Kurama felt a surge of power, and sprang straight up from where she crouched, landing, scrambling, on Asteri’s hindquarters, lashed by wind and wet and sooth and gravel. He writhed in the air, yelling with all three heads and Naida clung, having tied her sash around Asteri’s goat neck, so she wouldn’t fall off.
“This is stupid, Naida! You feel bad so you persuade Asteri to carry you out into danger so you can feel worse?” But her howled words were ripped away by the wind and she clamped her mouth closed onto Asteri’s back fur, where the long goat hair blended with the short lion fur and couldn’t talk anymore.
This high in the air, the stones and the ash were much less thick and Asteri’s wings pumped hard to get them higher and into thinner grit. There were a half-dozen bleeding holes in his wings where he’d been ripped by falling stones but his snake head and lion’s head were both turned in, safe under the ram’s horns, where falling stone rattled off them, bouncing over where Naida crouched.
Naida, her fists knotted tight into Asteri’s fur, with her sash tying her tightly to the chimera’s back was starting to wonder if it had been such a good idea to go on with just Asteri. Her eyes were screwed tight shut and the stones in the ash storm were rattling off his horns. Her shoulders were a little sore where some had smacked off her, but it just stung like the stones that the mean girls had thrown at her so long ago. Only a year but it felt like forever. She could hardly breathe between the flying and the ash in the air and the wet and her stomach felt like it was going to jump right out of her throat and she was scared enough now that she almost wished it would so it would be safe on the ground. Then her guts cramped savagely and Asteri got a tiny bit more height and burst through the storm cloud into the air above.
He shook himself all over and left a trailing puff of dirt as he shook it off, without shaking Naida off, or Kurama. The fox scrambled her paws forward and hiked herself closer to Naida, daring to let go her mouthful of fur to snatch the next highest, her tails clamped hard around Asteri’s flanks.
They’d burst out of darkness into light, bright blue sky under Re’s burning eye as if the storm below did not exist. Asteri’s snake head looped up to look ahead, and then turned to where Naida hadn’t moved from where she curled in his mane and ruff. “This is actually a good idea. Someone is trying to stop you from getting home, Naida. That storm is unnatural and while I was in it, I couldn’t see that.”
“Ooohhh, ggg-g-g-goood,” Naida’s teeth chattered as the cold air bit into her soaked clothing. “Mmmmm-m-m-m-maybbb-b-b-b-bee we’ll ge-ge-get there bef-f-f-f-fore I f-f-f-freezsssss to de-death!”
“HA!” Kurama managed to squirm up to where she could plaster herself over Naida’s shoulders, three tails spread both to cover her heart’s companion and to keep her firm on her back. “Made it! I can keep you warm, dearheart, even if you try and run away from me.”
“Sorry, Kurama. Sorry. I…” Naida shook her head and, surrounded by fur, snuggled down into it, daring to let go a cramped and frozen hand to reach up and scratch her friend’s chin. “It was dumb but I HAD to.”
“I understand. I just hope Syb isn’t too angry with how you dumped her.”
“Oh.” Naida squeezed her eyes shut, but not against the wind and cold. She squeaked as Asteri dropped in the air suddenly and his shoulders strained to get them up out of the top of the cloud they’d fallen into. “Oh, dear.”
Asteri Snake hissed laughter in her ear. “Not to worry. She’s a big snake.”
“But she promised to get me home and I ran away from her.”
“So did I promise,” Asteri Ram and Asteri Lion rumbled. “We got you out of that trap.”
“Though it was her talked you into it first, hmmm?” Kurama said.
“Yes, well I thought we could go for a fly. It was once I was high enough I could feel and see we were being caged.”
“Um.” Asteri Snake turned to look back over their shoulders, behind them. “I don’t think we need to worry about having left Sybaris behind. I just saw Bodhi’s flower star shoot up above the clouds.”
“Oh, she’s going to be sooooo mad,” Naida said and wanted to bite her lip but Asteri was flapping so hard right now that she couldn’t without risking biting herself a lot harder than she wanted to.