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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
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Patrick

Madness

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Written for a roleplay at another forum, but works quite nicely on its own. It was cowritten with someone else, me writing the beginning and the old man's actions and point of view, and other person writing the young man's point of view.

 

(originally posted at: http://www.ironworksforum.com/forum/showpo...p;postcount=156 - Calaethis is the one I collaborated with)

 

Silence filled the morning. In the few minutes while the sounds of night gave way to the frivolous sounds of morning, only silence reigned. Sure, a leaf would rustle here, a drop of dew would gently fall to the ground from a blade of grass, but sound was not present. Not for him. His whole attention was trapped by the golden rim of the sun's disk, lazily rising above the distant hills through the mist. Such a beautiful sight. The gently rolling mists created an effect of a halo around-

 

The blood-curdling scream that cut the air was almost expected. Something had to shatter the idyll. Such a calm moment was not realistically possible. It always had to be ruined. Always.

 

For several more minutes he did not get up. His joints were too creaky, his mind still elsewhere...and why should he have cared anyway? It was just a bloody scream. Just a scream.

 

It was just a young girl. Old enough to realize what had happened, but young enough to not be marked by the sight for life. A woman...maybe a man with long hair on second thought lay facedown in the grass, his hair, skin and clothes burnt almost beyond recognition. A weaving trail through the dark indicated his struggle to have come this far. His death would not have been a pleasant one and his last few hours...maybe just minutes would have been spent in burning agony as he felt his own skin...No the image was too vivid even for the old man to contemplate. He had seen many things, but this was easily one of the most disturbing.

 

The girl did not notice him and he chose not to disturb her grief, heading towards a column of smoke beyond a cover of trees.

 

Badly burnt carcasses of horses and blackened timbers were all that were left of a rather large building, possibly an inn. Bodies...or at least piles of ash resembling bodies could be spotted here and there. Whatever had happened here...whoever had done it...it had been done in a total disregard for human life.

 

But it was not the magnitude of the disaster to have befallen this small village that caught his immediate attention. He felt drawn towards a figure sitting on a charred log.

 

"Those heathens!" Someone cried out, from amidst the broken bodies. No one paid much attention to him. Someone else was crying.

 

The figure on the log did not look up, but another - perhaps the crying one - called out, "Help us! Please, help us..."

 

The dejection within the air covered them like a cloak, suffocating any hope they had left.

 

The old man slowly made his way to the log. Neither his advanced years, nor seasons of madness had prepared him for anything like this. He simply did not know of anything that he could say or do that would help. He wasn't a healer...never had been really good with words. He was just an old man...and at times like this he wondered whether it was the world that was wrong and not something with him.

 

The figure on the log looked up, "Get away from here, old man," he said quietly, his words less of a threat and more of a warning, "Save yourself from the madness that has taken us, the chaos that has ruined our lives."

 

"I..." he paused, unable to put the feeling to words. "I...don't really have anywhere to go, haven't had anywhere to go for as long as I remember." If he had heard or said any more desperate words in his whole life, he could not recall. As the hopelessness struck he sat down on the log, a respectable distance from the stranger.

 

"As for madness claiming me...do not worry yourself about that. "

 

"We have enough burdens of our own," the young man spat, "We don't need more trouble." He waved his hand, "look around you. Our world is ending. This is just the beginning, another village no one knows or cares about. We aren't the first, we won't be the last."

 

The old man sighed. "Three weeks ago I was regarded as a prophet, someone who could tell the future by a group of people who might have had crazier ideas than I could ever come up with." He drew a pipe from a shirt pocket and started the meticulous process of cleaning it. "And now I'm not sure whether they were right to try to cling to the small shards of hope that they perceived in a dark sky of hopelessness."

 

"What's your point, old man?" The younger one asked, too bitter to really care, and yet, paid attention despite it. "If you're so powerful, why are you sat here? Shouldn't you be out saving the world?"

 

"Powerful?!" His laugh was a dry laugh, showing his age. "Just because I look crazy, act crazy enough and am a bit crazy and am able to sprout utter horse crap for hours on end people regard me as a mystic man. If I truly had a power do you think I'd be sitting on this damned log watching this village start the slow process of destroying itself?"

 

"You tell me."

 

The slow process of cleaning the pipe had finally been finished and he carefully started filling it from a pouch yellowed by age. "You are a rare young man. Young by my standards of course," he turned to glance at the man sitting just a few feet away, not even having looked at him properly so far. "Not enough people are simply willing to listen."

 

The young man simply waited, refraining from snapping back in sarcasm. It wasn't as if he had any better to do, now that the pub was gone...

 

A tinderbox was withdrawn from yet another pocket and the pipe expertly lit.

 

"Now imagine me doing all this pipe-lighting business in the dark corner of a tavern, with a hood drawn over my head, my long white hair poking out from under the hood and my ominous eyebrows being lit up by the light from the pipe. It is an image from fairy tales. It is easy to play off stereotypes and make a living from them, one just has to look the part. It helps if you don't have to play the part too..."

 

Frowning, the man did as he was bade and waited.

 

"Were I to sift through the ashes and start proclaiming mystic phrases, mixing in a word of gibberish or two and start making mysterious allusions to a future yet to come, do you think anyone here would question who or what I was and how the hell I had gotten here? I'd happily wager that not one of them would find my appearance unexpected after whatever happened here last night."

 

"Who would listen?" Came the reply, "Do you really think anyone cares about mysticism, old man? No one cares. The only thing anyone wants is a better life, riches and power. Can you provide that? If not, you're wasting your time."

 

"Are you so sure of that? I'm sure that the little girl crying over that body would give anything for five thousand gold pieces now and would not care a bit about having that hand she is so desperately grasping stroke her hair one more time." The old man sighed and disgustedly emptied his barely started pipe. "You'd be surprised at how well mysticism works when people are going through hard times."

 

"Then again...I am but a crazy old man who spouts nothing but horsecrap...No reason to believe what I say."

 

"None at all," the man agreed, "until you can prove it. So, 'prophet', prove it."

 

"I can't prove that I am a prophet. I can only prove that I can act as one."

 

He slowly stood up, not noticing that the pipe dropped from his lap as he did so. He brushed his white hair back and the foul wind carrying the smell of burnt bodies hit him in the face.

 

He slowly walked towards the ruins of the tavern, a shuffling walk, noticeable simply from the sound his sandals made as they dragged through the dust and ashes. Not many noticed his passing, not many cared about an old man moving through the wreckage of destroyed lives. The enormity of the situation took long seconds to sink in. Dozens of bodies lay among the wreckage or had already been pulled out from it.

 

His voice was frail, wrought with age and smoke. It wasn't loud, but had that quality that good orators strived for, the quality to be heard. Not all listened to his first words, some took several sentences to even notice that he spoke.

 

He was not a dramatic orator, he did not speak with hands raised towards the heavens to indicate favour or anger of gods. He simply spoke.

 

"Heed me, for I have been allowed a glimpse of what has passed and what is yet to come! Heed me, for I am an old man, who has been allowed to live long years. Heed me, for I wish to speak. It matters not who I am, it matters not how I got here or why. The only thing that matters is that you are not alone. A week past the fury of the gods struck, reducing a once mighty city to a pile of rubble. In a single day hundreds of lives were extinguished as though they were candles to simply be blown out!"

 

He stepped up the stone steps remaining from the foundations of the inn.

 

"I was there and was allowed to witness as the skies opened and spewed forth flames and ashes. I was there when the prisons opened, spewing forth the scum of the earth. I was there when the lords abandoned their people, choosing a cowardly death! I was there and I have seen!"

 

"And now this! A pitiful village is struck by divine vengeance! The gods act in mysterious ways, but I have seen the way they act! They bring but death and destruction. The gods! I have been granted pity, for I pity those childish beings who act more like infants than massively powerful beings. I pity them for needing to show off their power like a bully would! And I defy them to strike me down now if I speak falsehood." He continued after a sufficiently long pause. "The gods have deserted those whom they should never forget! For who are gods without believers? Who are they without ritual sacrifices and wars waged in their name? Who are they when in desperation for attention they perceive they do not get they kill the very people who revere them? Who are they but misguided children? Can you tell me who they are if not infants unleashed in a playground where dropping a grain of sand causes the death of thousands!"

 

"I am not one to tell you what to do, enough people already do that. I am merely here to tell you of what I have been allowed to see. I have seen a future."

 

"A future without gods whose tenets govern every bit of your lives. A future where you can do what you want without fearing for your life because you transgressed a law made centuries ago and which the priests told you about. A world where you can do what you choose to do. If no one believes in something, it does not make it not true. But if enough people believe in something they can make things happen. Remember that even the greatest floods once started out as a simple drop of rain."

 

He closed his eyes and held out his hands.

 

"Thank you for allowing me to share what I have been allowed to see."

 

He remained motionless, not saying another word.

 

The man muttered to himself and went back to his brooding, hanging his head on his log for a few more moments.

 

The survivors however, were listening, in equal measure of disbelief, fear, awe and hope. Who would dare say such things?

 

Eventually, the young man rose to his feet and snapped, "Get out of here, old man. We don't need to hear any more lies. Your words are just dust on the wind: they are meaningless. Unless you can help, we have no reason to listen to you."

 

Several of the crowd echoed him with grunts and jeers, but the rest remained silent, seeing how the old man would react.

 

"I care not how you interpret what I say. I care not what you do. I am not here to judge who you are, nor what you've done or shall do. I tell the truth as I have been allowed to see and leave any possibly interpretations to you, young man. If you choose to interpret my words as lies and continue to believe in gods who allow a young girl to cry over the dead body of someone she dearly loved, I will not stop you. But you would be blind to only see one side of a coin, for a coin can not exist with only one side."

 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Meaningless words." the man shook the old man's words off, "It means nothing. Who cares about 'gods' or anything like that? What do you have to offer? Meaningless!"

 

"I offer you nothing. For all I can give you is words. I can not help you rebuild this place, for I have not the strength. I can not offer you words of comfort, for only time can heal this place. I can not offer revenge against those who did this, for it is not within my power. I can only offer images of a better world. But it is a world you would have to build, for I'll surely be dead by the time it starts to be built. So yes, you are right, I offer only words. But it is more than any here have offered."

 

"Then you are useless!" The young man snapped, "Words mean nothing. They are as the wind, lingering then fading! What is it you want?!"

 

"I want nothing more. I have said what I had to say and people have listened. I do not want anything more." He stepped down from the stone steps and slowly made his way back towards where he had spotted his pipe lying in a pile of ash a couple dozen feet away.

 

"Then all you do is waste our time!" The young man snapped.

 

Someone behind him agreed, and muttered, "Burn him." A few others stared, and then nodded grimly. "Burn him!" the cry went up, "Burn the warlock! Spare us from the wrath of the gods! Burn him!"

 

The young man stared at them as if they'd gone mad, "Wait a minute-"

 

"Burn him too! Burn all who would seek to test us, that we would be found wanting! Burn them all!"

 

"Children..." the old man muttered under his breath as he calmly continued walking towards his pipe. "They get burned and now they can't stop playing with fire..."

 

"Burn him! Burn him for the gods!" The fact that most of them were atheists didn't matter now. "Burn him to right things!" The mob formed, "Seize him, burn him! Burn him on a pyre!"

 

He reached his pipe and picked it up, placing it to his lips. Smoke rose from the pipe, which he happily puffed on.

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