“What is this?” Zenobia demanded. She held the ceramic turtle in her hand, studied its lack of gold or gems, and tried not to feel too disappointed. She had, after all, just raided the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration, which was an author’s blog. Treasure was not a writer’s speciality.
“It’s the representative of a deity of wisdom.” Opal spoke with bland courtesy, not allowing his thick lips to twitch. “Some say it carries the world on its back.”
Zenobia nearly dropped the turtle at the audacity of this squat little commoner daring to answer her question. Opal caught the turtle before it could smash on the ground.
“You have hair on your face.” The Kalanthian queen regarded Opal with distaste. “We find this most displeasing.”
“You loved a girl, but treated her as a slave,” Opal retorted. “I find that most displeasing.”
“Arrogant little man!” Zenobia bared her glittering white teeth at the dwarf. “I could have you flayed alive-”
“A dwarf’s beard is tied to his sense of beauty and pride!” Garnet thrust a garden gnome between his brother and the queen from another universe, not entirely sure what he was doing. “Surely, you don’t mean to insult another queen’s favorite?”
“Hold your tongue!” Zenobia growled, but she was distracted by the gnome. “What is this idolatry? Did you trap a piece of your soul in this likeness?”
“What?” Garnet goggled at the queen, fondling the gnome in shock.
Opal wasn’t about to take this. Not from some jumped up queen from another project which hadn’t even been published yet!
“Are you blind? How can you even compare a dwarf to a common garden gnome! A creature that’s half goblin!” Opal shook his fist at Zenobia. “I don’t care how powerful a monarch you are! Get back to your Work in Progess, you upstart-!”
“Opal, shut up.”
It couldn’t be. He was dead. Yet here he was, standing between the queen and his brothers.
Opal’s mouth opened and closed in sheet terror at the sight of Quartz, cradling the turtle to his chest. Garnet nearly dropped the gnome.
“You’re dead!” Garnet hugged the statue in his arms in sheer terror. Never mind that it was entirely too much like a goblin. It was the only thing standing between him and his zombie brother. “We all saw you die!”
Zenobia was the only one not terrified by Quartz’s appeared. Her eyes widened at the appearance of yet another little man with hair on his chin, but not with fear.
“Ah, a Wise One!” Zenobia regarded Quartz with a respect she hadn’t shared with either of his brothers. “One who has been to the lands of the dead, yet chosen to return and share his stories.” She actually inclined her head towards the newcomer.
Opal and Garnet turned their horrified stare from their brother to the queen.
Quartz took no notice of them. He smiled and bowed to Zenobia.
“A gift from the lands beyond to one whose beauty requires a tribute.” He offered the queen a single, black feather, along with a roguish half wink.
“Wise One, you honor me,” Zenobia breathed. She accepted the feather, offering Quartz a coy smile.
The next moment, she and Quartz vanished. Garnet and Opal were left, holding the turtle and the garden gnome.
“He’s always had a soft spot for human women,” Opal muttered. “Strangely, they seem to have a soft spot for him.”
“What just happened?” Garnet gasped, looking around wildly. “Will you please let me know what happened? Has a witch enchanted us? What was that?”
“Authorly weirdness,” Opal said with decisive firmness. He wasn’t entirely sure where the phrase came from, but it seemed appropriate for unexpected occurrances.
Garnet would have tugged his beard, but his arms were filled garden gnome. Perhaps he should trying hugging these creatures more often.
On the other hand, it did look entirely too much like a goblin.