to be caught up in the tapestry of history and finished.

With numb fingers, cold even inside his thick gloves, he rummaged within his small bag of belongings. He had been carrying it for so long, just waiting for the final meeting, the final moment, when it would all be over. From within the bag he withdrew a short sword wrapped in oiled skin to protect it from the cold and the damp of the ice and snow. The sword was nothing special, just the blade that he had carried as a temple guardsman for all the years of his prime when he had mourned Innocence.

No, the sword was nothing special, but it would be the end of it all.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Mon Jan 24, 2005 10:39 am
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He gripped the sword tightly in cold-numbed fingers and closed his eyes. It was all coming to an end now, there was so little time left to him it seemed. Guilt almost thought he could feel the last grains of his life slipping out of his grasp. For years he had wandered, trying to find Innocence, trying to understand her actions. Trapped in the guise of an old man he had burned with the desire to ensure that the woman that he had loved was returned to her grave. And yet the final inevitable confrontation had always seemed so far away, so distant, something that would happen eventually but never soon. No, never any time soon. It had always seemed a distant thing, a far off event that would happen eventually but never within the next month or week or day.

But all that was finished now. The entrance to Innocence's domain lay scarcely more than a hundreds metres or so from where he hid behind the banked snow. The fact that some of her minions toiled outside the entrance into the bleak ice did not bother him as it might have other men. He had no intention of battling them, trying to kill the already dead with a mere mundane blade was no use. If he'd tried that he might as well have picked up a child's play sword and gone at them with it, for all the good it would do.

No, there were other ways. Ways to ensure that the walking dead would not do him any harm. The act of faith that Father Landon had given his dying breath for had worked more changes in Guilt that merely keeping death from his door. There was however a touch of nervousness in him as he thought about trusting his life to that other change. The people in Bayerme had claimed that the Gods had deserted the people, that there was no more divine magic left in the world. What did that bode for him? He still lived, but did that mean that all the other results of Father Landon's act would still work? Had the magic that had been worked upon him ceased to be divine once it had forged him for its purpose?

Well there was no way to tell save to rise up and try to gain entrance to the hollow glacier home of his quarry.

Lord Darden, I do not know if You still hear the prayers of the faithful, he whispered, bowing his head piously. Guilt had never really been much of a one for prayer outside of the temple but somehow it just seemed right to speak to his Lord, whether he listened or not, before he looked to enter Innocence's lair. I don't know if You are listening and if Your silence is merely a test upon us all. In the end, whatever changes have been made to me, I am but a mortal man and not worthy of knowing Your mind. But if You are listening, hear a prayer from an old man who had only ever tried to do right by others. Help me Lord, help me do what must be done here. Do not desert me in this final hour.

He stood up slowly and silently made his way down from behind the snow back and towards the packed down pathway that led to the glacier itself. At first the walking dead did not seem to notice him, continuing about whatever unknown tasks they had been set. Two of them wore the tattered remains of tabards in the colours of Lord Augutin. Two soldiers from the great lost army who had been sent to deal with Innocence many years before. At least that confirmed his suspicions about what had happened to them.

As Guilt drew nearer the walking dead began to notice him one by one. They stopped their tasks and turned towards him, dead eyes and empty sockets watching the living walk towards them. Those with flesh still on them reached for rusty swords at their sides, the others simply raised their bony hands and began to walk towards the old man. There was no emotion in them, nothing to indicate that there was a real thinking person trapped within the dead flesh. That had to be a mercy at least, Guilt thought, but it still didn't mean that they wouldn't kill him if they could.

He reached down to the point inside himself where that 'other' change had been made within him, the one that had nothing to do with his age. In his mind he imagined it to be a light deep within his flesh, a shining beacon to keep away the night and the dead. Nothing visibly changed about him as be mentally reached out to that inner beacon. But before him the dead stopped their approach, lowering their weapons and hands.

Why do you come here? Why do you bring the stink and disease of life to this place? Here the purity of death reigns supreme, the nearest one said. Guilt wasn't sure which he disliked most, the words themselves or the fact that the voice which spoke them was no different to that of any living man. The walking dead before him were abominations and yet they sounded just like living men. Abominations, things that had to be destroyed...but there again wasn't that just what they thought of him?

Guilt bite his lip and stayed silent for a moment. But there was no time to spare for pondering on the differing views of the walking dead and the living. I come to confront the priestess Innocence, the one who rules this place.

Nothing changed in the faces of the dead, but still he had the uncanny impression that they were laughing at him. Very well, diseased one, if you truly seek her then she shall come to you. She will speak with you and then you will be purified of the pestilence of life.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Fri Jan 28, 2005 8:24 am
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Location: The glaciers of Githga'mel
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She sat upon the ice floor of the glacier, staring down into the darkened depths of the ice below her. The ice was clear as glass yet faceted as a perfectly cut diamond. Another might have feared to look down and see that beneath them rather than solid land. After all who knew where the ice ended? Who knew when it might break apart and devour whole those who stayed upon it? But the ice did not bother Innocence, nothing bothered her.

Cold and pale, the priestess of Darden sat upon the ice and waited, waited for His word to reach her. The Lord had been silent for so long, even the mists that often brought His word to her were silent. Another might have worried, fretted, even lost their faith, but Innocence did not, she merely sat and waited. The patience of the dead was endless. She would wait human lifetimes if need be, she would wait till the very cities of the living tumbled down and fell to dust. Eventually the Lord would speak to her again, she would hear His glorious voice in her head, telling her everything that needed to be done. And she would do it, all of it, the Lord knew her devotion to Him was unshakeable, He knew that she was His servant.

The Lord knew of her devotion, after all He had already rewarded her. He had seen to it that she died and was therefore purified of the pestilence of life. Then He had caused her to be raised up from her watery grave so that she might continue His work, purging the sickness that infected the isle in His name. Hadn't the voice in her head told her that He found life displeasing, something that had to be eradicated from the land? Hadn't the mists told her that the living had to be removed in order to see His victory over all? Of course they had. So Innocence would wait and she would listen, in time the Lord would tell her what next needed her.

And eventually he would allow her to sink back into true death. Eventually His plan would be compete and He would give her the greatest gift of all. A gift not of land nor wealth but rather the chance to return to her grave and join her God in final and unending death. The Lord had told her it was so and so it would come to pass. Innocence did not doubt His words nor His power, in time all would come to pass as He wished it to. In time the disease of the isle would be purged and all would join with the Lord in death. It didn't matter how much they struggled or tried to cling to the sickness of life, death was inevitable.

All about her the dead stood motionlessly, waiting on her words just as she waited on the Lord's. They stared sightlessly ahead of themselves, as patient as grave-tenders waiting for the living to fall. She had gathered them from all across the isle, from battlefields, from towns, from gravesites. When Innocence had walked past them the spell of existence in death had sought them out, moving their bodies in a pretence of life. The Lord had said that it was necessary for them to take on the pretence of life in order to see His final victory. Innocence did not doubt or judge the words that came to her, she believed that they were the Lord's words and therefore had to be obeyed.

Innocence barely remembered being a living woman any more. It was a far off and distant memory, something that was of little importance in her mission. She could remember her own death and the shadowy world where the servant of the Lord had told her of Darden's wishes. It had never occurred to the dead priestess that the 'servant' of the Lord might have been something other than that. Her faith was absolute and unshakeable, just as the woman her, it did not, perhaps could not, change.

A dead man moved down through the rows of the dead, heading towards Innocence. She looked up at him, her expression unchanging, noting that it was the one who, in life, had been responsible for her own departure from life. The priestess felt nothing towards him. Yes he had been the one to kill her, but she too had been the one responsible for ending his life. He had entered her domain and now served her just as she served the Lord's whim. He stopped a few metres from her, One man stands at the entrance, a living one.

Kill him and let him be purged of life. If he has travelled so far to be cleansed of the disease that afflicts him then see to it. The living did not come to Githga'mel of their own free will. Except for the army that had succeeded in sealing them within the ice for a time. Those living that found their way to the hollow glacier also found swift death waiting for them.

We cannot approach him. Something keeps us from him. He speaks and says that he comes to confront you priestess.

She did not question the truth of the fact that something kept her forces from dealing with the living creature that had come to their doors. Those under her command did not lie, there was no need for them to lie. Very well, I shall go to this man and deal with him. If he wishes to confront death then I shall see to it. He shall be purged of life and join with us. It was not a boast, it was a simple fact.

_________________
[center]You can't stop me, you know who I am, this justifies now just what I am,
You crucify me, won't lay by my side, And now you'll need me until I die...
...Guess what? I'm dead
[/center]


Mon Jan 31, 2005 10:31 am
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He waited outside the hollow glacier, trying desperately to stop his teeth from chattering in the cold. The biting wind if Githga'mel seemed to find every way possible to get past his thick layers of clothing in order to steal the very warmth of his flesh. Guilt found himself almost believing that the wind was in league with the dead creatures of Innocence, that it was trying to push him into death just as surely as they would. Perhaps it was for the best that the cold winds were slowly numbing portions of his flesh, maybe it would stop it from hurting so much if he failed to put an end to Innocence's actions. For if he failed to stop Innocence and whatever foul magic it was that animated her and her fellows then they would most certainly kill him. The old man looked over at the nearest one, a dead man who stared off into the distance. Yes they would kill him and think nothing of it, save that they had 'purged' another one of the living.

Most of the dead creatures didn't look at the shivering old man. Instead they seemed to watch the horizon, as if they expected something to appear at any moment in the distance. The couple of dead that did look his way made Guilt wish that they too watched the horizon. It made his frozen flesh creep to be looked at so. He had seen dead bodies before of course, but those ones had tended to stay in one place, laying in their coffins for burial. The empty stares of the dead hadn't seemed so terrible when the corpses had truly been dead. Innocence's creature though, their stares were another matter entirely, they looked at him with the eyes of the dead and felt...nothing.

Yes that was what disturbed him most, that they felt nothing whatsoever when they looked at him. Not hate, not despair, not happiness, they felt absolutely nothing, he meant nothing to them. There was not a single shred of emotion within them, not a single feeling that marked them as having once been human. If he had faced a living foe they would have felt something for him or else they would have been little more than monsters. True living men would have hated him or pitied him or something, anything.

The dead just stared and waited.

A figure appeared from the glacier, a figure whose sight made his breath catch in his throat. Innocence, amazed at how the mere sight of her could still affect him so. There were so many years between them, between the youths that they had been and the people that they were now. But still the sight of her caught at his heart, made him ache with the longing to hold her, to wrap his arms around her and warm the cold, dead flesh. Guilt was under no illusion that she would feel the same about him, she no longer felt another except the desire to finish whatever unknown plan that she followed.

Who is this diseased one who has come so far in order to die? His heart sank at the whispered words of the pale Dardenite priestess. She didn't even recognise him. But there again why should she? Death had preserved her youth, it might have washed the colour from her but still she looked as young as when she had first travelled from the temple to bring the word of the Lord to the heathens. Pale as death still she was as lovely as she had ever been.

But he had changed hadn't he? He had grown old and withered, wrinkled by time and white-bearded by age. How could she possibly remember him as the boy that she had grown up with, as the young man who had loved her from afar? Feared clutched him, but it was the fear of the boy and the youth that he had once been, fear that she had never known of his love for her. It was a fear that meant little really in the cold and icy reaches of Githga'mel but it was fear nonetheless, as real to Guilt as the blade in his hand or the snow beneath his feet.

I am Guilt of Tanmel, just as you were once Innocence of Tanmel, the greedy wind grasped his words and seemed to drag them away as soon as he spoke them. It was almost as though the very elements sought to stop him from speaking to Innocence, from trying to make her remember him. But he would not be stopped from speaking by the wind, not when he had lived so long and travelled so far to get to Githga'mel and stand before its dead mistress. Once you lived and though that time may be long past I will not allow time to stop you from remembering it. We lived and grew up within the temple at Tanmel and life was not abhorrent to you.

He looked at the cold, pale dead priestess, felt the weight of her eyes upon him, eyes that were as empty of emotion as those of her followers. Guilt could be patient too, he could wait for her to remember who she had once been before he finally sought an end to the dance of life and death that they had spun between them for so many years.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Tue Feb 08, 2005 8:02 am
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Location: The glaciers of Githga'mel
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Tanmel, Innocence repeated the name of the place slowly as though she was savouring the very taste of the word. But nothing in her face changed, there was no sign that she attached any importance to the name of the fallen city of her birth. Once a city of the living, now as dead as the Lord wishes all things to be. Even those living that give praise to His name are not held apart from His plan, even they die and are purged of life. The Lord wanted death, she was sure of it, as sure that would the sun rise and herald each new day, as sure that the moons would watch over the night hours. There was no room for doubt in her, doubt was a thing of the weak and sickened living that swarmed upon the isle. It had no place in the dead, the true and devoted servants of the Lord and His will.

The living one did not flinch under her gaze even though he shivered in the cold of the snowy plains of Githga'mel. Cold. He was cold. She did not notice such things. The cold was a discomfort to the living, a pain and a chill that might threaten to take their lives. But to the dead? To the dead the cold was nothing, at most it was just another weapon to turn against the living, another way to remove the life from them. Innocence had settled her forces in Githga'mel for just that reason. Any living man who sought to destroy the holy army that she gathered would more than likely find his death long before he ever set eyes upon the hollow glacier. Few had ever made it to the glacier, save for the proud Lord Augutin and his soldiers.

Augutin...he had tried to destroy the army that Innocence had formed in the Lord's name. The diseased one had tried to put an end to her and all those that followed her, all those that had heard the Lord's song call them back from death to serve Him once more. But Augutin had found it a difficult thing to kill those that were already dead. In the end the living had sought to trap Innocence and her followers within the glacier, sending spells against the ice itself to first melt and then freeze it once again. It had been a clever gambit but a pointless one in the end. The ice had indeed trapped them inside the glacier, but the dead were ever patient and the ice had slowly given way beneath their scrapping hands.

Guilt, I remember you. Again there was no emotion within her voice, nothing that indicated whether her remembrance of him was a good thing or bad. In truth, to Innocence, his presence and her memory of him meant nothing. He was living, that was enough, the living could not be allowed to continue their desecration of the isle. The Lord had commanded that the living be purged, that all life be removed for only in complete and total death would His will be done. That was what the drowned priestess believed, that was what the mist whispered to her.

His will would be done, the living, all of them, would be offered up in sacrifice to Him. Only then would she be allowed to return to her own watery grave and join with all the dead in the final sleep.

Her eyes, leeched of all colour just as the rest of her, travelled slowly up and down Guilt. She took her time, not at all bothered by how uncomfortable her staring made him. His discomfort meant nothing, it was a thing of the living, a symptom of the disease that he, as all the living, suffered. Life, it was the only disease that Innocence knew of where the sufferer clung to the sickness, protected it, fought for it, longed for more of it. They were afraid to let go of the sickness, fighting to stay alive. She had been the same, hadn't she? When she had lived had she not been afraid of death? Afraid of it even though her faith promised her a place by the side of her Lord if she would only trust Him.

Finally she returned her cold, calculating gaze to Guilt's face, You have grown old.

It is the way of the living to do so.

She narrowed her eyes, It is the way of the living to age as their body seeks death. But you have aged and yet not died, you have continued to resist the inevitable, you have not given yourself over to the Lord's final wish. Every word was whispered for Innocence's death in the stagnant waters of her grave had prevented her from ever speaking louder. She raised one hand and pointed an accusing finger towards Guilt, her expression still placid and unmoving. You continue to live when your body should long have gone to its grave. Heretic, you have gone against the Lord's wish for death.

But no longer.

_________________
[center]You can't stop me, you know who I am, this justifies now just what I am,
You crucify me, won't lay by my side, And now you'll need me until I die...
...Guess what? I'm dead
[/center]


Thu Feb 10, 2005 7:27 am
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She remembered him.

His old heart had leapt at her words, at the words of remembrance. But all too soon his hopes were dashed against the cold rocks of reality. Innocence did remember him, indeed she seemed to remember all of her past, Tanmel included. Yet as much as she remembered it, it seemed to have little or no bearing on her outlook. Guilt had thought that he would only need to remind her of who she had been in life and all would be well. He had dreamed of the sorrow that he had hoped would wash over her face on realising what she had done. Oh how he had dreamed of her asking him to help her find true peace.

But all the dreams and all the wishes were false. Innocence had never forgotten who she was or what she had done. She remembered her life, her home, even him and it mattered not one whit to her. Her time amongst the living of the world was in the past, it made no difference to her mission now that she was dead. She did not seem to secretly long for the days when she had lived and breathed, she did not remember fondly the days when her flesh had been warm and her lungs had held nothing more than air. None of it seemed to matter to her, not one memory, not one place, not one person.

Not even him.

The sorrow that he had thought would wash over her came upon him instead. Tears pricked at his eyes and his throat burned with emotion. So many years he had followed her, tracked her, sought her and it was all for nothing. She didn't care that her grave was empty, she didn't care that she brought harm to the living with her strange 'crusade'. The dead woman before him fore the bleached features of the woman that he had once loved, but nothing of her soul was still present, or at least none of it that he could detect. She had Innocence's memories and Innocence's face, but the emotions, the feelings that had made up the woman were all gone, burned away by the ordeal of death that she had gone through.

He almost didn't notice when she moved towards him, her steps slow and even as her bare feet crossed the hard-packed snow between them. Through eyes blurred by tears he looked up, backing off a step or two at the cold, uncaring look in her eyes. Such strange eyes, he thought to himself. Innocence had had such beautiful eyes, brown as chocolate, but the dead woman before him did not have those eyes. Her eyes were white save for the tiny dark pupils in the centre, no colour remained in them at all. No emotion either. It is time to die now and fulfil your part in His plan.

Guilt drew his sword up between them, pointing it sadly towards Innocence. None of the other dead ones had moved, they just watched, some looking at the far horizon, some at the pale priestess, some at him, their empty eyes watching him as if he was nothing. They, just as Innocence, felt nothing for him, not even a vague contempt for the fact that he lived. Innocence and her kind strove to remove all life from the isle but there was no anger behind their actions, no rage, no hatred for the living. They killed because they had to, because that was what Innocence believed they had to do. And what she believed, they believed.

I will kill you if I have to, Guilt said softly, swallowing back his own bitter tears. But I would rather you come with me and return to your grave, end this madness here and now. There was scant hope in his heart that she would heed his words and yet he had to say them, had to offer her the chance to put everything right.

The dead priestess didn't stop or even slow her stride, closing the distance between them regardless of the old man's words or weapon. I am already dead, just as the Lord wishes us all to be, she said plainly. Just as He wishes you to be. You have lived too long and your life is a blight upon the land, a hindrance to His plans. You shall die, and you shall join with us.

He lashed out suddenly with the sword, the cold making the strike clumsy and imprecise. The blade didn't even reach the priestess, let alone cause her any harm. Still the other dead did not move, continuing instead to watch rather than stop him. The old man could no more understand their behaviour than he could reach for Intop and drag it out of the skies. if someone had attacked someone that he followed he would have leapt to their defence, not just watched passively.

Again Guilt lashed out with his sword, the stroke a little cleaner, the movement a little less clumsy. The blade bit deeply into Innocence's side but the dead priestess neither flinched nor cried out. She looked at him without a flicker of emotion, he had dealt her what should have been a mortal wound and yet she did not react at all. They could have been discussing the weather for all that Innocence appeared to notice the sword blade in her side. A few dribbles of blood soaked into the weathered robes that she wore, staining it an unhealthy red-brown. I told you, she said calmly, I am already dead.

She reached out and took the sword from his nerveless hands, prying it loose from her own cold flesh. He watched, uncomprehendingly as she turned it upon him and drove the blade deep into his belly.

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Thu Feb 17, 2005 8:33 am
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Location: The glaciers of Githga'mel
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She watched as he fell to the ground, as his heart ceased to beat and his breath stopped. She watched without emotion as his flesh began to cool. It did not matter to her that he was someone who had know her, who might have cared for her, during her life. Such things were unimportant compared to the crusade that her Lord had set her upon. Cares and concerns about those who she had once known in her life would only get in the way, they were a part of the very weakness that the Lord wished removed from the isle. It would not suit His plan if the very instrument of His wish was as plagued by such emotions as the subjects of His ire.

The living would fall to the dead, it was the natural order of the world. Creatures were born and lived but all eventually fell to death and decay. The living struggled against the inevitable every day of their lives, they fought to live and to continue living no matter what came against them. They feared death, or so it seemed, yearning to find some way to continue their existence. Perhaps the Lord might have allowed them that pointless struggle if the living did something worthwhile with their lives, but they did not. Innocence had seen the world, she had walked its many battlefields and gathered the dead to herself here and there. The living fought and bickered their entire lives, they squandered the glory of the land, polluting the purity of the isle with their presence.

It was obvious to Innocence what had happened. Her Lord must have grown weary with the decadence and greed of the living to the point where He had wished them gone. Every single last one of them. If they could not overcome their greed and sin then the Lord must wish them cleansed from the isle, their diseased presence banished forever. Then the land would be safe from them and the Lord Himself would be able to join His faithful in the final sleep of death. If that was what the Lord wished, if that was what He had brought her back from the grave for, then she would follow His wishes till the last breath was taken.

The drowned priestess looked down at the body of Guilt at her feet. His blood seeped out of the wicked wound in his stomach, staining the snow red. She watched the blood and felt nothing. There was nothing left within her, nothing that could feel. Anger, sadness, happiness, it was all purged from her, gone forever by the grace of her Lord. She had killed a man who had watched her grow up, who she had played with as a child. And it meant nothing to her. She didn't even question whether she would have mourned if she had still been capable of it.

It was unimportant, without relevence. He was dead as the Lord wished, that was enough.

A low mist began to form around her feet, curling and dancing up and about her body like an old lover. Innocence didn't react to its presence, the mist brought the voices after all. The voices brought the will of the Lord, they were to be obeyed. They whispered in voices softer than hers, whispered to only her of what the Lord wished her to do. Gather them, she said to those nearby. Gather our forces, the Lord bids us to march upon the living.

She looked down at the body before her, there was always a place for another of those who had been embraced by death. Rise. Rise and take your rightful place in the true army of the Lord's whim. Guilt's body didn't move as it lay amid the red stained snow. Rise and accept your place. Rise in the Lord's name to make war upon the disease of life. Still the body did not move. Innocence blinked slowly, The Lord has taken you. You will not rise. She had not seen such a thing happen before, a soul taken so completely by the Lord that her power could not compel it to rise. If she had lived she might have been curious.

Sleep then, rest in the arms of the Lord for you have been favoured above others in preparing the way. Behind her the footfalls of the numerous dead could be heard, leaving the hollow glacier, preparing to make their way beyond the ice fields of Githga'mel, there to make war upon the living.

_________________
[center]You can't stop me, you know who I am, this justifies now just what I am,
You crucify me, won't lay by my side, And now you'll need me until I die...
...Guess what? I'm dead
[/center]


Mon Feb 21, 2005 9:01 am
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Posts: 22
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It wasn't cold. It wasn't hot. It wasn't...anything.

Guilt's mind drifted, freed from the pain of the wound that Innocence had given him, free finally of the bond that had held him to life. He had tried his best to stop her and her strange plans, none would dispute that. He had tried and he had failed, what more could be expected of him? What more could one lone man do against the walking dead and the powers that animated them except try his best? Well his best just hadn't been good enough, he had not been capable of fulfilling the bond that Father Landon had forged with his act of faith. The God had chosen badly when He had given His blessing to Guilt.

Or perhaps...what if Innocence had been right all along? What if an end to all life was just what the Lord wished? What if it had been Guilt's attempt to stop her that was the true blasphemy? The Gods did not share Their plans and plots with mere mortals, for all Guilt knew the Lord Darden might have blessed both Innocence and himself. Perhaps the conflict between the unliving and the undying had all been some plan of His, some subtle part of a much greater plan. Who could presume to truly know the will of the Gods? Not him that was for certain.

Death wasn't so bad, he thought to himself. He wasn't uncomfortable, though neither was he comfortable. There seemed to be no such thing as hot or cold, pleasure or pain, in the place that his soul inhabited. There was nothing. Nothing at all. The place seemed to be a complete absence, there was no light, no darkness, no colour, nothing that he could sense at all. It was...nothingness, an absence of all things, not at all as the priests had preached of the afterlife. Where was the judgement of his soul? Where were the hosts of souls who had given their lives for the Lord? Where was anything?

A chill gripped his thought. What if he had been wrong? What if Innocence truly did follow the Lord's wishes? Surely his own actions of standing against her would have condemned his soul for all eternity if that was true. Could it be that he had failed and already been judged unworthy of even gazing upon the face of the Lord that he had struggled and apparently failed to please? Was the nothingness that surrounded him the place of the damned that the priests had warned the faithful against?

Even as the thought and fear flooded through his mind Guilt felt something. A pain. A ache of a wound. Then cold. Chill creeping in, biting at flesh, sapping warmth from the body...


He came awake with a start to find himself laying upon the trampled snow before the hollow glacier. The old man sat up suddenly, surprised to find himself within his withered flesh once more. With fingers numbed by the cold he felt for the wound that had felled him; the thick cloth and fur of his clothing was torn where the sword had gone in. There was blood upon the ground all around him, soaked into snow and cloth alike. Even his blade, little more than a hand span from his side, was stained with his own blood. But of the wound itself? There was nothing, not even a scar.

Guilt got to his feet slowly, pausing only momentarily to grab his fallen sword. Dying isn't as easy as it looks, he muttered to himself. Always looked so easy when someone else was doing it. On the distant he could just make out figures moving away, out towards the lands of the living. Innocence had made her move and had taken her army with her. All Guilt could do was offer a quick prayer to the Lord, trusting that He would somehow favour the living rather than the dead.

It was a long walk out of Githga'mel, a long way before he would find any chance of a crackling fire and a hot meal. Still, at least if nothing else the incident had shown Guilt one thing; while Innocence walked free of her grave, he could not die.


(OOC: All finished.)

_________________
[center]Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.
[/center]


Mon Feb 28, 2005 9:10 am
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