In those wee dark hours before Crystalline Valley's brightest day, Rocsienth awoke before the suns and found herself in mourning.
"Nothing to fear," she whispered, then whimpered. "It's Goddess Day."
All her life, the shrewds foretold her destiny. On this day, at thirteen years of age, Rocsienth would become this cycle's vessel, the chosen body for the Goddess. The most honored citizen among her people.
She should be excited to meet that honor. Instead she wept. She curled over herself and sobbed, seeing her pale knees wobble beneath knotted, blurry strands of her pink, tearstained hair. Stricken by emotion she'd never known until that morning, she yanked at her roots but tried to cry silently. She mustn't wake her parents. Her bedroom, like everything in Crystalline Village, was constructed of crystal. Thick and iridescent, but attuned to specific frequencies of sound. She minded her pitch.
By the time the first sun began the dawn, Rocsienth had calmed herself. This was her duty, one she mustn't shirk. Her ceremonial dress donned, quartz sparkling in its threads, she thought of the village's inevitable gratitude for her sacrifice. It didn't soothe her.
Then she abruptly thought of her friend Dunardri. The fortitude she'd gathered wavered. What would he think? How would he cope? After today, she wouldn't be herself anymore. What if he didn't need the Goddess? What if he needed her?
Who did he really want?
How had she never considered this question in all their years of friendship?
A melodious sound, the sound of a touch circling her bedroom door's crystal knob to make it sing, brought Rocsienth to attention.
"Have you bathed?" asked her mother excitedly, at a chipper pitch to penetrate the room. "Are you readying yourself?"
"Yes," said Rocsienth at that same pitch. It hurt her heart to speak in so high a register. "I'm nearly ready, Ma." She regarded herself in a sleek mirror carved flush in the wall. Her dress cast happy rainbows onto its surface. The image renewed her grief.
"My daughter," said her mother through the door. "The Goddess!"
The pride in her mother's voice made it difficult to breathe. Rocsienth forced herself to keep composure, to carry on with routine as if it were any other day. Worse than being scared would be them discovering she was. When during breakfast her father joined them, his expression made Rocsienth wish somebody else were chosen. He carried the pride differently than her mother, but nonetheless it was there. It became a shimmer in his eyes and a puffery of posture as they led the procession through the village, out of it, and toward the ritual altar, which was located at the epicenter of Crystalline Valley.
As always, the suns rose harmoniously. Their light shone through every crystal, and refracted prism ribbons wove into being, mingling in hue-strewn streams that overlapped across the procession's path. The population of the village meant the procession was small, but it did include Dunardri. Rocsienth forewent tradition and glanced over her shoulder. A line of shrewds obscured her view of him. The shrewds revered her in wonder.
Her mood sank.
She must've looked very beautiful, ready to become hollow.
"Rocsienth!" called Dunardri.
A shrewd prodded her onward.
But in that momentary pause, Rocsienth had met Dunardri's gaze, and somehow she knew he knew. Knew he could sense her hesitation. Knew he approved. The terror she'd repressed took hold of her anew. It emboldened itself on her spirit until there was no denying its power.
She made a blasphemous decision.
When the procession reached the altar, she stepped atop its wide, obsidian surface as ritual demanded, then spun around to face the crowd while Dunardri pressed his way to the front. Everyone awaited her ritualistic speech in anticipatory awe. She didn't give the rehearsed speech. With constricted breath and her heart aflutter, she looked down at her parents.
"How proud of me can you possibly be if you want my personality gone?"
Her parents frowned.
Dunardri broke past the shrewds.
Rocsienth swept up her skirts and ran.
No security force beheld the altar. Never before had the vessel fled.
The valley spread before her. Behind her, she heard Dunardri delaying the others. Thanks to him, she was free. She wouldn't waste this. Only when she was out of breath did she come to a gasping halt. A swell of emotion overcame her. Relief, loneliness. Confusion.
"If you are chosen," said the Goddess through Rocsienth's mouth. "You are chosen."