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Road Companions
In the flickering torchlight, Cobus chewed his aromatic sweetmeats and drank his rich wine and let his mind wander, thinking about the road that lead him here. He smiled but shook his head no when asked by several of the Nightseekers asked him to join in the sinuous dance. Instead, he got up and moved to a more comfortable seat, and one that commanded a fuller view of the festivities.

The cleric reached beneath his cuirass and scratched an itchy, healing wound, one of many he'd received since joining the Strangers. The music pounded in the Nightseekers' space as the dance became even more frenetic. In the oddly flickering light, Cobus was sure he even saw some figures transitioning from dancing to more intimate activities. He was sure he saw Balurt rubbing his beard on the bare breasts of a woman who seemed to have grown an elongated snout, razor fangs, and a layer of course hair covering long pointed ears. After shaking his head and rubbing his eyes, Cobus once again saw a comely young woman. He smirked, looking appreciatively at his wine and took another sip.

The cleric of Fharlanghn's road had taken him some strange places, and never had he faced more dangerous situations than his travels in the Hrothgar Peninsula with the Strangers. However, each danger he had faced with his new found fellow travelers. His life had been saved as many times as he'd saved lives and nothing binds people together more completely than such obligations. The gruff dwarf, the large manchild, the oft-captured, but always tricksy daughter of tailors, the beautiful nature priestess, the foppish young singer, the mysterious man in black armor with a dangerous air, the quiet, but deadly Lilyth with such strange hair, and even the new spellcaster Gener all Strangers closer to him than members of his own family.

Despite the chaos of the dance rapidly turning into an orgy, the cleric couldn't stop thinking back on Zaret's words to him about the importance of companions on the road. Cobus had always assumed that the life of a Walker of Fharlanghn was a solitary one. After all, wasn't their life dedicated to never setting down roots, never finishing the journey? If that was the case, deep connections with people were the price to pay. He still remembered his teacher's hearty laughter at Cobus's pronouncements on the loneliness of the long-distance Traveller.

As they had their discussion a week into a month-long trek, Zaret reminded the young initiate about the people they had passed on the road. There was the farming family on the way to market that they had helped change a wagon wheel. There was the gypsy merchant who had shared his rabbit dinner with the clerics. Finally, there had been the traveling blacksmith they had rescued from roadside bandits. Cobus shook his head at each mention, still not getting the point.

Zaret sighed, rubbing the back of his neck, hating to state what to him was obvious. "If we were truly expected to live in isolation, why would we have accepted or offered any aid? Why not just pass them by? The path is wide enough to avoid such contact, surely. The road is owned equally by all who walk it. It's this bond that connects us all. There are no strangers on the road, only fellow travellers. Should you be lucky enough to find companions to share your journey more directly, walking side by side, then you have your burdens lightened even further."

He stared at the confused look on young Cobus's face, a smile spreading across his broad, tanned face, as he clapped him on the shoulder with his walking staff before breaking into a hearty laugh. "After all, I wouldn't enjoy this trek nearly as much without your foolishness to keep me amused. If you are lucky enough to find traveling companions who will willingly share your road, be grateful and know that nothing will make your voyages safer or more pleasurable."

Finishing his wine, Cobus looked over the rim of his goblet, seeing Balurt, sweat pouring down his face and into his beard, as he spent his seed into what was now obviously a werebat. Cobus's craggy face split into a wide grin as he realized how light his steps would be going forward. No matter how dangerous their upward trek in this tower, Cobus only need think of how much fun he would have teasing the dwarf about this encounter to lighten his step. Companions could indeed be a boon.
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Epic!
Taking a Toll
The guttering torch created more shadow than light in the chamber The Strangers had barricaded themselves into. Nevertheless, Cobus used what little light there was to write down his thoughts amidst the eerie quiet of the party as each assessed their situations in their own way.

"The entire party seemed very surprised to see a group of armed toll takers down here in this bizarre underground realm. I give the nature priestess credit for using her guile to begin immediately negotiating the price. Some however are quicker to anger than others. When that damnable dwarf pulled his weapon, I knew our toll was going to be paid in blood."

The Traveller pressed tenderly at the wounds he had sustained in the fight before scratching at the skin beneath his blood-clotted beard. He smeared some of the rust-brown blood on his journal as he continued his entry.

"It raises an important theological conundrum for the travelling sect of Fharlanghn: the issue of tolls. Does anyone own the road but the one who walks it. Why does someone have the right to demand payment from others following in his footsteps merely because he has gotten there second? This runs counter in fundamental ways to the philosophy of the road where knowledge and commerce and social exchange are brought to all only through the transformative power of travel.

"However, Zaret often chastised me for failing to recognize the differences in individual roads and seeing only one metaphorical Road. He insisted one need only travel a poorly maintained road and count the number of twisted ankles, ruined wagon wheels, stone-bruises not to mention the chances of being lost compared to the ease of travel on an imperial road. Surely the safety for the traveller and the ease of the journey is worth paying the person responsible for that maintenance and guardianship.

"Surely these bizarre folk requiring a toll for the use of this bridge fall into that category. Looking down into darkness of the abyss below convinces me of the value of paying someone to maintain this structure. No longer a young journeyman walker, I now see that no road worthy of calling itself a road is truly free. You either pay in coin or pay in blisters and injury. Sadly, in this instance, we have paid with the lives of our comrades and might still have a bill coming due. May Fharlanghn help clear our path."

Cobus dribbled sand over the wet ink, quietly praying that he'll be lucky enough to write another entry tomorrow.
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Keeping to the Path
I broke my hand so typing is difficult. Instead, I did an audio journal. You can listen to it here: http://snd.sc/Lpxyl0. Harder to do than writing it would've been Hope it's okay.
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The Philosophy of the Road
Cobus sat up, letting his wolf-lined cloak fall to his lap in the rosy light of dawn as he reached into the smoldering embers of last night's fire with a stick, attempting to stir some life back into ashes. Once he had a good breakfast fire started, he pulled his iron pot towards him and dug into his pack for the cloth wrapped saltback which he sliced thinly, filling the bottom of the cooking vessel.

While the pot heated up, and with the sound and smell of crackling bacon in the air, the cleric of Fharlanghn closely inspected his boots, starting with the soles, looking for cracks or damage to the pattern there. He then pulled the tongue and dug his hand into first one and then the other to be sure that the lining wasn't damaged by the many miles he had covered yesterday.

As his hands carefully felt for any problems that could lead to bruises or blisters, his mind cast back to Brother Zaret who had brought him on his first roadwalk, one that he thought at the time would never end. He remembered so vividly how the short, fat cleric had laughed at Cobus as he cursed the rocky trail they traveled for his first stone bruise.

The senior cleric said "While the road connects all of us in profound ways far beyond the physical sense, it is truly neutral. It will never exert itself to help or hinder us in our travels. Instead we must guard our own feet and care for our own boots. If you do that, there is no road you cannot travel, no destination you cannot reach."

Cobus reached into a small leather bag and pulled out a pinch of sand which he sprinkled over the still hot saltback as a ritualistic reminder of his connection to the dust of the trail. He absently ate it along with some hard biscuits as he continued to muse on Zaret's philosophy of the Eternal Pilgrim of Fharlanghn. The god of roads and travel didn't have a sacred place his worshipers traveled to but instead the road itself, the lines between the names on the maps, were all sacred places and so his clerics were constantly fulfilling their mission by staying in motion, seeing all there was to see.

He remembered with some chagrin the look on Zaret's face when he asked on their first outing why travel and movement were so important. His Brother Traveller explained that it is only through such exploration, such discovery of new places that we can improve ourselves. "Every step is a step forward" was carved in his door at the rectory, admittedly a door he seldom saw.

Cobus smiled slyly thinking he'd finally found a flaw in his logic when he asked how long Zaret had walked the roads of the Thrangian Kingdoms. "Hmmm," his elder pondered, "It must be more than 30 years now. I've tramped from Berghoff's Castle in the Kingdom of Gnut to the Silver Mines of the Kingdom of Flak. I've fought the foul undead near Laasdorf Castle to the isolated wharves of Ooblok. I daresay there isn't a foot of road in all of the Kingdoms that I haven't walked."

The young acolyte's grin turned downright wolfish as he sprung his trap. "If you have traveled all those roads and walked all those trails, what new things can you learn from retraipsing those steps? How can *that* move you forward?" Zaret rubbed his whiskered, leathery cheeks as his eyes sparkled in amusement at the question. "Young man, you show much promise in the sharpness of your question, but you also show your naivety about the Road. Travellers and the Road aren't static things. No Walker ever steps into the same Road twice, for it's not the same Road and he's not the same Walker. When you understand that, you'll be a true cleric of Fharlanghn."

Cobus scooped more sand into the pot to clean it and proceeded to pack away his few belongings before donning his very worn armor. Without looking behind him, he took his walking staff in hand and took long strides in the only direction that mattered: forward.
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