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A Time of War

by Jonathan Wood

Detective Shale sifted through the fragments of the alchemist's shattered glass heart. “A rare thing,” he said.
“We all have them.” Collomb tapped flesh knuckles against a bronze chest. “Seems this man should have taken better care of his.”
“You think an accident was all this was, Sergeant?”
“Glass heart, sir? This was waiting to happen.”
Shale suddenly winced. A bead of his own blood stood sharp on his thumb. He examined the wound. Then he stood, dropped the glass shard and it split in two. “You're right Collomb. War is no time for fragility. Even if this was a fight. An accident. A lover's quarrel-”
Shale paused abruptly, placed his thumb in his mouth and sucked at the injury. For a moment Collomb thought he saw a tear in the man's eye. Then Shale blinked and it was gone.
“Ask if anyone saw anything,” Shale said, and left

Collomb stood at the market stall surrounded by hands of steel, eyes of malleable clay, jeweled intestines strung like cloth's lines, rows of hearts: gold, silver, jade, basalt, and bronze.
“Glass hearts,” Collomb asked the old man tending the stall.
“Only one.” The old man nodded, obsequious. “A recent acquisition. A rare thing.”
Curiosity rose in Collomb.
“Acquired from whom?”
“A sad man. Traded it below its value. Bought himself a heart of flint. A man looking for strength. Or hardness. Sometimes so difficult to tell the two apart. Especially in times of war.”

“What sort of heart do you have, sir?”
Shale looked at Collomb. Collomb was patient.
“Stone,” Shale said. “Why'd you think no woman would marry me?” He mounted a smile
“Strong heart,” Collomb said.
Shale shrugged. “Hard,” he said.
“Not easy to shatter. Not like glass.”
Shale paused, bowed his head. “No, not like glass.” He looked away, but kept on talking. “Did you know, Collomb, that glass is a liquid? It flows over time. Warps. Becomes something new. Not stone. There is no beauty in the permanence of stone. No fragility.”
“Easy for accidents to happen. Easily broken. A lover's wrong word. Better perhaps to protect yourself.”
Shale looked long and hard at Collomb. “For now, yes, perhaps. While the war lasts.”
Collomb weighed the words.
“Until then, then, sir.”
“Until then.” Again, there was a tear in Shale's eye.
Collomb nodded, turned, and for a while left the man standing alone.

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