It was hard to measure time, but it was still daylight. The three of them were dropped blinking into a sparkling cavern. The satyrs clung to each of her arms and in that still space it was like being inside an amethyst geode. One large enough to accommodate five or six double-decker buses, and currently accommodating only one, in the form of a large black dragon with her wings folded and tucked and neck drawn back like a resting heron.
The dragon's body had passed over them and she turned to back into the space and wiggled her ass-end in comfortably. The roughly egg-shaped interior tapered out slightly to the wide round entrance. The facets of he huge crystals created giant stopped up to the opening but from where they stood all that could be seen was a jagged bite of roiling, stormy sky.
[It's like the sky still wants me.]
HoneyBeard looked around. He stamped his hoof down on Nelda's shoe to hold her in place.
"Ouch!" [I mean, I'm wearing steel-tied show, but still.]
He then grabbed a large purple rock and shoved it into Nelda's arms. "Here. Hold this."
The rock was about the size of a beach ball and the weight of lead. Nelda and BugleHead collapsed in a heap. She ended up cross-legged with the sparkling rock in her lap.
After a moment processing the surprise Nelda realized: "Oh. Why didn't we think of this before?"
HoneyBeard replied, "Because you're all idiots."
BugleHead disentangled himself, and the two satyrs hopped nimbly up the rocks to look out the entrance. Nelda could hear the tone of their conversation but not the words. Something to the effect of….
HoneyBeard: Grump, grump, grump, grump, grump.
BugleHead: Bippity boppity boo.
HoneyBeard: Bah Humbug.
The dragon closed its eyes and sighed. Nelda sat there uncomfortable in every sense of the word. [Is it asleep. Am I meant to leave?]
Then the golden eyes flicked open again. "Yourself is a puzzle," it [she?] said. "Yourself is like a god among cockroaches. But a cockroach god is still a god. So, a certain respect is accorded."
"That yourself can fly shows yourself has acquired a spark of the divine. That yourself is so bad at it suggested this might have been an accident. But looking at you, there is a chance…." The dragon sighed. "But this one will assist."
"Again, very grateful."
"Hmmm." The dragon had been sitting with her front legs tucked inwards like a cat. Like an enormous smug terrifying dinosaur-cat. "She reached out one of those giant front paw-hands and reached out to the side where there was kind of beach of small pieces broken from the crystals around the size of marbles.
Somehow between two giant finger-claws she picked up one small piece, brought it over to Nelda and said, "Take this."
In terms of the relative size it was a little like a human trying to hand a cockroach a grain of sand. Nelda put out her hand and when the dragon dropped the little stone she managed to catch it.
In that moment Nelda was struck with a sudden sense of breathlessness and bone-ache. Startled she dropped the small stone.
The dragon sighed again. "Pick it up. That is a stone of not flying."
That was a slightly bemusing concept, but it seemed wise to oblige the enormous dagger-mawed dragon. Nelda groped and picked up a small stone from between the crevices of the large ones.
"That's not it," the dragon said.
She found another.
"So, they're like not all stones of not flying."
[But the dragon hardly seemed to even look when she picked it out of that huge pile of stones? So is it just this one stone or all the ones over there?] When Nelda's groping hands found the right stone Nelda felt it right away. It was the feeling of her own flesh having weight on her bones, her own organs pressing on her lungs, her heart protesting a suddenly more difficult task, and her bra having to do its job again. "Right."
Nelda cautiously pushed the large stone off her thighs. She stayed reassuringly attached to the ground. She stood. Her back hurt. It felt great.
She took a little jump and thudded back on the ground. Nelda giggled. She jumped around in a little circles like a little bunny rabbit on crack. The ropes still tied to her ankles flapping behind her. "Ah, this is so good."
The dragon actually rolled her eyes, without even lifting her head off the ground. The lips around her giant jaws rippled at she spoke. "Yourself is unseemly at being so joyful to return to the world of the crawling."
Nelda spun, the small stone gripped hard in her hand. "Oh, I a so grateful to you and I promise to get better at flying and, um, to deserving of being, um, a flier."
"Of being flighted. I suggest yourself works on that quickly. Once this one lays, this one will experience a change in mood. This one will probably remember not to kill or eat a fellow flighted, but…"
Nelda turned to the entrance where the two satyrs could be seen in silhouette. BugleHead was making bird flapping motions with his hands. HoneyBeard picked up a rock and through it out of the geode cave.
There was a faint sound of a retreating ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping…
It was something of a struggle to get the ropes untied, and even more of one to climb up the giant's stairs to the entrance way. The stones were fortunately not sharp edged but the clustered into smooth faceted surfaces that were easier to slide down than to climb up.
Once she got there Nelda peered over the edge. She backed up and knelt down before looking over again. The geode cave was embedded into the side of a high, ragged mountain. There were other mountains in the range around them and the up-thrusting rock sloped down sharply to their right. Over there the land swooped down and smoothed out into a peaceful green tableau. From this distance it could have been grass or trees or some other weird alien thing.
BugleHead was standing quite confidently near the edge. "We can get down there, I think," he said.
"One way or the other," HoneyBeard added.
"Hey," BugleHead said to Nelda. "What's with the not flying?"
"The dragon gave me a rock of not-flying. [It really needs a better name.] But then she said she might still eat us after she lays the eggs."
"Strange, strange god," HoneyBeard muttered. He looked at the sharp decline of the mountain around them as if giving it much more serious consideration. "How good are you at climbing?"
Nelda wiggled her toes inside her shoes. "Terrible," she admitted.
Inside the dragon began to snore.
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