"Pilgrim's Path confronts us with the sin of sloth." Santos said as the group continued down Nederlingas Highway. "To live is to struggle. We struggle for salvation. We struggle against evil. It is hard and grueling but it gives life meaning. To give in to sloth is to choose a life of ease and idleness. The slothful man or woman rejects salvation and let's evil run rampant over the land. So as Archbishop Maven instructed, we mustn't be indolent over our long journey".
The group was quiet after Santos' sermon. Delphi was still reeling from Kiki's transformation and departure. Bella and Siegfried were arguing over which direction to go. The rest of the group were busy with their own tasks. The paladin did receive a bit of praise but from an unexpected source.
"Another wonderful sermon Santos. You really do have a way with words" Catherine said as she walked beside him.
"That's odd coming from you Catherine" Santos replied. "I was under the impression you thought my sermons were boring."
Catherine shook her head. "Oh no, I'm impressed by your command of the common tongue. You seem to be a man of many talents." A wry smile crossed her face. "For example, you seem to be quite adept at manipulating mana. Most paladins I've meet are brutes that are only good at swinging a hammer. You're different though. I could feel it when we performed that Conversion spell together."
The paladin cleared his throat before answering. "Most of my family were wizards. When I was young, I was planning on following in their footsteps. But, I found my calling serving the goddesses. That's all there is to it." Santos says as he speeds up trying to put some distance between him and the alchemist.
"Oh I doubt that" Catherine whispered to herself.
After a long trek, the group finally reached Nomads Camp. Once Pelleas set up a refreshment table, the guild gathered around to eat lunch. On today's menu was a simple butternut squash soup. As they ate, Scarlett kept a close eye on Delphi.
"You're not going to finish the soup before we get a chance to have seconds are you?" The wugushi said in a taunting manner.
Delphi put down her empty bowl. "Once we left Starving Demon's Way, my appetite seemed to return to normal." She replied "I'll attempt another divination soon once everyone has finished eating."
At the head of the table, Bella and Siegfried seemed to be engaged in another spirited discussion.
"All I'm saying is that the nuns at the convent may have some answers" Siegfried said as he sat facing Bella.
"A detour to the Saalus Convent would take too much time. Besides how do I know you just don't want to abandon this pilgrimage?" Bella responded.
"Like hell I would! Not after what happened to Kiki. If it's Naktis or some other demon, we've got to stop them. You're just being too stubborn about this pilgrimage. A detour will be fine" he said.
"If we want to restore a sense of meaning to Maven's teachings, we have to follow them to the letter. That includes no detours along Pilgrim's Path" Bella said as she finished her soup. Just as she stood up, a wave of exhaustion rushed over Bella. Wobbling just a bit, the Templar managed to keep her footing.
What was that? Bella thought as she tried to clear her head. "Did any of you feel that?" she said as she looked over the table. The group were completely idle. Most of them sat hunched over the table as if preparing to fall asleep.
"Feel what?" Siegfried said as he let out a yawn. "Anyway about the detour to the convent, you can do whatever you want."
Pelleas seemed to try and stand up but just stretched his arms before lying on the ground. "Can someone else pack away the table?" He said softly.
Even Delphi was starting to drift of as her crystal's and incenses fell from her hand. "I can try and make a divination another time." She said.
Artemis was the only one who managed to stand up using her musket for support. "There is no way I'm going to succumb to the will of some demon!" She said defiantly. In an act of desperation, Artemis bit into her bottom of her lip until she drew blood. The pain allowed the musketeer to finally brake through the curse.
"Alright, now we just need to figure out what's causing this?" Bella said to herself.
"I may have some ideas." Turning around, Artemis and Bella saw Andris standing there as if nothing was happening.
"How are you still standing after all this?" Artemis asked as blood still slipped from her mouth.
Andris collected his supplies as he answered the musketeer. "As a sorcerer, I've grown pretty resistant to the type of curses most demons use. Anyway, Lady Catherine said that the curses may be related to a corrupted Tree Root crystal. That's what happened before, right Lady Belladonna?" The sorcerer asked the templar.
"You're right, the last time we were here a corrupted Tree Root crystals were draining our life force. So if we find the Tree Root causing this everyone should return to normal." Bella said.
"Right and I have a good idea of where it might be. Meet me at Noras Fountain. I just need to get a few more things." Andris said. With haste, Artemis and Bella began to make their way south to the fountain.
As the two run to Noras Fountain, Artemis turned to Bella. "Are you sure we can trust that boy?" She asked the templar. "When he's not with Catherine, Andris spends most of his time summoning those monsters. Who's to say that he doesn't have a hand in this curse?"
Bella just continued to look forward. "He is a sorcerer. It would be concerning if he didn't know how to summon." She pauses hoping for some response from the musketeer but got not even a smirk. So she continued. "I've only known Andris for a short time. But Catherine seems to trust him enough to take him as her apprentice. That's enough for me."
"Catherine is a whole other problem." Artemis said. But before she could finish the though, the two arrived at the fountain. In the middle of the pond, the two guild mates saw the large corrupted tree root crystal. The large black jewel in the centre pulsed with a foul energy. Before Bella could run in to destroy it, Artemis grabbed her shoulder.
"Look" Artemis whispered as she pointed behind the pond. At first it looked like a regular tree. But as Bella watched it, she could see the outline of a face that began to twitch a bit. "That Wood Spirit must be guarding the crystal."
Just as the two started to plan their next move, Andris arrived with a strange book in tow. "Did you find the crystal?" the sorcerers asked.
"Yes but we have a problem" Bella said as she pointed to the Wood Spirit. "Do you think you can conjure up something that can give us a hand Andris?" She asked.
Taking a moment to think the sorcerer pulled out a set of cards. From the deck he pulls one out and places the rest into his bag. "I might have something that could do the trick. When you attack the Tree Root, I'll summon a devil to distract the Wood Spirit." Andris said. With a simple nod, Bela and Artemis both agreed to the plan and moved to surround monster.
Once in position, Bella raised her hand for her two companions to see. The Templar pointed to Artemis first signalling her to attack the Corrupted Tree Root. Kneeling, the musketeer raised her musket and took aim. With a resounding bang, she fired upon the crystal and managed to crack its. In an instance, the Wood Spirit began to move, letting out a powerful wail.
Once the wood spirit begins to move, Bella draws the creature's attention by banged her rapier against her shield. Turning towards the guild leader, the Wood Spirit began to march towards her. Raising her shield, Bella took a high guard stance and prepared to block the monster. "Andris, now!" Bella yelled.
Sure enough, Andris opened his Grimoire and placed the card into the book. As the grimoire floated in mid-air a magic circle formed under the sorcerer. "Come forth and obey! I call upon thee, Temple Shooter!" Andris cried. From the magic circle rose the shadowy visage of a Temple Shooter. It's face hidden in darkness but the crossbow and stone cross on its back were still visible. "Get Back Ms. Bella!" Andris shouted to the temple. Bella complied. Once she had retreated, Andris simply pointed to the Wood Spirit. "Attack"
Without so much of a sound, the shadowy Temple Shooter unleashed a cone of flame from its crossbow. Unable to respond, the Wood Spirit let out a deafening cry as it was engulfed in fire. Once he finished attacking the Temple shooter disappeared as quickly as it arrived. But it had done its job. The Wood Spirit's leaves burned away as its bark began to peel.
Artemis began to shoot at the monster as she chipped away at its body. Andris followed suit by summoning a fire pillar to drown the Wood Spirit in even more flames. With the monster in a weakened state, Bella moved in for the killing blow.
"Sept Etoiles!" She shouted as she stabbed away at whatever remained of the Wood Spirit. Under their unending assault, the monster was reduced to nothing but splinters and ash.
Letting out a sigh of relief, Bella turned to the sorcerer. "That was amazing Andris. Your training with Catherine is really paying off." Bella said with a smile.
Andris blushed but Artemis wasn't prepared to give the young man a similar compliment. "Don't forget why we're here" She said as she walked up to the corrupted Tree Root Crystal. With a few more shots, the crystal broke releasing a black cloud. The shattered pieces fell into the fountain and began to dissolve.
"We should hurry back and check if the rest of the guild is okay" Bella said.
"I'll be there soon. I'm just going to see if I can find any clues about the curse." Andris said as he stayed back. Once the two were out of sight, he approached the fountain. Bending down, Andris picked up a piece of the broken tree root crystal and put it in an enchanted pouch.
When Andris returned, he saw the rest of his guild released from Naktis' curse. Though looking at the group, it seemed no one was celebrating. Andris moved towards the group and stood beside Catherine.
"Andris? Were you able to find anything?" Bella asked as she finally noticed the sorcerer. Andris merely shook his head no. A concerned look swept across Bella's face. "We need to figure out what's going on." She said.
Siegfried looked just as concerned as he rubbed his forehead. "I still say the Saalus Convent may have some answers. But I'm worried about the curse on Altar Way." He said.
"Why don't you let me go to the convent?" The guild turns to Delphi as she steps forward. "These curses have been affecting my predictions. But Saalus Convent is holy ground so I might be able to get a clear reading."
Bella and Siegfried look at each other and seem to come to an agreement. "That could work. But I can't just send you on your own." Bella said to the oracle.
"I wouldn't mind getting a break from this mess." Scarlett said as she grabbed her bag. "Come on Delphi, the sooner we get to the convent the better."
Bella seemed happy to have a volunteer. "Okay then. If you learn anything, get back to us as soon as possible."
Delphi gave Bella a gentle nod. "I should be able to see something within a day or so. Until then, safe travels." She said.
"And to you as well Delphi, Scarlett" Bella replied. And with that, the two groups went their separate ways for now.