"So she chose a tree on the edge of a cliff?" Nelda asked, somewhat rhetorically.
Nelda looked at the rickety Seussian structure of branches that held the pale centaur aloft. It was perched right at the top of a crumbling cliff face she had seen the manticore traverse just the previous night. Its roots visibly strained to hold the rocks and scant earth beneath its creaking trunked.
"Okay." Nelda strode in a determined but wobbly way down the crooked path back to the compound. Fortunately, the drawbridge was down. She found Tyron snoozing on the floor next tot eh stripeflower sapling.
She had chosen one with several health branches hanging heavy with bright green fleshy leaves. Enough to have a good crop even if it lost a good few along the way.
Nelda snapped off a sprig and retraced her steps.
[I just hope it kicks in a bit quicker for centaurs. Like the booze did.]
Back at the leaning tree, Nelda looked up the trunk, and then over the cliff, and then over to Phyllis. "I don't suppose you could…" She made a vague flapping motion with her hands.
Phyllis just glared a reply.
[Every problem as assailable, if you break it down into manageable steps. Step one, go up the tree and feed flying leap to a sleeping centaur without alerting her to her imminent probable demise.]
Placing the leafy twig between her teeth, Nelda set her hands upon the trunk. She had some vague notion of a program she had seen once where people were climbing coconut trees.
[All trials shall be surmounted.]
Getting up the trunk was made easier by it's distinct lean. She tried not to dwell on the void it leaned out over.
Jen hung in a haphazard sling of branched with her dainty equine legs hanging downward. Nelda wriggled herself into a position, feeling the tree settle a little further, creaking. She took a few leaves and crunched them between her thumb and forefinger.
"Good morning, Jen," Nelda tried to inject her voice with a calm cheerfulness. "It's not morning yet, so keep on sleeping. But if you take this herb, it will stop you from getting a hangover. You'd like that wouldn't you."
Jen smacked together dry lipped and mumbled something.
Nelda took the opportunity to poke some sticky leaves into the centaur's mouth. At that moment, her attention was distracted by a sound.
With a swooping sensation of vertigo and matching lurch of her stomach, Nelda looked out over the broken terrain of trees and boulders. The sharp edges of the topography created a tessellation of fluttering leaves, glinting planes, and impenetrable shadows.
Across on small sandy clearing, darted an even smaller, somewhat furry, shape.
Another followed after. SmithGuild's voice, made small by distance was still clear. "BugleHead, put down that basilisk!"
[I really hope they are talking about one of the dead ones.] "Phyllis, do you think maybe you could help SmithGuild with that?"
"He is the one who assigned the tasks," the dragon replied. "Who am I to argue?"
"You were happy to argue that centaurs are not suited to climb tr…" Nelda stopped herself and went back to trying to shove stripeflower leaf pulp between the centaur's lips.
"Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck."
[Oh shit. That sounds suspiciously like a not-very-dead-at-all basilisk.]
SmithGuild shrieked, "Don't point that thing at me."
[As the showgirl said to the bishop.]
Jen yawned and blinked blearily. Her pony legs paddled listlessly in the empty air.
"Um, eat more of these. Really quickly," Nelda urged,
"What is this crap. It tastes like silage sme—AAARGH!"
Jen flung out every limb she had, which had the fortunate effect of keeping her lodged in the branches, even when a few of them broke off under the onslaught and crashed down the cliff. She then froze, rigid.
[A few good primate instincts in that chimera body still. That one was—ah—the Moro reflex.]
Nelda was quite satisfied at retreating that arbitrary fact acquired somewhere in the stygian gloom of what she remembered from her undergraduate studies.
"Eeep!" Jen said.
The branch Nelda was clinging to started to droop, crack, and generally proclaim it desired to succumb to gravity. Nelda threw one arm around Jen's waist and then lept onto her pony-back.
"Sorry to be so familiar," Nelda said. "But you seem to be wedged up here pretty good at least for now. On the up side, you sure showed Reg what's what."
"Yay," replied Jen in a very small voice.
"Yay for pyrrhic victories," Nelda agreed.
Nelda had never in her life gone horseback riding. Her interest in animals and their behavior, the subject of her bachelors and masters degrees, was purely observational in nature. [Not participant-observer.] Nevertheless, if the movies were anything to go by she was seat more-or-less how on should be in a horse. [But when the horse has the torso of a woman attached to the front of it, there isn't much of a view.]
"You have really nice hair," Nelda commented.
"Thanks," said Jen, still in an incredibly tiny voice.
"You don't need to whisper. It's not like an avalanche or something, that would be triggered by sound."
"Let's not take any chances."
"Bit late for that." Nelda peered to tried and see how strong the remaining branches under them were.
"Why ish my mouth full of leaves…?"
There was a sound a bit like a whip being cracked, and the entire tree shuddered. A cascade of small rocked bounced down the cliff, for really quite a long time as if they were making a deliberate show of just how far down it was.
"Oh that's the good news," Nelda said, trying to project confidence. "You remember how I explain the pixies dust effects of stripeflower leaves?"
"I am not very… brain right now," Jen peeped. "Please start making sense."
"I've been feeding you leaves that should make you positively buoyant. Or in more literal terms I am hope--I mean expecting--more of a neutral buoyancy. Last time I floated up-up-and-away things got very complicated. But I guess it was all for the best."
[I get nervous. I babble. It's been working out for me so far.]
The tree moaned and shifted again.
"Are you feeling… floaty," Nelda inquired hopefully.
In the distance, SmithGuild could be heard yelling, "Where did you put the horn?"
"Buck, bwAAArk. Cluck, cluck, cluck."
Nelda briefly considered making a leap for it. Glancing back she saw Phyllis looking… no more than mildly concerned.
[Maybe dragon facial expressions aren't that easy to read, but she sure as hell isn't doing anything to help.]
Another large root sprung loose; it's smaller strands giving up the ground with a sound like tearing silk.
The tree bobbed, nodded, and then with a strange silence just fell away. Nelda clutched the back of Jen vest.
They stayed in place.
Jen stayed quite level. The rotate very slowly in a counter-clockwise direction.
"Oh. It worked," Phyllis said. She sounded rather surprised.
Jen started to giggle hysterically.
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