The Quartz-Quelled Quandary

            I want to forget last night.

            The rain fell as rain is wont to do. It cleansed and revitalized the ground below, and rose the waters. The rivers stirred as veins sending blood towards a wound.

            A heron croaked from a rocky ledge near the slough, and flew away from its perch. Silence followed. A moose braved the shallow reeds, and a sun-kissed merfox jumped in the distance.

            How could I let that woman seduce me?

            Tarps had risen over the main streets of the Slough Inlet. Ground had hardened under the downpour. The townspeople were accustomed to the rain, in the northern wetlands.

            She's talented, yet I should never have let her get that far!

            Two young men walked in dry clothes beneath the tarps. Adults smiled at them as they passed, and a stray dog approached to have its ears rubbed. All was quiet and peaceful, beneath the rain.

            "Hail, to the great bards of Haeville!" a matronly woman praised. "May you stay but one more night within our tavern?"

            "Peace to you and yours," the short man replied. "Alas, we would love to. But we have been charged to make haste to the capital." We would be wasted upon these people.

            My thoughts need clarity, the larger man was impatient, "Come, Eliash, the temple is up ahead."

            She let them be, Hmmph! The fame has gone to their heads.

            By now, they no longer needed, so much, the mind-cleansing of the Temple's altar to fend off their stupor. The high voice of the middle-aged woman did not torment their senses, as it would have in the early afternoon. And so, they went in faith and longing.

            The acolyte was overjoyed to see them sober and clean.

            The eunuch forced an awkward smile, I want to knock him out like I did to that whore.




           Locks clicked open, in a circle, as acolytes and priests turned keys of silver. The cage of metal vines lifted by a cable of vines upon a pulley. From behind the curling black metal, and ornate fake leaves, was a soft glow.

            The jagged chunk of glowing crystal hung motionless in the air above the sepulcher. Gravity chose to ignore it, and the smaller chunks that were arranged around it.

            A prayer group was seated on the pews that circled the altar, and the floating translucent chunks and shards above it. Among them was a woman and her daughters, from the south; a geriatric man, who looked to be a local; a middle-aged couple, with a small, canine mutt in their lap, and a young girl who sat alone.

            It's magnificent, the eunuch gaped in awe. Rough and natural. Sharp to a point. It's not like the rounded pearl of Haeville's Qurystal.

            His companion, however, was staring blankly at the empty fountains of the altar. I should have brought her with me.

            "How do they perform the marital ceremony without impaling themselves on it?" the eunuch muttered his thoughts under his breath. If I am to marry, it will not be here.

            Fwack!The other bard abruptly smacked his cousin across the face. The old man across from them turned, and began to stare at them.

            "What was that for, Johm?" his cousin asked. Oh, he realized. I'm so insensitive.

            Johm sneered, and turned his attention back towards the empty altar. Will I ever be hers again?

            The diminutive dog on the woman's lap growled.

            The doors at the far end of the sanctuary opened, and a priestess strode in. She was garbed in silvery gray, and strident blue. An alb around her shoulders was stitched with ancient symbols, and a scintillating collection of white-tipped tails of the red merfox. A clay jug, painted with blue symbols, was in her hands.

            "Silence," she ordered in a stern, commanding voice.

            The man and wife stopped bickering. The bards looked up. The girl fidgeted with her bruised kneecap, and her disheveled hair.

            Set me free of this guilt... please...

            Water poured from the jug, into the central vat of the altar. And then the priestess withdrew one of the three orange day-lilies that were tucked into her bun of graying auburn hair. It dropped gracefully upon the fountain as the last drops fell, and it began to pool into the lower vats that circled the altar's pinnacle. Light from the Qurystals was reflected in the dripping fountain.

            They watched, in quiet observance.

            "You may now toss your offerings into the altar."

            The mutt barked enthusiastically.

            From their seats, each member of the prayer group tossed a single crownlet. Glints of brown and silver metal pieces flew towards. The southerners had been generous, throwing silver. And the nickel and copper pieces of the humble townspeople, fell dimly beside them. Even Johm threw a copper crownlet, its hollow center puddling over as it gently sank.

            Last to soar, a generous and shining crownlet of quartz was thrown from the eunuch's hand. It severed the stem of the flower, and rolled along the water to the edge of the vat, where it slipped down into a lower bowl, of the limestone sepulcher. The engravings upon the coin had been etched with diamond on the rim of the crown's form.

            The Qurystal flickered its pale blue light, and then took on a rich, purple hue that matched the quartz.

            The priestess paced around the altar, counting under her breath. She made sure to count precisely where each coin had landed, and in which it had first fallen.

            The dog growled again.

            And her tempered features creased into a frown, "I must consult the scriptures, before I make a reading of the crownlets. It is seldom that gold is thrown in this town, let alone quartz," her face turned red, "I know not its value!"

            Johm looked over at Eliash, May your generosity foretell great tidings. And mend my broken heart.

            Qurr! the eunuch's stomach knotted with regret. That was over a fifth of what the palace paid me!

            The priestess walked to the aisle of the entranceway, opposite the inner sanctums from whence she came. Then, the priestess came to a stop at a podium, overlooking the sanctuary's center. A drawer slid open, and she took out a scroll. She began to consult it, spreading it across the lectern.

            What have I done? the eunuch wondered, I don't even believe in the readings of the coins! Well, at least Johm does.

            All eyes were upon her, and stopped looking at the eunuch, who they thought must be daft to throw such a generous coinage amongst a minor prayer group. However, fortune, and misfortune, would be upon them all.

            The eyes of the priestess rolled into the back of her head. Black tears began to fall, as fluid obsidian, from the bags beneath them. And a terrible voice began to hiss prophetic words from her lips.

The End

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