Gordon Foley’s whoop had been a little too joyous for the mountains, it seemed.

Like a lumbering giant roused from a long hibernation, the icy flanks above began to give way in an avalanche let loose by the sound of Gordon’s exultation. The cleft with the lost mine was shovel-shaped, and the rushing loose snow poured into it at 200 miles per hour. 1,000,000 tons of the stuff had already barricaded the valley cleft shut by the time Gordon began to run. The mineshaft, too, was sealed by surging ice and snow.

One of the last things he saw was a skeleton nearby, half buried, wearing unmistakably polyester mountaineering clothing from the 1970s. As the snow closed around Gordon, and he realized why the mine had stayed hidden all these years, he let out another whoop, this one completely different–louder, more forlorn, and gradually tailing off into laughter before being muffled into oblivion.

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It had taken nearly twenty years, but Gordon Foley had done it.

He fell to his knees at the sight. Everything was as it had been when Jakob Walz had left it in 1877; the timbers framed the mine entrance and a section of short rails led out of it, with rusted remains of wheels and minecarts.

Gordon’s work hadn’t been easy, of course. There had been so many embellishments, so many mistakes…the thought of the thousands of treasure hunters who had combed the Superstition Mountains instead of the Sierra Nevada alone was enough to make him smile. A few misspellings, a substitution of east for west, and one old fool who’d thought Colton, California was Colton Crater, Arizona.

But there it was, nestled in a cleft between two sheer rock faces that rose straight up to the snowy flanks of the Sierras, and laden with gold.

Gordon couldn’t help himself. He let out a whoop that echoed upwards toward the stony peaks.

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The goose would always show up at the strangest of times, and always with a pin–either held in its beak or fixed to one of its wings, or both. The bird then made a beeline for whatever food stalls or open-air concessions it could find before sprinting away with nuggets and morsels impaled upon the needle.

Today, it had hit up a pretzel stand. Honking quietly and still dripping with nacho cheese, it walked into the small, hidden cabin on the outskirts of town, where the hidden old man–its mentor–waited.

“Very good, yes very good,” the man cackled. He took the pretzely prize and split it between himself and his bird. “Here’s to another day of high life at the man’s expense.”

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And then, O then, the great Selene did mourn for her lost love. She set his soul free from his broken body, did the moon goddess of old, and placed it in the body of a humble moth, there to forever be with her in the night sky and ever-seeking her light. When the moth did die of old age, Selene would gently place her love’s soul into another newborn night-flitterer.

However, and you must be wary of this, O my children, there is an important lesson and catch. For among the infinite and uncountable moths of our world, there is one that is a very important bug. For it contains the soul of great Selene’s great love. Woe betide any mortal, any being that might know better, that casually smashes that most important of bugs, for they will find themselves at the mercy of a vengeful moon.

The night sky will brighten, the tides will have a moment of madness, and then all will be still, save for a rush of air. And another body, O children do not look upon it, will be left on the flank of great Selene, desiccated and aloft forever as a punishment for its great crime.

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The old men gathered around the table began to speak, with Witherspoon at the head speaking and then the rest uttering a refrain in unison.

“First, we give thanks to the Old Moth, who ever seeks the flame that will end the world. It has seen each age pass as its lesser children see each phase of their life; we are await its glorious reemergence from the Coccoon.”

“Emerge, Old Moth, and let our flame guide you in the extinction of all things.”

“And we do not forget the Old Moth’s consort, She-Who-Swims-Nameless. We know her by many appellations: the fish of holes, the swimmer of voids, and container of oceans and emptiness. But in all things we see her in the waters primordial that precede and follow all that is alive and alight, and in her many gaping holes we see ourselves.”

“In each wound, never closing but swarming with parasites, we see what we truly are.”

Clearly, this was no ordinary meeting of a Rotary Club. They were talking about something far darker and more secret.

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“Ah! Secret.” Hui nodded eagerly, watching his image in the webcam preview bobble about a fraction of a second later. “I understand. It’s important to have secrets, not to blab everything too early.”

“Exactly!” said Xi. “I’m so happy you understand. It seems a like we have a lot in common, but we need to keep some things secret for now.”

“So…we can talk again?” Hui said. “You wouldn’t mind?”

“Of course!” said Xi. “I have to go now, though, but we’ll talk again soon, okay?”

“Okay!”

On her end, Xi, killed the webcam. Rather than playing around with the computer and her satellite internet for a bit longer, she turned off the generator and got ready to do to sleep. Slithering into the nest she had made of torn-up clothing and her own shed skin, she wrapped her long and brightly scaled tail around herself, her cold-blooded anatomy encircling, and gaining warmth from, her hot-blooded.

“I’ll tell him eventually,” the naga said to herself. “Maybe start by asking if he likes centaurs and snakes, and going from there…”

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“The Devibha. Its name roughly meaning “planetqueen” in Sanskrit, this flawless gem was found in the mines of Kollur around 1500, and the uncut stone was regarded as having no peer in heaven or on earth–as a result it was given as a wedding present from the king of a Rajput kingdom to his bride, who he believed it had no equal. His wife died, tragically, only three days later. But during those three days, legend has it, the planet itself obeyed her every whim when she wore her diadem.”

“This led to a tradition that the Devibha granted phenomenal power–the power of a queen–over the earth itself, but did so at the price of a drastically shortened life of only a few days. The stone passed from owner to owner in the Indian subcontinent, never staying in the same hands for long; few were eager to wear it, for the idea of bending the planet to one’s will loses some luster if it means death in a few days. It made its way from India to Britain as spoils after the sack of Mysore, and at some point during the Regency it was also cut into its current shape and placed in a new setting.”

“The last known owner was Lady Paget, who never wore the Devibha. Upon her death in 1962, it was donated to the Museum.”

After reading the tag, I cast it aside and picked out the remaining broken glass. The diadem fit neatly, and when I gave it the slightest thought, the ground rumbled with an earthquake.

Three days to live seemed like a fair price to pay for such power.

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