Grotto wandered into the church to find the priest, Father Brennan, had been bound with rope. “What’s this?”
“Could you keep him out in the carriage for a bit?”Gideon asked, “we need time to look around unmolested.”
“Come on, priesty,” Grotto led the sullen man to the comfort of the carriage and cracked open one of the meads he had lifted from the priest’s cellar. “We’ll see what sort of brewer you are, eh?”
“You’re making a terrible mistake,” Brennan said bitterly.
“I don’t think so, tastes like it’s been brewed long enough.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about!” He says with a sigh of frustration. “The creature, the horned one, he’s evil! He wants the corpse of Maiden for some nefarious purpose! I’m the last line of defence!”
“We’ll see,” Grotto says with a swig, looking listlessly out into the thick fog.
A deep thundering shakes the earth, bringing Grotto out of his reverie. A writhing mass of tree roots spring from the ground around the church, puncturing the walls and tearing the building apart. A few minutes and the building is gone completely, swallowed by the earth.
“No!” The priest cries out in despair, his bastion and island of the last two decades gone in an instant.
“Not something you see everyday,” Grotto says to no-one in particular, “come on priesty, lets go see what that was about.”
With the dust settled Grotto sees the rest of the troupe discussing something with Typhon and his witches.
“Was that, er, meant to happen?” Grotto asks trying to lift the mood of a set of angry looking faces.
“Come ’ere!” Tsvolat grabs Father Brennan and pushes him to the ground.
“Take his clothes,” Gideon says, spitefully.
The priest stays on his knees. “You’ve made a terrible mistake!”
“Bah!” Tsvolat exlaims, “you sacrificed your congregation to dark gods, we found the shrine in your cellar!”
“No, it’s not true,” the priest protests, “I merely… I killed no-one! I used their corpses, yes, but you would have done the same. Erathis, my god, it felt at times like she abandoned me, so I looked to Asmodeus just to help keep this place standing and to keep the horrors out. I held Erathis’ beacon of civilisation by abusing Asmodeus desire for dominion.”
“Balderdash,” the dwarf yells.
“You’ve consulted with dark forces, to prolong your own life, that’s all,” Gideon pitched in, still as calm as ever but with as much agitation in his voice as Grotto had ever heard. “You’re hereby banished. Go. Get out of my sight.” Typhon just smiles as he sees the fruits of his patience and guile.
The priest stands up, on the verge of tears. “You’ve made a terrible mistake.” He turns and heads toward the forest.
“Not good enough,”Pontius mutters and sends a bolt of arcane lightening into the priest, stopping his heart and letting him fall dead into the mud.
“For the gods’ sake, Pontius!” Gideon says angrily.
“Too far!” Saorise exclaims.
“He was a loose end,” Pontius shrugs.
“He deserved it,” Tsvolat spits.
“Well, you’ve held up your part of the bargain,” Typhon says with a clap, “Jon Gosser’s soul is now returned. You know how to find me if you need me.”
Saorise, Gideon, Tsvolat and Pontius start toward the carriage to talk to the awakened lordling, but Grotto, who had watched in disbelief as the scene unfurled just stands there.
“Coming, Grotto?” Saorise asks.
“Uh, no,” he replies.
“No?” Gideon says spinning around.
“You guys, go on. I’ll walk back to town,” the pirate says, unsure.
“What?” Gideon seems annoyed.
“I need some time, to uh, y’know. To think about things. The forest is not much unlike the sea. Peaceful. I’ll be only a day or two behind you.”
“Whatever,” Gideon says turning back to the task at hand.
“You sure about this,” Saorise asks, concerned, somehow knowing this side of Grotto had always been in there somewhere.
“Don’t wait for me, but… we’ll see each other again, I’m sure.” Grotto gives a weak smile picks up his things and heads off.
Up on the ridge overlooking Maiden, Grotto watches the sun setting, and without a word, Jolnir steps out of the thicket and sits down next to him, admiring the view.
“The priest wasn’t in the right,” the bearded man says.
“How do you…?” Grotto starts.
“He neglected Erathis’ teachings,” Jolnir continues, “civilisation isn’t about bricks and mortar, it’s about community.”
“Jolnir,” Grotto says, passing the man his pipe, “those guys rescued me from being dragon food. Saved my life. They’re my crew, y’know, but does that mean I should be sticking with them as they go astray?”
“You stepped back, master Grotto,” Jolnir says between puffs, “when you build a boat, all of these parts work together to make it sail. What are the sails without the mast? Or the helm without the rudder? They shan’t go astray, master Grotto, if you hold fast to your community. Perhaps this little fiasco proves that. They need you, and you need them, perhaps you’re the mast.”
Grotto sits in silence for a while.
Jolnir hands the pipe back, “take up the mantle, Grotto.”
“You what, now?” he asks.
“Take up Erathis’ beacon, and show the world what can be accomplished when people work together!”
“What are you asking me?” Grotto says, not quite grasping what’s going on.
Jolnir stands up, catching the suns rays in a way that appears to make him radiate with a divine glow. “Stand Grotto!”
Grotto stands, a paradoxical sense of urgent calm filling him, suddenly awash with purpose.
“Go, Grotto, and take civilisation with you,” Jolnir says in a booming voice, “work with others, you’re stronger together, tame the wilderness and bring others into the fold, seek out new ideas, new lands and new wilderness to conquer. Build a world that’s better than the last and always push forward. Will you take Erathis’ light into a dark and wild world?”
“I will!” Grotto spurts with gusto and elation. “I will.”
After a moment, the light seems to fade as the sun slinks behind the mountains.
Jolnir puts his hand on Grotto’s shoulder. “In [Baldersbalet] there is a temple dedicated to Erathis. Tell them what you’ve become, they will clothe you and help you on your way. And make sure you find your crew again, they need you now more than ever as they are forging their own way in the world, and deciding where next to go. The ship needs it’s mast!”