She crept to The Fountain on hands and knees with a body grown decrepit and old. Long wisps of dull grey hair trailed in the dust. The residents surrounding The Fountain parted for her, clearing a path. Watching her, waiting, they feared her and her curses. However, it was more than fear. There was reverence, too—a self-serving reverence—but a reverence nonetheless.
Patel was unsure if there was any other kind.
The woman with no name sipped from the fountain. Her hair darkened from grey to black. Within seconds, the dull sun overhead shone against a shining new head of hair. The wrinkles in her skin smoothed themselves out, leaving her fresh and young. Sagging breasts and worn out hips moved into place, becoming supple, firm, and seductive. Renewed as a graven image of fertility and seduction sculpted in flesh, she stood upright and smiled at her supplicants. A few men and women kneeled down asking her for children while others asked to hear the old stories, for her prophesies of the paradise to come, looking for hope in their hopeless and barren existence.
Patel stood off to the side and scoffed, pitying them. He called the nameless one Nagini to those who would listen, but few of the survivors gathered around The Fountain cared to hear his heresies. He would not bow down to the snake woman who shed her skin daily revealing a fresh, youthful presence. He did not trust her beauty, her glamours. He knew they were nothing more than a silk screen of sewn flowers hiding the bitterness and dishonesty inside.
He had been one of her followers once. It was long ago, but he remembered it well. There was a time when he had been taken with her. Patel was youthful at the time—and not just in appearance. With that youth came stupidity, and with stupidity came his folly. This was before he devoted his life to his personal church of thought. While young, he trusted the superstitions and worshipped the nameless witch, the Queen of The Counsel. He loved her beauty, her stature, her lips. He dreamed of her glassy tattletale grey eyes, fell into them, and would lose himself in her perspective until he no longer knew himself.
But the mirror saved him. The mirror of The Fountain. Reflected, in a moment of clarity, he saw how he had withered, how those around him had withered—grown sick to suffer in an ageless state. Still, the others followed her, listened to her stories of a brighter tomorrow while never doing anything for today.
He saw what she was doing, saw through Nagini’s ruse, and never looked back. His complacency left him, replaced by awareness: Beauty never lasts. Beauty is deception.
Nagini slithers in the grass, her venom spews forth from her mouth, and her supplicants drink her in.
Patel no longer knows that thirst.