Aadi awoke on the beach. The light of dawn was just beginning to warm up the sky. Even in the low light, Aadi could see quite a distance and checked to be sure that no one was around. This part of the beach was usually deserted this time of day, especially in early February, when the nights of Santa Creda got about as cold as the nights managed to get.
Aadi stood up and stripped their clothes off before walking into the water. The water was cold, the way Aadi liked it. It woke them up quickly and completely. Aadi was quickly to the point where the water was too deep for their feet to touch the ground. At only five feet tall, this was still fairly close to the shore, but Aadi swam out another hundred feet or so, where the waves rarely crested. Out on the water, they took care of their bodily needs, then swam back in.
Aadi stood at the edge of the water, letting the breeze dry their body until, in the distance, they spotted someone walking their way. At that point, Aadi walked back to their blanket, opened their backpack, and took out their second set of clothes. Aadi had two outfits. They had slept in the blue one (Blue jeans and an oxford-cloth shirt). Today they wore the other, a pair of brown chinos and a tan hoodie.
Once dressed, they shook out their blanket, then ran their hand along the fabric, pulling out the remaining sand. They did the same thing with their clothes, then packed them all up into the leather backpack they had made a few weeks earlier. By the time the person walked past, they were fully dressed with their backpack on their back. Nonetheless, the man stopped to stare at them. Aadi stared back until the man seemed to get uncomfortable and continued on.
At this point, the edge of the sun had just peeked over the horizon. Aadi began slowly walking along the beach back toward Santa Creda. They scanned the sand, looking for the ones with a silver blue glow. This was the perfect hunting time, but even with Aadi’s vision, and the perfect alignment of the sun, these grains were elusive. On a good day, Aadi four four or five. Today, over the course of the half-hour when conditions were best, Aadi found seven grains. It was the best day in memory. Each grain, Aadi carefully placed into a tiny leather bag that hung around their neck.
Aadi reached the pier. Their stomach rumbled. Aadi checked the closest trash can and saw someone had tossed a quarter loaf of bread, still in its bag. Aadi took a slice out, and put the rest back. They walked out on the pier until they came to Nate’s Coffee Stand. Nate, the owner, was short but broad shouldered, with short black hair and an easy smile. Nate greeted Aadi and handed them a small cup of coffee. They thanked him, and took the cup.
“Have a beautiful day,” They said to him.
Nate answered, “I’ll do my best.”
Aadi walked along the pier for about fifty more feet, until they came to a little nook that they liked. Aadi finished their bread and coffee, then took off their backpack and pulled out a harmonica, which they put in their pocket, then a Trilby, which they set on the ground, and finally a flute. They set the backpack down behind them and began to play the flute.
People did not recognize the songs that Aadi played, yet there was still something familiar to the songs. They had trouble placing the style too. Still, their songs were nearly universally enjoyed, and people would often gather around. A few coins would drop into the hat, and the occasional dollar bill. Aadi continued to play. After an hour or so, they switched to the harmonica, to much the same effect. The songs on the harmonica seemed a bit sadder, and a bit more like memory, but they attracted a small crowd nonetheless.
The first time Aadi had played, a policemen had shown up, the they had simply asked nicely to continue playing, and the officer had nodded and left. Aadi was good at asking for things nicely. At some point the officer had come back and had them sign a paper, which Aadi had done without bothering to read it. The officer had seemed satisfied and stayed long enough to listen to a song or two. Since then, this was Aadi’s spot.
Aadi played for three hours without break, then stopped, bowed lightly, and thanked everyone who remained. The sun was high up now, and Aadi could feel the heat on their skin. They took the money from the Trilby, pulled out a box from the backpack and put it in, the box was already quite full, and Aadi had to sort a bit to get it closed, but eventually managed it.
As Aadi walked back by Nate’s Coffee Stand, he waved her over and offered to exchange, the coins for bills. “Thank you,” they said, “It gets a bit heavy.”
Nate helped Aadi count out the money. The box had twenty-nine dollars and fifteen cents worth of change. Nate Gave them a twenty and a ten, and Aadi took it and put it with the bills in the box.
“It looks like you could afford a place tonight,” Nate observed.
“Am I starting to stink?” Aadi asked.
“Maybe a little,” Nate said, “But there are worse smelling people running around, it’s just that sleeping on the beach takes a toll, doesn’t it?”
Aadi shrugged, “A beach bed isn’t too uncomfortable, and the beach also gives,” Aadi said, tapping the little leather bag around their neck.
“It isn’t safe though,” Nate said, “And it is supposed to rain tonight.”
Aadi looked up, then sniffed the air, “I suppose you’re right,” Aadi said. “Can I stay with you tonight?”
Nate looked at Aadi for a long moment, and Aadi smiled. “Yes of course,” Nate said, “I’ll make you some dinner too.”
“You’re a very kind man,” Aadi said, “I look forward to snuggling with you.”
An odd smile flashed across Nate’s face, and he nodded. “Well,” Aadi said, “I must go for now. I’m going to sketch the shrine of my cousin Missalia today. She needs the company.”
Nate nodded to them, “That sounds like a nice day.”
Aadi walked away. Their stomach was rumbling again, which was inconvenient. Aadi checked the trash can again, but it had recently been emptied. They walked down the boardwalk to the trash can next to the snack bar, and found a half a bag of nuts and some popcorn. They took those over to a bench and ate them, stopping by the drinking fountain to wash the food down.
Once they had eaten, Aadi headed north along Heron avenue, then turned down a side street until they came to the little walled alcove. Inside was a small garden with a yard shine in the center. In the garden grew anthuriums, hibiscus, calla lilies, and philodendrons. The shrine was centered around a velvet painting of a nude island woman getting water from a stream in the moonlight. The garden and shrine had an odd reputation around town, with many people wondering exactly what the owner’s intention was. Santa Creda was a beach town, and fairly liberal about showing skin, but nude velvet paintings still gathered a bit of disapproval. This coupled with the fact that the little alcove was not actually owned by either of the adjoining houses, caused some controversy. The owner was off-site, and the only person who knew anything was a gardener who was hired to come by once a week and maintain the area. The gardener, a nice, silver-haired, older man named Lawrence, gently told people to mind their own business.
Aadi never worried about details like that. They were smart enough to know what was useful knowledge and what were the insignificant details that humans tended to spend their lives worrying about. Property rights weren’t worth knowing about just as food wasn’t worth paying for. The important things were that there were places you could sleep and places where people got mad, just as there was free food everywhere, if you knew how to look.
Humans were the same way. There were humans who got angry a lot, but there were also kind humans. Aadi could easily charm the kind humans, so why even try it with the angry ones. Just do your best to avoid the worst of them.
“Good afternoon cousin,” Aadi said as they sat down on the little stone bench opposite the painting. “Today was a good day. I found seven grains of cibus on the beach. I’ll leave you one before I go. ” A faint purple glow shimmered around the painting. “No cousin, not until I’m leaving. I remember the last time, and I want to draw first.”
Taking out first a sketchbook, and then a small case of pencils, Aadi began to draw the garden and the shrine. Aadi worked diligently and happily for two-and-a-half hours, occasionally throwing out a comment or word of encouragement to Missalia such as “Your garden is blooming nicely today” or “I can feel your energy improving”. The lines and shading of Aadi’s drawing were clean and rarely in need of correction.
When Jack entered the garden, Aadi looked up at him and smiled. “Good afternoon Mister Death,” they said with a smile. “Am I on your list today?”
“No, no, I just came for a visit.”
Aadi set their art materials on the bench next to them, stood up, and gave Jack a hug. “I’m so glad you came by. Missalia seems a little needy today. Maybe she is lonely.”
Jack nodded, “I don’t believe Missy had been too lonely. In fact, I think she may have made a new friend.” Jack looked at the woman in the painting, “Haven’t you Missy?” There was a bright purple flash from the painting, that was gone as soon as it started. Jack made a conciliatory gesture with his hands. “No need to get upset. I’m not here to argue. In fact, I think your new friend may even be good for us, as long as your plans aren’t too… nefarious.”
“Have you found a voice cousin?” Aadi asked, “Why haven’t I met them?”
After a moment, when no reply seemed to come from the painting, Jack said to Aadi, “You may get the chance. Do you remember the guild I told you I was starting? I have given her friend an invitation. Perhaps that will convince you to come as well.”
Aadi was quiet for several minutes and Jack waited patiently. A red-winged blackbird glided in and landed on the shrine. It stared at Jack and Jack gave it a soft nod. “Afternoon Pedro” he said amiably. The bird pecked a bit of seed that was on the table and ceased to regard Jack.
“I don’t like having obligations. They can turn into worries. Worries aren’t good for me. I need to get stronger.”
“And I can help you with that,” Jack said. He reached into the inside pocked of his suit jacket and extracted a very small, hand folded envelope made from parchment paper. Aadi took the paper gently. They slowly opened a single flap and looked inside. “That’s twenty grains of cibus, given to you without obligation, but if you come to the first meeting, I’ll give you thirty more grains.”
“You can’t bargain with Death,” Aadi said with a smile, “But I guess Death can bargain with you.”
“Santa Creda needs you.” Jack said. He turned to the painting. “Santa Creda needs you too Missy, so please make sure your friend comes. So long as they join the Guild, I’ll overlook any minor trouble. I would rather be allies than enemies.”
Aadi looked at the painting, which seemed brighter and clearer than before. Aadi nodded. “May I have another copy of the invite?” Aadi asked. “I only keep things when I think they’re important.”
Jack reached into his jacket pocket and extracted a white card the size of a business card. It read:
You have been selected
Santa Creda Adventurer’s Guild
Friday February 25th
1007 Seaside Avenue
Aadi looked at the card and put it in the front section of their backpack. “I hope this is worth the worries.”
Jack smiled. “I hope the same thing.”