"Wait. Is somebody listening?" the voice in the shell said.
Nelda pulled the shell away from her ear and looked around the room. The gryphons continue to argue vociferously. The satyrs continued to watch and eat grapes. A Lapis trotted past the open doorway, gave her a guilty glance, and hurried away down the hallway.
Passing the grapes to BugleHead and clutching the shell in one hand, Nelda hobbled across the room after it.
"Where are you going?" Herby asked.
"It is getting very noisy around here." Nelda kept going. [That was probably rude.]
Then again, if one statement from her caused this much emphatic editorializing, but no further questions, what was the point of her being there anyway? And Herby didn't seem to have the knowledge or inclination to help with her now obviously swollen ankle.
She arrived in the hallway just in time to see the tip of the Lapis's glinting tail disappearing around the corner. She hopped in pursuit and rounding the corner could hear the bird scampering up a stairwell just up ahead. Above her, she heard a slapping sound like a door or window closing.
HoneyBeard appeared behind her. "What's the bird golem up to?"
[Now there's an idea. If the bird is an AI, it must be running some kind of program. Like the spell places in a golem's mouth. It would most likely to be doing SmithGuild's bidding. Or can a phoenix be hacked?]
For some reason, she found it hard to think SmithGuild was the sort to spy on her bedroom. And why would an agent of his refer to 'the gryphons' arguing?
Nelda shook her head. She tried to hold the shell against her chest to avoid being overheard.
Using the banister, she clambered up the curling stair which ended at a ceiling hatch she popped open and lifted up. Peaking her head out she saw a flat roof surrounded by a low parapet. But the roof was scattered and cluttered with haphazard piles of objects.
HoneyBeard's head popped up next to her, as he invaded the small space. Peering back down the stairway, she could see BugleHead was not with them.
Answering her unspoken question HoneyBeard said blandly, "He's busy eating grapes. He likes grapes."
"We could bring them with him."
"That won't occur to him."
Nelda shoved the shell ahead of her onto the roof. She used both hands to lift herself out of the hatch. In an instant, a Lapis darted from behind the raised hatch and grabbed the shell. With a flurry of tinny wing-beats, it made a graceless leap and disappeared over the side of the roof. [Son of a….]
Nelda hestited, but then hauled herself out on the roof. Her long curtain-dress-skirts making it a problematic maneuver.
HoneyBeard followed with an effortless hop, like his goat legs had hidden springs.
"That bird is up to some shit," Nelda said.
She limped over to where it had hurdled the parapet, but all she could see belowwas the gardens that enveloped a roughly almond-shaped estate of land between the trees and the beach, with the house at the center like an iris in an eye. Jasper phoenixes could be seen here and there, clambering around, but narry a Lapis.
The gardens looked to be a strange combination of decoration and function. Between flowerbeds and hedges were plots of land that were tilled, planted, or stubbled with dried stalks from a harvest.
"I think that's flying leaf." Honey Beard jumped up on top of the parapet and peered forwards leaning off the edge of the three-story building.
"Be careful," Nelda cautioned.
HoneyBeard laughed. "How many accidents have I had, or caused, this week?"
"Fair point," Nelda conceded. "But how many of mine do you think were caused by over-confidence?"
HoneyBeard jumped down off the parapet. "That bush," he said, "With the striped flowers. The leaves are smaller and a bit of a different color. But I've never seen another plant with flowers like that."
Nelda couldn't see any plant with striped flowers. Casting her eyes across the roof, she saw that most of its surface was covered in pale-color gravel, varying in tones from gray to beige.
The items that dotted its surface seemed to follow no particular theme. By her foot lay a silver-colored goblet engraved with a pattern of fern-leaves. Next to it a bedraggled piece of cloth, its red dye staining the stones nearby. Next, to this, there were several natural items. A black stone with bright yellow veins, something similar to a pinecone, and what looked like the pharyngeal teeth of a very large fish.
"Maybe the Lapis phoenixes like to steal things or to hoard them," Nelda mused.
HoneyBeard shrugged. "What's the point of things?" He trotted around to look out the other side of the roof, overlooking the beach.
In a far corner some larger items were piled, things it would be difficult for a single Lapis to move, based on the awkward escape of the one carrying the shell. Limping over Nelda pulled apart the pile.
A lampshade that has seen better days, maybe. A large piece of carved wood, purpose unknown. A slat from a window shutter. A mummified mouse. [Ew.] A metal cone that might be a gryphon's claw cap. Driftwood with purple barnacles attached.
Underneath it all was what looks a bit like a pale bone or a stick. It was straight, slightly tapering, and about the length of her forearm. Its length was marked by a tapering spiral.
Holding it in HoneyBeard's direction, Nelda asked, "What do you think this might be?"
The satyr wandered over, peered at it and replied. "It's evidence you and snake-girl might be related, or at least you have a few things in common."
"There was only ever one unicorn. So, if its horn is here, Echidna is a lying liar who lies."
[And she might not be the only one.]
Sorry I temporarily post the wrong chapter. Hope no one was too confused.
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