It felt like I’d been hit by lightning. One moment I was with Samantha and the next I was sitting against the fence near the library. James, my brother, was shaking my shoulder, worry fueled anger written all over his face.
“What?” I blinked and shook my head.
“What happened? Why are you here?”, James asked, helping me stand up.
“I was waiting for you to pick me up.” my thoughts were still a complete jumble. Where was Samantha? How was I back in front of the library.
“Are you crazy!” he yelled. “You were supposed to be at the Blue Star and you fall asleep here instead?”
The Blue Star was a diner about two blocks away. James sometimes picked me up there when he was going to run late. He hadn’t said anything about meeting there today though, not that I could remember.
“I didn’t fall asleep.”, I saw a look of serious concern cross his face and could only imagine what he was thinking,
“I wasn’t asleep.” I added quickly, still trying to piece together what had happened. Whatever clairvoyant-omniscience I’d had was completely gone. I looked around for anything that would help me make sense of what had happened. As far as I could tell it was just a normal night. There wasn’t even any trace of the fog that had been rising when the Shadow Court approached.
“You were something. I was shaking you for like a hour before you woke up.” James insisted.
“The Shadow Court was here.” I told him simply.
“What?”, that wasn’t something you joked about but it was still the kind of bombshell that invites disbelief. The world was a weird and dangerous place, but usually the weirdness and danger happened to other people.
“The Shadow Court. They were here. Right behind the library.” I wanted to go around the building and see that they were really gone for myself. See if the girl and her beast were still there. See if any of it had been real.
“That’s not funny Jin. Are you serious.”
“What did they do to you? Did they see you?”
I hesitated. Admitting that I ran after them was bad. Like “get me locked up and heavily drugged” levels of “bad”. Whether or not it really happened, even claiming I’d done it was akin to saying I’d attempted suicide.
Despite our frequent bickering and the fact that we were only step-siblings, James would be “the big brother” if I told him. He wouldn’t lie for me, he wouldn’t cover it up. He’d make sure I “got the help I needed”. And, honestly, I’d do the same for him.
It occurred to me that I probably should let him too. Tonight was too crazy for me to assume that I wasn’t. I had run out after the Shadow Court. That alone should be enough to make me question my judgement.
“No, I crouched down here.” I gestured towards the wall and the fence. The fence that was missing one of it’s bars. My stomach froze.
I’d run my pen back and forth across the bars while waiting for James, playing it like a one note xylophone before I got bored. Ting-ting-ting. There hadn’t been any bars missing when I was doing that. If the bar was laying on the ground in the park behind the library…I had no idea what that would mean. As scary as it was to think that I was going crazy, knowing that what had happened was real was somehow worse.
My head was still going in a thousand directions when James interrupted.
“If you’re sure the Shadow Court was here, we should call the police.” he said, sounding no happier with that than I was.
James was a good student. Great grades, starting line on the football team. Decent odds at getting a full scholarship next year when he started applying to colleges. He was also a teenager though, and I’m guessing there’s not a teenager anywhere in the world who likes talking to the cops.
That was true under normal circumstance but this was an exceptional case. Meta-human stuff was something you did not mess around with. You got the authorities involved as early as possible. They then got the big guns involved.
In this case the big guns, the heroes, were almost certainly appropriate too. If the Shadow Court had made off with any kids then the clock was ticking on getting a rescue operation going.
Samantha was safe. I’d been sure of that. Other kids were another story though.
Could the Shadow Court have picked up someone else tonight? I couldn’t say. I didn’t have that sense when I was in whatever state I’d been in but maybe earlier victims wouldn’t have shown in “the script” that my mind was reading from?
“Yeah.”, I sighed, feeling like I was under a microscope already. It was bad enough lying to James about what had happened, the idea of lying to a trained police interrogator made me feel ill. I couldn’t come up with any reasons not to though.
James looked at me to make sure I was serious and then dialed 9-1-1 on his cell.
“Don’t worry. I’ll stay with you.” he said before the dispatcher picked up. That’s my big brother. Kind of a jerk leaving me to wait here, but he’s got my back when I need him.
That’s why I knew I’d need to have his back too. I’d go along with the story that we were supposed to meet at the Blue Star. Just because I couldn’t remember agreeing to it didn’t mean that James needed the hassle of them interrogating him over it.
The first car to arrive was an unmarked police car with two plain clothes officers. They parked away from the library and the dispatcher had us wait while they surveyed the grounds for a minute. The dispatcher was reassuring James that this was simply standard procedure, but I’d read enough to know what was really going on.
Victims and witnesses are the ones the police are supposed to be protecting. They therefor make great bait for leading cops into traps. The police couldn’t ignore a call like this but they also couldn’t afford to charge straight in. Even if we were visible danger, or maybe especially if we were in danger, they’d have to review the area before entering.
It was horrible in some cases, but then cops were usually the first to encounter the more horrible parts of the world so it paid to be careful.
It took the cops in the patrol car a couple of minutes to decide the scene was safe enough to enter. They drove into the library’s nearly empty lot and parked, with the engine running, behind our parent’s car that James had driven to pick me up.
They got out and were both carrying large, heavy looking rifles. I don’t know guns that well, but I guessed that they were probably expensive and probably loaded with something powerful enough to kill elephants. If the police had to open fire on someone or something with super human powers, they tried to have as much chance of putting the meta-human down as their budget would allow.
“Are you the two who called in the meta-human sighting?” the taller of the two officers asked, looking us over carefully
“Yes.”, James answered, looking at me and then at himself.
We made a strange pair for a brother and sister. James was six feet and two inches of solid football muscle. I was five foot three and could do a fair impersonation of a scarecrow. He was smart, well spoken and charismatic. I…I like to read a lot. Also, he was black where I was third generation Chinese-American. I was always surprised at the number of people who didn’t seem to notice or care about that last difference.
“I’m Officer Smalls. This is Officer Biggs.” he indicated the shorter officer with a nod “We have some questions that we need to ask you. If you could get into the back of the car, we’ll be with you shortly.”
Smalls and Biggs? It looked like department policy was to avoid using real names when faeries were around. That made sense from what little I knew of how faerie magic worked.
I looked at James and he nodded for us to head towards the car. As we did, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that James and Officer Smalls shared a quick look. I wasn’t sure what it meant, or whether I was reading too much into it, but something made me wonder if they knew each other.
“So what do you think they’re doing?” I asked as we settled into the back seat of the car. The car may not have been marked but it was pretty clearly a police car from the inside. With the doors closed we were trapped in , or I guess protected by, a cage of metal and bullet proof glass.
“They have to check out how much of the story we gave to the dispatcher they can corroborate with physical evidence.”
“What about looking for any kids that might have been grabbed?”
“If they find anything that confirms our story, or if anyone files a timely enough missing persons report, they’ll put together a team to do a sweep of the neighborhood. Maybe even get Professor Platinum or Heartbeat involved.” James leaned his head back against the seat, not sounding too thrilled by that.
Brassport was a big enough city that we had official heroes assigned to us. We weren’t the big leagues though and the heroes assigned here knew it. Professor Platinum was a power armored (mad) scientist who came out for civic events and official calls but was rarely around otherwise. He’d caused a couple of blackouts over the summer too, so people weren’t too happy with him in general.
Heartbeat on the other hand was a media darling. She was a new hero, supposedly assigned to a junior role under the Professor’s supervision. Her power, blood control, was a little freaky but she played it well for the cameras. How she could be of any help in dealing with the Shadow Court was unclear though. I thought back to the mistmen. Not much blood in them to work with.
“Sorry I wasn’t here sooner.” James offered. “I should have known you didn’t hear me about meeting at the Blue Star.”
“When did we talk about that?” I asked, genuinely puzzled because I had no memory of it at all.
“In the morning. On the ride in.”
“Yeah. You were out of it though. I should have known. Dammit.” James was clenching his fists in frustration, I think more with himself than with me.
I tried to remember the ride in. It was just a normal morning wasn’t it? I struggled to bring up any specific memories. Getting into the car? Nope. Or nothing special enough to remember as different from any other day. Getting out at school? Nope.
I thought back further. What had I had for breakfast? Had I had breakfast even?
I can be a little forgetful but the more I probed the more I realized the morning was nearly a complete blank. The last thing I could remember clearly was the dream I’d been having before I woke up.
It had been in vivid technicolor and involved unrestrained flying, two things that aren’t that common for my dreams. I’d been on a sky galleon, up on the highest crow’s nest when I’d caught a shooting star that had turned out to be sparkling diamond pendant on a chain rather than a space rock.
I hadn’t written the dream down so I knew I’d lost some of the details, but I remembered fleeing from the sky galleon, dodging through clouds and amazing windstorms to get back down to Earth and the safety of my house. What I was running from or why my house was safe I could only chalk up to general dream weirdness.
I shook my head. Whatever I’d dreamed this morning clearly wasn’t important at this point, however much my brain seemed to want to dwell on it.
Officer Biggs opened the back seat door on James’ side.
“Can you please step out of the car.” he instructed us. He and Smalls were both holding their guns, though they weren’t pointed at us, thankfully.
“Did you find anything?” I asked as I followed James out. Both officers ignored me.
“Please step within the circle.” Officer Biggs addressed James, indicating a circle of salt on the ground that was about three feet in diameter.
James nodded and stepped carefully over the edge of the circle so as not to disrupt it.
“You are now bound by the law and custom of this realm. Do you accept this binding.”
“Yes.” James replied.
It was hedge magic. Again, something I’d read about but never had to experience first hand before. Wizards weren’t usually on the police payroll but there were basic cantrips that cops could use to help against supernatural threats. Invoking their authority on something captured within a circle of salt like this, for example, could strip away a lot of simple disguise magics.
For a moment that thought made me panic, not knowing what else it might reveal. I caught myself before I started running and forced myself to calm down. They weren’t accusing us of anything, just being careful that we hadn’t been replaced by changelings.
“You found something behind the library!” I guessed. If they hadn’t they wouldn’t be taking the report this seriously I thought. I tossed that idea aside immediately though. Calling 911 to say “I saw the Shadow Court” was more serious than calling in to say “I found a dead body”. No matter what they did or didn’t find, they weren’t going to treat this call as unimportant.
Neither officer acknowledged me.
“Do you claim and confirm that you are James Smith, a right and proper resident of this sphere, by bone and sinew, blood and heart.” Biggs continued the ritual. His voice was tight and sharp. All authority and hard edges. Until we proved we were harmless kids, his assumption had to be that we were monsters in disguise.
“Yes.” James answered, once again glancing at Officer Smalls.
Biggs nodded to his partner and Smalls instead tossed a handful of dust at James’ feet. No, not dust. Iron shavings.
If James had been an evil faerie the results would have been ugly and horrifying. Instead, it was simply anticlimactic. Nothing happened. Because James was a human. Sometimes that didn’t suck.
I was up next, and despite my insides feeling like they wanted to jump out of my skin and make a break for it, the ritual proved to be similarly unspectacular.
“Thank you.” Office Biggs said “We’re going to take you down to the station now. You’re not under arrest, but we do need to ask you some questions in a more secure environment. If there’s anyone you need to contact we can handle that on the way there.”
“What about our car?” James asked.
“We have a forensics team on the way. They’ll verify that it’s secure as well.” Biggs answered.
“Sorry for this, you guys did a real good thing tonight.” Smalls added “We’ll make sure your car makes it to the station or we’ll give you a ride back here.”
“That sounds good.” James agreed, nodding to Smalls.
I stepped out of the salt circle and felt an odd little pop, like a soap bubble had burst. The jumpy feeling in my guts quieted down. I wasn’t going to be burned as a witch (not that we burned witches, but my subconscious apparently didn’t know that) or locked up in the loony bin.
I slid into the back of the unmarked police car again, relaxing in the knowledge that I hadn’t gone crazy or been turned into a monster or anything.
Then I noticed the six inch tall guy sitting on the back of the drivers seat who was watching me. He had little feathered wings curled against his back, he was all in white and he was glowing.
As I fell into the seat in surprise he put out his hands to me and pleaded:
“Please. I can explain everything, just don’t freak out ok?”