On The Wayside [Closed, Started]

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Hey there stranger, lost your way? You have? Ha, unsurprising. It's dark out there, too damn dark. Cold too, I reckon. Yeah, you look freezin', hungry and tired. That's to be expected. You've had a long journey. Come sit by the fire, have a bite. I got meat cooking, rabbit to be precise. Fresh caught. I only got two rules in me camp; the first is no violence. You get violent, I'll send you out into the dark. Yep, a dark soul deserves to be in the dark. The second is that you gotta tell a story. Any story; about yerself, about others you know, about the myths of yer land. I don't care as long as it's a story. Want some stew? 'Course you do! Eat that up whilst we wait fer the others. Yeah, I said "others". There're always others, that's why I'm here; to help the ones who have lost their way. It won't be long, I reckon. Beautiful sky, ain't it? Yep, It's good to be on the wayside...

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Within the deepest darkness of the night, past the towering leatherleaf trees; through the razor-thorned tangles of rabbit trap - so named because of it's tendency to ensnare na´ve woodland creatures - a fire lights a small, open area, beckoning to weary travellers. The Host sits upon an old tree stump, idly stirring the remains of his rabbit stew as his six guests stare expectantly into the fire, eyes searching the dancing flames for an answer that is not their's to know.

The six shift uncomfortably, but not because of their seats. No, the logs they rest upon are surprisingly comfortable, the warmth of the fire seeping through the aged wood, softening it. Shadows flick across their faces, distorting their features. Some of the guests play absently with their food, others spoon minimal amounts into their mouths. Silence holds them all.

"Don't ask how you got here," The Host says, glancing up from his bowl "Right now...I don't know." He shrugs, placing his bowl on the soft dirt at his feet. "Most people find themselves on the wayside at one time or another. Some even know how to avoid it altogether." Thumbing a pinch of tabac into his pipe, The Host grabs a twig and leans forwarding, holding it toward the fire. "Some find themselves eatin' my food pretty early on in their life, while others..." He pauses to light his pipe, taking a few thoughtful puffs before continuing." ...Others spend decades and decades until they have a chance to warm themselves by my fire."

The Host watches his guests silently, occasionally blowing smoke rings into the fire's own grey plumes. A few glance up at him gloomily. Or maybe it's just the dim light that casts the gloom across their faces. The Host suddenly snatches the pipe from his mouth as if a thought had just struck him. "Heck," he exclaims, "some people have been known to search me out just so's they can sit here and yap away to strangers!" He shakes his head, beard rustling against his chest. "I wouldn't recommend it though. They say that you shouldn't come looking for me 'cause I'll always find you first." He places the pipe between his teeth again, this time allowing it to rest there. "Whether you know it or not, I'll find you first."

A few moments of strained silence pass by; the crackling of firewood quiet, almost distant. The Host pulls a few clay mugs and a bottle of watery wine from behind the tree stump, fills his own and then passes the drink round the fire. Reluctantly, all the guests fill a mug. They're still uncertain, questions continue to hang off their tongues but refuse to let go. Refuse to venture further into the unknown. The Host takes a quick sip of his wine, grimacing at it's bitterness, before addressing the group again.

"You wanna know exactly where the wayside is?" Faint nods. The Host smiles, shrugging absently. "It's wherever I set up camp. The base of a mountain, a hidden cave," he spreads his arms wide, gesturing to the surrounding trees, eerily illuminated by the wan light. "A wooded thicket...The location don't matter much." He scans the faces staring back at him. They appear tense, questions still fighting to get out. The Host methodically knocks his pipe on the stump and presses his boot onto the smouldering embers of the tabac. He sighs.

"I guess you wanna know where we are right now though, huh?" Hope flashes across the guest's faces. A trick of the light, perhaps. "If you look through the darkness, you'll see a seemingly endless trail of leatherleaves." The Host points in front of him, past his guests. They twist their necks, eyeing the tall trees looming somewhere in the pitch black. "Past those trees - about half a day's hike - is what I call Lantern Pass."

The guests slowly turn their heads back to look at The Host. Their uncomprehending faces spark a realisation with him, causing his face to flush and a full-bellied laugh to escape from inside his beard. The laugh stuns the guests at first, but they soon relax. Smiles split faces and a few are even chuckling quietly at The Host's sudden and intense mirth.

Soon, The Host has calmed his laughter and, wiping his eyes on a sleeve, he continues. "What Kingdom are we in, right?" Nods of agreement from across the fire. The Host sighs, hesitating slightly, the first time his guests have seen him uncertain. "I've lived so long and travelled so far that I've long ago lost track of borders." He sniffs, staring into the flames, eyes piercing the heart of the fire. "Who rules where, which countries live and which countries die..." A tight shake of the head. "These things don't concern me anymore." The Host shrugs at his guests, hands fiddling with his sleeves. "Besides," he says, clapping his hands together softly, "this far from anywhere, the word 'kingdom' doesn't mean much!"

Time passes silently around the campfire once again, the guests digesting what little information they can from what The Host has told them. After a while, The Host clears his throat, garnering the attention of his guests. "Well, we have time to kill before I want the first story told...What are all your names?"

Darren looked round at his companions with a curious look in his eyes as he carefully propped his broadsword up against a tree trunk and sat down on a log in front of the roaring fire. To his shame he couldn't actually remember how he had ended up at this campfire with an old man who looked like he might have lost a few of his marbles and five other wanderers who all looked equally confused as he did, but he trusted that it would eventually come back to him. No one else seemed to be speaking so he decided to take the initiative and introduce himself.

"The name's Ammon. Darren Ammon. I hail from the Kingdom of Tamar, if any of you don't know where that is it lies on the eastern side of the continent, bordering on the great Empire further along that way. I don't suppose any of you have heard of the city of Khana, have you?"

Sai'if looked into his mug, trying to recall the events that led to this point, but his memories seemed distant, almost as if they were someone else's and he couldn't seem to pinpoint the last memory he had before coming upon this camp site. He frowned at his mental frustration. It was almost as if the time before his arrival at the campfire and now were two separate lives, but such a thing seemed preposterous. Sai'if then looked around the campfire, searching. Where was Kasris? Surely if he was here she must be close by. Could she have gotten separated from him somehow? The idea also seemed preposterous. From the day they met she had always been close at hand, observing him, learning from his actions and taking in his words and lessons even through the most difficult and dangerous situations. How could he have lost her now? His own memory refused to give up the answers he sought, and he found it quite unsettling.

His host's explanation of the situation didn't help much at all, though he found the man's presence comforting somehow. How strange considering he had already attempted to gleam into the man's soul only to have his vision obscured by something he did not understand. It was almost like peering into a great fog. Sai'if knew that something was there, but could not discern at all what it was. The more he thought about it, the more frustrated he became. Finally he let out an exasperated sigh and looked at the other faces about the campfire.

"I am Sai'if Jyukas. I was born in Grahib, though it is difficult to say I am actually from any one place. My travels have taken me many places." He looked at the host, "You say you are talented at finding people. Perhaps you could ease my mind and tell me of my apprentice Kasris? Do you know where she is? Is she alright? I am sure she can handle herself well alone, but she is still young and foolish, thinking herself immortal. No telling what trouble she might get into without me to pull her out of it." Sai'if ended his question with a hopeful chuckle, wishing for good news.

"Welcome, Sir Ammon. Welcome Sai'if Jyukas." The Host nodded to the two men, stumbling awkwardly over the the latter one's name. "Your apprentice is alive and as well as can be, Soul Watcher." He told Sai'if, smiling tightly at the man's eyes widening. It seemed that he wasn't used to people knowing what he was, what he could do. "Don't give me that look, sir," he chuckled, "I know what you are. Your eyes give you away."

Holding up his hands in peace, The Host pulled a face that seemed to suggest 'I've no problems with your kind, I'll say no more'. He cocked his head towards Darren, although chose not to answer the question. He'd allow another to engage the knight. Talk of cities and kingdoms didn't interest him much.

The old man was proving himself to be full of surprises. Certainly he was more than meets the eye, but something told Sai'if that he could trust the man. He eased back into a more relaxed position, "Well there's that at least. I am glad to know she's well. Thank you." Turning his head toward the man who identified himself as Ammon, "Yes, I know of Khana. My travels took me there once for a short while. My dealings there at the time were... unfortunate to say the least. My trade tends to bring me to the worst of people you see, though it was a pleasant city at the time. Word got to me that there was an uprising there not long ago and that many people had been killed. Is this so?" Sai'if's voice is detached and seems to feign concern over the posed question for the sake of being polite.

His eyes glimpsed briefly into the the Knight's soul however. Sai'if saw a great deal of ambition and idealism in the man. Some confusion over a conflict of his duty and idealism, though the idealism had clearly won out. Some feelings of regret and guilt, perhaps even shame? There was a definite and great fear of death in his life recently, a feeling Sai'if often saw from survivors of battles that did not go in their favor, though he clearly escaped it. The man had tried to do good. He might be young, naive and his views somewhat deluded, but he was definitely not evil. Sai'if gleamed he already knew the answer to his question, but his expression remained inquisitive, expecting an answer.

Marcus sat quietly at the side of the fire, eye's scanning the others. Meeting the eye's of his fellows he nodded politely and sank back into his own thoughts. The air was clean and fresh, the heat from the fire licked over his face with a strange warmth. The grass beneath his boots seemed soft. Softer than usual. Glaring around the strange place he looked towards the old man. Their host. "What is this place? In all my travels never have I seen or been anywhere that seems so, so perfect." He asked, still looking over the land.

Without waiting for a response Marcus slipped his shield over his shoulder and rested it next to the stump he sat on. He stood and unclipped his sword belt, laying it over the shield. For a split second, the light from the fire flashed over the Dragon design on the hilt. He slumped back onto the tree stump, noticing again how soft it felt and sank back into thought, watching the fire ebb and flow.

Who are these people? How did I come to be here, I was...I...Where was I before this? His brow creased and thrusting the thought from his mind he waited for the others to introduce themselves. Better for me to know them, before revealing too much...

A hot pop from the fire caught Thibadeau's wandering mind. His eyes watered, he'd been just staring at the flames for ... A long time. Long enough his eyes watered. And yet the feeling of turning away felt so wrong. It was like leaving a lover behind, she'd done nothin' but be warm.

He blinked until the feelings of abandonment started to fade, releasing him to examine the place he'd found himself. It was simple, reminded him of the swamp but with fuller more brilliant trees. And the old man had a way of talking that made the whole place seem full. His voice filled up the empty forest everytime he spoke. The others just kinda bounced between the walls.

But there were other. People from far off and foreign lands as near as he could tell. Then again, this must be a far off and foreign land. Thibadeau figured. It wasn't his own backyard anyway, that was for sure. He just wished he'd remember how he got there...

He reached in his pocket and felt for his mud. Yep. Four vials undisturbed. That settled his mind some. He must have come here under his own steam and, if that was the case, it couldn't be to bad here.

"The name's Thibadeau." He spoke up. "Pleasure meetin' all of you. Or I'm sure it will be when I get your name's down. Always takes me a little while." He smiled kindly and adjusted his tweed jacket thoughtfully. "... I don't 'pose any of you could tell me how far away we are from the Swamps? Just a minor triviality but I would like to know. Get some bearings." He said with a shrug.

"The names Claudio" growled an old man sitting forward, taking his hood off to reveal a chiselled face younger than his crackling voice would suggest.

Claudio strained to remember how he had come to this place. But nothing.

"Now what was I doing last?" he says out loud, his throat clearing, his voice less of a raspy violent growl and now more of a well spoken old sage. He couldn't remember. He was giving a lecture in the great hall of Daramasuc only ten day ago. But then he remembers the wine at the Temple only one or two moons ago. Exasperated by the failings of his own memory Claudio briefly looks over his company. He feels no need to indulge them with frivolous biographical detail. Intead, he is captivated by this older woodsman.

He studies their host for a moment, and gets the eerie feeling that this man is not what he seems. Such ominous feelings are only exaggerated by the old man's seemingly good nature.
Listening to the host as he responds to Sai'if's question, something catches Claudio's ear, words he hadn't heard for a very long time.

"Soul Watcher eh?" he states, suddenly eying Sai'if with suspicion. "In all my days of travelling I have only met one of your kind. And he was dead, strung up by his innards. Your kind isn't looked upon with favour in the northlands, nor in the far eastern cities."
Claudio begins to chuckle, "Tell me, are the Aludian stories true, do you eat babies?" he evidently does not believe in such nonsense, but Claudio's sense of humour is at times a little dry.

"Welcome Thibedeau Pleural," The Host nodded towards the pale, gangly man. He scratched somewhere inside his beard, nodding unconsciously to himself. "No swamps, I'm afraid." A short pause. "Bit of marshland a few days to the west. Good huntin' up that way."

The Host shifts on his tree stump, arms stretching towards the fire as the grizzled wanderer, Claudio, introduced himself and addressed Sai'if.

"Welcome Claudio," he whispered, almost silently. It was shaping up to be an interesting night. Just two more names to learn, he thought, eyes darting between the two who were yet to speak. The fire illuminated his green eyes until they shone; flashing emerald gems enticing his guests.

Darren studied the olive-skinned man opposite himself, from his appearance he must be from further south. From what the old man had referred to him as, "Soul-watcher", Darren guessed he must be some sort of tribal wise-man.

A genuine article, or a snake oil merchant? he thought to himself We'll find out soon enough...

"That is... correct" he replied slowly "I was there, the people were desperate... but they didn't stand a chance" He paused as if in thought for a few seconds and then turned back to Sai'if. "So you are from Grahib, that's on the other side the Medius Channel in Atunne yes? Is it really as hot as they say, I've only ever travelled west from my country, always around the same latitude."

Sai'if nods at Ammon, "Yes you are correct in Grahib's location. And the days are hot, dry, and exhausting. The nights are frigid and unforgiving. But it is a beautiful land, with the constantly changing sea of sand, sun sets that look to as though to set the sky on fire, nary a cloud to block the brilliant stars and their light at night, and sunrises that warm your bones."

Sai'if then turns his attention to Claudio, "No. Such things are not true, and the Aludians were particularly brutal in their hunting of my people." The words are said matter of factually, Claudio's humor lost on him. Then a spark of realization hits his face. "You say you saw the execution of a Soul Watcher? But that hasn't happened since the years of retribution. If what you say is true then you'd have to over two centuries old!" Sai'if's eyes pressed into the man's soul and saw a vastness he had never seen before. So many experiences and feelings, one could not fit them all into one single lifetime. Could it really be true then? What was this man? Sai'if seemed to be finding himself in stranger and stranger company.

"I, too, know of the Soul Watchers," Sharrow declared, unfolding from where he had been lying, apparently asleep, "They say that your kind can see a man's depths in his eyes, and give judgement on what you see there. Then again, we have here a man who claims to have seen events of centuries passed; so I suppose one cannot judge on words alone. So, perhaps, a test; my name is Sharrow, and I would ask you what you can see of my past?"

Marcus watched with interest as the others questioned this soul watcher. He'd heard of them, but never met one. He secretly noted in his mind to keep an eye on that one. The old tellers in the Taverns spoke of them and the powers they had.

Glancing towards the older man seated near him, he spoke up. "Claudio is it? You say your age numbers in the centuries? How...how is that possible? No mere man can live for that long?" Marcus paused, looking over the frail figure infront of him. There was something about that man, his very appearance screamed wise and knowledgeable. It was his eye's that told the truth though. Peering into them, Marcus knew that he was not lying. The lines and wrinkles spoke of years, decades if not centuries of knowledge hidden within this man. Satisfied, Marcus nodded and smiled.

Busying himself with the fire, The Host listened with half an ear to his guest's conversations. With a particularly gnarled branch, he poked at the fire, concentration creasing his already wrinkled brow. After the long-limbed man had unfolded himself from the lazy position he had been adopting for some time, and introduced himself, The Host pushed the branch into the centre of the fire. "Welcome Sharrow," He breathed, the sound never escaping the confines of his beard.

The Host shifted his position on the stump yet again, wondering why his guests always seem to get comfier seats than him. He darted a sharp glance at the man who was yet to introduce himself, the one who had just addressed the old man, Claudio. The Host wondered what secrets this man had to offer.

Marcus caught the hosts glare and smiled. "Me? I'm Marcus." He spoke, opening his arms in a welcoming fashion. "Not much to know about me. I travel, I work and if the need arises...I can kill." He brought his hands down, resting them on his knee's. Mind deep in thought. He could remember every person he had ever slain. Their faces haunted him each night, smiling as if he was a brother to them. Shaking his head he looked back at the host. "How did we come to be at this place?"

The Host shrugged at the apparent optimism and total frankness of the man. "As I've already said, I don't know who you arrived here." He smiled, revealing a full set of slightly yellowed, crooked teeth. "All the same though, welcome Marcus." The Host paused, sweeping an hand over all of the guests. "All of you; welcome."

Claudio laughs at the enquiries to his age, the spark of interest in the voice of Marcus proving particularly amusing to him.

"We will come to that in time, I guess..." he says trailing off, nonchalantly itching the back of his head with a raised hand, "my story, usually considered nought but mere 'claims' and half-truths, have caused quite a stir among the scribes, sages and scholars of the great cities over the years."

Claudio stands up to stretch his back. Looking around, he attempts to get his bearings, but to no avail. "Besides, I am sure we all have tales to tell," he throws a hand out gesturing towards Thibedeau, "Swamps you say? I have travelled far and wide, but I tend to avoid the things. The smell never agrees with my delicate stomach." He smirks as he says this, grasping at his stomach feigning illness playfully. Sitting down he listens closely to what Thibedeau has to say for himself.

Sharrow follows the conversation, saying little, though his eyes glitter in deep sockets. As Claudio speaks, he leans over to Marcus and murmurs, "A man whose primary boast consists of killing is either inhumanly base, or has something to hide. I wonder why it is that you are holding back?"

Marcus looked towards the tall and rather slim man. Giving him a once over. "Holding back? My friend, so many miles have passed under my feet that for me to tell you half of what I've seen and done, would take more lifetimes than all of us here! Marcus laughed, slowly turning back to Claudio. "Except maybe his." Marcus smiled at the man and then turned back to Sharrow and speaking in a quiet voice said: "Sometimes, a mans secrets are so dark, you'd be better off not asking.".
Staring at Sharrow briefly Marcus burst into loud laughter and reached over to clap the man on the shoulder.

Darren raised an eyebrow at Marcus' declaration and leaned forward towards him and Sharrow to comment, one of his hand's surreptitiously moving towards his resting sword as he did so.

"I hope that killing was justified, as a word of warning I don't take kindly to those who do evil for mercenary reasons" he said a gruff voice before adding in a lighter tone "Nothing personal of course, it's the code I live by."

Sharrow's gaze is constant, unfazed by Marcus words. Indeed, his eyes glitter, as if he is about to share his own depths, until Darren speaks.

"I have little sympathy for those who seem only good and evil" he replied, a smile upon his lips, "An action cannot be evil; what does it know of morality?"

"Sharrow, you are a man after my own heart!" Claudio interjects, "One of the greatest evil that roams these lands is the ignorant absolutist moral codes of conducts people subscribe to."

Claudio takes a moment to breathe deep and stretch once more before seating himself to continue, "Ontological ethical codes are idiotic by their very nature." He pauses to allow his words to sink in, "To say an act is inherently evil, without the pragmatic mindset to consider the action within context is a sad affair indeed."

Leaning forward, Claudio smiles stroking his chin, "Tell me, Darren, would you not happily kill a man to save a hundred?"

Darren laughed coldly in response to Sharrow's query and Claudio's injection but his eyes did not smile.

"Is this some sort of riddle, you surely know that an action by it's nature knows nothing? No, evil exists not in the action itself but in the heart and soul of he who committed the act. If a man kills a child, he has committed an evil act and it is a tragedy. If on the other hand a tree fell onto the child instead it would simply be a tragedy alone, as the tree had no intent of landing on the child, as indeed it is incapable of holding any intent, therefore it cannot be evil. As for your question Claudio, I would indeed sacrifice that one man but I wouldn't do so happily, it would be the lesser of two evils so to speak. I say moral relativism is an evil because if that is true, what's to stop us doing whatever we want without consideration?"

As Sir Ammon's words disappear into the darkness, The Host glances up from where he had been fiddling with his bowstring. It had been playing up recently, not tightening properly although he wasn't entirely sure why. "Nothin' stops us from doin' whatever we want without consideration, Sir Ammon." He states matter-of-factly. "But I'm sure you know that already..."

The Host reaches for his bow and slowly begins fastening the string onto it. Silence hangs in the air yet around the fire yet again, and The Host looks up, eyebrows climbing up to his hairline. "Sorry," he mumbles softly, "must've forgot meself there."

The Host tugs a few times on the string until it suddenly snaps with a resounding 'twang'. "Blast!" The guests frown at the old man, weariness spreading across his face. He eyes them all patiently. "Don't stop on my account," he says, gesturing with the bow, "by all means, carry on."

"It is not the action that has moral weight, but the intention involved. Killing a child is evil; what if the child is horribly malformed, and doomed to a life of pain? Or if allowing a pregnancy to come to term will kill the mother and leave her other children motherless?"

Sharrow's face was calm, and his voice measured, but his eyes glittered. Whether it was anger, amusement, or tears could not be for certain.

"There is no such thing as an action without context; I put it to you that the great evil is to judge in binary opposition; such ignorance had surely cost more lives and greater pain than any war"

Marcus listened to the conversation with a smile across his face. shaking his head he spoke up. "My friends, all the men I've killed have been bad. I can assure you this. Yet, this evil you speak of? Are men inherently evil? Or is it just your perception of them that defines their character? Surely a thief is an evil person? Yet what if that thief steals from the rich, to feed his own starving children? Is that evil?" Marcus laughed at their discussion, his deep features casting shadows as the fires light licked at his face.

Claudio looked angry at Marcus' comments.

"You talk of 'bad' men as if what you mean is obvious to the rest of us, yet you openly mock the use of the word 'evil'. Please, indulge me sir, what is the distinction between the judgement one man makes of another being 'evil' and this justification you present that you have only killed 'bad' men?"

Turning to the rest of the group, "Who are we to decide who is evil and who is not?"

Marcus smiled at Claudio. "As I said, it is our perception that defines bad. The men I've killed have tried to take things from me, with a certain lack of politeness. That, at least to me, is a clear definition of bad." He laughed again.
"My friend, it is not for men like me to understand people, I simply walk and live. Men like you, who write the books and scrolls of our times, it is you who understand these things." Marcus smiled again as he reached for a pocket in his leather cuirass and pulled out a small leather pouch. He took out a few fine strips of Jerky and chucked them into his mouth.

"I agree with Sharrow that context does indeed define whether an action is good or evil, but that doesn't mean that doesn't mean they don't exist in themselves. What suffering has the idea of the existence of right and wrong caused "more than war", Sharrow? Those sound like the words of a man who has never been to war."

Darren then turned to Claudio to answer his question.

"Because if we don't judge then who will? See here's one of my problems with moral relativists like you, you claim that nothing is inherently right or wrong but you continue to support a system of law and order and condemn evil acts when you feel like it, it's hypocritical really. To quote what you just said barely a minute ago "One of the greatest evil that roams these lands is the ignorant absolutist moral codes of conducts people subscribe to." Seems like you've already decided what is evil and what is not."

"We have here evil and evil," declared Sharrow, "So alike as to be mistaken as twins, yet with meanings varied and diverse. One man says evil, and he speaks of his evaluation of a man's soul, or the God-told abhorrence of a terrible deed. Another says evil, and speaks of harm, pointless and stupid, a cause of suffering with no hope of benefit and consolation."

"In my eyes, and I suspect those of our aged companion, the second evil is the one that can be spotted, diagnosed and treated, while the first is a myth only cited as an excuse for the second."

Thibadeau exhaled a potent smelling thick smoke that curled in the light of the newly fed fire. He leaned forward slightly to catch an outstretched whisp as the smoke faded, breathing deeply through his nose and sighing contentedly. He held his pipe in his left hand, a simple thing obviously carved from old, weak swamp wood, the sort that lounged just beneath the surface of the pond. He'd listened to the crew of strangers argue about evil and found their views strange and foreign. Propped with his long legs dangling across another stump adjacent to the fire, he could only think of all the simple lessons he'd learned from his home. He took another deep pull from his pipe, holding the smoke in his lungs as his eyes wandered from Claudio, the man who might live forever, to Sai'if, who as far as he could tell was a member of some ancient order everyone else seemed to know about, to Shannow, arguing thoroughly for the absence of any kind of moral obectivity. His eyes lingered on Shannow for a moment, tall like his people but not near as calm.

He released the smoke in a flowing billow, aimed upwards toward the sky. He coughed once and then breathed in deeply through his nose. He took his feet off the stump and turned to where the arguing was happening.

"There don't seem to me to be all that much to confuse between good and bad." He said calmly, less asserting his point and more casually remarking. "I 'pose my heritage may have formed me into a less worldly man but, in the swamps, its simple to know what behavior is good and what behavior is poor. I was taught to ask of every decision, whether I was addin' somethin' to the world or takin' it away. A man builds a school and he adds something, the next man drinks the world's last example of a truely fine vintage and he has deprived his fellow man. Wise man sits down and conjurers up a poison what causes misery before the end, he's added something. Wise man won't handle his guilt and brings about his end prematurely, hes deprived the world of his knowledge and experience. So many people won't get taught."

Thibadeau took another pull from his pipe and let the fumes go early, watching the swirls and forms dance through the cloud, thinking to himself. "I think what I don't understand about all your opinions on morality..." He thought for a moment about how best to phrase it. ".. Is that morality ain't for people. We're tiny, insignificant. I don't know if you noticed. Being kind to your fellow man is nice. Its polite. But ain't nothing to do with morality. Good and evil are actions a man can take to his world, to everythin' living on it and all the future generations. If theres a child what gonna live a painful life and you kill him for politeness, thats friendly. But ain't good. The world don't get that child's story and everythin' he might have done, every person he might have changed, gonna stay undid and unchanged. The world's got less because of what you done and thats evil." He said pausing on the last word.

"Life ain't always friendly but that don't give us the right to excuse ourselves from it. And you ain't doin' the world, the future, no one no favors by escortin' away the folks you think ain't friendly."

Thibadeau took another puff from his pipe and offered it to the crowd at large as he puffed out another ivory cloud. "...I 'pose."

Sharrow listened to the calm man speak, and for a moment after ge was quiet. Then, he made his reply,

"You say that letting a child suffer or cooking a vicious poison is a benefit to the world? Why is volume more important than quality? Would you say that if I spent my life creating a cult of violence and persecution for my own profit, I would be a good man?"

Claudio begins to laugh, amused by the turn the conversation has taken. Placing a hand over his face to help compose himself, he waits a moment before speaking.

"Oh dear boy, you are quite sure of yourself, aren't you Darren?" Claudio shifts to a more comfortable angle, bringing one leg up underneath himself, "When did I say I respect any form of contemporary law and order? I think you mistake me for a fool, boy."

Leaning over Claudio takes the pipe and nods as Sharrow questions the Swamp dweller. "I simply cannot agree with your outlandish statements Thibadeau. You appear to believe in ideas of fate, and a world or universe that is almost sentient and aware of our actions, how insignificant they may be. I would propose a counter argument, that we are not insignificant, that 'the real' of this world exists solely within the personal space. The subjective nature of the human mind is completely at odds with this notion of an objective reality. A relativist outlook on subjects such as morality works because we all view the world from a particular angle."

Thibadeau passed the pipe to the old man with a friendly nod, listening to Shannow respond. When the tall man had finished Claudio also chimed in, disagreeing as well. Thibadeau scratched under his chin and tried to picture the best way to explain it.

"Well," He said finally. "As for your questions Shannow, it all come down to the fact we ain't the only things livin' here. Volume's more important than quality cause quality gonna change for every living thing and there ain't nobody entitled to perfect the world just for them. Bunch a slugs sitting around a campfire probably agree salt is the worst thing on the planet and any holy slug has a duty to do away with it. And that'd be friendly for one slug to another. But I'm personally quite partial to my salt cured meat. Nobody got the right to take things away because nobody can speak for everybody."

"So, your poison what gonna hurt people may be right up somethin' else's ally. Maybe fewer people mean more trees. Maybe more tree's mean more birds. You can't count everythin' in the world, only thing you can count on is it don't revolve around us."

"And as for fate, Claudio, don't believe a whit in it. The world ain't sentient and no one knows whats gonna happen tomorrow. But I can't agree with sayin' the world only exists how we see it. Subjective nature of reality and strict relativism, inherently selfish. I can't imagine wakin' up in the morning and saying to myself the only things in the world what matter are what I can see 'round me bed. If a mosquito bites me while I'm asleep, I'm gonna wake up with a bad itch. That don't mean the mosquito was bad, and I don't got any right to try and do away with it to create a more perfect world for just myself and my views. That mosquito got views of it's own. If I kill a mosquito I done a kindness for my fellow man and a grave injustice to that mosquito. If we're talkin' kindnesses, it balances out. If we're talkin' about whats right and whats wrong, kindnesses don't matter. If you added something to the world you gave something for future generations to grow and change with, kind or unkind. If you took something away, you deprived someone of something."

He nodded gestured to the pipe in Claudio's hand. "How you like that by the way?"

As the guests buzzed around him, The Host had been busying himself with waxing another bowstring. Satisfied that it was sufficiently waterproofed, he began attaching slowly attaching it to the length of slightly curved rubberwood that was his bow. Rubberwood was known to be one of the best materials for bows; flexible enough to draw a superior distance but strong enough to ensure that it would hold under great strain, rubberwood was almost unrivalled in it's strengths as a bow.

As Thibedeau orated confidently, The Host chuckled at the swamp man's comparisons. Slugs sitting round a campfire discussing the eradication of salt? The man definitely had some interesting - and amusing - ideas. But that was to be expected from one of the swamp folk though. They created life out of mud, and that meant they had an affinity with creatures that most people would be quick to condemn. The Host had always hated mosquitoes though, that was a certainty. He'd once traded a finely-woven mosquito for four fresh-caught woodpidgeons. Within a day it had holes big enough for a wolf to jump through. Yes, the world would definitely be a better place without mosquitoes.

As he finished fastening the bowstring onto his bow, The Host sat back and examined it thoughtfully. Suddenly, he snapped his head sideways, peering into the darkness. The silence out there had changed, screaming out to him. This had never happened before; he had been certain that they'd all got here safely.

Unsure whether or not to leave his guests, The Host continues to sit perched on his stump, watching his guests continue in their conversations, occasionally peering into the black void beyond the firelight. Despite being unsure of what to do, one thing The Host knew for certain: something was definitely out there.

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