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St. Troya's Temple 
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Adan reached into his coin purse and fished out five coins. "I see. I can't imagine myself in a place like this my whole life, not to offend. I pass through places of this sort often in my line of work, however," He said as he took the fishes. "Always, I wonder how they stay sane." He casually took a bite of the fish and ate it. "So when is the last time you went to church?"

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Wed Jan 15, 2014 2:32 pm
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“Too true, too true,” agreed Wido, nodding his head in comprehension. “A pint to keep the body warm and ready for service, but never more, for debauchery lies down that road. That’s what my father used to tell me, bless his soul.” Wido’s routine had begun. The few sentences that he had extracted with his initial welcome had provided a sufficient idea of how this group of pilgrims thought, and he now had a reasonably fiable indication of what strings to pull to gain access to their purses. The hunt was on.

Wido received his drink from the innkeeper with a nod and leaned towards his guests, as if to discuss a matter of great importance. While the three partook of their ale, the conman spoke in a hushed tone. “Friends, though we have just met, already I feel relieved by your company. It is evident to me that you are true followers of the faith, something that cannot be said of all those that have accompanied us on our journey.” Wido paused to let the flattery take effect. After closing his eyes a moment, seemingly debating whether or not he could go on, he spoke again, this time even more quietly. “I have a terrible burden, something that has weighed on my heart for far too long. I beg of thee, hear my tale and provide me with your good counsel.” Blue eyes pleading, Wido continued to lie through his teeth. “One night, early on in our long journey, when the fatigue had not yet enveloped every aspect of my being, I found that I could not sleep. Try as I might, the darkness eluded me. I decided then to take a walk and breath in the air to clear my mind. So it was that I happened upon a gathering of our leaders, some distance from the camp. I had no ill intention, of course, but I could not help but overhear their discussion. They spoke of a... final stage to the pilgrimage, an especially holy path that only a select few would be permitted to embark upon. From what little I could gather, the guardians of this road will allow a soul to proceed only if he should bring with him a talisman of As’Khedar, servant of Saint Troya.”

Wido paused for a sip of ale. “Now, I will confess,” he went on with false guilt, “I will confess that when I first heard I was overjoyed. For, you see, my family has long held the tradition of passing on talismans of As’Khedar throughout each generation, as a symbol of humility. I have one in my possession. It was only afterwards that I realized my great selfishness. Who am I to pass on to greater holiness, leaving my fellows behind? Those that have travelled the same arduous road as I, those that have sacrificed as much if not more than I, who am I to move on without them? Great was my sorrow, until I remembered that my dear brothers and sisters, unable to accompany me on this holy pilgrimage, entrusted to me their own talismans, that at the least they could travel with me in spirit.”

Reaching under the table, Wido pulled four charms from his mallet and laid them on the table. They were simple things, sanded circles of wood engraved with religious-looking motifs and unintelligible script. A small hole allowed a flax string to pass through, meant for hanging the object around one’s neck. “I have five talismans”, Wido said, his voice now barely above a whisper. “One for myself, and those that belong to my family. Would it not be better for these to serve as right of passage for four more deserving souls?” Brushing back his hair, Wido shot the final arrow of his assault. “Yet I am torn, for I know not to whom they should go. I cannot turn to the priests, for I know not what they will do. It is possible that they could confiscate them, deeming none of us worthy of the final stage. You seem wise, and evidently you are genuine seekers of truth. To whom can I entrust these treasures?”

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Wed Jan 15, 2014 3:14 pm
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"Are you sure, my dear?" replied Madame skeptically, "the poor dear sounds as if they shall cough their lungs out into the lake itself" she made an attempt to step forward "I have herbs, and knowledge of medical matters should you take to my services."

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Fri Jan 17, 2014 3:31 pm
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The figure shook her head and refused Madame Boucharde's entry, putting her hands up and forcing her away. Her hands were withered and bony, boils peppering her skin.
"You can't cure this," she replied gravely. "Just let it pass, we have this under control."

The figure from earlier walked up to Madame Boucharde and placed a hand on her shoulder, digging his fingers in and pulling her away. His hands were perfectly fine, if not callused, different from the others.
"Leave the pilgrims be, allow them to deal with and overcome their own personal struggles," he ordered, as if their struggle was a serious life and death matter. He paused for a few seconds before continuing.
"However, seeing how bad this is getting, we might have to cut our stay here short. We can't have anyone die on us until we at least reach the temple."

He released his grip and walked away. The woman back away from Madame Boucharde and walked over to the fallen pilgrim and pulled him up. The two pilgrims flanked the other and hoisted him back toward the square without a passing glance at Boucharde.
____
The three pilgrims listened carefully to Wido's tale and looked back at one another. They murmured among themselves concerning the talismans, which seemed to last for at least ten minutes. Finally, after much deliberation, they all turned back to Wido and one of them spoke out.
"You really pull our heartstrings, we would be honored to take the talismans," he replied. However, before Wido could even think of speaking again, another of the pilgrims continued the thought.
"Unfortunately, we cannot carry any physical goods on us. The law of the pilgrimage is to carry only spiritual baggage. It is a test of the soul, we carry nothing in order to show our devotion. If it is a disappointment for you, do not despair. We will carry them for you in our hearts and minds."

And, with that, as if called by an otherworldly urge, they all stood up and made their way from the inn.

The innkeeper thought about Adan's question for a few seconds before answering.
"Well, that's a peculiar thing to ask. I can guess you're not from the continent, from one of the other ones where religion plays a bigger role in your society, right? The short answer is, not in years. This outpost is too far away for it to be worthwhile, and even if it wasn't, this land isn't intuitive when it comes to religion. Whiteash is a land of settlers from all over the world. All of the major cities, with the exception of St. Illanz, are mostly secular. There are plenty faithful in the land, and they participate in mass frequently, but the mix is too varied for it to play a major role in society."
____
The pilgrims in the other end of the shop left just as those in the inn, which left Hewett and the old man. The man grabbed the money that Bryson left on the counter and threw it underneath. He turned round to work on his woodblock again when Hewett returned and asked his question. This time he seemed to be bothered less by the question and slowly turned around with the block in his hand.

"Interested?" he asked with a small grin and a twinkle in his eye. "It's just a block I've been working on. I'm nearly done carving it and then I'm going to press out some nice prints to sell for extra money. It's really just a hobby as I get older."

He showed Hewett the block, which was engraved with a heavily detailed image of a pilgrim carrying a cross standing before a small cove.
"It's just an illustration of the next step on the pilgrimage. The cove itself is beautiful, words don't describe it. Makes me want to sacrifice myself in vain too, at least if I was as crazy or dying as quickly as these pilgrims."

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Sun Jan 19, 2014 12:04 am
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Hewett's face lit up when the shopkeeper showed him the block. He was familiar with the concept of relief printing, but this was the most intricate example of it he'd ever witnessed. Truth be told, he hadn't seen very many, but it was clear that this man had some talent. The tinker grinned, honestly impressed.

"That's incredible! I'll have to see how it looks on paper once you've finished-" He stopped short as something dawned on him. "I'm sorry, did you say dying?"


Sun Jan 19, 2014 2:04 pm
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Madame Boucharde recoiled unconsciously at the sight of the boils, though before she could say anything further she felt a hand firmly press into her shoulder and pull her away from the group of diseased pilgrims.

She was far too stunned to outrageously exclaim for the man to unhand her, perhaps make a scene, but what she had seen, and what he had said then had startled her profusely. Were there other pilgrims in such a similar plight? She was ashamed to admit that she shrunk back slightly as the pilgrims passed her by once again. This had merely started as a project to sate her curiosity, not a path to the plague.

Watching from a safe distance away from the pilgrims, she now understood why they had not been attacked by any bandits on their journey thus far. They knew they were diseased, just her luck to decide to investigate such a company. She sighed audibly, not entirely sure what her next steps were to be. She could go home, but it would be dangerous, and quite arduous to venture alone. Besides, she had come here for research, surely she couldn't leave having gained such intriguing information. Would their god actually be able to cure them of their ailments, or would they all die before they even reached the temple. She had to continue to find out. She would continue on with the pilgrimage, she had not much else to lose.

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Adan listened to the man talk, which made him angry. While he knew there were few Christians in this part of the country, it still frustrated him to no end. "I see," he said quietly. "Such heresy would have you put to death in my home country. One day the righteous Popeish army shall set things right here. You have been warned." He left the building without finishing the fish and ale. Outside it was just bright enough to see. He saw the figures by the lake and walked over. He needed to be in the company of the faithful for a moment.

Up closer he could see Madame Boucharde with the pilgrims. "Good evening, Madame Boucharde," He said. "Tell me, do the pilgrims make for good company?"

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Mon Jan 20, 2014 8:55 pm
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Madame Boucharde was mildly hesitant as this new individual approached her. Was he too infected like the others, or did he have some other ailment that had spurred him to go on this perilous journey. She did not want to offend the man however, so she smiled as she would with any of her friends. It was one of the few courtesies she could extend on their dark journey.

"They make for good company," she replied cordially, "Though I suggest you not get too close to them if you are of good healthy. Those poor creatures seemed to have been taken by a plague, and doing quite poorly with it. How do you fare?"

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Thu Jan 23, 2014 7:56 pm
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"God is watching over me," Adan said. "No plague taints my body. I see you yourself are not suffering, milady." He smiled back at her. "You must be of good faith. Rare to see in this heathen land. Tell me, where do you come from? A very religious land, I assume?"

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Sat Jan 25, 2014 5:41 pm
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Quite relieved that this pilgrim was not plagued Madame felt a bit less apprehensive around the man. "Ah yes," she replied, fully aware of her homeland's devotional sect, though she herself took a more scientific stance, requiring evidence to believe rather than this blind faith she found herself surrounded with as of late, "Quite religious our people are. I have not yet had the opportunity to speak with all the pilgrims, though I would be far from surprised if there were others haring my motherland's blood."

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The old man seemed surprised to learn Hewett knew nothing of the pilgrims he was traveling with. He placed the wood block on the back counter again and turned back to the young man.

"Usually those who undergo this pilgrimage are the faithful who are terminally ill. If you get a good look at them you can tell what disease they're suffering from, that's why they wear the cloaks. It's not really to protect them from being recognized, it's meant to hide the sickness so that bystanders aren't startled," he replied.

"Though, I don't think the leader is sick at all," he muttered to himself, placing his hand on his chin and working it out in his head. "You have to be in really good shape to carry that thing. Considering that, she's probably not from St. Illanz. That city is full of disease. It's just a place for destitutes and vagabonds looking for free shelter. St. Illanz used to be a nice little city until all of those kinds came in and spread their disease. It's killing off the faithful who live there and causes this pilgrimage to happen at least twice a month. I give it a year at the most until all of them are dead."

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 1:52 pm
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Adan was pleased with Boucharde's answer. "Rest assured, Madame, these pilgrims will be cured. God performs miracles for the faithful. Daily prayer will protect you from the wretched plague."

Suddenly curious as to the lady's background, he decided to ask a few questions. "What land do you call home, if you don't mind me asking?"

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"That's one hell of a vicious cycle." Hewett remarked with a sigh. Whatever affliction had befallen the pilgrims, it sounded like it was contagious. Traveling with them seemed to be safe enough, but he decided that it couldn't hurt to keep his distance. "How often do these vagabonds survive to return from the pilgrimage, cured or otherwise?"


Wed Jan 29, 2014 9:16 pm
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"Survive and return?" The old man asked, staring at Hewett with a look of disappointment. He scratched his chin as he searched for a way to explain his thoughts to the young man without startling him too much. "I've never seen them return, except for their leader. The leader always comes back through, though she always has no cross."

There's a short pause, after which he adds reassuringly,
"Though maybe they all split up. I've never been up there. Your group would be the first to see."

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"I come from Lorraine," she replied in a distinctly different accent making the word sound like Lohr-rhenne when she said the name of her home, "It is a simple place of gentle rolling hills, where the pious often visit the Cathedral of St. Marcel in search of serenity and tranquil solitude in the gardens."

"From where do you hail, sir pilgrim?"

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