Nelda had left Earth leading five humans and one gryphon back to Mirth, the land of chimeras. She had arrived—rather unexpectedly--with five chimeras and one human.
"There is a lot going on here," Nelda commented.
One of her erstwhile party was already leaving.
[Now I'm the cat herder.] [OMG, literally.] Nelda ran after the retreating large furry ass of the creature formerly known as Manny the Custodian. "Manny, Manny," she called.
"Not man anymore," the creature rumbled, turning to face her.
Manny's face was now akin to a medieval image of a mythic lion; caught somewhere between a Cheshire cat and a moon-faced demented furchild. His cartoonishly wide mouth curved from ear to ear beneath enormous green eyes that glowed powerfully in the dark.
"You… don't seem surprised," Nelda said. "By this."
"So c-wever, the others," Manny said in a mocking way. "Technicians. Phywis, the scientist. Never had the wogilcal thought: if coming to Earth made gryphon into human, going other way, can go the other way." He smirked, the expression writ large on his enormous, bifurcated lips.
[Apparently it's hell to say Ls with a mouth like a cat-lamprey.] "It didn't for me." Nelda shrugged.
"Hmm. Maybe you wack imagination. I thought… I thought… what creature of Greek myth would I wike to be? To have in my mind, to hope to wish… to become."
"And you decided on…?" [A cross between a giant tabby cat, a woolly mammoth and a great white shark?]
"I Googawed it. Manticore."
All Nelda knew about Manticores was that they ate people. [Have I released a serial killer on the world?] "Um, Manny?"
"Not Manny now."
"No, well. Manny the Manticore would be a little on the nose."
Manny hissed. "Because: not man. Never again man." His lips wrinkled to show more teeth than any creature should be able to fit behind its face, and at least partway down his throat to boot.
[Not a lot of oral for Manticores, I guess.] Stepping back with instinctive caution, Nelda raised her hands. "Hey, you do you, man…ticore. But I hope you remember, if it goes well for you, that we gave you a helping hand to get here. We're your friends, and maybe you owe us one?" She gave him what she hoped was a winsome--or ironically winsome--smile; whatever would work.
"If it goes well?" Manny's thought processes seemed to have slowed a bit in his new form as he took a long time to consider a simple proposition. "Hmm," he concluded ambiguously. He started to turn and stroll away.
"Okay. Good chat. Don't eat any people, maybe? There's lots of animals that don't talk, and I'm sure they are really tasty!" Nelda called after his furry form which quickly vanished into the dark undergrowth. "Don't be a stranger."
The wind whistled in the trees and glancing up Nelda saw the night sky between the branches. Stars, so many stars. Was anyone in her new crew trained in astronomy? Honestly, with the way things worked here, astrology might be more useful, but it would be nice to know if they were still in the same... galaxy, universe, dimension of reality?
A moving shadow in the trees caught her attention. A flash of a silhouette. [Was that a human?] Instantly curious, Nelda took one step forward, but a chill ran through her body. [How many horror movies start with people going into the forest at night? Besides, it was probably just… the name of ti didn't come back to her. Parisolia? No. Anyway people see random things as faces and humans. Righ?. It was just a flash of movement in the dark.]
Nelda took a deep breath. "Good time. Good times," she muttered to herself. "interesting times, for sure." She turned back towards the rest of her party.
The other erstwhile humans were pretty much where she had left them, engulfed in a din of panicked chatter.
Nelda put her fingers in her mouth and whistled loudly. "Okay, everyone. SmithGuild has a lovely house right here. So, let's adjourn to the parlor and make some plans."
"And who sssays you are in charge," little Phyllis the dragon trilled in a laughably high-pitched version of Pytho-the-dragon's powerful rumble.
"This has been a terrible mistake," whimpered Tyrone, his naked torso listing sideways on his serpentine body. "I should never have listened to you."
Nelda didn't want them all standing around in the view of any passing mermaids. "Whine, whine, whine," she said. Being mean more to motivate than out of spite. "Look, Tyrone. I know what you are. I know a lovely single lady of your own kind, and I know exactly what kind of gift would impress her. So, cheer up. Phyllis, I know a dragon who can tell you all about how to be… dragony. Which you must want to be, or this would not have happened.' [I guess.] "Jen, I know where a herd of centaurs roam, wild and free with their Fabio-like hair blowing in the wind. SmithGuild here is super-good friends with them. So, let's all go inside, shall we? You all have wonderful fantasy-novel new lives ahead of you, probably."
She clapped her hands like a teacher trying to herd a gaggle of preschoolers.
"What about me?" said Reg.
"Take that up with new satyr brothers here." She pointed to HoneyBeard who was standing against the stone wall of the building looking extremely non-committal.
Indeed, HoneyBeard was quick to disagree. "Oh no," he said. "The last time I took any responsibility for a stray idiot, it put us all on the path towards a cataclysm. Don't be pawning of everything with hooves and horns on me."
"I am not asking you to adopt him, just get him inside and tell him how to stand upright without arch support. And where's…"
As if on cue, Reg toppled backward onto his ass again. Tyrone moved to help him and ended up face planting on the ground like a deflating wacky waver. Jen was the only one who seemed securely upright, and it probably helped that centaurs had a leg on each corner to keep them securely upright.
[Which is why classic roller-skates were always superior to roller-blades. At least if you were unfortunate enough to have weak ankles.]
SmithGuild was sitting on the ground, arms around his knees. Nelda stooped to put her hand on his shoulder. She was very mindful of the irony that the only one of them still in human form was the one whose true for was a s a gryphon. "We'll get this fixed, somehow," she told him. "One step at a time, okay? It looks like we have a lot of work to do."
SmithGuild did not seem at all ready to be bucked up. And while he was, emotionally, her first priority—in practical terms, he was the least likely to run amok any time soon. Or get eaten by the local fauna, given that he grew up in these parts. Nelda had already lost one member of her party, and it seemed like a good idea to try and keep the rest together.
A gaggle of jasper phoenixes appeared out of the bushes and scream-yodeled with delight, joining the commotion. In the dimn starlight the crimson robot-parrots created a nightmarish cacophonies, seeming almost like one enormous creature than a flock of smaller ones. They started to caper around the group in a way that, quite accidentally, made the former-humans cluster together and move towards the fountain.
"What are these things?" Jen exclaimed.
"I have no idea," Nelda lied. "They might be dangerous. Let's go inside."
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