The story so far: Having been separated on the way to Herald Rock, our group of adventurers have reunited and finally arrived in town.
Lead in story: We’re just not very good at this
Aadi wasn’t as excited about the reward as some of the other members of SCAG. So many of them had dreaded the idea of sleeping outdoors. For Aadi, outdoors was their daily life and they were glad of it. That was where the air was. That was where the sky was. Still, they admired the sight of the neat little blue and white hotel, looking clean and polished next to the weathered buildings that surrounded it. There was a bit of a glow to it. It wasn’t strong, but it demonstrated that there was at least a little bit of power here.
Mister Death had explained that this was his big surprise. He’d seemed quite proud of it. The group was special guests of something he called a soft open. Mister Death kept track of things like that. He fit in, as much as any of them. Sometimes Aadi forgot he wasn’t one of them.
Aadi’s room had a large bed with far too thick of a mattress, a dozen fancy pillows, and a lot of wood bent into shapes woods didn’t belong in. Still, there was a clawfoot tub, and Aadi ran the water hot. Hot water was a luxury that Aadi did appreciate. They even remembered to add soap this time. After a long soak, Aadi dried off and changed into their new outfit. Now that they had a place to store a few things out at Happy’s place, they had gone to the thrift store and found a blue and white-checkered dress. To go with it, they had sewn a blue hood and cape. Aadi put them on and admired the image in the mirror. “Who can resist me?” They said to their reflection.
There was a knock on Aadi’s door. It was Happy. He had cleaned up as well, and looked handsome in a black turtleneck and grey chinos. He took a moment to admire Aadi’s outfit. “Is it going to be that kind of a night then?” he asked.
Aadi smiled their closest approximation of a shy smiled and said, “Maybe.”
Happy laughed. “Do you have a particular paramour in mind?”
Aadi raised one eyebrow. “I’m hungry. Let’s go have some of the free food.”
“I’m not one to turn down a free meal,” Happy said. The two of them walked downstairs together. There was a dining room just off the lobby of the hotel. There was a long table in the center of the room, with Mister Death, Marshall, and Nick already seated at one end. Aadi sat next to Nick, while Happy came around and joined Jack on the other end. Aadi noticed a glow to Nick. They touched Nick on the shoulder, leaned in and whispered, “What have you been getting up to?”
Nick gave them a confused look. Aadi tapped their finger against his chest and smiled. “And with who?” Nick looked deeply uncomfortable. Aadi looked around, noticing that Mister Death was staring their way. Aadi stared back at him long enough for Mister Death to look a bit uncomfortable. “Sorry,” Aadi whispered. “Ears everywhere. Come to my room later if you want to talk.”
Aadi sat and tried to listen to the general conversation at the table, but Catrin was talking about a television show, and Aadi didn’t really understand the concept of sitting around watching people pretend on a screen when there was a whole world of pretend people all around them. Food came eventually. Most of it didn’t interest them, but there was bread, butter, and cinnamon, and those had appeal. There was alcohol too. Aadi didn’t generally imbibe, but there was something green and milky that smelled like mint, so they had a few sips. It tingled in their mouth.
Since the conversation was of limited value, Aadi looked around at their fellow adventurers. Marshall looked happy, but there was fatigue in his eyes. He seemed to be listening to Catrin’s story of this TV show about time travel, but then his eyes would unfocus for a moment, and he would clearly have stopped listening, only to gradually come back. Tilly was listening, but had a serious look. Every once in a while, she would reach up and touched a bandage on the side of her head, grimace slightly, but say nothing. Mister Death was smiling, happy, but not really listening. He was drinking, but probably felt no effect. Death does not get drunk. His eyes glanced about the room, and at one point locked with Aadi’s. They stared at each other for a moment, and then he looked away. Happy was listening, but mainly to be polite. Aadi knew Happy didn’t watch television. There was no TV in his little teardrop trailer and Happy didn’t sit around much anyway. Lately he had been working on putting in a garden with lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, and artichokes. Nick seemed to be paying the least attention. He sat there at the end of the table, seeming to look at a picture on the wall. It was Starry Night. Aadi knew it well. They had practiced drawing it many times. Aadi wasn’t sure he was really looking at it though. They noticed the slight glow around his neck. That was new. He’d been given a nindoodem. Aadi looked at it for a long time. They had not seen one in Santa Creda before, not a powerful one anyway.
Eventually, the conversation changed and Mister Death was talking about the plans for Herald Rock. Apparently, a group of rich people from Santa Creda had bought up most of the property, especially Front Street, where the hotel was. They had paid to regrade the road out to Herald rock and even intended to pave it soon. The buildings along Front Street were all going to be restored, while the rest of the town was going to be torn down and rebuilt. The hotel had been first so that it could house some of the builders. Mister death seemed very excited about this, as did Marshall and Catrin. The others seemed less enthusiastic about the thought.
Aadi tried to picture Herald Rock reborn. They saw people, and boring stores, and beige houses, and cars honking. What bothered them most was what they didn’t see.
“What about the cats?” Aadi asked Mister Death.
“What do you mean?”
“The cats live here now. This is their town.”
“Cats don’t own things,” Mister Death had said, as if that settled everything. Aadi saw the hardness in his eyes when he said that, and remembered who was talking. He may seem kind, but he is also cold and always will be.
Aadi got up. “I’ll go break it to the cats that you’re taking their homes.” They got up and walked out the door.
Aadi was halfway down the street when they heard footsteps approaching. They turned around to see Tilly approaching. “Are you OK?”
Aadi took a deep breath, then breathed out long and slow. “Why do people feel such a need to own things?” They finally asked. Aadi had resisted the urge to say you people or you humans because, as much as they hated to admit it, they were people too, for the most part. They were just different.
Tilly opened up her arms and hugged Aadi. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t completely understand, but I know it hurts to lose things you care about.”
“Why can’t this just be what it is?”
“I don’t know,” Tilly said, “People can’t leave things alone. It’s not in our nature.”
“Would you walk with me?” Aadi asked.
“Of course,” Tilly said. As they got away from the hotel the deserted town got very dark. There was no moon, but the stars burst out in a thousand directions, flowing through the skies. Tilly reached out and held Aadi’s hand. The two of them went to visit the cats.