Naida eased back off Wadjet’s coils and found herself smack against Asteri’s front paws. Paws, not hooves. “I’ll be right back,” Kurama said, snuffling in her ear, making her jump. “I’m going to be helping Wadjet in this fight.”
“Oh. All right.”
She hopped out of Naida’s arms and jumped, floating like a big-eared thistle-puff to land on Re’s shoulder, curling her tails around herself. He was still talking to Wadjet and didn’t stop, but reached up to scratch the fox’s chest.
Naida turned away from the Gods and found herself staring into Asteri’s goat face. It still looked like him, even though he had the enormous lion head… who was now turned and gazing off at the horizon, though his eyes were closed.
“Nai,” he said. “I’m still me. And you’re not alone.”
She settled down against his warm lion paws that reminded her so much of Temis. She missed Temis with a pain that was like a wound. She set the magic lamp down beside her and laid her head on Asteri’s forearm. The thick lion fur would soak up anything if she should happen to cry or anything dumb like that.
“You’re supposed to be this amazing creature that saves me from being hurt again,” she said. “I was hurting and you came and saved me when the volcano killed them.”
He turned his slot-pupiled eye on her. “And so I did.”
“But then you went all strange and dumped me on Sybaris and Temis and started bawling and –“ she looked up at him “—acting like a doofus.”
The lion head turned to look down at her. “Well, he IS a goat. Not like a lion at all.”
Naida looked at the two heads, now both looking away from each other. “I thought you were supposed to help me.” She was sweating in the sun-barq now, the blazing disk of the sun shining behind Asteri’s lion head but still hot enough to nearly bake any mortal thing on the deck.
Asteri’s head flung up, his curling horns just missing the lion’s nose. “Not a lion? Of course not.”
Asteri shook his mane back at his goat’s head. “I should hope not.”
Naida was torn between laughing and crying. She reached up with both hands and caught goat beard in one hand and chin fluff in the other and pulled them both down so they had to look at her and was secretly grateful that the enormous parts of Asteri didn’t fight her. “Please stop. I understand. Sybaris explained to me that you’re growing up and you’ll fight each other. If you don’t stop you’ll tear yourselves to bits all over again and as far as I get it, my mama needs you.”
“Naida! Naaaaaiiiiidda!” the two heads whined at her and she started laughing.
“Asteri… quit worrying. What you need to do is grow up so you can protect me and get me home. You found my ushera and that was an important first step.”
Both heads looked chagrined. “We can’t… can’t smell your mother on the wind and we should be able to. “
Naida froze. “What do you mean?”
The goat head managed to make the body shrug. “Well, she could be dead but that’s unlikely since we didn’t feel that.”
The lion head seized the nearest horn in his fangs and shook it, sharply. “Ass. She’s probably just pregnant!”
“pregnant??” Naida felt as if her heart was suddenly freezing. “If she has another kid then she won’t want me.”
There was a firm smack on the back of her head that knocked her over onto Asteri’s paws again. Kurama had jumped and knocked her over. “Stop that, princess.” She wrapped her tails around Naida’s head. “Don’t let this oaf – these oafs -- fill you with fear. You’re first born and thus precious. Your sibling will be second born and thus also precious. Children are wanted and sometimes desperately.”
She turned her unearthly, star-filled eyes to Naida, her enormous ears flicking back and forth to keep track of Asteri’s grumbles and the Gods, talking, at the same time. “Naida-Efra. I came half-way around the world to be with you. You are special in the Goddess’s eyes for her to send me. I am growing up, just being with you. You are a catalyst. I’ll explain later what that means but as you move across the world all manner of things shift and change.”
“That’s…” Naida swallowed. “Scary.”
“Good,” Asteri said from both heads. “We’re here… all of us… to make it less scary.” Naida looked at where she sat, on the paws of an enormous chimera, with a three-tailed fennec fox on her lap, in the Barq of the Sun and just fell over laughing.
“You guys have a really, really different idea of what constitutes ‘scary’!”