Fortunately for Nelda, her companion's physical transformations seemed to rapidly lead to exhaustion. She barely got the them herded inside before they fell in sleeping-heaps all around the large parlor. She had to check a few times to be sure each was just sleeping sleeping and hadn't dropped dead from the strain. Well, except Reg who snored sonorously.
The room looked just as she had left it, but that it was strewn with copies of some kind of picture. Nelda lifted one copy on a curling sheet of rough paper or maybe bark. At first glance, the top part of the image was reminiscent of the NASA golden record engraving. Two human figures diagrammed in outline. One on the left. [I think that's me?] And one on the right. [That's definitely Angry Brenda. W T the-ever-loving F?]
The rest of the picture was a tangle of figures and to the right of them a globe engulfed in fire. The meaning of that seemed intuitive enough. [War. Cataclysm.]
[Maybe that is going to happen, no matter what we do? I mean, if this place is like Earth meteorologically. Perhaps we arrived at a really bad time when the sun is about to go kablooey? Just like they showed us at the planetarium.] Not a reassuring thought.
SmithGuild stood in the doorway behind her. He was wearing powder-blue scrubs that were tight on his body in all the wrong places. That said, it was--as human bodies went--a good one. Tall with a swimmer's build and wavy sandy-red hair similar in hue to his erstwhile fur.
[Being a good specimen of a human is probably no consolation if your true shape is an eagle party in the front and some lion business at the back, not weird fur-less primate all over.]
"You should get some rest, too," Nelda said gently. "Don't worry, I'll stay here and make sure our… your guests don't get up to any trouble."
"I…" SmithGuild stopped, surveying the crumpled forms sleeping around the room on the couches and on the floor. He did not manage to locate the rest of his sentence.
A single lapis phoenix was perched on the windowsill, her head feathers pressed back in disapproval.
SmithGuild's wandering gaze eventually found its way back to Nelda.
"I… come with me to rest," he said. He blushed. "It's not that I want to… even though…"
Nelda smiled. "You want someone with you. I understand that and won't make any improper assumptions."
"I would never suggest…!"
Nelda raised one hand. "Please assume that I will never take insult from what you say. Because you are kind and honest, and I try not to be a fool. Only ever tell me what you think and what you feel, sincerely, and I will do the same."
SmithGuild started to cry. He didn't even cry ugly.
[As a human he's barely newborn. God knows what's going on inside that human body he is stuck in.] Nelda scooped up a copy of what must be the prophecy and brought it along as she guided him back to where she assumed his sleeping chamber must be located. [The lapis will have to serve as nanny to the rest of them.]
SmithGuild's room was strangely… spherical. The bottom anyway. It was like a soup bowl large enough to count as an apartment in downtown New York or a carpark anywhere else. The base was padded with a variety of pillows, blankets, and furs. There were two lanterns high up on the metal-clad walls, but they produced only dim and flickering illumination.
"It's a… nest," Nelda said.
SmithGuild hesitated on the threshold, jumped in and face planted into the side.
[Bipedalism is going to suck for this poor guy.] "Well, this is pretty whimsical. I guess." Nelda jumped into the Seuss-ian space after him. [The kindergarten vibe will help kill my libido if nothing else. The silliness of the entire situation was starting to seem at least a little hysterical—one way or the other.]
She tumbled and bounced to the bottom, colliding with SmithGuild. "Wheee!" She caught a look at SmithGuild's distressed face. "Sorry," she said. "I've always been prone to having fun at inappropriate moments. But to be fair it may be the main reason this whole inter-world choose-your-own-adventure hasn't driven me any more bonkers than I already am."
SmithGuild relaxed a little. Nelda tried to wiggle into a comfortable position.
"Anatomically speaking," Nelda remarked. "I am not really designed to be the big spoon…. Do you know what that even means? Oh, well. I'll make it work." She wiggled her way up and put her arms haphazardly around SmithGuild's neck and shoulders from behind. [This seems like a reasonable way to avoid anything accidental coital in configuration.]
"I quite often have very little idea what you are talking about," SmithGuild admitted.
"Well, that probably plays in my favor."
SmithGuild flopped part way onto his back. "I have noticed that you are not always kind to yourself."
Leaning on her elbow Nelda looked down at his pleasingly symmetrical face. [Hey, the eyes are the same as before. I hadn't noticed before that they are still sort of amber with slightly almond shaped pupils.] "I just like to try to get in first."
"I don't understand?"
"I grew up around a generous and abundant form of criticism in the form of my mother. One way to… well, slow her down a bit was if I got with the nasty comment first, and left her nothing to do. Then I spent most of my life not quite living up to expectations generally. So, the habit kind of stuck. Sorry, that was probably more than you wanted to know."
SmithGuild smiled, then reached up to feel his own lips. "Is that meant to do that?"
"It's just a smile. I guess you haven't had a lot to smile about since… all this. It's meant to do that if you're feeling happy about something. Like my tale of first-world woe."
"I was just going to say that I will always be interested in hearing you talk about yourself."
"Wow. That might be the sweetest thing that's been said to me. Even I don't find me that interesting. But I still feel like I ought to warn you to think about what side you're on with this whole prophecy thing." She held up the copy she had brought with her, but it was too dark to see it clearly.
"How could you even suggest I would…"
"I don't doubt your ethics or your loyalty," Nelda blurted out. "But while we were on the other side it has become clear that…" [Shit, I can't tell him this world was just created by us and somehow back-dated]. She shook the prophet-copy. "The one of us with the most power in this world would probably be this other lady. Or at least… she's crazy and manipulative and that tends to translate into power. Now hopefully she is trapped on the other side where everything just went 'boom'. But if this scene ever really plays out, she might be the one who wins. And we don;t have any objective way to know who should win to prevent all this bad stuff from happening."
SmithGuild reached out and put the inked picture aside. "If there is one thing the myths and histories have taught us," he said. "It is that if they are brave, and true, the hero always wins. Now get some rest."
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