Against Stone Doors

The first step to achieving world peace, she decided, was to get everyone’s attention. If the whole world focused on a single, miraculous occurrence, they would have no time to fight any longer. She considered stopping the sun or making all of the stars go dark at the same time, but those weren’t really things she had control over. Not without asking the gods for a favor she wasn’t sure she could afford to pay back.

So she tried to think of things on a smaller scale. She could set fire to all of the forests at the same time or dry up all of the rivers. But then the nature sprites would be upset and she didn’t really want to hurt all of those innocent animals. Not to mention, it would be nearly impossible to coordinate an effort that massive. Plus, seeing as she didn’t have the magical ability to start fires or dry up rivers, it would require another favor from the gods—and while this one probably wasn’t quite as major, depending on the mood of the god it could end up being worse. Being indebted to the gods was never advisable, no matter how small the debt. Trying to outwit them to get what you wanted for no cost even less so.

She went again to a smaller scale. She could create a plague and unleash it on the world. Except that it would take a while for it to spread and would create massive panic and hysteria. Besides, everyone who didn’t contract it would be so busy quarantining themselves and their cities that they wouldn’t be paying attention to a plea for world peace. And that was if she could even manage to create a plague without relying once more on the gods who would be unlikely to support a plan to wipe out their supplicants. There was no guarantee that she would not also fall victim to the plague she released, fate would likely see it as justly deserved. No, a plague wouldn’t do at all.

She supposed she could always write an impassioned speech. Then send it to all of the leaders of the world. There was no guarantee that they would all receive it at the same time—or even that they would read it.

There was always the option of making public speeches, but without getting in bed with a powerful magician to broadcast her speech around the world, her audience would be small and a small audience was not what she wanted. Plus, she would rather be indebted to the gods than to a magician. The gods at least bathed regularly. Not to mention she wasn’t convinced that she wanted to be the face of this peace movement. What if something went wrong and everyone blamed her?

So maybe getting the attention of the world was actually the second step. The first step was to have a plan. In that case, she was already working on the first step, she just wasn’t having much luck with figuring out one that could actually work. Perhaps she should consult the oracles on the best course of action.


She cut a wedge of cheese, her eyes stinging at the acrid smell, if she did not return soon, this cheese would have to go. Then she wrapped it along with a small loaf of bread in a stained napkin before tucking it into a small basket along with a bright red apple. She wedged a water skin in along the side and covered it all with a dingy, checkered cloth.

Before she left her cottage, she wrapped a coarse woolen cloak around her shoulders. After fastening the pin, she gave it a couple of tugs to make sure it was securely fastened. Then she stepped out into the biting wind. She clucked to one of the goats in her pen and in a few minutes, had a rope tied into a harness about its sturdy frame. With that, they were off. So long as the weather held, they would make it to the oracle at the top of the mountain by nightfall.

An hour past the sun reaching its zenith, she reached the base of the mountain. She tied the goat’s leading rope around the trunk of a tree and settled against the warm bark to eat her meager lunch. After finishing the apple, she fed her goat the core, smiling as it snaked its tongue around her fingers, licking the last of the juices free. She brushed the crumbs off of her skirt as she stood up. She clucked to the goat again as she untied the rope and then started up the mountain. The first bit of the ascent was easy with well-worn paths from frequent use. The higher she ascended, the more she had to drop to her knees and crawl. Eventually she tied the lead rope about her waist and began to climb the near vertical ascent. She watched with envy the way her goat nimbly scrambled up the steep slopes, surefooted even on the most uneven of terrains.

She stared at the sheer drop that separated her from the oracles. A narrow ledge wound its way around the ascent and she could have shimmied along that ledge, but that route would take hours, she might arrive at daybreak if she were lucky. Or… she stared at the handholds formed by those who came before. Or she could climb. When she was still a child, her mother had told her tales of her own trip to see the oracles. Had told her of the best paths to take.

She slung the goat around her shoulders, fastening its forelegs together, looping the rope under her shoulders and behind her back, and then tying its hind legs together on the other side of her neck. She wedged her empty basket between two large stones. If she didn’t survive the trip, she would not need it. If she did, she could retrieve it on her way home.

She reached for the first handhold, then the next, then sought a grip for her left foot, then the right. Slowly, she made the ascent. Her goat remained blessedly still throughout, though she wondered at how much hair she would have left by the time she reached the oracles. As the sun dipped lower in the sky and her muscles began to scream with strain, she dared not look up to see how far she had left to go. When there was naught but the moon and stars to guide her ascent, her next aching reach met air. She lowered her hand until she met the hard surface of solid ground. She braced herself on it, reached with her other hand and then slowly heaved herself up to the top. Her feet scrambled for holds on the cliff face until she pitched forward, falling face first onto the ground, her goat sliding over her head and landing with a thump on the ground.

She breathed deeply for several minutes, content to just lie there. Eventually the wuffling and squirming of her goat drew her attention and she forced her arms beneath her and then pushed upwards until she could crawl over to her goat. She sat back on her heels and unfastened the ropes on her goat, whispering silent praises. It had been so well behaved on her trip that she began to feel a modicum of guilt for its impending fate at the hand of the oracles.

She scratched it between the ears, reminding herself that she had no right to get attached to a creature, not when world peace was in the balance.

Slowly she staggered to her feet and with one last scritch, took the lead rope in hand and approached the temple of the oracles. The doors were shut firm and no one answered when she banged repeatedly on the door. She waited and then banged on the door once more.

She cried out for the oracles until her voice grew hoarse, but the doors remained immobile. Eventually she collapsed to the ground once more, leaning her back against the stone doors. Doors that would not budge no matter how much she tried. The goat laid its weary head in her lap and she resumed her idle scratching of its head. Eventually she fell asleep.

She awoke as the stone doors swung open behind her and she tumbled back into the temple. The goat leapt to its feet and nudged her face until she gently pushed it away. She rose to her feet and stared at the cloaked figures that sat in front of a fire.

“You traveled far to question the oracles. You wished to ask us a question,” the first whispered in sibilant tones.

“I did,” she agreed, her fingers turning white around the lead rope.

“You will leave here with the answer you seek,” the third hissed.

The second oracle cracked its mouth open in a grin filled with missing teeth, cackling.

The first beckoned, “You traveled far, bringing with you a sacrifice.”

“Give her to us. Give us our sacrifice,” the second cackled.

She shook her head. “No. It is true that I came here to ask you a question and I will leave here with my answer. But I no longer have need to seek your counsel.” She tugged the lead rope free.

“Go, you are free to make your own choices, your life belongs to no one,” she told the goat before leaving the temple. The goat traipsed after her as she stood at the edge of the cliff. From here she could see her cottage. From here she could see her goat enclosure. From here she could see the lands of her neighbors.

“Listen all,” she cried out and her voice carried on the wind. “The first step to world peace is to have a plan. The second step is to get the attention of the world. But the third step is the only one that matters. That step is to realize that no living creature is worth sacrificing for the well-being of others. A world built on bloodshed is not truly a peaceful one and the cycle will only continue.”

She knelt down next to the goat who seemed determined to follow her wherever she went. “Ready to go home?”

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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