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“Seven founts of light and cloud!” Her voice was clearer, louder than any had expected, and her hands searched the air in front of her, as if she could touch the objects of her memory. “Seven founts of light and cloud, three above and four below. They blazed gold with ink-black coals in their centers. Too brilliant and too black to see…”

 “Do you take your king for a fool?” said one of the attendants.

Ishrakon raised a hand. “Let her speak.”

She seemed to realize where she was and grew timid under their looks, clasping her hands together. For the first time, she met Ishrakon’s eyes. “My king, I haven’t drunk a drop since I was a youth. I’m the forewoman of the south-south-west bridge. I’m schooled…I know geometry, poetry—”

“That’s all well. Now, these ‘founts’. You couldn’t see them?”

“Not at first. I looked through my fingers.” She did just that, peering at a spot over the king’s head through a screen of her fingers. “There they were! Each one birthed an apparition, like something rising out of a goblet. The apparitions moved…in formation, like birds, like a team of stars, coming closer. One was a tall fortress made of ice-blue steel, spinning slowly. It was enormous, bigger than the very island we stand on, yet I could see all of it, like you’d see a fortress in a valley if you overlooked it from a high mountain. It has no equal on Earth—cross my heart—and nothing could force its way in that wasn’t welcome. The second apparition was a heap of gems and precious stones, a thousand-thousand of them, all crawling over each other like ants, diamonds in diamonds, rubies erupting into emeralds, sapphires and pink-blushed crystals boiling in and out of each other. I thought I’d lose my eyes in all their colors. The third apparition was a whicker skull—a human skull made of twigs and bits of bark. A green laurel floated above its crown, with yellow flowers tucked here and there. The fourth apparition was a river that writhed and kicked like a living beast, with tributaries for limbs and a shapeless face that ground rock and timber to specks…”

Her voice faltered and her gaze withdrew into memory. Ishrakon said, “That was four apparitions.”

“There were three more above. The fifth was a human head made of wind.” She glanced at the man who had doubted her. “It was invisible, like the wind, but the mists almost gave it form. It was like a veiled woman, whose face leaves impressions on the veil, suggesting the form beneath. That was how I saw this face, and when I could not, I felt its stare. That was all I needed to know it existed. And there was a bough of lightning with the head of a snake, crackling and snapping at the air like something vicious trapped in a jar. And between these two was a whirl of fire in whose center was a woman in an ash-gray shawl, spreading her arms to me. These seven visions came to me all at once as I lay in my bed in the pylon where I live.”

“You were asleep?”

“As awake as I am now. But even if it were a dream? I would still have come. My king, they spoke to me. They gave me a message…I suspect they mistook me for, well, you!”

Ishrakon folded his arms and frowned. “Explain yourself.”

She looked among the group and stepped closer to him. “The gray woman in the fire, she called your name. She said, ‘Ishrakon, Ishrakon, hear this’.”

If he had doubted her before, those doubts fled. Occultists know that the Elements struggle to distinguish one person from another, but it was not this detail that persuaded him. It was that when the Shapes had come to him, they had said those very words: Ishrakon, Ishrakon, hear this.


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