The chickens were being impertinent again.
Humbaba considered them thoughtfully, trunks curling and uncurling. She enjoyed their impudence, but they did have a tendency to tease the bubble trees. Spriggan had had words with her about that. Personally Humbaba thought the bubble trees were too thin-skinned. Still, there was no point in needlessly antagonizing him. She exhaled gently, smoothing the roughest edges from the birds. There. Still saucy enough to keep things interesting, but they would keep their comments to themselves unless asked.
Cosma drifted in. Literally. Her eyes sparkled with excitement, which meant she had a new idea. Humbaba straightened from her crouch; Cosma's ideas were always worth listening to.
"I had a thought," Cosma said. "What do you think of water from the sky?"
It would soak the chickens' feathers. The pigs probably wouldn't mind, but the butterflies . . . "Have you talked with anyone else yet?"
Cosma drifted sideways a little. "Just Tii."
"What did sie say?"
Cosma rose a bit, then settled back to her previous height, the equivalent of a shrug. "What do you think?"
Humbaba considered it. "Grendaline doesn't object?"
"Oh." Cosma's eyes grew distant. "Yes, I suppose I should ask her first. She did get rather stroppy with Mab when she diverted a river the other day."
She had? That must have been when Humbaba had been busy with the pig rebellion. Well, not really a rebellion. It was just a little get-together. Yes, there had been those suspiciously timed stampedes, which ended with two of Mab's gardens stripped of their crops, but no one could prove the pigs had actually meant anything by that. They were sweethearts, really. And so cute, with their curly little tails.
Cosma's beak clacked impatiently, and Humbaba realized she'd stopped paying attention. "I'm sorry," she said. Cosma just shook her head and floated off.
Humbaba was with Friendly when Cosma returned. Friendly was enamored of her butterflies and wanted her to create something similar for the dark places beneath the earth. Topside, the butterflies were little patches of brilliant sky, weightless as sunlight, flitting around as their whim dictated. Down below, Humbaba envisioned larger creatures, with great velvety wings, that glided through the caves like shadows made flesh. She created one for Friendly to see, and was pleased when he smiled and began following it lazily around the cave. Cosma reappeared as she watched him, feathers ruffled.
"What did you do?" she demanded, Spriggan following her in.
Humbaba blinked all of her eyes at once. "Me?"
"They are everywhere!" Lightning danced around Cosma, and Humbaba inched away. The pigs again? No, they had promised no more shenanigans. She'd dealt with the chickens this morning, what else could have Cosma in such a state and Spriggan with such disappointment in his eyes? She felt Friendly rejoin them, and was grateful at least one person in the room wasn't upset with her.
Spriggan made a small tossing motion with his head. "We discussed this," he said.
Friendly's wings brushed Humbaba's shoulder. "Perhaps you could say what, exactly, is everywhere?"
Cosma opened her beak to reply, but was cut off by a thump behind her. They all turned, and Cosma groaned, "Another one."
Humbaba moved to get a better look. It was a two-legged creature, with an oversized head and two additional limbs hanging off the top of its torso. It wore coverings of some sort and was dragging a large bag behind it. It looked around for a moment, then made a beeline for the egg plant against the far wall of the cave. The fur on top of its head bobbed adorably as it walked. Humbaba was completely charmed.
"What is it?" she asked, longing to pat it on the head.
Cosma and Spriggan exchanged glances. "It isn't one of yours?" Cosma asked.
Humbaba shook her head. Oh, it was harvesting eggs, now. What a clever little thing it was! "I wonder what it's called," she mused.
"A menace," Spriggan said dourly.
Friendly hovered around it. "It doesn't look that bad." The creature ate one of the eggs and stuffed the rest in its bag. Friendly looked at Humbaba, "If you didn't make them, who did?"
Pot didn't have a clue. He also didn't seem terribly concerned with the creatures' sudden appearance. When Humbaba and the rest left him, he was already amusing himself by suspending coins midair to watch them jump. Mab and Zille were no better. Mab even shared Humbaba's opinion on the newcomers, much to Spriggan's chagrin. They'd passed several wood tree stumps on the way, and he was getting grumpier than usual. Friendly, ever the peacemaker, dropped back to talk quietly with him.
Grendaline was harder to locate. They finally found her with Lem, up in a particularly fluffy cloud - cumulus, Grendaline had informed Humbaba one time when she asked. She was swimming through the water vapor, making figure-eights around her fellow giant. She had no answers either. Lem hadn't seen the creatures yet, and teleported away to investigate. The cloud curled into the empty space he left behind. Humbaba ran a trunk through one wisp and shivered. It was colder than it looked.
That left just two giants. Tii found them as they descended from the clouds to the mountains. Hir eyestalks quivered when they asked if sie knew anything, but sie gave no other response. Humbaba liked Tii. Sie didn't say much, but sie had been very helpful when she was trying to decide whether the pigs should have four legs or six. Cosma, no doubt still irked at hir non-answer from earlier, hissed in frustration.
"Do you know where Alph is right now?" Humbaba asked Tii. Alph was often the most difficult giant to track down. Tii rotated slowly, until hir main eye focused on Humbaba. After a moment's contemplation, sie set a path down the mountains, Humbaba trailing after. Tii led them past the rocky cliffs and down to the forest, where Alph was perched on a boulder watching the new creatures pop into existence.
Humbaba settled down beside him. "They're adorable," she said, as the others arrived behind her. He grinned at her. "How many colors do they come in?"
"I don't know," Alph said. "I was hoping you could tell me."
Spriggan made a strangled sound as he noticed the number of creatures in the clearing. "Then who is responsible for them?" he demanded. Alph shrugged.
Tii, who had been making tiny circles in the air, suddenly focused all of hir eyes on the point where the creatures were appearing. "A glitch," sie said. Everyone stopped and looked at Tii, so rare was it to get a non-numerical answer out of hir.
"A glitch?" Cosma repeated. "What do you mean?"
"34297," Tii said. One eyestalk bent toward Humbaba and winked.
Spriggan grunted. It said how do we get rid of them then? Spriggan's grunts were very expressive.
Humbaba made a distressed sound. She liked these new creatures.
"Ah," Alph said. He suddenly looked a tad guilty. "Perhaps I am responsible."
"Explain," Spriggan said.
"I've been thinking, it's a shame that there's no one to appreciate what we've made except each other. Or to actually eat Mab's crops, or make something out of all the ores and metals Zille's created."
What a wonderful notion. Humbaba had often thought her animals were acting out because she didn't have enough time to give them the attention they needed.
"But," Cosma frowned in confusion. "You didn't make them yourself?"
Alph inclined his head toward Tii, "A glitch. We've all had these thoughts, yes?" Cosma nodded, and after a moment, Spriggan reluctantly did the same. "It wasn't intentional, no. But all that desire came together and created something none of us anticipated."
"Glitches," Spriggan said. He didn't sound happy. Humbaba thought of all the trees they'd seen stripped and cut down. She wouldn't be happy either if her creations had been so ill-used.
"We can teach them," she said. "We'll show them how to use what we've made properly. Look." She directed Spriggan's attention to a couple of the creatures around one of his fruit trees. One was watering its roots, and the other was running one of its limbs along the tree's trunk, murmuring endearments. The tree shivered and stretched its branches, clearly pleased with the attention. "See," Humbaba said. "They're learning."
Spriggan grunted again. This time it meant fine, I will give them a chance.
"Well," Cosma said. "I suppose we should tell the others." She floated off, Spriggan in tow. Alph stood and shook his mane.
"I guess I should help," he said. He departed, leaving just Humbaba and Tii in the clearing.
Humbaba finally gave in to the urge to run a trunk through the head-fur of one of the creatures. It blinked, and looked around a moment before continuing on its way. "I'm glad they're staying," she said to Tii. "They really are the cutest glitches I've ever seen."
"76913," Tii agreed, and they sat and watched until the stars came out.