The lotus settled gently onto the surface of the sea and the fox raised her head. “Are we there?”
“No, dear,” Bhodi said. “There’s someone bouncing along the edge of the land there that I think we should meet. Someone very concerned about life and death and failure. He’d probably be happier if he trusted in karma to work itself out.”
“I… think I understand him.”
“Yes, you blood-spirit guides are all very tangled up. Your friends are in their mortal bleeding times and so their spirits are full of fire and strength.”
“Was that an insult?”
Bhodi laughed. “No, fox. If anything it was a comment on your state of being.”
“Oh. All right then, I think.”
The lotus floated close to the shore, where a spit of rocks thrust into the water and a very excited goat bounced up, shaking magnificent golden horns, his golden hoof flashing. “THERE you are! I swore I’d find you, now we can go to Naida all together—“
“Hello, Chimera,” Bhodi said. “Shall we have tea?”
The goat bounced high into the sky and when he came down on all fours the rock under his hooves cracked. “NO! We need to get to Naida and get her home NOW! I’ve waited fourteen years, almost fifteen to grow up and stomp that monster who nearly killed her and now she’s got her ushera and you fox look powerful enough to bite the bits off anything that could threaten her! MY friend has been alone long enough!”
“Do stop shouting,” the fox said. “We should go, Bhodi. Can you float all of us?”
“I could,” Bhodi said quietly. “But it would be harming this spirit. He is on the cusp of something important and if I do that he’ll fail.” The lotus rose slowly out of the sea, dripping as the Chimera raged below, jumping higher and higher, trying to reach them. But the flower wasn’t speeding off as fast as it could go, only staying out of reach of the ushera’s possible violence.
“NO! What? You need to come now I NEED to get back home I need to you aren’t going to just float away and leave me bouncing along in the dust like a child! I… I…”
“Come along then,” Bhodi said. “You can do it for yourself. You don’t need my help.”
The fox covered her ears with both paws as the Chimera roared. The roar began as a baa and deepened, deepened further and broke into a lion’s cough. A second head appeared next to the goat’s head and a black mane burst forth. Four gigantic wings unfolded, blinding light appearing in between every feather and the goat’s tuft of a tail unfurled into a long, slender, tufted plume. The Chimera flung itself into the sky, wings working, paws outstretched to seize the lotus and Bhodi took hold of one massive paw and petted it. “See, I told you. Look at you now.”
The roar cut off as though the boy had cut both throats. “What? Aren’t you scared?” The voice was like a thunderstorm and when he shook his mane, stars twinkled in it, fluttering away in the blast of air from his two sets of wings.
“No, of course not. Let’s go and see your Naida girl. You say she’s in trouble?”
“That’s MY girl,” the fox said. “She called me all the way from the Floating Lands.”
“Oh, my, that’s nice!” the lotus and the Chimera flew beside each other, the flower and its passengers undisturbed by the Chimera’s lightning and falling star passage beside it. “Tell me all about it.”
“My name’s Asteri,” the goat’s head said. “Chiati!” the lion roared and the goat rolled its eyes. “Yes, yes. We are Star Mane.”
“And I’m Kurama,” the fox said and curled up again, apparently not noticing that Bhodi was petting her third tail that she hadn’t had before.
“When we get to the desert lands,” Bhodi said. “We’ll have time for tea. After all its not every day that a Chimera transforms and a fox gives up her name.” He grinned and both Asteri and Kurama howled with laughter.