Author : Richard Day Gore

“Lover, question the Question.”

My Karala was like that. She spoke in riddles. Her thoughts were a maze designed so that only she could extract their meaning. But she was no match for the Gods, and their voracious hunger for our gold.

Why do the Gods need gold? Feeding their sky-chariots with the yellow metal has been our reason to exist since before the Bal-Kari, before the First Sweeping of the Tells. We’re taught not to question, only to do. To dig it from the rocks and mountains the Gods gave us, to extract and refine it in the fire they bestowed on our ancestors as reward for pledging their progeny—us—to the slavery of mindless worship.

Several Gods arrive today, their heavenly vehicles swathed in pulsating light that pierces the eyes and makes us bow our heads. It’s only after they dismount from within their chariots that we can glimpse them, if we dare. Grey and scaly like night-lizards, without the organized form of skeletons like we humans have. They have no faces, no arms to reach us, nor fists to strike us. Instead they are surrounded with a pale, glowing sphere of energy that prickles the flesh like a flood of stinging nettles, that pierces us without bleeding, that plants in us the single, inescapable thought that overrides all others: Obey.

That I do today, even as my heart collapses into its own emptiness. Karala. Karala! Her name crashes through my mind, battling with the specter of fear and obedience that keeps me shackled with my brothers to this wicker basket. To the fire. Then back for more. Endless toil under a sun as hot as our furnace, until night delivers us to sleep, to forbidden dreams.

Karala was my dream since we were children. But after we gave birth to a new gold-finder, the Gods took Karala from me. Because she questioned. Not even Karala, with her strong mind and stronger will, could keep the invisible nettle-sphere from penetrating her and extracting her thoughts.

So now, as one chariot departs in a searing flash, and another lands in a thick cloud of dust, I try to cloak my thoughts within my memory of her, and carry on carrying. Respeth, who crushes boulders on a massive anvil… Badomash, who spills the mountain of pebbles into the furnace… The Gods took their wives away. Like Karala, their mates questioned: Why do the Gods need gold? We see it in each other’s eyes, furtive glimpses only—dangerous gazes carefully withheld. Meeting each other’s eyes would draw the question from our minds, where it would be intercepted, and we would perish like our women.

So I struggle without and within, spine and limbs twisted by the weight of this basket, and try not to think of Karala and her riddle. But I must.

“Lover, question the Question.”

And it’s now, as I tip the basket towards Respeth’s anvil, that the swirl of words congeals into something resembling deliverance. Yes, my Karala, I honor you by questioning the question, Why do the Gods need gold? And within it is the germ of the solution…

If they are really gods, how is possible that they would need anything? Suddenly, the answer rockets through my mind:

Because they are not gods.

An exaltation of power courses through me. Suddenly, my weariness vanishes as I lock eyes with Respeth and Badomash. The words, the Answer, burst up my throat. My lips form around them and begin to speak.

A flash of light washes over us. The nettles envelop me.

My Karala, I am coming!

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