Grog is awake. Pike can hear his thundering footfalls pacing the length of the kitchen downstairs. A cursory glance at her phone, still placed haphazardly next to her head where she dropped it last night, says that it’s 5:45 am. She groans, dropping the phone and curling back into her blankets. Sleep has rarely been kind enough to arrive upon request, but Pike is nothing if not optimistic; she closes her eyes and wills it back.
Downstairs, the melodious voice of Scanlan Shorthalt starts up. Pike smiles. It’s the same song that Grog plays every morning: “The Goliath Fight Song”, a track off Scanlan’s first album that has always been his favorite. Scanlan has written many songs for Grog through the years, but her brother, secret sentimentalist that he is, loves this first one the best.
Pike knows it by heart.
Well – she knows every Scanlan Shorthalt song by heart, and somewhere between the ending chords of “The Goliath Fight Song” and the opening ones of “Wild”, she dozes off again.
The next time she awakens is not so pleasant. Her phone’s alarm blares right next to her ear, and she jolts upwards, eyes blinking and bleary. Right. There was a reason her past self kept insisting it was crucial to take the extra effort and move her phone to the nightstand before passing out for the night. Noted. Her head nods tiredly. Very, very noted. Grumbling, she regains enough sense to grab her phone and, with only minor fumbling, turn off her alarm.
The house is quiet now. Grog must have left to the gym then, she reasons, as she double checks the time – 6:15 am – before depositing her phone on the nightstand where it belongs. She lingers for a moment, half risen from the bed, before flopping back into her sheets. Late night phone scrolling aside, she did remember to set out her dress before bed, as well as pack her gym bag, and her sermon notes are pinned to her mirror. A couple more minutes wouldn’t hurt. If anything…
There is a break in her curtains, and sunlight streams in, streaking across her chest, tickling her chin. Despite the late winter chill that yet tarries, she feels the warmth of the new day fill her. Encouraged, she pushes the curtains open further. She cannot see the sunrise from where she lies, but she closes her eyes and envisions it cresting over the eastern mountains. Light washes across the town. The first rays hit the Temple of Sarenrae and then the modest Trickfoot household not long after.
Still, she lingers.
The sunlight builds, creeping up her face.
Her 6:30 alarm goes off eventually, too.
She waits for Wilhand to knock and tell her not to worry about the sermon today; he’ll handle it. It’s a deep and treacherous hope, but she waits in it until the blaring of her alarm becomes too much.
With a centering breath, taken and released, she sends thanks to Sarenrae and welcomes the new day.
☼ ☼ ☼
Pike remembers the first sunrise she witnessed as a child.
Papa Wilhand bundled her, six years old and half-asleep, into his truck and drove them across town. There, in the eastern preserve, he carried her up a miles long hiking trail until they reached their destination: a lookout point with a clear view of The Temple of Sarenrae. She remembers being placed onto his shoulders and told to watch, quite a task for a six year old, but she did it. She placed her chin on the top of her grandpa’s head and watched as the sunrise’s first rays shone across town and descended mountain peaks, treetops and the tree line, until it hit the temple.
“You know why I built that temple there, Pike, right on that hill above town?” Wilhand asked. Pike hummed for a moment, dazzled by the sparkling blue of the stained glass windows, evident even from here, before shaking her head. “Redemption and second chances, Pike! That is Sarenrae’s doctrine, you remember, yes? And, what better embodies that than a sunrise. A new day’s light.” Wilhand jostled Pike in his enthusiasm, but she only giggled and clung onto him tighter. “Remember, my little dear: Sarenrae’s grace will always guide you, just as the sun always rises.”
☼ ☼ ☼
Now, standing at the temple doors, welcoming the parish, Pike spares a glance in between greetings to the stained glass windows she saw all those years ago. They are still dazzling, their light blue and gold tint mixing with the natural morning light within the high-domed hall. Together, their light grants the temple a serene glow – gentle and welcoming too, she would say, but she is marginally biased.
She sees someone approaching out of the corner of her eye and turns to greet them just as they say in a low familiar voice,“Hey, stranger.”
Dressed in his Sunday’s best and standing with his arms open expectantly is Vax’ildan. His dark hair is pulled back into a ponytail and, to perhaps mask his usual ‘just rolled out of bed’ aesthetic and the fact that his Sunday’s best is one of only three button-downs he owns (Pike’s counted), there is a polished gold sun brooch pinned over his heart.
Pike jumps right into his arm. “Vax! Oh man,” she gushes. Her nose crashes right into his shoulder but she doesn’t mind. It’s been nearly three months since she saw him last. A crushed nose is a minor consequence compared to a good hug from a good friend. She laughs and clings tighter as she’s pulled onto her tiptoes when Vax hugs her in return. “I didn’t know you were back in town!”
Vax lets her drop back onto her heels, a hand staying clasped on her shoulder. “Yeah, I rolled in last night,” he pauses a moment, looking her over,“How are you?”
“Great!” She replies without hesitation. A nauseous coil remains in her stomach, leftover from this morning, but she ignores it. “How are you?”
It’s a lie; she wonders if Vax knew she was lying too, if calling him out on it would only lead them down a path that – frankly, no one wants to trek this early in the morning. As the silence builds between them, Vax flashes her a toothy grin, and Pike scrambles to the next topic before things become less companionable, more awkward.
“Have you been to visit the de Rolos yet?”
“Ah, yes,” Vax says, raising a finger. “A clarification: I rolled in late last night, so I have been sadly bereft of a chance to drop in on my dear sister and her mister.”
“Percy was asked to speak at the high school last week. He built a legit rocket and broke a window,” Pike supplies helpfully.
Vax grumbles. “That bastard always does the coolest shit when I’m gone.”
She’s about to quip back when Kristopher, her associate cleric, waves to her from the side hallway. He gestures to his watch when he sees he’s caught her attention, and Pike smiles at Vax, apologetic.
“It always does,” he says and ruffles her hair. “Good luck.”
☼ ☼ ☼
There is a room behind the main dais in the temple, a glorified closet really, with a mirror and a small shrine to Sarenrae. It’s where Pike dons her robes while Kristopher talks through announcements and, occasionally, begins a prayer or two.
During her first year, she had an assistant with her in the cramped space for help, but now, three years in, it is only her and the gentle building music beyond these walls. She knows the process by heart. She knows which of her many accouterments is best put on first, which way this or that sash must fall across her chest. She even knows the names of the very specific fabrics her robes are made from and when each fabric is best worn depending on her prepared sermon for the day.
In this way, donning her robes has become cathartic, a ritual in which she has the utmost confidence. In that cramped room at the back of the temple, Pike finds peace in the last, quiet moments she has alone with Sarenrae before she must ascend to her podium and share the grace of her lady with the rest of the parish. The act of preaching is a privilege, she knows. It is one she relishes on her best days when she has felt as if it was the very hand of Sarenrae that slide the heavy silk of her robes onto her shoulders and not her own, significantly less cool and less righteous hands.
Today is not her best day. The silk weighs her down, pulls her deeper into a quiet but building want to keep her bond with Sarenrae within herself, only for herself. The luxury of being just another worshipper in the pews. As she adjusts her holy symbol to rest centered on her chest, Pike stares imploringly at the statue of Sarenrae positioned above the mirror.
“Forgive me for today,” she whispers to the empty room, fingers still pressed to the symbol. “I will do better tomorrow.”
There is no reply.
Then – a soft knock on the door.
Pike’s heart lifts before she remembers where she is and squares her shoulders, leaving the room and her reservations behind.
Vax is sitting in the front row next to Wilhand. They smile at her as she approaches the podium; she smiles to the room.
Breathe in. She’s done this for years now. Breathe out. Check her notes and adjust her tome. Smile big – Bigger than that. Make them believe in it. Crinkle the nose and scrunch the eyes.
Right, just like that.
Now – begin.
“Hey, everyone, nice weather today, huh?”
☼ ☼ ☼
When Grog left competitive fighting three years ago, he rented out an empty lot in downtown Westruun and converted it into a personal gym. There was still hope then that he might soon return to the fighting circuit, and his coach, Groon, urged him to keep up with his training regiment. Of course, at the time, there was no gym in Westruun quite as well-equipped as the one Grog once frequented in Vasselheim, so a place was found, bought, and named: Gym Strongjaw.
Not the most creative name, but much better than Scanlan’s suggestion of ‘Grog ‘Two-time Heavyweight Champion’ Strongjaw-Trickfoot’s Magnificent Gym Jamboree’ – which Grog rejected on the basis of it being “too long to fit on the sign”.
Naturally, despite best efforts to the contrary, the gym lacked the established grandeur of Vasselheim’s MMA gym. Still, Grog and Pike spent hours outlining floor plans, discussing renovations to the space, and putting it all to rights.
It was their space, and that made it special.
Two months in, the first hopeful showed up at the door, begging for a chance to train alongside The Grog Strongjaw, two-time Crucible champion.
Two months and one week in, Grog decided to open the space to the public and invite any who felt worthy to come and prove it.
Now, Pike, fresh off her day at the temple, (politely) pulls Grog away from his most recent hopeful and to the line of punching bags along the far gym wall. It’s where the two of them have most of their chats – one holding the bag in place while the other strikes, usually subconsciously or very consciously trying to knock the other over as well.
“Vax is back in town,” Pike says in between punches once their last conversation has faded, a curious inquiry on Pike’s part of whether or not Grog’s newest client will survive the week. Answer? Probably not. They allowed Grog’s attention to be pulled away far too easily. No backbone at all.
“He got that cask I asked for?”
Pike laughs, her next punch a little wayward for it. “You know, I didn’t have time to ask him, unfortunately.” Grog pouts obviously unaware that Pike can still see him, on separate sides of the punching bag or not. “I’m sure he got it, though! I bet it’s back at his shop right now.”
“Yeah! We could go by on the way home, if you want.”
“I would like that,” Grog says, pleased.
Pike winds up big for her next punch and knocks Grog onto his heels and the smile askew on his face. A laugh rumbles from his chest as he readjusts, placing more of his weight against the bag as his smile returns, wider than before.
“I’d like to see you do that again.”
It’s a challenge Pike is willing to accept, and the next few minutes are spent in gleeful, frenzied activity as she lands punch after punch. None budge Grog again, but she swears she sees him react a couple times, a huff or a flinch, and that’s accomplishment enough. As another lull settles between them, Grog speaks up,
“Hey, Pike, you remember my buddy Scanlan, right?”
A Scanlan Shorthalt song plays over the gym’s speakers even now, and Pike smiles. As if she could forget him! Still, she humors Grog, pretending to contemplate the name for a minute, pausing with one hand leaning on the punching bag and the other rubbing her chin.
“Your old college roommate turned pop star buddy Scanlan?”
Grog brightens and nods. “Got a message from ‘im today. Said he wants to come to town for a visit.” Grog explains, shifting from one foot to the other in a barely contained bounce of excitement. “Think he could use the spare bedroom at the house? Promise he won’t be a bother. He can be a bit of a diva – ya know, ‘pop stars’ – but I’ll give ‘im a talkin’ to before he arrives.”
Scanlan saying he wants to come for a visit is a rather common occurrence. Him actually acting on those words, less so. Pike responds as she always does though, happy to see her brother happy. “I don’t see why not, but, uh, let’s ask Papa Wilhand when we get home, yeah?”
“After the shop?”
“Yes, Grog,” Pike says, fond,“after we stop by the shop.”
☼ ☼ ☼
Good news – Vax did manage to find Grog a vintage ale cask while on this last picking trip.
Bad news - Pike has to instruct Grog through the door when they get home, because Grog refuses to stop gleefully hugging the cask in front of him despite the lingering redness of his nose from when he bumped into the doorframe leaving the shop.
Great news – Dinner is already on the table when they finally manage to maneuver into the house, and Wilhand greets the idea of a potential visitor with guarded cheer, his specialty.
“I don’t see why not,” Wilhand guffaws before wagging a finger at Grog. “But, you’ll have to make sure he picks up after himself. Celebrity status is null in this house. You know that best, I’m sure.”
“’Course! He’ll be on his best behavior,” Grog says with all the enthusiasm of a five-year-old agreeing that he’ll help take care of the new family puppy, and, just like that five-year-old’s parent, Wilhand lists off all the household chores he expects Scanlan to help complete. His own, mostly.
Pike watches the conversation – the same one they have every time Scanlan almost visits – and hopes that this time, for Grog’s sake, that Scanlan will come through.
If it brings a change of pace, then – Sarenrae, be kind – she hopes for her own sake, too.
Outside, the sun is well on its way to setting, but Pike pushes away from the table in a rush.
“I’m going on a walk.”
☼ ☼ ☼
A good 45-minute hike from the Trickfoot household, deep in the western preserve, is a lookout point from which the whole of Westruun is visible. When Pike reaches it, she walks past the polished wooden bench and right to the thigh-high gray brick wall that secures the edge; there is a plaque embedded within the top that reads: Greyskull Keep.
Her friends and her named it that nearly twenty years ago.
She places a hand over the worn metal and lets her eyes scan the horizon. During her walk, the sun dipped below the western peaks to her back, leaving only a residual pink-purple color to the sky and the moon rising steadily in the east.
The day is over.
The thought warms her, and she breathes deep to embrace it, to pull the comfort in deeper. She wants to reach that pit in her stomach that still lingers – soothe it, destroy it.
Tomorrow is another day.
She closes her eyes. The wind chills her skin, but she counts her blessings. Spring is here, and this chill will relinquish. If the weatherwoman is to be trusted, it’ll be gone for good by mid-week. That’ll make her feel better, she thinks, and tomorrow is spring festival planning at the temple. Scanlan, because this is her optimistic reverie and she’ll be optimistic as she pleases, is coming to town soon, and that’ll be fun!
Things will be better tomorrow.
Pike breathes deep, releases it, and opens her eyes.
The sun will always rise.