In Strip #1,395, we learned a key piece of information about Daria: she was, from early childhood, a child of prophecy.  She's known about this all her life, because her older sister raised her, but never found it particularly relevant or interesting.  To some, however, that information was once quite relevant and interesting . . .

Lendena was a jerk.  And she knew it.  But at least she was loyal to her country.

"Hello, majesty," she snarled at the King of Dragoria.

The fat king shifted in his high throne, his eyebrows narrowing.

"This is Lendena, second Oracle of Andra," Sage Anfar said, his voice shaking just a little.  "She'll be staying here in court for a few weeks, as you requested.  She --"

"The second Oracle of Andra?"  The fat king let out a loud, piggie laugh.  "No, no.  Andra's a vassal state.  She's the second Oracle of Dragoria."

"NO WAY!" Lendena shrieked.

Sage Anfar seized her shoulder and wrenched her out of the room, his whole arm shaking as the king leered after them.  Lendena shook too, but not with fear -- with rage.

Just you wait, she thought. Just you wait, "your majesty." You're going to taste defeat.

*   *   *

Sage Anfar wiped his brow all the way to their guest quarters, and didn't speak until they were safely beyond a two locked and eavesdrop-proofed doors.

"Are you a fool or just an idiot?" he complained.  "Have you any idea what a bad idea it is to provoke royalty?"

"Of course," Lendena said coolly.  "I've grown up watching royal punishments on the streets."

Sage Anfar dropped his damp cloth on a table.  "I told you two months ago that your future-seeing wasn't to be used politically."  His voice cracked.  "An Oracle's gift belongs to the world, just like a Sage's.  Our responsibilities --"

Lendena snorted.  "My responsibilities lie with Andra."

"Tradition dictates --"

"Tradition be hanged!"  Lendena glared at him.  "You're the one who pulled me away from my brother two weeks before we were planning to strike.  You're the one who claims it's wrong to use my powers for a cause I hold dear.  You're the one who gets all sanctimonious about your own power, which is -- let's face it -- little more than hyped-up spying!"

"You were abusing your gift!" the Sage cried, his ancient face crimson.  "You were using future-seeing to help terrorism!"

"Which could have helped Andra gain its freedom again," Lendena growled.  "Dragoria's hold has weakened more with every one of my prophecies.  Andrans are fighting.  Dragorians flee.  Any day, a crucial sign could come to turn our cause into victory -- and you took me away from it!"

"Oracles," Sage Anfar said stiffly, "are pillars of knowledge and wisdom.  They should not interfere with political --"

Lendena let out a shriek of laughter.  "Including my predecessor?"

Sage Anfar closed his eyes.  "The first Oracle of Andra's alliance with Great High King Farkair was a mistake.  She helped conquer nations, abusing her precious gift.  You have the opportunity to clear the name of Andra again --"

Lendena stared at him incredulously.  "Clear its name -- when it's currently enslaved?  Let's try freeing my country first.  Then we can clear whatever you wish."

Sage Anfar clutched his forehead.  "I thought you promised to give up that revolutionary nonsense when we came here."

"I lied."

Sage Anfar's shoulders sagged.  "Then we're in trouble, indeed."

*   *   *

Lendena gasped, bolting upright.  In her head was the vision of a tiny dragon, perhaps five or six years old, prancing under the feet of its two enormous parents.  One of them turned and spoke in exasperation, while the other went back to working on some kind of spell it seemed to be inventing.

"Daria!" the exasperated parent cried.  "Your mother and I are trying to finish this spell!"

The baby dragon paused and pouted.  Its wings scrunched together along its back.  "Want Mommy."

The father dragon snorted black smoke, picked the baby up in his tail, and carried her over to the other dragon, who was still absorbed in her work.

"Mommy!" the baby dragon squealed.

Lendena snapped back to the present, her breath coming in gasps.  Rarely did she see a vision so detailed, even when she was seeking something specific.  Almost never did she see visions of people she had never heard of before.

Words sprang to her mind.  Words which gave that scene actual meaning.

She shall be intelligent.  She shall be absurd.  She shall, somehow, affect the world.

Lendena sucked in her breath.

A child of prophecy?

Lendena knew what those were very well.  Great High King Farkair had been one, which was why he and his Oracle had become so unconquerable.

Perhaps it was one of the parents, Lendena thought, trying to convince herself.  But the focus of the vision had been so clearly on the baby, she couldn't even lie to herself over it.

No.  The prophecy was about the baby.  A baby who, despite a clearly unimpressive lineage, was destined to affect the world within its lifetime.

A child of prophecy.

Lendena clutched her blanket, an unthinkable idea springing into her head.

Dragoria was a kingdom founded by fanatical dragon hunters, with their old hatred still remaining.  There was a truce between the humans and nearby dragons now, but it was tenuous at best, almost entirely based on human fear.

The Oracle of Andra, Lendena thought, shaking, pitted enemies against each other.  She was a master of that strategy, knowing a country is always weaker when it tries to concentrate its efforts in more than one place.

It was unthinkable, what she was considering.  It was monstrous.

But it was a chance for Andra.

Lendena swallowed, her breath ragged.

It was a better chance than even her brother could have dreamed.

*   *   *

"Don't do it," Sage Anfar told her urgently that morning, as they headed to the throne room.  "Whatever you're planning, Lendena -- please don't do it."

Lendena tossed her head.  "I'm not planning anything.  The king's summoned us, so we're going to his throne room.  That's it."

"I know we have to see him," Sage Anfar said miserably, "but you're not fighting the summons.  And you woke up in the middle of the night and sat there for hours, looking calculating.  You have to be up to something."

"Well, I'm not," Lendena said sharply, "and if I were, you'd be wise to keep it to yourself, anyway.  Do you want to get us both killed?"

"No," Sage Anfar mumbled.  "But I don't want you killing anyone else, either."

Lendena swept in through the door two soldiers opened for them.

"You two!" the fat king roared from his throne, his mouth open to reveal half-chewed food.  "You're going to help me record the history of Dragoria!  The true history, that is," he chortled, rubbing his hands together.

Sage Anfar's face flushed bright red.  "I will not help you rewrite history," he said quietly.  "Nor will the Oracle make up false prophecies to prolong your reign.  We are neutral to politics, we Oracles and Sages."

"Right, right."  The fat king leered.  "Neutral.  Though I have an empty dungeon downstairs that could use a few visitors."

Sage Anfar stiffened.  Lendena clenched her fists and broke in before she got angry.

"Your majesty!" she called.  "I -- I have no love of your country, as you doubtless realize.  But I -- saw a vision last night that alarmed me.  Your majesty, I have seen a -- child of prophecy."

Several servants in the room gasped.  Two stopped in their tracks, listening with frozen ears.

The king's eyes narrowed.  "A child of prophecy?" he hissed.  "From where? Andra? Kiharhia? A Dragorian usurper?"

Lendena gulped.  If that was his line of thought, this was going to be difficult.  Still, she had both truth and lies on her side.  As long as she balanced those carefully, she would win.

"Your majesty," she said carefully, "I cannot say that this child of prophecy is a direct threat to your reign.  It is still only a baby, and perhaps harmless to anyone.  But it is also a dragon."

Silence.  Then quiet murmuring.

"A dragon baby?" The king's red face was dark with fury.  "You think I care about a dragon baby?  Why did you even bring that up, if it's not a threat to me?  Guards!  Introduce her to my torture chamber!"

"No!" Lendena gasped.  That was not part of her plans. "Don't you care at all what it will become, your majesty?  Don't you care that it is destined become a military genius who will wipe Dragoria out?"

The king's eyes widened.  He sucked in his fat cheeks.

"A military genius?" he asked hoarsely.

Lendena ducked her head, triumph coiling in her stomach.  "Yes, sire," she whispered.  "It may take decades before the child is able to plan a strike.  Or its offensive may be ready in weeks.  I cannot see.  But, either way, Dragoria will fall to its knees."

"Counselor!" the king shrieked, seizing the throat of a tall man near him.  "Fetch my generals!  We're going dragon-hunting tonight!"

The counselor's face looked ashen.  "But s-sire," he stammered.  "The treaty --"

"Treaty?" King Daingor roared.  "What does a treaty mean, with monsters?  Summon my generals!"

The counselor fled from the room, clutching his throat.

"What is the monster's name?" the king hissed, leaning forward.  "Where should we find it?"

Lendena swallowed.  If she answered that question, she knew she'd be responsible for the baby's death -- knew the only way it would affect the world would be by starting a war.

But a war, she thought numbly, that will allow Andra its best chance for freedom.

"Daria," she whispered.  "Look in the mountains just north of here."

Lendena didn't look over at Sage Anfar.  She couldn't.  She knew the look of horror he would give her for the next several days.

In a few days, she'd probably be giving it to herself.

*   *   *

They escaped the castle in the panicked chaos of war preparations, dodging guards and sprinting as fast and far as they could.  Halfway down the road to Nandar, the Sage collapsed.

Lendena spun around and dropped to her knees, terrified she'd just caused his death.  "Sage Anfar?" she cried frantically.  "Sage?"

"The dragon," the old man gasped.  "Your child of prophecy.  She just survived.  But her parents died."

Lendena stared at him, too numb to feel surprise.

It didn't die? Its parents did?

A brand new scene exploded into her mind.  A hoarde of dragons, at least two hundred, flew across Dragor and torched it.  At least a hundred continued past the capitol, destroying everything else in sight, slaughtering every soldier or man in a dragonslaying tunic.  Five dragons died for certain.  One hundred thousand Dragorians followed.

"Was it worth it?" Sage Anfar asked bitterly.  "Was it worth it to cause those deaths?  Was it worth it to start a brand new war?"

Lendena closed her eyes, still shaking.  Right now, it didn't seem worth it.  But she had to believe her ultimate goal was worthy.

"Yes," she whispered.

"You're a fool."  Sage Anfar stood, tears in his eyes.  "Worse than your predecessor.  You've lost any chance of redeeming your country's name in history."

Lendena ducked her head.  She wished she could disagree.  "Then condemn me."

Sage Anfar stood slowly, carefully.

"You're a fool," he croaked again.

Lendena watched him walk away.

"Goodbye, Sage Anfar," she whispered.  "I hope we both live to see Andra free."

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