There were two things Nelda expected she might find on the roof of SmithGuild's house. One was the unicorn horn if the Lapis phoenixes had decided to steal it back. The other was one or more of the Lapis phoenixes themselves.
As she climbed onto the roof, Nelda suddenly noticed:
[My legs aren't anywhere near as fucked up as they were before. In fact, they've not been bothering me very much ever since I came back to Mirth.]
She sat on the edge of the hatch and experimentally flexed her legs and ankles. It would be an exaggeration to say they were fully healed, but they were certainly in serviceable order.
[I may not have turned into a chimera, but it seems like something still happened to me on the way between worlds. Are there any other effects that are less obvious, that we don't even know about?]
It made her think about what Star Trek's Bones said about his fear of the transporter scattering his atoms back and forth across space. Not that she was planning to ever take the ride between worlds every again.
She turned to survey the flat gravel-covered roof. It was a lot tidier than it had been before. [Some one has taken away the mechanic phoenix's collection or loot and trash.]
Walking slowly over to the edge Nelda felt the crushed stones under her bare feet. [Now that's going to be a problem. A world without humans sure as hell ain't going to have shoes.]
The Jaspers were still making a ruckus. Looking over the stone parapet Nelda could see a whole flock of the scrambling through and over the plants of the garden. BugleHead seemed to be chasing them. HoneyBeard and SmithGuild stood watching from the paved area at the back of the house.
What was more surprising was that centaur-Jen had joined them. From above she was a relatively petite white pony-bodied centaur, still wearing a neon yellow T-shirt and denim vest on her human-torse and a jaunty retro-eighties scrunches in her blonde pony-tail [of course].
As the Jasper phoenixes started to get further away and take their ruckus with them, Nelda could hear Jen and SmithGuild talking.
"I am perfectly healthy," SmithGuild said. "And I am certainly going with you. Asbolus does not know you people, so you will need an introduction."
Jen put her hands on her now more ample and furry hips. "You might be healthy, but your not very good at being bipedal. If it's as far as you say you'll have thrown your back out by the time we get there, at the very least. I mean, your posture...." She shook her head.
"I'll get the hang of it," SmithGuild muttered.
"I'm not doubting that you're a smart guy and a fast learner…," Jen said.
[Stay away from my guy hoof-girl.] Nelda felt a pang jealously and almost shouted down to interrupt the two over them. [Nope, nope, nope. I am not going to go all psycho-crazy-girlfriend. I'll just keep on eavesdropping on them like a normal-level-of-crazy girlfriend.]
Jen continued… "But as the late great George Orwell wrote: four legs good, two legs bad. The human body is really a bit of a design disaster. I'm sure you've noticed that by now. If your first real test drive is a hike for miles you could do yourself some permanent damage."
SmithGuild was resolute. "I don't really see that there is any other option. Asbolus is a bit of a hermit, he won't welcome strangers. And while Nelda has a way of getting by despite being from your 'Earth', she does see to have some kind of intuitive connection to this world—and well—" he gestured to HoneyBeard on his other side. "The lot of you together could get in a lot of trouble without some kind of local guide."
"All that I am saying," Jen said bashfully. "Is I am not against you riding me part of the way if that would help."
"What?" said SmithGuild, obviously horrified.
"Not… I mean, like a horse." Jen got increasingly flustered.
"There's no horses here."
"No horses here, wow. But, then, whatever people ride."
"There's no people here either."
"Oh, right." Jen thought about that for a while, sighed and forged onward. "On Earth there are animals like the furry part of me but with a head kind of like a…" she fished some a Mirth animal that did exist, "…deer, cow, goat?"
SmithGuild was still pretty tense. Okay yes, we do have those."
"We people will sit on their back hand ride them." Jen gestured holding reigns. "Or they get them to pull a cart with wheels on it and ride in that."
"Why on Mirth would you…"
Nelad was distracted by a scratching sown behind her. Turning she saw a Lapis phoenix had landed just behind her. Under the morning light, the blue-burnished metal feathers of the artificial bird glinted with different sapphire hues.
There were three Lapis phoenixes that had been created by the gryphon Smithguild using, in part, a stone based alchemy. But because they only had one stone between them it has left them as one bird with three bodies, a situation that the Lapis apparently did not enjoy.
Nelda crouched down. "I think I have what you need," she whispered.
Fro her pocket she pulled the small paper bag holding two marble sized lapis lazuli stones. As she tapped them out onto her palm the Lapis lunge at her, it's sharp beak suddenly seemed very potentially denucleating. Nelda tumbled back, dropping the stones.
She scrambled back against the parapet and the bird grabbed one stone, dropped it to grab the other, and then clutched both under one shiny clawed foot. It glared at her possessively.
"What's your problem, dude?" Nelda hissed. "I'm not going to take them; I brought them here for you. From another world, mind you. You're welcome. Well, not very welcome actually"—she noticed the shallow bleeding puncture wound on her palm that the bird's beak had left—"but a deal's a deal."
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