Been a bit, but here is the next installment….
Ka’tya was tasked with administering the Red Dust to the Dragons as they were lured to the Goddess Temple. She was the only one with Empath abilities, which only affected one Healer in every three generations or so. The Red Dust itself could prove toxic to a Healer without Empath protection, and even A’nal was not immune to its affects. The Red Dust was powerful enough to stun a young Dragon, who would then stumble back to their Lair and fall into a deep sleep. The elder Dragons would be none the wiser until it was too late. Ka’tya was the only person who could handle the Red Dust and guide the young affected Dragons back down the correct path to their Lair without risking either physical or psychological harm.
The danger did not lie in being spotted by the elder Dragons; their vision was not good in daylight. The danger was in being smelled by them. This was why the Healers were paired up with the Priestesses: the Healers could lure the young Dragons away from their nests only if the Priestesses protected them with a ward ship spell, which camouflaged both of them from harm. When done properly, the bulwark caused the pair to smell faintly of what humans might identify as amber and burnt toast, but to an elder Dragon it smelled very much like other younger Dragons, and therefore the pair escaped detection. The key was not to overwhelm any one species with any one smell, which meant that each young Dragon had to be approached by a Healer-Priestess pair one at a time, making for twelve pairs in total.
A’nal and the head Priestess, Ge’ne’se, stood holding hands in the middle of the Temple, encircled by twenty-four lit white candles on the floor, each candle representing either a Healer of a Priestess. A’nal and Ge’ne’se said incantations over each of the girls as they lined up at the front of the Temple, each of them solemnly engrossed in their own thoughts.
At that moment, for this short time, both Healers and Priestesses forgot their year-long feud. All the bickering and bad blood did not seem to matter; all was for the good of Alonia now. The first pair up was a Healer name Sa’ira and a Priestess named Ra’han. Ra’han put a protective arm around Sa’ira, handing her a bunch of white sage to light on fire once they were outside.
“It will cleanse any negative energy before I cast the protection ward,” she explained to Sa’ira. “And chew this,” Ra’han handed her a sweet-smelling herb. “The spell can knock you a bit sidewise if you aren’t ready for it. The herb will help with any nausea.”
Sa’ira took the herb gratefully and placed it a bit uncertainly under her tongue. She was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a sweet tasting as it smelled. Outside the Temple, in the outer courtyard, the pair lit the white sage. Ra’han took Sa’ira’s hands and spoke an enchantment in a language foreign to her ears. Suddenly, the girl felt very warm, like the soles of her feet were on fire. No, she decided, it was more like the sensation of warm brandy sliding down her belly, only the sensation was from the soles of her feet up the length of her body and into her extremities. When it hit her head, she did indeed feel “knocked sideways,” but only for a moment. The herb seemed to have an immediate effect, and she took a deep breath and then felt settled again.
“Ready?” Ra’han’s voice was steady and calm, just what Sa’ira needed to hear.
“Yes,” she said after a breath. “Let’s go.”
The pair went down a winding road that eventually lead to the Dragon’s Lair. They took what Sa’ira’s aunts called “the scenic route”—it was in actuality the safest way to approach the Dragons; the road led to a small cave-like entrance at the rear of the Lair. Sa’ira hesitated, and Ra’han put a comforting hand on her shoulder and asked, “Do you need a minute?” in a raspy whisper.
Sa’ira shook her head, but her facial expression betrayed her lack of confidence. She took a deep breath and steeled herself, and then carefully entered the Lair, Ra’han close behind her. They took a moment to join hands again and both offered up a quick but sincere supplication to the Goddess before facing the mouth of the Lair.
The stench of sulpher was overpowering. Sa’ira was momentarily in awe of the sheer number of Dragons, beating their great leathery wings and belching what could only be described as fire (literally) and brimstone (figuratively). She was frozen in place not by fear but by awe. The Dragons were huge and intimidating, but beautiful at the same time. Their wings were almost translucent, reminding Sa’ira of angel wings, or at least what she imagined angel wings must look like. Ra’han would not more about that, she mused as a gigantic purple beast seemed to spot her and started to lumber towards her.
“Don’t make eye contact with it,” Ra’han hissed. “They can’t see us, but if you make eye contact with them, they can see through the enchantment.” Ra’han smacked Sa’ira hard on her back so she was forced to jerk her head down in a sudden jarring motion. The great amaranthine beast strode past them. Sa’ira let out a gasp, realizing she had been holding her breath.
“Your protection spell is working,” she said in admiration.
“It doesn’t protect against acts of cowardice or stupidity,” Ra’han said flatly. “We can ill afford to make mistakes.”
Sa’ira mumbled an apology.
“They are pretty awesome,” Ra’han said in a hushed voice after a long moment of silence. “Anyone could have been stunned by them. C’mon. The youngling’s nest is this way.” She offered Sa’ira her hand, which the young Healer took gratefully.
The pair hid behind a massive boulder. “There.” Ra’han pointed to their right, where there seemed to be a Dragon nursery of sorts. Monumental nests made of mud and straw held smaller versions of the purple creature they had encountered only moments before. Ra’han pointed to a nest where a frog-green Dragon youngling was perched, finishing the remnants of a meal that Sa’ira was loathe to imagine the contents of. “That one’s ours,” Ra’han whispered hoarsely.
The youngling suddenly belched, emitting a small ball of flame followed by the unmistakable stench of brimstone. Sa’ira shrank in horror and disgust. “Are you sure? How can you tell?”
“It’s closest.” Ra’han smiled wryly. “C’mon.”
Sa’ira followed Ra’han to the back of the youngling’s nest. “Remember the plan. Healers act as bait—like a mouse to a cat; Priestesses protect them by praying to the Goddess—“
“Bait?” Sa’ira frowned. “That’s your pep talk?” She felt some of the tension leave here, because the thought was so ridiculous.
“I made you smile, though, didn’t I?” Ra’han suddenly grew somber. “Seriously, remember the plan, and don’t look him directly in the eye. Focus your vision somewhere about here,” Ra’han pointed to the middle of her forehead. “That’s where his third eye would be. He has the mind and the attention span of a small child. Use that to your advantage. To him, you are literally something new and shiny, like a mouse to a cat.”
Sa’ira turned towards the front of the nest and took a deep breath. Suddenly, her nerves settled and all her fear seemed to disappear. “That’s the spell, too, isn’t it?” she asked in a steady voice.
“Part of it,” Ra’han affirmed. “But most of it is the power inside of a Healer. You can do this. My job is to make sure that you stay safe while you do. I do not have the same ability. Mine is more spiritual than physical.”