The atmosphere inside the Seer's Compound was charged with curiousity. Girls and women of all shapes and sizes clustered in doorways and watched the peculiar little procession being led towards the main temple. A few, bolder than the rest, still darted out to touched Urska's soft brown fur; she huffed and snorted and twitched herself away from their fingers, but she knew better than to offer any violence.
Borysko walked steadily, chin up, feeling strangely confident. Drakon walked, with a concious effort, like a King should; carrying himself upright and firmly, smiling, noble. Inside, he quaked. This was their chance! Their chance to find out what was going on, to put a stop to the horrible things. Drakon felt he might just deserve to know what was going on, having spent most of the past weeks with no idea at all.
Their guide stopped outside of the temple and bowed to them, indicating that they should enter. As he knew he should, Drakon took the lead, Borysko protectively at his shoulder, Urska puffing behind, and stepped through the great carved wooden doors to meet his destiny.
This was a melodramatic way to put it, he knew, but he felt it appropriate nonetheless.
The doors led into an vast chamber, shaped with strange asymmetry, that appeared to take up the entirety of the sizeable building. It was floored with polished marble and the sound of their footsteps, far too loud in the silence, bounced away into corners where no corners should be and returned with strange harmonics, to whisper in their ears for far longer tha normal echoes should last. It seemed designed to put the unfortunate visitor on edge, and it fufilled its purpose for at least one of the threesome admirably; Urska's hackles were bristling like a dog's at bay. She growled softly, a faint sound that was taken by the echoes and bounced back at them again and again, returning with renewed vigor just as they believed it to be finally gone.
"Strange," said Borysko, quietly, his tension showing in his voice.
Strange...ange....ange...sighed the walls and the corners, in melancholy agreement. The torches that provided meagre lighting flickered, making the deep shadows dance.
"Don't talk," said Drakon, fighting to keep the nervousness from his voice.
Talk...alk...alk...returned the echoes, pleadingly.
It seemed like an age before they came in sight of the end. The asymmetry that had given the echoes such nervewracking life smoothed out and their footsteps sounded suddenly flat, the multitude of whispers dying abruptly. Somehow even more unnerved by this sudden dead silence, they stopped.
"Welcome," said the young woman sitting in the middle of the floor.
Despite himself Drakon started; he had not seen her there. She was seated cross-legged in what he now noticed to be the centre of an intricate mosiac, one with such complexity of design that it made his eyes blur to try and follow any one strand. She seemed very young somehow, not more than fourteen with her straw-coloured hair bound back in the loose tail of an unmarried girl; her skin was the familiar Vagari bronze, but on the darker end of the spectrum, and her eyes...
...Were far older than the rest of her, and violently mismatched. One was a bright acid green, and the other a deep, dark violet, but both of them were fixed unblinkingly on Drakon.
He shivered briefly, but returned the gaze; they stood locked for a moment, and then quite suddenly the girl smiled. Her teeth were very white.
"Welcome," she repeated. "I am Suvia. I am the Oracle, and I will answer your questions, King Drakon and warrior Borysko and Urska, the bear. Speak."
Now the moment had come, every single question Drakon had been burning to know the answers to suddenly seemed stupid and inconsequential. He dithered, not knowing what to ask, then blurted,
"What had made the Vagari wish to overthrow my father?"
"Not every Vagari wishes to," said Suvia obliquely, her mismatched eyes gazing away into the middle distance, looking at some world no-one else could see. "It is a small band. What moves them is the same concern that has moved every conquered people since time began."
She fell silent. Drakon, guessing she had finished and relieved to learn that not every Vagari they met would be an enemy, said,
"Who leads this band?"
"The true leader is dead," replied the Oracle. "You met him; your father and your mother trusted him; he remained trusted until the day he died. Now those who lead are his children. However, one whom they believe they control is growing in power and will soon destroy them."
"Who is this?" Drakon asked urgently. "Who is growing in power?"
Suvia looked up and once again met his eyes.
"Your brother," she said, without inflection. Drakon blinked and shook his head.
"Berengar? But he-"
"He pursues you at this very moment," the girl interrupted. "He knows who you are, and he would kill you for dishonouring his parents. His mind has been twisted since he was a small boy; he has hated you since you were born. Do not fear to fight him; he is wicked to the core."
Drakon's mind reeled from the implications. He had known that Berengar had never liked him when they were children, but he had always believed that it was the simple dislike of an older brother for a pesky younger one. To think that his brother-half-brother, he realised quite suddenly-had hated him, actively hated him for all this time...
"But then...why go after Urska and Borysko?" he asked blankly. "Urska was, well, an accident on my part; and surely Borysko is not that important in a plot to take over the throne."
"She was watching you," Suvia replied cryptically. "She saw how much potential your magic possesses, how powerful you could become; she knew that it was time to eliminate you. It would be far easier to kill you if your loyal protector was gone."
Borysko was frowning.
"This she...I'm sure 'tis th' witch Khoreia...she said to me she wanted Urska for th' circus," he said roughly. Suvia switched her unblinking gaze to him.
"She could not allow proof of your power to exist for long. To make Urska a circus exhibit would keep the proof under lock and key, easy to dispose of if necessary."
Drakon was thinking hard. It all seemed to be making a kind of sense now; more than it had been before, anyway.
"What is happening back at the town?" he asked urgently. "Is Madame da Silva...my mother...is she all right? What of the school, and Steiffa?"
"The town is controlled by the Scarlets," replied the Oracle evenly. "As is the school. Nyssa da Silva is alive and fighting, as is Steiffa; as swiftly and silently as a rat she runs to give good news to those still penned."
"One who was bad is good. The Scarlets have been misled. Please, King Drakon; I am tiring. Have you more questions?"
Indeed, the Oracle seemed to be drooping; her body was not held as rigidly upright as it had been, and while her gaze was still unwavering it was now almost blank with fatigue. She looked even more like a weary young girl; Drakon felt a surge of pity.
"I do not think-" he began, then stopped; Urska had pushed her way forwards.
"Little cub," growled the bear in an oddly soft tone, "Little cub who knows more than she should, tell me, how can I be me again?"
Suvia gazed at Urska, who stared back. Eventually the Oracle replied,
"The one who made you not you can turn you back; but you must be sure of what you wish to become."
This evidently did not please Urska; she puffed angrily and stepped back behind Drakon, grumbling to herself. Drakon hesitated and looked at Borysko, who shrugged, indicating that he had nothing more to ask. He looked very tired; abruptly, Drakon's final question crystallised in his mind.
"Just one more question, Oracle," he said, "Then we will leave you to rest. How may we make Borysko as vital and strong as once he was?"
Behind him the warrior made a startled noise. Suvia smiled again, showing her white teeth.
"A fine question," she said softly. "There is a way. The kiss of a bear has many properties besides the obvious."
She stopped, and closed her mismatched eyes.
"No more questions," she whispered. "Please, I am tired. I hope I aided you in some way, my King..."
"Of course you did," said Drakon. "You helped more than is in my power to thank you for. Is there some way we may repay you?"
Once again, the flash of those white teeth.
"You have matured much," said the girl. "Repay me by destroying those who would throw this kingdom into turmoil; there is nothing else I wish for. Leave me; I must rest."
"Of course," repeated Drakon, with a respectful bow. Borysko copied the gesture; Urska shuffled forwards, her tongue out to bestow a lick upon the girl's forehead.
But Suvia put out one small hand in front of the bear's nose, and whispered something inaudible that made Urska huff and puff in annoyance and withdraw her tongue before padding back to her companions. Drakon, although afire with curiousity, knew better than to ask; he bowed again and led the other two back to the echoing chamber, leaving the tiny, slumped figure of Suvia the Oracle sitting amongst the flickering torches behind them.