Ardent Eliot :-) Reinhard

Ardent Eliot :-) Reinhard

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Xanax sat down at the dining room table. She set her tea down in front of her. She looked into it: gray tea in a gray mug on a gray table. Everything that entered her house, except for her red dress and her colorful husband, lost its color eventually.

She sighed, idly looking at the mug. It had a cartoon Wizard on it with the text “EAT, VEX, SLEEP, REPEAT.” Xanax didn’t really know anything about Vex magic. The color had long since faded. She couldn’t recall when she bought it or what color it had been when she had.

Xanax leaned back in her chair. Supposing that enough time had passed, she took her tea bag out and put it on a dish in the center of the table. She examined the room while waiting for it to cool. As always, her gaze had ended up at the same place: the painting that her mother did of her before she died.

Xanax heard Jack come down stairs. She pictured him grabbing the handrails with his long arms and hoisting himself down two steps at a time.

“Hi honey,” he said. Xanax turned towards him.

“Hey,” Xanax said.

Jack approached the front door.

“Are you going somewhere?” Xanax asked.

He turned around to look at her, as if he was caught doing something illicit. Jack was flat and flimsy. Clothes didn’t fit him and he wasn’t very flexible. Illustrated on his face like a tattoo he was born with were two bodies. The bottom of the one on top became the top of the one on the bottom. Two white fleshy shoulders protruded from either side of the top of his body, holding together arms that extended almost all the way to the ground. In each corner of his face was a diamond and a “J,” which stood for his name, “Jack Ofdiamonds.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m seeing my parents for another business meeting.” Jack’s parents were the owners of the Ofdiamonds Casino. Every few tendays, he had a “business meeting” with them, where he would discuss their financial situation. Xanax (unemployed) was never invited.


“I’ll be back later, okay?”


He left, closing the door behind him.


Xanax turned back towards the painting, as if asking the version of herself kept in there to keep her company. Painted Xanax sat on a stool, looking to the left. She had gray skin and shining gray eyes and a fleeting gray look on her face, as if she just missed someone who left before she could tell them something important and didn’t know when she would see them again. Her neck was straight and short and beautiful. Her legs appeared to go all the way to the ground.

In contrast, Xanax floated above the ground, armless, legless, incorporeal. The ugly bend in her long neck twisted her see-through head to the side. She peered out of eyes shaped like “X”s which rested in the upper half of her face above nothing. Her red dress hung below her neck, taking shape around her shoulders. Xanax was caught between empty gray death and the demands of a living body. Her meatless physical form came in and out of being as she required it. Right now, she requires shoulders to wear a dress. In contrast, Xanax in the painting was full, opaque, and expressive.

Sometimes, Xanax felt like the painted one: a copy of something, something “from life,” something frozen.

She took a sip of tea, her hands momentarily taking form around the mug. It was over steeped and too bitter. Unlike the painting, she felt like she had no reason to exist. Nothing to do, and nothing keeping her around. She envied the painting, who had at least one purpose: to be admired.

Someone knocked on the door. Xanax put the mug down. As she approached the door, they knocked again, louder.


She opened the door and averted her eyes. Two shining white strangers were on her doorstep, like no one she had ever seen before.

“Hello,” one said slowly, in a deep voice. He articulated each sound carefully when he spoke, as if he was handling every syllable. “You must be Xanax.”

Xanax witnessed him. In the middle of his shining form was a pair of lips and a set of perfect white teeth, smiling. The other had one eye in his center, bright cyan. Xanax knew who they were, but didn’t dare say it out loud.

“Hello. Yes. I’m Xanax.” She wasn’t sure whether to extend a hand or not.

“I’m %^#* and this is !@#$,” he said. “Is your husband home?”

Her heart sank. Of course they were here for Jack. Xanax was meant for nothing divine. “No. He’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Perfect. Can we come in?”

“Um. Sure.” Xanax opened the door and made way for the two strangers. “Make yourself comfortable. Maybe I can make you some tea? You can wait around here until he is home.”

“No need. We came here for you.”

“Oh.” Xanax let that idea take form in her chest. “Okay.” She led them to the dining room table. “What can I do for you?” !@#$ looked directly at her. %^#* was facing forward at nothing. “Do you want any tea?”

“No, thank you. We won’t be long.”

“Okay.” Xanax looked sheepishly at !@#$. Then, she sat down across from %^#*.

“Listen, Xanax,” %^#* said. “You must leave this place. There is nothing here for you, and soon there will be nothing here at all. Go upstairs and take anything you may need. Then, go to Castle Quartz and seek the Sphinx of black quartz. Never look back.”

A hundred thoughts went through her head, but she knew that if %^#* really was an angel, she should not doubt him. She verbalized the simplest one: “How will I get there?”

“Take the bus to the Junkyard and the ferry to Babble. Take the elevator to the top floor and talk to the one who resides there. He will bring you to Castle Quartz. There, you will find your answers.”

Xanax formed a map in her mind. A dotted line connected the Fifth City to the Junkyard to Babble. She could not imagine how she would get from the top story of Babble to the moon, where the Sphinx lived in Castle Quartz.

“Answers to what question?” She already knew what question she was asking. She knew it for a while. Sphinx of black Quartz, judge my vow. Xanax had the pangram memorized for as long as she could remember, along with the other important ones. It already contained every letter of the alphabet, but now it also contained her. When the world was still a pure quartz cube, the Sphinx uttered the pangrams and replaced quartz with dirt, concrete, sand, water, and life. He had spoken Love, Junk, Vex, and Quiz, the secondary forms of magic, into the world.

The pangram echoed in her mind. Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow. It was obviously her wedding vow to Jack. But did that really need “judging?” Despite her uncertainty, she knew she had to trust the Sphinx and his perfect judgment.

“Answers to what questions?” she asked again. She did not want to overstep in a conversation with holy creatures, but she also wanted to take advantage of the time she had with them right now.

!@#$ looked around the room.

“This is a beautiful house,” %^#* said. “Jack’s salary goes far, doesn’t it? How long did you know each other before you got married? How did it go when he first met your parents? How are his parents? Is he doing well? Do you even like him?” He threw the word “like” at her like someone throws a brick through a window.

Xanax was unsure if he was asking her these questions or answering the one she posed.

“Okay,” she said quietly.

!@#$ stared at her again.

She went over what %^#* first said to her in her mind. “What did you mean when you said that ‘soon there will be nothing here at all?’”

“You know what’s been happening to the cube. Your home is no exception.”

Xanax did know. Sinkholes had started appearing in the cube, cleanly cutting perfect circles out of the world. It was the result of the mining operations here in the Fifth City, taking the quartz out of the cube and destabilizing it. People around here called it the Doomed Cube Paradox: why would the Sphinx, the master craftsman, armed with his grand design, make a cube that was doomed to fall apart? Why did he obscure quartz in the dirt just to have the quartz-people and the people of the Fifth City take it out again?

Xanax got the message. She took %^&*'s description of this paradox as a concession of its existence from the Sphinx. She had no time to consider the implications of this.

“Go. Pack a bag and leave before Jack comes back.”

“So I should just go? And what? Never come back? Leave Jack? I–” Xanax didn’t know how to finish that sentence.

“This is an order from the Sphinx. Do you really want to ignore him?”

That made it a simple decision. Because it was an order from the Sphinx, she didn’t have to think about it. Following him was the only acceptable course of action.

Xanax mumbled something. After another moment, she stood up, chugged her mug of tea, and floated upstairs. Before going into her bedroom, she looked back at !@#$ and %^#*. They were still sitting at the dining room table.

She looked for stuff to take with her. She didn’t wear any other clothes and she didn’t have a body to keep clean, so there wasn’t a lot that she needed. She did have a purse that she could sling over her shoulder comfortably enough. It was simple and black. In it was a token pouch and a bottle of pepper spray. A quartz anti-fog lantern was attached to the outside of her purse.

She picked up her conflict resolver, resting on her vanity. It was a handheld quartz device with many functions. Xanax looked at it. Sensing her gaze, it showed the time: four hours since the bright came out, not like it mattered in the underground part of the Fifth City. Actually, it didn’t really matter on the surface of the Fifth City either; the fog up there was too dense for much light to shine through. She put her conflict resolver in her purse.

She found a small black bag and shook it lightly. The wads of quartz inside clinked against each other. She supposed that she kept them around for “religious reasons,” but there was no ritual or tradition that involved them. Most of the time, quartz was whittled and used for making something like conflict resolvers, projectors, inscribers, or other gadgets. These skills were beyond Xanax. She kept the quartz because it calmed her to hold the wads and look at them. They were more expensive than they were worth to her in terms of utility, but she couldn’t imagine selling them. Maybe she would have to. She put the bag into her purse.

Another idea crossed her mind: she could just take some tokens from Jack’s stash. In that case, she would never have to sell her black wads. Jack forbade her from taking anything out of there, and didn't trust her with the combination.

Xanax opened the door to the closet, gaining hands to grip it and legs to push up against. She located the safe and knocked on the door, as if that would open it. She spun the dial. She had to stop pretending.

It would be easier to use what little Vex magic she knew to crack it. Vex magic was malicious in nature, mostly used to hurt other people. Xanax had no interest in that, but knew a few spells anyway.

Xanax pointed her phantom finger at the safe, concentrating on the wall around the lock. A flame appeared in front of her, wide at first, and then narrowing into a point. She was only used to doing this to light candles or the stove. She pointed the flame up against the metal safe and watched it slowly melt. She thought about a white heat and imagined the wall of the safe melting like ice in the bright.

Jack would not forgive her for this. Even if Xanax stopped melting the lock off, Jack would notice the mark she left. As she steadily moved the flame in a circle around the lock, she cemented her feelings.

Jack wasn’t really a bad person. He hadn’t done anything horrible to her. He was a little rude, maybe, and more than a little distant. But what was Xanax if not distant, too? She didn’t know where she was going, not exactly, and she didn’t know how long she would be away. Sphinx’s orders aside, she really did want to be doing this. Maybe an adventure is just what she needed. Maybe she’ll come back and everything will be okay.

No, that won’t happen. The angels said that “soon there will be nothing here at all.” She could never come back. Actually, with that logic in mind, they were saving her. Her and not Jack. Should she be happy? Thankful? Was she lucky? Xanax wished so bad to see the Sphinx’s design.

The lock fell to the floor with a clang.

Xanax opened the door slowly. In the safe were several stacks of shining silver tokens, neatly pushed up against the walls. It was either half empty or three-fourths full, she wasn’t sure. She imagined Jack, hunched over, nearly creasing, stacking the tokens and sliding them into the safe. She reached in and carefully took a token from the top of each stack, hoping Jack wouldn’t notice the difference, knowing he would. She put them in her token pouch and zipped it closed.

Xanax was almost ready to leave when a thought struck her. She rummaged through the drawers in the bathroom before finding it: the ring. It was a wedding ring made with a large wad of black quartz which held more magical value than personal. It was bound to Xanax and it bound Xanax to Jack.

She thought back to her wedding, a white flag in her foggy memory, and recalled the pangram, “Jack, love my big wad of sphinx quartz!” She didn’t want to admit that she married Jack so she could say that pangram on her wedding day. Was that the only reason? Did he love her big wad of Sphinx quartz? The ring sparkled, the opaque black of the quartz reflecting the light brightly. It was a huge wad, wedged almost carelessly onto a little gray band which was once probably gold. It wasn’t beautiful. In fact, it was worthless to Xanax as a ring, as she had no fingers to put it on. Because of the magical quartz, Xanax knew that if she went far enough from the ring that it would end up in her possession anyway. In theory, she could get a quartz whittler to separate the wad from the ring and make something useful out of it. What a sacrilegious thought! Xanax put the idea away, embarrassed that it even occurred to her.

Bag packed, she left her room. The angels had left, too. She hadn’t heard them on their way out. She went downstairs and looked around the room. She looked at the plain wooden table, the painting, and the doorway to the kitchen. She looked at the gray rug on the floor and the gray wallpaper and the gray lights on the ceiling.

Xanax was going to miss the place. She went out the door and didn’t look back.

Outside was a passageway carved out in the dirt. On the ceiling of it, two stories high, were buttresses made of metal which kept the dirt structure intact. She and Jack had beds of quartz flowers in their lawn, a beautiful waste of quartz. Some of them were wedding gifts, a tradition in the Fifth City.

She was restless, floating down the street with newfound intention.

She did not want to encounter Jack and explain where she was going. A part of her wanted to sit down with him and talk through it, but she didn’t feel like she was allowed that anymore, not after stealing from him.

She thought out a strategy. Would it be so bad to tell the truth about the angels? That she was summoned by the Sphinx and could not say no? It was a solid reason, but Xanax was unsure if Jack would understand.

Xanax passed several houses on her way to the central hole of the Fifth City. Space in the underground of the Fifth City was a scarce resource. Everywhere had to be carved out of the ground by teams of people with Vex magic led by quartz-people in possession of the Sphinx’s grand design.

“Hey Xanax!” A neighbor said. He was a quartz-person, pink. The two of them were the only people out right now. Xanax failed to remember his name. Had she even spoken to him before?

“Sorry, I can’t talk right now.” She didn’t stop. “I’m really busy.”

“Ok well I’ll see you around then, okay?”

She didn’t want to lie to him so she said nothing. Quartz-people, according to the Sphinx, were to be respected, like the rest of his creations. Any harm done to quartz of any kind, especially the animated kind, was seen as an affront to the Sphinx himself. That’s a part of the reason marriage vows are so important to Sphinx worshipers, because breaking a vow violates the quartz on the wedding ring. This rule was a little uncomfortable if you thought about it deeply; it grouped quartz-people with inanimate creations like rings and lamps. Did the Sphinx want his worshipers to respect quartz-people out of respect for his creations or out of respect for his possessions?

“Xanax?” Jack asked, approaching Xanax from the end of the street.

Damn it. “Hi, Jack. How was the meeting?” Xanax nervously avoided eye contact.

He stopped a few feet in front of her. “Good. Where are you going?”

“You know I was going to tell you, but you were out and everything. Um.” Xanax looked away, wishing he would just leave. In theory she could leave right now, just float away without saying another word, but she felt that she owed him an explanation. “I was visited by two angels who told me that I had to see the Sphinx immediately.”

“Oh.” Jack adjusted his corners on the ground. “Angels?”

“They were angels. One with an eye and one with a mouth. Their names were !@#$ and %^#*. The way they were talking, it made it seem like I had to go. Sorry, that’s why I left without waiting to tell you.”

“Are you lying to me?”

“No.” Xanax forced herself to look directly at Jack, happy that her blank face was unreadable, even though she was telling the truth.

“Let’s just go home and talk about this. I’m sure you misheard them.” Meaning: “I’m sure you’re lying.”

Xanax was unsure of what to say. Surely, if they went home, he would find the safe. Xanax should have tried to weld it back into place. She thought for a moment longer.


“What do you mean, no?”

“Jack. I spoke to two angels. Don’t you understand me? I can’t argue with them.”

Jack frowned. “What does the Sphinx need you for anyway?”

“I’m not sure,” Xanax said. That was half true. “They said he was going to judge my vow. Like the pangram, Jack, Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow! Isn’t that amazing?”

“What vow?” It sounded like Jack was halfway between challenging her and asking her.

The air around them got colder.

“Um. It could be any vow. I’m not sure; they didn’t specify.” Saying this, Xanax knew that Jack would see through it, but hopefully he had the decency to let her lie this time. Or maybe it would make him too uncomfortable to talk about it directly.

Jack sighed. Maybe he would let her go on her way. “Okay. Sounds important, I guess. And you’re sure they don’t want me there, too?”

“I’m sure.”


“Jack, please, I’m going to miss the bus.” Xanax actually didn’t know exactly what time it was or when the bus left.

“And you’ll come back, right? After he judges your vow? Even if it’s a bad judgment?”

Xanax knew exactly what he was asking.

“Yeah,” she said, meaning “no.”

“Okay. Well don’t let me keep you.” Jack’s eyebrows were raised. Xanax was unsure if he was angry or sad. Finally, she had a reason to appreciate his lack of emotional availability.

She went on her way, giving Jack nothing more than a goodbye and a wide berth.

“Bye, Xanax,” he said, but he was already distant in Xanax’s mind.

Soon, she reached the end of her street. Here was the central hole that made up the underground part of the Fifth City. It led up to the surface and went downwards through the whole cube. At the bottom was a wooden platform, keeping the void out. Falling through the cube was said to be “a fate worse than death.”

Lining the central hole were several hallways leading to housing or stores or whatever else. The big marketplace was down one floor. There were two spiral staircases leading up and down the side of the hole in a double helix pattern. The place was not crowded today; the market was closed once every fiveday. There were a few people walking up and down the stairs. Xanax could faintly hear some quiet conversations.

This part of the Fifth City was mostly dirt. The deeper you went in the Fifth City, the more unmined quartz there was. Quartz was one of the most important resources on the cube, so people were always trying to get every last wad out of the ground, an essential part of the Sphinx’s grand design. Xanax started climbing the stairs.

She was excited and nervous to be included in the Sphinx’s grand design. She didn’t yet understand what her role was, or how the Sphinx was going to judge her vow, or why she was chosen for that, but she would follow through on this plan in good faith. Clearly, she must be important for something.

Xanax encountered a deep sinkhole in the dirt wall on the right of the staircase. She hadn’t seen this one before, so she stopped to examine it. It was perfectly round and cut out a small piece of the staircase along with it. She looked down: it went all the way through. The sight of this made her uneasy.

There was a lot of talk of sinkholes in the Fifth City. People claimed that the mining operations of the Sphinx and the quartz-people were destabilizing the integrity of the world. A few people had already fallen through the cube in these smaller sinkholes. The thought of “a fate worse than death” sent shivers down her spine. She had an image in her mind of herself falling through the void forever.

Xanax imagined a perfectly round hole taking up the space (or creating empty space?) where her house used to be. She imagined Jack experiencing “a fate worse than death.” Is that in the Sphinx’s design? Xanax wanted to hope that %^#* was lying to scare her, but, unwilling to question such an authority, she hoped instead that Jack would be spared when their house fell through. She briefly thought about going back for the painting. She didn’t want that version of herself to have “a fate worse than death,” either.

Xanax knew she was spiraling. The sinkholes were an invisible danger that appears to be caused directly by the actions of the Sphinx that “worse than [kills]” people and cuts holes in the world. Everyone seems to know that this is happening, but no one does anything about it. What could be done about it anyway? It’s the will of the Sphinx. Scientists in Babble predict that the sinkholes will get worse and spread further. Eventually the cube will literally fall apart.

Xanax froze as the scope of her anxiety increased and increased. Lights flashed red in her mind. She could almost hear sirens going off. Surely the Sphinx knew what was happening. It had to all fit together somehow. An invisible, impossibly complex solution to the puzzle that is the entire cube lay only in the mind of the Sphinx. Xanax wasn’t meant to know or understand.

Bortz waqf glyphs vex muck djin.

Junky qoph-flags vext crwd zimb.

Squdgy fez, blank jimp crwth vox!

Xanax recited perfect pangrams, nonsensical pangrams with exactly one of each letter, twenty-six total, in them to calm herself down.

“Excuse me!” A woman behind her said. “Are you just gonna stand there?”

Xanax remembered that she was in a public place and that she was in the way. “Sorry,” she said, about to let the woman pass when she saw her conflict resolver in hand. Xanax sighed. It didn’t have to come to this. “Okay,” she said, taking her own conflict resolver out of her purse. She noticed now that the woman was dressed in a dark cloak and a pointy hat, telltale traits of a Vexing Wizard. She figured she would lose the conflict, but she didn’t want to argue.

Ever since the invention of the conflict resolver, people around here have used them to resolve conflicts without discussion. It worked by measuring different scores based on users’ skills, possessions, and reputations. It compiled a score for each user (kept secret) and compared them to each other. Xanax had rarely challenged other people with her conflict resolver, and had lost most times she was challenged. It seldom did any good. Most of the conflicts she had resolved with it could have been fixed with a few kind words, but “kind words” were not really what people were used to in the Fifth City.

Xanax tapped her conflict resolver three times in the direction of the woman’s. The smooth black surface on Xanax’s resolver lit up with red vertical stripes and green horizontal stripes on the woman’s. Xanax had lost.

“Just walk past me,” Xanax said. She was gonna let her do it anyway.

The Wizard walked past her, brushing her dress on the way. Xanax could feel her shiver when she touched her. A pangram: Underground in the Fifth City, quibbling Chumps cower from the foggy Vexing Wizards who cast jukey spells. She supposed that she looked like a quibbling Chump right now.

Xanax respected this pangram as a part of the set of Later Pangrams, but had a problem with it. It failed to mention the quartz-people, who were abundant in the Fifth City. If it was meant to describe the core of the Fifth City, surely it would include quartz-people and the mining of quartz.

Xanax also wasn’t comfortable using the word “Chump,” an offensive alternative for “Wizard” (someone who is from the Fifth City), but it was a part of several pangrams. Because of that, the existence of “Chumps” as the opposite of “Wizards” was cemented in the reality of the cube. There was no version of the Fifth City where people could possibly get along.

Xanax put her conflict resolver away and began walking again. She was quickly falling behind the woman, not like it mattered anyway.

On the surface, Xanax walked around the perimeter of the main hole, looking for the sinkhole. She found it and looked down again, as if confirming that it really existed.

The surface of the Fifth City was made of dirt and dust. It was pretty empty around here. The thick fog prohibited anything from being built except for a single bus stop. The bus was the only safe way in and out of town. It had lines going to Pre Ha’etz and the Junkyard. Xanax could make out the glow of the yellow quartz sign through the fog. She approached the bus stop and entered the circle of light around the sign.

Xanax checked the time on her conflict resolver. It was five hours since the bright came out. The bus should be here soon.

Before sitting down, Xanax noticed a quartz-person wearing a dress. It was a longer dress than Xanax’s, burgundy. It fit loosely around her frame and ended around her ankles. It sparkled softly. Beyond the woman’s dark reflective surface were deeper, softer patterns, like frozen smoke trapped inside of her body.

“I love your dress,” Xanax said, surprised by the woman’s beauty. She had never seen a quartz-person wear clothes.

“I love yours,” she responded. Xanax got this comment a lot, but she didn’t really like it. She hated that stupid dress and how much attention it got her. She and the woman would be making eye contact now, but Xanax was mostly without eyes and the woman had only a few smooth surfaces and sharp edges in place of a face. “My name is Eve.”


“Are you a religious woman?”

“Yes I am. And I am very proud of that name.” It was traditional for Sphinx worshipers to have symmetrical names. Symmetrical letters, like “X,” “A,” “V,” and “T,” were also valued. “My mother gave it to me.”

“It’s beautiful,” Eve responded.

Xanax sat down next to Eve. “Where are you headed?”

“Castle Quartz, actually.” Eve turned to her. “I have something very important I have to tell the Sphinx,” she looked at Xanax only for a little bit before looking beyond and around her. She didn’t sit still.

“I’m actually going there too. I’m on a holy mission. Do you want to go together?” Xanax felt herself leaning into Eve’s friendly demeanor.

“That would be wonderful. What kind of a holy mission are you on?”

Xanax was eager to tell someone else about what had happened, but wasn’t sure if she was supposed to. “Earlier today,” she began, looking around to make sure they were alone. She leaned in before whispering, “Earlier today, I was visited by an angel. His name was %^#* and he told me to go to the Sphinx of black quartz. Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow. My marriage vow, to my husband, Jack.”

“That’s incredible. I’ve never met an angel before. I hope you find what you’re looking for there.”

“I’m not sure what I’m looking for.” Xanax took a moment to think about Jack. The knowledge that she could leave him had recontextualized the way he treated her. It’s not that Xanax didn’t like him. He didn’t make her feel bad, but he didn’t make her feel good either. They floated through the house around each other but not interacting. He would go see his parents. She would drink tea alone. He always seemed so much brighter and more animated around his friends than around Xanax.

Why did she even marry him in the first place?

It hit her now that she had already left the house. She was about to leave the Fifth City. She didn’t know when she would return. Suddenly she started sobbing. Tearless, she bent over, making herself small. She felt a heavy hand on her back, and leaned (now literally) onto Eve’s side.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Xanax said. “I know I just need to trust the Sphinx and go and see him but it’s all happening so fast.”

“You’re doing the right thing. The Sphinx has a plan for you and he needs you to help him see it through.”

“Do you really think so?”

“Yes. I know so. Why else would he have sent an angel? Trust him and see what he has planned.”

“Okay, I will,” Xanax said. She sat here with Eve, Eve with her hand on Xanax’s shoulder. It occurred to her how much bigger Eve was than her. Maybe she would make a good traveling companion. She felt safe under her heavy, gentle touch.

Xanax breathed inside of Eve's comfort for a moment. All in all, this was a strange way to make a friendship

“What’s your holy mission?” Xanax asked Eve. “If you don’t mind telling me.”

“It’s kind of a long story. Do you wanna hear it?”


“Okay.” Eve gathered her thoughts.

Xanax listened intently.

Eve didn’t know where to start. The beginning was a safe enough bet.

“When the Sphinx made me, a fox led me to the Fifth City,” she said to Xanax.

The quartz-fox shone dull gray, barely brighter than the dim lanterns on the walls. The quartz-person was beginning to feel tired. Finally, the fox stopped at a black quartz door. Black quartz must have been a good sign, right?

The fox’s head fell off and then its legs gave way. Its torso fell onto the ground with a light tink. Some of it splattered into tiny puddles that quickly hardened. The quartz-person gasped and dropped to her knees. She let out a scream. She didn’t know the fox very well but she already loved him. She knew she could fall apart just as easily as him, and that she would, if the Sphinx wanted her to.

The quartz-person picked up the fox’s head and tried putting it back onto the torso. It clinked, but didn’t bind. She applied more pressure and twisted it: the edges melted together before the head fell off again. The torso split perfectly down the middle and one half fell to the ground. Between the two pieces was a gray wand. Engraved on the wand was the word “EVƎ,” but the quartz-person knew that was not always how it should appear.

Eve. Was that the name of the fox? Or maybe it was her own. Eve. The quartz-person stood up. With the fox head and the wand in hand, she knocked on the black door, unsure of what else to do.

She thought about turning back, but she had nowhere to go. She thought about knocking on the door again, but she didn’t want to be a bother. Eventually, she decided that she would wait out here until someone came in or out of the door. Behind her, the dirt hallway led to the staircase she came from.

It was after a minute that the door opened. A shiny green quartz-person opened the door. His edges were rougher than Eve’s and he was larger than her. In his design she saw the craftsmanship of the Sphinx, the same as the fox. She didn’t know what to say.

“I’m Deified. Come inside.”

“Okay.” Eve barely pronounced the word.

It was darker inside. Eve wasn’t sure what time of day it was. All she could remember were the fox and the lanterns. There was a table in the center of the room with a few chairs around it. Deified flicked on a plain quartz lamp on the ceiling above the table, white light. He sat down.

“I hope I didn’t wake you,” Eve said.

“That’s okay. Sphinx’s orders to open the door,” Deified said, scratching an edge on the back of his head. Eve couldn’t decide if there was something scary about Deified despite his beauty or something scary about him because of his beauty.

“Cool head.” Deified pointed to the fox head Eve was holding.

“Did your fox fall apart, too?”

“Yep. Happens to us all. The first thing every quartz-person feels is mourning. We’re perfect beings made by the master craftsman, but we’re not so sturdy. You know, you don’t look like you belong here. You’re not quite… manly enough?”

“This is where the fox led me.”

“That wand is from the fox, right?”

“Yes.” Eve pointed the wand.

Deified pointed his index finger and conjured a little flame. “Well the wand’s useless; you can use Vex magic on your own. Maybe you could whittle it into something better.”

“Vex…” Eve was familiar with the world. “A Wizard’s job is to quickly Vex Chumps in fog. Is that what I’m supposed to do here?”

“Not quite. Um, hey, listen, it’s like—” Deified picked a small black quartz object up off the table. Something lit up when he looked at it. “Five hours since the bright went away, so can we handle this tomorrow? You really chose a bad time to show up.”

Eve didn’t choose when to arrive, but she said okay anyway. She really didn’t want to be a hassle.

Deified left the room. He flipped a switch on the wall when he left, turning the light off. Eve wasn’t sure if she was to follow him.

He came back in. “C’mon.”

Eve followed him down the hall.

“This’ll be your room. We can figure everything out tomorrow. Get some sleep, okay, um…” He paused for a moment. “Lemme see that.” Deified pointed at the wand. “Eve. That’s your name,” he said, reading the inscription on the wand.

“Right, that’s my name,” Eve said, as if finishing processing that thought from earlier.

“Ok, goodnight, Eve.” Deified patted Eve on the back. “Big day tomorrow. Get some sleep, okay?” Deified left Eve alone, walking further down the hall.

Eve looked at the door. It had the name “RADAЯ” inscribed into a quartz plate which was set into the wood. Who was he?

The room was filled with stuff. There was a half-made bed, a desk with countless pages on it, and a shelf with several wads of quartz on it. It wasn’t exactly welcoming. On the shelf, Eve spied a wand similar to her own: yellow quartz, “RADAЯ.” Most of the paper on the desk had writing on it. Eve decided she would not read it. She collected all of the papers and stacked them in the corner of the desk. Radar must have forgotten all his stuff. She should keep it for him in case he comes back.

Eve sat on the bed. It was unexpectedly comfortable, even though she was not tired and had no will to sleep.

She thought carefully about what Deified did and tried to replicate the flame. She focused on it hard, and, just as she gave up, a small flame erupted from her fingertip before dying a moment later. It wasn’t that impressive, but she was pleased with herself. She was proud of her perfect quartz body and free magical powers. She imagined a human struggling to obtain her mastery and scoffed at them.

Words flashed in Eve’s mind:

Waltz, bad Nymph, for quick jigs Vex!

Brawny gods just flocked up to Quiz and Vex him.

Glib jocks Quiz nymph to Vex Dwarf.

She knew these were pangrams. Eve imagined herself as containing her own kind of pangram, something special and complete that belonged only to her. One more surfaced: Underground in the Fifth City, quibbling Chumps cower from the foggy Vexing Wizards who cast jukey spells. She must be in the Fifth City now. She knew she was a Wizard for two reasons: she lived in the Fifth City and she was not a Chump.

Eve tip-toed down the hall into the room with the table. She put the head down and got the rest of the fox from outside the front door. She sat at the table there with the pieces of the fox and tried whittling them; Deified mentioned that she should whittle the fox into something else, but she wasn’t sure how.

Handling quartz was a weird feeling. It resisted her soft touch, but with force it gave way to her fingers. After she let go, some of it stuck to her. Eve wiped her hand on the table, worried that the quartz would stick forever. It quickly hardened in a puddle. She scraped it up off the table and put it back into the wad.

She knew she was doing something wrong. Was she supposed to wear gloves? Also: how does she make it do stuff? She knew that quartz objects were always with purpose, just like the Sphinx gave her purpose when he created her.

Eve tried several things, none leading to a sure answer. She molded the quartz into several little shapes, rolled it out flat on the table, and pressed it around her hand like a glove.

Her memory blurred. She wasn’t sure how long it was until she fell asleep.

Eve realized that she had been talking to Xanax for a while. “Hey, am I boring you?”

“No,” Xanax replied, looking at her. “Not at all. I’m just listening. The bus should be coming soon.”

Eve looked around. There was still no one around them. Eve wasn’t sure what time of day the bus was the most busy at. “I’ll make it short, okay?”

“Okay,” Xanax said. She was agreeable, but maybe hard to read.

Eve thought for a moment before resuming. She was considering what was important, what was interesting, and what she had to leave out. She trusted Xanax. She was trying to. Well she wanted to, anyway.

“I’ll tell you the truth. The Sphinx made me be an operations supervisor at the mine. It’s not a pretty job.” When Eve was sure Xanax had nothing to say, she continued telling her story.

After teaching her a few spells, Deified took Eve down the stairs in the central hole that made up the Fifth City. They went low enough that Eve could see the wooden platform keeping out the void at the bottom of the cube.

Here, there was a door to a large room. It had an office with several cabinets and a desk, shelves for the miners, and a locker room. At the end of the room was a door leading to the mine itself.

When Deified entered the room, he stopped in front of something on the floor. There were several lit candles, a few yellow quartz flowers, and a painting of a quartz-person. The flowers caught the flames of the candles. It was a beautiful effect. Eve could guess who it was in the painting. Beside the shrine were two lit lanterns, sitting on the floor.

“Radar was a good man,” Deified said. “He fell through a sinkhole as it opened up. That’s supposed to be a fate worse than death, apparently worse for quartz-people than for humans.”

Eve nodded. “Is it that dangerous down here?”

“Yep.” Deified took a moment before continuing. “We lost him just a few days ago, actually.”

Several truths settled in Eve’s head:

  1. She was destined to work a life-threatening job.
  2. She was replacing someone who had died on the job.
  3. She was actually quite quickly replacing someone who died on the job.

Suddenly, she didn’t want to be here anymore. She tried to think of a way out. She could pretend she forgot all the magic Deified just taught her. She could say that the Sphinx actually wanted her back for something. Maybe it wasn’t a wand she found in her fox, but a pen? She should go check to make sure.

“Um.” It only took a few seconds for her respect for the Sphinx to outweigh self preservation. If the Sphinx sent Radar here and he died, then it must have been in his design for him to die. If the Sphinx sent Eve here, then it very well might be in his design for her to die, too. Eve steeled herself. It had to happen someday.

She looked at the two lanterns beside the portrait. “Who were they?”

“Some Chumps that died at the same time.”

“Did you call them ‘Chumps?’” Xanax asked. “You can’t just say that.”

Eve knew she shouldn’t throw words like “Chump” around so easily, but it was true. The people who she supervised were Chumps. They were Vexed by Wizards. There were no two ways around it. Maybe calling them “Chumps” was an artifact of what Deified taught her. Maybe that was something she would have to unlearn.

“We would always call them that,” Eve said, “but it probably wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Xanax didn’t say anything to that.

“It was what Deified said, and I was just quoting him,” Eve said, hoping for a little more of a discussion.

“Okay, that makes sense,” was all that Eve got out of Xanax. “You can go on.”

“Thanks for telling me. I feel a little stupid, like I should have known.”

“That’s just the way the Sphinx made you,” Xanax said.

That made Eve a little uncomfortable, but she didn’t know exactly why. “Um, okay. I'll continue.”

Deified looked at the portrait for a few seconds longer. “Let me show you the mines.” He got a lantern from one of the shelves and gave it to Eve. He took another lantern and led her through the door.

The clearing in front of them was lit only by the lanterns they were carrying and some hung up around the door. The walls were made up of useless dirt with occasional holes shaped like quartz where whole wads had been extracted. In the center of the clearing were four orange cones around a patched-up sinkhole. Eve pictured Radar falling right through it.

Deified led Eve forward. He cast light, pointing into a cavern up ahead, the spell shining meekly in the deep dark.

“This is your route,” he said, “There’s five of these, though it’s hard to see in this light. Your lead Chump will lead you down the first few times; eventually you’ll find your way yourself.”

“Okay,” Eve said. She took mental note of where he was pointing, but it was hard to have much of a bearing at all down here.


Eve followed closely behind Deified. It was easy to follow the light reflecting off his faces. He led her down little cliffs and around holes in the ground and pointed out covered sinkholes. He sometimes used a light spell to further illuminate the walls and the ground, but the cavern seemed to eat it up.

“As you can see, it’s easy to fall down here,” Deified said. “Your job is to lead the Chumps so none of them get lost or hurt. You’re also the only one permitted to actually move the quartz out of the mine, using that spell I taught you. Humans aren’t meant to wield that power. Your Chumps will only be able to break the dirt.”

“Then why did you teach me how to cast fireball? Or sleep?”

“Well,” Deified tilted his head, as if he was smirking, “Sometimes the Chumps need a little encouragement to get the job done right. You can threaten them with a fireball or two, but you can’t hit them directly. Unless they really deserve it." He paused, as if that was a joke. "Even then, keep it on the down-low, you know? The sleep spell is good for when someone is doing something bad and you need them to stop. Knock ‘em out then order other Chumps to take ‘em back to the office. Dock their pay.”

Eve didn’t know what to say. Everything that came out of Deified’s mouth was vile.

“… But you know mostly you’ll cast light and move quartz. The other stuff is auxiliary.”

“Are you sure this is really what the Sphinx wants me to be doing with my life?”

“Hey, if he sent you here, then this is what he wants for you. This is an important job, alright? Without us, no one would have access to quartz.”

Eve knew he was right, but she didn’t want him to be. The situation felt like a puzzle she was unable to solve. She cast light, pointing her finger at the wall, watching the small circle cast shadows in the dirt which crept around as she moved her arm. It was cold. She stood close to Deified, afraid of getting lost. One mistake and she could die on her first day alive.

“I must have worked there for at least a hundredday,” Eve told Xanax. “Every day made me sick. I didn’t realize I could even feel sick like that, without a stomach to upset.”

“It sounds horrible,” Xanax said, “To say nothing at all about your… coworkers.”

“Eventually I figured something out. The rest of them never felt the way I do. In fact, Deified seemed to take joy in his role of oppression. The Sphinx could have easily made me that way too, but he didn’t. My unhappiness there meant that my destiny isn’t underground in a mine, but somewhere else. The Fifth City is just my first step.”

“So what is your destiny?”

“It started just yesterday.”

Deified had often scheduled his shifts at the same time as Eve’s in case something went wrong. Eve hadn’t gotten comfortable with the idea of disciplining her miners yet, so her team was kind of loose. She could live with that. She knew that eventually Deified would push her to do more, but he was letting her off easy for now. The longer she spent down there, the more it felt like she was being tested by Deified, and like he was losing patience.

Eve carefully walked through the cavern, holding a lantern in one hand and casting light with her other hand. She was trying to find her way to where they were yesterday. She got a good mental map of the place since she started working here, but that didn’t make it much easier. Mostly, she went straight until she found a large enough patch of dirt and ordered the miners to dig there.

Distracted, Eve nearly walked on into a patched-up sinkhole before Sertraline, the lead miner, caught her.

“Careful,” he said, putting his hand on Eve’s shoulder. “Don’t fall.” Even when they were caring for her, her employees came off as cold.

“Oh, please, I’m replaceable.” She didn’t mean to say it out loud. Silence filled the place.

“Let’s go,” one of them said. “We get paid by the ounce, not the hour.”

Eve turned around again and walked carefully around the sinkhole. Soon, they reached a part of the cavern with enough open dirt to effectively dig into. “Okay, try digging here.”

The team of miners went to work immediately, vexing the dirt with flamboyant gestures. Two miners were tasked with holding all the loose dirt in the air so it could be disposed of later.

Eve pondered the dirt's purpose. Was it really just there to be mined, disposed of, and forgotten? Is it just in the way? Every day at the end of the shift, they dropped all the dirt they mined straight into the void. Was this labor a tool of oppression wielded by the quartz-people? Or were the human miners working under the same orders as Eve?

“Quartz!” A miner yelled. Eve snapped out of her stupor and positioned herself behind the miner, who was clearing away the dirt around the wad of quartz. It glowed bright yellow in the light of her lantern.

“Awesome! Thank you, ma’am,” Eve said. She Vexed the quartz, extracting it from the dirt and shook it off with her spell, holding it in the air. It was a bright and awkward looking thing, lopsided and with rough edges. Natural beauty consistently paled in comparison of the refinement of the work of artists. Maybe that was the point of Eve's job: to make the cube beautiful. She put the wad in the back of her mind, floating above and behind her, careful to not forget about it.

One of the miners was digging much faster than the rest of the team, and dug a smaller tunnel through the dirt. “QUARTZ!” they yelled, several feet into the dirt wall. Eve tried to tell them not to dig like that, as it was more efficient to mine away a greater area at once, but they never listened.

Eve put down the quartz she was holding and went after the miner in the tunnel. At the end of it, she could see a shimmering wad of black quartz. “Lucky!”

“It’s huge.” The miner cleared away the dirt around the wad.

Eve vexed it, lifting it from the dirt. It was bigger than she thought. “Wow.” On the other side of the wad, the dirt collapsed to reveal an open chamber. That must be another team’s route.

Eve heard screaming through the hole in the wall. “Stay here,” she told the miner, before running after it, leaving the wad of quartz behind. Eve cast light and pointed it in front of her, trying to find the source of the screaming, or was it wailing?

Eve came upon a seriously burnt person, with two or three people holding him, sobbing into the cavern. Sure enough, that was a corpse. Eve saw the miners recoil when she approached, but they let her investigate the body. One hand, with a wedding ring on the finger, remained on his wrist as Eve put her hand on his neck

Eve felt for a heart beat, but found none. She tried to remember who he was, but she didn’t recognize him at all. She wished that she knew this life a little more before it had ended.

Eve looked around, trying to find Deified. She ran down the passage and found the rough green man glowing yellow in the light, his hand pointing a flame inches away from someone’s face.

“What did you do?” she shouted.

“He wasn’t following orders. Besides, what’s one charred Chump in the grand design of the Sphinx? Humans are so flammable.”

“Do you even know what you did to him? That man is dead now.”

Deified dropped his composure in an instant. The flame in front of his hand went out.

Two people tackled him from behind, knocking him over.

Eve thought quickly and cast sleep on Deified. His light went dark as he lost consciousness. Eve felt the rush of actually Vexing someone for the first time. Then, she felt ashamed of that rush.

“That man is evil. I’ve hated him since the moment I met him,” Eve said to Lexapro, Deified’s team leader, who had just knocked Deified to the ground. “Get out of here. I’ll deal with him.” They didn’t need to be asked twice. Everyone cleared out. Someone went to get the others. Eve stood there, waiting for them all to leave, not moving her gaze away from Deified’s still body. Eventually, her own team passed her and left the mines.

She didn’t know what to do. It was dark, just Deified’s lantern and her own. She cast light and pointed it at him. His faces reflected it. Eve looked around the room, desperately searching for some kind of guidance.

Perfect exalted Sphinx, author of the grand design, master craftsman… she began, but she didn’t know where to go from there. After a moment, she started over. Perfect exalted Sphinx, author of the grand design, master craftsman, help me!

Eve knew that her spell wouldn’t last long. The thoughts in her head were too fast to keep track of. The miners had no reason to rat her out. In fact, at this moment, she felt like she was liberating them. That’s what she let herself believe, anyway. She was doing something amazing. Something revolutionary.

Is that what Eve was made to be? A revolutionary?

If the Sphinx made Deified to be cruel and unkind enough to let Radar die and move on so quickly, then surely he made her to be caring enough to sympathize with the miners and knock Deified out and… and… and what? What was her next step?

Deified’s soft glow started to return to him. Without even thinking about it, Eve Vexed him again and he went dark. Maybe Deified was the real Chump. He was certainly the one getting Vexed in the dark. She got up from her knees and turned around, not really knowing where she was going. She left the cavern and saw no one on her way out. They had all been smart enough to vacate the area.

Eve ran home. She went straight for her room and locked the door.

“I sat in my room for the rest of the day,” Eve told Xanax. “I was sure that If I stayed there any longer, Deified would have found me and figured out what was going on. I needed time to think carefully about what to do next.”

“You’ve been through so much,” Xanax said.

Eve was embarrassed at the ounce of sympathy she was given. “Just as much as the Sphinx wanted me to do. You see, it was really all a part of his plan. It must have been, right? To put a person like me in a situation like this, where only the hardest, cruelest men can thrive.”

“You were asked to oppress those poor people,” Xanax said, as if processing it alongside Eve. “And you’ve been doing the mining that has been tearing the cube apart.”

“What do you mean, ‘tearing the cube apart?’”

“Do you not know?”

“Apparently I don’t. No one told me.”

Xanax didn’t say anything.

“What is it?”

“Scientists say that the mining operations around here are the cause of the sinkholes in the Fifth City. The more quartz that gets extracted from the cube, the less stable the whole thing gets. They said that there are gonna be more sinkholes, larger and more common, until eventually there’s nothing left.”

Eve didn’t like to hear that. How many sinkholes have appeared in the cube as a result of her mining? How many people have fallen through them? She added this invisible number to her kill count. The new information complicated her role relative to the cube. Was she to destroy the cube and liberate the miners? Or was this another personality test that Deified was destined to fail?

“Sorry.” She sounded like she meant it. Even if she didn’t, Eve preferred to read her that way. “I mean it’s all true, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear.”

Eve put her hands in her lap. How did Xanax really feel about her? Did she resent her for her role in the world or did she pity her? Eve already asked her to come with her to the Castle Quartz, all the way to the moon, and Xanax already said yes. Surely she would be too polite to tell Eve that she didn’t want to go with her anymore. Eve’s logic advanced to the next level: Xanax must have already resented her, but was too nice to say it to one of Eve’s faces.

“What happened next?” Xanax asked. “In your story.”

Eve put her thoughts on hold and labeled Xanax’s impression of her as “inconclusive.”

“My story? Oh, I bought this dress. That was earlier today.”

After a day alone in her room, Eve went wearily into town. Her solitude resulted in conviction: she was completely sure that she had to see the Sphinx. She didn’t want anyone from the mines to recognize her, so she decided to buy clothes. That would make her stand out as someone who was definitely not the same person who worked in the mines.

She went to Apple of Knowledge, a higher end clothing store. Her income and the fact that she didn’t need clothes or food meant that she had a lot of extra tokens lying around.

Upon entering the store, she felt naked. Wizard robes, suit jackets, knee length skirts, pants, button-ups, sweaters, dresses, leggings, all were alien pieces of fabric hanging mysteriously on racks and folding strangely around mannequins. Everything was a dark shade of purple, brown, or burgundy. Time warped around Eve as she went through racks, looked up at mannequins, and avoided human shoppers.

“Can I help you?” someone finally asked, a beautiful woman in a purple Wizard robe with a classic star pattern.

“Yes,” Eve said. Act natural act natural act natural. “I was looking for some… clothes, actually."

“Great. What kind of clothes are you looking for?”

“Well, I haven’t worn any clothes before, so I’m not sure.”

“Forgive me for asking, but are you interested in men’s clothing or women’s clothing?”

The question gave Eve an epiphany. Her naturally androgynous look combined with the fact that she had not given the woman her name meant that she could pass as being a man or a woman. Eve thought about it for just long enough for the woman to notice.

“Women’s clothes. Anything on the brighter side would be wonderful. Maybe a dress?” Eve felt like she was pantomiming a human woman.

“I think I have just the thing in mind,” the woman said, leading Eve to a corner of the store.

She was burgundy and dark red, and modest: ending just above her shins in neat pleats. Her fabric was surprisingly soft. She shimmered like quartz.

As if sensing the weight of the situation, the woman carefully and meaningfully lifted the dress off the rack and held it up to Eve. Her eyes sparkled and she smiled. “This looks like it will be a good fit.”

“Sphinx willing.”

“Go try it on.” She gave it to Eve and pointed to the dressing rooms. Eve sheepishly walked to the dressing room, taking the dress out of the woman’s hand and holding it close to her body.

She didn’t quite understand how to put a dress on. She turned it in her hands until she found the bottom. She peeked her head through there and tried to pull herself through to the other side. It was difficult, but eventually she got her head through the hole on the top. Looking in the mirror, she rotated the dress around herself until she poked her arms through the holes on either side.

It was beautiful. It fit perfectly. She paraded herself in the mirror, enjoying every angle. She took it off and was shocked by the sight of her sharp, flat, clunky body. Had she always looked like that? Hopefully they would let her wear it out. With the dress on, she left the dressing room and encountered someone familiar.


Eve tilted her head. It was someone from the mine, a small balding man with a thick pair of glasses. He stood out as much as Eve did in this store, but for different reasons. She didn’t know what to say. She felt like she was caught doing something illegal.

“I saw you earlier today and I’ve been following you. I just wanted to say thank you for… what you did.”

Eve said nothing.

“You really get paid enough to shop here, don’t you?”

“I’m seeing the Sphinx,” Eve said. “I’m going to report Deified and the other quartz-people to him and see if he can change the way things are around here."

The man said something else, but Eve decided to skip that part.

“That was proof,” Eve said to Xanax, “that I’m doing the right thing.”

“But what does putting Deified to sleep do for the miners? He’s just going to wake up, right?”

Eve started panicking. Her story had clearly not affected Xanax the way she wanted. She thought really hard for a moment about what she said happened to Deified and didn't realize that she was dissociating.

“But it’s a noble cause!” Xanax said at last. “It’s far more selfless than my reason to see the Sphinx."

“Don't be silly. You were summoned to see him. You’re vital to his design.” Eve paused, wanting to pivot the conversation towards herself. “Yesterday, alone in my room, I had no one to talk to. Thank you for listening. So much has been happening and I haven't really made sense of any of it.”

“Of course.”

“You really don’t mind me coming with you to the moon?”

“Of course not. I’m happy to have a traveling companion.”

Eve took this response as hard proof that Xanax didn’t hate her. Later, she would turn those two sentences over in her head to remind herself that she was not alone.

Arrows’ neck snapped to look at Eros, who had just opened the door to their room uninvited.

“Who’s ‘Jackfruit?’” Eros asked, his voice hot.




“Jackfruit?” Arrows asked. They looked forward again. “I don’t think I know anyone named Jackfruit. You know, the other day Mother gave me a Jackfruit. It was fucking huge. I couldn’t even get it off the ground.”

Arrows was sitting at their loom, weaving cotton that they harvested from Mother earlier today. They couldn’t make themself look at their brother again.

“Arrows, c’mon. Don’t be stupid. I know you’ve been dressing up as someone else.”

Well that was pretty damning.

“You know you can’t keep doing this, right?” His voice was sharp even though his question could have been soft. “As gods, we have to set examples for people. That’s why we dress like we do, why we eat like we do, why we act like we do.” Eros sat down at the corner on Arrow’s bed.

Arrows stole a look at their room. Clothes littered the floor. Their bed was unmade. Their loom was stuffed into the corner of their room. They knew that somewhere, underneath their bed, was their Jackfruit disguise. They didn't like when Eros saw it like this, which was the state it was most often in. Their neck was stiff.

“People look up to us,” Eros went on. “You can’t just hide from all that.”

Arrow didn’t know what to say. Smoke clouded the vision of their mind’s eye.

“I heard this ‘Jackfruit’ guy wears bright pink party shades and ‘the ugliest stache I’d ever seen.’” Air quotes, haughty gesture, “If you want to be a man so bad, then why did you come out as non binary in the first place?”

Arrows heard their own breath. How did he find out?

“What? You’re not gonna say anything? Did the supernova go cold?”

“Don’t call me supernova.” Arrows failed to keep the fire from coming off their tongue. In times like these, when their curse of fire and ice presented itself to them naked, they felt crazy. They couldn’t trust their eyes, ears, or mind. Some part of them knew that Eros got a little meaner when he was stressed, that this was his own way of caring for them, but the larger part swallowed his words whole.

“I’m sorry,” Eros said. Arrows felt a warm globe pass between them and knew he was being genuine.

Eros stepped next to the loom. “Is that why you always make black fabric? Is that what Jackfruit wears?”

Arrows felt themself reaching a threshold, but they weren’t sure what it was.

“Yeah,” they said, “Jackfruit loves black. It goes with everything. Jackfruit loves wearing revealing clothes, going out late, and coming home later. He likes girls and guys and he loves the taste of cranberry wine.” Arrows’ heart rate increased. Their fire reached their cheeks. “And you know what? He hates you.” There it is. The threshold. They could commit or apologize.

Arrows committed, looking into Eros’ eyes. They were a deep, dark pink. There was a pattern on his eyelids. When his eyes were closed, they formed a pink heart. Here he sparkled. Arrows and Eros’ matching heart-eyes were their birthright. When Arrows was born, they were taken from their birth parents and were raised by a group of gods, including their older brother. Ever since then, they lived together, in a family that found them.

Eros broke eye contact first. “I’m late, so I have to go. Listen, Arrows, I love you, okay? Please drop the ‘Jackfruit’ act. I don’t want to hear about him again.” He paused. “We’ll talk about this later, okay?”

Eros closed the door carefully when he left.

Arrows held their breath until they heard Eros shut the front door.

“Damn it!”

They got up and knocked their loom over. They picked up a pillow from their bed and threw it on the floor. They clenched and unclenched their fists and flexed their arms.

Horrified, they carefully picked their loom up again. Not only was it vital to their craft, it was an expensive item that would be hard to replace. It seemed to be undamaged.

They paced around their room, their body steaming.

“Fuck!” That was better than keeping it in.

They weren’t willing to give up Jackfruit. They knew he wasn’t healthy, but they needed him. They needed to be able to spend time as a normal person, someone without birthright obligations. Someone without a leaky brain that rotted underwater. They went into the bathroom and stared at their reflection. They looked at their bright red eyes and the hearts around them.

Arrows yelled, making fists to stop themself from clawing at their eyes. They took a deep breath and tried to calm themself down. They sat on the floor and rubbed their cream robes along their legs, taking in the texture against their hands. They imagined pouring cold water over hot coals. Steam.

Things I hate about being a Love god:

  1. Everyone wants to know everything about my life
    BUT, it’s better than if they hated me.
  2. I can’t go into public without someone recognizing me
    BUT, I’m also super hot.
  3. I’m obligated to give Mother Love and harvest her fruits
    BUT, I love her and I’m really good at it.
  4. I have to live with Eros

They couldn’t think of an upside to living with Eros. He was always correcting them, nagging them, or mocking them. Eros was a major god of Love while Arrows was just a minor one. Their duties involved giving Love, magical energy created by sharing warm feelings, to Mother, the great tree that they lived on, in exchange for fruits and other gifts. Eros, naturally, was better than Arrows at everything.

Arrows went to their bedroom. They started packing their backpack with clothes (taken from the floor among other locations). They weren’t sure where they were going. Right now, they just knew that they needed to be away from Eros, away from Pre Ha’Etz. They found their pink party shades and fake ‘stache under their bed and stuffed them into their backpack before dashing out of the house.

The bright filtered through Mother’s leaves and created the perfectly dappled atmosphere of Pre Ha’Etz. It was warm today, like every day around her. Arrows walked down the branch, speeding past the security guard stationed at the entrance without turning their head.

They scanned the Base of Branches, the town square of Pre Ha’Etz, where Mother’s branches met. Eros was nowhere to be found. He would probably be in his office, collecting Love. Arrows looked at their conflict resolver: it was four hours since.

They slipped into the nearest men’s room and got changed in the nearest stall. They took off their cream robes, replacing them with a black crop top with a banana embroidered on it and black shorts. They put on their party shades and fake mustache. For a moment, they reveled in the irony of putting on a ‘stache after shaving earlier that morning. They loved those double inversions of their odd brand of cross-dressing.

They put their backpack on and looked at themself in the mirror. They corrected their mustache and adjusted their glasses. They ran their fingers through their wide blonde curls.


Bus stop.

They fled the bathroom and located the stairs down to the bus stop, in the middle of the Base of Branches.

Every time Arrows became Jackfruit, they felt a wave of anxiety, afraid that everyone would see right through him. They had to talk themself down, remembering their image in the mirror, their eyes concealed. Then, the anxiety would melt away and become something else, but they weren’t sure what. Euphoria? Mischievousness? The elation of successfully telling a lie?

They went down the stairs into the dim bus stop lit by a single shining yellow quartz sign. The next bus was just arriving. It had come up the spiral path carved through the trunk of Mother. The thought of it corkscrewing through her was almost gorey in Arrows’ mind, but they ignored the image. There was a sizable crowd waiting for the bus, maybe enough for it to be half full (or would it be half empty?).

What am I doing? Arrows asked themself. They were certain of their conviction, but uncertain of the source of it. They knew their judgment was clouded by the smoke in their mind, but knowing this didn’t clear it up.

People filtered out of the bus. Arrows’ gaze was fixed on the stairway leading out. Their impulse was met with opportunity, and now they had to make a decision. They had never left town before. Where were they even going? They could go to the Junkyard or the Fifth City, but neither especially appealed to them. Babble was out of the question.

An image appeared: Eros, getting smaller and smaller before disappearing into the visual snow of their mind’s eye. They hadn’t even said goodbye.

The string of people leaving the bus ended.

Another image: Mother, wilting, weeping, crying in her own way. The room got a little colder.

Two more people got off the bus, a gray, lost-looking duo. One ghost-looking person and one quartz-person, both in striking dresses. Without meaning to, Arrows made eye contact with the ghost. Despite her strange appearance, Arrows fixated on her dress: an elegant, bold thing.

“You should have woken me up,” she said to the woman next to her. Her voice was raspy and soft at the same time, almost like two different people speaking at once. She had two X’s haphazardly placed on her face which Arrows assumed must be her eyes.

“Sorry. You looked so sleepy,” the other woman replied. Her smoky quartz body glistened and reflected the light from the yellow bus stop sign. She was wearing a beautiful, modest, burgundy dress with a straight silhouette. She was putting in more effort to her appearance than any other quartz-person Arrows had seen. Most of them preferred the natural beauty of their expensive Sphinx-sculpted bodies to anything touched by human hands. Her face was made up of a few sharp edges. It was rather beautiful.

Now the ghost was only a few feet from Arrows. They were still staring at her.

“Hello,” they said.


“You look lost.”

“We are,” the quartz-person said.

A new plan: Arrows would show these two around, maybe to say goodbye to Mother. Then they would be ready to go for real. They would have to avoid Eros.

“Do you need someone to show you around town?”

“Well,” the ghost said, “really we were trying to get to the Junkyard.”

“We’re on a holy mission,” the quartz-person butt in.

“Well he doesn’t have to know that.”

“You two must be Sphinx worshippers, right?” Arrows asked.

“We are,” the ghost said. “My name is Xanax. This is Eve. In Pre Ha’Etz, great joyous tree ‘Mother’ expels our muck and numbs our pain unfazed, quietly, and with Love, she added, as if that meant anything. Arrows identified the sentence as a pangram and elected to ignore it

“I’m Jackfruit,” Arrows said, adding Xanax and Eve to the list of people he was lying to.

“Jack, love my big wad of Sphinx quartz,” Xanax said knowingly. Arrows wasn’t sure what she was talking about. “Maybe we should just take the next bus out,” she said to Eve, quieter.

“I think we should let him show us around, maybe just for a bit,” Eve said, matching Xanax’s volume.

“Okay but let’s not give him so many details, alright?”

“I think we can trust him.”

“I’m literally right here. You can tell me.” Arrows was getting a little bit impatient. They had cooled off some, but they still felt irritable.

Arrows looked behind the duo and noticed that the bus had already turned around and left.

“Well the bus just left,” they said, “so it looks like we’re all stuck here now. That’s really the only way out of town.”

“Oh.” Xanax exchanged looks with Eve.

“Can you show us around, then?” Eve asked.

“Yeah,” they held the tension in the air for a second or two. “Let’s go.”

“Okay,” Eve said.

Arrows did a 180, feeling the tension enter their shoulders. They suddenly felt impatient. They needed to stabilize, but they weren’t sure how. This wasn’t a good idea, but some part of them wanted this. Maybe it was something about Xanax and Eve that compelled them? There was something familiar about them. Maybe because they’re also gay?

Arrows stopped thinking and led them up the stairs. They would avoid clocking either of their visitors, at least for the time being.

“Have either of you been to Pre Ha’Etz before?”

“No,” Xanax said. “It’s a lot warmer here.”

“That’s because of global warming,” Arrows said, a warm excitement fluttering through their chest. “Love, the magical kind, capital ‘L,’ sort of takes the shape of a globe, right? When you express warm feelings to someone else, it makes a globe of warmth around you. Those globes combine into a greater globe around all of Pre Ha’Etz, which makes it warmer around here.”

“That's not like Vex magic,” Eve said, “which flows in one direction and dissipates.”

“Right,” Arrows said. “So Love magic is also directional like that. It goes from one person to another and then you give it to Mother. I don’t really know how it works outside of Pre Ha’Etz. I’ve actually never left town.” They stopped in place, processing something. “It must be pretty cold without her.”

“Is everything okay?” Eve asked, approaching Arrows. “Mother must mean a lot to you. I understand. In Pre Ha’Etz, great joyous tree ‘Mother’ expels our muck and numbs our pain unfazed, quietly, and with Love.

That pangram again. Arrows felt their fire get hotter. Their fingers tensed up. They actively stopped themself from forming a fist. Eve was standing just a little too close. “Actually you really don’t get it!” they said, just a little too loud, before biting their tongue.

A moment of silence, too long. Thoughts raced through Arrows’ head. It was imperative to pick the right one.

“Can you um. Not bring up pangrams about me, actually?” Arrows looked Eve right in one of her faces for just a second before breaking away. “Imagine if I came to the Fifth City and told you what all the quartz was for. It’s like you’re pretending to be an expert on something that you know nothing about.” They took a breath.

Arrows hated the sound of Eve’s silence, even for half a second. “Sorry,” they said. “Sorry, that was inappropriate. Sometimes I burn a little too brightly.” Arrows almost wanted to say “I have curse of fire and ice,” but they stopped themself. It was easy to always bring up that damn curse because it was the reason for a lot of their thoughts and behaviors, but they felt that whenever they talked about it, they were excusing that behavior rather than explaining it. It was their job to deal with it themself, not make it other people’s problems.

“No, I’m sorry,” Eve said. “I use pangrams to feel like I understand the world, but I can see that I don’t. Thank you for showing us around.”

Arrows felt just a little warmer. They got excited; this would be a perfect teaching moment. (What a nerdy thought. Maybe they were good at their job?) “Can you feel that? I know you are being genuine because I could feel the Love between the two of us forming a globe. Lemme show you something.”

Arrows led them towards the edge of the Base of Branches. Here, there was a low wooden wall to keep people from falling off the edge of Mother. A much smaller branch hung over the wall and pointed inwards, towards town. A single sprig with a yellow leaf hung off the branch. There were several of these around Pre Ha’Etz, but Arrows was used to using the one in their office, which was bigger and allowed for a deeper connection to Mother.

“Check this out.” Arrows closed their eyes and held their hands under the branch. They felt the warmth of Eve’s genuine apology and focused on it, imagining that they were her, apologizing to Mother. A golden glowing fruit appeared. After a moment, it faded to green. “A pear. I would have asked for a jackfruit, but they’re kinda huge.” The pear fell off the branch into their hands. “Either of you hungry?” Arrows smiled. They really did love Love. It was the pressure and the attention that they hated about this place.

“Beautiful,” Eve said.

“Can I have some?” Xanax asked.

“Yeah, take a bite.” Arrows was curious as to how she ate with no mouth, but didn’t want to stare, so they looked somewhere else. “Check out that view!” They gestured beyond the wall.

The bright was beaming light gray in the sky. In the distance was the moon, just beyond the angular horizon formed by the corner of the world. It was white, reflecting the light from the bright, barely standing out. To the left of the moon was Babble, a hundred concrete storeys standing resolute in the ocean, taller than Mother. Around Babble, the ocean was still, but otherwise it was sloshing in place. At the edge of the cube, it hit what appeared to be an invisible wall, splattering against nothing at all. The bus route was the only thing between here and the set of houses that formed the Junkyard. Arrows imagined pieces of Junk washing up on the shore, ready for people to harvest. They wondered what people were like there, how the ocean sounded, how much colder it was.

“How’s the Fifth City?” they asked.

“Darker,” Eve said. “I’m not used to all the light here. I didn’t realize how reflective I was.” She held her arm outside the shadows cast by Mother’s leaves. Sure enough, she shone.

“I don’t like it there at all,” Xanax said. “It’s cold and foggy, everyone hates each other, it’s falling apart, and I’m pretty sure my house is cursed.”

“What kind of curse?” Arrows asked. “I didn’t realize places could be cursed. Is that normal around there?”

“Everything in my house loses color. The whole place is gray except for my husband and me.”

“Husband? I didn’t…” There was no good way to end that sentence. Arrows didn’t see a ring, but they weren’t looking for one either.

“I’m not wearing it,” Xanax responded, looking away.

Arrows avoided eye contact and looked behind her instead. They idly scanned the area, looking for Eros, maybe. People were hanging out, talking, eating at tables by restaurants, and going into stores. Warily, Arrows looked towards Eros’ office, a small wooden building against the opposite edge of the Base of Branches. The door opened: a mother holding her son’s hand exited through it. He was babbling away and she looked tired but content, holding a bag in her other hand. Arrows imagined her telling Eros how much she loved her son, explaining a simple, quiet moment.

Watching them made Arrows feel soggy.

Then they saw Strawberry, going somewhere. She didn’t see them. Arrows kept on looking, waiting for her to make eye contact. Fatefully, she turned and looked at them for a second. Arrows waved, but she didn’t wave back. She looked startled to see them. She turned back around, walking a little faster.

Arrows saw Xanax turn back towards them.

“Who’s that?” she asked.

“Um. Just this girl I like, I guess,” Arrows said quietly. They felt drained, like their insides were flushed with a torrent of water that took everything with it. Now they were hollow and dripping.

“Is something wrong?”

“No.” Liar.

Arrows watched Strawberry. She walked up a branch in the direction of the Bright Flower, the bar that she and Arrows (or Jackfruit, really) haunted. Once she was out of sight, Arrows followed her, feeling hexed.

Their legs were heavy. They waded across the Base of Branches.

In fact, the Bright Flower was exactly where Strawberry was going. Arrows saw her pass through the wide saloon doors. They stopped outside, emerging from their trance. They looked around: Xanax and Eve had followed them here. They totally forgot what they had been doing.

“Um,” Xanax said, like she was going to say something else, but stopped short.

“Um,” Arrows said.

“Um?” Eve asked.

“Um!” Arrows said, raising their eyebrows. To their left, they saw Eros walking up the branch. Their heart rate went up.

Look left, right, left again.

Hide behind Eve? No, stupidest idea.

Look right.

A vision: reputation ruined. Brother’s reproachful wrath. No way out. Drowning.

Behind you: the Flower: inside: inside: inside.

Saloon doors swing.

They made eye contact with Cucumber, behind the bar, talking to Strawberry, sitting across from him.

“Supernova. What’s up, man?” he asked.

Arrows hoped Cucumber couldn’t tell how afraid they were. Before Strawberry turned around, Arrows put on a confident face. They inhaled and became Jackfruit. Jackfruit wouldn’t be scared in this situation.

Jackfruit straightened his back and sauntered over to the bar. Strawberry’s face turned red, like some kind of berry.

“Why hello,” he said. “You know it’s ‘Jackfruit,’ right?”

“Whatever,” Cucumber said.

Jackfruit pulled the bar stool back and lifted himself up onto it. His neck was rigid.

“Hey,” Cucumber called out, “welcome to the Bright Flower!”

Jackfruit turned around: Xanax and Eve had just walked in.

“First time here?” Cucumber asked.

“We’re with Jackfruit,” Xanax said. Eve was trailing behind her.

Jackfruit heard Strawberry groan.

He felt a flare of hot anxiety when Xanax sat next to him. He felt cold pressure, as if he had to manage all four people at once. How did Xanax and Eve feel around Cucumber? Would Xanax and Eve want an introduction to Strawberry? Why was Strawberry mad? What would Jackfruit say to Eve and Xanax about Strawberry? What would Cucumber tell Xanax and Eve about Jackfruit?

These were Arrows’ anxieties, something that Jackfruit was supposed to be immune to. Arrows continued to play pretend.

“Have a seat,” Jackfruit said to Eve, who was hovering behind him and Xanax.

“Okay.” She pulled up a chair next to Xanax.

“What will it be, ladies?” Cucumber asked.

As Xanax ordered, Jackfruit stared at Strawberry.

“Stop staring at me.” She wasn’t looking back.

“Is something wrong?”


“Can we talk about it?” Jackfruit tried to steady his voice.

“Let’s talk later.”

“I’m worried there won’t be a ‘later.’”

She looked right at him. “And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Strawberry looked away and was silent for a moment.

“Where do you work?” she asked, looking at him again.


“Where do you work? What do you do all day to buy your drinks? And mine, too?”

“Um.” Arrows felt Jackfruit begin to peel off of them like a banana. They were naked.

“What? You can’t tell me?”

“Um.” Arrows looked down. The edges of their fingernails became very interesting.

“What’s your dad’s name? Where do you live? Do you have any siblings? Why do you wear those stupid glasses, man?”

“Um.” The room was cold, globeless.

“Listen, man, whatever is going on with you, I don’t even want to know. I just can’t see you anymore, not after Cucumber pointed out how many little plot holes you have. Go lie to someone else instead.”

Lightning struck Arrows’ heart. And it was about to strike Strawberry, too. “Well you know what? You’re a stupid fucking bitch anyway, so.”

“Okay, you need to leave right now, dude,” Cucumber said. Suddenly, he was huge. It was as if he had always been slouching before, and he finally stood up straight.

“Bye.” Arrows pushed out their stool and got the fuck out.

They paced outside, clenching and unclenching their fists. “Fuck!” They slid to the ground, their back against the wall. “Fuck.” Breathe. “Fuck. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. Itscool itscool itscool itscool itscool. It’s fine. Just gotta get out of town, gotta forget about her, about him, and about this stupid bar. I’m fine. It’s fine.”

Arrows didn’t know how to feel. They felt like a bad person, like a misogynist, talking to Strawberry like that. They were ashamed of themself and embarrassed that Eve and Xanax heard. But more than that, they were angry, the simple kind of anger that came with their curse: something so deep and intense that it defies all logic. It was something they had to talk themself down from, a task that they had clearly failed to do in the bar.

“Hey,” Eve said. She and Xanax looked down at Arrows, blocking the bright.

“Hi,” they said. They knew they needed to say something, but they weren’t sure what. “Sorry that you had to see that I hope you don’t think I’m some kind of misogynist who screams at girls and gets kicked out of bars; this really isn’t like me, I promise I’m not a terrible person, please, I’m just having a bad day, really, that’s all, I promise that I’m normal, that I’m a good person that I—” The longer that sentence went on, the worse they felt. They knew they were manipulating Eve and Xanax into feeling bad for them.

The truth was that this was normal, for them at least. These feelings, the confusion, the fire and the ice, all Arrows the time. Always something pointed at someone, always going forward forward forward.

Arrows imagined Xanax having a silent conversation with Eve, exchanging facial expressions and deciding a collective judgment. Then, they remembered that neither of them really had expressive faces.

“It’s not up to me to judge you,” Xanax said at last. “I’ll leave that to the Sphinx.”

Arrows couldn’t tell if that was an invitation or just the polite thing to say. They thought about it and felt the judgment of their peers dissolve, just for a moment. They were warm, not from fire, but from Love.

“Okay.” Arrows breathed for a few seconds. They didn’t feel better.

They looked up at Xanax. They noticed something about her arm, but they didn’t know how to vocalize that politely. “What are you holding?” Arrows stood up.

“Um, this is a notebook I found inside, in a lost and found box.” It was a small thing, with a metal spiral binding and thick cardboard covers, red-dress-red. It lacked a logo on the cover and was worn down at the edges. “Somehow, I knew it was mine, so the bartender gave it to me.” She lifted the notebook and opened it. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it just feels right when it’s in my hands. He also gave me this pen clipped onto the front.” She picked up the pen and wrote something. “Sphinx of black quartz! My hand!”

Xanax dropped the pen and folded the notebook closed with her left hand. She examined her right hand, the same gray as her face, but totally corporeal now. It had volume and it cast a shadow. An arm extended from it up her sleeve to her shoulder. Xanax put the notebook in her purse. The three of them huddled around her hands as she bent and straightened her fingers, formed fists, peace signs, and flipped Arrows and Eve off. She flexed her biceps in a few manly poses.

“They’re beautiful,” Eve said. “You’re a lucky lady,” as if she just gave birth to twins.

Eve showed off her hands, chunky dark gray things with smooth faces and sharp edges. Arrows couldn’t help but stare.

Xanax shook Eve’s hand and then Arrows’. Her grip was soft, and then too hard, as if she was getting used to it. Instinctively, Arrows shook Eve’s hand next, cold and smooth.

“Hey,” Arrows said, inviting Xanax to high-five them. Their hands smacked together with a satisfying clap.

They high-fived Eve next. “Ouch!” they said when their hands connected. “Damn, that hurt really bad! I don’t know what I expected, though.”

“Sorry,” Eve said. “I guess that’s what you get for high-fiving a perfect being made of quartz.”

Arrows scoffed; they weren’t sure if she was being serious or not.

“Me next!” Xanax said. Arrows admired her willingness to seek out the new experience despite knowing how it turned out for them.


“Damn, that hurt!” Xanax had no face, but she would be beaming if she did.

“Sorry,” Eve said.

“Please, don’t be.”

They were quiet for a moment, everyone looking at their hands. Arrows checked their conflict resolver.

“I think the bus should be coming soon. Y’all have somewhere to be, right?”

“Yeah, we need to get to the Junkyard,” Eve said.

The light, friendly moment dissolved as facts of Arrows’ reality came back to them. They gripped the shoulder straps of their backpack.

They realized that they were happier around Xanax and Eve than around their brother. What did that mean?

The group was frozen in a quiet moment. They formed the sentence in their mind and turned it over, looking at Xanax, then at the floor.

Arrows melted it. “Can I come with you? I think I need to get out of town.” A shiver passed through them.

“Sure,” Xanax said.

“Um, yeah,” Eve said.

“Thank you.” Arrows looked at both of them. “I mean it, really, thank you.” Something unreal entered their body. They began digesting it.

Arrows quietly led them down the branch to the bus stop. They wondered when they would be home again. What would Eros think of their absence? What would Mother think?

“Hey,” they said when they got to the Base of Branches, “there’s something I need to tell you on the bus, okay? It’s important but I can’t talk about it here.”

“Arrows?” Someone yelled, across the Base of Branches. It was Eros. It looked as if he was in the middle of a conversation with someone, probably a fan, but dropped it and began walking towards Arrows.

“Fuck,” Arrows said, looking Eros in the eye. “Listen, I’m sorry,” they said to Eve and Xanax, “for everything.”

“Arrows!” Eros said, coming closer. “Arrows, look at me!”

“What?” they said. They were anticipating this, but had nothing prepared.

“What are you doing? Why are you dressed like that? Where are you going?”

“My job, because I want to, the Junkyard.” Heart in ears. Blood hot, blood everywhere, making quick laps.

“The Junkyard? And what are you doing there?”

A crowd began forming around them. Arrows looked around at all the different faces before slowly taking their party shades off, hanging them on the collar of their shirt. They closed their eyes and ripped off their fake ‘stache with a wide gesture, putting it in their pocket. They felt their fire get fanned by the drama of their gestures and the presence of the crowd.

“I just need to get out of here. Away from you.” They pointed at Eros, stoking their flame. “All of you! The Love god Arrows needs a vacation, okay?”

“You can’t just leave. You have a job. You have duties! And you have a brother who loves you.” Softer: “Let’s go home and talk about this.”

Was he manipulating them? They really badly wanted to say Fuck you, but they restrained themself, just self aware enough to know that their smoke was in the way of their thoughts. Self aware and self conscious, suddenly.

Maybe Eros was right. Maybe they should talk about it. Just the two of them. They really hated him right now, but they weren’t sure if they could trust that they hated him for real. He wasn’t being malicious, not really. Anger faded into anxiety. Any move was the wrong move.

They looked at Eve and saw their frown reflected in a face.

Eros approached. “C’mon, let’s just talk about it.” He took their hand, but they shook out of his grip.

“No! Please, just let me do this.” Arrows realized they were begging now. “Please, I won’t be gone long. I promise.” They looked at the ground with their whole head. “I just need a break, okay? Then we can talk about everything.”

A tense beat. Another one. Arrows looked up.

“Fine,” Eros said. “Do what you want. I’ll be waiting. Mother will be waiting, too.”

“Okay.” Arrows turned around awkwardly. They felt as if they should be satisfied, but they just felt cold. The crowd parted for them.

“Okay everyone, you can go home now!” Eros yelled. “Give them some space, okay?”

Downstairs, Arrows collapsed on the bench in the bus stop.

“Sorry for lying,” they said, before reconsidering. “Actually I’m not sorry. But I guess I’m sorry for lying about being sorry.” They didn’t look up at Xanax or Eve when they said this. They were water in a hot pan.

“That’s okay,” Eve said, annoyed. “So your real name is ‘Arrows?’” Was it okay? It must be, if she said so.

“Yeah. I’m also non binary and bisexual, not just some straight guy. Any pronouns are fine, but I mostly use ‘they them.’ I’m a minor Love god, which is a part of the reason why I wanted to show you Mother. I promise I’m not always this insane, I’m just having an especially insane day.” Arrows felt naked. “I’m being honest, really. I won’t lie to you anymore, okay?”

“Okay,” Eve said. Arrows felt a warm globe form between the two of them.

“Okay. Thank you.” It got a little warmer. “You’re going to the Junkyard, right?”

“Yeah,” Eve said. “Actually we’re going to Castle Quartz.”

“On the moon?”


“We’ll take the ferry in the Junkyard to Babble,” Xanax said, “and then we need to get to the 100th storey. I don’t know a lot about Babble, other than the obvious.”

“Right,” Eve said. “Scholars quiz sons and daughters to box family from family with jokeless pavement.”

“They sure do,” Arrows said, half to themself.

While waiting for the bus, Arrows pondered why Eve and Xanax were so quick to forgive them. They took everything they said at face value, even when they admitted to lying. They came up with two possible answers: that they were desperate for friends or that they were keeping secrets themselves. Arrows gave them the benefit of the doubt and decided to believe neither hypothesis for the time being.

“Are you ready to go?” Xanax asked tenderly when the bus arrived.

Arrows got up.

Thank you Mother, for feeding me, housing me, and clothing me. Thank you for blessing Pre Ha’Etz with bountiful fruit. Thank you for not giving me the absolute worst brother on the cube. Thank you for this vacation. I am going away, but I will be back. I love you. Arrows felt a globe so warm they were sure everyone else felt it too. It was big enough to feed a family.

“Ok. I’m ready.”