Location: Meldheim - The Green Temple
Time: Late morning to early midday
Gerard walked quietly through Meldheim, his wool cloak flapping vigorously in the icy southern wind. The Rezaindian was feeling much more comfortable now than he was when the expedition first landed at Rigevand. With his new disguise he could now hide his face under a hood, and he could also speak with the locals more freely using his pilgrim’s alibi as an excuse. Those whose lands bordered the northern kingdoms tended to have a more noticeable accent compared to the core Eskandr cultures.
Using the directions given to him by Trygve, Gerard found his way to the foothill atop which the Grontempel had been built. As despicable as the Eskandr were as a people, their skill in woodworking could not be denied. Every inch of every plank used in the temple’s construction had been decorated with patterns ranging from knots and diamonds to trees and longships. As he stepped closer to the towering structure, he noticed the faint tool marks left behind by the craftsmen’s carving knives. The roofs were slanted to prevent snow buildup, and wood carved dragons peeked out from where any two corners met. The draconic reliefs were studded with jewels of all colors, a detail Gerard took note of. They would be worth tearing apart before the church was destroyed.
Gerard made sure to prostrate himself in front of the temple doors before entering. He felt none of the euphoria experienced by the genuine believers who made their way here, but right now he was playing a role. There were many residents and pilgrims going in and out of the Grontempel and he needed them to believe he was a sincere worshiper of the Five Wardens. When he was finished making a fool of himself the Quentic priest stepped up to the Grontemple’s massive double doors. It was difficult to tell due to the wood’s color but one could make out Eskandish script cut into the door at various elevations. Gerard spotted familiar words like ‘Father’ and ‘Home’ and ‘Afterlife’, but most of the text was indecipherable.
This dialect is so old. I can’t read it at all. Were these doors brought in from somewhere else? Just then the doors groaned open as a congregation exited the temple, causing a wave of air to hit Gerard in the face. Despite wearing a thick double tunic, he still shivered involuntarily. The sooner they returned to the green hills of Perrence the better. He pulled his hood up tighter and slipped past the crowd to enter the Grontemple proper.
It was not as dark inside the temple as Gerard expected. Circular glass portals allowed slivers of light to cut through the shadowy inner sanctum, and a large number of torch sconces had been bolted to the walls. The scent of smoke was strong here. Keeping the Grontemple insulated against the freezing conditions outside must have required them to give up on proper ventilation. Thankfully the fiery priest was unbothered, for the smell of ash was well known to him.
Gerard confidently strode down the aisle while scanning his eyes around the sanctuary. Unlike the Quentic churches he was used to, there was a distinct lack of seating available. With the exception of a few long benches for the elderly and infirm, all of those who came to worship did so on their feet. Guessing by the subtle differences in their clothing, Gerard saw a diverse mix of Drudgunzeans standing in prayer among the Eskandr, mainly those from Kressland and Lindermetz.
The Grontemple was just as richly decorated inside as it was outside. There was plenty of expert woodcrafting on display, but on top of that Gerard saw more jewel encrusted statues as well as neskals being used as ornaments. Even the candelabras and braziers appeared to be made of valuable silver. The Eskandr apparently dedicated a sizable share of their wealth towards making their gods comfortable.
Good. If this was just any old chapel then razing it to the ground would serve no purpose. Under his hood, Gerard was smirking. His feet had finally carried him to the end of the aisle. This far into the temple the light had become scarce. The disguised Parrenchman could only see a couple feet in front of him now. He had to stop now, as there were two other congregants lined up ahead. The one in front, a woman, was kneeling in front of an unfathomably deep basin which had been carved into the stone floor. The basin was filled to the brim with water. At least, it was a liquid that had the same visual appearance as water. She scooped some of the liquid into her hands and drank while Gerard watched her intently. He felt alarmed when the woman suddenly collapsed backwards and stared at the ceiling.
The red Rezaindian leaned forward and whispered to the man in front of him. ”What’s happening to her?” The Eskandr turned his head to look at Gerard.
“Is it your first time standing in the hall of the Family, traveler? In that case, Brother’s blessings upon you. What you see here is the holy well of the Grontemple. When a true son of Eskand drinks the hallowed elixir, their spirit is partially freed from its mortal shell. The things you are able to experience in that state between life and death… it is indescribable. Some have claimed to see the dead, while others hear the voice of the gods themselves. If you'd like then you can go ahead of me. Be warned though: your first experience may frighten you.” The amicable stranger stepped aside to make way for Gerard. The latter was hesitant to proceed after seeing the effects the water had on the woman, who was still in a semi-catatonic state. Still, he couldn’t back out after coming this far. It would be too suspicious. Gerard steeled himself for the worst and knelt in front of the pool.
See the dead eh? What a load of horse shit. Did they put drugs in here or something? The priest thought to himself. He formed a cup with his hands and dipped them into the water just as the lady had done. If he was going to do this he saw no reason to hesitate. Gerard drank quickly before his nerves could fail him. The moment the liquid reached his stomach, he could feel something happening to him. A throbbing migraine crawled up his neck and into his head, and colors were randomly flashing before his eyes. As the seconds crawled by, an alien presence began to make itself known to Gerard. It was hard to put the sensation into words. It was as if the very air he breathed had attained sapience and was now silently moving through him, examining him, and judging him. His eyesight gradually failed, and when only the darkness remained he felt a thousand invisible eyes gaze into his very being. It was hard to breathe, like he’d fallen to the bottom of the sea.
Gerard didn’t know how long he was paralyzed for. When he finally regained his senses, the Grontemple looked the same as it always did. There were more people inside the temple now, and a line was building in front of the well. The two pilgrims he had met were nowhere to be found.
”This is dangerous…” Gerard shakily got up off the stone floor and hobbled away. He resolved to make sure none of his allies touched this stuff when they came to plunder the temple. The intoxicated priest mingled with the gathering crowd so that he was close to the entrance, but still hiding in plain sight amongst the throng of people. There was a very low chance of him being watched, but he remained cautious. He meditated inside the Grontemple for some time, though he was undoubtedly the only man in the building praying to Echeran. If the Eskandr gods could read minds they surely would have smote him on the spot for his contempt.
Scut! Gerard felt a sharp pinch on his ears and nearly let out his voice. His first instinct was to turn around, but he knew the touch of Force and recognized it as the signal. It was time to head back to Rigevand.