Flame of Oracle

Spirit Readings

(The following scene is not for readers with an easily upset stomach, or people who don't like blood, as it may cause nausea. You have been warned.)

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Two days past the incident in the valley, Kairyn stood in a large meadow, hunched down in the grass so that it came up to his knees. Pointless, of course, but it made him feel that much more like a real predator on the hunt, so he did not bother over technicalities. His father had always chided him on that point, but it served nothing. Kairyn did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it, and nothing anyone could say could make him change his mind.

He lowered his head and slunk around in the grass, greatly resembling a large silver cat as he continued searching out his prey…

After fifteen minutes, his neck and legs ached from holding that position, and he still had found nothing to eat. With a sigh, he straightened, shook his stiffened limbs, and relented. As he turned around with a somewhat dejected look, he spotted Dice coming into view with a bundle in her arms. He straightened and headed toward her.

"Did you have any luck?" she asked at his approach. Kairyn shook his head.

"The only thing I got was a stiff neck," he said with annoyance.

"Again?" She set her bundle down. "Is this a common thing for you?"

"Very funny," Kairyn retorted. Dice grinned.

"You want me to rub it for you?"

"Thanks, but I'll be all right. What'd you find?"

Dice knelt down to her package and unwrapped it to reveal a bunch of fruit, all yellow and orb-shaped, though some were beginning to brown.

"There's a whole patch of trees filled with them back there," she explained.

"All very well for you, but that still leaves me hungry," Kairyn said with a slight dismay as his stomach continued to remind him that it was empty.

"I know, and I haven't seen any game out here. I'm sorry…"

"It's not your fault. We'll just have to -" He stopped as something moved just inside his field of vision. A sly grin crept over his visage as he crouched down next to a puzzled Dice. Then, without warning, he leapt up and sank his claws into a large hunk of flesh. Beneath him, a small creature squirmed and shrieked in fear. Dice covered her ears at the sound.

"Too loud! Shut that thing up!" she yelled over the thing's deafening screech. Kairyn complied, taking the creature's head between his teeth and twisting until he heard the neck snap. The sudden silence was almost as eerie as it was a relief. After a moment, Dice dropped her hands from her ears and went over to join Kairyn as he examined his quarry. The now bloodied mass of fur and blood and feathers appeared to be some odd beast with a bird's beak, a cheetah's head and a dog's body, with various feathers randomly jutting out of the fur. Dice looked at it with interest.

"What is it?" she marveled.

"Cherrak. They're akin to Griffin. We have similar creatures back home, but the variety around Cyressen are usually larger than this one."

"Around where?"

"Cyressen. That's what we call it, anyway. I suppose you'd know it better as… um… The Dragonhyde, I think you earthen called it?"

"Oh, right," Dice nodded. "That's where we're headed, isn't it?"

"Exactly," Kairyn replied. With that, he took the Cherrak in both foreclaws and snapped it in half. Dice winced at the sound of the cracking spine, even more when the flesh tore open under Kairyn's claws. Kairyn looked down at her.

"You want any?"

Dice shook her head emphatically. "No thank you, I've suddenly lost my appetite."

Kairyn shrugged. "Ah well. More for me," he replied with a grin. He ripped his teeth into the flesh and purred (though to Dice it seemed closer to a growl) as the still-warm slime of the blood and meat slid down his throat and quelled his irritated stomach. The meat was sweeter than that of the Cherrak back home. In fact, were it not for the scarcity of prey, Kairyn might have been tempted to stay a few days. Not only was the food better, but the environment was also quite enjoyable. And, now that he thought about it, the company wasn't bad, either.

He looked back at Dice, who sat several yards away from him with her back turned as she chewed thoughtfully on one of the fruits she had collected. An orphaned human in the company of a dragon prince… the idea would have been laughable to anyone else who saw them. In fact, had anyone mentioned it to Kairyn a month beforehand, he would probably have laughed himself sick. The common thought among dragons was that humans, and most other earthen for that matter, were greedy, impatient creatures concerned only in whatever would benefit them, with no regard to life outside their own race. Granted, humans probably had the same idea about dragons, but that was often the way it went between peoples who did not take the time to look before they passed judgment. It was a flaw carried among most races in that region.

It seemed that Kairyn was now beginning to understand the flaw in that reasoning. Not only did Dice completely evade his expectations, but she had been more courteous to him than many dragon lords he'd known. Moreover, she was intelligent, and both willing and eager to learn, with an open mind to anything he told her. It was no stretch to say that Dice's presence had made the journey much easier, as well as more enjoyable. He might have even preferred her company to many of his own kin.

Of course, he would never tell her that.

Apparently, Dice had sensed his eyes on her, and she turned around.

"Something wrong?"

Kairyn blinked, suddenly realizing that he'd been staring, and he tried to come up with an explanation. Somehow, "I was just thinking about you" didn't sound like a good idea.

"I was just thinking…" he began, searching for words. His eyes focused on the fruit in her hand. "What does that taste like?" he asked hurriedly.

Dice looked down at the fruit. "This?"

"Yes, that," Kairyn said, breathing a sigh of relief. "I've actually never tried fruit, and I was just wondering what it tastes like."

"Oh," Dice said simply. "It's not bad. This one's a little bitter, but I've had worse."

"It looks interesting," Kairyn said, turning away from his own meal to sit next to her.

"You want some?" Dice offered one up to him.

"I'd probably get sick…"

"So don't swallow."

Kairyn considered for a moment, then as he actually was curious, he accepted the fruit, eyeing it warily before taking it in his teeth. The soft consistency of the fruit was very different from the meat he was accustomed to, and the sweet syrupy taste was unlike anything he'd ever tried. Somehow, he could not get a feel for it, and he found it too sweet for his own liking. He didn't see how Dice could call it bitter when it was so sugary. He chewed on it a moment more before he had to spit it out.

"So what'd you think?" Dice inquired. Kairyn made a face.

"Honestly… it was just too sweet. I don't think I'm ever trying that again. No offense, but dragons are carnivores for a reason."

Dice arched an eyebrow for a moment, then smiled and shook her head. Kairyn watched her another moment, then voiced a thought as it came to him.

"Why weren't you afraid of me?" he spoke on impulse, and immediately chided himself inwardly for asking such a question. Dice looked up with confusion.

"What?" Kairyn shook his head quickly.

"Nothing! Just forget I asked," he said in a slight panic. He didn't know why he seemed to be slipping up so much suddenly. He was, however, convinced it had something to do with this girl.

"No, I want to hear what you said," Dice urged him. Kairyn sighed.

"I asked why you were not afraid of me, back in the valley," he resigned at last.

Dice shrugged at the question. "I don't really know…" she replied. "I guess I didn't really think about it much. I just had this feeling that you weren't going to hurt me. It was like… what do they call that… women's intuition, I guess."

"I see…" Kairyn said, though he really didn't. Still, it wouldn't do much to push the question, so he let it be. Dice yawned suddenly next to him, and he looked down at her, remembering now that she hadn't slept in the two days since they'd left the clearing. It hadn't bothered him, as dragons needed very little sleep, but humans were still alien to him. He realized that he had no idea really how much food or sleep she needed.

"Are you tired?" he asked quietly. Dice nodded and yawned again. Kairyn looked up at the sky, where the sun was just beginning its descent past the mountains, stretching their shadows out behind them at impossible lengths.

"It's early, but you should probably get some rest." He curled up around her, letting her lean back against his side to act as a pillow. She hesitated a moment before leaning against him and closing her eyes. Kairyn smiled as he watched her, thinking, 'It seems it's my turn to keep watch…'

He laid his head in the grass and sighed, contented, as he draped a wing over the girl's now sleeping form.

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The grounds of the dragon warclan training camp were no less noisy and tense as Loth remembered them. He'd spent a good deal of his life here - a part he hadn't much enjoyed, though his duties as War Prince mandated it. He was not thrilled to return, but he had called a meeting of the war councilors, and therefore was required to use this as a meeting grounds.

He gazed a moment longer at the valley just below him. All along the valley were pits filled with young dragons, varying from the age of seventy-five (the human equivalent of twelve) to around his age, and he was three hundred. They were all brawling in the pits, putting their best strengths against each other in a test of strength, speed and cunning. For the most part, they were all amateurs, but these were merely the newest trainees. These younglings would not likely see battle for another three or four years, and that was if they were lucky enough to complete their training the first time.

Loth shook his head at the memories and turned instead to a large building a few yards away. The building was tall, with wide, open doors and a large hole in the ceiling. Loth paced up the slope and made his way into the building.

Inside the building was a throng of dragons, some of them long and slim, others short and broad, all of them male, and all of them older than him. They all looked up at him as he entered, and nodded to him respectfully. Their faces all bore identical looks, each one identically grim.

Loth made his way toward the back of the room, where a raised platform lifted up for a better view of the rest of the room. On the way, he paused next to another dragon, one by the title of Commander Elegos. He was a fairly large specimen, with thick-set neck and legs and flat, broad wings. He bore four thick black horns, the sign of a battle dragon, though the far left one had been broken off to a stub in one of his many epic battles. His left ear was also torn in half. A jagged scar ran down the ridge between his eyes where death had almost claimed him (not an isolated incident). He was the very embodiment of endurance and determination, no need to mention intimidation; few dared to look him in the eye. Loth managed to do so without trouble, for he knew the dragon well. Indeed, Elegos had been his mentor during his training in the battle camp.

"Good health to you, Commander," Loth said in the standard greeting.
"And you, War Prince," Elegos returned, inclining his head respectfully. "I heard tell of your brother's untimely demise… my heart sinks to think of him slaughtered so mercilessly."

"Yours, and mine as well…" Loth murmured. Kairyn had also been mentored by the Commander, and Loth had at times suspected that Elegos favored the younger brother over the elder. It wouldn't have surprised him - despite all of Kairyn's quirks, he had been a hard dragon not to like.

"I've also heard rumors that we are preparing for war," the Commander continued.

"Patience, friend. All will be revealed soon enough," Loth assured him. He turned then and rose to his place upon the raised dais. The dragons all stood at attention as he took his position.

"Fellow Dragon Lords," Loth began his speech, pausing then to be sure he had their attention, then continuing more quietly. "I am sure by now you have all heard tales of my brother Kairyn's death. Kairyn was our High Prince, second only to myself and our father, His Royal Majesty, King Ptarigen. The High Council has refuted to letting this incident pass by without action. Our laws demand that justice be delivered upon Kairyn's murderers." He paused, looking around the room at his audience. "War has been declared upon the human nation."

At that point, a great murmur rose up in the halls. "Quiet, please," Loth instructed. The murmur died down, though not very willingly. "Now, I am sure you will have questions for me, but please allow me to continue.

"My father has granted unto me all the power and privileges of the reigning War Prince during time of battle. As you know, this places myself at the very head of this council, as well as leader of the royal army. My vote in all decisions is supreme, and can be vetoed only by a unanimous vote from the rest of the council against mine. I have called you here today for the first official war conference to be held during this campaign, though undoubtedly not the last. I will now open the floor to the council. Any of you with questions or other statements to make may do so now, each in their turn, beginning with Lord Marshall Levarren." He gestured to a slim dragon to his left.

The debate (as it quickly became such) was long and tiring. The council argued for hours on what they thought should be the first action to be taken. In the end, it was concluded that an immediate attack would prove ill for the dragon, as it would seem a foolish and bloodthirsty move and would only serve to anger the humans. Instead, an emissary would be sent to the human capital of Regaien, where their reigning government was housed. Commander Elegos volunteered for the mission, and Loth reluctantly agreed. Somehow, though he hoped he was wrong, he could not help the feeling in his heart that any envoy was merely a useless formality. War could not be avoided, only detained, while his brother's blood still called to be repaid.