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In the Beginning, there was Blood... [Gathering followers quest]

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In the midst of a turbulent thunderstorm, a man was reborn from the harsh womb of an evil thing. Just as a babe is birthed, with pain, yelling and blood, so too was Oscar Uldwar, whose imprisonment was now at an end, at a terrible cost. 

Rain poured, thunder clashed as bolts of lightning struck the earth, perhaps even to strike down the abomination of nature that was happening in the eyes of nature itself. The hole inside the black, gnarled tree began to expand and contract, moving as if made of flesh, and growing larger as its spawn was coming to the surface. What started as a faint cry drowned in the noise of the storm, went further and further into the volumes of a demented roar of unending pain and suffering. What came next was a scarring experience for any unfortunate enough to bare witness to such an event, enough so that they may forever stay silent of such things, or else be branded a madman.

What came forth from the tree was a man, a man who thought himself dead, or at least, he wished he was.

Collapsing onto the ground, the shaking, naked body of such a proud Lord now covered in blood and given back to a cold world wishing him harm. Lightning was the only thing which gave him illumination, in those scant seconds of which blinded not only one of his eyes, but both. What magic had taken from him, gave back in so many ways that he could not begin to understand. All he knew now was that he was back in the real world, away from the pain, away from the constant nightmares, and now back to the world he at least knew to some degree. 

Oscar Uldwar was perhaps the first person to fling himself out of the frying pan and back into the fire. At least here, he believed, he had a fighting chance at life, at answering the questions eating away at him so completely.

What happened to him?

Why was here?

Who had spoken to him during his unpleasant stay within that damned tree?

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"FREEDOM! I AM FREE!"

Jubilation was not enough to describe how Oscar felt as he ran naked as a babe through the field. The sheer noise of the thunderstorm drowned out his cries of happiness, allowing him the coverage he required to make his way deep into the forest nearby. Finally he could run, he could move, he could breathe! It all felt so good, he never wanted it to end.

Finally, his body grew tired, and he knew he had to stop, so he brought himself to shade of a large oak. It's leaves dripped with so much water, the sound of thunder still booming outwards, but he was as happy as could be. He was free, and that was all that mattered right now. With that freedom, he could think, he could make the next move, perhaps even, he could find some way of-

you must bleed....

Suddenly Oscar shot back up to his feet, looking around for the source of the noise. It had to be close, or else he wouldn't have heard it from the sound of the storm just above him. 

bleed for me....propagate my children....

"Who is there!" His fists were held up, ready for a fight, but could see no one, not a single soul out here in this madness. "Show yourself!"

BLEED!

"Ahhh!" He struck outwards, his fist connecting to a tree. Reeling, he looked at his knuckles, which were red, bruised and dripping with his own blood onto the wet ground...

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Sleep did not provide the respite he thought it would. Deep within the mind scape of his psyche, Oscar was treated to a barren world, where nothing grew and everything was truly desolate. 

The ground was arid, the air dry, a hot wind whipping about the area, drawing out dust all over. In this madness, the former Lord's body was attacked at all directions, at all angles, with no end in sight. Covering his face with his hands, Oscar tried with all of his strength to move forward, gritting his teeth against the strain. 

your journey will be hard, Oscar, but I have trained you well....

He didn't understand what this voice meant, he never remembered any training, only the pain he experienced during that time in that wretched tree. Yelling out in anger, Oscar would not be deterred, he would continue to fight, no matter what. All his life he fought, whether it was on the battlefield or in the court, he was always able to resist and deny his enemies their victory. 

a fighter, a leader, and for what? mortal trappings that have no meaning. this new path I have for you will mean so much more, if you decide to take it.

He awoke, and found himself within the forest, his hand fully healed, and a small black sapling right next to him. Shaking off his daze, Oscar continued his travels, hoping to find some means of which to find either food or clothes. In this time he had no idea what lay before him, and what he would find as he walked further and further from civilization.

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Hunger gnawed at him, it drove him onwards, but tormented him with its merciless edge. Water was plenty after the storm, but it appeared there might be nothing but berries and insects.

It was demeaning, to be brought so low. Oscar was a powerful noble of the Ursa Madeum court, and here he was now. Forced into scavenging, while his enemies enjoyed the finest of food and drink, laughing at him, plotting against him. He needed something, anything to get him back in the game, so he could make his next move against those damned bastards.

A rustle shook the foliage around him, and the wanted man held up his fists in readiment for the coming battle. "Come on then, come and get me!" He challenged, the anger boiling in his blood.

"What's a naked madman doing out here in the forest?" A voice asked, the sound thrown about by the abundance of trees.

"I am no madman." He responded, ignoring the remark toward his nakedness. "I am Lord Oscar Uldwar, Protector of the Realm, Master of Port Mars, and Patriarch of the Uldwar clan." 

Laughter echoed all through the forest in answer to his claims. 

"Oscar Uldwar is a one eyed bald man in fancy clothes. I see two eyes, blonde hair all over your little head and face, and not a slip of clothing on you. You aren't doing a very good job of refuting your status as a madman." 

"Show me your face." Oscar called. "And I will prove to you I can at least fight like Oscar Uldwar." More laughter, enough to frustrate him, but not to send him into a rage just yet.

"I have no doubt of that, my friend. Perhaps my friends will recognize you." A singular sound was all the warning he got, until a dart struck him in the leg. Grunting in pain, he removed the projectile, a small trickle of blood flowing outwards as he examined it. "Don't worry, it's not poisoned, just dosed." True to his word, Oscar was beginning to feel woozy, then collapsing upon the ground, his leg still bleeding into the ground for a moment before stopping quite suddenly.

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Ten bandits in all occupied the camp. Half deserters, the other half former soldiers of King Damien. Desperation pit them on their path, to live on the edge of society, preying on the weak or deceiving the strong to make their living. They were all thugs, cutthroats, murderers and rapers. Danger was all around him, and yet Oscar felt no fear in this company. Having spent all his life around killers, he knew just what it took to earn their respect.

"What do you think we should do with him?" They had gathered around a fire, cooking their next meal. Smells of meat and stew reached him, making his stomach gurgle with want. All he could do was stay in his place, sitting down as his hands were tied to a pole behind him.

"He's worthless." One said. "Let's just kill him and toss the body somewhere."

"Yeah, he doesn't look like any runaway noble, especially Oscar Uldwar." The comment made him raise his head, but they paid him no mind.

"Well, he looks strong. Probably handy with a sword. Maybe he could join us. Gaia knows we need more help in our raids." The one who had knocked him out seemed determined to make certain he stayed alive through this. Whether it was out of sincerity or for his own gains, Oscar couldn't tell, but he would be lying if he said he wasn't hopeful that it would work. 

"What makes you think he won't just kill us in our sleep and move on?" Another asked, sharpening his dagger against a whet stone. 

"We were all like him, at one point or another. Maybe all he needs is a little food, and he'll be willing to work with us. Where else is he gonna go, looking like that?" The man must have been the leader of the group, or at least the most charismatic of them. Walking over to the now captive man, he knelt down and asked. "Whoever you are, I know someone doesn't just go into the wilderness naked without being some kind of pariah. You got a bounty on your head?"

Slowly, Oscar nodded. 

"What do they want you for?" He asked.

"I slapped my wife, attacked my son, threatened to gut my kids like they were fish. Dali want me to pay for my crimes." The bandit nodded, a grin playing on his lips. 

"That's not even close to worth the risk of turning you over. Tell me. Do you really believe yourself to be Oscar Uldwar?" Again he nodded, and the bandit thought a moment longer. "Oscar wasn't just a fighter, wasn't he? He lead men into battle, he knew tactics, strategy. You would know how to hunt us down, how to strike at big targets with just a few men, right? Yeah, yeah I think we can do a lot with you, Lord Uldwar." He said with a sly grin.

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First they clothed him. Ragged scraps of clothing and leather armor, a far cry from the rich fabrics and plate mail he was used to. In time, if they did their jobs right, everyone would be getting more gear. Better armor, better weapons, all of it a higher quality than what they had on them now. After being given a sword, Oscar was expected to spar with one of the other bandits.

"Let's see your footwork, milord!" One of them called, causing the others to snicker as they watched one of their own step up to the spar.

Taking his stance, he waited for his opponent to attack. When he did, it was a downward slash, and was easily countered with little difficulty. The others were fairly impressed, with the sparring partner rubbing his back from the smack given to him at the flat of the blade. 

"Is there more?" Oscar asked, his eyes boring into his opponents. With renewed vigor he came at him again, the two brawling for a time before they stopped. Pointing his blade at his fellow bandits throat, Oscar claimed victory, his hand dripping blood on the ground from redirecting a potentially fatal blow. "Good, but it needs work. A real soldier would have killed you faster than I."

"I am a soldier!" He replied back in anger.

"Once you were, but not anymore. Now you are a bandit, and you'll need more practice if you want to stay alive." Tossing aside his sword, the group looked upon him with a mixture of fear and respect. 

"Men...I think we have just found ourselves an ace in the hole." 

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"Let's see how he is with a bow." Another test, but this one had the former Lord feeling more than a little reluctant. 

"I don't shoot." He said, trying to return the weapon, but instead it was shoved back into his arms. 

"Either you shoot or we shoot you. Come on now, I thought Oscar Uldwar was a master marksman in his youth. You got both eyes now, milord, so use em." The bandit stood back, allowing Oscar a free line of shot at the target set up some distance away. He didn't know if he could make the shot, but he also didn't know if he would survive the attempt at making the shot. 

"Just do it you ugly son of a bitch!" One of them called, while the others began to show doubt in their eyes. If Oscar couldn't in fact shoot with a bow, was he truly Oscar Uldwar, or better yet, was he worth keeping around with their gang?

Without much in the way of options, Oscar notched an arrow, taking deep breaths as he took aim. After the third breath, he let loose the missile, and watched as it sailed to its destination. When it struck, the bandits looked to it to see how well he hit the mark.

"Not great, but it'll wound them for sure. With some practice, you may actually be a good bandit." They laughed, the one whom had lost to him in the sword fight a little more than the others, but he would accept it. Somehow he was able to shoot without the bow exploding in his hands, his eye still perfectly intact. Perhaps things are different now, and that meant Oscar Uldwar was by far more dangerous.

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Being a bandit was not all Oscar believed it to be. Much of it was like being a commando behind enemy lines, something he fell into easily. 

They never stayed in one place for too long, always on the move in fear of being found by the authorities, who would surely dole out death for justice. One had to learn the art of scouting, or else they would surely fall in some of the many traps they encountered along the way. One false step, and it was the chopping block for them all. 

It was important to avoid the major roads, those were used by the Empire or by the larger houses who controlled the territory they were crossing. Everything felt different on this side of the law, and Oscar found himself exhilarated by it. When they quickly got out of the way and hid from a coming patrol of just a few soldiers, Oscar had to ask. "These seem like good targets. Why not attack them?"

"High risk, low reward." The leader of the group explained. "Soldiers don't have much money on them, and the risk of us dying by engaging them is too high. There's also the risk that they'll know we did it, and suddenly our bounties just got a lot higher. Usually it's only worth killing them when they're protecting something valuable, like gold." 

It all made sense, and Oscar took note of it while they made their trek to the next hiding spot they had planned. An old Fort out in the eastern side of the island. From there, they would plan their next move, with their new tactician available for advice and support. Suddenly Oscar was now back in the game. 

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In this time of constant travel, Oscar did his duty to the mysterious voice within him, spreading his red colored life water. It was a simple matter of cutting his palm and allowing the droplets to travel all the way to the ground, where it would work it's way to the soil. From there, it would begin it's new journey to create yet another of the black, gnarled trees which had been his prison for so long. Such was the cycle, a cycle he dared not to upset.

"You know each time you do that, it scares the other boys just a little." Bandits had to knew to trust their fellow man, or else they could end up with their throats slit in their sleep. 

"Pain is a friend one must always be aware of and know of. Do the others know pain so well that they do not need to know of it?" The bandit thought on it, but deflected with another question.

"How are you able to do all of that so many times, but your hand doesn't look that bad at all." It was something Oscar had wondered himself, but knew how to respond without arousing too much suspicion. 

"I have been gifted the gift of healing. My body can take wounds much better than others, healing far quicker than they. Such a boon pulses through my veins, it makes me strong, it removes the aches of age, and it makes me a much greater fighter." All these things were true, to an extent, but he knew how well it served in putting a gleam in the man's eyes. 

"Maybe sometime later we can talk more about that, and see how maybe I can get me some of that stuff too, eh?" If a bandit could be defined by anything, it was by their greed.

"Once we hit the fortress, then we can speak. Until then, I will continue to stay acquainted with pain." He said, allowing the last drops of blood to flow, before the wound began to close and heal on its own. 

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Wildlock fortress was a place Oscar knew of, and understood why it made such a good place for a group to hide out in. After the war, nature reclaimed the stone bastion, with so many trees and vines growing between the rocks and cobbles. In its prime it was a beacon of King Damien's iron grip upon the land, and once it was all over, no one wanted to see it again. That's the thing about parts of history you don't like, but refuse to address. It always has a way of coming back to bite you.

"Here it is, boys. Our new home away from home." They nodded, but kept their senses open for any sign of an ambush. Such was the trouble of having a hideout you frequented often. Anyone that knew about it knew it was possible to trap you in it, if they waited long enough. 

"Any targets in mind?" Oscar asked, curious as to what they intended on doing for.a big payout. 

"We'll know more once we get our feelers out. There's always someone willing to share some information for a cut of the pay. It's a country divided after all." That one sentence made Oscar stop for a moment, and he really had to laugh. 

"Yes, a country divided indeed." Why should someone on this part of the island care what happens on the other side? All they care about is survival, and a cut of a heist does very well in insuring their survival.

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On that night, something happened, something that absolutely assured and resolved Oscar in what he knew he had to do. When they reached the ruins of the old fortress, all of them noticed the girl cowering inside. In Oscar's mind, he knew what that might mean for those he was traveling with. 

"I call first on the girl." One of them said, the others protesting and nearly getting into a fight over who would have their way with the innocent one. Going closer, Oscar saw something that in a funny way, he knew would save the girl from their Lust filled hunger. 

"None of you can have her, not unless you want to spread Witch Warts to the rest of us." They only had a moment to look at her and confirm this before she ran deeper into the crumbling structure. Sure enough, one could see the hideous growths growing all over her, filled with a pus that would spread the disease if it came in contact with the skin. They groaned in frustration, knowing that taking her to bed would mean certain death, for one only has mere weeks before the unstoppable disease causes your heart to stop beating. 

"Then you know what we have to do." They nodded, getting their bows ready and heading out into the fortress. "Do your best to stay out of reach, and aim for the head. We can't have her blabbing about where we are located."

convert her...feed her the blood....spread my power....

He had a different mission from the others, one he intended on succeeding in. Whatever this thing was inside of him was making him greater, giving him the power to set right what has been wronged, to punish his enemies, and to obtain the power he has desired for so very long. 

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Searching through Wildlock was a difficult task in itself, made no easier by the fact the sun was beginning to set. If he could reach this girl before the others did, she could potentially slip out without any of them noticing. All that depended on him locating her first, however.

There was the sound of crying, somewhere within the corridors of the foreboding structure. If he could hear it, the others surely will too, meaning her life could very well be cut short before it could be of use. Quickening his pace, Oscar tried to pinpoint where the crying was coming from, only to find himself running in circles. The way it was echoing made the source of the noise confusing, which at the very least gave him hope the others were just as vexed by its difficulty as he was.

"Come on now, lovely." One of the bandits said. "We just wanna have a talk with ya."

One was nearby, and soon the others would converge, he had to work fast. Rounding a corner he finally found her, nestled in an alcove, knees to her chest, body covered in warts, with tears rolling down her disfigured face. "Please don't kill me." She pleaded. "I swear I won't tell anyone." 

"I don't want to kill you." Oscar whispered, making sure that she would do the same to keep from attracting the others. "I want to save your life, so you can be free and happy, yes?"

"But how?" She asked, rightfully incredulous.

"With a miracle. One that I have been granted, I wish to pass on to you." He said, taking a blade out and cutting his hand. "All it takes is a few drops, and then I will lead you out of this place, unharmed and untouched." 

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With his blood and guidance, Oscar got the girl out of Wildlock, where she could flee somewhere safe, without fear of being captured and violated by the hands of ruthless cutthroats. She didn't know it, but she would soon become the very first convert to his new religion of a grand and bloody figure that he still knew next to nothing about. It was incredible, just how personal it was, how powerful it felt, and how right it felt to him, that he was doing this thing that allowed him to save the life of a young woman. He wondered just how it would feel when he began to conscript tens or even hundreds of others to his new and incredible cause connected to a higher power not of this world.

Eventually the others reconnected outside the fort, with no success in hand, the question now became of whether or not they stayed here in Wildlock. "We may not be able to stay here for more than a night, which means we'll have to get moving first thing in the morning." Everyone was cursing, frustrated that their hideout was now worthless to them. 

"I don't think the girl will tell." Oscar suggested. "She is on death's door, and already made into a pariah by her people. Who will she talk to?" 

"Should have put an arrow in her when I had the chance. Now there's no way to know for certain." 

"By morning we will know, and if we have not been discovered, then we should get a move on in trying to get the information we need for our next strike." Everyone agreed with what Oscar said, so they stayed the night within the decrepit fortress. When Oscar dreamed, he was still in the dust storm, but now he saw the vague shape of a woman there as well, with a face as smooth as silk, calling out for hell. 

you have done well my disciple....this will only be the beginning....

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That morning, they had found their answer, and was relieved to know they were not immediately in danger of being caught. With that fear quelled, it was time to start the day, which meant hunting in the woods for food, while the others went in search for information. Oscar opted for the hunting, as he wanted to improve his marksmanship, and to be able to spread more of his blood in the surrounding lands. 

It was good to be out, to be useful, to be doing something that had meaning, it had also been the first time in a long time that he had taken the life of another living thing. There was a thrill to the hunt, one that he enjoyed greatly, his very bones being filled with the desire to be victorious and to conquer this challenge. Hunting down an animal was as much an art as it was a necessity, and Oscar felt like a master artisan with his bow and arrows in hand, on the lookout for their target. Today they were hunting boar, a common animal that had made its home upon the islands. 

Catching sight of the beast, Oscar put arrow to string, taking steady breaths as his fellow hunters readied their projectiles as well, wanting to strike at the same time in order to bring it down quickly. 

"One...two...three..."

Twang!

The arrows were loosed, finding their marks at various points on the porcine creature. One of them must have pierced something important, as the board made a wretched noise Oscar recognizes as a death knell, and then it fell over on its side. Walking over to collect their arrows, hoping to see which had done in the boar.

"Looks like I got him right in the eye." One of the bandits stated, pointing out the small ribbon he tied to the end of it. Everyone else's shot never hit something vital, so the credit went to him. Oscar made notes of his technique during this, so that next time it would be him that made the killing blow. 

When they arrived back at the fort, they reconnected with the others, who had good news for them all. "There's gonna be a shipment of rice coming out of the Hildebrand territory. I say we steal it, then sell it to the place they were headed for twice the price. Who is with me?" Everyone felt that was a good plan, a safe one that guaranteed a payout. For Oscar though, the plan was more than perfect.

It was divine Providence. 

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They headed out at midday, making the trek out to the road, hoping to intercept the shipment before it arrived at its destination. In the interest of keeping a low profile, they did not wish to kill anyone, as that would only lead to a higher bounty as well as higher scrutiny towards them. 

"What do we plan on doing with this money, once we've received it?" Oscar asked while they made their way via side roads. 

"Supplies, mostly, then medicine." He answered.

"Medicine?" Oscar inquired further.

"Can't tell you the number of times we've nearly died because of the blood sickness. Scrapes and cuts get infected, then suddenly you're spilling blood out of your mouth and dead out in the wilds. It's what makes this particular business of ours so troublesome." He could tell the bandit leader had seen people die of such things, for he had witnessed it himself during the dark times. 

"So why be bandits then? Surely it would be safer to find work in a city perhaps, or even make a new life in a village." 

He sighed, looking down for a moment before answering Oscar. "The war isn't over for a lot of us. We got to keep fighting, so we can overthrow those bastard imperialists. They're the ones who would put us to death if they ever found us, so we'll never be safe until we win this war." It was remarkable, seeing how he lied to himself with such conviction. "Let's just keep focused on stealing this rice, all right?"

Oscar nodded, continuing the march, staying silent along the way as they travelled through the wilderness on a quest to steal and rob others of their possessions. 

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