"War?" Said Skaran and Kralla at the same time.
The Oracle stood. "The Augury is not a precursor of war, but of great changes in your world." She looked at Tellerick. "Change is inevitable Master Tellerick. The augury you have brought before me is young. He does not yet understand his role in your future events."
Tellerick bowed his head. "But you do. Don't you."
"And you know that I cannot tell you, even though I am considered an Oracle by your world. The appearance of the Augury is a sign of great change. Change that is fluid in time."
William knelt in front of the oracle, who sighed heavily. "That time has come again." She looked up at Tellerick. "You have brought the Augury before me because you do not recognise him."
It was Barnabas' turn to raise an eyebrow. "Wait, I know that..." He frowned, trying to remember where he'd seen the name before. "Augury..." If he had been human he would have paled, instead, the fur on the back of his neck bristled and stood on-end. "The sundering of the species. The Augury was the one who predicted the war of all ages, observing the birds."
Kralla raised her eyebrows. "It's a woman?!"
Tellerick patted her arm. "It can be whatever it wants to be." He stepped forward. "Oracle, I have brought someone for your opinion."
"REALLY HUMAN TELLERICK? AN OPINION? THAT IS NOT LIKE YOU."
Barnabas and Skaran sniggered at the back. "Girl's got sass." Said Skaran.
Tellerick gestured to William, as the image knelt on the worn stone floor becoming more solid as it did so. She beckoned.
"Come, young William." She held out her hand, her voice now less booming and coming from the Oracle herself instead of the air surrounding the group.
Skaran nudged Barnabas as they walked towards the Aspect. "Is it my imagination, or does that look like a Chabbarat gambling dice?" Barnabas looked down at his companion.
"You mean die. Dice is more than one."
"Yeah, yeah. I know the singular, but no-one uses it. I'm not imagining it though am I?"
"No Skaran. You're not. it does look like one, except it's the size of a melon and glowing purple."
"Wonder why that is."
"IT IS BECAUSE I AM THE CONVERGENCE POINT OF TWENTY UNIVERSES RAT CALLED SKARAN." Before them, the ghostly image of a woman appeared.
Along the worn walls of the fissure came a warm smell of cloves and other spices on a warm breeze that flowed outwards.
"Smells like mid-winters feast in here!" Sniggered Skaran. "Better than the usual mouldy old smell."
The fissure widened out into a large cavern. Scattered around the entrance were a few small tents, their occupants the source of the smells.
At the far end of the cavern, glowing softly was the aspect of the Oracle. Faintly visible in the dim light were crystal-like lines in the air, converging on the flat surface of the purple polygon.
Skaran squinted at the gloom of the fissure. "I know human eyes aren't all that great in the dark Master Tellerick. Shall I get you a torch?"
Tellerick smiled, before casting a tiny glow-spell above them all. "No need Skaran. I've got this one handled."
The warm yellow light from the glowing sphere filled the cave with shadows. Perhaps more than their own.
"You are all welcome to join us. It may be something you would want to do anyway. The Oracle will likely invite you in, so you may as well come along as well." He strode forward.
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..."