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Acies ab Vesania

The Chronicles of Stupple Hupple

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[offtopic]This is a completed thread, imported for cannon purposes. It will eventually find its home in the new city, but until such time, I am dropping it here. I am going to combine the contents of multiple threads into one, to prevent cluttering.[/offtopic]

Whispers to the Apprentice

The young man sweeps the cathedral floors, preparing for the next service. The priests have pushed him much harder as of late, the final days of his apprenticeship finally ending. There was little else for them to teach him, for the rest came with the acquired wisdom of time and listening to the gods; such lessons cannot be taught by mortal men, only through the divine’s imparted knowledge could one advance further. Already, he has managed to provide healing for mild injuries and maladies, he successfully identified the herbs required of an acolyte seeking priesthood and he managed to summon a rather large wolf in the nearby woods a week earlier. Since his readiness to begin the final testing became apparent, his mentors began pushing him three times as much. Such is a standard practice of their order, making you work for your right to test.

The young man knew he would test for the cloth very soon.

Finishing the mundane task, the youthful attendant switches the worn and nearly used up candles for new, fresh sticks, tossing the old into a bag for recycling. Later in the evening, they will charge him with melting the wax, removing the stubs of the wicks and sending the melted wax to the candle makers for reuse. It was busy work, things easily accomplished by the novices, but given to him simply to limit his time for studying, forcing him to study that much harder for his exams. The pressure was great, but he knew what he signed up for when he turned over to the seminary many years earlier, and he was near the end of his journey. Soon enough, the three brothers will bring him among their ranks of Clerics, making him one of their own, and thus he will begin his career of helping others.

With the last of the candles switched out, the apprentice hauls the bag out to the backroom, where they will sit until he has to move them later in the evening. After disposing of the leftover wax, he heads back to his dormitory to change into his service robes so he can assist the night’s service leader with the evening prayer and blessings. After all that, the rest of his chores will require finishing and only then will he have six hours to study and sleep, doing whichever he should choose, knowing full well that studying will take up the majority of that time. It was the hardship he bore to complete his path and accomplish his dreams.

As he changes into his robes, the resident pauses for a moment, suddenly filled with a strange and bizarre notion, a distant belief that the Clerics mean to make him fail, to single him out from among the others and see to it that he, out of all the rest, fail his tests and lose his chances. The notion leaves as soon as it came, turning to smoke and fading with all his other thoughts that race within his mind. He finds the thought out of place, strange and a little frightening, but reminds himself that it is a silly notion, to believe that of all people they would single him out for failure. He had seen the pattern before, every time someone came up for testing they were tested not only on skills and knowledge, but patience, compliance, and the ability to manage studies amongst everyday hardships. Nothing out of the usual happened with him. Shaking off the fears, the apprentice departs for the main church, ready to assist in leading this evenings mass and service.

***

Mass just started, and already the room was humid and stuffy. Hundreds of people piled into the pews, taking up every bit of space the church had available for seating, leading to some few to opt for standing instead of trying to cram themselves between the others. Several conversations took place between individuals and families; some whispered, some aloud, all of them contributing to a sonorous humming that reverberated through the halls. Normally, the echoed voices were a welcome sound to the young man, for it meant a great turn out for the services, an event that made all their efforts seem worthwhile, not to mention the amount of tithes that would come in. Today, the instant buzzing put the apprentice on edge, all of the voices finding just the right way to strike a nerve in his psyche. He had no idea what led to such a level of irritation and anxious revulsion, from a normally welcome event.

Putting his thoughts to rest, the young assistant pushes back his momentary frustrations to the back of his mind and resumes the final preparations for the services, laying out their tomes and ensuring the pulpit resided in its proper place. He went through and brushed away the little dust that managed to collect in between the last few days, since the reading of the last sermon. With his tasks complete, the soon to be cleric finds his proper place, ahead of the novices but to the side of the fully-fledged clerics, and waits for the ceremonies to begin. In the meantime, the people kept up their idle banter and visiting, the sounds kept echoing off the chamber walls and the young man continued to feel his mind fall from ease. Why such a normal occurrence made his heart pump and his throb on this day escaped him.

Fortunately, the entrance of this week’s reader put his restless ponderings to rest, only the thoughts of duty remained within his unsettled mind. The service began as it always did, with a brief reading from some of their important scriptures, and then a request of blessing for the families who were undergoing difficult times. This transitioned into the actual lecture, reminders of the duties of the Three Brothers’ Followers, a reminder for courage as well as love and a desire for balance, for all three were a key facet to their faith. Most of the people followed along well enough, nodding in the right places, bowing their heads when the moment called for it. As it always went, a few in the back dozed off between songs and speeches, catching up on sleep at the expense of the Gods’ time. No matter, the Brothers are wise and forgiving, and perhaps know more to their situation than he a mere apprentice, understood himself.

About two thirds of the way through the sermon, the young man’s mind began to wander again, taking on thoughts foreign to him and frightening in their own right. He tried to wash his mind clean of such staining thoughts, but they tried with much effort to remain firmly fixed to the front of his mind. The thoughts persisted for what felt like hours, but could not have been more than a handful of minutes, when he suddenly heard a voice from behind him. He thought he heard someone call to him, a sort of seductive tone, trying to lull him into leaving the proceedings. Naturally, he looked to see who may have been calling out to him, and who would call out to him in that way, but nobody was there.

The ceremonies wrapped up without too much more occurring, other than one of the members snoring loudly in the back, leading to a mix of amusement and anger amongst the crowds. The apprentice could not help but give a light smile to the situation, finding it more of a silly event than a necessarily “Sacrilegious” action. He heard nothing more out of the ordinary during the rest of the proceedings and was able to collect tithes without any unusual circumstances presenting themselves. The young man was glad for that reprieve, chalking up his recent string of odd thoughts to being nothing more than stress and a lack of sleep, two things he needed relief from dearly. He makes a promise to himself to forgo an hour of studying to get just a little more sleep, to sleep a week straight upon passing his final tests.

All seemed well, until a voice shouted from down the halls, screaming obscenities, seemingly directed at him. The anger in the voice alarmed and frightened him, for while he was trained in staff, he had no weapon on him and to be honest, he was only a cleric, not a warrior. Why someone felt so much anger at him in particular was beyond him, but clearly, someone was very upset with him. The yelling continued as he walked towards its source, trying to find whom he made so angry and to rectify the situation. Only, when he crossed the hall and turned the corner, he found nobody there at all, and the voice was gone. Was it a real person playing games, or was there more going on than he understood?

The young apprentice becomes very afraid.

Edited by Acies ab Vesania

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The rest of the day passed without incidences and nothing strange or out of the ordinary plagued the young man any further. He managed to make it through the rest of his chores without succumbing to strange thoughts or hearing anything that did not have a source, so it was with great relief that he resumed his studying that evening. He sat reading over books, reading by the illumination of candlelight, as he poured over ancient history, prophecy and beliefs pertaining to ‘The Three Brothers’ and what the clerics thought may someday come to be. He managed to study for an hour or so without interruption, until he heard knocking at his door. Surprised that anyone came to his room this late in the evening, the young apprentice quickly rises from his desk and goes to the door, worried that some emergency may have cropped up.

Instead, he is greeted by nothing, the space immediately outside his door occupied by no one, or at least anyone visible to his eye. Confused by the lack of a body to go with the knocking, but chalking it up to being no more than over studying, he decides that perhaps it is time that he put the books away and work on getting a little more sleep than he gets normally. He does just that, putting his things away and slipping into his nightclothes, when a second set of knocking came from the door. Confused and now a little irritated, he starts to wonder if some of his old classmates are playing tricks on him, knowing that he is most vulnerable right now. Instead, he finds no one waiting outside the door for a second time, not a sign of disturbance or a recent soul having come to knock at his door.

Even more confused, the young man closes his door tightly and ensures it is locked, before turning into his bed and trying to get some sleep. It is just as he begins to dose off that the knocking at the door resumes again, this time louder than before. He tries to ignore it, but it keeps going and going, getting louder and louder. Then, the knocking at the door ceases, only to begin on the ceiling above him. The young apprentice covers his head with a pillow, but the knocking persists, and the sounds leak through the pillow with ease. Now, the knocking echoes from wall to wall, erupting from all corners of the room at once, each beating with their own tempo and timing, all clashing with each other in the least harmonious way possible.

It is after twenty minutes straight of this, that he digs the pillow tightly into his face and screams, screams and screams until his lungs can push air no more and he works himself into fitful sleep.

Even in his dreams, the knocking goes on and on.

***

Day could not come faster for the unnamed apprentice lying in his bed, pillow smothering his face, trying to drown out the knocking that occurred off and on through the night. He took no rest, gained not a moment of sleep, and already his time to rise and set about early morning chores had come, without a moment’s respite from the fear and worry he felt. Exhaustion was beginning to set in, his eyes red and bleary, watering profusely and caked in crust, he looked sallow and far older than he should. He barely made an effort to look decent, donning his robes and smoothing down his hair with his hands, taking no time to comb out his tangles and scrub his face. The knocking went away, for now, so at least there was silence as he prepared for this day’s tasks.

He leaves his room as quickly as he can; already associating its small quarters with the incessant knocking and banging that plagued him through the night. He jumped as he bumped into people unexpectedly, made nervous by his edgy nerves and his building weariness that weighed him down like weights strapped to his legs. He managed to make it to the service room without incidence, and with his usual care and dedication prepares for the morning services. The works helps him forget his tiredness for a time, and during those moments, he felt lulled into his peaceful routine, removed of fear for the time being. He began to think that perhaps, with some luck and a good long break after his upcoming tests, he would recover from this temporary condition and be at peace once more, free of these plaguing noises.

Morning preparations led to breakfast, a simple meal prepared with wheat and barley, grains and oats, a pressed grain cake cooked in animal fats after soaking overnight in milk; they were less than tasty, but they provided sustenance and much needed energy. From breakfast until his late afternoon lunch, he worked hard and studied in between tasks, keeping busy, avoiding at all costs allowing his mind wander back over the events of the night before; dwelling on them was a devil’s game. A tempting path sure to lead to destruction and strife it is best to avoid the issue and let it pass in its time. Surely, this would not become any a permanent malady that would haunt him for life. Finishing his tests, taking his vows, and getting much needed sleep during the transitional break, all of it would help take this pain away.

By the end of his day, nothing had happened, and he was starting to feel better about his situation and the things he heard but knew not to be there. His test was first thing in the morning; he would need his sleep in order to do well. No amount of more studying could help him further; it was time he gets a full night’s rest. Only, now his thoughts wandered back to his earlier imaginings, the unwarranted and unfounded belief that the priests meant to sabotage his chances, to make him fail in his testing. Perhaps their motivations were not entirely pure, they did not want someone to take the cloth in earnest and ruin their plans, but why? Why would they betray the gods, yet serve them so faithfully both in the public eye and in their private moments?

None of it made sense to him, but he could not help but worry and wonder, the thoughts rolling about his mind over and over, causing him to toss and turn through the night, hardly sleeping, mostly worrying. A few times, he swore he heard whispers, whispers of his mentors in the halls, talking behind his back, making plans and spinning plots. Only he knew in his most conscious thoughts that the men slept in the other half of the temple, no point in coming his way to talk poorly of him, if they were at all. He barely slept and what little he got was fitful and without refreshment, only making him feel worse the next morning as he rose for his testing. What would come of the tests today, what would he do?

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The empty halls felt colder than usual; it made his skin prickle and his sore joints ache that much more. Inside his slippers, his feet felt the chill as he shuffled across the grounds, making way to his mentor’s office. He swore his fingers were going to lock in place, constricted by the drafts and by his fears, making him only that much more nervous, without his fingers functioning optimally, he would never pass the test. In spite of the fluttering in his chest, the echoing pounding of his heart against his ribs and the distant voice in the back of his mind nagging him with the reasons he will fail today, the young apprentice made his way down the halls and to that office, never pausing, never wavering. When he at last reached that door, he felt somewhat relieved, knowing that despite his building anxiety, he made it without convincing himself to leave; he did not give into the building pressure crushing his shoulders.


The young man knocks on the door four times sharply, putting a little more force behind the knocks than intended, as his mentor could hear quite well even though he was getting on in age. The door swings open, standing on the inside, his mentor ushers him in, smiling warmly and without comment regarding the overdone tapping at his door. The young apprentice enters, trying to hold a confident air about him, oozing his worries and fears in spite of his greatest efforts. The old Cleric chuckles to himself, clearly seeing through the façade of fearlessness, understanding the young man’s anxieties, as they have affected nearly every man come to pass on to the cloth. He recognized the twitches and creases crossing the young apprentice’s face, he knew them well as he once wore the very same expressions, a day long ago passed.

Taking a seat, the apprentice sits in a wooden chair, as they told him to do days prior to this one, beginning the routine he knew to precede a long and arduous test. His hands twitched anxiously, his heart sounded like the cannons of warfare, erupting in a symphony of bloodshed. He swore he heard whispering in the room, little jeers taunting him, trying to convince him of his unworthiness, trying to put him down far enough to give up without trying. He ignored the voices, chalking them up to being nothing but the imaginings of a person deprived of sleep and rest. As soon as the testing phase is over and he is gone through the induction ceremony, he will return to his quarters and sleep the next three days.

His mentor pulls up a chair and sits across from him, hands relaxed on his lap, a twinkle in his eye and a smile breaking his lips. He looks over his apprentice of several years, measuring the progress the young man made, all the strides he took over all his time, serving in the name of the three brothers. The Cleric smiled warmly and exuded a certain calmness that only a man of long and steadfast faith can give off, assured of his place in this world and his eventual journey into the next. In his gentle calmness, he watches over the young man for many moments, never uttering a word, waiting for what seemed an appointed time.

Only after his watching, does he break the silence, speaking to the acolyte for the first time that morning.

“You have come a long way in your journey, lad; a long time spent serving the graceful three, tirelessly doing everything you were asked and more. I have seen you usher care over the sick and poor that could only come from genuine love of others, I have seen you dedicate yourself at the expense of your free time and sometimes even your studies, simply to assist those in need. Before we leave this room, I would like you to pray to the Gods; pray for guidance and for wisdom, pray that they show you the way.”

The young man leaves the chair and gets down on his knees, lacing his hands and offering prayers to the divine three he holds as his patrons. He prays for wisdom in his hopefully long and fruitful career, he prays for guidance and aid in following the truth path, he hopes no distractions will deter him in his journey of aiding others and trying to fall in the steps of the light. Praying to his Gods comforts him, as it always has before, putting him at ease, filling him with confidence again. He takes his time about it, making sure to pay proper homage to his Gods, especially for this day of all days in his life. When he finishes, he unlaces his fingers and looks back up at his mentor, returning his teacher’s smile, feeling much more at ease, at peace, tranquil.

His mentor, then asks:

“Tell me, what did they say?”

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[i]”Tell me, what did they say?”[/i]

The question was simple, unremarkable, a simple query asked of a mentor to his apprentice, both men of the gods, a direct link to their patron deities. The young man felt his stomach drop to his knees and twinges of anxiety flare from deep within his bowels, knowing well that with his mentor, what sounded a straightforward question was far from simple. Hidden within six ordinary words, there was something of far greater importance than just the query, and the student cleric grew worried. Perhaps he was supposed to hear the voices of the Gods, here their answers, interpret their whispers, and show his readiness to be a direct link between they and the people. Hearing not a single word, not the utterance of a voice nor the hushed sounds of a whisper, he feared that he may be denied testing, for he could not truthfully give an answer.

The prospect of lying seemed an attractive option, a way to ensure his chances at taking the most important test of his life. Yet, even thinking of lying to the man who brought him through his toughest years made him feel even worse, for betraying a man so good to him and so honest himself, was reprehensible and unacceptable. To repay kindness and confidence with disinformation and mistruths seemed not only in poor taste, but also in all around bad character. What kind of Cleric would he be, if he began the start of his career and a fraud and fake, someone not ready to take his exams but who took the path of darkness just to stand within the light a little sooner? His light would fall to the eclipse of his lies, casting a permanent shadow over his worth.

He could not lie to this man, or worse, to himself.

“I am sorry, but they never spoke to me, at least not in words. I feel them in my heart, I feel them within me, giving me guidance in everything I do and in all that I put my trust behind. I feel as though that they wish for me to make my own decisions, but nudge me in the right direction, especially when I am feeling lost, like now. I am sorry that I cannot yet hear their voices or words, I hope I have not failed you sir.”

The young man cringes inwardly, afraid of what he will hear next, afraid of what will come of his truthful revelation. He expects to at the very that they will send him back to doing chores, needing more time to develop his relations with their patrons. At the worst, they may tell him that he will never be ready and that he must pack his things and go. The thought of losing his chances to serve and stand in harmony with the gods sickens him, fueling his worry, exacerbating his stresses. He cannot think of anything more he has ever wanted to do, nothing that compares to his desires to pass through this day; in this worry, the next words his long time teacher states shock him completely.

“My son, you have passed the test. You have proven through truth, wisdom and understanding that you are ready to take your vows. The Gods do not speak to us, nor do they direct us where to go. They gently guide us, letting us choose our paths and make decisions, they allow us to fail so that we may learn, grow and understand. You have passed the test that every Cleric before you has had to take; you have passed the test of wisdom and integrity. Congratulations, Brother, you have risen to the folds of our gods.”

The young man cannot believe his ears, lest believe what he swore came from his master’s lips, he, a passed and now chosen brother of the gracious three, the next to join the ranks of those serving the holy ways. Rising from the floor, nearly tripping over his robes, he impulsively hugs his teacher, only after a moment realizing his awkward gesture, though he is glad to see that his teacher is not only not offended, but also welcoming of the gesture. Having passed the final test, in three hours’ time he will take the vows and celebrate his rising, a full-fledged Cleric of the Three Brothers. In the meantime, he would go to the room of contemplations, to pray for guidance over his career. Trembling with excitement, he barely manages to shake his teacher’s hand, before he leaves the room to go to contemplation, chest swollen with pride.

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The room is bare, devoid of life or comforts, nothing but a cold stone floor and drab grey walls to stimulate the senses in the time of contemplation. The young apprentice enters excitedly, eager to begin the process, looking forward to when they call him out to take his final steps into the order. His heart races in spite of the dank room, lacking anything to perpetuate his rising excitement. The young man walks to the center of the room, lowering himself to the floor beneath his feet, feeling layers of dust smudge beneath his fingers. Deep inside the cathedral, in one of its nearly endless basements below the ground, the room takes on a chill unlike the surface levels.

As he sits in contemplation, clearing from his mind the visions of the future and the sparks flying with every beat of his heart, the young man realizes he can see his breath with every exhale. His skin prickles in goose bumps, as the chill kisses his skin, seeping through his robes like water leaking through thinly woven cloth. The kiss of cold brings his mind into sharp focus, grounding him in the world surrounding him instead of the one building in the flights of fancy crossing his mind. The plainness of the room takes on symbolic meaning, a blank slate with much room for new writings, a surface ready to take on the works of a lifetime. Alone with his thoughts, the young man truly begins to understand the magnitude of his transition into the clergy, a lifetime of responsibilities and decisions branching from these final moments, each leading a different way.

He could only hope that he chose well.

The apprentice sits in peaceful silence for decent length of time in relative peace and silence, listening to nothing but the distant thudding of his nervous heart and the low whistle of exhaled breath escaping his lungs. In that time, worries of the sounds haunting his dreams and the distant voices chasing him through duties faded to the back of his mind. Gradually losing all their potency, becoming naught but a faint cry of troubled times. The soon to be cleric only then began to believe it when he told himself that all would work out for the best, that when he took his vows and allowed him the sleep he deprived himself for so long, all his recent troubles would become nothing but shadows of his past, buried memories never to surface again. In time, he would rise from these difficulties like a phoenix from ashes of his desiccated form.

More time passes, his muscles relax, his mind clears. He finds himself at peace, residing within his center, locked deep in his meditative trance. He cannot be sure when it occurred, but at some time in his serene respite, his thoughts twisted into knots once more, harboring strange and eerie beliefs, paranoid in nature, illogical at best. They start as nothing more than inaudible nudges against the tranquility he enveloped himself within, trying to taint his calm with the seeds of chaos. In time, the ideations begin to take hold, creeping inside like a silently moving infection, filling his heart with doubt and worry.

Ascension and sanctimonious rise, a steeply climbing route of responsibility with an infinitely sinking depth for failure, the young man begin to wonder how he would hold together his new appointment to fully fledged duties. How did one purge himself of the ineptitudes that plagued a fragile mind; how did one release tension from fissured solidity? If a Cleric were to fail in his charges, giving wait to the polluted paths of fastidious naysayers, how could he recover and walk the path of dignity and righteousness once more, without falling away to the shadows of doubt and finite ineptitude?

The young man’s wandering train of thought lurches in place, coming to a crossroads, a divergence of grave importance, though he never knew it then. His thoughts are fractured, failing to make any sort of sense and it is only in one part of his mind that he realizes that his own internal processes ramble in sentences hardly linking coherent thoughts. He only just manages to halt the growing issuance of malformed reflections, realizing that if he should fail to bring his mind back to bear, he may wander into depths he cannot return. Seeing the path of clarity, the young man consciously forces himself to realign himself with a world of logic and sense, burying his anxieties, forcing himself to forget the dark thoughts recently creeping in. As he regains control, a knock from behind issues out, as the door opens and a man steps through.

“It is time”.

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The room is brightly lit; candles and torches across all walls, washing the room in pale yellow light. Seated along at the center of the back wall, the three highest-ranking members, representatives of the three patrons, sit in their wooden chairs, looking down at the disciple soon turned priest. They wear the traditional garb, each in robes made of material corresponding to the Brother they represent; white wool for the brother of peace, dyed green cotton for the brother of nature, red leather for the brother of combat and ambition. The chairs they sit upon follow the traditions as well, simple yet elegant in their carved designs and intricate depicted scenes, each outlying a story of each brother. The three men, the oldest of the order, rise from the chairs, taking three steps forward, to meet the student as an equal brother, no longer a child in their eyes.

The young apprentice drops to a knee, as is expected during the ceremony, lowering himself as a humble student there to learn, to rise as a man of the fold; a bearer of wisdom and truth, a champion to stand in the face of the greatest adversity and to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Each of them said their portion of the ritual, declaring the gifts bestowed by the brother they represent, each offering a prayer of strength in upholding the virtues their patron represents. As required, the young man answers each question with the required answer, makes an oath for every duty and remains focused, pushing paranoid thoughts to the back of his mind. It takes close to twenty minutes, but soon the rituals and oaths are complete and the young apprentice rises as a Cleric of the Three Brothers, fully anointed.

From the chamber rooms they head to the banquet, where all others on the grounds have gathered to celebrate the newly risen Cleric. Platters of meats and cheese are placed on tables, wines are served generously and fresh fruits and vegetables are brought forward as well. It is only during such ceremonies or during the most important holidays that the elders allowed such fanciful dining and lavish expenditure. The rest of times, they ate simply and followed a strict code of miserly spending, to best utilize donations for their intended purposes. Donations given are for the aid the poor and maintain the church, not for them to live better than their poorest parishioners do.

At the end of the night, the new cleric is completely exhausted and ready for sleep, promising himself a night of rest long and deep. He hopes that when he rises again, all will be well and the voices will subdue themselves. He expects that when he comes to, all paranoid thoughts and creeping delusions will wash themselves away and all will be well. He hoped for such to occur and were it true, he would have led a long and successful career at the cathedral. Instead, different events were in store for the young man.

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Alone in his room, alone with the thoughts that circle his mind like moths around torch light, the newly risen cleric stares at the walls and cries out for sleep. In spite the calm, the still of the night and the silence gifted to him during his one-week respite, he cannot drift into sleep. He clutches the blankets covering his body, their warmth and their weight like bonds trying to pin him to the bed. In one unhappy moment, he begins to believe that the blankets are creatures sent to consume him; the frayed ends with loose threads their teeth and the center its open gullet. He tosses the blankets away while trembling in cold and in fear, sure that he must going out of his mind.

Hours of the night stretch on and on, the moon chasing stars across dimly lit ink-stained skies, a young man failing to fall into the merciful embrace of slumber. He tosses and turns, bites his lips until they begin to bleed and still, he cannot find the grace of sleep. His thoughts move faster, edgier and more paranoid as the moments fade into hours and the hours feel like years. At one point he throws himself from the bed onto the floor, certain that the bed has been filled with poisonous snakes meant to sink their fangs into his flesh, a final attempt by the Clerics to prevent their new colleague from entering the order. It crosses his mind that such beliefs are paranoid and illogical, but in their moment of truth they feel so vivid and real.

***

He cannot be sure when he came to the truth of it, when he knew what had truly been going on all this time. How he could have been blind to it all this time, how he missed the obvious clues, he could not understand, but he knew now. He knew that they really were out to get him, how they were doing it, they robbed him of his sleep! They must have found some way to do it, perhaps new technologies or magic or some other archaic means of taking it away from him, but they are to blame for his lack of sleep! Maybe not all of the order is involved; very likely, the majority is not, just a bunch of puppets tied to a regime of evil bastards sent to destroy the order. They knew that he would blow the lid off their cover and that he would lead to their eventual demise.

OF COURSE!

It is all too clear; everything comes into focus now that he is removed from the tests and the stressors and all of the stimuli he has faced the last couple of days. Perhaps the voices and the noises, they are not just figments of his minds but also warnings of the gods, secret messages meant to alert him of the danger. Yes, of course, that is what it must be, that is what has occurred this whole time he only thought he lost his mind. How he could be so foolish baffled him, but now the picture is there, it is threading itself, the cow is making the milk now, yes, the cow is making the milk and that cow is not drinking that milk! It is so clear now that there is something that has been amiss, but what is a lowly man like himself to do, what is a newly turned cleric to do against those far more powerful and experienced.

Fearing that the clothing the priests gave him is tainted in some way, he quickly strips down to the nude, sure that the cloth has something inherently wrong with it and that it must be removed from his person at all costs. The feeling of nakedness surprises him, the liberation from clothing and garbs makes him feel free to move, to think, to act. He must have been poisoned by something in the robes, his lack of sleep must lie somewhere in the robes. If he could find how they are doing this to him, he could prevent it from happening again, he could find a way to stay away from the items and magics they are using, he could stay far from their evilness and get rest like he needs. With a clearer mind, he will bring down the entire order!

The man his losing grip on reality sits on the floor, completely nude and sweating profusely, tearing his robes apart, looking for secret stitches or pockets. He meticulously removes individual threads, looking for anything that may be the cause of his poor sleep and fractured thoughts. He keeps to his task so well, he does not notice that hours and hours pass without him moving, keep in the same position while he examines every robe thread individually. Soon more than a day has passed and he is still without sleep, and now without fluids or food as well. At some point, he relieves himself where he sits, pissing on his legs and leaving a puddle on the floor, where he continues to sit, working through the robe.

He studies every fiber obsessively

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The robe lay in tatters, the threadbare remains no longer recognizable as the garment it formerly was. The young man remains naked, cautiously circling his room, eyes darting from one end to the next as he searches for things only present in his mind. Somewhere, beneath the silence and the still, voices whisper warnings of intrusions and spying. They tell him of mortal enemies to his order who lurk among their members, watching, waiting, preparing for a strike. Only he knew about their approach and only he could stop the immanent downfall of their order.

First, he must ensure that his own living space is not crawling with the bugs they leave behind, little reporters who share the secrets of others with their grand masters. When he is through with searching out the vermin who mean to relay information to their dark caretakers, he then must find a way to rid himself of the taint they have left over his flesh. The gods, they whisper warnings of infection and tainted character should he continue as is. He must find a way to remove the pollution of mind, body, and soul if he is to fight the evil lurking within every shadow inside the cathedral. They say that it might only be an insignificant looking mark, a mark that spells the difference between life and death.

Convinced that whatever they left to spy on him vacated or died, the young man moves to a mirror and begins examining every part of his skin. He looks over section of flesh, closely scrutinizing anything that looks like a bit or an unusual mark he cannot remember gaining on his own. He very nearly became alarmed over a couple of moles and a birthmark, but he was able to assure himself that these were to obvious and the defect will be more subtle than that. It is then that he turns his attention to his left ear, the tip of that ear strange looking compare to its twin on the right. The more he stared at it, the more certain he became that this was the culprit; this is the site of the impending infection meant to spread through his body and convert him to the dark way of things.

"Not this Cleric, you aren't! I will not be fooled, ha ha ha! You will not take me down, you evil bastards of the night. I shall prevail; I will take you all out!"

The newly risen priest grabs a knife sitting on his bedside table, a tool used for basic cutting and opening letters, as well as removing packaging binds from shipments to the church. He forgot to return it after using it during his turn with the laborers and intended to return it soon, but now it served a new purpose; perhaps divine intervention caused him to forget to return the tool. With the knife in hand, he pokes at the unusual crease of his ear, gingerly testing it for pain or reactions. Sticking it with the corner of the blade stung as expected, though it felt worse than he thought it should. Assured that this was definitely the site of the taint and therefore the site of required removal, the young man runs the blade of a candle flame briefly, cleaning the blade before operating on his ear.

Clenching the handle tightly with one hand, he uses his free hand to grab the top portion of his appendage and pull it away from his head, placing the hot blade against the flesh, pressing tightly, causing a thin red line of blood to break the surface. He sucks in a breath at the pain he experiences, but the pain only makes him believe more strongly that his actions are the right course of action. He must remove this ear to save himself from the spreading infection. However, given the level of taint already spread, he expected that this would be among the most painful things he experienced. To adjust for this, the young man takes a book and bites down on the spine, using it to brace himself for the pain he is about to experience.

Spine in mouth, the taste of age and dust on his tongue, he resolves himself to complete the task now before he never wills himself into it, and then takes the knife to his ear, firmly pressing down. With an easy stroke and some applied force, the blade slices through the cartilage, popping and crunching as it bites between the layers, cleanly coming out the other side, the appendage fully removed from his head. He screams into the book, which muffles the majority of his cries, while blood steadily seeps from the open wound and down the side of his face. Managing to keep his mind collected and calm, despite the urge to enter shock, he takes the candle and cauterizes the wound, crying out more as the skin sears, closing over the wound. Soon, the air carries the aroma of burnt flesh and charred hair fills the air, bitter and acrid, yet fitting the chaotic scene meshed with disarray.

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Torn up garments lying in tattered threads over the stone floor, books and furniture in complete disarray, covered in a spray of fresh blood. There are a few bits of ash that float in the air, the remains of some of the skin he burned to save himself from bleeding. He feel saved from the taint and the spread of the blackness building within, purified of the evil, ready to begin on his quest to defeat the darkness lurking inside the shadows. Sure that his body is ready for such a challenging task, he digs through his clothes to see if any are untouched, but they all reek of the slime that coats the church, unknown to all but him, invisible to the patrons who are the true victims in all of this. Resolved in his task, he determines that he will have to complete the rest of this mission the same way the gods saw fit to bring him into the world.

Naked and scared shitless.

The man whose name is forgotten takes his scattered clothing and throws it together in a haphazard pile, tossed between his bed and the wall, lying against the curtains covering his window. Out of fear of leaving the room before his task is complete, he relieves himself in a far corner, both of bowel and bladder, trying to distance himself from that filth and his work on the other side of the room. He wipes himself using parchment leftover from his assignments and studies, finding the rough texture almost intolerable. He tosses the paper down in the puddle and pile he left behind, feeling ashamed of committing an act that borders on blasphemy, but justifies his actions with the circumstances at hand. When he finished putting all of his old clothing into the pile, he moves to his desk, grabbing the still burning candle, and stares intently into the flame.

Even as he stands in the relative silence in the room, pervading forces inhabit his mind, forcing their way to the forefront of his reality, becoming the truth in the face of the material world before him. He lets the fraying fibers holding his final thoughts to the real world fray and snap, finally letting him fall deep into the realms of a never returning abyss. His departure complete, for the vastness of the depths of madness is too great for any man to climb out of once he has fallen deep within. What is left but for a fallen person to revel in the newfound glories of his delusions and fears, for the reality they bear seems so much more vivid than the reality he once beheld as the truth.

The whispers start again, quietly at first, then louder and louder as each begin to speak. They speak of many things, their range much more complex than the differences in the voices themselves. He perceives them as absolutely real, no doubt left in his mind, those inhibitions gone with the decayed threads that recently gave. He takes their messages as truth, though the bother his greatly in their persistent bombardment and never ceasing messages. He can hardly stand their barking and insistent, sometimes inane, chatter; their voices simply go on and on.

[i]The Whispers, oh the Whispers, they come and come and never cease![/i]

[font="Comic Sans"][size=2]"Cast the flames and burn the taint, rid the world of scourge and pain, destroy the tracers and the things they use to track your moves! You know it is best, you know what it is you must do.

"Wait, be careful how you place the cleansing flame, for the could be watching you even now, those dirty bastards, they watch us as we try to clean the world of this evil mark, they watch you!

"It is of no consequence, do not worry if they deign to observe us at work, for there is nothing they could do about the purging that is coming even should their lazy posteriors care to rise from their thrones of cloth and feathers. Let the weak and foolish try to stop us in our holy crusade!

"Be wary, be wary, they come, they come! The very sinister things that we try to destroy come to destroy us before we end them! We must work quickly in our tasks, do not stand there and do nothing you fool! Cannot you no smell the rotten cloud of smoldering roses and sickly goat milk they paint themselves with? The end is nigh, burn it down, burn it down!

"Do not tarry, young one, as the threat does grow nearer. The flames will clean them of this place and it will purge your soul, you will not fail, my chosen one. You cannot fail, for you are the only one who can complete this quest. Quickly, light the torch and end the game.

"Do you not hear the call of the wolf and the singsong resonations of the bullfrog in disguise? Clearly, the best course is to steal away and complete the task at hand before our ruination comes swifter than the sly fox and his penchant for chicken’s eggs.

"You stall too much, you take too long, surely the end has come upon us and even if not, you are too late to act! What can we do, we are but lost doves in a storm of rivers and streams, swept by currents screams! Oh, woe is us for befalling such an infinitely impossible task. They come to take us away, why???

"Do not listen to the man with a weak mind and even frailer stomach, for he fears what seems a challenge and this is a challenge indeed. You can do this, free the others from the curses and the hexes that plague the night! You are the savior, the chosen one to free the world. It all begins with the first steps, torch the evil and be purged inside the flames!

"The bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, the evil bridge is falling down and we’re all snakey! Ha ha ha! Toss a quilt and call you the mother of all doctors with monkey feet, for you are smoked cheese!

"If they can be evil, then we can be righteous. If they can spread the seas of sickness then let us spread the waves of light and love. You need not fear young one, the times are changing and you are going to be fine. Look to the future and not the past, never regret where you came from, share sadness only for those who fell from the enlightened path.

"Dogs will bark and cows will be bards, though their stomachs get in the way of harmonious harpsichord hierarchies, so expect little in the way of profit and artistic realizations while you allow the Heifers and Holsteins to play along with life’s little tunes; only the truly gifted can play and the much more so can appreciate a grand gesture as is the lifesong. Never mind the stories, do as your told and finish your task, you are ready to take on the world!"[/size][/font]

All the voices come at once, rushing in waves and various rhythms, all of them trying to speak with and over each other. They fight, they argue, they speak slowly and quickly. Some try to scream and others only keep whispering, whispering away like conspirators speaking of troubling plots and earth shaking interventions. Eleven voices, each unique in their own way, some much more lucid than the others. He could hardly follow any one of them, for they all spoke to close together for any one to stand out over the other, only allowing him to pick up pieces of their remarks.

It was the last voice that spoke that stood out above all the rest, waiting for his turn, waiting to spread the seeds of fear and dismay. The tone is rich, full of baritone and gifted with a commanding presence, the kind of voice that strikes through all barriers and reaches you at your core. He speaks slowly and methodically, teasing each word to give emphasis to the little details he wants you to note, all the ways he plans to crush your spirit and resolve. Listening to him is misery, hearing the words issued from all directions, echoing from wall to wall and within your skull is excruciating torture. He turns your marrow cold with dismay and your bowels turn to water, your entire body tense with agony and pain.

[Font="Comic Sans"][size=2][b]“You pathetic, ignorant little worm, you pitiful and worthless wretch posing as a cleric while hiding your true nature as a sniveling, weak, cowardly cockroach hardly befitting eternal damnation as a devil’s dick gnat. You think you can stop the spreading waves of darkness, you think you have what it takes to wrench free from the clutches of the inevitable passage of changing events, all that has been arranged? I laugh at your delusional, sick and twisted fantasy built on nothing but a simpleton’s web of lies, hardly complex or admirable. You lack the strength and ability, you lack the balls to do what must be done, for you are nothing but a wet and bloody flapping cunt on the backend of a diseased donkey, raped repeatedly by mange suffering monkeys! I laugh at feeble attempts to pass yourself off as a hero of legends and something that even slightly resembles a man!

"I will destroy you, I will tear your flesh back from your bones and feast on the fibers that bind your muscles to your skeleton. I will lick the blood away from your twigs you call limbs and suck the marrow straight from within. I will rip free every nail from each appendage and make you swallow them with my semen. I will tear your bowels out through your gaping asshole you let cock jugglers wrangle and I will choke the life out of you with your own feces stained entrails, you worthless pile of shit!”[/b][/size][/font]

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Hearing is bitter words and his harsh laughter lacing each terrible though, listening to him threaten and insult him at every step, first filled him fear, and then with anger. He could call him what he wanted, but to talk to him in such a way, to accuse him of weakness and degrade him in front of all the others and anyone else who might be listening, it is too much for him to bear. He looks down at the candle in his hand, the little flame flickering with strength and resolve, in spite of the darkest hours of this night. He grips the holder tightly, and walks over to the pile of garments and everything else he tossed within the makeshift pyre. He takes the candle and lights the kindling first, and then moves onto the garments and curtains, ignoring the pain of the hot wax leaking over his skin.

The flames erupt and fires spread, licking the fodder and spreading gratefully. He stands and watches as the purification begins, hypnotized by the spreading flames and the dancing peaks of every new flare taking life.

He prepares for the end in flames.

The fire spreads from one side of the span to the other, soon filling the room with an unbearable heat and blinding smoke that chokes his lungs. He stands in the midst of it all, hair tousled and his naked body glistening in sweat, breathing heavily as he expects the evil taint to wash away from his skin. He feels purged already, having rid himself of that troubling ear and now watching the ill stitched garments become fuel for the fire. Sweats beads on his forehead and streams freely down his face, leaving trails through collecting soot that covers an otherwise reddening face. The flames come closer to his body, the heat so strong it is nearly unbearable, yet he ushers himself on, sure of its righteous purifying properties.

Just as the flames begin to reach the location of his final stand, the door behind him bursts open and his former mentor rushes in, nothing but concern in his eyes. The young man lost in his disillusioned reality stands hypnotically locked within the dancing of the flames, blissfully unaware of the intrusion by a man he once loved and now feared. His former mentor looks for something to cover the ill young man, but finds not a remaining stitch that has not yet met the currently blazing fire. Thinking quickly, he wraps his own robes around the young man and pulls him out of the quickly falling room, praying to the brothers for aid in this time of need. He manages to usher the spell for a deluge of water in his haste to depart the room, but the water does little to quell the spreading sea of flames, for the damage is done and his efforts too late- the fire is set to spread and will do so unless many others join the fight.

The mentor just manages to break the entry of the room and get to the halls, before his former apprentice snaps back into a semi lucid state, becoming aware that he now lay cradled in the arms of the man he come to fear. A mixed state of emotions overtook the confused young man, unsure of what to make of the gentle gesture by a man he took as an enemy against him. Perhaps the others had not reached out to him yet after all, or perhaps their hold is weak and the fires have broken the bonds they chained him with. He can see genuine concern in the man’s eyes and he feels moved by his heroic efforts to save him, even if they are misguided. Struggling to look up at him, the young man mutters incoherent whispers, trying to convince him to put him back into the fiery hell spreading from the depths of his room.

“I am tainted, I must be purified. Place me back in the fires, before they spread the evil to me again. Save yourself, leave this place, but put me back into the fires so I may be born again, a phoenix raised from the ashes of hell’s ruins.”

The former mentor looks down at his past acolyte, confused and scared for the young man, only beginning to realize the magnitude of the situation at hand. He had seen such affects in young man under pressure a handful of times in his career, and never did the end come out well for the unfortunately afflicted. Often ostracized and cast out of society, the wander the world on their own, until an early end stifles their misery and ends the madness enveloping their mind. A promising cleric, a strong young man in spirit and in ability, fell prey to an often-inherited condition that lurked in the shadows until the day of its birth began. Tears fill the eyes of the old cleric, for he knows no matter what he or even the most powerful of their order do, no magic could fix the onset of a mental illness, nor one as severe as the one afflicting the young one now.

“Oh my son, I am so sorry for the cruelty that the Gods have shown you, I am so sorry for what has become of you. So sorry…”

He carries the young man, who struggles some but soon succumbs to a shallow slumber born out exhaustion, and takes him to his private quarters as others rush to battle the flames. No one else sees him take the boy from the room of origin, and no else knows of his illness that took his mind. He leaves the young man in his bed and prays that he does not wake before he returns, or even better, perhaps never wakes at all. He leaves with his order to combat the flames, spreading water as far as he can, pushing the limits of his magic. It takes more than an hour, but soon the fires die out and the damage clearly lays itself out before them.

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The room from which it started is a total loss, all walls and structures thoroughly ruined and in need of a mason to repair the structure. All the furniture and possessions are gone and the floors are warped by heat, where the flames did not manage to eat through entirely. The rooms to either side sustained severe damage and the rooms beside those have suffered minor damage as well. Others are sickened by smoke but fortunately, no one is killed by the young man’s delusional beliefs. Only the owner of the room is missing, the newly risen cleric, who appears to have been killed in the flames.

Only half of his ear is found.

***
[i]The man is safe to be around but not safe with you. Run, run, before it is too late!

He shall die, he shall perish, his end is without doubt.

He shall die, he shall perish, his end is without doubt.

Do not dally, do not tarry, get away from this place.

Run before your presence is the catalyst of his demise.[/i]

The voices all whisper along the same lines, fearing for the safety of their former mentor, aware of the danger that he, the hero of the church, clearly poses to this man by just being company. The others who remain will seek him out, the enemies will want to end him for his interference in their nefarious plots and their scheming games. He sheds the robe in haste and makes his way out the window, easily slipping away as all others fight the fires burning a far ways away from the room he leaves now. Touching down on the dewy grass on a fine evening bathed in moonlight, he runs through the grass naked and free, feeling exhilarated and lucky to be free. Perhaps what he did endure was just enough to free him from their clutches, for he never felt better than he does at this very moment.

He leaves the grounds, missed by guards as they too have rushed to deal with the fires burning within. He climbs over the gates and just narrowly misses slicing his legs open on the spikes at the top. With a surprising deftness, he manages clear the gate and make for the distance, sprinting through the night, naked as any animal, free of the clutches of the evil bastards who spread through that temple. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the name Seetzies comes to bear, someone working itself forward, a message from those who reside with him, sharing their knowledge of the evil that spreads. In time, he would come to know all of them, the good and the bad, those who aid and those who destroy, all those who will stand in his way.


He runs through green meadows bathed in silvery light, feeling the wind blow against his naked form. The air is cool, but the night fairly warm, and all is right with everything. The evil is left behind him, the sorrow no longer seeks to choke the life from his lungs. He will continue on his journey of righteousness, he will continue on his quests for good. In spite of it all, he had escaped.

He is free.

***

Back at the site of the fire, all are depressed, angry, and sad. Finding only the ear, they assume the worst and decide that an accidental fire has killed one of their most promising new priests in many years. Early on, some even whispered that he himself might become an elder, with his strong work ethic, wisdom and ambition. Only now, the gods have decided to take him back into their fold at such a young age, before his potential ever saw its way through. All of this and more is expressed over the ruins of the room, and the former mentor never says a word.

As soon as he able, he quickly makes his way back to the room, to check on the ill young man, finding him already gone. The window is open and below, tracks lead out of the grounds. Despite his age, the old man manages to climb out the window as well, and sets to eliminating the tracks that sick new cleric left behind, hiding the signs of his departure. He resolves never to say a word, never to hurt the reputation of the man who had so much promise, only to fall into the clutches of the deep void that ruins great men. He will do all that he can to hide the fact that the young man once known as Themerus Hallswith, took a deep plunge, never to return.

Perhaps someday, in spite of the illness, he truly will rise from the ashes of Hell, a phoenix reborn.

Until then, his secret shall remain.

Forever.

[offtopic]End of [b][i]Whispers to the Apprentice[/i][/b], the first part of Stupple's story.[/offtopic] Edited by Acies ab Vesania

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[size=5][b][i][FONT=Palatino Linotype]A Lost Year Part 1: Acclimation[/font][/i][/b][/size]

The next day, he awoke late in the afternoon, smelling of smoke and burnt wood, covered head to foot in a particularly nasty sunburn and coated with ants who decided to climb over him as he slept instead of around. Despite the inconveniences of the morning, the man with the forgotten name awoke feeling energized, refreshed, free from the chains of slavery to darkness, and able to explore the world and help those who need it. In this newly energized state, he rises from the ground and runs through the fields once more, circling the general area, and laughing hysterically as the breeze rushes past him. His feet slap against the grass and occasionally echo when the make solid contact with uncovered, hardened dirt. All seemed like good fun, until he stepped on a snake, to which it promptly returned the favor of pain with a pit to his calf.

Though non-venomous, the bite hurt like hell. The man lifts his leg in the air, snake still clinging to the calf muscle, and dangles it feebly while screaming and howling in pain. If anyone were around to see it, the site would seem quite comical. Eventually, the snake lets go and slithers off back into a nearby burrow, and the less than stable young man holds onto the bite, fighting back tears of pain and embarrassment, glad that there was no one here, not even the Seetzies, to witness the folly. After dealing with the pain for several minutes, it suddenly occurs to him that he is in fact a fully-fledged cleric and as such, can practice healing magic.

Feeling both awkward and sheepish, he conjures forth the divine energy, as directed to him by the gods through prayer, and lays a healing over the gaping bite wound, sealing it shut and alleviating the pain that once defined it. Feeling better without the pain and now feeling confident that no infection will settle in the wound. Still positively energized, he rises from the ground and takes off running again, this time using little more caution concerning wild snakes.

He spent the entire day running through those fields, naked as the day as he was born, red as a cherry tomato on a fine August day. His skin even took on blisters in a few places, but he ignored them, so happy he was to be away from those evil forces gathering at the cathedral. Out here in the plains, he could roam without worry; he could travel without looking over his shoulders, as here in the grasslands, he is free. With the joy of this freedom in his heart, he runs across the open expanse until he nearly trips over a rabbit, which scurries away from him with great haste, fear in its heart. Stupple laughs to himself as he lands on his backside, amused by his clumsiness and by the results of which that clumsiness produced.

Nightfall came soon enough, so under the ink colored skies speckled with its evening jewels, Stupple lays on the grass, scratching his burns and sores, clearly enjoying the view. Somewhere distant, he hears the calls of many voices, but for now, he is able to push them out of the forefront of his mind, and give himself to this wonderful scenery instead. Crickets chirp in the background, playing a concert amongst themselves in a beautiful symphony of chirps enhanced by the whistles of the passing winds. Beside him, flowers hide in their buds as their blooms have closed off for the night, sleeping in wait for another beautiful day filled with sunshine and warmth. Stupple cannot help but smile to himself as he observes the magic and the beauty of the Brothers' creation, for the world could not have been such a beautiful place without their touch.

Moments of the night gently pass, and before long, the worn out Cleric falls asleep, temporarily free of his bonds of madness, as close to normal as a man can be only whilst caught in the webbings of dreams. Beneath the moon and the stars, no difference between he and any man can be seen, other than the physical ails of a man spending too much time in the sun without clothes. All of this must pass, and another day must start, madness and sadness resumed. The truth of the matter is sad and unfortunate, a genetic fate that no man can fight the onset. Betrayed by fate, perhaps even by his gods, the man who sleeps blissfully unaware must rise to face his maladies again.

For when the sun comes up, all is as it was before; though darkness creates the illusion of change, nothing changes without those who live in the world changing their selves.

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He awoke the next morning, feeling dizzy and ill in more than one way. It occurs to him that he never drank anything the day before, and given his parched and burning throat, dry eyes and cracking lips- his cognitive functions manage to operate well enough to inform him that he is dehydrated. Sitting up and rubbing his dry eyes, Stupple realizes that if he does not find some source of water, and soon, he may not be able to enjoy this freedom for as long as he likes, or much longer at all for that matter. Standing and stretching the knots out of his muscles, feeling peeling skin fall away as he does so, Stupple prepares for his trek for water. He has no idea where any is to be found, but he figures that if he puts some effort into it, he can find some soon enough.

That, or he could eat grass; the Feezes tell him that animals that eat grass do not need to drink much.

He spends the next hour wandering aimlessly, in search of some source of water that can quench his thirst and stave off an early end to his adventures. By sheer luck, he eventually wanders across a babbling brook, running clear and clean looking water along rocks in shallow depths, just sufficient for drinking. Falling upon the water enthusiastically and with a bit more of a dramatic flair than necessary, not that any were at all, Stupple cups water in his hands and takes a great many drinks, until his belly is swollen and he feels ready to vomit it back up. He realizes that if he pushes himself to the point of vomiting, it would defeat the purpose of drinking so much in the first place, which was to relieve his thirst of course. Instead of continuing to try to drink every drop out of the creek, Stupple leans back and relaxes, letting the water rehydrate him and alleviate some of the pain in his skin.

The rest of the morning passes without incidence and once he has another fill of the water, Stupple decides to go exploring again, this time in pursuit of food if there is any around to find. He decides to follow the creek this time, travelling along its bed, stepping around every bend and twist. He figures that eventually, he will find some bushes bearing fruit or an animal come to take up some of the water. Of course, he has no idea how he is going catch any animal for food, since he is weaponless and without the skills of an able hunter, but he imagines that the Gods will provide for him regardless, as long as he puts out his best effort. It would seem at this point that were true, as so far he had managed to find water and adequate places to sleep, without running into trouble... or bears.

Bears would be trouble.

Stupple follows the creek for hours, before coming to a point where it widens out and becomes deeper, a couple of feet at the deepest points. It is here that he notices movement in the water and discovers that fish dwell within this section of the brook. Many of the fish are too small to make an adequate meal, let alone snack or appetizer, but the occasional trout shows itself, before quickly disappearing into the shadows of the waters. Stupple watches them for a while, trying to get a pattern behind their movements figured out, but his scattered mind is having little to do with it. Each time he starts to formulate some plan of attack, one of the voices shout at him, about this or that, interrupting his train of through and forcing him to start again.

Eventually, Stupple decides just to go at trying to catch a fish or two, and wades out into the water, hands beneath the surface, trying to track the swiftly moving fish. After several moments in this bent over posture, he makes an attempt at a passing trout, failing miserably and falling on his face in the water, getting his hair and quickly growing facial hair, sopping wet. He jumps out of the water and shakes his head, sending a spray of droplets in all directions in the same fashion a careless dog would, laughing at his own folly. Of course, the Feezes are not laughing with him, thinking that he is some troublesome fool out to get himself killed. They curse at him and call him stupid, but he manages to ignore them for now, only stopping to tell them to shut up every now and then.

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After a couple hours of this, his belly protesting its hunger all the while with exaggerated growls and squeals, Stupple finds that he still has nothing to show for his effort. He has managed to move a quarter mile upstream from where he once was, into some territory close to frogs. Upon realizing the presence of the amphibians, Stupple decides to try sneaking up on one of those, though his sneaking is still rather noisy. Despite his less than superb sneaking abilities, he manages to get behind a big fat frog lazily sitting on a lily pad, absorbing the sun. Just when it seemed least wary, Stupple leaps forward and manages to capture it in his hands, quickly slapped with a new dilemma:

Now that he caught one, how does he kill it and how does he cook it?

He eventually elected to beat the frogs head against a rock, after profusely apologizing to the poor creature for the harm he was about to do it. Survival and hunger win out in the end however, and within a couple of whacks, the poor creature's brains paint a gory picture over the stone of choice and the frog is dead and lifeless, save for occasional twitching. Stupple cannot figure out how to get a fire going, so he decides to eat the frog uncooked- guts, flesh and all. He finds that frog's legs are decently tasty, as told to him by others in a past life he barely remembers. The Feezes scream obscenities at him, calling him a perverse fool for eating the flesh of a frog and uncooked no less.

After his meal of eating a potential prince, Stupple heads back out into the wilds, this time abandoning the developing creek in favor of wide-open paths and untamed grasslands. Stupple manages find some sizable bugs along the way, and decides that they make as good as a snack as anything else around here. Much to his surprise, he finds that praying mantises are crunchy but flavorful, and it is on that notion he decides that it is no wonder why the females want to eat their spouses head. If people were as delicious as that, many men would be wandering around without heads. Of course, there are those whom you could never tell the difference with anyhow.

This day passes and soon the next comes and goes as well, as the days marked by hours become weeks marked by days. A time where the months are counted by the past weeks begins emerge as an imminent threat, but it has not quite yet come into play. Stopple’s skin healed mostly and turned a rich shade of brown, significantly darker than what it was when he first entered the plains. He is beginning to get down his sense of direction and has managed enough skill to capture trout and rabbit occasionally. He has yet to figure out how to make a fire, however, and on more than one occasion, the raw meat has made him sick.

It is difficult enough to defecate in the plains without useful things to wipe, but loose stools in the plains were even worse!

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It is the one-month anniversary of Stupple’s ‘liberation’, and at this point, he has begun to refer to himself by that name, Stupple Hupple. There is no logical way to explain how the name came to him, rather, it was the collective of his voices calling him that, which naturally led him to believing that is his real name, thus forcing memories of his real name to fade into obscurity, perhaps lost entirely. During this one-month venture, Stupple remains fully naked, roaming the countryside with tanned skin from his scalp down to the flats of his feet, freely running about from one grassy plain to the next. He is learning to avoid terrible things like snakes that try to bite you, small animals that want to fight you and of course, potholes, which trip you up when you are practicing your running skills. Stupple learned the hard way that landing on your face is not only an ineffective method for building skills; it hurts quite a bit as well.

Stupple Hupple manages to find ways to practice his magic and learned skills from the Cathedral, primarily a lot of healing, as he frequently finds ways to hurt himself accidently, or worse, hurt a cute little creature. Stupple manages to get by using some of his basic herbalist skills to identify properly not only homeopathic items, but also things that are edible in general. He continues to fish as a means for food, and on occasion, he has managed to catch rodents, which he bites the heads off, to kill his prey. The feezes tell him that biting off heads is an okay method for killing his food, because they die very quickly. Accidently stepping on them and breaking their back is not okay, because they suffer.

Stupple does not like to make anything suffer.

On this particular day of his adventures, he sights something rather peculiar looking, mostly by chance, and opts to follow it and find out what it is that seems so strange. This creature floats above the ground like it were full of nothing but air, and it has 8 tentacles, like Stupple had previously seen on squid. This lone creature seemed to be floating along, paying no particular attention to much of anything, minding its own business. Of course, that is where all of its troubles began. Trying to mind its own business.

Stupple stalked the strange animal for quite some time, the animal somehow oblivious to the deranged follower it had trailing behind it. Stupple, as a mentally declined individual with poor impulse control, suddenly gets the idea that trying to ride one would be an enjoyable venture, since he had never rode on anything that could fly before. The creature was less than ideally visible, but that is okay with Stupple, because being able to ride something that not only flies but also manages to be almost invisible would be even cooler! Stupple is unsure of how to go about this plan of attack, sizing up the creature and the distance it hovers above the ground. Many of the voices in his head, approving of the venture, shout varying forms of encouragement.

[font="Comic Sans"]“You can do it! Jump to the skies and ride him like a crown!”

“Jelly Jelly Jelly! WEEEEE! Ride the flying THINGGGGG!”

“Tickle me pink, tickle you blue, if you don’t ride it, you have no clue.”[/font]

More determined than ever, Stupple begins stalking the creature from a closer distance, watching it more intently, studying its movements. This following and planning is perhaps the most organized and determined thing Stupple had done since arriving in the plains. He notices that it has a tendency to bob every now and then, which would make it easier to get a hold on it. Stupple watches this movement for more than two hours, almost memorized by its gentle swaying and rocking. Of course, the voices can have none of this, and jar him with their shouts of protest.

[font="Comic Sans"] “Snap out of it stupid stupid stupid!”

“Putter face dojo brain! Focus on your task.”

“You must ride it, or ride the mother of the well, ride it, or ride the mother of the well!”

“Ride like the breezes in your reamies!”[/font]

Brought back into the focus of reality and his plans of attack, Stupple sizes up the creature once more, and prepares himself for action. He locks his legs into position, leans forward and takes a few deep breaths. He prays to the brothers for luck and blessings in his undertaking, knowing that he will need all the help he can get in this great undertaking. Stupple even opts to use his divine spell [b]Bolster[/b], to temporarily increase his strength, so that he may jump higher and hold on tighter. Every little bit counts when you want to run with the big ones.

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