City of SeaGate, Temple of Sol. First week in the month of Stormhold (Early Winter)
“I can’t do it!” The adorable red-headed girl stomped her foot and crossed her arms, jaw jutting out in stubbornness. “It just isn’t possible.” She had been here at the temple for almost two years and nothing. All of the children in her class had either been placed as drudges that would never be clergy or found their magic by now. All except her.
“Chrysanthe, I have told you. Another outburst and you’ll get a switching.” the older woman scolded and scowled at her supplicant; she wore a richly cut robe of brilliant yellow with jagged red stripes across the sleeves, and though the girl was dressed similarly, her robe was unrelieved green, common to those who had not even been admitted as acolytes. Supplicants were those not yet accepted into the clergy, and Chrysanthe was the oldest of those remaining. In actuality, she was three years the senior of the next oldest supplicant – a fact she could not ignore. Both the young girl and the woman had their shoulder length hair pulled back into simple ponytails, but where the child’s was flaming red, the older woman’s was black with long streaks of gray. “I don’t understand why you can’t do it. You have the faith, but you just are too stubborn! If you want to direct the God’s power, then you must surrender to him and allow it to flow through you. We are instruments of his will, not he of ours,” the woman lectured. One hand scrubbed her face tiredly. Fifteen years, and no student had ever failed to find the sun’s magic if they were ever going to, not after her rigorous instruction and discipline. Fifteen years, that is, until this hot-headed little sunburst had come in off the streets and ruined her perfect record of instruction. The older priests saw something in her that the instructor did not but in the rigidly organized church all must bow to the will of their seniors. While she had her face covered with her hands the little girl quickly stuck out her tongue and crossed her eyes at her instructor. The priestess looked up quickly and the child’s face took on a perfectly pious and contemplative expression.
The room they occupied was in the upper level of the tower with lofty windows so their God Sol’s light could illuminate the room. The white marble of the floor and walls were polished to near mirror brightness. The result was almost blinding at high sun. As one who desired to become a priestess of Sol, the god of magic and revelation, their attempts to teach her to touch divine power were always done when the sun crowned the sky. It was thought the illumination aided supplicants in being closer to the God. A simple low wooden table held a clear crystal globe which glowed with a dull yellow light. Even the table was hard to see in the brilliance of the smaller sun’s light.
At a gesture from the priestess, they both sat tailor fashion around the globe - the priestess on a small cushion, the child on the floor. “Concentrate on the light, child. You can feel the energy of the God on your skin, feel his warmth filling you, embracing you like a father,” Journey Priestess Agatha said quietly. The mantra of concentration in sunlight continued with the older woman repeating the phrase over and over.
Little Chrysanthe’s bright blue eyes dulled as she faded off. Blinking and nodding, she began to lean backwards. Just before she fell against the ground, a soft snore escaped. She started awake, lying prostrate on the ground with her teacher standing over her, braided leather switch in hand.
The child was forced to repeat the mantra of sunlight, and each time she completed it she was whipped again by her teacher. She didn’t know how many times it happened, but at the end she was wracked by sobs and almost unable to get the words out.
“Now child, we’ve lost the noon sun. You’ll scrub the holy places until your hands are raw, and then go meditate about how disrespectful you’ve been!” Shaking her head and frowning, the older priestess stalked from the room and pulled the little girl by the sleeve of her robes.
For the remainder of the day, Chrysanthe scrubbed the mural of the first sin with a small brush and soapy water. It was formed of large disks, each one a different color, and dust in the grooves made it impossible to see the details. However, after suffering the same punishments over many months, Chrysanthe knew the mural by heart. It showed Luna, the Goddess of the moon and Sol’s sister, crying after she was attacked by the God of Evil who had been disguised as her father. The supplicant’s tears mixed with those of the goddess on the wall as she told the image of her own god, Sol, about all her troubles and how misused she felt, despite only wanting to serve him. She wailed and raged with all the indignant fury of a disciplined child. Her snuffles echoed down the long hallway.
Being sent to her cell without supper was the final straw for the girl. Anger dried her tears, and her pale alabaster skin turned red with fury. She gathered up few belongings, remembering all the play pretties she once had before her parents had sent her to the temple. Her father had sworn an oath; he was an investigator and had prayed hard for a revelation so when it was granted his next born child had to be given to the church. She had been sent here on her sixth birthday with a lot of crying from both parents and her three siblings. The family still visited on feast days and were very encouraged by the huge potential that high priests saw in the girl. That is why she hadn’t been just given to the drudges that would do temple’s scutwork for the rest of their lives, everyone, except Chrysanthe, saw huge potential in her. She was pushed harder than any other supplicant which a child only sees as unfair.
A pillowcase became a backpack, and she snuck out of her small room into the brightly lit hallway. The choir was warming up for the songs of the Light’s Dying, and their voices echoed through the corridors. Soon, the sunset service would begin where followers would wish goodbye to the face of their god, hoping to speed him on his journey around the world to return as the dawn.
The pale stone flooring was polished smooth by the daily work of the acolytes. The torches in their cages, crafted to look like the sun, provided far too much light to sneak. It seemed silly to escape by just walking out the door, but that is exactly what she did. She stepped from the calm and peacefulness of the temple into the riotous market which surged with merchants and travelers. It was the gate of the merchants in the far reach of the great city of SeaGate near the farming districts.
Carts stood in neatly ordered rows in two circles forming the inner corridor of the market space. It took a moment to realize they were arranged to not block either the roadway. Instead, the carts’ neat arrangement guided prospective buyers around the circular walk to all the stalls held by more prosperous merchants. Each cart and each stall had at least one seller of goods hawking their products. The cacophony was deafening, and the wide-eyed child paused for a moment to look around. All kinds of people mixed freely, talking, laughing and arguing over the price of goods. A Cazadore, one of the lion men from the plains, growled disagreement over the price of a meat skewer while a pair of elves tested the craft of a ten-stringed Cythara by plucking it to create a jaunty tune. A vast ogre bodyguard glowered over the head of his merchant employer, tusked fangs making his face ferocious, as three gnomes haggled with a taller and broader bronze-bearded dwarf over a string of amber beads. A cobra-hooded midniss sauroid, who looked like a giant snake with legs and arms, tried on the fit of some armor and pointed to his tail that kept it from going on correctly while the armorer shook his head. All these and dozens more mixed with several ethnicities of human: from the square-bearded and lightly tanned Quedar to dusky skinned Mar’ud with their brilliant clothing and face veils worn in their native deserts, to olive tanned Alliard and even a handful of seemingly giant blond-headed Gorellen warriors who towered over their fellows.
It was a breathtaking sight to the child who had been inside the temple for over two years. Even when her family visited, they took their meals inside the quiet walls instead of out among the chaos and brawl of commerce. She stared for a few moments before remembering this was a desperate escape from bondage and not a sight-seeing trip. The noise and crowd before her was overwhelming, so she dove into the little alleyway behind the merchant stalls. Following it for a ways, she came to a real alley between two buildings. The sunslight was beginning to fade, and the shadows here were deep and the mid-winter breeze had a chill bite.
After walking down the trash strewn way for a while, she realized she didn’t know how to get to her parent’s home. It was in the temple reach in the center of town, so she needed to find the main road. The alleys twisted about like a serpent and the piles of refuse all began to look the same, the only difference being when she stepped over people asleep in the dimness.
“Hello little girl,” a deep voice called from the shadows beneath her. Chrysanthe started in surprise when she heard the person she was stepping over suddenly speak. The human man reeked of drink. When he stood, the shadow beside him slithered. The shadows stepped forward, matching her own steps, and the weak sunlight revealed a bipedal reptile looking much like a scaly flightless bird with two little arms each ending in three clawed fingers and a thick thumb instead of wings. At four feet in height, it was nearly a foot taller than she was, its small birdlike mouth gaped open, and the head tilted to the side as if curious.
“What is in the bag little girl? Is it a present for us?” the man asked, slurring his words like he was slow in the head. The side of his head was burned, and part of his mouth wouldn’t open right, probably accounting for the strange accent.
The lizard creature hopped upward more than its own height, causing Chrysanthe to scream. “Pressssssentssssss? Yess, givessssss them to us!” it hissed and clapped in excitement, hopping again as soon as it landed.
“Please, leave me alone,” she stuttered and continued backing away. “I’ve nothing you want.”
“I’ll just be the judge of that. Give us the bag.” The man walked forward with a dark grin on the side of his face that could smile. A dying ray of reflected off a bit of metal at the top of the alley.
Sunslight! Sol’s light. Chrysanthe continued to back away from the man, but she concentrated on the gleaming ray of light. Never had she poured more of her soul into anything. She mentally called out to Sol, speaking in her mind to him like a child to her father. Suddenly the chill of winter seemed to leave her. She was as warm as if she were laying in the sun on a summer day. Fear left with the cold. The ray of light reflecting off the little piece of metal flared to brilliance. In the shadows of the alley it looked as bright as the sun, as bright as her god.
The man and lizard both cried out and shielded their eyes, but she was not blinded. Sol’s light could never hurt her – never again. In a moment of revelation, she remembered the route that brought her here, and she ran like she’d never run before; she was panting and wheezing by the time she reached the market area near the gate and the temple.
She stood outside the double doors of Sol’s house, trying to catch her breath, and leaned against the sandstone walls. The temple seemed to have absorbed the sun’s heat and warmed her. Composing herself, she tugged open one of the two heavy doors and stepped inside.
There were a handful of worshippers still saying prayers over the ceremonial fire and one sat in deep consultation with a red-robed high priest. The choir had long dispersed, and some acolytes and supplicants were beginning to clean the circular rows of kneeling pads arranged around the holy fire. Journey Priestess Agatha, the mistress of supplicants, directed them with her typical comments muted while in the holy room. The Journey Priestess turned her head towards the sound of door opening, and their eyes met.
“There you are!” Agatha’s yellow robes swished violently against her ankles as she stalked towards the door. “You will be fortunate not to be kicked out into the street for avoiding your time of meditation!”
Young Chrysanthe looked at the older woman coolly. “I’m sorry, but I do not answer to you anymore. I need to speak to the master of the acolytes.”
“He’ll have nothing to do with you until you are admitted to the church. Until then, you answer to me or you are out on your ear!” The long, thin finger waved in the child’s face.
“You’re wrong. Sol admitted me to the priesthood just a few moments ago,” she said with as much dignity as someone her age could muster.
“Now you’re adding blasphemy to your laziness?” The dreaded switch of braided leather pulled from a pocket of the robe began to swing hypnotically.
“Mistress Agatha, what are you doing?” asked a sonorous male voice that echoed about the chamber of the holy flame. A much older man stepped away from the well-dressed woman with whom he had been praying. He patted her reassuringly on the shoulder and said, “Sol’s light guide your way madam” before turning his attention to the little drama playing out by the door.
“High Priest Niketas, this is nothing – just a stubborn and lazy supplicant that should be thrown out of Sol’s House,” Agatha said with asperity.
“We’ll do no such thing. Use the God’s blessing; discern magic.” The man’s normal voice made everything sound like a chant. Agatha nodded and palmed the disk of her holy symbol while speaking the words.
She gasped and stepped away from Chrysanthe. ”What happened? Just a few hours ago you had no more magic than a common nail!” Her voice raised at the end of her exclamation causing those in the temple to look their way with curiosity. A few acolytes and supplicants even stopped their cleaning to see what was happening.
“Sol’s light guided me. I’ve found my faith,” Chrysanthe said through a cat-eating-the-canary grin.
The older man kneeled so he was of height with the girl and wrapped her in a hug, smile beaming through his triangular gray beard. “Welcome, sister, to the priesthood of Sol.”