Fresh the next morning Asbolus handed Nelda a rigid sheet of what looked like a strip of pale bark. On it was inscribed what could only be described as a spell, written freshly in dark reddish-brown ink.
"The scroll I draw this from is rather fragile. You'll forgive me if I keep it sequestered away."
"Of course." [You're not the first not to trust me with delicate matters. Lord knows how I got entrusted with the fate of worlds]. "We have already put you to a lot of… trouble."
The large centaur looked at her sharply. "The trouble was ever ours," he said. "If anything we should apologize for drawing you into it. The weaver cannot resist a strong and timely thread… if it might save the cloth."
Nelda still had a considerable headache, and asking whether Asbolus was using a metaphor or speaking about a god, that was a little further than she was inclined to stretch.
The satyrs, now including Reg, had agreed to guide Typho and Phyllis to Echidna's cave. BugleHead had entrusted Nelda with the alicorn, being more focused now on his new acquisition.
He sat at the gate, holding a surprisingly placid basilisk on his lap. It was wearing a small hood, much like a falconry hood. The satyr fed his new pet handfuls fo grain, and it seemed altogether happy with the arrangement.
"I am going to call her… huh." BugleHead seemed stumped.
"How about Medusa?" Nelda offered.
There was an echo in Nelda's memory about some other figure in myth that did not exist here… or at least not yet. [It's not like the schools I went to spent much time on the lore of antiquity. A token Shakespeare play was considered pushing it for us. SmithGuild might remember whatever it is that's niggling in my mind…]
Looking over to the gryphon-in-human-form Nelda felt her heart squeeze. He was palpably unhappy. He'd made an effort at washing his scrubs in the river and they now hung damp and wrinkled on his body.
Turning back to Asbolus, she asked, "I don't suppose you have anything in the way fo a ritual that would put someone back in the right body?"
The centaur shook his head. "I've never heard tell of that sort of thing happening before – outside of someone wanting such a transformation so fervently that they petitioned a god for it. And I am not convinced any of those tales were true. The again"—he sighed—"I thought the basilisk was a myth, too."
Phyllis emerged from the hall and crossed over the bridge, ready to begin her journey. Typho was following her but paused and turned. "Are you sure I should go?"
Asbolus answered for her. "I think you will find that Lady Nelda's intuition is wont to be true. And that you were woven into the tale in a way that fits your purpose as well as our need."
Typho looked from the seer to Nelda, and she smiled in a way she hoped was reassuring. "Don't worry about us," she said with entirely false bravado. "I am sure we'll be meeting again when the time is right. But please, you need to put it out of your mind until you've found your place in this world. You can't be in two places at once—so remember to be entirely where you are, right now."
[Oh god. If this whole thing depends on me trusting my instincts, why choose a neurotic woman whose mother hated her and whose life was going right down the crapper to be in the center of it? Someone's having a laugh.]
HoneyBeard went last. "I'll do my best," he told her wearily. Then he crossed the bridge pulling a pre-occupied BugleHead with him.
"Mead-oos-a," BugleHead muttered. "Me-deuce-ah."
"I'm not at all sure I should be sending them with the basilisk and not the horn," Nelda remarked to Asbolus.
The centaur replied, "The horn works as well with the rest of the blessed beast attached. Better in fact. And they'll come to no harm biding awhile in stone if it comes to that."
[That's really not reassuring. I'd have preferred a simple: Oh, I'm sure they'll be fine.]
Jen came to jin them, and in the small space next to the gate, she was obliged to press her pony body next to Asbolus's somewhat larger frame. Not that she seemed to mind.
"So it's just the two us on Team Unicorn," Nelda remarked,
"Oh, I don't mind," Jen replied. She was looking as Asbolus, not Nelda. Not that the centaur seer seemed to notice. His perspicacity seemed to have its limits.
[These are the day of our lives…]
"It is not my role," Asbolus said, it must be noted with a slightly pretentious tone, "to be directly involved. My part is to be an advisor."
Jen beamed in replied. The that's perfect. This is the time we are in the most need of advice. Nelda, bring the spell…"
"Ritual" interjected Asbolus as if the distinction was important to him.
"Ritual," Jen amended, "and let us determine what our next steps must be."
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