It felt warmer inside the cave than without. Before them the entrance constricted quickly down to a narrow fissure in the rock. The floor was clean, recently brushed and very well worn.
"Well Master Tellerick, this is your show now. We've done our part and delivered you to your destination. Do you want us to wait here, or shall we follow?" Kralla sniffed at the warm, dry air coming from the fissure.
"No wonder Amethyst couldn't get in here." Said Skaran as he dumped his pack onto the ground. Removing his coat and gloves, then stuffing them into the pack.
Amethyst shook her head, and turned away, sneezing again she emitted another cloud of greasy black smoke. "Sorry." She sniffed.
"The boy has no aura, he just 'is' if you understand my meaning. I'm truly at a loss, and would very much like to hear what the oracle has to say about him." She wiped her nose. "Intrigued, indeed. There may be interesting times ahead. Hmm?" She blew her nose loudly into the giant handkerchief she had brought out. "I'd be more interested in my ingredients first though. I think I'm running a temperature, and that's never a good thing!"
"You have me at a loss Madam. Will's aura is missing?" Tellerick looked at Will.
"Yes! Yours is a deep violet master Tellerick. You are filled with intuition. The universe flows through you"
Amethyst pointed at Skaran. "Yours, master Skaran, is a very pure yellow. You enjoy your fun, and hide your intellect behind it."
Then she moved on. "You, master Barnabas, you are blue. As suits your chosen path, you are filled with peace and truth amongst others."
"Whereas you, Mistress Kralla, you are a deep red. You are grounded, and stable yet able to be spontaneous when needed."
William peered out from behind Barnabas at the enormous Dragon. Amethyst squinted at him. "And now I am intrigued." She looked straight at Master Tellerick. "You are here because of the little one Master Tellerick?"
"Aye madam, we are. He is a natural magic-user."
Amethyst sat up. "Come out little one. Let me get a better look at you." William held tightly onto Barnabas. She leaned forward once more. "Now where is your aura child?"
Now it was Tellerick's turn to frown. "Can you see something madam?"
She looked quizzically at William once more. "The boy's aura is missing."
"Madam Amethyst, can't dragons use transformation magic? Surely you could simply see the Oracle yourself?" Asked Barnabas, making sure that master Tellerick was in front, alongside Kralla.
Amethyst tried to stifle another sneeze, but this time there was simply a huge cloud of black smoke that was whipped away by the wind. "No! My fire has gone out!" She wailed, before collapsing into a fit of coughing accompanied by more smoke. Finally managing to stop, she turned to face Barnabas. "It's a little difficult to do powerful magic, such as that when you are coughing and sneezing everywhere little fox."
Tellerick took the proffered paper from the dragons' claws as she delicately handed it to him.
He quickly glanced over it. "I might be able to help you with some of these actually."
"Really?" Said Amethyst. Trying to stifle a cough.
"Well, our village pub makes a very fine whiskey. I think they have a few casks stored away. It's a lot of honey though. That would be a trip into the city market for that, and I doubt that they would appreciate a dragon turning up on their doorstep. I'm sure that we could mediate for your gracious self?"
"Bless you!" Shouted Barnabas over the thunderous roar of flame.
Amethyst sniffed again, and wiped her nose. "Thank you sir. You wouldn't happen to be popping in to see the Oracle would you?"
"We are madam. May we assume that we can be of service?" Said Tellerick.
"Oh! Would you? So many thanks." She pulled at a set of scales on her chest, opening them like a purse. "Now... Where's that piece of paper?" She sniffed loudly again, before pulling out a large sheet. "I have a recipe, but I thought the Oracle might know where to find the ingredients?"
Finally, they climbed onto the small plateau leading to the cave entrance of the Oracle. The entrance itself appeared to be a relatively small affair, consisting of a deeply black entrance and a well-trodden path leading in. Sitting just outside the unadorned entrance sat the dragon.
"Sorry about the avalanche. No one was caught in it were they?"
"No madam." Said Tellerick, stepping forwards. "Fortunately the path was clear of the snow."
The baleful yellow eyes followed the others as they climbed onto the flat space. "Hello there. My name is Amethyst." She sneezed, blasting fire again.
An enormous, black and purple, muzzle appeared over the edge of the plateau above. "Hello? Is everyone alright down there? Sorry, I have a case of the sniffl..." There was a sudden intake of breath, and the muzzle disappeared. The sounds of someone stifling a sneeze came down the path, followed by said sneeze and another gout of searing flame.
They all looked up at the top of the path.
"There seems to be a lot of colds going about." Said Kralla.
"Aye. Was that a females voice I heard?"
Master Tellerick started forward. "Only one way to find out."
They watched as the mountainside appeared to slip, as a single piece, down into the valley below. It disappeared in a cloud of gritty snow that coated everything around them.
After the bone-shaking noise had died down, they looked up the path. Above them, where the path vanished into a small plateau marking the cave, there was the briefest glimpse of a tail and a wing.
"Was that a?" Shouted Barnabas, the roar of the mountain still ringing in his ears.
"Aye! I think it was!" Came the equally loud reply from Skaran.
"I hope not." Grumbled Master Tellerick.
Kralla stood, hefting her pack onto her back. "Come on all. Let's get this over and done with. Then we can go home. The taste of my last beer is beginning to fade from my memory." She looked up along the snow-covered path. "Thank goodness the undead avoid the cold. It slows them down something terrible. So we should be... " As she spoke the word 'Alone' an enormous gout of flame erupted from the peak above them.
Alongside them, across from the path, the snow started moving as a single, monstrous, entity.
"Avalanche!" Shouted Skaran and Barnabas simultaneously.
Barnabas brought his own, ragged, brush around. "Maybe I should get one?" He smiled. "At least my fur is beginning to grow back now. Which reminds me!" He started rummaging in his pack, finally bringing out a small silver compact. He opened it and started applying the thick cream to the more naked parts of his tail.
Skaran clasped two paws over his nose. "Good goddess! What in hells name is in that?"
"I don't know. I daren't ask in case I find out. I do know is that it's working really well. I think there's something magical in it?"
Kralla snorted the water she was drinking from a flask when she turned and saw Skaran standing defeated and forlorn. "Let's get it over with..." He said. "I promised my old mum that I'd wear it if I went out in the cold. And let's face it, it's going to get cold."
Barnabas smiled. "That's erm, that's... Well. You don't see one of those every day. How do you, er, keep it on?"
"It's got some buttons that attach to my coat." He pulled at the woollen tail guard covering his tail.
"Well. It'll certainly keep it warm." Smiled Tellerick.
The path turned to fine scree, making the footing treacherous, and finally to partially melted snow. The sun shone brightly above the clouds below them as the path moved from rock and ice to proper snow.
They stopped briefly to allow William and Master Tellerick to put on warmer clothes for the final climb.
Skaran stood to one side, looking pensively at his personal pack. What looked like a woollen scarf was visible where he'd partially pulled it from the pack. Sighing heavily he took it out, along with a pair of gloves and put them on. "OK, I know..."
Kralla looked back down the trail. "Tamryn, and the Order, must have been trailing us since we left."
"Aye" nodded Skaran. "But he knew damn well that there were undead up here. He could've told us!"
"He used me as his bait. I shine brightly to the undead. He knew that I'd draw out whatever was controlling them. That's why he sent me with you." Sighed Barnabas. "He knew I'd be safe with you all."
"What's done is done. The cave of the Oracle is a little way above the snowline. We shall be there soon, hopefully." Said Master Tellerick.
Skaran, deftly sprang up, popped the daisy into Kralla's hat and barely managed to avoid her playful swipe on the way back down.
"Aww! Why so grumpy cat? If anyone should be feeling hard done by, it should be our boy Barnabas!"
"That's true rat." Kralla turned to the fox, while re-arranging the daisy to stay put. "Are you alright Barnabas?"
"Oh, I'm fine thanks. I'm not the first to be thrown beneath a cart by Master Tamryn. I'll wager I'll not be the last either! He's kind'a known for it. He's also known for taking care as well."
The ground became difficult as they started to climb the mountain proper. Emerging from the mists that clung to the peaks above like a skirt, they were almost blinded by the brilliant sunshine. The air here was clear, crisp; a splash of ice-cold spring water to the face.
Kralla pulled her hat out of her pack and jammed it onto her head. Her cookie shaped ears poking through the bespoke covered holes.
"A flower for your hat dear lady?" Asked Skaran as he waved a daisy at her, grinning insanely.
"I'll flower you..." She growled back, baring a fang.
Skaran put his hand to his head. "So... You know Master Tamryn as well Master Tellerick?"
"It's a little hard not to know about the order in these parts. And we may have gone on a few trips in the distant past."
"But when we went to see Master Tamryn..."
"We were always more acquaintances than friends Skaran. Like nodding to someone you see on the street regularly."
"Oh. And there I thought that you had some juicy tales to tell."
Kralla's ears twitched. "You already know far too much rat."
Skaran grinned. "You should know cat! Oh the tales..."
Safely away from their close encounter with the Lord of Misery, Kralla finally managed to get a grip on her rage. Around her, the group had remained silent as they worked their way up the mountain.
"Master Tellerick," She growled. "Do you have any idea what happened back there?"
"What? Beyond us being used as bait to draw out Marakel? No, not really."
"It... Tamryn and Marakel knew each other?"
"They have a history. I know that much." Sighed Tellerick. "And it's a long one too. I really don't know the details Kralla. It's not something he ever talked about."
Tellerick placed a firm hand on Kralla's shoulder. "This isn't our fight Kralla. We need to get out of the way. Now!" She snarled at the ancient figure.
"Oh, I'm sure we will meet again oh Queen of Swords." Smirked Marakel. "Maybe next time we can waltz on the battlefield?"
"Stop goading her Marakel." Shouted Tamryn. "You still haven't told me what you're doing out of your cramped little stone crypt."
"Bah! Run along now little kitty, and take your friends with you."
Tellerick firmly pulled at her now. "Come on Kralla. We don't want anything to do with this."