It was a rather dispirited company that collected their belongings and struck off at a tangent to their previous path.
"This will bring us to the river," SmithGuild said. "And if someone is looking for us between here an Asbolus's home, it will put us a little out of that way."
"I think I am going to change my name," Tyron said.
"Alwaysss laser focused on something irrelevant," Phyllis muttered.
On this occasion, Nelda was inclined to agree. [He even invented the Porter in the midst of a project that was literally designed to fail. So in a way, he was doing the opposite of his boss's intent.] But Tyrone was the closest thing they had to a multiverse-and-inter-dimensional-travel expert. So she was inclined to keep him on side.
"What did you have in mind?" Nelda asked.
"I think… Typho."
"Typho. That does sound… dragony."
Phyllis snorted again. [Like she knows anything about dragon culture. Unless there's some kind of dragon race memory. Hell, anything's possible.]
Reg was carrying the remains of the basilisks in a makeshift bindle. "It just seems like they must have some kind of value. Or at least prove that our story was true," he said.
BugleHead was holding the unicorn horn tight against his chest and looking in all direction. He even scowled a bit at Jen. "Centaurs tried to steal my treasure," he muttered.
"Hey, not my beef," Jen said. "I was the first one that got fossilized, remember?"
HoneyBeard looked quietly smug.
After what seemed like an hour or so of clambering uphill and down between the widely-spaced giant trees, the sound of flowing water percolated into their ears.
"Oh, thank god," Nelda said, quickening her pace.
"Which one?" BugleHead asked.
"Whichever one will help me get this voodoo shit off my arms."
She came out onto the pebbled shore of a broad, slow-flowing river. Trees overhung it in most places at either side, but this one small oasis seemed… suspicious.
Turning Neda sked SmithGuild, "Is there any kind of monster that lies in wait in river beaches.
"I suppose there probably is," SmithGuild replied unhelpfully. [But sincerely, as ever.]
Reg and BugleHead burst passed them and trampled into the water.
HoneyBeard followed. "Whatever traps may lie in wait," he remarked. "You are unlikely to be the one to trigger them."
Nelda went cautiously to the water's edge and began to scrub at her arms, inspecting the freshly revealed skin for stains or irritation. Other than the results of her own scratching, her skin seemed fine.
She took off her sweatshirt and started trying to wash off the Dexter-level spatter across the front of it.
Phyllis nudged Tyr… Typho. "Stop staring," she said, just loud enough o draw attention and embarrass him.
Nelda had spent enough time on Mirth and Earth wandering around in just her bra that she didn't really think about it anymore. It was nothing Tyron and the other's hadn't seen before.
[I think doctor-dragon Phyllis may just be a bitch. But she's my bitch, so I am just going to have to find a way to make it work. I don't want any dragons on the wrong side of the war.]
"So, Phyllis," Nelda said. "I'm thinking the best thing is that we introduce you to Pytho. She is the only dragon of our acquaintance. And I am thinking each of us that has taken on a new form would be best served by learning about its needs from… someone who would know. Flying and such. It seems to be important."
Phyllis seemed defensive as if her lack of immediate flying competency was some kind of personal failure. [Type A, fer sure.] "I don't know how long everyone will want to stay in—wherever they go. So my suggestion is just to used SmithGuild's place as home base. We can regroup to there, leave messages there." [Appeal for her ego.] "I was just wondering what you thought of that plan. Given that this is somewhat of an evolving situation and as a dragon, well, they are a race that is very widely respected."
"Feared," muttered HineyBeard. "But only when they get a tad bigger."
Phyllis pondered what she said sagely. "It does not seem to be a centrally placed location for our distribution but has the advantage of being secure—so far. It might be wise to look to some kind of defensive structure. Especially if these mermaids you spoke of end up our adversaries. And we should have a signal to show the house is safe to approach. Like a white flag if all is well, black of there is danger."
[Well, dammit. all very true.]
Phyllis continued, "I also wonder if the Jaspers might function as an interim communication system. How is it that they carry out the tasks you assign to them, Mr. SmithGuild."
Smithguild settled on a rounded boulder. "They have a rudimentary intelligence and very accurate spatial memory. However, they cannot be sent to a place they have not been. In order to send a Jasper to Pytho's lair out current guide would need to go there. And when she returns to her home range, I suspect that would be too far for them to safely or reliably traverse."
They turned to look at their phoenix guide which was hanging awkwardly, upside down from an overhanging tree branch. In its beak, it was manipulating some object.
Phyllis and Typho fell to arguing about how far it might be to the homelands of the dragons. A rather futile task given they hadn't any sensible way to estimate it. And neither of them seemed to consider asking one the locals for more data to use in their debate.
Nelda walked towards the Jasper. The small dark object in its beak seemed a little too square and regular to be from nature. With each step closer, it became clearer. Then the bird lost grip on its toy and dropped it to the ground. Nelda stopped to pick it up.
It was a small glass eye, like from a baby doll.
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