The Incredible Yet Accurate Adventures of the Dread Pirate Captain Solaire Ravenheart,
Otherwise known as
The Adventures of Solaire
Part IV: The Clockwork Temple i
50 years ago, the Kellian philosopher Ero Tamakiani became interested in what he called “meta-academics”, that is, the process and science of people understanding and learning. After several years of experiments, research, and general thinking, he published The Scholar’s Guide to Expanding Your Intellect and the central lesson contained within was a phrase he repeated often both throughout the book and in person: “the quickest way to teach a child to swim is to throw them in the deep end.” It was a claim he was eager to defend. Anyone who pressed him on the subject was liable to become buried in evidential rhetoric fired off in rapid succession. Proving this became his life goal.
Unfortunately, he decided the quickest way to do this was to take a group of baby gibbon monkeys and throw them off of a bridge. And if this was a private affair, history might have been willing to forgive this little hiccup. After all, murdering animals is far from the worst thing ever done in the name of science. But he did this in broad daylight, on a very busy bridge, after shouting at the top of his lungs “hey everybody, look at this!” And baby gibbon monkeys are very, very cute creatures.
So a trial had to be had. A public trial, at that. Now, Kellian law allows the defense to put forward a claim without the consent of the defendant, so the defense decided to plead that their client was far to stupid to realize what he was doing. In response, the prosecution procured a simple “Create Campfire” spell scroll and told the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that if the defendant could read, comprehend, and utilize the spell contained upon it then surely he was intelligent enough to understand the implications of his actions. Ero readily agreed, preferring to go to jail than be a dunce, but he stuttered on the third line of the incantation. Because of this he summoned a roaring funeral pyre centered on the spot he was seated instead of the simple campfire he was attempting to create and immolated himself within seconds, both proving his innocence and rendering the whole point moot simultaneously.
The incident was so embarrassing that most booksellers and librarians quietly destroyed any works by Ero (intact copies are so rare nowadays that my three copies of The Scholar’s Guide could probably fetch me a sum close to that paid for River Ravenheart, if sold to the right people), and Ero’s legacy was recorded not by the pages of scientific discovery but instead by a hundred slightly tipsy lawyers trying to prove that law is not, in fact, a boring career choice they are repenting at their leisure in following.
Why am I telling you this? Because I find the whole story rather tragic, as I think Ero was onto something. Not about the buoyancy of baby animals, obviously, but about human nature. We are very adaptable creatures, far, far more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for, and the best way to harness that adaptability is to force ourselves to utilize it. Yes, there may be the occasional dead monkey along the way, but we come out the deep end much better for it. I encourage those of an intellectual bent to consider the possibility while reading the following three sections of Solaire’s story.
Weiss had a smile on his face as he moved down the hallway, a very expensive gold and ivory cigarette holder hanging out of the smirk of his mouth. “Arse-faced?” he asked. “Solaire really said zat?”
Winthrop, shuffling behind him, nodded. “According to the accounts.”
Weiss chuckled and slotted another cigarette into the holder before lighting it.
“Should I put the order in to have him publicly punished?” Winthrop enquired.
“Hmm? Of course not. Zis incident undoubtedly built camaraderie and morale amonghst our ‘volunteers.’ Ve vant zem to vork togezer, so zis is good. Plus, seperatink zem from ze crew is probably a good idea in general.”
“As you wish, sir.”
Wiess exhaled a long plume of smoke as they approached a large hatched door in the underbelly of the ship. “Are zey all here?”
Weiss smiled. “Excellent.” He waited as Winthrop took ahold of the wheel and spun it, unlocking the door and swinging it open wide to allow Weiss to enter first. He did so, entering to a small room where Austin and Tomo were standing to attention while Skyler was twirling one sword while it was hooked to the blade of the other.
“And if I do this, then I have the benefits of an extended reach and the element of surprise,” he said, lazily spinning the weapon around its twin.
Willaby’s eyes went wide. “Fascinating.”
“Still seems like a lot of work to do less than a pistol can,” Solaire mumbled.
Weiss cleared his throat.
Skyler grabbed the handle of his other sword and sheathed them as the three men, slightly reluctantly, turned towards the sound of their boss.
“Glad to see ve are all gettink along so vell.” He smiled, warmth nowhere to be found in the expression. “Zis is good, for today you vill go on your firsht job for me. Aren’t you excited?”
“Woo” Solaire muttered with all the enthusiasm of a man cheering on drying paint.
“Zat’s ze spirit! Nov, ve are approaching ze Isle of Delphine. In its center lies a shtructure known as ‘Ze Clockvork Temple.’ You are to enter ze temple, nafigate ze halls, and retriefe an armored gauntlet for me.”
Skyler raised an eyebrow. “A gauntlet? You have a whole palace floating here, and you want a metal glove?”
A twinkle formed in Weiss’ eye. “It is a very schpecial glofe.”
“How do we know if we found it?” Willaby asked.
“Zis vhole temple vas built to hide it, so it schould be ze obfious sing in ze center.”
“Can we just get this over with?” Solaire grumbled.
“Yes you can! Tomo, you shtill remember ze vay, correct?”
He nodded. “I do.”
“Zen feel free to shtart vhenever! Ve’ll be here, vaiting for you to come back.” The predatory grin returned to his face one more time. “Good luck gentlemen, somesink tells me you’re goink to need it.”
The Isle of Delphine was named after Delphine of Acria, a woman of myth who was so cold and uncaring that she literally turned to stone. Presumably, this is why the long, rocky outcropping continuously buffeted by the harsh waves and stinging cold of the whiping salt-filled winds of the sea was named after her. My own visits have confirmed that this moniker is fitting.
The monolith that was The Emperor casino ship needed only to anchor alongside a crescent curving of the shore to block the incoming waves and create a calm harbor to lower Solaire and the others in a small wooden rowboat. At this point, they had rowed it to the shore, disembarked the small vessel, and were now hiking up the sharp rocks, lead by Tomo.
“Just a bit further,” he shouted over the sound of the wind. “Once we round that peak we’ll be there.”
“How do you know where it is?” Solaire shouted back.
“I led another group here once with the same mission. I did not accompany them inside.”
“Too chicken?” Solaire taunted.
Tomo shook his head. “Weiss told me to return once I had taken them there.”
“What happened to the other group?” Skyler asked.
“They never returned. We assumed they died inside.”
“Great,” Skyler complained. “Then what makes Weiss think we’ll do any better?”
“They only had a wizard,” Tomo replied. “We have a sorcerer.”
Willaby gave a cough. “That’s very flattering and all, but I’m not sure that you should rely on me as an upgrade.”
“Wasn’t planning on relying on you,” Solaire assured him.
Skyler gave him a reaffirming pat on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, We’ll go in, get the glove, get back out. Piece of cake.”
The group took a turn around the ledge they were following and came face to face with a gigantic set of brass doors, close to twenty feet high. Intricate details lined the exterior, with beautiful depictions of angels, demons, fairies, and large tentacled monstrosities fighting each other up and down the length of its surface. In the center was a giant capital ‘A’ adorned with full feathered eagle wings, and underneath that was a flowing delicate script written in a foreign language.
“We are here,” Tomo said.
Solaire rolled his eyes. “Thanks for letting us know.”
Tomo gave him a polite bow. “You are welcome.”
Willaby stared up at the strange words. “That’s… High Veqekian. Long dead language. Wonder what it says.”
Tomo glanced up. “It reads: ‘Herein lies the Clockwork Temple, designed by the Titans and protected by the Order of Archangels. Trespassers, leave now while you still possess your lives.’”
Skyler raised an eyebrow at Tomo. “You know High Veqekian?”
He shrugged. “I read to pass the time.”
“Great, fascinating,” Solaire interrupted. “How do we get them open?”
“The doors are not locked, but they are heavy.” Tomo turned to Austin. “Would you please assist us?”
Austin grinned and cracked one side of his neck and then the other before placing his massive hands on either side of the doors, leaning forward, and shoving. The metal gave a loud, protesting groan as it scraped along the stone. Giving it one last push to force the doors open wide, Austin stood, made a show of wiping his hands off, and then presented the now open doors with a grand gesture. “After you.”
The other four did so (ever-paranoid Solaire watching Austin out of the corner of his eye) as they stepped inside a metal room constructed in the shape of a hexagon, the sound of the roaring waves fading away and replaced by the chorus of ticking, tocking, and various other sounds of mechanical contraptions. At each of the six walls, a closed door was flanked on either side by two columns. The area was bereft of decoration, with the exception of a statue of a knight in armor kneeling with his hands outstretched, waiting to receive something, and two small pillars next to him, a miniature statue of an imp on one and an angel on the other.
Austin reached into the inside of his big white coat, withdrew a torch the size of a man’s arm, and dragged it across the ground to light it. He held it above his head and let the light illuminate the area. “Gotta say, this wasn’t what I was expecting when I heard the words ‘Clockwork Temple’.”
Skyler pointed down to the feet of the kneeling knight, where more Veqekian words were scrawled. “Tomo, can you read those?”
Tomo squinted. “I believe it says ‘If you do not understand what you see in front of you, you will surely die before you find what you seek. We give you one last chance to turn back.’”
Willaby looked from the imp to the angel, scratching his head. “Alright, I’ll admit it. I’m lost.”
“It’s a very over-the-top password system,” Solaire explained. “Obviously, what we have to do is put the right statue into his hands. That should unlock one of these doors.”
“And then we get the glove?” Willaby asked hopefully.
Solaire scoffed. “Don’t be stupid. There’ll be more past that point. No one’s going to hide something behind a single 50-50 chance.”
“Ah. Right.” Willaby’s face went red as he stared at the ground.
“Well, seems obvious enough to me.” Austin stepped forward and snatched the statue of the angel off the pedestal.
“Wait!” Soliare hissed. “Let’s think about this.”
Austin looked at him. “What is there to think about? Archangel, angel. Pretty self explanatory.”
Solaire nodded. “Exactly. It’s too obvious.”
Austin narrowed his eyes, as if he was concentrating on reading a book where all the words had at least three syllables. “So… you agree with me?”
“No!” Soliare rubbed his eyes. “Look, they obviously want people to not get what’s inside here, right? The best way to do that would be to put forward a choice that seems so right no one would question it and then trigger a trap when they do so.”
Austin thought about it for a moment. “Nope, don’t get it.”
Solaire growled in frustration.
“I understand Solaire’s statement…” Tomo said.
“Thank you!” Solaire exclaimed.
“...but I do not agree with it,” he continued. “I think you are overthinking the problem.”
Skyler shrugged. “Gotta say, I agree with Tomo on this one. I mean, look at this place Solaire. Seems pretty obvious that these Archangel people cared a lot more about making the place look nice than thwarting thieves.”
Solaire turned to Willaby.
“I… I like the angel,” Willaby stammered.
“Right! So it's settled!” Austin took the angel statue and placed it in the knight’s hands. As soon as he did so, the hands of the knight statue animated and curled around the object placed inside and the door immediately to the right of the group opened with a grinding sound.
As the other four moved towards the now-open entryway, Solaire grabbed the angel statue and tried to pull it out of the knight’s hands. It refused to budge.
“You coming?” Skyler asked.
Solaire glared at the group. “Fine. But only because you’ll get yourselves killed in whatever deathtrap that is without me and I’m not finished with any of you yet.”
Austin laughed as Solaire continued inside with the rest of them. “That’s the spirit!”
Inside was a large square room, still done in brass metal, with a colossal angel statue in the center, holding up an enormous piece of cut crystal. At the top of the walls were metal shutters, currently closed, but with sunlight outside just barely visible, and across the room was a door with a knob and a keyhole.
Austin strode confidently up to the door. “See! Nothing to worry…” he gripped the handle and turned, but the smile faded on his face when the door refused to open.
There was a loud “SHUNK SHUNK” as the door behind them shut and the metal shutters snapped open, streaming in bright white light. The angel statue in the center began to spin slowly, rising as it did so, raising the crystal piece into the light and directing a beam of it into the back of the room. A sliver of it landed on Skyler’s hand, causing his skin to turn red and blister. He yelped and lept back.
“Gods and demons, that’s as hot as a fire!”
“What did I tell you?!” Solaire yelled. He ran over to the door and peered through the keyhole. “There’s an actual lock here, but it’s no pushover. I can pick it if you give me time.”
“How much time?” Tomo asked.
“I don’t know, time!” He frantically patted his pockets down before withdrawing a small sewing needle. “Mother… fine, you’ll have to do.” He put his ear up to the lock and began to wiggle around the small metal instrument.
Skyler turned to Willaby. “Can you stop it?”
“Um… I… uh…” he took out the wooden rod Weiss had gave him, tried to figure out which way to turn it, then pointed it at the crystal. “I command you to STOP!”
A small bouquet of flowers sprouted from the top of his wand.
“Heh.” He blushed and ripped the plants off of the end. “Let me try that again.”
Tomo grabbed Skyler’s shoulder. “Do you think you can climb to the top of those shutters and try to close them with me?”
“And get burnt up?” he protested.
Tomo shook his head. “That is regular sunlight. The crystal makes it deadly. But if we can close the shutters, there will be no light for the crystal to weaponize.”
“Right.” Skyler unsheathed his hook swords and took a running leap towards the angel statue, hooking an outstretched arm and spinning himself upwards, unhitching himself at the top of the arch to hurl himself at the left set of shutters. Tomo climbed onto the statue as well, hoisting himself higher and higher until he was level with the other set of shutters, where he leapt across and grabbed onto the metal slats.
Once the two were off, Austin roared and bear-hugged the angel statue, digging in his feet in an attempt to stop it from rising. The stone gave a protesting “GRRRrrrRRRRrrr” as its progress was stopped.
The white light was now covering the back quarter of the room. Willaby pointed his rod back at the crystal and grimaced. “Arcanum, ipsum… abracadabra!” A sudden shrieking howl sounded as several glittering projectiles arched around the room, exploding in a shower of stars and thunder like fireworks, none even coming close to their target.
Solaire jumped, dropping the needle. “Depths damn you, sorcerer!” he swore as he scrambled for it, “Either help or do us all a favor and step into that death beam!”
“I’m trying to help!” Willaby shouted.
“Really?” Solaire called back. “How ‘bout you take me up on that second offer then?”
The light inched a few more paces forward and Willaby yelped as it hit his backside, causing his clothes to smoke.
Skyler, meanwhile, was leaning back, sword secured to the metal slit. He began kicking the shutters in frustration. “I don’t think this is working Tomo!”
Tomo, holding onto his own set, nodded. “I would have to agree.”
“Solaire…” Austin groaned. “Hurry up. I can’t… hold this… much… longer…”
“C’mon, c’mon.” Solaire fished the needle upwards, prompting a small *click*. He swung the door open. “Inside, now!”
Willaby ran for it, practically bowling Solaire over as he did so. Skyler and Tomo jumped onto the angel, hanging on to slow their descent, before leaping into the open door. Austin, seeing that everyone else was safe, let go and broke into a sprint for the door frame as the angel, no longer held back by a large grunzen, began to spin upwards rapidly, causing the deadly light to sweep over the room at a rapid rate, nipping at Austin’s heels the entire time. Austin dived in and Solaire stepped in and slammed the door shut a half second before the light washed over doorway.
The group, now panting, turned to look around at the tiny, cramped room they were smushed into. At least, they tried to. It was far too dark for any of them to see.
“Well…” Skyler spoke, “what now?”
As if on cue, there was a sudden CLACK as the room shook for a second, then slowly began to move amidst the sounds of loud clicking and whirring. It stopped, jostling the occupants inside, then the door Solaire was next to opened and the group spilled out into a larger space…
...that happened to be the room leading from the entrance.
The same room where they just started from.
Skyler pounded the ground with his fist. “Dammit!”
Solaire got off the ground and brushed himself off. “Well now, have we all established that I know what I’m talking about after that little screw-up?”
“It might be a screw up,” Austin said, standing up, “OR maybe we picked the right one and that was the first choice in a long combination.” He gave a confident smile, obviously proud of the conclusion he came to.
“That is incorrect. Look,” Tomo pointed at the words written on the ground, “the script has changed. It now reads ‘Congratulations if you survived. The next trap is inescapable. Leave now before another wrong choice kills you.’”
Austin’s face fell. “Oh.”
“That’s not all that’s changed.” Willaby scrambled over to the statues. Now, instead of a knight, there was a man dressed in the elaborate clothes of a noble, bent over into the same kneeling position, and the small figures on the pedestal were now a hunched man in tattered robes, face hidden by a hood, and a young child enthusiastically banging a drum almost as big as himself.
Skyler walked up beside him. “So, we have to pick again. Well…”
Solaire loudly cleared his throat. All the members of the group turned to look at him.
“Before any of you go locking us into an inescapable death trap,” he stated, “would anyone mind if I go ahead and pick the right answer?”
“What makes you so sure you can?” Tomo questioned.
“I picked the lock. I broke Weiss’ little slot machine. And I correctly predicted the last answer.” He stepped forward to face the noble statue. “If I’m qualified to do anything, it’s to cheat the system.”
Tomo turned to Skyler and Willaby. Skyler just shrugged.
“Austin?” Tomo asked.
“Eh, let’s see if he does any better” Austin replied.
Solaire looked at the noble, then the man in robes, then the child, then back to the noble. After a minute of thought, he picked up the statue of the robed man and placed it in the noble’s hands.
Like before, the noble’s hands immediately clasped around the figurine and a door, this time to their ahead right, opened.
Solaire strolled over to it, turned, and motioned to it with an outstretched arm. “Well?”
With only the slightest amount of hesitation, the group filed into the room. Once everyone else was inside, Solaire stepped in as well, the door shutting with a loud “SHUNK!” once he did.
This room was smaller, barely thirty feet across, with a low ceiling and open vents at the bottom. And most concerningly, no door on the other side.
A long hissing sound was emitted as the vents began to spill forth a foul smelling smoke, the odor of which resembled something close to a combination of metallic blood and rotten eggs.
“Depths damn it” Skyler moaned.
“What do we do?!” Austin demanded, spinning around in a panic and bumping into the walls. “There’s no doors, where do we go?!”
“I have a plan! Willaby stand over there,” Soliare shouted, pointing to the area where the door they entered from had been. “Everyone else, to this wall, with me!” He strode over to the opposite wall as everyone took their places.
Willaby looked across at Solaire. “N-now what?”
Solaire took out the Ivory River and pointed it at Willaby. “First, we kill the useless one to conserve air.”
Willaby’s eyes went wide with shock and he gasped, inhaling a trail of the sour smoke. He gagged, then coughed, then began to hack and heave, pounding his chest and turning red, then redder, then even more red, until he began to literally shed red light.
Austin furrowed his brow. “Wait a minute…”
A huge KA-BOOM! erupted as Willaby, in every connotation of the word, exploded, releasing a shockwave of fire and ash, blowing out the wall behind him in a shower of metal shrapnel. Soliare stepped through the smoke cloud and back into the entrance room, uttering a “thank you” as he moved past Willaby.
Willaby flopped onto the floor, crawling forward, still wheezing, as the others moved around him to get back to the hexagon room.
“What the hell was that?!” Skyler demanded, fury in his voice.
“I figured the sorcerer could get us out, given a push in the right direction,” Solaire answered in a calm tone.
“And what were you going to do if it didn’t work?!”
“Dunno.” Soliare shrugged. “We didn’t have to find out, did we?” he called over to Willaby.
Willaby drew himself up to his knees and vomited.
Solaire made a face of disgust. “Eugh.”
There was a loud CLACK and the sound of more precise machinery from all around as the noble and the two pedestals slowly sunk into the floor, only to be replaced by a kneeling king and the figurines of a knight with large butterfly wings protruding from his back and a raggedy beggar doing a polite tip of the hat.
Skyler looked at the new choices and gave a long, exasperated groan. “Oh c’mon!”
Austin stomped over to the butterfly knight and grabbed it.
“Stop you moron!” Soliare grabbed onto Austin’s arm, which was about as useful as a caterpillar grabbing onto a squirrel and attempting to slow it down.
“It doesn’t fucking matter which one we pick, so might as well throw a random one on there.” He started to place the knight into the king’s hands.
Solaire snatched it, fast enough to grab it away. “Yes it does, and that is very obviously the wrong choice!”
“How the hell would you know? You screwed up the last one!”
“And you screwed up the first one!”
“I fail to see how that makes your choice any more logical,” Tomo remarked.
“Give it!” Austin grabbed for the statue and Solaire darted away, keeping it just out of his reach.
Willaby crawled on all fours towards the center of the floor. “Wa… wa…”
Skyler stepped in behind Solaire and grabbed the statue from behind, twirling the two of them around like dancers on a ballroom floor. “Solaire, stop this.”
Austin drew back a fist and held it there. “Just get him to stop in front of me, Skyler. I’ll punch his lights out.”
“Austin, don’t!” Tomo exclaimed. “You’ll probably kill him.”
Austin squinted an eye to improve his aim. “To be honest with you, I don’t really see that as a downside right now.”
“I can not allow you to do that” Tomo stated, stepping in front of the large man.
“Water…” Willaby gasped. “I need… I need…”
“Move!” Austin shoved Tomo, forcing the man to stumble backwards into the locked pair of Skyler and Solaire. Skyler tripped forward, knocking Solaire over with him, both men losing their grip on the statue as it slid across the ground, behind the group, over to Willaby, where it landed with a splash.
The melee stopped as everyone registered the sound, looked at each other, then over to Willaby, who was kneeling on the floor that seemed to have been transformed into a shallow pool of fresh, clear…
“Water?!” Willaby cried, excitement in his eyes.
There was a rush of wind and a sinking drop in the pit of everyone’s stomach as the water, along with everyone on it, succumbed to the force of gravity and fell into the depths of the Clockwork Temple.