A man who was once great and bold now stood withered and weak atop the steps leading to his greatest shame.
He beheld the location with great heartache. Everything was abandoned.
The Shrine’s donation box now housed a large nest filled with crying bird chicks. The steps themselves were weather-worn, covered in cracks greatly reminiscent of his own wrinkles. Vines and moss obscured almost all the good stone work, like the prayer songs etched into each step. One could have sung them in rhythm with each step, were they visible.
The Shrine itself was almost all gone. Bells and wind chimes, tied with festive cloth to the surrounding trees, and the eerily empty plot of land between gave clues as to what was once there. That modest building of bamboo and timber, with its decorated red threshold, its cheerful interior littered with the scribbled paper charms of its guardian spirit, it was all gone. He had feared it was so when he saw the surrounding village had gone too. It had been very small and somewhat removed, and many such small villages could suffer some tragedy.
But he never expected this.
How could time alone destroy such good and beauty? But then again, he too had changed in that time. He now looked at this empty place almost in reverence, whereas before he had ran up the rain-soaked steps without so much as contemplating the scenery. Time had forced respect upon him. He only wished he had acquired it sooner, so he could have ceased hearing the cacophony of that rainy day in his sleep.
For a moment, he dimly contemplated leaving money in the donation box. But it could easily be taken as a gesture of mockery. He opted not to. Instead, the man took tremulous steps towards the empty plot of land, overgrown with weeds and flowers but still so distinct from its surroundings, as though marked, scarred, unable to ever heal. He held out an amulet, a simple piece of wooden beads by which hung a spirit talisman made from obsidian. Upon it were the spirit characters for Law.
“I have come to return this to you. It has pained me greatly since that time.” He called out, loud as his ragged old voice could muster anymore. He had once thought of developing a whole speech to recite for this moment. But it would not do. He knew she would not accept his words no matter how carefully he planned them.
No voice replied to him, not even the wind. All he heard was the sound of the beads as he shook them. Overhead, the sky was so clear and the sun burning so hot. It was almost the exact opposite of that day. Was this the consequence of his karma? Did the whole world intend to judge him where he stood?
“Please, take it back!” He shouted. He was pleading. “I have spent my last years undoing all the things I once thought of as my life’s work. I want to have done something worth remembering. At least one thing. Please take it back.”
This time something did reply to him. He was almost pushed back by the reply. A sound so poisonous it hurt his soul – a tone so devoid of warmth, so cynical, sterile, so vindictive. He could not place that voice with the figure that appeared.
“You are as selfish as you have ever been.”
He had seen her before. The woman with the long blue dress and long white sleeves, with the dark hair and piercing blue eyes. But time had changed her too. She looked physically as young as always, but her voice had been aged. Her eyes had been made paler and lost their sharp beauty. Instead they seemed almost like glass orbs, artificial. She had once had a long sword on a decorated sheathe. Now the sword was fastened by her cloth belt, and the blade showed spots of rust, the handle chipped away and rough. Her hair, which had once been as though a curtain behind her, now barely reached her shoulders.
Scarcely able to believe what he saw, the man dropped to his knees, buried his face in the ground.
“I am so sorry. I know I played a part in all of this.”
The woman took no pleasure in seeing the man grovel. “It was not by your will, in any part, that I now stand as I am.”
“I beg you, please accept this back. You may judge me as you see fit.” The man raised his head, and his head alone, from the ground. He looked up at the woman, who was suddenly only a yard away, with no transition between her first step and last. Her presence made itself felt and pushed him towards the ground. He could see the wisps of power around her, her holy essence presented in daunting amounts. As though a rock had been thrown upon him, the man was pinned to the floor.
“You came here last,” The woman said, her expression changing only mildly to one of sadness, “Because you knew that I could not forgive you. So, your affairs are settled?”
“I have made peace with nothing yet,” The man gasped, beginning to weep, “I don’t think I ever could. But I have returned everything I once took. Except for this one thing.”
The woman looked at the amulet in his hands. Her once stoic face showed clear, dangerous anger. She took a step and kicked the object from his grip in an almost careless, ungainly move. Stunned, unable to comprehend what had just occurred, the man heard the clatter of the small, precious object striking each step in succession as it fell the way back down the hill.
“If your goal was to undo everything you’ve caused, that is impossible.” She said.
The woman drew her sword and held it overhead, arm outstretched. The blade pointed at the ground in front of her.
“I declare my judgment.”
Chanting a mournful spirit song, she allowed the blade to fall.
It never touched ground, not that the man saw. Before he could see it, he became unable to. All he could see were faint colors dancing around, like when he closed his eyes. All he could hear were the words of the song. He knew he was weeping, but could not feel the sting in his eyes. The song was all he could feel.
* * *
There is more to this story, as a young Iomadi cleric and an odd Dromidae Wizard may find out. But they can only get the plot hook if the readers want them to, so if you are interested in reading more, drop a line.
Oh, and one more thing. To keep this RPG Bloggers Net related (which it only tenuously is right now), I’ll be doing one item or thing related to the story with each installment.
Spirit Pressure: Vatano [Elite or Solo Power]
The spirit extends its aura over a target and smothers its eternal essences, crushing it against the floor.
Recharge 4-6 @ Divine
Minor Action Close Burst 5
One Creature In Burst
Attack Bonus vs Will
Hit: The target falls prone and is immobilized until the end of your next turn.
Uvatano [Divine Class Attack Power 3]
You mimic the magic of spirits and flare your aura for just a moment, causing an opponent to stumble.
Encounter @ Divine, Implement
Minor Action Close Burst 3
Target: One Creature In Burst
Attack: Wisdom or Charisma vs Will
Hit: 1d8 damage and the target falls prone.
The latter power, as it states “Divine Class” can be taken by both Clerics or Paladins at Level 3. This kind of stuff flies quite well in Spirits of Eden.