It was chilly and wet in the area of forest between Skara Brae and Trinsic. A day earlier a light snow had fallen and while it didn’t cling to anything but the most shaded areas it left a general feeling of dampness on the woods. The thick cold air made the forest feel still; quiet.
In these hushed woods rising in a clearing sat the Shrine of Spirituality. The Shrine was built ages ago, but its purpose was still well known. After Lord British’s wars for unification of the land he attempted to bind his new Kingdom under a common faith and system of guidance: the Virtues. Eight shrines to each virtue were built throughout the newly christened Britannia. The Shrine to embody ‘Spirituality’ was built near Skara Brae, the self-proclaimed ‘City of Spirituality,’ but on a map one couldn’t help but notice it was closer in proximity to the city of the paladins and honor: Trinsic.
While the purpose of the shrines is well known no one really could explain why they were located where they were. People had their opinions, of course. Moonglow mages eager to curry favor with the new power in Britain proclaimed the shrines to be anchors of ether and way lines which in their view strengthened the power of the virtues over the lands. Hardy Jhelom fighters believed their locations to be like guard stations spread throughout the land to ward off evil. Former political and philosophical idealists saw them as intrusive and invasive, and moved to establish a shrine of their own.
The Shrine of Spirituality itself was a marble structure rising above a small pool of water that one had to speak a phrase to access. In reality the phrase was really one part of the process. The monks and mages who had the shrine built intended people to speak the phrase and then leap into the water before being teleported onto the shrine. It was their little test of spirituality, or perhaps joke, that pilgrims should have to earn the right to access the shrine through spirituality; through faith. These days most people just spoke the phrase and waited, preferring not to risk getting their boots wet.
Whatever the shrine’s purpose and the original thought behind their placement and access Jepeth, the ill-made knight and Governor of Skara Brae, was glad for them. He sat atop the Shrine of Spirituality with his feet hanging over the side with the Ankh on his right. His hands were folded in his lap, enclosed around a solid object and his eyes closed in quiet meditation. Despite being a brother of the Order of Paladins and required to be armed and armored unless it was a special occasion, he was not in his customary plate armor. Instead he dressed simply in slacks, shirt, and boots with a warm wool cloak wrapped around him.
Behind him Jepeth heard a man speak the phrase and the familiar woosh of air that spread in all directions whenever someone or something is teleported into a new location. A man in a grey robe approached Jepeth and sat down beside him, his bare feet hanging over the side.
“Looks cold, aye son?” said the man in the robe looking down at the water.
“Aye, Da,” replied Jepeth as he opened his eyes and turned to face the man who joined him.
“Every since ye were a wee bairn ye be sneaking off tae here,” said the man, “It drove Irma crazy. She thought ye’d get eaten by something.”
“I almost was, once,” said Jepeth, “Cousin Threep’ and I roused a sleeping great spider out of a tree.”
“Oh that cousin of yers: trouble,” said the old man shaking his head.
Jepeth smiled. His father and his aunt had never entirely gotten along, and the rivalry extended into the next generation.
“I know why ye here, son” said the old man, “feelin’ a little lost, ay?”
“No, Da. I don’t,” replied Jepeth forcibly, who noticed the old man look taken aback at his sudden curtness. “I’m not lost, I’m doing what I have to do.”
“Oooh, really,” said the old man smiling, “going to cut off me hand, too?”
Jepeth groaned and looked away from his father, back down to the water below the shrine.
“You have no idea who these people are,” said Jepeth, “what they’re doing.”
His father began to reply but Jepeth suddenly turned back and faced him. “They killed twenty-five children this past week,” he said angrily, “they’ve killed a dozen more at least since the Guard have been after them. They’re occupying Shrines! They got chased off this one just days ago! We don’t even know what they’re really after!”
The old man looked at Jepeth and noted the force in his voice. It was more than anger, it was fear.
“There always be some group, son,” he replied, “always some faction or threat.” He gestured east, “I was just down the road from here watching the fire rise in the sky when that Lich burned Trinsic. The city came back, aye? We rebuild, we always do.”
“These people aren’t out to topple a city or overthrow a King,” said Jepeth, “They’re not some force or power. It’s like they want to turn everyone against each other. We find fear and mistrust wherever they go.”
“Innt that all the more reason not to go around loppin’ off hands?” replied the old man, “some mage lied? Why the big surprise?”
The old man smiled. “What’s the difference between a mage and an Ettin?” he asked Jepeth who knew exactly what the punchline was, having heard it many, many times growing up.
“Ettins wear their two-faces proudly,” Jepeth replied automatically.
The old man grinned and shrugged his shoulders, still pleased with his thoroughly played out joke.
Jepeth shook his head, trying not to smile.
“Ye know, it always be Irma who believed this stuff,” said the old man gesturing at the shrine. “I played along for her sake. What a believer she be in Him and His Virtues..” the old man looked down sadly at the water. “Crushed her when He left.”
“All of us,” replied Jepeth.
“Ye were so young when it all happened,” said the old man. “The Split, the Faction War, Jou’nar,” the old man shuddered at speaking the name, “So much happened so fast. I worried what kind of a man it’d make of ye.”
Jepeth looked at his father. “I know,” he replied.
“Put it aside, son,” said the old man.
“I can’t,” Jepeth shook his head, “It’s not done, not at all.”
“Then I think ye have many more cold, unhappy days to come,” said the old man, “many more.”
The old man smiled at his son and faded away, his grey robe dissolving into nothing. Jepeth looked down at the communication crystal he had been clutching in his hands, and saw that its magic was spent; forever silenced.
He sighed, and dropped it into the still water below the shrine.