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71.62% Chimera Girl / Chapter 53: Afoot in the Woods

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Chapter 53: Afoot in the Woods

They set out the next morning, bring with them no more than a tenth part of what SmithGuild suggested. Phyllis had improvised some saddlebags for Jen to carry food and blankets as they would need to camp at least one night on the way. Also on one side was a carefully wrapped seedling of the stripeflower tree. The sapling bobbing its few small branches with each step.

A chirruping Jasper phoenix led the way, apparently functioning as SmithGuilds GPS unit. Phyllis the dragon ambled behind, her wide nostrils scenting the air and her large wings flexed untidily back. Reg and BugleHead followed, taking turns carrying the unicorn horn which now had a bright ribbon tied to one end which fluttered jauntily in the wind.

Then came Jen and SmithGuild with one hand resting on the saddlebags in what seemed like both a companionable gesture and a way to give him better balance,

"It was not so unusual for men to ride sidesaddle," Jen was saying. "Some did so to train lady's mounts or to carried equipment like a cable-laying spool."

"I think it will suffice for me to use my own limbs. Such as they are," SmithGuild replied.

Nelda was following with HoneyBeard by her side. Tyrone brought up the rear as with wide wyrm body undulated from side to side to make surprisingly efficient forward progress.

HoneyBeard commented in sotto voice. "Ponygirl is gonna steal your boyfriend."

Nelda shrugged. She was turning the blade of her dagger in the sunlight. There did seem to be some kind of lettering on it, but was it in English? [ST???G??? SLA??R]

The script was rendered in shallow loops and curves. [My mother did tell me I should learn cursive writing. She had utter contempt for the entire education system went o hell the moment they dropped it. I can probably credit my perseverance in getting a graduate degree out of a desire to spite her. So I guess I can't say she never did anything for me.]

"Are you not inclined to keep him?" Honeybeard said. "because he is not inclined to use all of his limbs." The satyr raised his bushy eyebrows suggestively.

Tyrone sniggered behind them.

"What? No. Shut up," Nelda slapped his arm gently. "I am not that shallow." She went back to considering the dagger. [S?ON?GA?? SLA??R.] Ah, the letter that appeared a number of times was a strangely formed letter E. [Holy Pat Sajdak, did I just buy a vowel?]

HoneyBeard persisted. "It is not shallow to value fornication. It is a primary occupation for most every race."

"It depends on one's priorities," Nelda replied tersely knowing that it was possible some of the party ahead could hear them. Who knows what centaurs can hear.

[STONEGAZE SLAYER. What would that mean? It is the slayer belonging to stone-gaze. Does it slays with a stone-gaze? But it has no eyes….]

"HoneyBeard, what kinds of beasts can turn a person to stone, like by looking at them?"

"Changing the topic are you?"

"Perhaps you'd rather talk about your trip to Harpy Island. From what BugleHead says you made a new fr—"

"Catoblepas."

"Gesundheit."

"What?"

"What?" {I guess gesundheit isn't technically English. But most of the goddam language is mugged from other languages. It hasn't caused a problem so far.]

Tyrone butted in. "What about the basilisk? Do you have that?"

HoneyBeard shrugged. If your talking about things that can make you stone by looking at you the basilisk is about his big." He put his hands about a loaf-of-bread apart. "The catoblepas is about this big." He lifted his hand about five foot above the ground."

Nelda re-sheathed her dagger. "If it's going to turn you into stone by looking at you, what does it matter if the critter is featherweight or a heavy hitter?"

"There is a reason a lot more people know about basilisks than catoblepases," HoneyBeard lectured. "You can stop yourself from being turned to stone by closing your eyes. If you do this to a basilisk, which is a kind of snake-chicken, mostly there is not very much they can do to you. Except for the venomous ones. But the big ol' a catoblepas can still easily trample you to death. Which is why people who encounter them rarely live to tell the tale."

Smithguild had dropped back a bit, "But that's not how it works, is it? You don't have to be looking them in the eye, they just have to see you. That's what my sister ScribeGuild told me. And they are both pretty much invulnerable."

"Has she ever actually come across one?" Nelda asked. Have you? I mean talked with them--if they are folk. Or are they beasts?"

SmithGuild answered, "Noone knows for sure either way. Nobody goes into the areas where they are supposed to live, because it is not a risk that needs to be taken."

"You should keep this one," HoneyBeard said. "He's less stupid than the rest."

"Of course…" SmithGuild mused. "SmithGuild also said that neither of these creatures may actually exist. They may be a myth that developed to explain the work of very adept ancient sculptors. More recent accounts of their ways come mainly from sots and addle-heads, or adventurers seeking fame and adulation."

They passed out of an area of spotty scrub into an increasingly deep forest, and all around them, it was growing gloomy under their lofty, leafy limbs. Chirps and burps and all kinds of sounds from living things echoed through the air.

So what kind of things living in the forest?" Nelda asked,

"I don't really know," SmithGuild replied. "I normally fly over the top. But the jaspers never seem to have much trouble traversing it. They are too heavy to fly over and sp must go through."

Nelda thought about that for a while. "That would be more reassuring if the bird wasn't made of metal and so mot likely to be targeted by predatory animals. Not to mention so irritating that most everyone avoids them."

"I take it back," HoneyBeard muttered.


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