The next day, Sally was the first person in the group to wake up, flapping her wings and screeching while jerking her torso up to a sitting position, flipping over Cleo and Elrith in the process. Palan was instantly on his feet and peering out of the hole Elrith had created for them to sleep in. His eyes narrowed, and he inhaled deeply while tasting the air with his tail.
“What’s wrong?” Raea asked. Her wings had fully opened out of reflex, and it took a bit of effort to fold them back to a better position.
Sally panted as she hugged herself with her wings. Cold sweat stained the back of her white robe. Her brow furrowed as she looked around and blinked a few times. “Sally?” Elrith asked in a soft voice. He extended an arm and placed it on the harpy’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“Bad dream,” Sally said and clenched her teeth together. Palan snorted as he climbed out of the hole with a pounding heart. His pupils were dilated, and blood rushed through his ears as he stomped away from the group’s sleeping area.
Raea’s brow furrowed as she made a motion to follow after him, but she stopped when Cleo said, “He probably needs to pee.” The orange lizardman lowered her head and stared at an oblong-shaped figure on the ground with speckles on it. She picked it up and stored it in her space, undoing the series of blankets wrapped around her body. “So, are we going back to sleep now or what?”
Elrith let out a sigh. “The suns are going to rise soon,” he said. “Going to sleep now will make us more tired when we wake up. I guess I’ll start digging the tunnel now.” His brow furrowed as he stared at the odd portion of the wall, but he shook his head. He could always investigate it later when he didn’t have companions to worry about.
“Was that an egg?” Sally asked Cleo. The harpy seemed to be in much better condition now. Her previously pale face had regained its color, and her feathers were smoothed down. She stood up and smoothed out her robe.
“Mhm.” Cleo grunted as her stomach gurgled. She pulled out a cob of corn and began to munch on it. The kernels were hard, but she didn’t seem to mind as her teeth made quick work of them.
“Who’s the father?” Sally asked and blinked. The tiny lizardman always seemed to hang around her or Palan. Cleo definitely didn’t have any time to kidnap a mate for hanky-panky—unless…. Sally gasped. “Is it Palan?” she asked, her eyes widening until they were the size of saucers. Her wings covered the lower half of her face as she staggered backwards and fell onto her butt. Corn fell out of Cleo’s open mouth as it froze mid-chew. Sally took Cleo’s lack of response as an affirmative and said, “No way! How is that possible? Isn’t it too … large?” She emphasized a distance with the tips of her wings.
“What are you talking about!?” Cleo shouted as she threw the corn at Sally’s head. It hit her in between her eyebrows before falling to the ground. Raea and Elrith stared at the outraged lizardman with strange expressions on their faces. “Haven’t your parents taught you anything about laying eggs?”
Sally tilted her head and cleared her throat. “A harpy lays an egg after she mates with a male,” she said and nodded. “You laid an egg. I think that indicates you mated with—“
“No!” Cleo said and threw another cob of corn at Sally. “I lay eggs regardless of whether or not I mate with someone!” She was about to say something else, but a distant blood-curdling scream echoed through the darkness coming from over the fields. The group froze and waited, but there were no other sounds.
“Anyways,” Sally whispered as she brought her knees to her chest. “You really lay eggs without mating? What does the child look like?”
“Someone just died and that’s what you ask?” Cleo hissed back. “But yes! I’m an innocent lizard. And the eggs come out unfertilized—it’s dead.” She nodded and patted herself on the chest. “Don’t harpies do the same?”
“No,” Sally said and shook her head. She glanced at Elrith, and her face turned red before she shifted her gaze back onto Cleo. “Harpies are a female only race.”
Cleo’s brow furrowed. “So when two harpies mate…,” she said and narrowed her eyes. “Which one of them becomes the father? Do you play like rock, paper, scissors?”
“Rock, paper, scissors?” Sally asked. “What’s that?” Cleo remembered Sally had no fingers and shook her head.
“Wait,” Raea said and stuck her hand out, placing her other hand on her forehead while closing her eyes. “Are we really just going to ignore the scream from before?” She glanced at Elrith who had already begun to dig again, and the two halflings who had no sense of danger whatsoever. “Anyone?”
Cleo held out her hands with her palms facing up. “Palan goes to the bathroom,” she said as one hand lowered and the other hand raised. “Someone screams and dies.” She lowered the raised hand and raised the lowered hand. “Seems about right,” she said and nodded before turning back to Sally. “Then how do harpies reproduce?”
Sally’s face turned an even deeper shade of red. “Harpies, um, abduct males of other species,” she said and lowered her head, “then steal their seed.” Her voice lowered as she glanced at Elrith who pretended to not be listening. “And then they eat their liver and heart.” Elrith’s body stiffened, and the tunnel stopped expanding. “But that’s only some harpies!” Sally said and bit her lower lip. “I would never do that to my mate.” She exhaled as the tunnel excavation continued. “And that’s how harpies form eggs. It just seems so wasteful to make eggs that aren’t going to be used.”
“Isn’t that wrong?” Raea asked. “Forcing someone to reproduce just seems … immoral. Are harpies shackled by lust?”
“More like cowardice,” Palan’s voice said. He stomped back into the tent, dragging an angel’s carcass behind him with blood dripping down his chin. He tossed the corpse towards Cleo who stored it into her space without a word. “They even get frightened in their sleep.” He snorted. “I thought some worthy prey had snuck up on us, but no. I had to hunt some weaklings instead to calm down.” His eyes narrowed as his gaze brushed past Sally before ending up on the tunnel burrowing into the ground. Elrith really was diligent—a lot of progress was made; Palan couldn’t even see the end.
“Palan,” Raea said, her tone turning serious.
“Didn’t I say killing was wrong? It’s especially wronger since we’re getting closer to the capital.”
“I’m pretty sure you also said an angel shouldn’t call upon the powers of wrath, yet here you are. And it’s not like you haven’t killed anyone yourself.”
Raea’s brow furrowed. The ground shifted beneath her feet, forming into the shape of a spider, before she could say anything. “I made it to the other side,” Elrith said. “The path is pretty steep going both ways, but it shouldn’t affect my spider.”
“You’re awfully boring, you know?” Cleo said to Elrith. “There were so many things we just talked about that you should’ve reacted to but didn’t.”
Elrith grunted as he positioned himself on the spider’s head. Sally walked next to him and sat down. “Sometimes too much excitement is bad for you,” she said. “Boring is nice.”