Celina is startled by the sudden nearness of the bay filly, but she returns the greeting enthusiastically, huffing her own breath against the other’s questing nose.
“I’m not a plant!” She giggles. “I’m Celina!”
She could very well be both, she supposes, in the same way that Papa can be many things, but she is quite certain that all she is is a Celina.
Popinjay’s efforts to repeat raspberry sounds rather like a choice to Celina, who bounds off in their direction, calling goodbye to her mother.
It is easy to slip out of sight in the foggy woods, and though Celina does head toward the berry bushes, she is also glancing over her shoulder now and then. When she is quite sure that she is out of both earshot and sight of her mother, the blue-haired filly stops and turns back to her companion. Their similar age has already made them compatriots to Celina, so when she speaks again it is in a conspiratorial tone.
“Do you really wanna go get some raspberries?” She asks, but does not pause before continuing: “Or you wanna go and try one of the mushrooms in the big cave that my Papa said to never ever eat?”
continuing the other thread but in a new one!
She is an odd mix, equal parts cautious and bold, running hot and cold and never quite the right mix. She should be more cautious, today, than she has been so far, dashing after the pale filly, finding her easily when they separate around the shadowy trees. Popinjay’s nearly-black coat fades into their surroundings, she is nearly invisible against the rough bark of the old giants, especially those still showing signs of a fire that swept through ages ago. Since the fire, the floor of the forest has burst into life, its understory dependent on the flames to burn away clogging brush and to open the seed pods of the enormous conifers. The smell of smoke has long since dissipated, the charred ground no different from the rest of the black, damp loamy earth that compresses beneath their feet, muffling and dulling the sounds of their hooves as they run.
Lepis and her feathers have been left behind, already forgotten in the joy of running and weaving between trunks and leaping old, rotten logs that are half sunken into the earth. There is only the white filly to follow, and she pulls up suddenly. Popinjay draws closer, sides heaving with the effort of her lungs.
Nobody has ever told her about mushrooms. Most likely, nobody has ever thought her likely to try to eat them, which is something of a failing, all things considered. Something about Celina’s manner draws the dark filly in, a mischievous tone to her words that matches the gleam in Popinjay’s eye. The warning of Wolfbane lingers in her ears for all the world like a dare.
She was not quite what you would call refined
Celina’s bright eyes are focused on Popinjay with a fierce fascination. The wait for an answer – dinner or adventure – seems to last an eternity and build tension in each bit of her body. When the bay yearling chooses an adventure, the tension explodes in a joyful little buck. It unbalances the pale filly and she has to stumble to regain her footing once all four hooves are on the ground, but she continues to hop about, excitement leaking from her nearly as effectively as it does from her projecting family members.
“Mushrooms!” She repeats in a shout, and then, remembering that they might not yet be out of sight of Lepis, says once more, quietly: “Mushrooms! This way!”
She charges ahead, her breakneck pace rather impressive for a child of barely six months. The weary burn of her lungs and the ache of her legs and hooves are gone before they’re even truly felt, a side effect of her physical regeneration that she is not yet old enough to understand. There is no path to the cave; she follows landmarks and gets lost a time or two on their journey north, and eventually her pace slows to a walk when she knows they are coming close.
“This way!” she says, and darts around a pile of smooth boulders.
Ahead, a gray granite cliff stands tall, not unlike those that line the cliffs of Nerine. The only water here is the spring water though, and it has run down the cliff face until a hollow twice times as tall as a horse and twenty times as long has been carved. It is only as deep as it is wide, and most of the hollow is hidden by a thick stand of young redwoods, growing closer together than their ancestors do in the rest of the woods. It;s into the hollow that Celina goes, gesturing with one small wing for Popinjay to follow.
There, growing from the acidic pine needles that have fallen over the centuries, grow a dozen kinds of mushroom.
Most are large and harmless, pale flowery looking things. A few will cause bellyaches if consumed in large quantities, and some dizziness and vomiting. Wolfbane has listed all of these things and more, so it is these that Celina avoids, kicking them over (minus a few bits of the big morels, because she is hungry) in her search for the one that they are definitely not supposed to eat.
“Oh!” she exclaims, having kicked over a large clump of fungus and spotted the little yellow-grey caps that she has been hunting for. “Found ‘em.”
Having located about a half-dozen of the Psilocybe mexicana. Celina looks back at Popinjay with daring in her seagreen eyes.“You wanna eat them first? Or me?”
With her small stature, even at a year old, Popinjay is not much bigger than Celina, only a bit more filled in, her mane and tail longer, but still curling slightly, the locks bouncing as she follows along. It might be surprising that she has not found this spot on her own, but lately her focus has been on other regions of the Taigan wilderness, its vast density hiding many secrets. Like many other parcels of the land, this one boasts the thick trunks of old trees as wide as several horses standing abreast. The large trees bear burn scars like so many of the others, and their fallen brethren lie silent, burnt-out husks that were too ill to stand against the licking flames. Popinjay knows this inherently, instinctually, not because she has heard the tales of the fire, and the knowledge of its happening stays in the base of her brain, a detail to be noted but not further investigated. Here, the trees fared perhaps a bit less well than in other places, there are many downed logs, rotted nearly to earth, their jagged forms housing a bouquet of different fungal growths. The yearling lets her nose trace across one hard, scaly, outcropping that juts out, dramatic and orange, but this is not the mushroom that Celina is seeking and she continues on.
The sky opens above them suddenly and Popinjay blinks her dark eyes, startled by the change. Fire and water have opened the sky here and around them, the trees are mostly saplings, the understory growing wild without the shade of tall redwoods to tame it, and the humidity nearly turns stifling as the sun shines brightly overhead. Gnats and biting flies buzz in her ears and as Celina casts about for her trail once again, Popinjay squeals and half-rears, her head rolling to shake away the pin-point black bodies that gather in the corners of her eyes.
Even as she does so, she hears the other girl’s voice call out brightly and disappear, and she follows, ears pinned back and her nostrils full of the thick smell of warm vegetation.
“I hope your dad’s mushrooms are worth those flies,” she says with a snort as she comes around the boulders, stopping immediately when she is confronted by the tall grey cliffs that go up and up and up, “Oh.
It’s almost as if somebody put a wall up, a fortress to keep her out. Even Popinjay’s nimble feet could not scale that
. Celina beckons, and, stepping carefuly around roots and weeds, the fillies pass between the young redwoods and into a long, flat hollow of water-cut rock. The mushrooms her companion finally stops by are the least assuming of the bunch and the dark filly looks at them almost reproachfully.
is what she came to look at?
But she has never been one to turn down a dare, and something about Celina’s manner eggs her on deliciously.
Didn’t come all this way to not eat ‘em
, she thinks, the mischief of Celina’s eyes matching the grin that grows on her black lips. The star on her brow seems to grow brighter, shining like a beacon, a warning against their folly, but it is only a rare bolt of sunlight passing the mouth of the cave as the star drifts across the sky, and Popinjay already has several of the mushrooms between her teeth, so the warning comes too late, anyway. Her nose wrinkles at their taste. They taste like nothing in particular at first, but slowly grow more bitter and she pulls a dramatic face and gapes her mouth with an exaggerated cough.
Celina!” And then she laughs, shaking her head so that small particles of chewed mushroom fly messily about.
She was not quite what you would call refined
Poppy – which is what Celina has decided to call Popinjay
, finding the combination of sounds both easier and more fun to say – grabs a few of the mushrooms without hesitation. Celina watches her with fascination, but pulls back as disgust appears on the bay’s face. Well, mushrooms aren’t ever really
delicious, Celina tells herself, and grab a few of her own.
At first they taste not dissimilar to the morels she’s just swallowed, but then the bitterness kicks in. She nearly spits them out, but instead forces herself to swallow, though she rubs a dry tongue against the edges of her sharp teeth as though she can rub the taste away.
“That was, like, super gross.”
She admits. She wants to rid the taste from her mouth, and the cool scent of water on stone reminds her that there might be a drink toward the back of the shallow cave. It’s dark back there, and she has a hoof-sized swarm of fireflies float ahead to illuminate her way. ”Gonna get a drink,”
she says over her shoulder to Poppy, and kicks through the deep pine needle litter as she looks for the spring.
It’s not much deeper than her muzzle, she finds, most of it disappearing back beneath the granite, but it is enough to quench her thirst and clean the bitter taste from her mouth. Celina nods contentedly, and decides that this odd fuzziness in her head must be the work of the mshrooms.
She is about to tell Poppy that she is feeling them, and turns back to face her friend.
Poppy is there, illuminated against the backdrop of sunlit redwoods, except she is also not Poppy. Celina tilts her head to get a better look at the second purple head that her friend is sporting, but is soon distracted by the way the redwoods start to dance and shift from green to gold to silver.
Has Popinjay ever been quiet?
Has she ever been still?
She goes to follow Celina into the cave for a drink, and yet, she doesn't move, and it takes several minutes for her to realize she is not moving. Her pallid companion is already turning to speak when it happens, she is saying words, but Poppy doesn't hear them, and though she decides again to join the younger filly at the water, she still goes nowhere, grey hooves planted firmly against grey rock.
The rock is absorbing her!
A bubble of panic is rising in her throat, the sting of sweat prickling the sides of her neck, her flanks, and a terrified squeal rips past her lips. With too much effort, she launches herself off the ground, all four feet pulling away from the hungry stone underfoot as if it is thick mud. Her landing is clumsy and clattering and her hooves throw small stones in all directions as she races with no coordination to join Celina by the dark water at the back of the cave. Her disjointed gait sends her to her knees roughly in the still pool and she stays there for a moment, eyes rolling wildly but catching on nothing. Her breath comes quick and ragged, her heart races, the chilled water cools her, lapping gently at her chest.
She takes a breathless drink, eyes blinking in slow motion. There is a mineral taste in her mouth and she drinks more but it only gets worse. A taste of sulphur and iron and calcium. She shakes her head, spraying droplets of the water she still kneels in everywhere, and drinks more. The tang in her mouth only worsens, until she smells it, lingering on her skin, on the rocks, in the water itself.
"What is that taste? she gasps between drinks to Celina, who wobbles and stares at the trees outside as though they have uprooted themselves and are dancing about, "Why can't I get it out of my mouth?"
She drinks until she can hold no more, until, if she were not a horse, she might vomit it all back up across the cave floor. She drinks until her belly aches and then she kicks at it, forgetting that she is kneeling precariously. The second her hind lifts forward, the other slips on the smooth mineral deposits beneath the inky surface and she splashes down completely.
This time the dark filly rockets up, spluttering, snorting, and crashes into a rocky wall, scraping hair from her hide, but finally ceasing motion, simply letting the cool stone cover her and absorb her until she is one with it, until she is part of it. She is the cave now, her mouth its mouth, her feet its roots deep in the blackest earth where only the strangest creatures live. She laughs, because the gloworms tickle her ears when they crawl across her ceiling, but then she chokes, because Celina is still standing on her tongue.
"Hey," she murmurs, stony and ancient, "ge'off my tongue, Celina."
But the white filly doesn't react quickly enough.
So she swallows her.
Any other time, Popinjay
's squeal would have elicited empathy from Celina, but now she just laughs , a cackle that echoes in her ears and bounces off the stone and turns into an aquamarine swirl that touches each of the trees before disappearing into a small wren with beady black eyes.
The wren is peering at Poppy, who is kneeling and drinking beside her. Why are they kneeling? She must have forgotten, but she bends her knees to a level with the bay filly. The gulping of her companion sounds like the crash of waves, and the cave floor looks like a brown cloud, and Celina falls to the side in slow motion. The stone and earth are cool against her legs, and she moves them slowly back and forth as her fireflies flicker almost drunkenley back and forth above her.
"It's your mouth probably,"
She tells Popinjay, taking a moment to run her tongue against hr teeth again. What does it taste like? Mushrooms still, and the water. Does it taste like the air she breathes? Maybe. She is caught up in attempting to lick the air when she hears the splash. The water falls across her, cold and unexpected. Scrambling to her feet, she loses her balance once or twice, and manages to stand just as Popinjay speaks again.
"I'm not on your tongue."
She says. "See?"
She sticks out her own tongue, and it is long enough to reach the ceiling and then the sky and when Celina blinks she is out in the open, staring up at the sky that is fading into a fire of reds and pinks and oranges.
"What's a cloud taste like?"
She asks Popinjay. "Can you got one?"
She blinks and it takes a year. Celina asks questions from her belly that hardly seem important.
The answer rumbles out from her smoking mouth. Clouds taste blue, and it seems so obvious that she wonders how Celina could not know it. Of course clouds taste blue. And of course she can reach them, Cave-Poppy's head is brushing the sky, ringed by clouds that are turning pink and orange and gold as the day grows later. She reaches up, slow as a glacier, reaches up and closes her teeth on the nearest cloud, pulls down with the same impossible slowness, down to her belly where Celina is living. It's been years since she swallowed her.
"Blue. And dust." Her voice is muffled by the softness of Celina's young feathers, one wing's worth bunched in between her gray mountain-rock teeth as she tugs the limb slightly forward to show it off.
The word comes in a puff of breath, and a cloud of feather dust leaps sparkling into the air as it catches the light that is angling from the cave mouth. Surprised, entranced, she releases the cloud, head tilted strangely, and with a sound like rockfall, she climbs to numb feet, cracking away from the cave system and following the glittering fairy dust.
Unable to feel her feet, she sheds them, useless things, and leaps for the too-bright glow of life beyond the cave. She does not wait for Celina to catch up because she is already carrying her along within. It is hard to run when you've been a cave for ceturies, hard to run when you've left your feet behind, but she manages it, steps high and jerking rhythmically like a mechanical spider, chasing the Fairies into the afternoon forest.
"They grant wishes if you catch them, Lethy said so."
She was not quite what you would call refined
“That’s me, silly.”
Celina replies, shaking the edge of her wing and adding to the dust that flies from the wings not yet used for flight. They’re too small to carry her yet, but not for long. Pteron said he’d flown on his second birthday, and Celina is determined to beat his record. She has only a few months to go, but she won’t make it if Popinjay chews off her wing. “That’s my…”
Her voice trails off.
Pop is looking at something. Celina’s head tilts too, and then she sees them.
She exclaims, her voice in perfect harmony with Poppy’s. Celina does not remember trading brains with the bay filly, and wonders how one might get back a brain. Half a plan (a sharp stick, pine tar, and 14 spiders) forms instantly in her head, and is shaken loose with a toss of it in agreement with the idea of granting wishes.
“Gotta catch ‘em,”
She says, “gotta catch ‘em on the Mountain.”
The last word is emphasized, and Celina grows several feet taller in an attempt to impress this upon Popinjay. It seems to be working, until she grows too tall and hits her head on a cloud. It does taste blue; Pop had been right.
Celina pants, struggling to find her now shrunken legs. Shrunken to normal length, she suspects, but the front ones are certainly attached the wrong way, and her traipsing behind the bay filly is awkward and bumbling. The Mountain is thataway, even if the fairies might get too far ahead to see.