The Oracle Sisters sat quietly before the slate hearth in their keep, Auber lost in her ever-expanding patchwork quilt while her twin, Illian, idly counted her own salty tears as she stared out the window. Vioria had passed only the day before yesterday. The Oracle Sisters were triplets no more.
Without speech or sign or any signal between them, Auber and Illian rose and stood in wait before the barred and guarded hardwood door. In her head, Auber counted down.
There was a wooden thunk as the door was unbarred from the other side, and Barrett Wester of the Royal Guard entered the keep like a howling wind. He was well familiar with the Sisters and was not surprised to find them waiting. He had no need to explain; he simply bowed his head to each of them in turn and walked away. He led them down the winding staircase with four guardsmen following two-by-two. After they had passed through the cold corridors and halls of the castle’s far wing and made their way to the underground passages, Barrett finally gave in to a compulsion to speak.
“I imagine you must still be grieving the loss of Vioria. The death of a sibling is no easy thing, and for sisters who share such a unique connectedness, well…”
“Your imagination lacks the capacity for comprehension,” said Auber.
“Of course,” said Barrett, “though imagination is closer to vice than value for a soldier such as myself. My duty is only to follow orders, while yours is to—”
“Listen to the Fates, as we always have. But will the Regency yet listen to us? We are one fewer now.” They stopped before a small table and Auber continued, her tone as foreboding as a blade freed from its sheath. “If the Regency ignores the fates, they too will be fewer, and soon.”
“As I said, my duty is only to follow. Please.” Barrett gestured at the cups on the table—three cups still, though only two now contained the foul-smelling bitter root tea of the Shamanwood tree.
Auber and Illian emptied their cups in unison before being led into adjacent circular chambers. The round walls were covered completely in fresh parchment, as were the floor and low ceiling. A shallow pit in the room’s center contained warm soot-water.
Auber stripped off her clothes and handed them to the two guardsmen just outside, and they sealed her in. It was black as a dreamless sleep, and Auber shivered as the hairs at the nape of her neck began to rise. Soon she was under the spell of the Shamanwood tea, and in the blackness she slipped her body into the soot-water, coating each limb in turn until she emerged sticky with ink.
The Fates compelled her to dance, to roll and to reach and to crawl, speaking through movement. Her mind was a fuzzy electric cloud that was bound to the greater patterns of their shifting winds. Illian would be compelled samewise, as would be revealed when the parchments were compared in the morning, and the message would be clear: pay heed the commands of the Fates, or pale shall wax the Regency.