Grace opened up the large wooden doors of The Platinum Shrine and slipped through, barely making a sound. Shadow, the black blink dog followed her and stuck by her side. The door closed behind her with a quiet thump. Grace stood in another dimly lit room. Only the small bits of moonlight shining through the tall windows illuminated the room.
The inside was a large chamber that was mostly empty. A few stone benches were placed around the edges of the room. There were two rows of stone columns that reached up into the tall ceilings. Hanging from these pillars were oil lanterns which were not lit. However Grace missed many of these small details. Instead her focus was on the large dragon.
On the opposite side of the doors sat a large, dragon statue which seemed to glimmer in the moonlight. The dragon was laying down with its front claws displayed. Its tail wrapped around its body and its large wings were spread wide, giving it a large demeanor. Grace’s gaze slowly followed the dragon’s body up to its face. The Dragon had large, reptilian eyes that seemed to be looking right at Grace. The entire thing was impressive and it surprised Grace that such a thing would be found in a town like this.
Shadow stood beside Grace and growled at the large, Dragon statue.
“Don’t worry, boy,” Grace said, patting Shadow on the back. “It’s not real. It’s just a really scary statue.”
This seemed to calm Shadow a bit, but the dog’s eyes continued to stare at the statue.
Then Grace heard a sound again. She initially entered the temple because she heard some sort of noise and that sound brought her back into the moment.
Grace instinctively went for her daggers. Her right hand grabbed the hilt of the dagger and she kept her other hand out in front of her.
“Be on guard, Shadow,” She said as she moved forward.
Shadow did just that. He crept behind her, keeping his ears open for any noise or sign of life.
The thump seemed to come from some room past the large dragon statue. So Grace and Shadow walked past the statue, but Grace kept an eye on it in her periphery. It looked so real, she was afraid it might come to life if she really looked away.
Behind the statue was a hallway which seemed to split off into smaller rooms. These looked like they could be offices, storage closets, makeshift rooms, or anything else a temple like this could need.
As Grace peered from room to room, she heard the thump again. This time it was accompanied by a bit of mumbling.
“Stupid place. Where do you keep it?” The voice asked.
Grace slinked closer and saw that one of the doors was thrown wide open. Inside she made out the shape of a Dwarven man bent over some sort of chest. The room seemed to be some sort of make-shift library with several shelves full of books and others with supplies such as parchment, ink, and spare lamp oil.
“They got to have some, somewhere,” The man said as he threw aside a book and what looked like clothes.
Grace stood in the doorway for just a moment, staring at the man and trying to figure out what the man was searching for, when he suddenly stopped. He put down the book in his hand and seemed to sniff the air.
“Dog,” He said.
The man seemed to move unnaturally fast as he whipped his head around.
“And who are you?” He asked.
“Stay back,” Grace pulled the dagger from her belt and pointed it at the man.
“Woah. Hold on, there, Miss. No need for that,” He said, raising his hands.
In this low light, it was hard to make out many details about the man. He was definitely dwarvish based on his short, stout body type and large, bushy beard. But Grace couldn’t see his eyes. She couldn’t’ make out this mans’ intentions. Plus it was hard to see if the man was armed with any sort of weapon.
Shadow barked and growled at the man.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” Grace asked.
“Now wait a second. I asked you first,” The man said.
“Well now I’m asking you,” Grace said.
“Well I’d be a lot more comfortable if you called off your dog and put down the dagger,” The man said.
“Just answer my question,” Grace demanded.
“I tell you who I am and you put down the blade? That’s the deal we’re making?” The man asked.
Grace nodded but she wasn’t sure if she was really going to lower the blade.
“Well then. The name is Gruemar,” He said.
“What are you, some sort of thief or something?” Grace asked.
“Still not putting down the blade, fine then. No, I’m not a thief. I’m just.. I’m just looking for something. That’s all,” Gruemar said.
“What? What are you looking for?” Grace asked.
“Just…seriously can we just lower the dagger and we can talk. I’m not going to hurt you,”
“How do I know that? What if I lower my dagger and you rush me or pull your own dagger from behind your back?”
“A dagger is not really my style. Plus I haven’t carried a weapon for a very long time,” Gruemar said. “I’m just…”
Gruemar let out a sigh.
“I’m looking for some booze, ok? Thought this place might have some in a wine cellar or something.”
Grace lowered the dagger a bit and chuckled to herself.
“You broke into this church to steal booze. Are you serious?”
“Well there’s not a lot of places around here to get the stuff. It was either this or the army barracks and I definitely don’t want to go there,” Gruemar said. “You got a better reason to be here?”
“I…I was walking around town and I heard a noise. I came to investigate it,” Grace said.
“Oh so you are some sort of detective and the dog is your sidekick,” Gruemar said.
“What? No. This is just a dog,” Grace said.
“Well it’s not justi a dog. I can tell that. It’s a fey creature,” Gruemar said.
“You can tell that?” Grace asked.
Gruemar grew quiet, aware that he may have said too much.
“Nevermind that,” He quickly changed subjects. “What are you going to do now? Throw me out of here? I’d prefer it if you helped me find what I’m looking for.”
“I…I’m not going to help you steal from a temple.”
“Why? You religious?
“Well no,” Grace said.
“Good. Don’t worship these…these fools. They don’t deserve it. Too many people give up everything to the gods and where does that get them. Nowhere,” Gruemar said, his words dripping with so much vitriol it sounded like he had a personal vendetta against the gods.
“I still don’t know if you should steal from these people,” Grace said.
“Well you can keep your moral high ground but from my point of view we are both the same. Just people who broke into a temple in the middle of the night,” Gruemar said as he turned around and continued to rummage through supplies.
“I was investigating a noise. I didn’t break in,” Grace argued.
“Voila! Found it!” Gruemar exclaimed as he pulled out a glass bottle that was wrapped in cloth.
He then examined it a bit closer.
“Looks like a good ale. Much better than I was expecting to find,” He said.
Grace rolled her eyes.
“Great. Now we can get out of here,” Grace said.
“We?” Gruemar let out a laugh. “So we’re in this together.”
“I…I just mean. That I’m getting out of here. I don’t want anything to do with some drunkard that’s stealing from a church,” Grace said.
“So high and mighty from someone who has such a dark cloud above her,” Gruemar said.
Again they both fell silent for a moment and Gruemar bit his tongue.
“What do you mean by that? How…how do you know anything about me?” Grace asked.
Gruemar let out a sigh.
“Look I’ll answer a few of your questions but first I’m going to have some of this,” He said as he walked past Grace and Shadow.
At this point Shadow seemed to be a bit standoffish with the man. He was no longer growling, but still stayed on high alert.
“Now where are you going?” Grace asked as she followed Gruemar.
“Think I saw some glasses up front,” Gruemar said as he walked down the hallway, toward the entrance of the temple.
Grace was still very unsure about this man, but figured that as long as she kept on her guard, he was not a harm to her. A drunkard and a thief, sure, but not someone she really had to worry about.
Gruemar grabbed a few glasses from another room of the temple and took a seat at the foot of the large, dragon statue in the main room. He then popped the cork of the bottle and poured the ale for the two of them.
“Sit. Drink. Be merry,” Gruemar said in a dull tone
Grace gave another look at the dragon and took one of the glasses from Gruemar. She waited a moment to see if Gruemar would drink the ale first, a habit she had picked up in order to avoid poison or other mysterious liquids, but she did not have to wait long. Gruemar downed his glass of ale without taking a moment to breathe, and then he started to pour himself another.
“So are you going to tell me how you seem to know so much about me?” Grace asked. “And why do you seem to have such a negative attitude towards this church stuff?”
Gruemar quickly drank another glass of ale and then poured a third before Grace had even started on her first.
“Good stuff,” Gruemar said. “Better than I expected for a place like this.”
“Are you going to answer my questions or not?” Grace asked again.
“Impatient,” Gruemar said, taking a sip of ale. “I’ll tell you some things. Sure. What do you want to know first?”
“How do you know that there’s a dark cloud above me or whatever?” Grace asked.
Gruemar held the glass of ale in both his hands as he peered into the glass.
“Let’s just say that this guy right here. I used to be a big follower,” Gruemar pointed up at the dragon statue. “During that time I became really good at reading people. Good people. Bad people. Good people who have walked a bad path.”
Gruemar’s eyes switched to looking at Grace.
“Looking at you I can tell that you are running from something. Something really bad. Something that hangs over your head. Makes you stay on guard and lets you keep people at bay.”
Gruemar went back to drinking ale.
“Am I wrong?” He asked her, not looking in her direction.
“No, you’re not,” Grace said.
They both took a moment to sip some ale.
“You said that you used to be a follower,” Grace said, breaking the silence. “What happened?”
Again, Gruemar finished his drink and poured another glass of ale.
“You’re not the only one running from something,” He said.
They both grew silent once again as Gruemar’s words hung in the air.
“So now you break into temples and steal alcohol?” Grace asked.
“He owes me that much,” Gruemar said.
His words were laced with sorrow with just a hint of pain and rage. It sounded like this Gruemar fellow was a man who lost a lot and blamed it on religion. Or the actual dragon who the statue was based off of.
Grace finished her glass of ale and placed the empty glass at Gruemar’s feet.
“Well I need to get back before my friends notice I’m gone,” Grace said.
Gruemar gave a nod.
“We should both get out of here before someone comes to worship at dawn,” He said.
“Well good luck with everything,” Grace said.
She began to walk away, toward the wooden doors at the front of the temple, and Shadow followed behind her.
“One last bit of advice if you’ll take it,” Gruemar said.
Grace turned and looked at the man.
“Whatever is in the past, you cannot run from it forever. It will catch you. In life or in death. The gods are not quick to forget. It is better to face it on your own turf. Then once you take it on, you can move past it and grow from it,” Gruemar said. “One day you might be called upon to be a hero and you want to make sure you are in position to answer the call.”
She just stood there for a moment and really looked at this man. Something deep inside her told her she was looking at someone who was much more than he seemed. The way he spoke, she knew that he wasn’t some random drunkard who had a falling out with the church. But she didn’t know how to express all of that.
When she opened her mouth, all she managed to say was “Thanks.”
Grace left the temple and quickly made her way back to Christine’s home before the sun came up, over the horizon. Meanwhile, Gruemar continued to drink the ale, deciding to just switch to drinking straight from the bottle. He looked at himself in the glass of the bottle and saw the soft glow of his golden eyes.
Header Photo Credit to The Tyranny of Dragons Wiki