On the Treville mountain range, built on the smallest, but sturdiest hill, stands the huge Temple of Chia—the goddess of wealth and knowledge.
Draped in the finest of gowns embodied with complex mathematical equations written in gold silk, Chia spends her day drinking the holy wine of the gods and waiting for people to visit her temple.
For any brave soul that makes the one-thousand step journey, Chia had a deal to offer. You may offer her a knowledge she does not yet know in return for gold or the answer to a question of your choosing. Over the centuries, great philosophers and thinkers had travelled across the world just to converse with her for days on end.
Lounging on a golden sofa in the center of her temple, basking in the sunlight from a skylight above, Chia swirled her wine glass. Bored. No one had visited her in some time.
Meanwhile, near the foot of the temple, an eight-year-old girl with two large, empty baskets hooked on her elbows stumbled across the dirt road. Her head flipped back and checked for the two ten-year-old twin boys that chased her. If they got too close, they would grab her skirt and yank her back. Every day these boys would find, bug, and tease her on her trip to the town market.
Today, she had cut up a steep, tree-packed hill to lose them. Panting hard, the girl scanned her surroundings, looking for somewhere to hide before the boys figured where she went when she spotted the temple.
Scrambling up the steps, she scurried away from the twins as fast as she could. The baskets scraped against the edges of the steps. At the bottom, the boys stopped and spotted her, pointing their fingers and calling out but the girl didn’t stop.
Taking over an hour, she reached the top. Wheezing, she bent over and dropped her baskets. As she wiped the sweat from her brow, she glanced at the unforgiving sun directly overhead. Noon. This had taken too long.
From this height, she could see the town and how far this detour had taken her. She pouted as she factored how much longer her daily chores would take.
With the whine, the girl picked up her baskets to start back down when a voice called from within the temple. “What mortal had decided to visit me?”
A beautiful woman with curly blonde hair in a flowing gown with a crown made out of marigolds and gilded vines walked towards the girl. She floated an inch above the ground, as to not sully her dress. “Who are you?” The girl asked.
Chia smiled. “What a strange question to be asked by the stranger who entered my temple. I will not answer your question because you can.”
A few rusty gears in the girl’s head clicked as her brain processed the old story her late mother used to tell her about the golden goddess of knowledge: Chia. The strange goddess who chose to stay on earth while all other gods ascended to the Heavenly Realm. The reason she gave was that a human’s virtue comes from their mortality. With every new generation of humans came new ideas, beliefs, and knowledge, while the immortal gods were forever stuck in their old ways and mindsets. None of them could quench her thirst for intellectual discussion.
“Chia,” the girl finally answered. She gave a slight bow.
“And you’re Ann,” Chia said.
Ann opened her mouth to question how she knew her name, but Chia stopped her. “I’m an all-knowing goddess.” Chia said. “It comes in handy with learning the names of new people. What is your purpose in coming here?”
“Some boys were chasing me.”
Chia frowned. “So, you’re not here for a deal.” She sighed. Of course, how could such a young child have anything to offer her?
“Deal?” Ann echoed. “Oh right, you’re that goddess that trades knowledge for gold or knowledge.” Her mouth broke into a bright smile. “I betcha I know something you don’t. My daddy’s taught me lotta things. He’s super smart.”
Behind her back, her hands gripped the baskets and swayed. With a hand on her hip and boredom chewing on her soul, Chia relented. “Enlighten me.”
“Zero plus zero equals zero. And zero times zero equals zero.”
Chia cocked her head to the side, confused. “I am aware of basic mathematics, child.”
Ann held up a finger. “I’m not done. Two times two equals four and two plus two equals four.”
“I realize you are young, but surely your brain is developed enough to understand that as a goddess of knowledge, I know how to add and multiply single digit numbers?”
Ann’s smile got bigger. “But did you know that a pair of zeroes and a pair of twos are the only numbers in existence whose sum and product equal the same?”
Chia’s mouth opened to reply, but then she paused. It was such a simple fact, but given its randomness, lack of complex thought, and—honestly—uselessness, Chia had never bothered to learn it. She smirked at the child. What an interesting loophole. “Very clever, child. So, I assume you must want some gold, then? Perhaps a golden toy?”
She held her hand in the air, yellow dust flying from the tips as it spun in a tornado before forming a golden doll. Ann shook her head. “Then something else made of gold?” Chia asked.
“I want you to answer a question of mine.”
The toy dropped and shattered into yellow dust that quickly dissipated in the air. How curious. “Very well. Ask it.”
“How do I solve my problems?”
With a laugh, Chia said, “You’re going to have to be more specific, child. Are you referring to ending global poverty or a dislikement of eating vegetables?”
“The boys that keep chasing me… How do I get them to stop or leave me alone?”
More golden sparkles flew from her hand. It morphed into a moving display of the front of the boys’ house, late at night. A tiny, golden Ann entered from behind the bushes. “Late tonight,” Chia said. “Go to the boys’ houses. Every night, their mother puts their odorous shoes outside to air out the smell. Tie their laces together with this knot.” The display shifted to show the steps of tying a large and difficult knot. “The knot will never come undone and they won’t be able to chase you. Understand?”
Ann nodded. “Thank you.”
With a hop, skip, and a jump, Ann scurried down the temple and to the town’s market to complete her daily chores. “What a strange child,” Chia commented with a slight smile.
The next day, to Chia’s surprise, Ann came back. It was later in the afternoon and her baskets full from her completed chores hung on her elbows. Additionally, a worn out satchel rested on her shoulder. “It is nice to see you again, Ann.” Chia greeted her with a nod. “Have you come for another deal? I’ll admit, your first attempt was quite lucky. I doubt you will be able to repeat it.”
Confident, Ann puffed out her chest and said, “My father has a scar the shape of a pineapple on his left calf.”
Chia blinked twice. “Why… why would you tell me that?”
“It is ‘knowledge you do not yet possess’.”
Chia’s mouth hung open. “Yes… and it is one I never wished to possess.” She paused. But indeed, the child was right. It was time for Chia’s end of the deal. “Before I grant you your request, may I ask you something?”
“How did you know I would not know that when I knew your name?”
Rolling back on her heels, Ann said, “Well, I figured since you’re a goddess that knows everything—including personal details about people—you’d probably wouldn’t want to constantly have everything in your mind all the time. So, you probably only look into stuff—however you do that—when it’s relevant to you. Like knowing the names of the people you’re meeting. My dad’s scar isn’t relevant to no one but that one doctor he traumatized with it. This theory can be confirmed by you askin’ why I originally came to the temple. You can know everything, but don’t because it’s a pain. I call knowing too much Big Brain Burn. My daddy gets it when he works for a couple of days without sleep.”
Chia crossed her arms. “Your dedication is impressive. You're a particular child, aren’t you?”
Taking the satchel off, Ann dumped out its contents. Pieces and parts spilled into a metal mess. Digging through it. Ann pulled out a small screwdriver and a broken music box. “My daddy made this music box for my mom when they got engaged. He’s an inventor. Before she died, my mom gave it to me.” Ann’s face fell. “But I broke it. Daddy’s been teaching me things in his shop, but he made this music box super complicated. I don’t want Daddy to know, but I don’t know how to fix it.” Looking up at Chia, she asked, “How do I fix it?”
Giving her a gentle smile, Chia pointed a finger at a pale, silver gear in the middle of it. “While it is nearly impossible for the human eye to see, that gear has a small fracture that causes it to stall slightly. For such a complex piece, that is enough to throw off the timing of everything.”
Ann pouted. “These parts are hand forged. I don’t know how to do that.” She looked up at Chia. “Can you teach me?”
“For a price.”
Standing, Ann beamed. “Deal.” Filling the satchel, Ann shrugged it back over her shoulder. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
It took several days and deals to fix the music box. Sitting side by side on the steps, the girls let the box’s sweet sounds echo throughout the temple. It had been many moons since Chia had heard anything so beautiful. As the sun set in the distance, Ann had to go after the song ended. Chia felt a pull in her heart watching the girl leave, but it relaxed when Ann came back the next day. And every day after that.
Years passed and many questions were traded. Most of which were random and simply to quench a child’s endless wonder.
“When’s the next time it’s going to rain?”
“What colors can mantis shrimp see that humans can’t?”
Chia altered Ann’s eyes for a minute to show her.
“What’s your favorite flower?”
“Where do all my missing socks go?”
You have a raccoon problem.
As time passed, Ann grew into an wonderous teenager. Her knowledge grew as well, maturing.
“I’m just sayin’, Bentham is a hypocrite. His utilitarianism is the most selfish philosophy I’ve ever seen.” Sitting, Ann carved an apple into a rose as Chia had taught her the day before. “He has no problem sacrificing one person’s happiness for the ‘good of the majority’, but he would never let that person be him. He’s a dick.”
“Language,” Chia chided as she handed Ann a napkin for her sticky hands.
Ignoring it, Ann licked off the sweet juice and wiped her saliva-covered hands on her dress.
“Were you raised in a barn?” Chia said.
“Hey, just because we once brought horses up here to learn riding does not make this temple a barn. Have some respect.” Ann tossed her rose-apple to Chia. “Take a look.”
Examining it, she said, “Fine craftsmanship, but the upper right petal has a nick in it.”
“Damn. I’ll do another tomorrow.”
Together, they laughed until Ann had to return home to her father.
Very rarely did Ann get stumped. Though, one time she did have to climb a fifty foot sappy pine tree, to tell Chia how sticky a person would get from scaling it because she could think of nothing else. When she reached the top, Ann waved proudly at Chia smiling on the ground, causing her to slip and fall.
With wide eyes, yellow dust flew from Chia’s fingers. Her heart skipped several beats as the dust formed a blanket that caught Ann halfway down and lowered her to the ground. “You must be careful, dear,” Chia scolded as she would a child, trying to hide her shaky hands.
But she couldn’t resist throwing her arms around Ann in a desperate hug. The teenager in Ann wanted to pull away, but she hugged back. “I’m sorry for making you worry.”
“I—I just don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”
With a grin, Ann said, “Don’t worry. That’s a knowledge you’ll never possess.”
Chia wished Ann would never leave. She had taken a liking to the girl, thinking of her as her own daughter.
They stayed like this for years, until one day, Ann didn’t show up. Then for a week. Two weeks…
Fifteen days later, in the middle of the night, Ann showed up. Her face was pale and breath ragged. Eyes wide and panicked. Between pants, she said, “It’s… my… da…”
Rushing to her side, Chia caught Ann as she collapsed. “I know.”
The plague had swept through Ann’s village. Along with half the townsfolk, Ann’s father had caught it. “I’m sorry I haven’t been coming,” Ann pleaded. “But please, I need to save my daddy. I tried to stay by him, to help him get better… but I’m running out of time and options.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I’ll tell you anything, but how do I save my daddy?”
Carefully, Chia helped Ann to stand. She held out a full sack of gold coins. “Take these coins. The next town over by the Verna river, a new doctor with a reliable, but expensive, cure is there. Give him this to treat your father.”
Ann stared at the coins. “But I didn’t tell you anything.”
Chia kissed her forehead. “We’re far past that, my child. You can repay me by being careful. The townsfolk have grown desperate and poor on broken promises of local doctors.” She grabbed Ann’s shoulders and looked deep into her honey-colored eyes. “Promise me you’ll be careful and make it back.”
As Ann disappeared into the distance, Chia repeated to herself, She was going to be fine. At least, until she her Ann’s scream.
It came from Ann’s town. With her powers, she could see what happened. Fury boiled through her veins. Summoning a golden chariot with blonde horses, Chia raced towards her. Though she wasn’t a god of fore-sight, she should have known that foolish girl would get into trouble.
In the center of the village, a desperate man in rags clutched Ann’s sack of gold coins and a bloody knife. Beside him, she laid on the ground, bleeding out and growing cold.
Awakened by Chia’s horses’ thundering hooves, the villagers woke and came out from their shabby houses to stare at the arriving goddess. Chia pulled to a stop next to Ann. She crouched beside her, cradling her head. Chia’s tears dripped on Ann’s face.
Though she knew, Chia screamed at the crowd, “Who did this?”
Whispers floated amongst the crowd. “Isn’t that…?”
“From the temple?”
“A goddess has come…”
Out of patience, Chia repeated, “Who did this?”
A woman shoved the culprit forward. “Him,” she said.
Stammering, the thief dropped the coins. “I didn’t—didn’t know… my apologies… my goddess…”
“I am no goddess of yours,” Chia sneered.
Her eyes lowered to the coins. Half had spilled out. A few people twitched in the crowd, ansy to grab the money, but terrified. One almost went for it, but another stopped them.
Gold. Gold. Gold. Goddess of gold and knowledge. Yes. Yes. Over the years, very few had ever asked her for knowledge. Most came for gold. Eventually, every philosopher and academic caved, bound by earthly desires, and asked for it too. Not Ann. She was the only one.
“Gold, gold, gold,” Chia chanted under her breath until it became so loud it could be heard anywhere in town. “Is that what you want? Is that what you would shed innocent blood over?”
The ground shook, ratting the entire town. The crowd cried out and grabbed onto each other to stabilize themselves at the cost of taking another down. “Answer me,” Chia growled.
One man fell to his knees from the shaking, right in front of Chia. “Answer me,” she whispered to him.
He glared at the goddess while others cowered. “To say it was ‘gold’ that the innocent blood was spilt over is hypocritical. Had it not been stolen, someone else ‘innocent’ would have died. It is not the gold that blood is spilt over, but a lack of resources because calloused gods abandoned us. You cannot leave us to die then be shocked we fight to live. You have no right to mock us for our love of living, of gold.”
Chia’s face twitched. “Very well. You have given me a new thought, so I will grant you something in return: the very gold you seek.”
Reaching a breaking point with its rumbling, molten gold geysers spewed from the ground, raining hot metal over the entire town.
“It burns,” townsfolk cried as the metal cooked their flesh to the bone.
A dozen more geysers popped up as the townsfolk fled for their lives.
“Does this satisfy your desires?” Chia bellowed, the hoarse, heartbroken sound breaking her throat. “Because it doesn’t fulfill mine.”
More geysers bursted. The molten gold filled the streets. It devoured and killed all it touched. There were no survivors.
Before the gold river reached her, Chia scooped Ann’s dying body into her arms. Purposefully, Chia stopped her floating and set her feet on the hard, dirt ground. The molten metal pooled at her ankles. She allowed it to burn her. She needed to feel the pain. To feel something physically worse than emotional pain. But it couldn’t even compare.