Jay screamed an arc over the sand. He saw desert below, wrinkled like an old pink peach. He saw sky above, tinted honey-gold near the zenith of his trajectory. The pink and gold span so quickly as he tumbled he saw only whirling color. He shut his eyes and hoped his death would be swift.
A sonic boom forced his eyes open. The bird zipped so close it caught Jay in its foggy exhaust. The frozen cloud shocked Jay’s beleaguered lungs and made him choke and cough. Through panic Jay’s dark humor noted how lucky he’d be to die cold in a desert. Anyone else would die of heatstroke or thirst, but he’d shatter against the mountainside covered in frost. An interesting first!
His tumbling stabilized and he saw the Mountain approach from below. The Mountain’s surface seemed smooth from afar but now nearing every instant Jay saw a thousand tiny caves, like pores.
The bird landed in a foggy cloud and watched Jay fall with its buggy eyes. As Jay fell the final fifty feet he felt the fog trail thickening. The exhaust compressed under him like clouds caught in a bubble. He sank into the bubble like it was a bean-bag filled with whipped cream. The cold mist rest him on the Mountain.
Before he could breathe the bird wrapped its deep-blue tentacle around his waist. “I am the Heart of the Mountain!” It lifted Jay into the air to show him the caves pockmarking the mountainside. “Today you attain Zephyrhood!”
It chose a cave and tried to cram Jay inside. Jay braced his arms and legs against the hole’s rocky mouth. “No! Stop! Please!”
“The chain is pulled and the wheel spins!” repeated the Heart of the Mountain. It mushed Jay against another hole. “Your arrival was destined. You must enter!”
The caves were so dark Jay could not guess how deep they ran. Perhaps five feet, perhaps five thousand. He beat the tentacle with a fist. “Let me go! Why am I destined? What did I do?”
“The wheel spins and you have arrived!” The Heart of the Mountain blinked its green compound eyes. “Into the Mountain you go, towards destiny!”
Jay struck the tentacle with a red rock. Four suckers released and Jay squirmed from its grasp onto the Mountain. The hard, uneven terrain hurt his feet as he ran.
The tentacle swiped at him but he leapt into lingering exhaust. He ran blind through thick fog only hoping not to fall into a hole.
He heard a thunder wingbeat. The bird blew wind with a few flaps to blast the fog away. Jay sprinted to stay with the flying fog.
He tripped. When he hit the ground he rolled and tried to scramble to his feet. His protective fog was gone. “Please, no!”
The Heart of the Mountain loomed over him, and what had tripped him—a white fox with the fluffiest tail Jay had ever seen. The Heart of the Mountain retracted its wings and demanded: “Who are you?”
The fox’s ears lay flat. “Who am I? Where am I, is more like it.” From the mountainside she and Jay could look down on the mile-high dunes. “How did I get up here?”
“This is the Mountain. I am its Heart,” said the bird. From each sleeve reached five blue human hands. The hands extended on arms of normal thickness but five times normal length. They plucked the fox into the air by the scruff of her neck and restrained Jay against the ground. “Who are you? Which of you is my prophesied Zephyr?”
“Hey! Put me down!” The fox wiggled her shoulders but could not escape the grip on her neck. “Help!” Her body turned to snow. The Heart’s hands slipped through her. She fell into a formless pile next to Jay.
“The wheel is spinning! Time runs short! Which of you is the Zephyr?” The Mountain’s Heart scooped the snow next to Jay and used all ten hands to compress the two of them into place. “What are your names?”
“Faith,” popped the pile. Snow flecked onto Jay.
“Jay,” said Jay.
“How did you get here?” demanded the bird.
“You threw me,” said Jay.
“No,” said the bird. “How did you get to the desert?”
“JayJay?” Faith’s eyes surfaced on the snowball and looked right. “Oh, JayJay! I’m still sitting on Dainty’s couch!”
“Yes! That’s right!” Jay breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s why we’re here. We smoked centipede dust. We’re hallucinating.”
The Mountain’s Heart blinked. Its compound eyes disbanded and most eyes retreated back into the bird’s skull. The remaining pair of courageous eagle-eyes scrutinized both of them. “Centipede dust? From whom?”
“Virgil Blue,” said Faith, “by way of Virgil Skyy, taken under the supervision of Virgil Orange.”
The Mountain’s Heart released the pressure of its palms. Jay squirmed from underneath but Faith couldn’t well control her snowbody. “I suppose that explains the two of you,” said the hawk-beak. “But the chain was pulled. When the wheel spins faster a new Zephyr must arrive! Where is it?”
“Why do you think we know?” Jay stood up and brushed dust from his body. Now that the bird had released them he did not run. He crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t even know what a Zephyr is!”
“You don’t?” The bird retrieved its limbs and became a sky-blue cloth cone like a tepee or a pyramid. Its round, sapphire head regenerated its inset emerald eyes. “It’s sort of a technical term. We’re all Zephyrs, one way or another. But for this Zephyr, the chain was pulled! The Virgils guided it to the wheel. So it must arrive, as surely as the wheel spins! To join all Zephyrs in the Mountain!”
“Never heard of them!” Faith finally built a slender limb to beat a broken snout upon her face. “Virgil Skyy didn’t even mention Zephyrs! He did mention mountains, though.”
A sound like a thunder-gong bowled over Faith and Jay. The roar ruffled feathers on the Mountain Heart’s head. It cast its green gaze to the sky. “Oh, thank goodness! I worried it would be subtle.”