Flame of Oracle
Part One: Blood Seer
They came in droves, blackening the sky with their metallic, silver-shining bodies. Every curve of their enormous figures glistened with power, their muscles flexing beneath silver-scaled hides edged with white. Their wings spread out at lengths almost twice as long as their own bodies, like a great curtain veiling the sky. Their silver teeth and claws were those of a predator; indeed they were carnivorous creatures, but the humans that observed them below had no way of knowing that this great multitude was not out on the hunt. Dragons did no hunting on this day, for this day was sacred to them - it was their Day of Gathering, a celebration of all dragon kin.
In the valley below them, a solitary figure stood apart from the crowd, gazing up at the flock. Dice looked up at them with a slight tinge of sadness putting pressure on her chest. Dice was not like the other humans. Those who saw her from a distance were often amazed at her eyes, which beheld a depth and understanding that should have been impossible for a seventeen year old girl. The reason behind her unnatural wisdom was the source of much fear and enmity from her fellow villagers; from the time she was a small child, she'd demonstrated the ability to see into the future, a talent that had been believed to be only a myth.
Dice dropped her eyes to the ground with a sigh of regret. Though no others could see it, her eyes beheld blood splattered through the grass - blood that had yet to be spilled.
"All over a misunderstanding…" she whispered to herself.
The dragons were almost over the field when the villagers opened fire with a volley of flamed darts. Crossbow fire filled the sky overhead. Wishing to avoid conflict, the dragons rose out of the aim of the humans and called upon their ancient magic to transport them miles away, into safer skies.
But one dragon was not so lucky.
Whether he was hit before the dragons realized they were being shot at, or just not as fast as the others, it made no difference on his fate. Dice watched with a grim expression as the dragon came crashing to the ground only a few yards from her. She ran to the dragon's body and was surprised to find him still alive, thought badly wounded by the fall.
"I was certain you would be dead…" she thought quietly, though she was not surprised that her visions had been off. It was not uncommon for the future to change, especially in the presence of gifted creatures such as dragons. This one was young, a male, or a drake as the proper term went; she could tell by the two long sharp horns spiraling out of his skull, which were only present in males. He was smaller than the others, his scales bearing more of a silver gloss than the metallic sheen of the adult. Still, for his small size, his head alone was nearly half the length of her entire body.
She crouched down beside the dragon's head and placed a hand gently against his muzzle. The great beast's eyes snapped open, blazing red-gold fire with hatred and mistrust. He growled a low, deep-throated growl and tried to lift his head to snap at her.
"Gentle, Skymaster," Dice spoke to him in a calm voice, unafraid of the danger she was in. "I come to help you"
The dragon seemed to pause a moment, examining her suspiciously. " …Who are you?" His voice was not what she had expected a dragon's to be. It was smooth and light like warm air, rather than the loud harsh tone she had anticipated. She could also sense in his voice that he was in pain, and trying to hide it.
"No one, Skymaster. Merely a human who happens to know her place, unlike most others." The dragon studied her again.
"No… there's something…" his voice drifted off. He was obviously suffering.
"What is it?" she asked with mild concern.
"You are… an oracle child… are you not?" He winced and groaned slightly, letting his massive skull drop to the ground once more. Dice looked at him with surprise. She had never heard of an "oracle child", and had no idea what he meant by it. Unfortunately, she was interrupted before she could inquire any further by the sound of the villagers coming up over the ridge. "Over there! It landed in the fields."
The villagers came plowing down over the hill, no longer just a group of people, but a mob, with all the intellect and reasoning of a rock. Dice knew they would be trouble. They had every intention of slaughtering this creature, and would not be deterred by any logic or wisdom she could provide for them. The only thing she could do now was try to buy him time to escape.
"My wing…" the drake said suddenly. "How does it look?"
Dice ran quickly to examine the injury. The drake opened his wing for her as best as he could manage. From what she could tell, the arrow had run clean through the webbing of his wing, leaving a great tear that would likely grow larger if he tried to fly with it. "There's a big tear here," she informed him. "It's not bleeding much, but..."
Even though she knew very little about dragon expressions, she could easily discern the grim countenance he bore. They both knew he could not stay there; the villagers were coming ever closer, and if they'd been frightened enough merely to shoot an over-passing dragon from the sky, a dragon that landed by their village would surely not escape alive. Dice stood uncertain for a moment, then clenched her fist with resolve.
"If I distract them, could you make it to those hills? There are caves there you could hide in," she told him. He looked up at her with uncertainty in his eyes.
"Why are you helping me?" he asked. "You would be going against your own people."
"They are not my people," Dice responded. "Now, can you make it, or can't you?"
"They won't heed you," he said simply.
Dice knelt down and placed a sympathetic hand along the ridge that ran up his forehead between his eyes.
"Hush…" she whispered. "Save your strength, Skymaster. I'll find a way out of this…" The dragon seemed to relax just slightly at the pressure against his sensitive ridge. Dice let her hand rest there a moment longer before turning to face the crowd. With a determined glare, she stepped toward them. Noticing her, the villagers slowed and came to a halt a few feet from her.
"Go back to your homes!" she yelled. "This dragon is injured. He can do you no harm."
"How are we to believe that?" a voice called. "His kind is dangerous. Just look at him."
"We must make an example of him. We must show the dragons that we do not fear them."
"He never tried to hurt you! You attacked him!" Dice retalliated.
"Move away, Dice," another voice interrupted. Dice recognized the town elder coming to the front of the crowd. She clenched her fist more tightly in frustration. If he was here leading the people, there was little hope that she, a mere outcast, would be able to dissuade them. The dragon had been right about that.
"Our quarrel is with this creature, not you," the elder continued.
"If you attempt to harm him in any way, you will have to go through me first." Dice spoke with a conviction and force that surprised even herself.
"It is pointless to try to fight them," the dragon's voice came from behind her, breaking her thought. "They will not be appeased until I am dead. And whatever power you may possess, Oracle Child, it cannot win against a mass such as this one."
Dice looked back at him. "Do you have a better idea?"
"There is something I could try," he said slowly, carefully, "but I am uncertain if it will be successful."
"Let's try it," Dice said hurriedly. A few of the villagers were stepping closer.
"Raise your right hand," the drake said. "And whatever happens, you must stay calm."
Dice nodded and raised her hand above her. A bloom of silver fire formed in her palm. Startled, Dice drew in a sharp breath and was about to remove her hand until she remembered the dragon's words. She clenched her teeth and held still. Once she had calmed down, she realized that her hand was not burning. In fact, she could feel no heat from the fire, or any trace of it at all.
The villagers came to a halt as soon as they laid eyes on the fire, and Dice could read the uncertainty in their face. She glanced back at the dragon, who nodded. She inhaled deeply and stepped forward, and almost laughed as the entire mob took a step back.
"I knew it! I knew she had to be a witch!" she heard someone yell. Several others shushed him quickly.
"I will not allow you to commit murder on these grounds," Dice spoke in a commanding voice. "I will tell you once more - Go back to your homes."
The villagers lingered only a moment before one turned and ran back. The others followed him before he was halfway up the hill. As the last of them turned away, Dice felt hard steel claws close around her, and suddenly she felt movement as the landscape before her blurred and made her dizzy. She closed her eyes to stop the nauseating feeling.
When she felt that the movement had stopped, she opened her eyes again. The dragon gripped her in his claws still, but no longer were they in the valley. Instead, the dragon leaned up against a rocky outcropping, which made up one wall of a small clearing where they now stood. On every other side of them was a dense growth of trees that even Dice did not think she could pass through.
"How?" Dice let her voice drift off, still stunned from the events of the past hour.
"I brought us here, with a spell…" The drake's voice was strained, and his breathing was somewhat labored. Dice felt his grip loosen and she pulled free, rushing to where his head lay and placing a worried hand over his muzzle.
"Are you all right"
The dragon opened his eyes halfway.
"I am… merely tired…" he replied. "It is very taxing on my energy to transport two people at once." Dice gave him a puzzled look.
"If it's so hard, why did you bring me with you?"
"You would have been in danger if I'd left you there," he replied, then added quietly, "I'm sorry. I'm afraid you will not be able to return to your village."
"Don't worry," Dice said as she stroked his muzzle. "I never liked them much anyway. No regrets." The dragon looked away and said nothing. Dice could sense that he needed to rest. "You can go to sleep if you want," she offered. "I'll keep watch."
"Very well," he replied, and curled up quietly. He hesitated then, as though considering something.
"The villagers… called you Dice"
Dice blinked, surprised slightly, then nodded. "That's right"
"An interesting name…" the dragon pondered. Dice watched him for a moment before speaking.
"What's yours?" she asked. The dragon lifted his head toward her just barely.
"I am called Kairyn," he replied. Dice smiled. Kairyn set his head down on one side. As he drifted off to sleep, he murmured, "Thank you… Dice."
Dice watched the sleeping form for a moment, chest rising and falling tranquilly with every breath, and sighed. In merely an hour, she'd lost everything she'd ever had, and ever known. She could never return to her village, never again see the hills and valleys she knew so well, never again be able to visit her parents' graves. But though it would have frightened her to consider the idea before, somehow she felt unafraid now.
She looked back at Kairyn. He had not scorned her as she had expected, but had instead shown her enough consideration to save her life by bringing her here. She wondered… was he merely repaying the debt? Or was it possible that she had found an ally in this magnificent creature? The future remained clouded and refused to open to her. It was a secret that only time would tell. She leaned back against the rock wall and looked up at the trees around her as she waited for him to recover.
Loth shook his head furiously as he continued to pace along the ravine. The rock beneath his claws was shredded into gravel as he gripped his talons with every step. His heavy black four-horned crown scraped against his neck plates and shrieked with the sound of metal on metal. "Your Highness, please, cease your restlessness!" The basilisk's small voice went unnoticed as he appealed to his drake master, who continued his pacing with an unbelievable focus and intensity on his roundabout walk. The basilisk scrambled to escape the feet which were almost as large as he.
"Please!" he pleaded again. "Your father promised he would speak to you when they had finished."
Loth drew to a halt, his narrowed eyes gazing intently ahead of him with intense rage, barely kept under control.
"Leave, servant. You are dismissed."
The basilisk hesitated for a moment before bowing. "Yes, War Prince. As you say," he chirped, then scurried out of sight.
Loth stood silently for a moment, then looked down and examined one of his claws. A memory flashed before his eyes, clear and real as the ground beneath him…
The little dragonet looked up at him with shining yellow eyes wide with innocence and curiosity.
"His name is Kairyn," Loth's father said as he stood next to him. "He was hatched just this morning." He turned to Loth, who looked up at him.
"You'll have to take care of him," his father said. "As his elder brother, you are responsible for looking after him."
"But I don't know how to take care of one of these…" Loth began to object. The little dragonet waddled toward him on unsteady legs and sat down in front of Loth's foot, which was as large as he was. Loth looked down at his brother as the little creature placed both forepaws on Loth's claw and chirped up at him. Loth could not deny the adorable eyes that stared up at him as though he were a giant god. Gently he lowered his head and tapped the hatchling with his muzzle. Kairyn purred questioningly, then rubbed against Loth's head with pure affection. Loth smiled.
"You win… I'll look after him…"
The memory brought a sharp pain to Loth's chest.
"Kairyn…" he murmured to himself. "Why? Why wasn't I watching you?"
The clicking of talons on stone drew Loth's attention to the corridor beyond. A large, storm grey bull dragon approached him with a somber face.
"Father…" Loth turned to face him fully with an anxious visage. The elder shook his head.
"The scouts did not find a body…" he said, his voice tight. "The entire area was burned where he fell. We can only assume that the villagers killed him and incinerated his body."
Loth shook with fury. "And…" he spoke with an edge of fire in his voice, "what has the council decided?"
The elder looked at his son with a grim expression. "The council considers this an act of aggression against the dragon kin. We will not take the death of a prince lightly."
"Prepare yourself, Loth. We go to war."
End Part One