339.

DD – No question it was an honor that three changeling animals wanted to connect with me. But they made the decision without me. What am I, their pet?

I spent hours in the roof library, reading Galalena’s journals from a new angle, trying to understand the roles of a changeling with her animal. Teacher, yes, guide definitely, and that could go back and forth, who was teaching and who was learning. But neither was the boss of the other.

I sat on the roof squirming in a lounge chair. I couldn’t get comfortable. My head was full of images of Grayfast outside staring at the front door. He wanted in. Any other time I would have dashed downstairs to open the door asap.

I didn’t move. I had whispery fears that I would drive him away but I had to keep going with this. It was the only way I could think of. To communicate to him. To all three of them. That I had to be involved making important decisions.

A shadow blocked my sun. Sariah with Fastidious in her talons. She lowered the tortoise ever so gently to the roof then took off again. The tortoise was facing away from me and his feet scrabbled as he spun to face me. Well. ‘Spun’ sounds fast. Eventually he finished the turn and started scraping his way toward me.

A shadow blocked my sun again. Now Sariah carried Grayfast in her talons. He wiggled and dropped to the roof beside me. Sariah perched on the railing, her back to us. She stared off the roof like a sentry.

How to explain to three other species what was bothering me when I barely understood it myself. I loved being Grayfast’s baby bird, I never wanted that to change. And he would always know more than me. All of them would. In fact, Fastidious was so ancient he might know more than Grayfast.

But if we were going to stop the bad guys we had to work as equals. (DBA how I knew that.)

Turns out I didn’t need to explain anything.

In my head I saw Grayfast’s baby bird flying away from its nest in a long straight line like I was never coming back.

I thought he was telling me it was time for me to leave, which gave me instant flooding tears. I could barely see that he was squinting at me in a friendly loving way. My tears stopped.

He wasn’t saying goodbye. He was happy and proud about me leaving the nest. He wanted me to be an equal, too!

The scrapes from Fastidious had turned screechy. The tortoise was stuck on the stairs to the secret library, one foot pawing the air. He rocked sideways and nearly toppled down the stairs but swung the other way and got all four feet back to the roof.

He had something in his mouth. He opened his jaw and it fell on my shoe. A wildflower from the dune. Awwww. Sweet! A graduation present for baby bird.

Tangled, how that worked. Deciding I needed to be their equal made me their equal. – sE

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338.

DD – I woke up with Grayfast sitting on my chest. The last time he did that was when Alcatur was coming to kill Ma Warden. No danger signals this time but no question the cat wanted my attention.

I hugged him against my heart. Only for a second. Cats don’t like cuddly stuff but I couldn’t help it. Watching other changelings lose their animals. Even though Natalie and Circe kind of deserved that. I couldn’t bear it. If I ever lost Grayfast.

He gave me a short rumble of purr before he hopped off my mattress. He trotted a few steps then turned to stare again.

I was supposed to follow him. I sleep in my clothes lately so all I had to do was pull on my shoes. He waited at the front door, staring into the wood door like it was a window. I only had it open a few inches before he zoomed outside.

He didn’t come back so I went looking. He was right there in the sandy front yard inside the every-which-way fence. He wasn’t alone.

Fastidious the turtle and Sariah the owl were beside him like a gang of friends just hanging out.

My view went split screen and as I walked toward the animals, different parts of me moved toward me. Pants legs wooshed back and forth. Shoes scrunched sand. Hair whipped in the wind.

I was seeing myself through the eyes of each animal.

On some level I knew I should have been amazed by the views but all my amazed was used up about what it meant.

Seeing through their eyes meant all three animals were connecting with me. Which meant the owl and the tortoise had also made me their changeling.

Grayfast didn’t seem to mind but I did.

I didn’t ask for this to happen which was my only way to keep self-respect. Otherwise, such guilt and shame. How greedy to have three animals. Not fair to changelings who were still without animals. Not fair to the animals. Sariah and Fastidious were such awesome creatures. They deserved to have the kind of ultra special bond I had Grayfast.

As much as I respected the owl and tortoise, no way could I have that bond with any other being. Only Grayfast.

Grayfast seemed to think otherwise. He took over my thoughts and showed me baby bird scraping a hole in sand, right at the surf line. Scrape a hole, the ocean fills it with water. Scrape a deeper hole, get more water. Scrape three holes, fill all three with water.

I didn’t understand what he meant but I got what he was trying to do. “Why are you trying to convince me when you aren’t giving me a choice?” I talked out loud, in English, as a protest about their excluding the human in their decision. They expected me to go along with whatever they decided.

They should have asked me first. I ran inside and slammed the door. – sE

337.

DD – “El-la-a-a-a!!” Circe’s voice howled in the dark. I hadn’t heard her come back up the beach. The surf and the wind were noisy and there was no moon yet.

I answered in my calmest voice. “I’m still here.”

She scraped and grunted up the dune. “The dark thwarts my efforts to follow the abductor.” She was mad, as always, but this time I knew it wasn’t at me.

“I’ve got dinner if you’re hungry.”

“I could not partake of your food, I am not fully here with you. Do you not sense our separation?”

“Now that you mention it I do notice something. Like at the changeling convention. I don’t know how to travel like that and I’m not so good at detecting when somebody else is doing it.”

First time I heard Circe laugh. Guess it surprised her too, she stopped in the middle. “A disarming tactic, for a leader to admit weakness. Thank you for your offer of sustenance. I will withdraw to home now. With dawn I resume my search for Fastidious.” Her voice turned squeaky. “He cannot hear and sees in but a narrow range. He enrages many with his obliviousness. One must kick hard to get his attention. Oh please let them not hurt him.”

Wait. She kicked to get his attention? I should tell her that kicking Fastidious to get his attention was not cool. Versus I should say nothing because how could she not know that.

Still.

Such a terrible misunderstanding. Eminem reason to lose your animal.

I heard myself talking like someone else who had a plan I didn’t know anything about.

“The owl that took Fastidious is named Sariah and I met her with a changeling called Natalie. They weren’t at our convention because Natalie has been working with Alcatur.”

“Alcatur! He has sworn death to all changelings! ” Circe gasped. “What could he want with Fastidious?”

“I don’t think Alcatur is involved.” I knew Natalie wasn’t involved, either. I was lying by evasion. No clue why.

“Where can I find Natalie?”

I told Circe about Alcatur’s headquarters. I described Natalie.

What the Tupac. I wanted Circe to go to Natalie. Did I hate Circe? Was I sending her to Natalie to get hurt? Did I want to make sure Natalie knew her owl had ditched her? No. Circe going to Natalie was what needed to happen. DBA.

“Hurting animals isn’t Natalie’s thing. Fastidious will be okay.” As close as I could go to the truth to reassure Circe.

“Then I will not hurt Natalie when I take Fastidious back.”

And Circe was gone. I was alone in the dark. I finished my dinner.

I had said what I was supposed to say even if I didn’t like it or get it. – sE

336.

DD – I grabbed this and that for dinner and brought my bowl outside. Once I started chewing I had to notice I had stirred peanut butter into rice with apple. The kitchen was getting low on choices.

I sat on the dark windy dune getting sprayed with surf and sand. There might be something wrong with how much I love the ocean. I didn’t mind when I got a crunch of sand in a bite of rice.

Conditions were not quite pleasant, which forced me to concentrate to ignore them, which helped me to think. First Natalie, now Circe. Lately I’m seeing signs and symbols in everything that happens. Was it coincidence that brought them here, one after another? Two bad changelings.

I wasn’t feeling Circe to be a bad guy like Natalie but there was something off with Circe, too, and all my nervous warning muscles cramped around her.

Maybe because Circe made me nervous, now that she was gone, I remembered pieces of our conversation that slipped by me while she was here.

When Sariah flew off with Fastidious, for the first time Circe talked to me like a friend. “Ella, what should we do? How can we rescue him?”

Her ‘we’ made me flinch. I turned the flinch into a dunno shrug but I’m pretty sure she noticed the flinch. She was always getting mad about nothing, so I expected total fury about that. Instead, she showed no emotion. “I must go to them.”

And that was when she ran off.

She showed no emotion about the flinch – and no surprise. She expected to get no help. Expected to be on her own. Realizing this, my view of her twisted. Looking at Circe was like looking at myself right after my family died. I thought I couldn’t depend on anybody. Except that was a phase I moved through and Circe was stuck there.

Maybe I had sensed that all along. Otherwise my reactions to Circe were almost as strange as she was. Usually when someone is awful to me I’m awful right back. She’s a pain and borderline mean yet I kept trying to win her over.

I was glad Fastidious had gotten away from her. But I also wanted Circe to get another chance with the tortoise. I kept arguing with myself about that. The old, non-changeling, me versus the new, changeling, me.

Anyway, Circe had a low chance of getting Fastidious back. Considering how she treated him, he would probably move on to a new changeling.

Without Fastidious, Circe would no longer be a changeling. That I was sure about. Which left me relieved for me, sorry for her. – sE

335.

DD – So much empty air behind me when I walked up the stairs from the library to the roof. I was so alone. But the sunset was purple and alone doesn’t mean unsafe. To force bravery to come back, I ogled the colored clouds from the edge of the roof at the railing.

Which is how I saw Grayfast trotting up the beach. No owl anywhere. I ran downstairs outside up the dune to meet my cat.

A slightly familiar voice called my name.

Below the dune, the beach sand had a wide track scraped by the belly of a giant tortoise.

Circe and her tortoise. Here. Of all the changelings I met at the convention, she was the one I least wanted to see again.

“I had much difficulty finding you!” Circe sounded as angry and accusing as ever. She kicked her tortoise hard to come up the dune. Such a steep climb for a tortoise.  “Faster!” She kicked so hard she tumbled back onto the sand.

Grayfast hopped to one side to avoid her.

Maybe Circe was an okay person who had a lot of bad days. But she didn’t deserve that tortoise.

“Are you okay?” I called. I was more asking the tortoise.

Circe hit herself to knock sand off her clothes. (Who wears orange velvet to a beach?) “What could you do if I said I was not?”

I couldn’t think of an answer that improved anything.

Circe’s red hair went black as a shadow passed over her. Faster than anyone could react, a blur of black feathers smashed down to the sand then back up into the sky.  A huge feathered body rose, talons gently gripping the tortoise shell.

Sariah had plucked the tortoise and was flying away with it!

“Noooo,” Circe wailed and called after them, “Fastidious! Struggle for your release!”

The tortoise pulled in his feet like he was getting ready for a long flight.

Fastidious is the tortoise’s name. Interesting. Even more interesting, in her own messed–up way, Circe did care about the tortoise. “Do owls eat tortoises?” She sounded scared. Without anger, her voice was much younger.

The owl and the tortoise were speck size then gone.

Circe began to run in the direction Sariah had flown.

Grayfast wasn’t acting surprised about what had happened so the tortoise was safe with Sariah but I didn’t call Circe back. Maybe it would be good for her to worry about her tortoise.

Anyway, I was relieved for the interruption. I had come this close to inviting Circe in for dinner. Seriously. Saved by the owl. Otherwise I might have invited a mostly unknown and usually hostile stranger to enter the Trigg house.

That’s the part that made least sense of all. – sE

334.

DD – I wandered the beach house looking out one window after another, watching for the animals to return. Not letting myself think about Natalie arriving with the animals gone. I moved faster and faster from room to room and started crashing into doors and walls.

Dude, this helps nothing, I told myself in Lourdes’ voice.

You’re resourceful, whatever happens you’ll manage, I told myself in Paul’s voice.

Grayfast would never ditch you in danger, I told myself.

I stopped being a human bumper car and went up to the roof to see whether an Everweer library could tell me anything about changelings and especially about how they connect to particular animals. Or disconnect.

Mostly I got paper cuts from books that didn’t want me to open them. My fresh blood drops joined years of dried drops on the floor. An even thicker layer of drops than at the Trigg home. The books must cut Everweer as well as changelings.

Aunt Axi was borderline clean freak so if she never cleaned the floors in her libraries, she must have a very good reason.

Alone in an Everweer library was not a good time to imagine why.

Tupac Everweer. When you think about it, D, considering what Everweer are like, it’s amazing that I know so many who turned out okay. Paul, Franklin, Aunt Axi, Kathleen, Bruce.

“I want to learn about changelings and their animals,” I told the library, unfocussed my eyes and stared at one shelf after another. (How I knew to do that, DBA.)

Most of the books went pale and fuzzy. All of Galalena’s journals glowed. Around the library, a few other books glowed, too. I set those in short stacks on the stairs.

“Thank you for your help.” Yup, I was talking to a library.

I moved the books a few steps higher up so I had more light to look through them. I knew better than to try to take them out of the library.

None of them had more than a few lines I could read, but I learned a good amount.

As usual with Everweer books, the words kept changing so I can’t write quotes. The basic ideas didn’t change though.

A lot of people could be changelings if they woke up.

Changeling animals know that’s what they are. They attach to a possible changeling and if the changeling awakens, the animal stays. If not, the animal finds another possible changeling.

Part of awakening is figuring out what your animal can do and how to act around it.

When the attachment works the bond is forever and the animal and changeling evolve together, way beyond where either could go alone.

Those blotches on the page are tears. So so grateful that Grayfast found me. – sE

333.

DD – If an owl can have good manners, Sariah is that owl. I laid out crackers with peanut butter on the roof ledge and she blinked in a way that was – no question – a thank you. She nibbled at every cracker until they were all gone. But nobody eats that slowly when they’re enjoying the food.

Natalie must be so mad to lose Sariah. If she knew yet. Maybe she’d come here looking for the owl, or blaming me. I felt no fear though. Okay, hardly any. I was certain that Grayfast and Sariah could take Natalie.

The more I got my memories back about the last few days, the more I knew that Natalie was a real bad guy. She might be a more dangerous problem than Alcatur. Even now that her owl had ditched her. And yet my main reaction was as a little kid being a bad sport. Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyaaaaah nyah. Your owl ditched you for me-ee.

Or for Grayfast.

Up close, Sariah’s feathers were not just black. The edges gleamed with gold and silver. I wanted to pet her but that seemed rude. I knew nothing about owls or what they enjoy.

As soon as she finished eating the crackers she straightened and blinked again.

I said, “You’re welcome for the food and you’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to. Anyway you brought back Bruce’s sculpture. I still owe you.” Not that Sariah speaks English but saying the words helped as I tried to transmit the feelings.

I knew the owl was huge but not how huge until I stood beside her – and looked up! I wanted to know everything about her and did she leave Natalie forever and did Natalie know she was here and why Natalie in the first place? Didn’t changeling animals choose their people?

I could have wondered the day away but Grayfast startled my thoughts into silence. He sent images of a baby bird with feathers that stuck out like my choppy hair. The baby bird was hiding deep in a nest.

He was telling me to stay put and not leave this house. I had barely processed that when.

Still can’t believe it.

Grayfast crouched down and got very still. Sariah gave a calm flap and rose just above the roof, stretched her legs and grasped Grayfast in her talons.

I was still gasping when they flew off the roof and away.

I’m not freaking because Grayfast knows what he’s doing.

That’s the only reason I’m not freaking. – sE