Nelda's Top Five Prophecy Priorities
5) How can we get SmithGuild back to his proper form?
4) How do I, or any of us, get better control of our potential "magical" abilities?
3) Can anyone still move between Mirth and Earth?
2) Is Brenda Watson on Mirth?
1) How do we resurrect the unicorn?
[Should I move #5 up a bit higher?]
They had been walking for what seemed like most of the day and taking turns telling their wishes to Typho, who claimed to have the best memory. Nelda's turn had yet to come. She would like to ask where the Jasper had got the doll's eye from. But some nasty little instinct told her she should just keep that discover to herself. For now.
The sky was starting to get dark again. [How many days are between us and this possible war... and worse?] The marron tinted clouds seemed to hang heavy with bad omens.
Turning back, she saw SmithGuikd struggling along just behind her. He had mastered an authentic array of human gestures either by instinct or copying Nelda, but was still palpably awkward in his primate body.
[I'd probably miss having claws and wings too. Who wouldn't? But more to the point, why did every other person portaled over here in a human form apparently unconsciously chose to arrive as something else?]
"Ah." SmithGuild pointed to a moss-draped stone. On closer inspection, it bore some faded indentations. They resembled something akin to hieroglyphs.
BugleHead peered at them. "That one looks like a cock," he said.
"Centaurs use a language of symbols," SmithGuild said. "This is a message saying who is in charge of this land, and what rules visitors are expected to abide by."
"Oh, so – is it saying he is a male centaur?" Nelda suggested.
SmithGuild rubbed his chin, looking bashful. "No. The earlier part" – he pointed – "says that he is a seer and you should bring him forms of liquor, fortified forms by preference. It says anyone not doing so, or anyone that belongs to the Belmare herd, can, uh, fuck off. That is the colloquial meaning fo the combination of the phallus with the fust symbol."
"I could think of friendlier meanings," BugleHead remarked.
Nelda shrugged. "It sounds like this Asbolus guy is only friendly when he is drunk."
"That would be a fair comment, fair lady," said a new and unfamiliar voice.
To the side of them, through the trees, a figure approached. He was a centaur taller than any other Nelda had seen. His beard was a glossy black as was the hair that melded into a long sleek mane falling over his body, which was brindled black and dark brown. His face seemed calm and amused, and the overall effect was a cross between a better kind of pony with an ancient philosopher. The latter suggested further by a loosely draped grey cloth he wore over the human part of his body vaguely suggestive of a toga and belted at the waist.
Nelda looked around to see her companions, barring SmithGuild who seemed quite unmoved, gaping at this new arrival.
The centaur stopped a careful distance from them, cocked his head, and looked at them. "And who is this creature who can read the centaur script. You seem familiar, and yet you are not."
"I know it has been a while since we last met, Asbolus," SmithGuild replied. "But have you forgotten your near neighbor so soon?"
Asbolus's eyebrows raised in exaggerated surprise. "My dear SmithGuild, you would have to concede your aspect has changed more than might be expected for the passage or a year or two?"
"That I suppose cannot be denied."
The centaur came closer. "And this form," he said. "I do not know it. Did you choose it to accommodate your…"
"This is my new friend. Ah, all my new friends," SmithGuild said hastily. "And not as such. It is a long story, and we have brought a gift of the nature that you so transparently suggest. And with it… perhaps some requests of our own."
Asbolus nodded, looking at them each in turn. "It is an unusually diverse company that you keep, but we are all united in the enjoyment of wine."
He turned, with a swish of a tale that easily reached the ground, and began to lead the way.
Nelda dropped back to Typho at the rear to make a hushed accounting of her prophecy priorities. From that vantage, she could watch her transformed human friends regarding Asbolus with what seemed like an initial instinct of respect.
[Well, he does seem a bit like an amphora decoration come to life—and bringing the gravitas of a hushed museum display with him. It lacks only a small arial-font label saying: note the depiction of the centaur seer Asbolus bearing up gracefully in the presence of assorted idiots.]
[Also note the human-formed gryphon who was in a real big hurry to avoid any particular association with moi. I know he didn't want to become human just to play Ken to my Barbie, but dude—don't act like I'm such a bad catch! I mean, Asbolus even called me a 'fair lady,' but I suppose that could be just out of courtesy--]
Preoccupied with her thoughts, Nelda tripped over an exposed root and faceplanted herself into the slimy clay soil. Fortunately, Typho was the only one to see it, and he silently offered a hand to help her up.
"So, tell me more about Echidna," he said.
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