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The Dragon of Unbearable Beauty

An improvised serial story guided by the cards

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Virtue Card   Vice Card   Fate Card
The High Priestess The Chariot   Judgement
Secrets, mystery, the future as yet unrevealed. Silence, tenacity, wisdom, science. Reversed: passion, moral or physical ardor, conceit, surface knowledge.   Succor, providence, also war, triumph, presumption, vengeance, trouble. Reversed: riot, quarrel, dispute, litigation, defeat.   Change of position, renewal, outcome. Reversed: weakness, pusillanimity, simplicity, also deliberation, decision, sentence.
The High Priestress, by Pamela Colman Smith   The Chariot, by Pamela Colman Smith   Judgement, by Pamela Colman Smith
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Seven of Cups King of Cups Knight of Pentacles Ten of Cups Four of Swords
Encounter with the Elements Ishrakon Takes Council Rothellen sets forth Unbearable Beauty Rothellen's Repose
Seven of Cups, by Pamela Colman Smith King of Cups, by Pamela Colman Smith Knight of Pentacles, by Pamela Colman Smith Ten of Cups, by Pamela Colman Smith Four of Swords, by Pamela Colman Smith

1

Ishrakon, the Restless King, sat on a throne of coal-gray basalt rock, his attendants about him. A dense ocean brume poured in through the broad windows of the dome, soaking all surfaces as thoroughly as waves. The King’s attendants wore their conventional sealskin suits, gleaming purple-black, but Ishrakon, stubborn as he could sometimes be, hunched in a miserable state, his cotton clothing stretched like seaweed on his form. From far beneath the palace, from beneath the hovering island itself, there came an avalanchian rumble—the sighing groan of the leviathan clinging to the island’s vine-draped root. All those present looked uneasy, even Ishrakon, who knew that concealing his trepidation at such a moment would only convince his subjects that he was mad. It was common knowledge that the leviathan, the pale blue dragon clutching the underside of the island like a hungry snarl of hair, was a knot of Chaos itself. A rather pleasant one, as dragons went, but its consternation was never something to bear calmly.

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Queen of Cups
  • KING of CUPS tested by QUEEN of CUPS
    • Simple tie
    • KING of CUPS @ 3 o’clock

 

Still, he tried levity. “Indigestion,” said Ishrakon, “One hopes.” It was the kind of irreverent joke the cynical Brelk would have appreciated, but he was not their ruler anymore. Today, he was the king of the Falothlon people; they did not look reassured.

One of them jabbed a finger at the floor, pointing through 10,000 meters of masonry, soil, and island bedrock. “My king, ten days and nights the dragon’s fussed. My wife sleeps one blink, no more, all that dread grumbling.”

“She’s steadier than I,” said another. “Its breath chases me in every dream. I can’t stand it.” Others grunted agreement.

Ishrakon looked among them, his wry expression abandoned. “Let’s not lose our heads. It has fussed this long before.”

“Yes,” said the first speaker. “When the moon went missing, and when fire slowed down.”

“When words fled!” said another. Their faces all become troubled as each one remembered the week where language had failed and pictures lost their meaning. Ishrakon was no stranger to wars and conquest: he had broken the Siege of Ten Armies long after all hope for rescue was gone, yet no siege on Earth or heavens had ever inflicted the kind of turmoil and desperation that one week without meaningful communication among a populace had done.

Queen of Pentacles
  • KING of CUPS tested by QUEEN of PENTACLES
    • Querent’s edge
    • KING of CUPS @ 3 o’clock

 

“True,” he said. “But there have been times when the dragon fussed and nothing came of it—nothing in Faloth Island, at least. You are right to be cautious. I too have my worries. However, we cannot let those worries drag us by the hair. Let’s hear this woman out, this pylon woman, and separate suspicions from fact.”

That seemed to dull the edge of their fear—until, with a groan and a clatter, the tower chains began to spool. Everyone tensed. The man whose job it was to wind the crank remembered his duty and hopped to it, as Ishrakon got to his feet. They all stood in the chill, flowing brume, listening to the long chains rattle in the shaft. Before long, the lift reached their floor, holding the pylon woman and two guards. They opened the gate and brought her forward.

She had not yet spoken, but Ishrakon knew the look in her eyes: it was the wild gleam of one who has made contact with the Shapes of the Earth, the walking Elements themselves. He had borne that look himself after the Shapes came to him. He had seen the way others regarded him, the way they were all regarding her.

“Tell your tale,” he said.

3

“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.


4

 

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