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The following document was opened, mimeographed, and re-sealed before delivery to its intended recipients.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Well, I guess you've probably already heard the news about my new career in Reality TV.
I don't know how much footage of me has actually been aired yet, but yeah, the first few days were rough. Regularly painful, frequently terrifying, and always, always bizarre. Which makes it similar to a few of the other jobs I've had, including the one on the square-rigger, that Burning Man gig, and my entire stint in food service.
And to be honest, it's a lot more exciting than my last job (in the glass warehouse), which was starting to get pretty tedious. So I'd have to say that this move, though involuntary, is a handy development in my career as Renaissance Woman. Because I'm learning a lot here. You kind of have to, to survive. Like combat skills and. . . cooking! Yes, Mom, I'm finally learning to cook. Over a campfire, even. And economics! You should see me doing the math on Island commodities with a stick in the dirt, Dad. It's paying off, too. I'm doing pretty well for myself, for a Noob, despite the overalls. (Hey! I like the overalls. They remind me of my vintage Carhartts.)
Fortunately, this is not the kind of game show where the contestants have to knock each other out one by one. I'm finding "Safety in Numbers" to be a good strategy, actually. I don't know how much you watch the show, but you know there are Clans, right? Well, I picked one kind of impulsively, but I seem to have chosen well. Clan Amity in Bedlam has been extremely helpful and generous in getting me established on the Island. It's a smallish Clan, led by an enigmatic gentleman known as Adder Moray. He holds his cards close to his chest, but he seems to be a good one to have on your side, if you know what I mean. The other two in the clan are Korbel and Just, both Kittymorphs (yes, Dad, those are the Cat People). Korbel is, from all appearances, honorable, good-natured, and kind. I haven't met Just yet, but I've heard good things about her.
So, though I know you've been beyond worried, please, worry no more. All this exercise has been great; my belly is shrinking and my biceps are growing. You know I love a challenge, and there's new challenges here every day. And look, here I am writing you an actual LETTER! Which is an improvement over my usual habit of only calling you up on holidays, no?
Love to all, even that spastic Shih Tzu of yours,
P.S. I think you should be aware that there's someone else here who looks a lot like me. So if you think you catch sight of me on the screen in a compromising position, like maybe with a midget or something. . . that's not me, that's her.
The following pages were copied from Pod's personal notebook without her knowledge, presumably en route to or from the FailBoat.
Korbel gave me this notebook today. It's nothing fancy, but it's the first time I've held this many sheets of paper in my hand since I got here. The Paper Tiger is always confetti by the time I get done with him, and while Stern at the Museum was happy to let me use his typewriter to write a letter home, it clearly pained him to dole out more than a sheet or two. So the notebook is Kind Of A Big Deal.
Though its nominal purpose is to take down info that may benefit the Clan, I'm going to go ahead and use it for my own ends as well. Sometimes big, complicated, confusing things make more sense when you put them on paper. "Big, complicated, confusing" is a pretty accurate description of life on the Island. But I won't kid myself: it's risky trusting paper with your thoughts; it can betray you just as easily as anyone else. Which means I have to keep this notebook on me at all times. If they want to read it, they can pry it from my cold, dead hands. And then. . . they'll wish they hadn't.
Do I sound a little mad? I suppose that's why I'm beginning to feel more at home here. More confident. More reckless. More like I fit in. More. . . maybe it's just the cider?
Someone got engaged today (I've forgotten her name already, bah) and threw an open bar party at the Common Ground. It was a lively good time. I met a couple of new people, a flustered chap named Ebenezer (I've seen him around before, but never introduced myself) and a quiet little Kittymorph named Cadye. The latter is shy, but eminently likeable. She seems to be especially liked by Adder Moray, of all people. I wouldn't have guessed that guy could light up like he did when she walked in. It was amazing. I would give a lot to have someone look at me like that.
Funny thing about Adder. His last Drive kill left him rather. . . stunted, poor bastard. He's really not that bad-looking for a midget, but apparently the sound of his own voice is so repulsive that he refuses to speak at all. He just scribbles on this sign he's got, which is sort of like a dry erase board, but more improbable.
For the first five minutes I witnessed this, it was kind of hard to take him seriously. Then the peculiarity faded; he's still the same old Adder, whoever that is - I'm still not sure. Still the same aloof, yet strangely compelling personality. I don't know why I'm so fascinated by the guy, but I am. Is it the challenge of getting past those walls, or is it that his impassiveness is a blank screen on which I can project my own desires? Paging Dr. Freud. . . .
In other Secret Crush news (geez, what am I, 12?), Seth has finally started to notice me. Probably doesn't hurt that, underneath the filthy canvas overalls, I'm developing a kick-ass physique - seriously, I have never looked this good before. Yeah. Anyway, everybody warns me about that guy, but I've always been a sucker for a musician. When he can actually be bothered to sing, he has an absolutely gorgeous voice. I can't believe my pal Emily hasn't hit that, but she swears she wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot baseball bat. Which I suppose is a sensible policy for co-workers (note to self, Pod).
I got to meet both Just and Serene earlier today. Serene recently joined our clan as well. She's very sweet; she and Korbel are a positively adorable pair, if perhaps a little relentless with the public smoochy-smoochy. Just was on her way elsewhere, but I'm sure I'll get to talk to her more later. There's one more clan member now, another Rookie named Alec, but I haven't seen him around at all yet.
Is there nowhere on this island where you can get a decent bath?
Just when I think I'm getting used to things, they up 'n get weirder on me.
So there I was, charging into Kittania with a pocketful of Req, when I spotted Adder and Cadye in the town square, deep in conversation. That's not too surprising - at last night's party, I got the feeling they both would have been happier to be talking somewhere quieter. So I was glad they got the chance. I took the long way round the square so as not to disturb them, made my deposit, and then hung out the cool shadows of the Bank for a little while, where I could see without being seen. I mean, I didn't want to throw them off by passing them repeatedly in the square. And, yeah, okay, I was curious - it's not often you get to observe such an unlikely encounter. I had my fingers crossed that it would go well, especially if it was the kind of conversation I thought it was. I mean, how cute would that be? Seriously, would they not be the most adorably improbable (and excessively introverted) couple on the Island?
I couldn't hear Cadye or read Adder's message board, but I could read their body language all right, and unfortunately, it looked like it wasn't going well. It looked like it was going pretty badly, actually. . . and then things got worse: Loren showed up. Loren's a well-meaning sort, a Kittymorph transwoman cursed with an absolutely terrible sense of timing. A question had been posed, an answer had been given, Adder's shoulders slumped, Cadye curled up into a little ball - and Loren rushed over to try and make everything all better. Nonononono! I ran out of the bank, grabbed Loren and dragged her off to the cafe, where I bought her a drink and, after warning her to leave them alone, attempted to distract her with small talk. She downed her beverage and was back out the door as soon as the glass hit the table. I followed her out just in time to see Adder standing alone in the square. He gave us a stricken glance, then trudged off into the jungle.
Well, bummer. Still, at least I had managed to keep Loren from interrupting the conversation again before it ended, so: Mission Accomplished. Congratulating myself on doing a good deed for a clan member, I set off about my remaining errands, then headed for Improbable Central. I went northwest toward the river, intending to relax with a swim and maybe clean up a little bit before making an appearance at the Spiderkitty.
So I'm trudging through the marsh, expecting to run into some strange monster at any moment, and who do I find out there instead, sitting on a rock? Crying his freakin' eyes out? Yes: Adder Moray himself. I swear I am not making this up.
He heard me approach, so there wasn't any possibility of respectfully sneaking away without disturbing him. After picking my jaw up out of the swamp, I handed him my hankerchief and offered to leave him alone.
He didn't want to be alone. Adder Moray, my reserved, formal, emotionally unavailable clan leader, was bawling like a lost child, and he didn't want to be left alone. If you had asked me to list in order of probability the unlikely things that might occur today, this would have been waaaaay below "The Watcher reveals she is carrying Santa Claus's love child" and "Korbel spontaneously develops the ability to poop cigarettes."
So I sat with him a while. He was talking again (his voice sounded pretty much like every other midget I've met), but barely coherent. He made no attempt to explain to me what had happened; he seemed to be having enough trouble explaining it to himself. I mean, I don't know what Cadye told him, but his whole world had obviously come crashing down around his ears. I tried to say some reassuring things, but in my experience, the only way out of that kind of hurt is through, and nobody else can do that part for you. So I didn't try to distract him or talk him out of it. Mostly just sat there.
When he finally started to get a hold of himself, he thanked me, and then he gives me this teary little smile like. . . holy crap, I never thought I'd see that guy look so completely vulnerable. Guh. I had to break eye contact; holding his gaze right then kind of felt like somebody was gouging me in the heart with a screwdriver. So I gave him a hug and ran away.
I still have no idea what to make of this.
The Improbability Drive is coming for me.
That thought hit me today like a ton of piranhas. I've been thrashing around in the back forty for the past week, not seeing much of anybody, and when I checked back into civilization yesterday, everybody was different. You think you know who people are, and then they change. Not like people change back home, when somebody says something mean behind your back or alters their habits; no, here they change into a creature you wouldn't even recognize. It happens when they meet the Drive. They become Kittymorphs, or Midgets, or Zombies, or Beetles, or something even weirder.
I have no desire to take another shape; heck, this one is just getting good. So my strategy has been to lay low, stay out of the limelight, hope I get overlooked by the Drive and the Watcher alike. It's easy to feel like you're escaping notice, here, what with all the dramatic personalities about. Easy to get complacent. Easy to kill just enough monsters to feed yourself, pretend your clan actually offers you some protection against the Drive, and let the Island distract you with its windswept beaches and its friendly settlements, its strange creatures and its sexy, sexy bards.
But today I woke up and I knew my days were numbered. Oh, it may not be a small number, but there is definitely a number floating around out there labeled "POD'S DAYS." And it's decreasing, one day at a time. I'm still not much of a fighter, but I'm done pretending I don't need to be. I mean to survive this encounter. So I finally ditched the comfy overalls and bought myself the best armor Sheila had in stock. I'm cleaning and oiling my faithful chainsaw after every combat. My hair was starting to get in my eyes, so I got Caroline to cut it close to my scalp: no more dye, it's all Island growth now. And after successfully avoiding the FailBoat for so long, I'm finally getting some serious combat time there too, in closer proximity to the Watcher's all-seeing eye.
The Drive is coming for me. I plan to be ready when it does. And if I survive the encounter, well. . . I don't know if there's any way to be ready for what may come after that.
So I walk into the Ground, and it's raining. It never rains here. But this rain is purple. It's grape juice, actually. It's delicious.
The person apparently responsible for this meteorological marvel is a mercurial stranger in a purple robe. His name, I learn, is Sheoggorath, and he says he has stumbled upon the Island from another realm. He claims the titles of Prince of Madness and Ruler of the Shivering Isles. Adder is so amused by him that he invited him to join our clan. Amerithe (a female Kittymorph with a case of the tragics) is annoyed, and Neeip (a male Kittymorph with a microscopic attention span) is totally freaked out.
For Sheoggorath's next trick, after the rain stops, he conjures up a 6' bust of himself out of sharp cheddar. It, too, is delicious. Neeip chastises me for sampling the cheddar statue. Says Sheoggorath's a god and shouldn't be trifled with. This doesn't make sense to me: if you can create (or summon) that much cheese without breaking a sweat, why wouldn't you want to share it, deity or no? "Ooh, I like sharing!" says Sheoggorath. "How about I share somethin' with you, and you share somethin' with me! It'll be fun!"
I don't have much. I have some raw meat, a few ration packs, and assorted other items that are common on the Island. Oh, and I have this moose antler; I kept it because I thought I could carve something out of it. Poor man's scrimshaw. I give him the uncarved antler; it seems random enough that it might please him.
He doesn't seem displeased, anyway. His share for me is a tiny yellow flower. It has tiny eyes and a tiny mouth, and it turns to look up at me with a tiny smile. It's adorable. "Symbiotic little fella, he is!" says Sheoggorath. "He'll drink your blood, but provide a lovely companion. He sings Danny Boy fantastically. We call him Biff."
I think about this. With all the fighting and the tromping through the jungle I do around here, blood loss has become a daily thing. I eat tons of meat, and I'm strong as an ox (well, a smallish ox); anemia is hardly a concern. Besides, a singing flower might be a fun thing to have around. And if not, well, I worked at a nursery one summer; I know what to do with weeds.
I accept Sheoggorath's gift with thanks. Biff sinks his root-hairs gratefully into a cut on my hand; it doesn't hurt at all. He sighs gratefully, then says, Thank you! I like you already! But he says it in my head. It's a strange sensation. Tentatively, I reply with a thought: Thanks, Biff?
That's right! he says. You've got it, Pod! And he giggles, a tiny, sparkly sound, and hugs my thumb. Dawwww.
Sheoggorath wants to do a share with Neeip. Neeip reluctantly agrees, and gives Sheoggorath a large shard of something shiny that he identifies as "a piece of the Slightly Probable Drive." Then Sheoggorath whacks Neeip with his staff. Neeip appears a little dazed. . . then he appears extremely happy . . . then he begins moving extremely quickly. Then he grabs me and, a split second later, I'm standing on the roof of the bar, naked and empty-handed (except for Biff). My armor shows up, another split second later, jammed over Sheoggorath's bust of cheese, with my chainsaw sticking out of its shoulder.
I think, in some alternate universe, this is probably hilarious. However, right here in the universe I live in, it's not funny to remove a woman's clothing in public without her permission. (Let alone on television; oh, you know that got aired!) Don't get me wrong; I've done more than my share of streaking and skinnydipping and changing clothes in mixed company. I'm cool with naked. But I undress when I choose, not when some freak with supernatural abilities decides to play Human Barbies.
(To be fair: Neeip, who is never the sharpest of tacks, may not have realized that I wasn't wearing anything under my Invisisuit. But if you've ever worn an Invisisuit, you know you don't really need to wear anything under it; it covers what needs covering, and there's not room for much else under it anyway. It should have been obvious that if I had anything on under my armor, it wasn't more than underwear.)
I climbed down from the roof, retrieved the chainsaw, and prepared to carve my armor free of the cheese sculpture. Ping! My armor was suddenly in my hand, somewhat gummified by having cheese squished through it. I put it back on, trying to calm my righteous indignation. Adder came over to ask if I was okay, and I was like, yeah, yeah, and then suddenly Neeip was right there, poking me and grabbing my shoulder and saying, "Seeee? She's fine, ain't ya, lass?" And Adder was like, not cool Neeip, and Sheoggorath was like, not cool Neeip, and I was like, not cool Neeip and back off, and then Neeip got up in my face with a knife, and I saw red. I served him a sharp kick right in the cat-junk.
It didn't even faze him. He grabbed my foot, grinned this mad feline grin, and pointed out that the knife was in my hand, not his, so why hadn't I used that instead? And I was like: shit, this guy is so far past insane it would be quicker to just keep going and come at it around the other side. I'm going to have to kill him.
Then this midget-sized missile comes flying out of nowhere and thwacks Neeip a good one upside the head. Adder's foot meets Neeip's skull with a cracking noise, and Neeip topples.
And pops right back up again, bleeding copiously from the side of his head, still wearing that scary-mad grin.
At this point, Silcatra (a newer member of our clan who seems to have her head on straighter than most, despite recently joining the ranks of the undead) demanded that Sheoggorath put a stop to the mayhem. Sheoggorath thwacked Neeip with his staff again, and Neeip was, finally, down for the count. I stayed just long enough to thank Adder for intervening, and to observe that Neeip got healed by some guy I didn't recognize. Then I heard some moron ask Sheoggorath if he could get a dose of whatever it was Neeip got, and I high-tailed it out of there. I'd had enough madness for one day. Anyway, I had to go clean the cheese and grape juice off my armor.
As I walked away, a tiny, sweet voice began to sing: Ohh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are blowing. . . .
It's kind of hard to decribe what it's like to be telepathically linked to a parasitic plant that won't shut up. Biff is incredibly clever and funny, and also insightful and observant, but man, he is incessant. He's churning out a running commentary on everything he sees. He's got a wisecrack for every occasion, he does great impressions of other people, his comic timing is flawless. He gives surprisingly good advice, functions as eyes on the back of my head, sings me to sleep at night, and may or may not be messing with my dreams. Writing in my journal with this going on would be all but impossible. I had to stow him in my backpack so I could think my own thoughts for a while. I'm sitting in a bustling town square while I write this, and yet it seems so incredibly quiet.
I suspect that the reason I find him so easy to live with is that he can use my mental reactions to fine-tune his banter to precisely what I want to hear. He's probably developed this skill as a necessary one for survival. I mean, think about it. He's not the kind of parasite that can hide out in your hair or your intestines; he has to maintain the goodwill of his host or he's up a creek. So he has to offer a value that exceeds his cost in blood. He's like the kid sister that tries to get you to let her hang out with you and your friends by being as fun and entertaining as she possibly can. Basically, he's a total pleaser.
That's not a bad thing, mind you. His value really does far exceed the cost. He's helping me improve my combat technique, he's got helpful cooking tips, he notices and remembers stuff that completely passes me by. And since he speaks Common Flora, the lingua franca of plants, that means I can now talk to pretty much any plant on the island. Which has been fascinating, even before I encountered the Tree.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The primary usefulness of talking with plants is that they can tell you what they've seen and heard. The grass knows everything (and complains about all of it). Your typical flowering annual is a little more distracted, seeing as how reproduction is its entire purpose for existence. Longer-lived plants have more interesting things to say, and the average mature tree has developed enough of a personality that you can almost have a real conversation with it, if you're patient.
So Adder gets wind of this. He's been scoping out sites for a new clan hall, and he tells me the one he has in mind is actually inside a very big, very old tree. He wants me to talk to this tree before we begin construction, and I'm excited about that, because I think a very big, very old tree is probably close to a human in intelligence, and would be really interesting to meet. We set out from Improbable Central; the tree was quite a trek through the jungle from there. Incredibly, we ran into only one monster over all that distance, but the encounter confirmed that Mr. Moray is a decent guy to have next to you in a scrap. He didn't pull any flying-head-kick stunts this time, but the damage he dealt with those sickles of his was devastating.
We dispatched the monster and reached the site of the proposed clan hall, and I realized how wrong I'd been in imagining "a very big, very old tree." This thing must have sprouted in the first layer of soil to collect on the Island, and its size absolutely defies description. It's bigger than any living thing has a right to be. I was both thrilled and terrified to approach it.
I wish I could really describe what talking to the Tree was like. It was nothing like talking to any other plant I've ever spoken with. I didn't have to tell it anything; it just read me. It felt a little like it used Biff as a bridge to get straight into my head, and it skipped right over language into a direct exchange of ideas. . . many of which I couldn't comprehend. It was really good about breaking things down for me, using images and concepts and feelings, but at the same time I was keenly aware that it was vastly more intelligent than any human being (or humanoid). But it wasn't like it was rubbing that in my face. It took me a while to comprehend that it was delighted to make contact with something even marginally more intelligent than the normal trees around it. But the sense of welcome, of happy-to-see-you, was undeniable. It. . . this isn't quite accurate, but I don't know how else to say it. . . it liked me. Wanted me around.
Here is an image it gave me, picked from my own brain: A man is in solitary confinement for many years. One day, a mouse enters his cell. It's only a mouse; he can't discuss philosophy with it or anything. But it's a living entity he can communicate with a little bit, and have a rudimentary sort of relationship with, and it alleviates the tedium. So he prizes its existence.
Humbling as that metaphor may be, it means the Tree is actually very much in favor of containing our new clan hall. And somehow, I don't understand exactly how, it actually intends to do some of our construction for us. I can't wait to see how that turns out.
I don't know how long we talked; I was completely unconscious of what was going on around me, but it must have been ages. When I finally disconnected from The Tree's slow, deep thoughts and sped back up to the shallows of life as I know it, I got this incredible buzz. I managed to blurt out the gist of what happened to Adder before I started running around, just totally giddy. I think he thought I'd lost it, especially the part where I hugged the tree and then ran over and hugged him too. At first it seemed like that was unwelcome, and I thought, uh-oh, big mistake. But apparently it just caught him off guard, because he did hug me back after that first startled moment. I'm guessing the guy doesn't get many hugs.
We went to Kittania for celebratory steaks, and sat around for a long time talking after our plates were clean. Adder's an odd duck for sure, but I have to say I really enjoy his company when he lets himself defrost a little bit. He's got a lot going on in that midget head of his, and a kind streak that always catches me off guard. I didn't actually succeed in making him laugh, but I got the amused smirk a few times, and if you know Adder, well, you know that's something.
I'd better wrap this up; Biff is making pleading noises from my pack. . . .
One weird side effect of having Biff around is that I've been avoiding Seth.
Biff doesn't like Seth. Biff says he's a vapid man-whore with the personality of a Ken doll. I find this hard to argue with, though I pointed out that Seth does have at least one thing Ken doesn't. (By which I mean musical talent, of course. What did you think I meant?) Seth and I have had some good times, and I hesitate to actually say I'm over him. But I might be. The list of things I enjoy about him is starting to look small next to the list of things I find annoying about him.
Not that I went into this with any other expectation, really. Something about that lazy grin he gave me the first time I saw him told me he wasn't someone I could ever be serious about, and that was okay, because he wasn't ever going to be serious about me either. It was all in fun. And it has been fun, no doubt about that. But part of the reason it's worked so far was that I was pretending that Seth was actually more interesting than he is. Biff, darn him, has been chipping away at my voluntary illusion.
The other day I stopped to make a donation at the Kissing Booth, and when I got to the front of the line I realized Seth was on duty. I was all set to apologize for not visiting him in a while, but he cut me off with a casual "Hey girl, what's up?" and his kiss was, well, kinda phoned in.
So. . . I dunno. Maybe he just wanted to avoid slowing up the line, or didn't want to have a serious conversation in front of so many people? Or maybe that was a sign that it's basically over. It's weird, but right now I don't even feel a compulsion to follow up and find out.
I don't even I can't believe It's
GUESS WHAT, DIARY?
I am smitten. I'm in deep smit.
But let me begin at the beginning. Which was right in the middle of Improbable Central, where Adder took me aside almost two weeks ago and told me, very earnestly, some extremely sweet things. . . which, as it happens, he was able to recall exactly, so I have them word-for-word: *
"Pod, I have enjoyed, immensely, the chances we've had to spend time together these past weeks. I enjoy being around you. When we part, I look forward to the next time we see each other. It is an expectation that remains in my mind regardless of what I am doing. And it does not bother me. I like you, Pod. Every aspect of you I have seen."
I was just. Completely. Taken aback. I mean I had no clue, none, zero, nada, that this was coming. The guy couldn't have been less demonstrative if he'd been allergic to me. I don't remember what I said (and I don't care to), but after some confused babbling, I admitted that I liked him pretty well too.
He hugged me then: the first time he has ever initiated physical contact of any kind with me. And Biff said in my head, Oh boy, here we go with the kissing, and I thought, No. Not here. Something about that clumsy, grateful embrace, and the way his heart was pounding. . . I dunno, it was just clear to me that all of this was very new and difficult for him, and I couldn't bring myself to push him any farther from his long-abandoned comfort zone. Oh, there would be smooching in the very near future, mark my words. . . but not right here in the public square of the most populous city on the Island, for crying out loud. No, we would find a quiet spot where it was just the two of us. And a couple of those ever-present cameras (after a while you get so you don't care so much about them). And also a smart-assed talking flower, who would get himself shoved into the bottom of my pack well before things got interesting.
Which is pretty much what happened.
And that, dear Clan Notebook, is why I haven't written in ages: I seem to have gotten myself into - well, not another fling, but an actual for-reals relationship. Because Adder is definitely not half-assing the whole boyfriend thing. He started off with a lot to learn, but he's made an incredible amount of progress in an incredibly short time. He's trying so extremely hard to get everything right that even when he gets it wrong, he's still earning points. I know I had kind of a crush on him when I first got here, but I would have predicted that dating him would turn out to be a Really Bad Idea. Not that that would necessarily have prevented me from doing it anyway, but. . . I would never have guessed that it would turn out to be a Really Good Idea. Like, scary good.
Several days afterward, I went to the Common Ground to look for him, and from a long way off I saw Cadye talking to this tall guy who looked awfully familiar (his back was to me). And it took me a moment to understand what I was seeing: that Improbability had had its way with Adder again, and he had his human form back at last - his own full-sized man-shape, long-limbed and deep-voiced and, oh, glorious. Now, don't get me wrong: I had no complaints about Adder in midget form. He was a perfectly good boyfriend, thank you very much. But there is something to be said for being embraced by someone whose arms actually reach all the way around you. And, honestly, even more to be said for having a lover who is confident and comfortable in his own skin.
(I hadn't seen Cadye since that day I saw her and Adder together in Kittania, and though Adder told me they had since smoothed things over, I was pretty sure it would be awkward to be with him around her. But it totally wasn't. I mean I admit I was too preoccupied with Adder to observe her very carefully, but she just seemed so genuinely happy for us. Not like when you say, "I'm happy for you" to someone and mean "That's nice that you're happy." No, she was flat-out can't-stop-it beaming, like I've never ever seen her do before. Which says an awful lot about the quality of her friendship with Adder, I think. I should probably make an effort to get to know her better myself.)
Things have been going so incredibly well that I've almost given up waiting for the other shoe to drop. Oh, Adder's still a little, shall we say, emotionally challenged; but he's so much more relaxed now, and he actually smiles, really smiles, like, a lot. And turns my heart into a puddle every damn time.
Oh, and he got me a cow! Yes, a cow, no joke. There's a barter-store in the Common Ground now, run by Marly and Ebenezer, and he traded for this. . . miniature. . . yellow. . . well, I guess it's called a Laughing Cow or a Cheese Cow or something like that. I call her Hilaria, and I milk her once a day. The fresh milk tastes really weird, but if you let it sit in the bucket for an hour or two, you have yourself a bucket of cheese. This makes no sense whatsoever, but it's very good cheese. The flavor and texture can change pretty dramatically depending on what she's been eating, so I've been experimenting with different kinds of fodder. So far, all the results have been tasty. And it's sooo great to have cheese every day - enough to share, even. I suspect having a supply of cheese to gift or sell or barter is going to come in very handy. Just as soon as I stop eating it all myself.
* A funny thing happened when I asked him about this. He had trouble remembering what he'd said, which I expected, but he wasn't expecting it. Apparently he had what he refers to as an "eidetic memory" - which I think is like a photographic memory, where your brain just hangs on to everything - right up until his last Drive Kill. And now it's all patchy and fuzzy, like everyone else's memory, and he doesn't think it's coming back. Which is pretty awful and, I suspect, is causing him more pain than he's willing to admit.
Moving the clan into the Tree didn't go exactly as planned.
Just before Adder was supposed to make the big announcement, Korbel and Sheoggorath came into the Clan Hall fighting over something. Korbel was clearly baiting the old man, who was angry, but apologetic toward the rest of us for causing a scene. That's more than could be said for Korbel. He seems to have acquired some new abilities of late, teleportation among them, and the added power was going to his head in the worst way. Despite dire warnings from Silcatra (now a Joker, so she was fully able to follow up on said warnings), he continued to push Sheoggorath to what was apparently the breaking point. Except it wasn't Sheoggorath who broke. It was everything else.
Okay, so there were like, crystals popping out of the floor of the Clan Hall? And these soldiers in gray armor, bursting in the door? And I'm thinking, whose fever dream are we in here? I was all set to fight these guys - how tough can medieval re-enactors be, after you've killed a Panthzer? - but things were getting really confusing, with everyone shouting and running and the crystals moving all around somehow. The soldiers ran in, grabbed the old man, and vanished. Adder shouted at us to meet up at the tree, and Korbel all but threw me out the door.
So I went to the tree. Our newest recruit, Mercury, was already there, puffing and wheezing. She's a chain-smoker, so I'm not sure how she managed to run so fast, but trust me, it was impressive.1) Silcatra and Korbel appeared in short order, but Korbel refused to give a word of explanation until the others showed up. So we waited until Adder and Sheoggorath appeared, and Adder demanded that Korbel explain himself.
His story was more long than informative, with a lot of strange words like "greymarch" and "Jyggaleg," but two things were evident by the end of it: 1) Korbel sincerely believes that his actions saved the entire Island, and 2) Korbel has delusions of omnipotence. At one point he actually said, "I would not have allowed the world to end." Yiiiiikes. . . .
Serene came in during his explanation. She isn't taking well to her new Mutant form, which is sorta canine, and she proceeded to increase the tension in the room (deliberately, to all appearances). I started to wonder if someone had stolen our own gentle Serene and good-hearted Korbel and replaced them with people who. . . well, but you know, getting married does do that to folks sometimes.
Adder finally told Korbel he'd deal with him later, made the announcement about the tree (obviously pretty anticlimactic, at this poing), and wrapped things up. Everyone was restless and/or tired by that time anyway, so the meeting broke up quickly. On her way out, Silcatra announced that she was now considering leaving the clan. Everyone left but Sheoggorath, who fell asleep at the table, and Mercury, who went upstairs to find herself a room.
Adder was completely on edge after the meeting. I rubbed his head and shoulders a little, trying to help him chill out, but I he didn't really start to unwind until Mercury asked for some help getting her room set up. He dragged a mattress from the basement all the way upstairs to her new digs, then stood by, smiling benevolently, while she and I discussed the layout. It's obvious how much the clan means to him, how much of him is invested in its well-being. I hope for all our sakes, but especially for his, that this blows over quickly.
Adder took on a new form today, though I didn't realize it at first. He looked the same except for a new suit of clothes: a crisp collared shirt instead of his usual t-shirt, his jeans replaced by a pair of trousers that looked like they might have been imported straight from the 19th century. But he is a joker now. A lot of people become more stiff and uptight as jokers, but Adder actually seems more relaxed. It was so good to see him in a buoyant mood. He's had a tough time dealing with Korbel, and with Silcatra's unfortunate departure from the clan after (and due in part to) that incident.
He found me in the Common Ground, about to sample a beverage concocted by a female joker named Gorbert. Each glass of the beverage had a random flavor, which might include not only the full range of possible taste sensations, but also concepts, emotions, and other improbable things. My first glass tasted bilious, but the second brought back a vivid sense memory of being seven, on a playground right before dusk, at that time photographers call the Golden Hour. "Nostalgia and sunsets," Gorbert summed it up when I told her. I made Adder try it, but he didn't get playground. Instead, he said it tasted like "That one day in Improbable Central. You know the one." Of course I did, but I was surprised that nostalgia could be triggered by something that happened so recently. I kissed him for saying it, though. The flavor of what he was tasting lingered on his lips, and it was sweeter even than I remembered.
Next he offered to show me one of his new powers, and transported me in a twinkling from the Ground into the Clan Hall Tree. That was a rush! This was one of two powers he had discovered, he said. The other he did not explain, only suggested that each hand held a different aspect of it. He offered me his left hand, wreathed in glowing green mist, and asked me to trust him. I took it, expecting something flashy and dramatic.
Instead, while I was watching out for a magic trick, I was distracted by a series of increasingly vivid mental images. The future unfolded before me, an infinitely expanding range of possibilities. Within that range, I glimpsed one possible set of choices and outcomes, opening out into the future. It seemed to be just a series of random snapshots, yet somehow, in its entirety, it was the most reassuring thing I'd ever experienced. Because it was a future where everything turned out so much better than I could reasonably have expected. The details are lost, but I remember how overwhelmingly comforting that was, to see that there was a way in which all might be well, despite (or rather, somehow because of?) my limitations.
As soon as I let go of his hand, it began to blur and slip away. But one detail stuck with me, probably because it came as such a surprise: in that possible future, where everything turned out so right, I was not alone. He was with me.
That shook me. Oh, I know it's not a foregone conclusion. It's just one possibility. But it's a possibility I honestly wasn't aware of, let alone that it could look like that, that it could be so amazing, so many years down the line. I mean, it's been great, it is great, I really like him, a lot, but it's been so long since I tried to do the long-term thing that I didn't think. . . I mean, it's not like I was planning on ending it, I just. . . oh. Oh, you know what it is? I thought - not that I'd given it any real thought, but if I'd thought to think about it, I would have thought Adder was just my Island boyfriend. At some point, some part of me thought I was going to get to go home, and then, life there being so very different than life here, things probably wouldn't work out between us anymore.
I've met people who have been here since Season One, but I've never heard of anyone getting to go home outside of a body bag. We can't get incoming communications, and I'm not sure the letters I've sent are actually going anywhere. That mailbox in NewHome is probably a paper-eating monster with a really good disguise. I don't want to give up on the outside world. I'd really like to go back there someday. But I should probably stop thinking in terms of that as a definite.
A second folder, labeled Pod 2, follows this one in the Watcher's files.