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Almos Story: The Five Corners Shrine

The steady dripping of water was beginning to be more irritating than helpful.

The room of meditation was supposed to be just that, and usually the steady rhythm of the water on water was relaxing and served as a potential focal point for the process of clearing one’s thoughts.

Grenndin was pretty sure that peace was beyond him at the moment, though.

Shaking his head forcefully, the large bear of a man stood up. Perhaps he just needed to talk to someone. Risha would be best, if she was available. Usually referred to as the Oracle, Risha was the leader at the temple and she had access to wisdom far greater than her years.

The Oracle was a continuous reincarnation and, as such, had the memories and experiences of their past lives in addition to their current ones. It was even said that the Oracle could travel to other worlds. It was this spark by which the Oracle was known. The spark wouldn’t show itself until roughly the age of ten years or so, but it was rare enough that usually a person with the spark was the only person with the spark.

There were instances otherwise, when more than one denizen of Almos had the spark. In fact, at the present time, Risha was the Oracle, but there was one other known worldwalker, Stehvaegn. He was an oddity for a number of reasons, but most importantly, he was not the Oracle, and he had no affiliation with the shrine.

He found Risha in the Shrine’s grove, sitting on one of the lower branches with a deer in her lap.

Risha was lovely, in a homey way, she had darker skin with waves of long, black hair. When she wasn’t communing, he knew she had the most lovely gray eyes, but her eyes were currently a lighter shade of blue, and glowing, the color taking over even the whites of her eyes. Its eyes also glowed, and there was a stone of the same color in the crown of its skull which was also glowing.

Grenndin found he didn’t want to interrupt her interaction with the Nigling, so he waited and watched.

The first time Grenndin had seen a Nigling was when he first arrived at the Shrine as a twelve year-old acolyte hopeful. Niglings were rare creatures with a person’s sentience, but they were true creatures, not werecreatures stuck in their creature form. A panther with a red stone blocked his passage through the entrance.

At the same time, there was a sharp intrusion on his thoughts. << Purpose, human? >>

The boy Grenndin was scared, and not mature enough to mask it. “I- I- … I’m here to be… be an acolyte.”

The panther’s gem glowed a little and he felt a presence touch his mind as it walked up and sniffed him.

<< Fear… I can smell it on you, youngling. I will not eat you. >> The panther growled a little in spite of these assurances.

“I- … my name, …is Grenn- Grenndin.”

The panther circled back a little, but continued speaking into his mind, << Grengrenndin? What an unusual name. >>

“No- um, sorry. It’s just Grenndin.”

<< Grenndin, then. I am Lithestalker. >> The panther known as Lithestalker paused in front of the door. << You are a scared little boy, Grenndin. What makes you worthy of being an acolyte? >>

Grenndin was stumped. He wasn’t told anything about this, about some strange creature quizzing him before being allowed in.

The door behind Lithestalker opened up and a tall, large woman came bustling out, a wooden spoon in one hand. She looked at the panther, and though no words came out of her mouth, he sensed she was speaking to it. As if to confirm this, the panther turned and gave its attention to her, the stone in its head glowing.

“Are you giving this poor boy trouble?” She said, at length, gesturing to Grenndin with her spoon.

Grenndin smiled fondly at the memory. Gerta was the cook for the Shrine and though she was pushing ninety years-old now, she was still in charge of preparing and serving the meals to the acolytes.

Acolyte duties shifted in cycles and while Grenndin wasn’t much of a cook himself, he was always happy to spend time with the redoubtable older woman.

Right now, though, he wanted to speak with Risha, but she was still communing. Grenndin stood there for a few moments before deciding he should make himself comfortable. There was a rock nearby that was mostly level and proved a sturdy chair, but he hoped he wouldn’t have to sit in it for anything more than a dozen or so minutes. There were times when Risha would commune for hours.

As the Oracle, Risha could examine the memories of any being as that being which was immensely valuable as it meant she wasn’t limited only to the experiences of her current and past lifetimes. It was a tremendous burden, however, and the Oracle was often burdened by headaches, hallucinations, and even psychosis in rare instances, as a result.

Grenndin had known Risha since she first arrived as an eleven year-old child. In some ways, she was like a daughter to him, if one could consider a wise, extremely powerful being as their child, but in the years that he’d known her, headaches seemed to be the only consistent burden she struggled with.

In the end, it was only half an hour before Risha closed her eyes and then opened them again, revealing the soft gray that was more familiar to him. She blinked several times, perhaps adjusting to the change in the light, she had likely been in commune with the deer for awhile before he’d entered then.

“Oh! Grenn, hi!” Risha said brightly, combing her hair with her fingers. “Did I forget something?”

Grenndin grinned at her sudden self-consciousness. As wise as the Oracle was, Risha was still young and often forgetful. However…

“No, Oracle. You’re fine. I actually came to you seeking wisdom.”

“Ah, my expertise.” Risha returned his grin. She let the fawn jump off of her lap and then leaped from the branch to the ground gracefully. “What’s the question?”

“I’m having struggles meditating. With everything going on… what’s going to happen to the Shrine?”

“You mean when war breaks out?” Risha asked, cocking a brow.

Grenndin sighed, “is that really going to happen?”

For a moment, Risha appeared like the ages old being she was, rather than the young woman she appeared to be. Lines appeared in her face, tracing the trail of sadness that marked it.

“Yes, war seems… inevitable…” Risha sighed, her entire body shivered a little. It was clear that Risha was the one speaking, but, when she did, it sounded almost like there were other voices speaking with her, an echo that wasn’t quite an echo.

“What will happen to us?” Grenndin felt foolish asking, he’d been an acolyte longer than Risha had been the Oracle. But even as he admonished himself, he remembered that, no, in spite of her age, Risha had, in fact, been the Oracle for a very long time.

“Nothing is ever completely certain…” Risha began, but she didn’t seem to look at Grenndin as she spoke, it was as though she was looking through him. “…the last time it happened, the Shrine was untouched. Before that, the Shrine was leveled. The difference…”

Grenndin found his emotions shifting wildly, from peace at the Shrine being untouched, to shock at hearing of the Shrine having been completely destroyed at some point in the past. He wasn’t able to keep his facial expressions to himself, but Risha didn’t seem to notice.

“…the last war was between the Wandering Tribes and Morland. Before that was the war of Establishment. While the Five Corners Shrine has been here since the dawn of mankind, it has known many names. As a sacred and holy place, it has typically been left out of wars. However, prior to the war of Establishment it was known as the Holy Grove and some of the nations strove to conquer it to establish dominance over Almos.

“In the times prior, all of the current nations were tribes and they were more intermingled, wandering Almos based on the needs of the tribe. The war of Establishment was the first time that official lines of territory were drawn.”

Wherever Risha was looking, she seemed to come back to herself and then looked at Grenndin, her own expression was one of concern.

“I don’t think that’s the answer you were hoping for, was it?”

“Maybe not, but the truth is rarely oft looked for, even when it’s sought.” Grenndin said, rubbing the back of his head and trying to appear sheepish.

For her part, Risha appeared thoughtful for a moment, then brightened as she said, “that’s rather insightful! I’ll have to remember it…”

“Oracle?” Grenndin knew if he didn’t catch her attention, Risha would soon be lost to memory.

“Mm, yes?” She replied, blinking and then focusing on him once more.

“What would you like us to do?”

“Oh! Hmm…” Risha grew thoughtful, and he knew she was searching her memory but, at least he knew it was something relevant to the moment.

Being so young, Risha often forgot that she was the leader of the Shrine, and that from time to time she actually needed to guide them. The acolytes had access to a vast wealth of information through the Shrine’s library, but what could often take Risha seconds or minutes at most would often take them days, if they ever found it.

The acolytes had their own hierarchy too, Grenndin was an acolyte of the First Order, which was as high as one could get without being either the Grand Master or the Oracle. It was possible that Grand Master Thrissa already had a plan, he would have to speak with her about it, but there was no harm in getting some wisdom from the Oracle if he could.

By the time Risha returned to him, he noticed that the sun was fading from the Grove’s sky, evening was drawing near.

“I must consult with the Grand Master, but I think our best bet is to recruit Stehvaegn.”

“Wait… Stehvaegn?? That pompous a-” Grenndin began to respond.

Risha giggled, which was odd enough to stop him from going further, but also reminded him of how young the Oracle was.

“I know how you feel about him,” she said, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder as though he were the child and she was the parent, “but in spite of our history, I think he’s our best chance at healing the wound that has formed.”

Grenndin wasn’t sure what to say or do, he gazed at Risha for several moments but she merely smiled.

“I’m going to go talk with the Grand Master now.” She said simply, “we should talk, also I’m hungry.”

“I can have one of the acolytes bring you a meal to her chambers.” Grenndin said quickly, trying to smile in spite of the disquiet he was dealing with. “If you want.”

“That would be lovely,” Risha answered, and then walked, leaving the grove the way he entered.

Grenndin merely watched, then his thoughts turned to Stehvaegn. That particular wizard was banned from the Shrine of Five Corners for a reason. Unlike most people with a spark, he wasn’t born with his. Rather, he managed to activate his own while trying to steal Risha’s spark as a part of one of his many experiments.

Unclenching his fist, Grenndin, realized he was letting the anger from the past to control him. He needed to meditate.

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