Just before dusk, Herby returned. The gryphon was wearing some kind of strange bandanna around her neck. She landed by the fountain and took sometime stretching, preening her wings and settling them to her satisfaction. Nelda tamped down her impatience. [Sister just flew off across the ocean for me. Even if she does seem to be enjoying dragging out the final reveal.]
[Come to think of it, there's no way a flying creature wouldn't know what is on their roof. Right?]
[This is so confusing. Who can I trust?]
Herby came into the parlor and availed herself of one of the two couches leaving Nelda to sit awkwardly on the windowsill.
Herby folded one clawed arm over the other. "The harpies say, that the mermaids say, that they didn't know Nelda couldn't breathe underwater. They just had something they wanted to show her."
"That makes sense," SmithGuild said.
Herby looked at SmithGuild and then looked at Nelda and shook her head.
"That makes no fucking sense whatsoever," Nelda said. "You don't invite someone to a party by dragging them there by the ankle."
"Exactly," Herby agreed. "Even without intentional drowning, there is no such thing as a friendly abduction. You know Nelda, I was skeptical about you at first, but you might prove to be a good, bad influence on my brother."
"Good bad? What on Mirth are you talking about?" SmithGuild asked.
"She is implying," Nelda said. "That your charmingly trusting nature can stray toward being—"
"Naive," supplied Herby. "Foolish, even despite being brilliant in your way. Not that I espouse total trust in humans either."
The word 'human' resonated as sudden and foreign to Nelda's ears. If the prophecy existed only and entirely as a picture, so that word could not be derived from it. If it existed elsewhere, no one had divulged as much.
"Human?' Nelda asked.
"That is what your people are called, is it not?" Herby replied.
"It's never a world I have had needed to use since my arrival."
"You just don't remember."
SmithGuild frowned. "I have been present every time the two of you were conscious and together," he said. "She has never used this word."
[Oh ho, skepticism cuts both ways!]
Herby bristled. "Brother, I cannot believe you are taking the side of this… Nelda, against me?"
SmithGuild remained entirely calm. "What are these sides? Facts cannot favor any side but the truth."
"It must have been the harpies I heard it from," Herby said. "They have a proposal. And no one has known harpies to be anything other than harmless when it comes to those they admit onto their lands under the flag of parlay.
"As opposed to those they prey upon at sea," SmithGuild said with disapproval. "I think there is something untrustworthy about people who eat people. I have no idea how they think only doing it n salty water makes a wit of difference."
Herby shrugged. "It's their nature. You may consider them distasteful, but they are honest monsters. Not like the manticores." She pulled the strange scarf from around her neck. It was made from two pieces of cloth tied at the corners, one yellow and one red. "They offer these flags, which will assure your safety from them. And they will ensure you and the mermaids can talk, on their island, with the harpies assuring the peace between you."
[Bestiary #10: Manticores: avoid.]
"Their island, which I would get to on a boat traveling over mermaid-infested waters?" Nelda asked.
"The details are not my problem." Herby flexed her claws and curled them over the edge of the couch. "I think I have been more than reasonable in making this arrangement."
"Well, that is true I suppose," Nelda conceded. [Either she is trying to help, or she isn't, and I should pretend not to notice so I can catch her off guard later.] "You have done more than your share of helping get to the bottom of this world-ending prophecy situation. And I think we are all on board with the world not ending. Right?"
There was a slight smell of burning in the air.
SmithGuild stood on his couch and peered past Nelda out the window. "Why are the satyrs burning something on the beach?" he asked.
Nelda was not particularly concerned. "I think you'll just find that's something satyrs do." [They are not awash with complex ulterior motives. Unlike, apparently, every-fucking-other person in this land.]
Turning to Herby, Nelda pressed, "If you think about it, who was it that used the term 'human'? Mermaids, or a harpy, or both."
"It's not too close to the house, is it? Herby asked. "You wouldn't want this whole place to catch fire.'
[I see what you are doing, Herbster. And I have my eye on you.]
SmithGuild made for the front door, and Herby bustled after, and they went off past the fountain towards the beach.
"Don't mid the crippled biped, folks. She'll just find her own way, shall she?" Nelda sighed.
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