The entire company sat, wearing a range of hand-dog expressions, in the parlor. Nelda took the time to dress, and picked up the shell under her bed, before joining them.
[Maybe the shell is just something Lapis likes. But why would she have it in my room?]
She made every effort to hop into the room in a dignified manner.
SmithGuild sat on his chaise upright like a cat and was very still.
Herby was closing a laceration on HoneyBeard's shoulder with tight, briskly-applied stitches. She nipped the thread off the last suture with the hooked tip of her beak.
Well, almost everyone was hang-dog. BugleHead sat on the window sill and ate grapes from a bowl. "I like grapes," he said.
[At least that broke the silence.]
Nelda coughed. "Ah, HoneyBeard. Thank you for… that."
HoneyBeard peered to inspect his stitches. "You may be an idiot, but you are my idiot. Somehow I've become an idiot collector. Or is it an idiot herder? And now I've been embroidered by a cat-bird. Life has become very interesting," he concluded with obvious disapproval.
"You have to understand my point of view…." Herby began.
"I don't have to do shit for you." HoneyBeard jumped off the couch and went to join BugleHead on the windowsill. "You are not one of my idiots and nor is he." This as he pointed at the frozen SmithGuild.
Nelda gave a strained smile. "We are their guests right now, and we are all being friends."
"Speaking of which," Herby regained some part of her indignation. "What did you do to him over there? He's obviously shocked."
Nelda took a deep breath. "For some reason when we were transported back to my world, Gryphon SmithGuild was… translated, into one of my kind. He was there, but he was… in a form like mine."
"Exactly like yours?" quizzed Herby.
"No," blurted SmithGuild. "There was a thing! Between my legs!"
Both of the satyrs giggled in a somewhat unsympathetic manner.
Nelda glared at them. She hopped over to sit gingerly next to SmithGuild, but still leaving a few feet of space between them. "For some reason, it translated you into what would be a perfectly normal form for a male of my species. But obviously, that was all wrong for you. That was why I pushed you back through the portal as quickly as possible."
[And un-saved myself in the process.]
"I did explain to you brother that my people did not exactly intend to send me here. It seems like they are attempting to retrieve me. SmithGuild was just caught in the net."
BugleHead muttered: "Like a cat-bird-fish." And started giggling again.
Herby's brows furrowed, sending her small feather up in a vexed 'V'. "But you god must have intended to send you here, in order to do so?"
Nelda pressed the fingertips of her left hand her forehead. "To explain my overall situation to the satyrs, it seemed more correct to describe the entity that sent me as a god. The power to do so is of... that sort of order of magnitude."
"But...?" prompted Herby.
"The entity that did so would be more accurately described as a type of mechanism."
SmithGuild suddenly became animated again. "Your god is a machine?!" He seemed rather enthusiastic about the idea.
"Oh, don't get him started," Herby sighed.
"What?" Nelda was happy that the conversation seemed to be becoming less hostile.
"My good sister is referring to a long-standing argument we have been having, in which I assert that machinery is ultimately more perfectible than the untidiness that is living beings."
Herby shot back quickly, "Which is obviously nonsense because even if a machine is a god, beings what the qualities of living races have been gods much earlier and more often."
"Unless you have met one of them, all we know is that people have hitherto imagined their gods look more-or-less like they do...."
The conversation quickly became animated and excluded anyone but SmithGuild and Herby.
Nelda hopped over to the satyrs. "Scootch over," she said. "And pass the grapes."
Herby rejoined, "How can you possibly suggest the gods of races are imaginary. Some being must have created all this. And beings are what created machines. Machines do not create beings."
"As far as you know." SmithGuilds feathers puffed with agitation making him look like a particularly majestic Pokemon.
Nelda sat between the two satyrs with a shell in one hand and the bowl of grapes on her knees.
"How is your hoof-hand?" BugleHead asked politely.
"How does the word 'foot' work for you?" Nelda asked.
BugleHead considered this. "A tree has a foot at the bottom, or a mountain or a pedestal."
"Good enough. So how about you call my hoof-hand a foot?"
"Fair enough. Neldans have foots. So how is your foot?"
"It hurts really quite a lot," Nelda replied. "Thank you for asking."
HoneyBeard reached for a handful of grapes. "Wouldn't it be nice if we had some kind of healer available," he commented.
"Wouldn't it," Nelda replied
The gryphons continued to argue.
The shell in Nelda's hand seemed to tingle or vibrate very slightly.
[I must be imagining it.]
She raised the shell up, close enough to look at it carefully. Turning it in her hands, it seemed like nother more than a pure-white, tightly coiled shell with a large, oval opening.
[Invertebrate. Mollusc? Probably aquatic.]
It was hard to tell, over the sound of quarreling gryphons, but where was the slight tiny noise coming from?
Nelda knew that the only reason you could 'hear the sea' in a seashell was because ambient noises resonated inside the shell. These bouncing waves produced a garbled rushing sound, not unlike the distant crashing of waves. Nevertheless the idea of listening to shells resonated in its own way from her childhood memories.
She lifted the shell to her ear. Inside it, she could hear, faintly, incredibly, but quite clearly a shrill querilous voice.
"All I can hear is gryphons arguing," it said.
[Fuck me. Is this a shell phone?]
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