|The Temple of Soliris|
Final chapter of "Land of the Sleeping Sun" by Marlin Frey, Arch Caves Explorer
Magic – a dirty word in pirate ears. Their distaste for scholarly pursuits, inflamed by superstitious phobias that have snowballed down the generations, render your average cut-throat about as likely to attend a philosophical lecture delivered by Sanfew's chief magistrate as dabble in arts of divine invocation. Yet it was not always so. Pirate legend tells of a mighty mage shipwrecked and enslaved, the building of a temple to Soliris Sun Brother, ill-fated expedition deep into Heerchey Caves and buried treasure still ripe for the plunder.
Eighty score years ago and more, some say, stormy rains from the west blasted the isles of Remer, Dearn and all the surrounding seas, like a flight of drunken pixies on a reckless killing spree. Hence my ancestor to Skull Island came, his ship bullied off course by wind and broken on heartless rock; for Esteban Frey was his name, a mage of renown ensnared by elemental rage.
The pirates did not treat him well, for Nature's intemperance had quickened the venom that flowed through their veins. He was shackled, his fine robes torn from his quivering frame, then wreathed in pungent rags and cast into a pit that served as a prison. "Make him a pet for our sport," some said. Others less playful growled "Leave him for dead!" But their captain was a hard yet practical man. He set Esteban to toil in rain-drenched fields by day, and by night returned him to his pit, exhausted and ill-fed.
Thirty nights of storm eroded what passed for civilisation on this sickly isle, made ruins of once-proud houses, jetties, brigantines and barracks, and Esteban weakened with each passing day. Finally, driven by desperation, he resolved to flee. He turned on his guards in the sodden fields and, invoking elemental magic, whose secrets Father Time has long-since devoured, engulfed them in sheets of flame that burst from his palms. Lionhearted he ran for the sea, determined to swim to his death if needs be... yet Esteban's body was drained, and his mind needed time to work further enchantment, and the dock guards were strong and well-fed, and blessed with arachnid vigilance.
Naked in chains they flung him before their captain, who seethed in muted fury behind a bristling black beard. "Tell me truly, if for life you still have a care," he menacingly drawled, "how did infernal flame spring from such foppish hands?"
"Fire creates, shapes and destroys," Esteban stammered. "I am a Fire Mage and Soliris is my god. I am a vessel for his elemental fury... and that power could be yours if you spare my life... if you release me from captivity."
The captain considered for a while then said: "I've seen your fire burn and destroy my men. If you can use it to make and change things too, I'll strike a bargain with thee: your life and good treatment for as long as you work for me. But I’ve heard more wild boasts than you've drawn hot baths, and I'm no man to countenance fancy landlubbers who paint the truth bright to suit their own ends, who pose and preen with words like prissy peacocks. Show me actions, not words! If you are what you say then calm this endless storm. Change this hellish rain, make the sun shine out again!"
Esteban despaired, for such a feat had never been recorded in the history of men. Playing for time, he pled for a week to pray for his god’s aid in this impossible task, which the captain granted, curious to see what powers Esteban might marshal knowing his very life depended on it.
For a week, like a bedraggled hermit, Esteban endured in his pit, praying each day until sleep overwhelmed him, deaf to the insults and curses his captors spat down to revile him, pausing only to gnaw on stale bread and black onions a lackey let slip to sustain him. And no answer that he could discern emerged from darkness to relieve his despair. Soliris seemed muted and quenched by eternal rain.
The week that had felt so long yet passed so quickly ended when Esteban was hauled from his pit by his stringy arms, into the dismal grey of another stormy dawn. Out of darkness, he stumbled and wept as the dim light burnt his eyes and rain clouds mourned him. An entourage bristling with many curved blades escorted him to the end of a proud oak jetty, which lanced a hundred yards into the roaring sea. The pirate captain, posing safely at the jetty's drier end, bellowed his commands in a voice that even the breathtaking winds could not strangle.
"Call to Soliris, little man! Show us the way! Should we worship your god... or spit at his name like the puny phantom he seems? If your god is real then why do storm clouds mock him? Show us your power, little man, or throw yourself from the jetty... consign your lies to rot in the arse of the sea!"
Raising both palms to the sky in the manner of the ancient sun-worshippers, Esteban closed his eyes, tightened his breath, and reached to the heavens with his heart. And then, just as many a minstrel since has sung, the impossible occurred. While all around blasted and churned, a shimmering blur began to seep through a gap between overlapping clouds. That was the beginning:
"Ochre light spoiled through in patches and the winds half-hushed in awe,
Suddenly rogues could hear their own surprise as waves withheld their roars.
Greyest clouds began to lighten, lesser greys grew bleached with gold,
And the eldest then remembered wondrous stories they’d been told.
In an hour the skies lay scattered and the sun had broken through,
And the seas forgot their anger and the lands seemed born anew.
Crystal colours gleamed in sodden fields as winds lost speed of voice,
For their force transferred to Esteban, who in fresh faith rejoiced."
- Extract from 'Child of the Sun' by The Lonely Bard
For Esteban, this was truly a new beginning. The pirates rejoiced with a passion that outshone even their lust for cruelty. His robes were mended and returned to him, handmaidens washed his body, and Esteban was accorded a place of honour beside the captain in the feast of celebration that followed. The change that befell the pirates was breathtaking, for within three years they had constructed a monument that dwarfed even the captain’s magnificent mansion: a pillar of gold that kissed the heavens, surrounded by a vast circular courtyard, walled in by a dozen curving halls of prayer and worship that formed an outer circle. Such was the first and last Temple to Soliris ever to be built on Skull Island, with Esteban invested as High Priest.
In the years that followed, the pirates of Skull grew wise in magical lore and, under Esteban’s guidance and the auspices of Sun Brother Soliris, they crafted mighty orbs of summoning, the like of which have never since been seen. For fire’s creative power burned so brightly in these orbs that the creatures which sprang to life from them were not monsters but men of great fury. Esteban, though now a pirate himself, deeply regretted the use to which these orbs would surely be put, for many on Skull would gladly murder a mainlander merely to steal a lump of coal. Thus he secretly worked gold into each fiery orb, along with a creative flame that – when activated - would morph this gold into treasure. For if pirates were to spring from summoning orbs and treasure appear among them, Esteban reasoned their first passions would more likely be expressed among themselves than vented on the nearest prospering town.
Seven years had passed since the day of divine miracle when Esteban, now married to a native of Skull named Rukia, discovered his wife was with child and that he would become, for the first time, a father. That very night, a brutal storm struck the island, the worst any had seen in seven years and Rukia, fearing this was a terrible omen, wept for the future of her unborn child.
Her husband rushed to the temple to pray and it was here that Soliris revealed himself to Esteban for the first and only time. For, in his mind’s eye, the High Priest perceived the figure of a distant dragon wreathed in flame, and the words of Soliris burned into Esteban’s brain, and welded into his memory, and thus he set them down:
"Seven years ago, I answered your prayers, yet not for your sake alone. I showed my power that you might temper Skull’s shadows with light. This you have done, yet more must be accomplished, and it shall most certainly be accomplished, if not by you then by your heirs and those to whom destiny binds them. On Syrnia there lies a hidden land, which none for centuries have seen, a land from which light has been banished. Deep within the Arch Caves of Heerchey, there once ran a path to this land, but then earth quaked and rock fell; the path was blocked, the way was lost, the darkness smothered the light. I hereby charge you with a quest of Shaping Flame: find the path, clear the way, bring light into darkness."
So brightly shone Esteban in the pirates' overcast eyes that many, even the captain, believed every word of his vision. Accordingly, Esteban set sail with his wife, his handmaidens and two dozen pirates, comprising both warriors and priests, for the isle of Heerchey. With them they took many orbs of summoning and chests laden with treasure to trade with the denizens of the Forgotten Land. And that was the last any pirate on Skull ever saw of the ship, the crew, or its treasures.
As months passed by without word, fury fermented in the pirate captain’s heart and blotted out all but his blackest thoughts. He could not have known that Esteban’s arrival on Heerchey had been well documented by the natives of that land. Nor could he have seen his expedition marching dutifully into the caves, having left behind only Esteban’s wife and unborn child, never to return from the bowels of the earth. Soon, all he could know was that he’d been parted from a great portion of his wealth and all he could see was blatant treachery. In a whirlwind fit of rage, he ordered the destruction of the temple and that its great pillar of gold be melted down and reshaped into ingots and coins to compensate for his loss. And, since that time, contempt and distrust of enchanters has grown stronger than ever in the hearts and minds of pirates.
Yet there were some whose faith endured and who still dared whisper, from time to time, that one day their temple would be rebuilt and that Esteban would return, bearing unearthly tales and marvellous treasures from the Forgotten Land.
This has been the tale of my ancestors and of everything ever documented by men about the Forgotten Land, named in some tales as 'Land of the Sleeping Sun'. I intend to honour my ancestors by completing the quest they began many centuries ago. Before winter hardens and freezes the earth, I shall delve into the Arch Caves with a company of seasoned explorers. For it is my intention to find what remains of my ancestors, even if it be only their bones, and to discover the hidden path, and to clear the way to a land long lost to Syrnia.
For I know in my heart that these tales are true, that there is such a land, and that my family's destiny and the fate of all Syrnians who believe in Sun Brother Soliris will lead to its discovery. If I do not send word to the surface before winter's fall, you may take it that I have failed, and fallen, and that my quest must pass to others with fire in their hearts – be they ogres, elves or men.
Riddle: "The man who built it doesn't want it, the man who bought it doesn't need it & the man who uses it doesn't know it."
Answer: A coffin or Syrnia.
[W] 19:41 Crystal[A.D.]: You have married Karisade!