Book 0, Chapter 5, Begin excerpt
“I’m afraid I am not a ghost,” she said, “so I would appreciate it if you would all stop staring as if you’d seen one.”
None of the boys responded at first, but Dax was the first to recover.
“We didn’t think you were, uh, ma’am,” he said, averting his gaze.
“No, definitely not a ghost,” Weaver agreed, “but what in the world are you?”
Adele looked amused. “Such a question from the likes of you!” she said, with a very attractive laugh in her voice. “Tell me, do you have a name for what you are? No, you don’t have to answer, I was being facetious, Mr. . . . may I just call you Weaver?”
“Mehhh.” Weaver made an incoherent noise and hid his face behind Dax’s head. Feeling protective, Dax spoke up.
“Forgive me, ma’am, but we haven’t been introduced. Or if we have, it’s something I don’t remember. Who are you?”
Adele inclined her head. “My apologies. I’m not good with introductions. You may call me Adele, that’s my name.” She took down her black hood as she spoke, not caring much for self-consciousness before her company. None of them were human either, she rationalized, so she might as well not act ashamed.
“I’m called Dax,” he said, with a hint of doubt in his voice as he wondered whether the introduction was unnecessary, if this woman had already known his name. He managed a little bow, then nudged his piggy-backer and said, “You already know Weaver, I guess, and this here’s Alix.” Dax elbowed him and he snapped out of his trance and bowed to her too. She returned the greeting but her calm brown eyes did not lower with the gesture.
“It’s good to meet you. I won’t beat around the bush about why I’m here, because I know you’re wondering.”
“Can you read our minds?” butted Weaver before she could go on.
A funny bemused look crossed her face; she smiled without showing any teeth. “No.”
Weaver was obviously relieved at that notion. Adele wondered whether he was hiding something or whether he was simply private and paranoid. She guessed the latter.
“I’ve come to stay with you,” she blurted.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Alix said, holding out a hand like a stop signal. “Just ‘I’ve come to stay with you’? You don’t think maybe you could have run your plan by us first?”
Adele blinked. “I see, you want me to go through the motions of asking even though I know what the answer will be. Well, Alix, may I have your permission to put my bag down?”
“I’ve had enough.” Alix seemed calm, but his eyes were blazing. He turned his back, stalked off a few paces, and made a one-handed motion to his friends: Unmistakably, “Follow me.”
“Men’s conference,” Weaver said from Dax’s shoulder as they moved away. He seemed almost apologetic, Adele thought. She chuckled. She found it sort of amusing that they didn’t know what to make of her, but she really hadn’t meant to anger anyone. Perhaps she would have to play dumb more often, and explain her thinking more delicately. She would learn some social skills yet.
“I don’t like it, and I don’t like her,” Alix said right off.
Weaver had been a little disturbed at Adele’s attitude, but hearing Alix immediately disliking her just because she spoke her mind made him want to oppose anything he said. “How can you not like her? You don’t know her.”
“I wonder what her story is,” Dax said dreamily, looking over at their new guest. The other two wordlessly followed his gaze, and they all focused on Adele as she took off her robe completely to free the pack she hid beneath it. She folded the garment and tossed it in the sand, moving fluidly. They found themselves a bit hypnotized by her motions.
“What the hell do you think she is?” Alix murmured, subdued.
“She said it best, man, none of us know what we are so why should she?” That was Weaver.
They all watched in silence as Adele found her comb in the bag, sat down on a rock, and began to fix her hair, apparently very comfortable already. Collectively, the three men wondered why she’d come. They were understandably wary of strangers, but on the other hand, despite her strangeness, they would have been more spooked by a human. Which this lady definitely wasn’t.
She was wearing humans’ clothes, actually very normal ones, a big gray sweater whose sleeves were too long and a baggy pair of blue jeans rolled up at the bottoms, even a pair of moccasin-like slippers. Her stature was normal enough to fit in their usual garments with no trouble, which made her closer to human than Weaver and Dax, but beyond that it was obvious she hadn’t been born on this planet.
Alix thought Adele looked like one of her relatives had been a forest bear, the way she sported a black-button nose and had brown peach-fuzz fur all over, at least wherever he could see her skin. She even had little teddy-bear ears sticking out through the long red hair—they looked almost ornamental to him. He shivered as the way she combed her hair made him think of his mermaid. Alix looked down, scowling.
“She’s awful pretty, don’cha think?” Weaver spoke up.
“Pretty?” said Alix incredulously. “Never mind that, we have to decide what to do with her. She thinks she’s staying with us!”
“Well, I guess we should let her,” Dax ventured.
“Just like that? Oh, I’m sorry, you guys don’t think this is frigging bizarre? Some lady who looks like the daughter of Smokey the Bear waltzes onto your beach and says, ‘hi, I’m your new roommate, if anyone has a problem with that I’ll just smirk and say something I shouldn’t know. Watch me brush my pretty red hair and fawn over me.’”
“It is pretty hair,” Weaver said, grinning.
“Tell me this, Weaver,” said Alix, “if she had been a man, coming onto our land—”
“The land isn’t ours,” Dax interrupted. “The Earth belongs to Herself.”
“Whatever,” said Alix, bristling to continue. “Anyway, this lady has you two all bamboozled just because she’s a girl? If it had been a guy saying that shit to us, I swear you woulda whipped out that little knife of yours, Weaver, and Dax, you woulda sucker-punched him. But suddenly a woman tells you what to do, and you melt?”
“Well, this is the first time I’ve had a woman interested in living with me,” Dax said, “and I don’t think she’s rude. Just direct. I wouldn’t mind her staying here awhile.”
“I’m for it,” Weaver said, “even if she turns out to be a bitch, it’d be cool to meet her. She seems to know a lot.”
The three of them noticed Adele nonchalantly looking at them, not making any attempt to look like she was doing anything else.
“Do you think she can hear us?” Alix said.
“Doubt it,” said Weaver.
“But she does have some funny ears.”
“We all have funny ears, stupid.” Weaver’s floppy ears perked as he spoke. Dax had similar ones, more like a goat, while Alix’s were more or less normal except that they were decorated with little ridges that came out from behind; the tiny flippers helped fan water past the gills on his neck when he had to breathe underwater. Despite the fact that his companions were right about being in no position to judge Adele as strange, Alix was still disturbed by her. Maybe it was his human-inherited values talking, he thought, but still a voice was telling him something wasn’t right.
“I think. . . . ” Dax trailed off to ponder for a moment before presenting his thoughts. “I think this would go better if I talked to her.”
“Why you?” asked Alix.
“Because . . . well, not to offend you, brothers, but you,” he pointed at Alix, “have already decided what you think of her, and you,” he bopped Weaver on the head, “are a cantankerous little jerk to everyone.”
“Hey,” grumbled Weaver, rubbing his head.
“I think there’s something to be said for following your gut feeling,” Alix protested, crossing his arms.
“I don’t think it’s fair to deny her—and ourselves—this opportunity based on your snap judgments, Alix.”
Alix grumbled something wordless under his breath.
“I’m going to find out what she wants and what she’s like. If I feel like there’s anything not right about it, I’ll make sure one of us is always watching her while she’s here. If everything’s fine, she’ll just be another one of us.” Dax paused and looked at his companions. “Do you guys want to stay here and wait for me, or do you want to come over and promise not to say a word?”
Weaver’s fur bristled with annoyance. He didn’t like being put in a category with Alix, and he didn’t like being told what to do. “Dax, you’re being a jerk. Who says you get to be the one who talks to her while we have to sit around zipped?”
“I’ll tell you who says, Weaver. I say.”
“And what if I don’t like it?”
“Then I’ll kick your ass, all right?”
Weaver actually fell off of Dax’s arm in surprise. Alix, looking at Dax in disbelief, reached to help his little friend back up, but he received a scratch on the hand in return. Alix found his voice.
“Did you seriously just say you were going to kick his ass?”
Now Dax was looking embarrassed. “I did, but I didn’t mean it.” He sighed with a rumbling sound. “You two are just frustrating me. Talking to someone new should not be that big a deal to you.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use that kind of language before,” Alix said, chuckling a little. “Hard to believe ‘ass’ is even in your vocabulary.”
“Um, I have been living with Weaver all these years.”
“Okay, look. Just go talk to her,” said Weaver from the ground. He had managed to sit up, but wasn’t on his feet yet. “You can just tell us what you think. But we’ll listen, and we’ll take a vote at the end. And I’ll tell you something . . . she doesn’t get a vote. Got it?”
“You’re the boss, little guy.”
Alix shook his head. Dax could give Weaver whatever illusions of control he wanted, but it was obvious who in this trio was really the boss.
“Sorry,” said Dax in introduction. “I didn’t mean to take so long to get back to you. My companions were. . . . ” Dax realized that Alix and Weaver were definitely in hearing range, having followed him at a distance. He would have to censor himself. “They were kind of concerned. We don’t see many new faces.”
“Quite all right.” The new woman spoke lightly, and hopped off the rock with surprising ease.
“I hope nothing we said back there offended you.”
Adele cocked her head, amused. “Did you imagine I could hear you?”
“Then you couldn’t?”
“I am not nearly so superhuman.”
Dax laughed out loud. “I beg to differ, lady! I tell you what. I feel really uncomfortable with being in the dark, so I’ll ask if you’ll please humor me and answer a few questions.”
“I think I already know what you want to know.”
Dax coughed politely. “Could you start with explaining that?”
“You mean, explaining how come I know things without being told?”
“Yes, that’s about it.”
“All right, I’ll be glad to tell you.”
Dax was reminded of the day of Alix’s arrival as he began to converse with Adele. They quickly abandoned the formal standing to sit in the sand, and soon enough Weaver and Alix joined the party silently.
Adele, true to her promise, explained herself. She was something of a seer, but that condition did not allow her to know everything. Sometimes she posed a question to the universe and received its answer immediately; unfortunately that only worked with the most clear-cut and basic of questions. Sometimes knowledge appeared in her mind from nowhere. Sometimes she dreamed it. Sometimes she searched it out in meditation or one of many ritualistic methods. And often, she simply followed hunches, responding to mysterious cues of “this is right” and “go over there” without doubting that these impulses had purpose. Her problem, she said, was that she did not really know her overall purpose.
“I know that you, Weaver and Dax, have something of an absence in your memory regarding your origin,” she said, and they nodded, “and I have that vagueness too. But I do remember that I am from a place populated by others like me, and that a recognized minority are born with the kind of gifts I have. I know I was sent here to use them for good, but I also feel that . . . I was meant to find the seers of this world, and train them as I must have been trained in my own world.”
Dax cleared his throat. “As far as I know, Adele . . . and I’m sorry to disappoint you . . . this world doesn’t have any seers.” He glanced at Alix for approval.
“I never heard of one outside made-up TV stuff,” Alix chimed in.
“But why would humans make up stories about something they’d never experienced?”
Dax shrugged. “They make things up all the time.”
“Ahh, but myths are based on truth. Exaggerations may exist for TV, but reality probably has its own version. I am certain humans have their share of us, even if they don’t know it.”
“How can you be certain? How much do you know about humans?”
She blinked. “You’ll learn not to take anything lightly if I precede my words with ‘I am certain.’”
Dax lowered his head. “Uh, that brings up another question.”
“Mind if I answer?”
“Um, before I’ve asked?”
Adele returned a so-what smile. “Yes.”
Dax shook his head side to side. “Actually . . . and I think I speak for my friends too . . . I’d rather you actually let me ask a question before you answer it. That way I know what you’re answering.”
“I understand,” she said, but she was only halfway telling the truth. She had the feeling that in her place of origin, people generally appreciated not having to figure out how to phrase a question. These people preferred doing things the hard way. Or maybe it was just Dax. He wasn’t exactly typical of this world’s people, after all.
“I wanted to ask,” Dax continued, “why you want to stay with us. When you said how we’d learn not to question you when you say you’re sure, it reminded me that you plan on being in our lives for a while. Would you mind . . . telling me that whole story?”
“As I suspected.” Adele sighed lightly, leaned back with her balance caught by her hands on her knees, and began her story.
“I’ve been wandering for a long time. Because I don’t have a place to call home, a lot of my impressions are crowded with information to help me survive.” Adele shook her head for emphasis. “This is very inconvenient. I don’t want to waste dreams on finding a good shelter, and pilfer away my power making sure I’m not eating poison. I want a more settled lifestyle so that I can devote my thoughts to matters beyond my immediate survival.”
“Ahh,” said Dax, “so you want us to take care of you so you can spend more time with your art?”
Adele smiled. She liked how he referred to it as an art, but she was a little annoyed at his suggestion that she might expect to be babied.
“I assure you that I won’t require a wait staff. I’m not trying to persuade you to baby-sit me.” Adele grinned, looking childish. “I pull my weight. I just want somewhere to come home to, somewhere I can consider a semi-permanent residence so I don’t have to keep moving. This place is perfect.”
Weaver wondered why she didn’t just predict a horse race, rent a condo, and hole up in it where no one would have to see she wasn’t human. But he didn’t say anything. He’d told Dax he’d be quiet.
“What made you decide to come here, then?” Dax asked.
“A number of things. You have a shelter and fresh drinking water fairly close by. You have a very pretty location—the sea is inspiring. And the provisions are not dangerously low even if they aren’t abundant. But above all . . . I think I was attracted by the company.”
“Now you’re just flattering us.” Dax’s teeth showed in a smile.
“That’s not it. See, I followed my impulses and dreams to this place. I was attracted by a . . . certain strangeness. I feel sure that I felt drawn because of something that has been here for some time, something otherworldly that my blood recognizes. My mind showed me three of you, though.”
Dax blinked. “What do you mean ‘though’? There are three of us.”
Adele shook her head. “No, you and Weaver fit the impression. Alix does not. He is not one of us.”
“Are you saying I should leave?” Alix shot back.
“Of course not.”
“Then stop trying to turn my friends against me!”
Adele regarded Alix with an open, simple stare. “I’m not trying to do any such thing. I’m simply speaking the truth.” She smiled. “It’s what I do best.”
“The truth. Sure. You’re trying to kick me out. ‘Ooh, he’s not one of us.’ Well, I’m not human either just because I look like it at first glance, you all-knowing—”
Weaver got his clawed hand over Alix’s mouth before he said something he would have regretted. Just in time, too. Weaver had a good obscenity detector.
“I’m sorry I’ve put you off so much,” Adele said as Alix pulled Weaver off his arm and shoved him to the ground with one hand.
“You don’t sound sorry.”
“Maybe I don’t sound apologetic . . . and that is because I am not at fault. But I am sorry, for you, and your situation. How you feel about what I say is all your own doing, though your insecurity does pain me.”
“Jesus, would you listen to this,” Alix said, but Weaver and Dax did not hold any sympathy in their eyes. He wrestled with twin urges to punch them all and run away crying. Alix swallowed hard as the strange woman leaned forward to touch his knee.
“Alix, allow me to . . . clarify my words. Perhaps then you won’t be so upset with me.”
“Say what you want, I don’t see anyone putting a finger over your lips.” Alix shoved Weaver for good measure.
Adele sat back in her usual cross-legged position.
“I was not meaning that you are not a member of this group. You are that. You have acceptance here, certainly more so than I do.”
Alix nodded in self-satisfaction, but he was still holding rage under his skin.
“The ‘us’ I meant when I excluded you means those of another world. You were born here, yes?”
Alix nodded. “Not on this beach, obviously, but here in this reality or dimension or whatever. I was . . . born to human parents.”
“But I’m not human,” he said, holding out his hands for emphasis. She didn’t even seem surprised when his gesture revealed that his fingers were webbed.
“I know,” she repeated. “I already know you can breathe the water and swim like a fish. It’s up to you to decide what’s human and what’s not; I can’t presume to do that for you. But your friends are from very far away, and I am too. And . . . there’s another one.” Adele addressed Dax again. “Do you know where she is?”
Dax choked. “She who?”
Weaver’s eyes grew wide. He didn’t want to speak, though. Unlike Alix, he’d actually meant it when he’d promised to keep quiet.
“For Mother’s sake, Weaver, I’m not actually going to beat you up if you talk,” Dax said. “Spit it out.”
“I know who you mean!” Weaver burst, his wings fluttering him into the air in excitement. “It’s . . . that singing woman in the forest!”
“Ahh, so you know her. Why doesn’t she live here with you?”
“We don’t ‘know’ her,” Dax corrected. “We’ve heard her in the forest.”
“Never seen her?”
The boys exchanged glances. “Um, I think she’s invisible,” said Alix. “Or close to it. I kinda saw . . . an outline of her, once.”
“Yes, definitely another ‘other’ person. That explains what I felt.”
“Do you need her to be here?” asked Dax. “Because . . . I don’t think we can catch her.”
“No, don’t be silly. I’m just interested in why so many of us are here in this spot. Though I sense you two are from the same world,” she said, wiggling two fingers at Dax and Weaver. Adele looked off in the distance and continued to speak: “This other person is from somewhere else. And I’m from a third other place.” She looked at Alix. “And you’re from here.”
“Yup. This is my world.”
“Well. What do you think of us visitors to ‘your’ world, then?”
Alix looked down. “All I can say is that these two have treated me more like family than anyone who was born in this reality. Maybe it means I’m screwed up, but I don’t knock it. These guys are my friends.”
“Well. Good for you.” Adele offered Alix a small smile that she thought overdone and he read as insincere. “Would you be opposed to me joining your little group of friends? I’d like to get to know you.”
Alix didn’t nod or accept the idea. Adele had known he wouldn’t—he was the type to warm up slow and there was nothing she could do to change that—so she brought out her big guns and aimed them at the other two.
“I don’t come empty-handed,” she said, and in anticipation of a comment from Alix, she pre-empted it: “And I don’t mean just what’s in my backpack. I come with an offer.”
“What’ve you got?” asked Dax agreeably.
“Well, first and foremost, I have my knowledge. I seek a home so that I can perfect my divination skills and find my purpose; the side effects of that will be that I will share my results with you. Life out here will become less . . . uncertain.” She said the word like it bothered her tongue.
“What kinds of things will you be able to tell us?” Dax asked.
“I don’t know,” Adele said quickly.
“I bet you don’t say that much,” Alix grumped.
“I just mean I don’t know at the moment, but you’ll see.”
“There is another thing I bring, though, just by virtue of my presence.”
“That is?” asked Dax.
Alix crossed his arms. “Hey, lady, we know how to make a fire. Did you think we just eat our food raw?”
“You misunderstand. I meant it in an elemental sense.” Adele met each of their eyes in turn before coming back to Alix’s. “You feel a bond with water, I expect. You are its master . . . ‘King of the Sea.’ You understand water as no human or land creature could. Right?”
“Um. Yes.” Alix was disturbed at Adele’s use of his private tag “King of the Sea.” It sounded babyish and melodramatic when spoken outside his head. And how the hell did she know that anyway? He still didn’t like her.
“Weaver, you of course are a ruler of the air. You see all the other elements from your cushion on the highest of them all, and space for you is three-dimensional in a big way. The wind is your closest friend, and the clouds keep you company. Air is your element, correct?”
“I would think so,” Weaver agreed. Alix wanted to make a crack about how Weaver was also appropriately full of hot air, but he didn’t want to get clawed again, and for some reason he was losing his nerve to interrupt whatever tangent Adele was on.
“That brings me to you, Dax,” Adele went on. “I read your element loud and clear as being the earth.”
Dax nodded quickly, but Adele went on.
“You walk on the earth’s sacred body with unsheathed feet, and you soak up its warmth,” she said in a soothing voice. “The earth to you has a song, and you hear it, and you take of its bounty and give back to it every day. You respect your element even as you master it, and that is what puts you in charge. The earth belongs to you, no?”
“I would say yes, and that I belong to Her,” he said.
“As we all do,” she supplied quickly, “and now we come to me. I’ve said I’m fire. Actually I am all four, but I have more of the fire in me than any of you. I have the high, sterile intellect typical of the air, the deep wisdom of the water, the nurturing nature of the earth. But I also have the catalystic flame of change at the core of my being. I set things in motion. You could say I have my finger on destiny’s heart.”
All of the others felt some degree of confusion over Adele’s words, but they were also reluctant to question because they could feel her direct passion. This woman meant business. Maybe she would give them purpose even as she found her own.
“So. I’d like a verdict, if you please. May I join you?”
“We promised we’d talk it over amongst ourselves,” Dax said, getting to his feet. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Be my guest.”
Alix wanted to remind her that she was their guest, but instead he just eyed her meanly and spun around to follow Dax. Weaver treaded the air above them.
“I really don’t think this is even worth voting on,” Dax said, “but for fairness’s sake, let’s hear it. Either of you have any reservations about Adele becoming one of us? I’m all for it.”
Dax’s words brought back Alix’s sour feeling of exclusion. She’d told him he was “not one of us,” made an “us” out of people she didn’t know and automatically cast him out. Funny how he’d spent his whole life wishing humans would accept him and now he wasn’t different enough.
Tentatively, Alix put up his hand.
“This ain’t science class, you don’t have to wait to get called on,” Weaver said derisively.
“I know. But, here. Listen. Adele . . . Adele is weird.”
“Tell us something we don’t know.” Weaver rearranged himself on Dax’s arm.
“She might . . . try to make us do things we don’t really want to do.”
“If she does, then we show her how us guys do things,” Weaver argued sensibly.
“I don’t know. You guys don’t know women. They’re strange.”
“I’m ready to learn about them,” Dax said.
“How about if she has kids or something?”
Dax and Weaver looked taken aback.
“What if she already has kids that she isn’t telling us about, or maybe she’s going to have some soon? She’s a female, which means not only can she have kids . . . she’ll probably want kids. What if she goes back to her world and meets up with her boyfriend and comes back here and . . . expects us to raise her kids?”
Weaver and Dax burst out laughing.
“What?” Alix spluttered.
“She’s not gonna have kids,” said Weaver, “she’s as clueless as we are about how to get back where she came from. And I’m not exactly all-knowing, but I don’t think she’ll have babies with any guys from this world. Just ’cause she’s a girl you think she’ll just randomly have babies?”
Alix had to admit he didn’t know much about women either, but on TV they’d always seemed to want to catch a man and nail him down to have babies. The fact that Adele was a woman was the only thing he could think of to separate their group into “us” and “them” and include himself in the “us.”
“All I’m saying is, you let a woman live with you and sooner or later you have to deal with children,” Alix said grouchily.
“Then I’ll baby-sit,” said Dax, “but let’s get back to the issue. Are you really against this so much that you’d cast a ‘no’ vote?”
“No, not really,” Alix grumbled.
“And you’re for it, right Weaver?”
“Sure.” Weaver didn’t want to admit it, but Adele’s speech casting him as an important player in an elemental quartet had left him starry-eyed.
“Then let’s go tell her she’s welcome to move in,” said Dax happily, and went back to camp with Weaver in tow. Alix followed reluctantly, but tried to put his face in an expression that wouldn’t tip Adele off that he’d been outclassed.
“So,” said Dax as Adele looked at him with an all-for-show “well?” expression, “welcome home.”
Adele smiled and bent her head so her hair covered her face.
“My many thanks,” she said quietly, and got to her feet. “I’ll have my possessions sent as soon as possible.” The boys assumed that was a joke as she picked up her backpack and placed it just inside the cave.
“I’ve got a question,” piped Weaver, and Adele grinned as she realized she knew what he was going to ask. Politely, she raised her eyebrows and tried for an expression that might qualify as mystified.
“What is it, Weaver?”
“Could I comb your hair for you sometime?”
Adele decided she liked waiting for questions, because the wording still surprised her. She didn’t reply, but reached into her bag to get her comb.
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