"It'll be fun," said BugleHead enthusiastically.
"It is the only logical solution to your conundrum," HerbGuild added. "I have no doubt the mermaids would destroy the boat and anyone in it if we attempted to return in that manner.
HoneyBeard was unconvinced. "We do not have an assurance of safety from the harpies once we leave their house."
Storm snorted. "That assurance only applied to the evening, anyway. It is now morning."
"Which is hardly reassuring," HoneyBeard replied.
"There is bad weather approaching," Herby said, unconcerned. "We need to cross before it arrives. If you fine ladies will please provide any assurance of the satyr's safety from your dining table, we can move on without plans."
Lady swift finished packing two functional copies of the prophecy rock into a blanket, fixed with a belt.
Storm smirked. "You should consider it an honor to get the chance to fly, even if it is a foreshortening journey.
Herby raked her talons on the shingle floor with irritation. "You are not assisting with expediting the mission, my lady."
"And I've been flying twice before," HoneyBeard grumbled. "It's not so great."
"It's pretty great," BugleHead muttered.
"He's not as stupid as he looks," Storm said mildly. Then she poked HoneyBeard in his side causing him to jump about a foot in the air. "But you're still my favorite."
HoneyBeard walked daintily over the floor to the open area of the pavilion that looked over the cliff. Although they had made a hard journey of it on the way over, the mainland was just visible as a slight blue-green haze on the horizon.
He used to just live in a world surrounded by a river on one side and a mountain on the other. A small, perfect world that met every one of his needs. And as satyrs went, he was considered pretty brave for being willing to go up the mountain yo get the flying leaf or to welcome a new member of the herd from the cave of MotherMirth.
He'd known from the moment that he realized that he truly loved BugleHead, whose name used to be RuddyAss, and from the moment he called Nelda sister that his life would get… larger. He resented and welcomed it in equal measure.
More resented, right now.
Not mistaking himself for a hero, HoneyBeard had to take a deep breath and keep looking out to sea to squeeze the words out. "I'll need your assurance again, Lady Storm."
"You have it."
He turned and looked into her eyes. They were round and wise and evil and amused. Complicated. So, complicated. "All right," he said.
The Lapis phoenix looked around. It blinked repeatedly with a metallic clicking sound. Then it threw itself into HoneyBeard's arms. He grabbed it reflexively like holding a bundle of kindling with a heart that beat like a metronome.
Storm stepped forward as if there was no question who would take him. She wrapped her small arms around him; they hardly seemed strong enough. All of her body was gigantic, but her arms were no larger than Nelda's. But reaching down he felt that while Nelda's arms were made of soft flesh, the harpies seemed more like marble.
She hugged him, close and, in a few rapid waddles, launched off the cliff,
The was a terrifying roaring silence in the flight of a harpy. The flew more like an arrow than a bird. HoneyBeard's heart fluttered like it was grabbing at the air. His blood shivered rather than flowed.
He had a strange and disjointed thought: At least if I die, I have lived.
His neck, stiff with terror, made it hard to turn to look. But he heard BuglrHead shouting out: "Whooooooooooooot!"
HoneyBeard passed through sheer panic into a mood of peculiar stillness. Lady Storm's arms encircled him just under his armpits and around his ribcage. Her wings were shark-gray angled shadowed overhead. They sliced through the air, and it surrendered before them. He clutched the phoenix close, a tessellation of metal and soul.
He could feel the harpy above and around him as a great, vicious, glorious force of nature. He had to wonder: Is this becoming an idiot—when fear becomes joy? There are worse fates.
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