Sleeping in long grass, in balmy weather, was surprisingly comfortable. Nelda awoke suddenly to a sound like a car crash being simulated by a 1980's synthesizer, with the volume of a Boeing taking off.
A nearby centaur matron reared up her head. "Fuck me, the Phoenix King at this hour of the morning?"
[Bestiary entry #5: Phoenix, (king thereof). Not good at karaoke.]
Nobody seemed to be scared or panicked, just very, very annoyed and highly motivated to get back to sleeping in. Nelda brushed grass off her clothing, winced, put her fingers in her ears, and went to investigate.
A few centaurs were dashing in the direction of the sound and gathering around one of the campfires. Drawing close, Nelda saw some kind of creature was sitting actually in the low flames of the fire. Wiggling its ass into the embers and knocking flaming sticks in all directions.
It was a bird, rather like those big Australian parrots with the yellow crest, but appended to its wiggling was a long peacock-like tail. At first its feathers seemed to be iridescent, but the more she looked the more it seemed like the were actually made of metal, in tones of red and brown. [But no metal I know of comes in those colors.]
Notably, balanced somewhat precariously on it's head was a miniature crown with the spikes coming up from the coronet bending down into the center and supporting a large red stone.
The Phoenix King turned its head and fixed one of its eyes on Nelda and bobbed its head.
[No binocular vision for the Phoenix King.]
It then began to 'sing' again with renewed vigor. The centaurs were immediately motivated to do whatever it might take to get it to stop. She could make out their words in snatches between the sound like a cathedral-sized church organ being slowly murdered by a boa constrictor.
"What does the Phoenix King want…"
"…give it whatever it wants."
"It's looking at the hand-hoof woman…."
Freyason trotted up. "Well, I guess the Phoenix King is taking you see the Gryphon!" He started to push her along out of the valley.
"But how long will that take? I need food, and a blanket, and my shoes!"
All of these things appeared in short order. A growing crowd of centaurs sent her and the satyrs on their way.
"Are sure we are meant to be following this bird?" HoneyBeard asked, again.
"That's want the centaurs said."
"I ask because we have walked through here before."
"Are you sure."
"That's the bird's poop." HoneyBeard pointed at what looked like the squirt of orange oil paint. Then he touched it. "And it's cold."
Nelda grimace. "Ew. HoneyBeard, dude. Don't touch the phoenix poop."
BugleHead was lagging a bit behind as he had spent the night drinking and wasn't flying any straighter than the phoenix. "Yeah, we jus' walked in't circle. But we've got food an' I've got wine. So aaaye don't see they problem." He held up both hands, wrapped around the neck of two large amphoras.
"Wait, were did you get those?" Nelda asked.
"They wirrr just left them lyin' around."
"I think you might have stolen them," Nelda concluded
"Nuh-uh." BugleHead seemed offended. "If they'd wanted it they'd would've has drunk it."
The Phoenix King doubled back and popped out of the bushes. It looked vexed at their lagging behind, taking up its screaming again. While it looked like some kind of Tsarist mechanism, it's definitely behavior had the opinionated but erratic hoopy-loopiness of a genuine bird.
"Oh gods," HoneyBeard shouted over the din. "Following the fucking bird!"
Many hours later the terrain had gradually changed so that they were walking under the shady cover blue-grey needled trees.
"Why are you so glum, HoneyBeard?" BugleHead said. "I'm the one with the hangover."
HoneyBeard had a ready answer. "One: Wherever this really annoying bird is taking us, there will be more of these annoying birds. The ones that it the king of. Two: if this one is the King, it's the best one. So, all the others will be even worse. And three: it looked really happy sitting in a fire. So, the place we are going to may very well be on fire. So why exactly should I be cheerful?"
Nelda was trying to find a fault with the logic, when from the corner of her eye she saw a huge shadowy monster moving rapidly towards them through the trees. Some hitherto dormant primate instinct ran like electricity through her body. Nelda leapt at the nearest tree and scrambled up the trunk. She was up above the lowest branches before she even thought to take another look. And by then the branches were in the way. All she could see was BugleHead looking up at her between the branches.
"Nelda are you flying again? HoneyBeard, did you see that?"
She was perched between two levels of the conifer's radial branches. So that when she looked up again, she realized she had a clear view of something interesting. And what a view it was.
A waft of wind brought the smell of salt air. Just beyond the descending tree line was a garden profuse with flowers in all of the colors and a few colors that Nelda had not previously known existed. Beyond that a villa made of dignified pearly stone sat on a small cliff that overlook a white-sand beach.
[Shit. I've died and gone to the Sandalwoods Beach Resort instead of heaven, and I ain't even mad.]
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